Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

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.

With critical decisions about the taken on future access to the customs union and single market, so much of the Conservative-supporting press has lost all sense of objectivity, and with daily circulations falling so fast, there is a real sense that the tables are about to be turned.

Today's tabloid hate figures are Remain stalwarts such as Conservative MPs Anna Soubry and Kenneth Clarke, and former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, but try as they might the Brexit newspapers are unlikely to repeat the demolition job of the 1980s when they could exercise their make-or-break influence at will.

Headlines in the Daily Telegraph denouncing "The Brexit Mutineers", and the Daily Mail predicting "Fury at Tory Collaborators", are just a foretaste of what is in store if Theresa May's government is pushed to the brink of defeat by rebellious Conservative MPs.

The Remoaners should take heart: Jeremy Corbyn has demonstrated an unerring ability not just to survive but even to thrive on the back of the tabloids’ never-ending campaign of character assassination.

 His continued calm demeanour despite having nearly exhausted the Daily Mail headline writers' store of abuse -- "The Terrorists' Friend", "An Apologist for Terror", "An Apologist for Slaughter" -- is a daily illustration of the waning impact of the printed media,

Arch Brexiteers undoubtedly gain comfort from the slavish support afforded them by the columnists and commentators of the anti-EU press, and quite understandably they have probably lulled themselves into believing this adulation will see them through.

But the stark reality is that as Theresa May discovered in her disastrous snap general election in June, the joker in the pack is the future turnout among the hundreds of thousands of young voters who deprived her of a clear Parliamentary majority.

They are living their lives online, rarely reading newspapers or watching or hearing news bulletins, and their embrace of social media has deprived the press proprietors of the political clout they once enjoyed.

Corbyn's supporters mobilised unprecedented levels of voting among the key 18-24 age group, and if their support could be rallied again for a pro-Brexit push back, the arch Brexiteers would face an almighty backlash.

Labour activists are already busy on plans to decapitate the likes of Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith should May be defeated unexpectedly and is forced to call another general election.

The lack of any sign of strong leadership among those fighting against a hard Brexit allows the vociferous Brexiteers to continue sounding so dominant on television and radio, and together with their command of the Tory press, the lack of co-ordination on the Remain side is all the more telling.

Opinion polls have not picked up any significant switch against Brexit and show that Labour is little more than 42-40 per cent ahead of the Conservatives.

If pollsters directed more surveys on the 18-24, 25-34 and 35-44 age groups -- which voted by a large majority for Remain -- there would then be a more useful indicator to the future voting intentions of these key groups.

What is certain given Jeremy Corbyn's experience in the general election is that these are the very groups that get most of their news and information online and are least influenced by the printed media.

The Tory press might command 70 per cent of daily newspaper sales, but their largely pro-Brexit ageing readership would be nowhere near enough to save the likes of Johnson and Gove should the key board warriors that were unleashed in support of Corbyn turn their fire on today's tabloid heroes.

Nicholas Jones lecture: Teflon Corbyn? Press demonization and the waning power of the Tory tabloids, Cardiff University, 7.30pm Tuesday 21 November.