When Theresa May finally acknowledged in the House of Commons that the UK would be worse off economically after Brexit, she posed questions the British news media should attempt to answer:
“How many jobs are being threatened by Brexit?”
“And, more importantly, how many have been lost already?”
No answers are likely from Brexit-supporting newspapers that command 70 per cent of national sales and readership.
Not only will there be no attempt to explain or justify the loss of output and employment, but the Brextremist press will carry on their cover-up, continuing to totally ignore news stories that point to halted investments, declining job opportunities and a damaging exodus of talented staff.
Unrelenting pro-Brexit propaganda – exaggerating positive forecasts but ignoring harsh facts – represents a massive challenge to the multiplicity of groups and factions fighting to reverse the UK’s departure from the EU single market and customs union.
The only way to counter the Brexiteers’ falsehoods is to fight them with factual data and analysis, but what is so lacking is a co-ordinated media strategy to counter misrepresentation.
All the information is out there, and leading pro-EU campaigners, such as former Blair spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, now editor-at-large of the New European, could easily help marshal a far stronger case if only they could all agree on tactics.
For a start, campaigners could pull together a weekly analysis of news reports from up and down the country of companies and businesses postponing investments, delaying the hiring of new staff, and moving their headquarters or offices away from Britain to elsewhere in the EU.
The lack of fair and balanced reporting by the four most ardent Brexit-backing newspapers – Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph – was graphically illustrated by their failure to make any mention of a warning issued directly to the Prime Minister by executives of leading Japanese companies based in the UK, including carmakers such as Nissan, Toyota and Honda.
A delegation led by the Japanese ambassador met Mrs May in Downing Street in February to remind her government that Japanese investment in the UK has reached £46.5 billion, and that Japanese businesses supported 142,000 UK jobs.
They warned that if free trade with Europe was seriously disrupted by Brexit – and Japanese companies started losing money – they would be prepared to leave the UK.
Television footage of the delegation’s meeting with the Prime Minister – and the ambassador’s stark warning – featured prominently in news bulletins on BBC, ITV and Sky News, and was reported on inside pages of the Metro free newspaper and The Times.
The failure of the Brexit press to offer readers even the smallest reference to the implications that exit from the single market and customs union might have on workers with Japanese employers was totally in line with their editorial policy both before and after the 2016 EU Referendum.
While the Remain campaign was ridiculed in the referendum campaign for mounting “Project Fear”, coverage of the relevant facts in pro-Leave newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph was wholly one sided, and they regularly refused to back down or correct misleading or mistaken reports.
Although hard choices are now having to be made by the government, and although Mrs May acknowledged in her Mansion House speech in March that there will be a hit to the British economy as access to the EU market will be “less than it is now”, the Brexit press is as brazen as before.
Rarely if ever is space given to news items which challenge their narrative that Britain already has a booming post-Brexit economy.
What is so lacking is any objective analysis of the reality of what is taking place across the country, in company boardrooms, offices or on the shop floor.
There is no shortage of anecdotal information about jobs and opportunities being postponed or lost, but no sign of an overall assessment, a pull together of the statistics with graphs, charts and analysis.
In the years leading up to the launch of New Labour and Tony Blair’s 1997 election landslide, the party’s media operation, directed among others by Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, was renowned for its ability to capture the news agenda by the release of well-researched data from think tanks and pressure groups.
Cuts in newsroom budgets, and the decline in investigative journalism, have eaten away at the media’s ability to collate, assess and analyse information – and that is most certainly the case when it comes to the slow drip of largely-unreported facts and figures relating to the way companies are adjusting to the UK’s exit from the single market and customs union.
Campbell should apply to the task of challenging the Brexiteers the same logic that he spelled out in the New European (15.3.2018) when reflecting on Blair’s dealings with President Putin, and the tactics that Russians are likely to adopt in dismissing responsibility for the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
Putin is following what Campbell says is OST: the clarity of pursuing a task by first deciding the Objective, Strategy and Tactic. In Putin’s case, OST had aligned all three in the single objective of reasserting Russian strength in the world.
When it comes to Brexit and Campbell’s commitment to reversing the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the objective could not be clearer, but the same cannot be said for either the Remainers’ “Strategy” or “Tactic”.
The time has come for Campbell to take a leaf out of the New Labour playbook and work out a strategy to challenge the Brexiteers by the tactic of presenting the facts to the British people.
All the data is there, it simply needs collating and assessing and then being presented to the public in the same relentless and ruthless way that comes so easily to the Brexit press.
It was the hard slog of playing the “numbers games” on immigration statistics which paid off so handsomely for Migration Watch, and later for UKIP and the Leave campaign, when promoting fears over immigration during the referendum campaign.
The very act of publishing lists – and naming names – of delayed and lost investment and worsening employment prospects, will have a chilling effect on the Brexiteers, or the “Job Destroyers” as they will so soon come to be known.
Illustrations: I newspaper (20.2.2018); Metro (9.2.2018); Sun (9.2.2018)