01 October 2009

There Have Been Better Springboards

It could have been OK. Not great, but OK. The only Leadership chatter surrounded Rhodri Morgan, the Welsh First Minister who has confirmed his retirement (meaning that as of December, Alex Salmond will be the longest-serving of the First Ministers). There were some attempts to convince us that there was life in the party yet - and I suspect that some people in the hall believed it. The speeches weren't bad (though Brown could have done without the BBC cameras apparently picking up the yawning guide dog and the woman doing her knitting during the PM's speech), and there was even some evidence of policy - a welcome change from the petty, personality politics that Labour has made its own in recent years (though I accept that it's hard to scrutinise Tory policies when there don't, as yet, appear to be any).

But then, this happened:

Now, obviously, Governments are at the mercy of events, particularly Governments that have managed to notch up twelve years' worth of public grievance and exasperation. But it's how you react to them that counts, and when the battle is essentially a squabble with (and within) the Fourth Estate, you need to deploy the spin, guile and media-savvy ways for which Labour have hitherto been known. You certainly don't behave like this to a prominent reporter for one of The Sun's sister companies:

Of course, in Brown's case, we can almost forgive him the strop. He is known to have a temper, he can get tribal with the best (or worst) of them, and I don't disagree with his suggestion that Adam Boulton and his colleagues are turning from political reporters into political campaigners. But you'd think someone like the First Secretary of State would still keep his charm and wits about him. Not so:

Nor do you make it look like The Sun's decision has got to you, particularly when you're - quite reasonably - trying to play it down. You certainly don't allow one of your major supporters, and the frontman of a massive trade union like Unite head out to the platform and not only put on a major show of childish petulance, but actually implicitly compare the paper's reporting of the Government to the Hillsborough Disaster:

But of course, that's what Labour did. They have decided to shoot the messenger, which is particularly sad when you realise just how pally the Government has tried to be with the Murdoch press since 1997 - even managing to get The Times on board in 2001. Yet now that The Sun has turned against Labour - and it was always going to happen given how uneasily the friendship sat with the paper at times - they've hit back venomously. Which, in turn, has given the paper all the reason it needed to print photos like this:

As I said, this was never going to be a brilliant Conference for Labour, but they were doing OK. The Sun lobbing a hand grenade into proceedings was always going to throw things into confusion, but as always, it's the reaction that gets scrutinised more heavily. And the Labour reaction looks like rage that a paper owned by someone else should dare to support someone other than Labour. It's hubris like that which has been the major problem for Labour in recent years and they should learn what comes after hubris, particularly with six months (give or take a couple of weeks) to the General Election.

Labour's reaction to The Sun's defection has made one thing blatantly obvious: rather than marking a potential turnaround, this Conference has become yet another milestone on the road to a Tory Government. From that, one other thing is clear:

Only a major Tory cock-up can change things now.


Stuart Winton said...

Good stuff, Will, but I'll remember some of what you say the next time the Nats are complaining about unfavourable press coverage ;0)

Anonymous said...

The Sun's defection said more about the paper than it did Labour - juvenile attention seeking, for example. The media hype has been vastly over-egged, but as has often noticed, the media (especially the political media) is rarely happier than when discussing itself.

Ted Harvey said...

I wonder if we will see evidence of the waning influence of the printed press with this SUN episode? I do seem to detect among some ordinary apolitical folks a bit of a suggestion of ‘whom the hell do the SUN think they are; aren’t they getting a bit up themselves about their self importance?’

I appreciate that that’s about my individual experiences and therefore pretty subjective and episodal. There is, however, the more substantive matter of just how badly the printed media is failing to contend with competition from the new media of the Internet, online journals, blogs and the whole Web2 thing.

The public now has more options on getting factual, quality information rather than tabloid journos’ scribblings that must cohere with their owners’ wishes (i.e. have you tried reading the Sunday Times in recent years?)

All-in-all it makes for this episode being a potentially very instructive one.

Meantime; is it all as crude as Murdoch wants the BBC cut down and out, and having failed with Labour, he has offered support to Cameron in return for an attack on the Beeb?

In that event, I say to Cameron tell them “I’ll get back to you on that”… because it seems very likely that Dave needs the SUN less than the SUN needs Dave (fortunately or fortunately as that may be).

On the pathetic two faced so-called ‘Scottish’ SUN independence; should they opt to support the SNP for the next UK general election, Labour could do worse than produce and disseminate online everyday in Scotland the front page of the ‘English’ SUN. There have been some days when in London in recent years when I have saw the front page of the SUN and though ‘Wow, I wonder how that would go down in Scotland’ – could be mighty powerful ammunition for the the-Nats-are-just-tartan-Tories sentiment.