Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

“Was Enoch Powell right?” ... “Should Wolverhampton have a blue plaque for Enoch?” ... just two of the questions that provoked intense debate when the city’s evening newspaper, the Express and Star, brought together a panel to discuss Powell’s “Rivers of Blood Speech – 50 years on.”

The audience at Wolverhampton Literary Festival voted four to one against a blue plaque and gave short shrift to UKIP’s West Midlands MEP, Bill Etheridge, when he claimed that “immigrants were coming to Britain to get benefits not jobs”.

As one of the two journalists on the panel, my pitch was that Powell was certainly right in identifying the potency of exploiting fears over immigration – perhaps the most potent political weapon of the post-war years.

Powell had timed the speech and framed its content to maximum impact having become an accomplished exponent of media manipulation and the exploitation of immigration for political advantage – techniques that were refashioned by the former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, and most recently by the US President Donald Trump.

The 31 pit closures announced in October 1992 were a point of no return for the British coalfields, the eventual death knell for deep mining and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

A botched announcement, a Tory party revolt, and an embarrassing U-turn for John Major only months after being re-elected Prime Minister, did bring about a temporary reprieve, but the closures went ahead, ready for a slimmed down British Coal to be privatised.

There was a public outcry that had shocked the Prime Minister: 200,000 people marched through London in protest, and the miners’ leader Arthur Scargill was hailed a hero.

Cabinet papers revealed confidential Downing Street memos that contained excoriating criticism of the then President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine, for mishandling public sympathy for the miners, and for allowing accusations of a government “betrayal” of men in the Nottinghamshire coalfield, who had stayed loyal to Margaret Thatcher in the 1984-85 pit strike.

After the shock announcement of the closures, and news that a pay-off for the 30,000 redundant miners would cost £1 billion, Major was forced to order an immediate inquiry into energy policy.

Whereas many of the highly-alarming scenarios about electing Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister have tended to bounce back ineffectually, there is one narrative that could have a deadly impact on his political future.

His much-publicised appearance on the front cover of GQ, an upmarket men’s magazine, opened up a developing story line that could be seriously destabilising for a party leader who is admired by legions of young activists.

In describing the control freakery that went on behind the scenes for GQ’s photo-shoot, the editor, Dylan Jones, had no hesitation in depicting Corbyn as being out of his depth, being pushed around by his gate-keepers like a “benign grandfather for the family Christmas photograph”.

Younger members of GQ’s editorial team, who had been inspired by Corbyn’s rock-star image, said they regretted having seen him in person. They found him “underwhelming...they said they wished they had not met him”.

In contrast to the character assassination of Tory tabloids such as the Daily Mail and Sun, and their depiction of Corbyn as a terrorist sympathiser, the Jihadists’ friend, here is a narrative that is live, rather than historic.

Rarely in the confusing fog of post-Leave news coverage is there a greater responsibility on the BBC and other public service broadcasters to be fearless in reporting the consequences of Brexit.

For much of commerce and industry the end of 2017 and the start of 2018 is the tipping point for decisions on future investment and the transfer of jobs to the European Union.

Project Deception - the cover-up over the Brexit downside - is still in full swing in Brexit-supporting newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph which wilfully continue to deprive their readers of news about the employment opportunities haemorrhaging away to the EU.

The challenge to the BBC, ITV News and Sky News is to offer viewers and listeners a detailed assessment and analysis of the decisions being made.

News that London, as expected, is losing both the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency -- to Paris and Amsterdam respectively -- with the loss of 2,000 jobs, was almost completely ignored by the Brextremist press on Tuesday 21 November 2017.

This hammer blow for London and the wider UK financial and pharmaceutical industry was relegated to nine lines at the bottom of page four in the Daily Mail; two sentences at the bottom of page nine in the Sun; two paragraphs at the bottom of page four in the Daily Telegraph; and ignored by the UKIP-supporting Daily Express.

(The nine lines in the Daily Mail  -- see image -- are marked with a black square close to the bottom of the fifth column).

The recent death of prominent trade union leaders demonised during the industrial conflicts of the 1980s was a reminder of the price that can be paid when public figures get on the wrong side of shifts in public opinion -- a fate that might well await the Brexit cheerleaders.

Union officials involved in the so-called Winter of Discontent and the momentous strikes of the Thatcher years were already unpopular enough with large swathes of the public, but they became hate figures after being constantly traduced by the tabloid press.

Three decades later, the late NUPE leader, Rodney Bickerstaffe -- vilified at the time for calling out on strike grave diggers, hospital workers and the like -- found himself hailed as a hero by countless thousands of lowly-paid workers who credited with having done so much to help establish the national minimum wage.

The irony today is that that the popular newspapers that helped to turn union leaders into hate figures might find their slavish support for ardent Brexiteers -- such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees Mogg et al -- is nowhere near enough to save their "heroes" if public opinion swings against them once Project Deception is exposed for what it is, and the nation has come to terms with the full consequences of a hard Brexit.