Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

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”.

Nicholas Jones reflected on almost sixty years in journalism in a lecture for the Old Tettenhallians (27.9.2018). He left school in the summer of 1959 at the age of sixteen. He admitted being a slow learner, having secured only four GCE ‘O’ level passes, insufficient to get into the sixth form to do ‘A’ levels. Back in the 1960s, in the post-war boom years, there were plenty of jobs for young people. He went straight in as a trainee and took up newspaper reporting:

“I have now spent my entire adult life as a journalist – even in retirement. You could say, that’s only to be expected once I tell you about my family. We can’t be helped. My grandfather was a journalist; my father was a journalist – and he became editor of the Wolverhampton evening paper, the Express and Star; my brother George was political editor of the Daily Telegraph; my son is a journalist on The Guardian newspaper; my daughter in law is another journalist, a programme editor at the BBC.  Even my mother loved journalism: here is one of the many book reviews she wrote for Express and Star.

A unanimous vote by the trustees to close our care home was a gut-wrenching moment, given my 17-year association with the admirable work of the Journalists’ Charity in housing and assisting retired and needy journalists.

For generations of reporters and sub-editors, in newsrooms up and down the country, there was always the re-assurance that if they fell off their perch and hit hard times in old age, there would be a place for them at the Newspaper Press Fund’s residential home in Dorking.

Sadly, that particular safety net is no more. Pickering House, opened by the Countess of Wessex in September 2007 –  as a replacement for the charity’s original care home, Sandy Cross – closed its doors in June when the last of the residents moved out to alternative homes. The buildings and spacious gardens are up for sale.

Just a short walk away is the charity’s estate of 23 bungalows and flats at Ribblesdale, which is unaffected by closure, and continues to offer retirement homes, but the days when veterans of the trade lived together as a community in a care home, sat around yarning, having the odd drink, are just a memory.