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.

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).

What Shadows, Chris Hannan’s dramatic play about the build-up and aftermath of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, explores the fracturing of a family friendship, while nailing at the same time an important home truth about a politician attempting to manipulate the news media.

Seeing my mother make her principled stand in rebuking Powell for exploiting immigration, and then hearing her berate my father for having advised Powell on how to promote the speech, prompted some timely reflection on my part, a salutary reminder perhaps of my own culpability as a journalist. 

Hannan’s production, which had its premiere at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (1.11.2016), has Ian McDiarmid in the lead role; George Costigan as my father, Clem Jones, former editor of the Wolverhampton Express and Star; and Paula Wilcox as Marjorie Jones.

In my mother’s opinion Powell, to further his political career, had crossed an unforgivable line when he raised fears about Wolverhampton’s rising immigrant population, describing what he claimed was the plight of the last white woman living in a street near our home, a war widow who had been harassed by “wide-grinning piccaninnies.”

January 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the Campaign for Freedom of Information and the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act. A new book, FOI 10 years on: freedom fighting or lazy journalism (Abramis) is due to be published in February 2015).Nicholas Jones explores the errors of judgements that led to self-inflicted humiliation, and that culminated, after four years’ prevarication, in calamitous repercussions for confidence in the political process.

British politicians have continued to pay a heavy price for the House of Commons’ wilful obstruction of the disclosure required by the Freedom of Information Act.  An explosion of public anger in May 2009 that followed revelations about the way Members of Parliament had abused their expenses, and in some cases even defrauded the taxpayer, was far greater and lasted far longer than would probably have been the case if the Parliamentary authorities had started answering journalists’ inquiries as soon as the Act finally took effect in January 2005. The lesson of the Westminster expenses scandal is that if a managed release of information is rejected, and then subsequently thwarted, journalists will always try to retaliate and that illicitly-acquired data can invariably find a buyer in today’s competitive media market place.

What Do We Mean By Local? The Rise, Fall and Possible Rise Again of Local Journalism, due to be published in September, reflects on the golden age of the provincial press and examines the future prospects for local newspapers and other local news outlets.

My father Clem Jones was editor of the Wolverhampton Express and Star throughout the 1960s and he helped a provincial pace setter gain national prominence.  Strong local news coverage and innovative localism in sales and distribution drove circulation ever upwards.

In a chapter for What Do We Mean By Local? I explore ­– from the perspective of a schoolboy and then trainee reporter – the highs and lows, and also stresses and strains, of what it must have been like editing one of the most successful local evening newspapers in the country.

My father, who joined the Express and Star as district reporter at Bilston in 1943, had over the years become a close friend of Enoch Powell since his election as Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West in 1950.  

The two men would talk animatedly for hours; my father admired Powell’s diligence as a constituency MP and Powell, who was fascinated by the processes involved in news management, was eager for tips on how to use the media to promote his political career.

But their friendship was shattered by the racist tone of Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in April 1968. My father, who had gained an unconditional exemption from war service as a conscientious objector – and who had been sacked in 1940 for refusing to report stories in support of the war effort – was about to find that once again his own editorial principles would be tested almost to destruction.