Corporate elision sullies the end of the Indy, Fleet Street’s last great gamble

Independent final edition 2, March 2016 by Jimmy Nicholls

Should a real press regulator ever be set up in this country, its first rule should be that any paper found to be puffing itself like a political or corporate dispatch will be abolished on sight.

Most would not last the day, windbaggery being a practice most editors and proprietors enjoy even as the grunts on the newsdesk wipe tears from their eyes as they extract the sliver of meaningful information from another slew of press releases.

It’s this practice that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth as one leafs through the last paper edition of the Independent, still the last full-blooded national ever launched in Britain (New Day and the i being cheap-sheets) after 30 years.

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A New Day on Fleet Street?

New Day, February 2016 by Jimmy Nicholls

It is perhaps the defining hypocrisy of journalism that while the industry claims to be dedicated to popping the pretensions of the great windbags of our time, the trade rarely misses a chance to puff itself.

So it’s hard not to snigger at the claim of the New Day, the first national paper to be launched in Britain for some 30 years, to be “a new type of newspaper”.

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Why Jeremy Corbyn is making amends with his critics on Fleet Street

Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill by Barnard & Westwood

Politicians have been vexed about the influence of the press on public life since those that followed Johannes Gutenberg started to circulate news on foreign affairs to make a bit of extra cash (domestic affairs was seen as likely to attract the ire of the authorities, and thus avoided).

Originally it was conservatives that were most sceptical about the “obscure scribblers” in the parliamentary gallery in Westminster, but more lately it has been the Left which has been more concerned about the power of Fleet Street, as evinced by complaints over how the press treat Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Despite the ubiquity of the BBC it is still the case that the mostly rightwing Fleet Street sets the agenda, which means that negative coverage of Corbyn has dominated the last few months as his ascension to the head of Labour became inevitable.

During this time it also became clear that the Islington North MP was unhappy to play along to the media’s tune, ignoring questions over the lack of women in his cabinet as a Sky News reporter followed him down the street.

The idea that the Islington North MP is changing how the media reports news was even suggested by the Beeb’s political correspondent Norman Smith, who made the point that Corbyn actually answers questions in interviews instead of delivering soundbites, at least when he chooses to respond at all.

How long this will last is debatable, and on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday it became clear the Labour leader is having to tighten up how he manages the media, and indeed the Labour Party itself.

All this should not be any surprise to observers given how Corbyn has shifted his position after being elected, backtracking on his euroscepticism, cancelling a debate on scrapping the nuclear weapons system Trident, and even ditching plans to leave Nato due to lack of public appetite.

So far this seems not to have tainted his “authentic” brand, but it does show a pragmatic streak that purists on the hard left will surely deplore, or at least excuse as a necessary means for obtaining power.

Image Credit – Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill by Barnard & Westwood

Corbyn rightly dismisses national anthem furore and sandwichgate as ‘tittle tattle’

Fleet Street splashes 16 September 2015, via Nick Sutton

Furore over Jeremy Corbyn not singing the god-bothering monarchist national anthem at a memorial service has been dismissed by the Labour leader as “tittle tattle” as allegations he stole sandwiches intended for war veterans also turned out to be bollocks.

The North Islington MP faced a wave of criticism from Fleet Street on Wednesday for not singing God Save the Queen at a remembrance service for soldiers that fought in the Battle of Britain during the Second World War.

Much of Fleet Street splashed on the non-story about the atheist republican, who presumably refused to sign the anthem out of principle, whilst their Scottish brethren had their minds on other matters.

Writing on Facebook the North Islington MP criticised the media for entertaining trivia, asking what it is that “scares” the press about debating “real issues”.

Corbyn was backed up in his non-singing by Labour campaigner and Royal Air Force veteran Harry Leslie Smith, who tweeted:

Graham Smith, chief executive of the lobby Republic, also weighed in:

“A national anthem should be about the country, not the queen and god. For republicans, atheists and anyone with good taste God Save the Queen is an awful song set to a funereal dirge. I’m as patriotic as any supporter of the monarchy, I would love it if my country’s anthem wasn’t offensive to my principles.  I have no doubt that’s also Jeremy’s Corbyn’s view.”

Corbyn also defended himself to Sky News early on Wednesday, though did not say whether he would or would not be singing national anthems at future events:

“I am going to be at many events and I will take part fully in those events. I don’t see a problem about this. I was there and I will show my respect in the proper way at all future events. The proper way is to take a full part in it and I will take a full part.”

In another attempted smear rightwing blog Guido Fawkes reported allegations that Corbyn stole some sandwiches intended for war veterans after the Battle of Britain event, thought it has since emerged he was given them by Costa.

The Labour leader is due to make his first appearance at prime minister’s questions since winning the leadership election on Wednesday, where his performance will be closely scrutinised.

Image Credit – Fleet Street splashes 16 September 2015, via Nick Sutton

Indy abandons logic to claim Tories are good for the Union

Scottish Saltire, WL Tarbert

Fleet Street’s famously partisan press has been as vitriolic in this election as any before it, with both sides seeking to belittle the opposition candidate (most egregiously in the afterglow of the television debates, of which more here).

It is no surprise that a journal nicknamed the Torygraph would back the blues, but more controversial has been the Indy’s muted support for the coalition government, in a move contrary to much of the paper’s coverage over the past five years:

“A hung parliament is certain this week. For all his talk of no deals with the SNP [Scottish National Party], [Labour leader Ed] Miliband is bound to rely on that party to get his legislative programme through. This would be a disaster for the country, unleashing justified fury in England at the decisive influence of MPs who – unlike this title – do not wish the Union to exist.

 

“If that were to be the case while Labour were the second biggest party either in terms of vote share, or seats – or both – how could Labour govern with authority? They could not. Any partnership between Labour and the SNP will harm Britain’s fragile democracy. For all its faults, another Lib-Con Coalition would both prolong recovery and give our kingdom a better chance of continued existence.”

The Indy, owned by Russian oligarch dynasty the Lebedevs, are generally regarded as papers of the Left. But the wealthy proprietorship of the paper has led some to speculate that the editor is being leant on, especially given Miliband’s pledge to increase taxes for the rich should he emerge as prime minister in the next few weeks.

Though the argument that the SNP poses a risk to the Union is not entirely wrong, the severing of Britain is more likely with a repeat of the Tory-Lib Dem government. Much of the SNP’s rhetoric is grounded in blue antipathy because such feeling is popular north of Hadrian’s Wall, and, as a recent piece for the New Statesman pointed out, after last year’s referendum of independence the party moved quickly to annex Labour supporters by capitalising on this.

Such a strategy has created a problem for the Nats. As the Indy points out, Miliband will have to rely on them to push forward his legislative programme (at least the leftwing portion). But because the Nats have built their support on anti-Tory feeling they will feel obliged to prop up Labour or be punished at the ballot box. At the same time Miliband would have to cleave to the leftish instincts of the SNP to deny them the opportunity of credible rebellion – granting disaffected Scots a voice in Westminster.

Compare this with the possibility of another Tory-led government involving more cuts to public spending, and it is clear what would be more likely to alienate those backing the SNP. There have been policies to like under the coalition and there are good reasons for voting for a repeat – but strengthening the Union is not among them.

Image – Scottish Saltire, WL Tarbert