Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Fears over immigration re-entered the list of voters’ top ten concerns in August – an all-too predictable response after weeks of inflammatory scare stories about ‘an invasion of illegal migrants’ arriving along the English Channel coast.

Alarmist coverage in newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express encouraged broadcasters to follow suit.

Radio and television crews headed out to sea from Dover to intercept inflatable dinghies and other small craft.

‘The unions are back’ declared The Guardian’s headline over an interview with the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady in which she called on the government to establish a new consensus with the trade union movement to help restore the economy.

No wonder there was just a hint of grim satisfaction: a recognition that it had taken a national emergency and countless deaths to turn the clock back to the days when Prime Ministers had to listen to the collective voice of workers if they were to have any chance of governing effectively.  

A vicious and highly personalised attack on teachers’ trade union leaders for daring to demand stricter safety conditions ahead of the phased re-opening of primary schools in England was another unpleasant reminder of the hateful coverage that has become so entrenched in much of daily press reporting.

Amid the devastation of the coronavirus crisis and a looming economic catastrophe, Boris Johnson and his communication advisers remain wedded to media routines ill-suited to a national emergency.

Deeply entrenched in the Downing Street psyche is an addiction to manipulating the news agenda, a determination come what may to trail announcements in advance and grab the news agenda.

Rarely has a peacetime Prime Minister struggling with a national emergency been as fortunate as Boris Johnson in being spared the broad sweep of hostile coverage that proved so debilitating to his predecessors.

Johnson has been blessed with a personal story line tailor-made for the popular press – ‘From death to paternity’ (Daily Mail, 30.4.2020) – and Conservative newspapers have remained his stalwart cheerleaders.