Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

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.

A visceral demolition job directed against Corbyn and his close colleagues John McDonnell and Diane Abbott might have reassured Theresa May in the closing stages of the 2017 election, and might also have confirmed the views of elderly Conservative voters, but it had no impact on the increasingly politically-aware 18-24 age group, and was of little relevance to voters in their 30s and 40s.

Since leaving The Times for the BBC in 1972, I have not worked for a national newspaper, but I have spent countless hours in the company of their journalists, gaining an insight into the pressures they face to write – and sometimes manufacture – news stories, features and commentaries that suit the editorial line of their employers.

Whether it was their mission to demonise Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, Arthur Scargill or a host of trade union leaders or left-leaning Labour MPs, there was never any doubt that a story line and headline would have to fit a pre-determined angle.

This is not the place to name names, but a few anecdotes might do the job:

A distraught industrial journalist on the Sun forced to leave because the paper's anti-trade union bile had proved too much to take

A Daily Mail columnist's description of the struggle of writing to order for Paul Dacre's editorial desk: "It is like fighting a shark. The back bench is on to you all the time to keep sharpening up your line of attack, and you are gripped by a fear that you will fail to cut through."

A Daily Telegraph journalist waiting for the word to be passed down from the owners, the Barclay twins, as to the lengths to which the paper should go to campaign for a Leave vote.

I have thought for some years that the campaigning power of the tabloids was on the wane, but the 2016 European Union Referendum, and the narrow Leave vote, was influenced beyond all else by years and years of immigration scare stories and anti-Brussels hysteria.

When giving talks to sixth formers in the run-up to the referendum, I asked pupils to consider whether they personally felt comfortable in a multi-ethnic UK, and whether they thought their newspaper-reading grandparents, most of whom intended to vote Leave, might have been brainwashed by a lifetime of biased press coverage of life in the European Union.

I tended to pose the question after a giving a Powerpoint presentation of alarmist front pages from papers such as the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express.

Usually the response was one of shock: young voters had rarely seen, and certainly had no prior understanding of the drip, drip effect of such negative coverage.

On a show hands, it was clear they all obtained their information via social media, from websites and other inter-active online groups. The surge in turnout among the 18-24 age group -- and their predominant Labour vote -- was proof if proof was needed, that the Tory tabloids, while reinforcing the prejudices of older voters, had over-reached themselves.

Perhaps the BBC News Channel and Sky News should drop their evening newspaper reviews and instead provide a daily rundown on what was creating the greatest interest online, a checklist perhaps of the issues trending that day on Twitter or gaining most likes on Facebook.

Illustrations: Sun 7.6.2001 and 18.1.2016