Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Unlike the breakaway SDP of the early 1980s, the Independent Group of former Labour and Conservative MPs has an unparalleled chance to campaign in a way that might well prevent them being squeezed to extinction by the UK’s all-powerful two-party electoral system.

Traditional party loyalties have been well and truly shattered by the European Referendum. The trauma of Brexit has left the support of millions of voters up for grabs.

By announcing their departure six weeks before the March 29 date for the UK’s exit from the EU, the Labour Gang of Seven (now eight), together with three former Conservative MPs, have engineered an ideal opportunity from which to present their demand for a People’s Vote.

The sight of Labour MPs from former mining constituencies expressing a readiness to accept cash for their localities in return for a vote in favour of Brexit is a haunting reminder of how easily the Conservatives bought off miners in the past.

Offers of ever-higher redundancy payments enticed many miners back to work during the 1984-85 pit strike, and finally it was these cash incentives that helped secure Margaret Thatcher the victory she craved.

Almost a decade later, when Michael Heseltine pushed through the massive 1992 pit closure programme, he was convinced the £1 billion he had secured for redundancy pay-offs would again prove irresistible – and he was proved correct.

Once again, we see how the offer of Conservative cash – this time for investment within their constituencies – is again proving all-too tempting.

John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, in Nottinghamshire – a constituency that he says was “devastated pit closures” – is the most vocal supporter of Theresa May’s ploy of offering cash investment opportunities to former mining areas in recognition of Labour MPs voting in favour of her EU withdrawal agreement.

David Cameron’s 2010 pre-election pledge to cut immigration by the “tens of thousands” had the unintended, but perhaps inevitable, long-term consequence of stiffening opposition to the European Union within the Conservative Party, and of supercharging the Leave vote in the 2016 EU Referendum.

By putting a figure on his promise, Cameron created a yardstick against which he would be held to account, and which would give Tory-supporting newspapers a ready-made stick with which to beat his government.

Cameron’s target proved to be undeliverable, but he had succeeded in unleashing an unprecedented popular press campaign that would reinforce the link between the Conservative-brand and hostility to immigrants.

Immigration scare stories were already regular newspaper fare and they would become the weapon of choice for the tabloid press during the rise of UKIP, and then the referendum campaign.

The more Nigel Farage thrived on his ability to exploit an anti-immigration platform, the more appealing it subsequently became to leading Conservative Brexiteers who had no hesitation in encouraging and manipulating tabloid headlines warning of the dangers of ineffective controls.

Just as MPs are having to shoulder an unprecedented responsibility following Theresa May’s historic Brexit defeat, broadcasters should rise to the challenge and find a more informative and representative way to test local opinion.

News coverage in the immediate aftermath of the crushing rejection of May’s EU withdrawal agreement displayed yet again all the faults of the tired and repetitive formula used by television and radio programmes to canvas views of those living in prominent Leave or Remain communities.

If ever there was a format that illustrated the failings of lazy broadcast journalism, it is the ever-predictable Vox Pops sequence.

Day after day throughout the Brexit trauma, from referendum to parliamentary crisis, we have seen the same scene.

The role of the British press in campaigning to swing the Brexit vote – and the failure of broadcasters to hold either Remain or Leave to account – dominated a conference in London organised by the Association of European Journalists.

An array of tabloid front pages – including the Daily Mail’s “Enemies of the People” and more recently, the Sun’s “EU Dirty Rats” headline after the disastrous Salzburg summit – were cited as examples of biased press coverage in support of Brexit.

In the view of most of those taking part in the conference (28.9.2018), the unleashing of a continuing tide of headlines about Remain “traitors”, and a torrent of stories about “ambushes” and “bullying” by the Brussels establishment, will have the effect of reinforcing a false prospectus.

There were dire predictions for the tone and content future coverage by the Brexiteer newspapers in a “diminished Brexit Britain”.