Boris, the Tories and the tummy-tickling poodle press
Posted on 6 March 2009 | 9:03am
Imagine that Mayor Ken Livinsgtone had been in contact with, and made odd public comments about, a Labour MP at the centre of a police investigation?
Imagine that this had led to an inquiry which, whilst saying Mr Livingstone was not in breach of the rules of the Greater London Authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority, said his actions were ‘extraordinary and unwise,’ that they might ‘inhibit full and free discussion’ of high profile cases ‘between the chief officer of police and a police authority chairman’ in the future, that they ‘placed him at risk of being called as a witness by either the CPS or defence in any criminal prosecution [of the MP], to the potential detriment of his office as chairman of the MPA,’ and that his behaviour risked being ‘perceived as furthering private interests.’
Imagine the public humiliation that would then be heaped upon Mr Livingstone as he and his senior officials were told they had to take lessons in appropriate behaviour for the public office they hold.
Does anyone for one moment believe that this would have come and gone as quickly as it has with our largely supine, Tory-tummy-tickling 24 hour media? Of course not. And why? Because it was not Livingstone but Boris Johnson who was the subject of the inquiry and those comments amid the findings of solicitor Jonathan Goolden.
Had it been Livingstone, the story on Day 1 would have been wall to wall in the London evening papers, with each of those quotes turned into a bad headline for Ken, then an analysis of all the ‘cronies’ around him who would be blamed for getting him into the mess in the first place. It would have led the London TV and radio news, and been number 4 or 5 on the national news, with the words ‘unwise and extraordinary’ coming well ahead of ‘cleared of misconduct’. Day 2 would have focussed on the ‘unanswered questions.’ Livingstone would have been hauled before some committee or other, or chased down by the media as he left home, to explain and be asked why he had not apologised and when was he going to start his lessons in leadership?
By Day 3, the loose ends would be being picked at, one of the so-called cronies would say something a bit different to something Livingstone had said as he stepped off the tube yesterday, and then away it would go for another news cycle. Meanwhile the massed ranks of the commentariat would be out saying this was the last straw, bye-bye Ken, let’s vote for Boris.
And what happened with Boris? It would not surprise me if you were reading about this for the first time. It was not so much as damp squid as bone dry. A few headlines saying ‘Johnson cleared,’ most of the media ignoring it completely, please turn to page 10 for another editorial saying Boris has not turned out to be as big a disaster as everyone warned.
It was the same tummy-tickling Tory bias (TV and radio every bit as much as print by the way) when Tory MP Damien Green was arrested. Does anyone for one second think that if a Labour MP had been arrested, Labour would so easily have been able to generate the synthetic outrage in most of the media about PC Plod
trampling around an MP’s office. (Compare and contrast the zeal with which the tummy-ticklers urged on ‘Yates of the Yard’ when pursuing false and politically motivated ‘cash for honours’ allegations. Subjecting the Prime Minister to police interview about something an SNP MP said – but of course, cry the tummy-ticklers. Asking a Tory MP to answer a few questions about what may be a breach of the Official Secrets Act – outrage! How could they do this to our democracy?
Just as the Tories under David Cameron get a totally easy ride from the media on policy, and the inconsistency of uncosted and unworkable policies, so on issues of standards, it looks like the tummy-ticklers will be playing the same game.
As I keep saying to people in the Labour Party, there is no point hanging around waiting for a fair and balanced press. There is not that much you can do if the media in Britain is not fit for purpose, and does not discharge its responsibility (or in the main even feel any such responsibility) to genuine debate about the political choices facing Britain. They have just decided that getting Gordon and saying nothing positive about Labour is the only coverage they are really interested in, and that the Tories are to be nothing more than the cheerleaders for that one-eyed approach.
The good news is that the public are on to it. It means that face to face campaigning, online communications and above all consistent and relentless exposure to the public of who the Tories are and what they stand for, is more important than ever.