It wasn't always like that. In the 1980's the media had no hesitation in shining an investigative light on the effects of the Thatcher government with regular television, radio and newspaper features documenting the hardships of the communities who took the brunt of the assault on British industry and the attacks on the welfare state ................ from Clay Cross councillors to the pickets at Orgreave, the rural poverty right across the UK and the abandonment of whole communities in sink hole estates. I can remember reporters such as John Cole trying to get to the heart of complex issues:
For those whose apparatus struggles with embedded video's here is the link.
In this piece John Cole looks back at the issues that dominated British politics through his working life, with a fascinating memory of Clement Atlee through to Tory ministers from Thatcher's government trying to justify their time in office. His basic message is that pragmatic government is better for the people than ideological government. Watch the video and decide for yourself.
I am posting this now because I believe that John Cole embodied a style of journalism that looked behind the cult of personality, trying to bring into focus the issues that mattered rather than the blemishes and vanities of politicians. This is of relevance to us today as we go about the messy business of choosing a new Labour leader. Obviously personality does have some bearing but we should concentrate on the message rather than the messenger. The recent statements of some candidates and their supporters have been unedifying .............. you know what I am on about. The attempt to demonize the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn by his three opponents, backed by the acid comments of Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and many others are deeply resented by many in the party and have had the adverse effect than that intended as support for Jeremy has increased. By steadfastly focusing on issues rather than personalities he is winning over many who fear a drift to the left will deny Labour electoral success for years to come. Jeremy's desire to promote debate within the party has been welcomed by all sides as we attempt to define who and what we are after two general election defeats. Whilst his opponents bang on about being electable he is saying that we must first decide what we believe in then try to convince the electorate that our message defines the best principles that will ensure a sustainable prosperity for our country and all sections of society. This is a natural development from the halfway house of Ed Miliband's shadow years. We failed to convince with our austerity light approach and we are being asked by Jeremy's opponents that the way forward is even more austerity light to the point that there is no distinction between Labour and Tory, the deciding factor for the voter becoming a choice between two leaders, little more than a beauty contest.
Refering back to the John Cole video there is a resonance in the words spoken by Harold Wilson (I think around 18 minutes in) when he talks of issues rather than personalities. It was heartening this week to see two Labour stalwarts wading into the increasingly vitriolic debate. Of course I am referring to the statements made by John Prescott and Angela Eagle:
John Prescott tells the BBC that Tony Blair should calm down
Angela Eagle says the political elite should lay off Jeremy Corbyn in an article on LabourList.
I am wary of endorsements in an election which is one person one vote and I voiced this concern when the idea that our local branch (Belper & Duffield) should poll the membership (now increased since the election from 94 to nigh on 150) and thereby making the majority choice known. One of our most energetic activists countered that a candidate needed the traction and visible support does give a campaign the oxygen of momentum. I was however conscious that at the Mid-Derbyshire Constituency Labour Party (CLP) AGM held last Monday there was a narrow vote to withhold any endorsement of candidate. The vote was evenly split but the chair voted with the noes. My fear is that even at the CLP and branch levels the tension created by the preoccupation with personalities will cause division. I take comfort in Labour solidarity which must be preserved if we are to be seen as credible. The decision by our shadow team to abstain from attacking the welfare cap has caused much damage in the party and no end of heartache for many MP's who were asked to deny their natural instincts. I notice that Angela abstained, choosing not to rebel against the shadow cabinet. I don't think that I could have done that but Angela was demonstrating her choice to abide by the rules of the party. I was inclined to vote for her as deputy leader anyway but her article in LabourList pretty much seals my intent. I did seriously consider her abstaining but in the end have decided to stick with her for a variety of reasons. Who is my chosen leader? I like what Jeremy has been saying but have my doubts that he is electable. That said, I have not liked what the other three have been saying; the odd comment or two perhaps but overall a decided no. My choice is therefore to abstain or vote for Jeremy. At this moment I choose Jeremy; issues before personality in the hope that cometh the hour cometh the man. If he is elected then his shadow cabinet must step up to the plate and give more support than those feint hearts gave to Ed. It goes without saying that it will then become the task of Labour activists and supporters to promote the emerging (I nearly wrote "new") Labour message.
One last small point. I have been searching on YouTube for the video of John Cole travelling around Britian commenting on the social condition following years of Tory rule in the mid nineties. He was on the point of retirement and the BBC gave him free reign to speak freely about what he believed in. It was memorable but I just cannot find it. If you know where it is then please send me details via the comment button below.