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Guardian of social justice or attention-seeker?

Posted on 3 June 2009 | 10:06am

Up early and off to Hull for a mental health conference.
Having caught the end of Newsnight, I was thinking it would be good for my own
mental health if I avoided the papers, but it is impossible to escape the
bombardment of the media age when travelling. 

Airports are the worst. 24 hour news blaring
away to audiences which average around zero, and you cannot board a plane these
days without someone trying to forcefeed you with a copy of the Daily Mail. I
would rather have measles (which the Mail helped give via their grotesque MMR
campaign of course).

Train stations are not much better mind you. Armies of people thrusting
freesheets at you. Oh the litter. Then onto the train and along with the free
coffee in first class come more paper boys and girls.

Partly to halt the tide I took a copy of
The Guardian. I was aware from last night’s breathless Newsnight report by
David Grossman (well done to John Denham and Roy Hattersley for showing a bit
of fight by the way, and to Roy in particular for reminding Paxo that TV
journalism was once a serious calling, not a game in gossip-montage) that The
Guardian was urging the Labour Party to dump GB.

The paper will be pleased to know I also heard about this via Five Live in the
cab to the station, and Breakfast News when I arrived there.

Modern journalism
is about impact. The Daily Telegraph has been somewhat monopolising impact. The
Guardian has had few places to go. A nibble with the Lib Dems here, a cuddle
with the Greens there, but hardly high impact. Calling on GB to go …

I’m not saying this is the only reason, and I don’t doubt
there are well-meaning people, among them the ones who used to opine that if
only Blair went and Brown took over the world would become a perfect place, who
really think Labour would benefit from a sudden change.

But writing an
editorial, a column or a blog is easy compared with managing your way through a
crisis for Parliament and politics. What they do not offer is an answer to the
question ‘and then what?’

There is a lot of talk about Alan Johnson, and as I head
to his constituency, I am well aware of his qualities, not least what he has
done for the NHS (rarely in the news these days because Labour has vastly
improved it as promised). But I see no evidence he is about to make a move or a
challenge. Nor does the Guardian have to worry about the likelihood of GB’s
successor having to hold an election at the worst possible time – a legitimate
political consideration.

A few other things I spotted in the paper. A page of ‘money-can’t-buy’ puffery
for the BNP. The ease with which some in the liberal press has fallen for their
‘moderation’ strategy is a disgrace.

On page one, to be fair to the Guardian, more evidence of David Cameron’s
dreadful European policy -these are the European elections remember – and his
cuddling up to gay-hating, German-hating Czechs and Poles rather than Sarkozy
and Merkel.

If a Labour leader in Opposition was in bed with people a tenth as bad as
this, we would never hear the end of it.
But the two things in the paper that really caught
my eye were less prominent.

A trail for an online piece by former Labour MP Bryan Gould … ‘ If Labour
goes down without a trace, society’s least well off will be without a

And even more so a letter by Newcastle councillor Jeremy Beecham, who
lists the improvements in schools, housing, children’s services, policing and
other areas of life in his inner-city ward and concludes ‘as a probably
beneficiary of any Conservative government, I tremble for the future of my

Would that our left-leaning media, as they whip themselves
day by day into ever greater frenzies, cared as much about the people Jeremy

  • Alan Quinn

    AC.. you missed Billy 16 pints squirming over Lord Ashcroft’s residency status, a bit of a Michael Howard moment for me.
    Agree with the comments on Hattersley and Denham though and Peter Kilfoyle did well too.

  • Patsy Hills

    You are right the media is all about impact, but that does not negate the fact that Gordon Brown has been a disappointment. I agree as well that it is rich for all these people who slagged off Blair so much, and saw Brown as the saviour, now to be going for him too. But something has to give.The situation is terrible for Labour and even though I agree with Mr Beecham, we cannot limp on like this.

  • markable

    The perspective you share here is compelling, Alistair, and I, also, find the attitude of Labour’s supposed allies questionable at such a challenging time. The problem is, dear GB is sowing his own demise by being deafeningly silent in the greatest crisis parliamentary democracy has seen in a generation. I cannot see a certain TB or indeed an MT allowing this saga to run in the absence of clear and dynamic leadership.The only good news for Labour is DC is almost as lacking in such dynamism, for the reasons you identify, among others.
    Keep up the good blogging. MB

  • morph366

    The reasoning in the Guardian editorial was spot on.
    It isn’t a right wing/left wing – that’s so yesteryear – it’s about many human beings observing another human being who is not suited to the task.
    Shame you cannot be candid and express a view on the matter yourself

  • Jason Bough

    I too felt glad to see Denham and Hattersley at least show a bit of fight. There is far too much meeting the media half way. Yes expenses is terrible, but not for all of them,, and not to the exclusion of all else that is important. Planes dropping out of the sky – but oh no, someone claimed wrongly for a bathplug. Hold the front page.
    As for Cameron, he keeps strange company indeed

  • Alison Stead

    Do all the papers given out free count in their circulation figures? I always take a Daily Mail if offered it, and then bin it, then take another one.

  • Richard

    Would that be Jeremy Beecham – former chair of the LGA? Hokely dokely. I’m not sure if you’re criticizing the Guardian for trying to sell newspapers or because they aren’t supporting Brown.

    I went to college in Hull – marvellous town – have a gud un.

  • Ian, London

    Spot on Alastair. My first thought on reading this last night was that Polly has been passing the superstrength valium around the leader writers. Dinner party attention seeking aside however, the Gould and Beecham points are what every Labour activist or advocate need to shout about. We might have made mistakes along the way – especially in terms of getting our priorities wrong – but if people think that carpet-bagger Cameron and his merry band of Trustfarians have the answers, they’re not only asking the wrong questions, they’ve lost all sense of political perspective.

  • Anne

    One of the reasons I am so cross about the expenses scandal is precisely the reason Jeremy Beecham gives-those who need a Labour Government most will be deprived of one because people either won’t vote at all, or will vote for minority parties or will vote Tory-Labour won’t win again for at least a decade unless there is a miracle.
    These greedy, hubristic MPs (both Labour and Tory) have fed the apathy and disillusion that were embryonic allowing people to find yet more ‘reasons’ not to engage in the political process.And that means the Tories win and it’s another victory for the Daily Mail. How irresponsible!!

  • Brian Hughes

    One of the joys of moving to the sticks (and of travelling steerage rather than in the wide seats) is that it’s easier to escape what passes these days for news. But I do miss London!

    Bryan Gould and Jeremy Beecham are spot on.

    The most distressing result of the expenses scandal seems to me to be that it gives an excuse for the borderline apathetic to tip over into non voters. I guess that suits the Telegraph just fine.

    It’s all part of a poisonous cocktail of envy, cynicism and simplistic solutions peddled by those who know they can’t beat Labour on policy. Similar to what was done to Clinton in the US – but the real disaster is that so many on our side have, just as he did with his dalliances, handed out free ammunition…

  • Craig, Oxfordshire

    The Guardian seems totally lost at present. By following the Cameron agenda so eargerly, it seems to have created for itself a vacuum in responsibility.

    The biggest disappointment for me of New Labour’s reign has been the inability to communicate by getting the left-leaning media on side after Blair’s departure, the vast improvements to Society we have lived though since 1997. Brown has singularly failed to do this.Andy Beckett’s piece in the Guardian today brings it all home to me. GB had the chance and the foundations to build upon the Blair years.

    Saying all that – I still question the Guardian’s direction – hanging onto Dave’s every word.

  • Bar Bar of Oz

    But t’is the Left media who led the charge to get rid of TB n’est ce pas? Hasn’t the Graud been sucking up to David Cameron for some time now?

    Being in Oz, it’s been quite hard following the nitty gritty of the New Labour (Tony Blair) vision’s collapse under Gordon and the Brownites, but this Tom Watson? Would be good to know how many of the Brownite members who signed the letter have been involved in the expenses scandal to add to their sins of unfathomable political inepitude?

  • Matt

    Ironic that as we get to the end of the New Labour ‘project’ (which I’m afraid tomorrow’s election results will surely, and sadly, underline) the epitaph will read as large as the epithet used at the beginning, with one critical, and desperately misunderstood adjustment…

    Things Can Only Get Worse

  • Michael

    Forget the editorial, look at Freedland urging folks to vote Green, like it’s some pleasant dinner party game of cluedo or charades. What are the Greens going to do to tackle inner city crime? What is the Green policy on Welfare? Doesn’t matter too much to the Lumley’s and Freedland’s – let’s hug a tree instead, it’s a cool cause.

  • Derek Rutland

    You’ve got it wrong on the BNP piece. The headline was unfortunate – and the whole notion of devoting most of a page to them questionable – but the article seems sober and well written. To say the writer has ‘fallen for’ anything about them seems a bit bizarre. Did you read it?

  • Keith

    Look, Brown is a good guy and an effective operator (and clearly intellectually superior to the vast bulk of MPs that i witness each day). That said, Labour are heading for an absolute crushing if they are not careful and this is more important than any leader. The party needs to quickly work out the fastest, most effective way of getting on the front foot and challenging the Tories where it matters (the minute they have attention focused on their policy ideas and principles they are on a pretty sticky wicket indeed). If the majority of the Cabinet and party think they can do this with Brown, so be it – they should shut up now and get to work fast. Equally if there is a majority in the PLP and Cab who think any message associated with him won’t be heard by the electorate – then they regrettably have to be as ruthless with him as the Tories were with Thatcher. The Guardian raised a thorny issue perhaps to suit their own sales, but i feel necessary nevertheless.

  • Maggie Anderson

    Is it only me that’s wondering why there have been no questions asked of the Daily Telegraph’s relentless campaign to bring down the British government? Surely not, but it seems to have succeeded on every front! Those terrible twins, the leader of the conservative party and his shadow chancellor are sitting smirking on the opposition benches waiting for the axe to fall at the next election. Strength of purpose, unity and sheer bloody minded-ness is what’s needed now more than ever. The poor, the disabled, the elderly and all those that`are vulnerable are about to be thrown to those two wily wolves and those honorary conservatives, the Liberal Democrats!

  • Em

    I read somewhere yesterday that it’s to the media’s advantage to foster regular changes in personnel and how you, Alastair, took advantage of that reality in the mid-nineties. Fair enough, but the difference is that New Labour was to provide new, long lasting change, whereas the Tories now have few palatable items on their agenda. Where they are not vague, they are reactionary. Unfortunately, too many media outlets have already anointed Cameron, and day after day, the British public are told that the next government will be Conservative.

    In reaction to the Guardian editorial, I’ll echo your already oft-quoted “and then what”? If you were Miliband or Johnson, would you jump into the fire right this minute? I’m not an expert but I’ve noticed that politicians who capture the public’s imagination, the ones with whom the public will go the distance, tend to be leaders whose image as leaders have been built up over time; the ones that appear out of thin air as mid-crisis replacements rarely last.

    Capturing the imagination of the public is what matters. In this, the public are tyrannical. It seems the British people were never interested in GB being a man of substance, an intellectual, a thinker. Blair and Obama have that plus the “it” factor, which some seem to think GB is lacking. In the end, it’s the electorate that loses when it demands not only an effective government but a Camelot dream to dream alongside it.

    We blame the government, we blame the media but I believe both are consistently lowering themselves to appeal to the most juvenile aspects in all of us. To cannibalise one of your mottos about governing in prose AC, the public refuses to accept that governing is done in prose and, in the end, we pay a dear price for our superficiality that requires a flashy leader with freshly-pressed suits.

  • Keith (2)

    …just to add.

    After seeing PMQs earlier today, Brown did himself and his chances of winning over the doubters, no harm at all. Strong performance, compared to Cameron’s lacklustre attempts to pin him down.

  • Jane A

    The blog nails a lot of key points and other people have summed up why it felt so right for today. I still feel – sorry to say this – that GB needs to move aside, though.

    So two quick other thoughts from me:

    – campaign update. Still no Labour communique through our letterbox despite one day to go, local elections as well as euro, and several from Dave. This isn’t right. We look like we gave up already. The ginormous UKIP poster in Oxford has been vandalised to shreds.

    – tactical voting. I keep hearing people say they are going to be doing it tomorrow, so LibDem (or even Green) rather than Labour. Why? You end up with the candidate you don’t want representing a party you don’t belong to, or believe in. I shall be voting early tomorrow, and voting Labour, on each and every ballot paper I get.

  • betty curtis

    I’ve been watching news all day and PMQ—Gordon Brown was excellent–showed up “Hoodie Cameron”

    BBC 6 O’clock News reporting on Hazel Blears said nothing about her expenses rearing it’s ugly head again in tomorrows Torygraph–Also nothing about the letter to her from Brown saying he understands why she is resigning but he hopes that she can return to the Cabinet in the future

    I don’t believe Hazel was harming the PM or the Labour party. The events on expenses was the reason she had to go.

    It is understandable that people watching the edited version of the events don’t get the truth.

  • Jane A


    The flashy suit/bright smile/charisma persona is a hard one to attack. People who have it, or have had it (Obama/Blair/Clinton et al) know that if you need to put a message over, a personable messenger is all.

    It may be shallow, it may be vacuous, it may be idiotic, but voters buy people, and secondly as a result, the policies they espouse.

    This is why Dave endeavours to position himself as a “nice guy” : love me, love my (soon to be determined) policies.

    Anyway, happybirthday 🙂

  • Em

    *is tipsy, sorry for what follows*


    The problem with appearances is that not all who have charisma have substance to back it up. Clinton ONLY became president because he could pass for a bubba (definition: a working-class white male from rural American South). Some charismatic characters are positively vacuous, see David Cameron.

    Jane, you seem resigned to what the lower common denominator will accept. I want people to see past GB’s rumpled suit. Am I reaching for the stars here?

  • Jane A


    I don’t think you’re reaching for the stars in wanting people to see past GB’s demeanour and see the strong and capable politician. That’s how politics should be – substance over style. I was just trying to make the link between strong communicators/politicians who can carry the day in tough times.