Sunday 27 February 2011

How the Tory Press catch their Prey

By popular demand, here's a little polling day story from the election last May. It was the moment I realised just how powerful Murdoch was and how complete the whitewash of the right wing press.

I had drawn the shortest of short straws and was allocated a polling station in Whitehawk to man for a few hours. Whitehawk is a sprawling estate in Brighton - a town with few pockets of inequality in which to cram its unfortunate. Acres of social housing and gloomy deprivation should be natural Labour territory but it was quiet - Marie Celeste quiet. I knew within a few minutes that this didn't bode well for Labour nationally.

Still, I sat in the sunshine with my red rosette (no other party bothered to send a representative) and chatted pleasantly with those who did show up.  I love the carnival atmosphere and sense of community spirit of election day. I love that spark of empowerment people give off as they exercise their democratic right.

Once election day dawns, you are totally forbidden from canvassing support at the polling station. You may not even have the word "Labour" in the centre of your rosette - though it may be red!! If anyone asks you how to vote or why they should vote for your party, you may not answer. If they ask you about specific policies, it's too late to explain your stance. You're simply a friendly face collecting voter numbers to match with the electoral register.

Usually, people don't linger. They march into the polling station, vote and march out, often handing their voter cards to the representative of the party they support with a knowing nod or smile, but by this stage, they are resolute. They've made their decision.

Not so in Whitehawk on May 6th 2010. A steady stream of voters lingered to chat, asked me about the economy or immigration or health and I wriggled with frustration as I explained that I couldn't answer. No-one was rude; there was no sense of disgust at my party, but there was a confusion that I'd never come across before.

Just after lunch, an elderly gentleman walked towards me and hesitated before going in to vote. He was neatly dressed in the way ex-military men tend to be. He asked me what to do, a question I'd never been asked before. I smiled and explained I couldn't advise him, and he sighed before going inside.

A few minutes later, he emerged, but seemed agitated and upset. He started to chat, the words tumbling out in confusion. He told me he'd always been a "Labour man," never voted anything else. He talked about his admiration for Gordon Brown "A good man" who'd kept inflation and interest rates low. He told me how much he valued the free TV licence and his Winter Fuel Payment. He was informed and articulate but he got more and more upset as he spoke.

After a few minutes, I was horrified to see tears in his eyes. I grew up alongside a hundred proud men like him - I know them well. Suddenly he blurted "I went Blue - did I do the right thing?" He was appealing to me, desperate and miserable.

My heart went out to him, but it was too late to show my frustration, too late to make a difference, so I struggled to find a reassuring phrase. "I'm sure it will all be for the best" was all I could come up with. By this stage though, I just had to ask him why? Unsure if even that was allowed under the strict, election day rules.

He actually choked on a sob as he answered - a sob!! "Well, the Sun said to vote for Cameron didn't they? They're a working man's paper - they wouldn't have told us to vote Blue if Cameron was going to let us down?" By now it wasn't a question, it was a plea. I nodded and smiled reassuringly, but inside, I was furious. How dare a paper for the "working man" hold such power? How dare they decide the outcome of elections? How dare they tell their readers to vote for a party who almost certainly would not represent them or stand up for their rights?

Yet again, I knew, it would be "the Sun wot won it" (along with its playmates, the Mail, the Telegraph, The Times, The News of the World, The Express and Sky.) and yet again, I knew that the very people they handed to Cameron on a plate would be the very ones to suffer the most under a Conservative government. Yet we allow it to happen. Just like in 1992, nothing had changed and nothing was likely to.

Still, Murdoch et al have their pocket government to ensure they will be shielded from the very austerity to be inflicted on their readers. They will get their corporation tax breaks and increase their profits while my old gent will see his pension dwindle, his benefits frozen, suffer VAT rises, inflation and interest rate rises and see growth falter.

Nice work Murdoch. When times get tough, it's back to the old adage : I'm alright Jack, pull the ladder up.


  1. It looks as though things are going to get worse as Murdoch tightens his grip

  2. Were you this embarrassed by all those people voting Labour for 13 years because the Sun told them to when Murdoch was supporting Blair? Or was that alright because they were supporting your side?

  3. Of course not Stephen - I don't think ANY paper should endorse a political party, but if they must then clearly the Sun and Mirror ought to endorse Labour - after all you lot have every other press outlet, surely you don't resent a couple of red tops?
    Or do you want the ENTIRE media to brainwash voters to vote Tory? Is that the only way you have any hope of ever winning a majority again?

  4. Your story is the reason that I think the first thing that they should have done in 97 was address ownership of the media. We are constantly told that the media is free and 'people aren't that stupid' .... so it doesn't matter.

    It does matter. It is anything but a 'free' press. There is too little diversity amongst our journalists (politicians, the judiciary, the power elites).

    People aren't stupid but they are very poorly served by the media. It is hard work getting any approximation of the truth. The lies and spin of the political classes are not exposed. There is more discussion of Larry the cat than Lansley's devious plans for the 'creeping' privatisation of the health service. The social scientist who devised the new assessments for disability benefits described them as unworkable and wanted them withdrawn before the May GE but his objections are only now reported in the Guardian.

    I could go on and on ... News programmes are constantly bumped in favour of some sporting fixture... Sport is the new opium of the people.
    The panels for interviewing, Any Questions etc are frequently unbalanced ... and frequently the audience is more informed than the panel or the interviewer .... I think it is clear that I have a some degree of anger and outrage.

    I also think that the closing of libraries and their replacement with private companies ie the commodification of information is potentially very concerning.

  5. This blatant bias within the media could well explain why less newspapers are being sold. Just a thought.

  6. I'm sat here crying for that man, bless him and I guess if he is still around he is kicking himself...

    Local papers are as bad, especially if it is anything critical of the council...I knew in 2006 that they were, when i wrote about my circumstances and asking how many meals a week does someone have to miss to be declared in need of care...

  7. I'm not. People like that deserve everything they get.

    Save your tears for the poor sods that senile old bastard just condemned to years of recession and cuts. I hope the cut off his gas!

    Any society that produces idiots like that, then gives tham a casting vote is on it's way down.

  8. Well Done Sue. Good Blog
    I shall say no more.

    If you facebook. You May be interested in this Group.

  9. This is heartbreaking to read. What Murdoch has done to media plurality in this country is disgusting, and this story illustrates it perfectly.

  10. Yes, good blog btw. Murdoch & co deserve to fry in hell for the way they exploit people's weaknesses.

  11. And not to forget the left wing Guardian recommending readers vote LibDem, and the socialist Daily Mirror which, together with some from the Labour Party recommending some of use an anti-Tory to vote tactically Lib Dem too.
    They all have contributed to the mess we are in. One of them even fooled me.

  12. This is a phenomenon I never saw till I came to the UK; these "papers" would be considered the National Enquirer in the US. Tabloids, just a bunch of ridiculous fluff like "teenage girl gives birth to goat boy!!!!" People buy them but no one takes them seriously (or anyone who reads them for that matter).

    But when I got here, I couldn't believe that people actually read these "papers" as if they were news. People who I would normally consider rather intelligent for the most part read the Mail regularly - not as guilty pleasures of the train-wreck-I-can't-look-away variety, but they actually RELY on the things. I have never understood it and never will.

    I certainly don't understand how papers can all be aligned with political parties, either. But that also seems to be commonplace. I think during the Dubya years, Fox news took a few sheafs from the British papers of skewing news to suit whomever was in power.

    I am sort of torn here in that whilst I find Luther's view rather un-empathetically expressed, I do find it more than a little ridiculous that anyone reads these rags and follows anything they say. That the government further allows it (especially if it suits their own ends of getting the rabble stirred up) should surely be testament to a level of naivette which never ceases to amaze and alarm me whenever I hear about it.

  13. Hi Anna,
    Like you I donned my red rosette last May and faced the wrath of Murdoch's empire. The tragedy is that so many people reaad his tasteless diatribe. It's an uphill battle and we have a long, long way to go - but we'll get there.

    Don't lose hope :-)

    Read my blog at

  14. You're having a laugh presumably. In 2001 Labour was supported by the Financial Times, The Times, The Sun, The Mirror, The Guardian, The Independent, The Express and almost all Scottish papers. Admittedly that was a high-point but still, hardly a united Tory front in the Newspapers.

    Not to mention the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 etc who are all not exactly Tory supporters. That's before we start on local newspapers, Internet News, etc, etc. (and even if we accept that Sky News is biased, which I frankly don't really believe)

    This sad delusion that Labour loses because of the evil Murdoch corporation dominating the media and "brainwashing" people is pathetic. Especially after 13 years of acting as his beloved lapdog. The way labour can forget those 13 years overnight is incredible.

    The reason the print media had largely turned against Labour in 2010 was because Gordon Brown personally and his government generally was knackered and rubbish. Out of ideas and weighed down by repeated incompetence and everyone knew it. That's why they got less of the vote than John Major in 1997.

    Newspapers follow public opinion as much as form it. To do anything else would be commercial suicide.

    If Labour don't accept that they were rejected by the people because they screwed up, instead of blaming the nasty media for "brainwashing" people they will be out of power for a very long time.

  15. I am just as incredulous as you Stephen. You quote one "high point" where the UK media knew the Tories were such a busted flush they didn't dare support them as evidence! I am a tribalist that's true, but first and foremost I'm a strategist and pretty good at being a balanced one. I don't claim it was all Murdoch, but he and his croneys certainly play a MASSIVE part in deciding who will win our elections and on the whole, it ain't Labour they plump for.

    Do you remember the Mail accusing Labour of working with the KGB?? Won that election between the wars didn't they?

    ITV is Tory. Sky, well I'm spluttering nearly as much as you that you don't believe it's biased.

    Whenever a Tory quotes the BBC or Ch4 I know they can't even bear balance, let alone bias.

    Lets just wait and see how long Lab are out of power shall we, but one thing is absolutely unarguable. Lab win elections IN SPITE of the press, not because of them. Twas ever thus and apart from one or two years, ever thus will be.

    Seriously, if you could take those specs off and sit down with a copy of the Sun, the Mail, and the Telegraph, they don't even bother telling the truth most of the time, let alone aiming for balance.

  16. Murdoch plays a small part of deciding who wins our elections. I honestly believe the newspaper follow the public as much as shape them.

    The Evil Murdoch controls the Sun, the Times and the News of the World. And these are outrageously partisan. That is admittedly a significant part of the media, but compared to the entire media Newspapers, TV, Internet Local Newspapers etc we are talking merely a segment, not some over-arching, omnipresent, demon.

    I was born in 1988. 2010 was the first time most of the newspapers supported the Conservatives since 1992, which I was obviously not old enough to remember. So you're really not going to convince me of some media conspiracy. The idea that ITV "is Tory" is as silly as the idea that the BBC is Labour. An idea I do not ascribe to. I quoted them as examples that most of the media is not overwhelmingly partisan one way or the other and that politicians and political parties have to take the responsibility for their own unpopularity rather than blaming bogey men in the media.

    That's a laugh because the last three Labour wins were achieved with the help of Murdoch meaning Labour haven't actually won an election "IN SPITE of the press" since 1974. And even then about as convincingly as Cameron in 2010. Good luck breaking the pattern of 40 years.

    I entirely agree that the Mail, telegraph and Sun are totally biased. The Independent, Guardian and Mirror are totally biased the other way as well. The rest of the media are somewhere in the middle.

    I don't think either side is screamingly disadvantaged or has any moral high-ground to be yelling about the media ganging up on them.

  17. Good post Stephen.

    I have a few friends who never really knew a Conservative government and I'd love it if you fancied doing a guest post??

    My politics is framed totally by the 80s, yours by the 00s - IMO YOUR view of where Labour went wrong is probably the most relevant going forward. I don't mean the Daily Mail isms though. I mean the irrefutable things Labour got wrong in the eyes your generation.

    Come on, I challenge you, give Labour something to REALLY think about. Not the platitudes the media trot out but why a young guy like you doesn't see a better place after 13 years of a Lab government.

    *lays gauntlet and steps away....*

  18. I'm flattered but I'm not sure how useful my view would be. As a politically aware and interested liberal conservative and Christian who spent his education in un-posh private schools, followed by years at Uni campaigning for refugees and asylum seekers (as well as volunteering with Samaritans and caring for a physically disabled and mentally ill girlfriend), my experiences and views are pretty untypical for my generation.

    I could still do it. It's just I can't really claim to speak for anyone but myself.