Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

When Shami Chakrabarti appeared on stage wearing a red poppy to accept her award as 2008 communicator of the year, she triggered flashbacks which trouble me every year. Why was a civil rights campaigner the only winner at the annual PR Week awards dinner (Grosvenor House, 21.10.2008) to wear a poppy? What was the director of Liberty trying to say two and a half weeks before Remembrance Sunday?

For a critical two-week period, Boris Johnson’s near-death escape from the coronavirus infection topped the news agenda diverting the focus of much of the daily coverage away from vital, searching questions that needed to be asked about the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Day after day the tabloid press became obsessed with the fine detail of a sensational personal drama, a touch and go moment in the life of a Prime Minister, alone in Downing Street, separated from his pregnant fiancée, Carrie Symonds, also infected by the virus.

“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.”

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