In an alternate reality, the print and broadcast media is unbiased. What might it have reported more prominently, turned into ‘hot news’ over the first week of election campaigning?
Hot news means:
- It is repeated on the broadcast media over many hours, particularly during the news.
- It appears on a number of newspaper front pages.
- In every interview, members of the party concerned are pressed on this.
It would be, in other words, at the forefront of public consciousness. This is in contrast to ‘just news’ which might appear on page 15 of a broadsheet, get a ten minute slot on Radio 4, furiously discussed on social media — but may not be heard by those without an active interest in politics.
The Russian influence report
Some of us still remember the time when any interference by Moscow would be automatic headline news. Yet, when Downing Street decided to not publicise the influence report until after the election, it attracted relatively little attention. (The same fate befell a reported surge in Russian donations to the Conservatives.) Even when some parts, predictably, got leaked to the Times, the report was hidden away inside the paper. On the front page, the paper instead ran with a scare story about Labour spending:
It was only after the involvement of Hillary Clinton that proper attention was finally paid: the pro-Tory media went with excuses and attacks, the rest quoted what she said. In fairness to the BBC, it had consistently reported this story — but, Guardian apart, few others did until Clinton’s intervention.
It hardly needs mentioning that, had it looked like the Labour leader been implicated in this report, it would be headline news across the board — who can forget the Czech spy and the Lenin cap controversies.
The Northern Ireland video
The day after, Johnson was recorded giving a truly embarrassing spiel regarding the Irish border. He managed to be totally incoherent and yet make several remarkable claims about Northern Ireland post-Brexit. Those contradicted the stated positions of his own Cabinet.
This one was quite rightly met with incredulity — although nowhere near the furore that would have resulted had Corbyn been filmed saying something as incomprehensible. Yet, the disagreement was not dwelt on. Whilst the Opposition have any disagreement within their ranks highlighted and focused on non-stop, the Tories were pretty much let off scot-free here. After a couple of days, the video was happily forgotten.
In between the report story and the video, there was Ian Austin. The Dudley ex-Labour MP was given a chance to repeat, unchallenged, his usual attacks on the Labour leadership — despite not saying anything he hadn’t said previously. This got wall to wall coverage for much of the 7th — adding to the overnight departure of deputy leader Tom Watson. It conveniently distracted from a horrible November 6th for the Tories, with remarks about Grenfell, car-crash interviews and about women dominating the day.
Baroness Warsi’s interview on the 11th was far less well covered. The day before, the Tories announced there will not be an inquiry into Islamophobia in the party after all. Unlike the case of Austin, this was a brand new story — yet got far less attention than Austin’s deja vu. Warsi persevered and the story gains some traction over the next few days — however she had a far harder time of it.
The Remembrance ceremony (on the 10th) has traditionally been a good time to attack Labour leaders for choice of jacket or for bowing angle. Right on cue, the protractors were out for Corbyn again. When Johnson laid the wreath upside down, it was hard to ignore and even Daily Express felt they couldn’t. But then, something truly bizarre happened.
The BBC decided to quietly spare the PM’s blushes and replace his 2019 faux pas with equivalent footage from 2016. This was quickly noticed and led to an apology, the broadcaster blaming mistakes in the production process. Yet, like many pointed out, it had to be a conscious decision to take three-year old footage and insert it into the news report.
This one really did hit the news, and quite rightly so. The BBC already has form in relation to Corbyn and somehow, always, those mistakes only happen to his disadvantage.
On the 8th, the dissident ex-Tory cabinet minister MP David Gauke formally thanked his constituency Tory party upon not being re-selected as the Tory candidate. There was nothing remarkable about this —even though the local activists earlier backed him, his fate was known a long time in advance. But it makes for a nice contrast: had this been a Labour MP opposed to the leadership, we would have had wall to wall coverage.
Gauke eventually got his name into the headlines by promising to vote Lib Dem. He promptly got denounced (again) by the pro-Tory media.
There was a second outstanding investigation into Johnson’s dodgy connections. And — what amazing coincidence — we learned we will not be perusing that report before the election either! That’s right, the decision of whether to prosecute the PM over the Arcuri scandal will not be taken until after the election. It is not hard to imagine what would happen if a similar story had involved Labour.
Students kept away from Boris
In between suppressing investigations and making a fool of himself, Johnson managed to visit a school. Now, the PM hasn’t had the best of luck with members of the public thus far and so no chances were taken — the students were safely locked away in the common room for the duration. This one eventually made its way into the headlines.
The campaign launch
The PR disasters didn’t stop there. The Tory Campaign launch seemed decidedly short of people for the venue hired — so the whole thing was staged to make it seem Boris was standing in dense crowds of people.
Such tricks are part and parcel of campaigning, however the narrative of ‘the Left being a small handful of cranks’ surely would have been seized upon had it been Corbyn who attracted such a tiny crowd.
The OBR budget forecast
In possibly the most significant development of all, the OBR cancelled their budget forecast, expected to show that the Tories broke their own fiscal rules. This passed unnoticed, and perhaps this was intentional. By making the Gaukes, the Warsis and the Austins fight for attention, by clogging up the news with things tangential and irrelevant, one ensured that really significant stuff received even less attention.
But it is not all doom and gloom. Going into the second week, it seems that the anti-government stories are gaining more traction. Warsi and Gauke have edged their way into the news and the intervention of Clinton had to be covered. (Because Trump waded in on the first day, people could not really cry foul as loudly as they otherwise would). Besides, everyone who could have resigned, stood down, changed allegiance will have done so very soon and we can hopefully go on to trading insults over actual questions of policy. Which, horrific as sounds, is a massive improvement on what went on thus far.