So as expected, Ed Miliband’s speech got the thumbs down from most of the broadcasters yesterday. The mood around the Labour leader has been a good illustration of how the modern media works, and why the right-wing press continues to have a disproportionate influence on public life.
Pretty much since he became leader, and certainly since he took a robust line on phone-hacking, the right-wing press has moved up a few gears in its negativity about Ed. The significance here is less the influence upon the readers of those papers than upon the broadcasters, who as I argued at the Leveson Inquiry tend to take their lead from the press and become a kind of echo chamber for their views. So ‘public opinion’ becomes a combination of what the papers are saying, and what the broadcasters say the papers are saying. The public tend not to get much of a look-in, other than through polls which have been commissioned to reflect the view the commissioning paper had in the first place. Stand by for a lot of ‘Ed flops’ polls while this cycle is worked through.
Some members of the public, as was clear from comments here and elsewhere yesterday, are onto this unhealthy symbiotic relationship. I didn’t hear Ed’s interview on the Today programme, but reading twitter I sense a lot of anger at the way the interview was conducted. I see also that some commenters yesterday saw fit to measure second by second the coverage Ed was getting, a couple of clips surrounded by a lot of negative comment presented as news. The comment by Janete on my blog yesterday (two from the top) is worth reading. As for the one preceding it, did Channel 4 really only do 20 seconds on his speech?
One would imagine in these circumstances that the left media would do more to highlight the relationship between agenda-setting press and broadcast echo chamber. Instead, many of the left-leaning commentators give Ed problems from the other direction.
So Seumas Milne in The Guardian today takes aim at ‘Blairite zombies’ who seemingly are going round the place undermining the leader and trying to take him in the wrong direction. They played much the same game when Gordon Brown was PM, constantly seeing – and reporting – Blairite conspiracies, rarely letting facts get in the way, like the fact that three of the top zombies, myself, Peter Mandelson and Philip Gould, went back to help him.
When I study Milne’s piece to find out which Blairite zombies are currently at it, he cites defence spokesman Jim Murphy and Maurice Glasman. That Jim was a supporter of TB, and indeed of David Miliband whose leadership campaign he ran, is beyond doubt. But as chance would have it, I was with some of Ed Miliband’s team last Friday when Jim made the intervention to which Milne has taken exception. What is clear to me is that it was made not just with Ed’s blessing but as part of a concerted effort organised with his office.
As for Glasman, who seemingly had a pop at Ed’s leadership recently, it seems to have escaped Milne’s notice that the Number 1 Blairite, namely TB himself, has given pretty short shrift to the whole ‘Blue Labour’ thing. To qualify him as a Blairite, let alone a zombie, reveals Milne is as guilty of ‘fit the prism’ journalism as the right-wing journalists doing in Ed from a different political angle.
So we are left with the conclusion, familiar to followers of UK politics, that the right-wing media does a great job of undermining progressive leaders, and the left-wing press has a habit of helping them.
If there was a Blairite conspiracy to do in Ed, I think I would know about it. There isn’t. Far better that his supporters turn the fire on the real conspiracy in UK politics – the one between Cameron and Clegg, backed by most of the media, to do things for which they have no real mandate.
## Last chance for me to use my own blog to plug The Happy Depressive, published as an ebook tomorrow. Having slagged off The Guardian above, may I thank them again for the extract they ran on Saturday, which certainly got noticed. Out and about doing various errands this morning, three people told me they had downloaded the ebook as a result of the Guardian piece (further evidence of my view that if you are selling something, the mainstream media is still key to getting digital activity going), and two others stopped me to say they had depression. On which point, finally, I am looking forward to seeing Freddie Flintoff’s documentary on depression on sport. The more people like him, and others in sport Now must rush, am doing an interview on depression for a magazine in Albania (where mental health attitudes are not great) and hope to get it over with before PMQs.