Where Britain’s Conservative-supporting newspapers differ from the free press in so much of the western world is in their well-honed role as rabid propagandists.
As polling day approaches in the 2017 general election, the name of the game is to play down the flow of bad news that will become a tsunami with the looming prospect of a hard Brexit.
Any mention of the downside of the Leave vote in the 2016 EU Referendum is being quietly side lined by the Tory tabloids in the final weeks of the general election campaign.
In a calculated display of support, Theresa May’s staunchest cheerleaders are ignoring the impact of the transfer of bank and finance jobs to Frankfurt, Dublin, Paris and the like; the loss of academic and research funding; the falling off in industrial investment; or the steady drift away in skilled EU workers.
Instead the Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph trumpet the positive message that a government under the “strong and stable leadership” of Prime Minister May will get the best deal for the UK from the Brexit negotiations.
The wrath of the tabloids’ negativity is reserved for the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, ridiculed and demonised at will, condemned for offering the country a “coalition of chaos” if elected on Thursday 8 June.
Rarely do we find the propagandists of the Tory press so in synch with the Prime Minister of the day as they have been over Brexit, delivering an unquestioning endorsement that should result in an all-powerful May government if the predictions of an election landslide prove correct.
Almost without intervention or direction Conservative newspapers know when to switch the focus of their coverage. In the months leading up to the referendum they were relentless in promoting the Brexit cause, taunting those who wanted to remain for being duped by Project Fear.
In response to the snap general election, the Tory press has now done a swift about turn, desperate to avoid giving legitimacy to stories that might fire up the Remainers and encourage them to vote tactically to defeat Conservative candidates.
Hence the limited, and often non-existent coverage of news about the downturn in the economy or the repercussions of the inflationary pressures triggered by the fall in the value of the pound.
Any stories that are printed tend to be shunted to the back of the paper, and all too often appear in the small print of the City pages. The Guardian, Daily Mirror and Financial Times do redress the balance, giving prominence to job losses, and the declining levels of investment across the financial sector, industry and agriculture.
Needless to say those Tory MPs who clamoured for a hard Brexit in the immediate euphoria following the triggering of Article 50 are now holding their fire, hanging back, keeping out the of the news, fearing that any uncalled-for provocation might spur on Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green activists to combine forces and vote tactically in an attempt to oust pro-Leave Conservative MPs.
The significance of the Tory press body swerve in toning down their incessant pro-Brexit propaganda is that their non-reporting of the Brexit fall-out feeds through to the wider reportage of the general election.
By keeping the focus on the choice between “strong and stable leadership” and a “coalition of chaos” under Corbyn, the broadcasters tend to follow the same narrative and this lessens the danger of radio and television correspondents challenging May and her ministers on their negotiating stance with EU leaders.
Exposing the frailty of May’s negotiating position is one of those dodgy issues which the Conservatives’ election supremo Lynton Crosby is all too keen to keep out of the headlines, so every effort is made to avoid antagonising those voters who appear to have concluded that there is no alternative but for the UK to leave the EU and reject the Liberal Democrats’ offer of a second referendum.
Because there are so few opportunities to grill May and her team on the hard choices that will have to be made in the EU negotiations, the output of the BBC increasingly gives the impression that its bulletins and programmes have almost become pro-Brexit by default.
No wonder the latest opinion poll from YouGov suggests that 68 per cent of people want Brexit to go ahead.
I doubt the pollsters would be so confident in their findings if the tabloid headlines had reflected the post-Brexit woes of the City of London and the Confederation of British Industry.
The US bank J P Morgan has just bought an office block for 1,000 workers in Dublin; Deutsche Bank is to shift 4,000 jobs to Frankfurt; HSBC says 1,000 jobs will go to Paris; Standard Chartered is relocating staff to Frankfurt; Lloyd’s of London opening up in Brussels, and so it goes on.
Leading architects are the latest to warn of a haemorrhaging of EU staff – a trend being repeated across academic and research institutions, and high-tech companies.
Perhaps the last time The Tory press proved so loyal – and were so calculated in downplaying the consequences of government policy – was in the early 1980s, at the height of the nationalised industry closures during the Premiership of Margaret Thatcher.
Her Brexit-like challenge was defeating the trade union movement, an objective shared by the press proprietors of the day, just as their successors are determined to end EU interference in their media interests.
As wave after wave of redundancies hit the coalfields, steel works and heavy industry, the tabloids downplayed the consequences of the massive job losses that were taking place as a result of the Thatcher government’s policies.
She was saved by the 1984-85 miners’ strike. Her rallying cry was that the Conservatives were restoring the rule of law in face of trade union anarchy, a line that was pushed by the Tory tabloids as relentlessly as they hammered the need for the UK to “take back control” from the EU.
I remember only too well the way I was harangued for broadcasts that pitched the closures and redundancies from a trade union perspective, that tried to expose the way the government was manipulating its control over the National Coal Board.
So, spare a thought for today’s broadcasters. I am sure many of them would like to do more to scrutinise the hard choices that Mrs May and her team are considering as they prepare for what increasingly appears to be a hard Brexit.
But don’t hold your breath: with the tabloids, all but eliminating Brexit bad- news scenarios, Mrs May and her cheerleaders in the press seem all set to keep news agenda fixed firmly on the choice between her “strong and stable leadership” and the calamity of a Corbyn-led “coalition of chaos”.
Illustrations: Daily Mail (19.4.2017, 12.5.2017), Daily Express (19.4.2017), and London Evening Standard (12.5.2017)