1. Yesterday’s report suggesting some failings in the government’s record on inequality attracted widespread broadcast and print media coverage. Today, so far as I can tell from a quick skim around the place, only The Guardian does much with a report showing a fifty per cent rise since the mid-90s in the likelihood of England’s poorest teenagers going to university .
The report, by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, shows that participation rates have soared in the past five years in particular, with disadvantaged 18 and 19 year olds now 30% more likely to enrol at universities than they were in the mid-2000s.
Professor Danny Dorling of the University of Sheffield describes it as probably the greatest social achievement of the Labour government since 1997, and says it was achieved not at the expense of upper and middle class children, but because of changes to the whole education system and the massive increase in funding for state secondary schools. A government policy success in other words. Hence the news blackout.
2. Amid the ongoing debate about special advisers, whether in the recent ‘Better Government Initiative’, or in some of the questioning at the Iraq Inquiry, I would like to remind people of Jonathan Powell’s role in the Northern Ireland peace process. Both TB and Bertie Ahern are on record as saying that Jonathan’s role was crucial. It was in my view precisely because he was a special adviser – known to be close to TB and also able to operate politically – that sometimes he was able to make things happen in a way that permanent civil servants could not.
I hope the current difficulties over policing are resolved. I hope too that the Tories are not messing around, as some reports of recent meetings with Unionists have suggested. It would not surprise me however. During the most difficult parts of the peace process, they talked the talk on bipartisanship, but the itch to pull away was never far beneath the surface, whether because of their closeness to the Unionists, or more likely the desire to make life more difficult for TB.
3. Similar duplicity from some senior Tories, notably William Hague, on Iraq. In the build up to the war, the Tory line was that we were not doing enough about Saddam, and we were not doing it quickly enough given the obvious threat he posed. That was even before their leaders were given access to the same intelligence that ministers saw. On that basis, and because of the record and the arguments that were played out time and again in public, they supported the war. Now the wind is moving in a different direction, and virtually all of the media have joined the anti-herd, some senior Tories move with it. Leadership it ain’t. And I rather agree with the point Philip Stephens made in the FT the other day, that it seems odd, given the Tory votes were important on this issue, that they are never asked searching questions about their positions then and now.
All of which brings me to TB’s appearance at the inquiry. If I was surprised at the scale of coverage of my own appearance, frankly nothing would surprise me tomorrow. I heard Radio Five Live’s trailers for what will doubtless be all-day coverage. It sounded like they used the people normally employed in hyping Cup Finals or other major sporting events.
Even more than with the Hutton Inquiry, the media have tended to cover those parts of the testimony that have fitted their own pre-judged agenda. They constantly say they want the truth. The truth is they want those parts of the story that fit their analysis.
As I said when giving evidence, there is another view, even if it gets very little airtime. Many Iraqis, who know what life under Saddam was like, hold it. So do more British people that the one-sided media approach would suggest. I see that the indefatigable Stan Rosenthal has taken out an ad in The New Statesman saying that ‘an open inquiry is one thing. Reporting it in a highly selective, slanted and misleading way to vilify our former Prime Minister is quite another.’
It won’t change the reporting I suspect. But it is no bad thing to remind people that is the kind of reporting we are getting.
John Rentoul, a rare voice in the media who stands against the herd on Iraq, has also spotted the ad, and pointed out that just because the Blair-haters are angrier than everyone else doesn’t make them right.