Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Once the go ahead was given for the 12 December poll, feature writers for the dominant Tory press began dusting down their vast library of horror stories about life under a future Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn.

Dire predictions have been the stock in trade for highly paid columnists whose anti-Corbyn tirades have been afforded regular full-page treatment ever since he was elected Labour leader in August 2015.

Their rants started re-appearing with a vengeance from the very first day of the 2019 election campaign:

“Corbyn and his cronies who’d turn the UK into Venezuela (Leo McKinstry, Daily Mail, 30.10.2019) harked back to a catalogue of scare stories from the summer of 2017 that linked Corbyn to rioting in Caracas.

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.

Tabloid newspaper readers might be forgiven for thinking that the tag Teflon Corbyn is misplaced, given the dire predictions as to what might happen should the Labour Party win the next general election and Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister.

While not having quite the same ring as Teflon Tony -- recognition of the way trouble did not stick initially to Tony Blair -- the Corbyn nickname does reflect an unpalatable fact for the Tory press.

Their diet of scare stories just bounces off the Labour leader and he has survived -- even thrived -- on a prolonged campaign of character assassination.

The demise of Britain's right-wing tabloids has been forecast for some years, but their long-standing support for Brexit put paid to that contention.

Indeed, the narrow vote to Leave in the 2016 European Referendum -- after decades of negative reporting about EU interference and the impact of rising immigration -- was widely acknowledged as being perhaps the most powerful moment in the recent history of the popular press.

A year later, the tabloids were marginalised as never before when their unprecedented vilification of Corbyn in the lead-up to the 2017 general election proved to be largely counter-productive, becoming a recruiting sergeant for Labour's young activists.

How could two sharply contrasting outcomes occur in such a short space of time? The answer lies in the UK's changing media landscape.

There are a multitude of differences in the approaches taken by Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn towards their leadership of the Labour Party, but by far the most significant in terms of today's political campaigning has been Corbyn's total disregard for the bullying of the Tory tabloid press.

Blair, on becoming party leader, was so fearful of the political impact of newspapers such as the Sun, News of the World, The Times and Sunday Times that he went to Australia to seek a fair hearing from Rupert Murdoch.

Two decades after the New Labour landslide of 1997, egged on by the all-embracing support of Murdoch's newspapers, Corbyn has exposed the waning political influence -- if not impotence -- of the once mighty press barons.

Rapidly declining newspaper sales, an ageing print readership, and the inexorable rise of a younger generation of voters largely out-with the reach of mainstream media, are combining to finally put paid to the effectiveness of the scares and smears that for so long have been the daily fare of a Labour-hating mind set nurtured in the Fleet Street of old.

Having worked for fifty years alongside journalists and columnists writing to agendas set by newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph, I can sense their all-too sudden loss of authority; gone are the days when the line taken by their newspapers could swing voter sentiment or put the Labour leadership on the defensive.

If Jeremy Corbyn was the unintended beneficiary of the vilest general election reporting of my lifetime, then Theresa May was the true casualty of the bile spewed out by Conservative-supporting newspapers.

She was so cocooned by the deadly embrace of the anti-Corbyn hate of Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s Sun that she was duped into thinking that having been crowned a popular hero by the UK’s two biggest selling tabloids, voters were bound to agree.

Press adulation is seductive for any Prime Minister. May was lauded from the moment she stood for the party leadership and then promised to deliver a hard Brexit.

The 52-48 Leave vote was seen by the Brextremist press – Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph – as their crowning achievement, an outcome that would not have been delivered if it had not been for their relentless 30-year demonisation of the European Union.

The fatal mistake of May and her team was a failure to realise the extent to which young people who felt their future had been stolen by Brexit were becoming highly politicised, and that unlike their parents, they relied on social media rather than the press.