Bill Hagerty on the press

Don't count on newspaper backing this time, Mr Blair
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was Napoleon who observed that four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets. If he was right, unless Tony Blair favours close-range combat with an infantry battalion, he had better prepare to lie awake at night bathed in perspiration during the forthcoming general- election campaign.

It was Napoleon who observed that four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets. If he was right, unless Tony Blair favours close-range combat with an infantry battalion, he had better prepare to lie awake at night bathed in perspiration during the forthcoming general- election campaign.

Most governments are faced with a largely antagonistic press, and there is a strong case to be made for the necessity of this - who else is there constantly to question the decisions of those in authority? Lies and distortion rightly attract vehement complaint from administrations of all persuasions - Napoleon might conclude today that Alastair Campbell snapping around your ankles is as intimidating as half-a-dozen howitzers - but stringent criticism in editorials and by columnists is a valid part of the democratic process.

Governments don't necessarily see it that way, especially during elections. Press endorsement, or otherwise, may not influence the electorate anywhere near as much as politicians seem to believe, but it certainly concerns those keen to hang on to office, not to mention their salaries and perks.

This time around, I predict that Blair's government will be supported by few of the national papers that it considers to have electoral clout. The prospect of Labour losing may be as remote as that of Michael Howard ever being taken to the nation's heart. But as the election draws closer there are discernible tremors of doubt in the offices of some newspapers that have always backed Blair.

Which of the papers can this government count on? The Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror and The People, without doubt. The Guardian perhaps, although grudgingly so at best. And that may well be it.

Which among the rest, then, can be guaranteed to come out strongly against a historic third term for an administration that they consider arrogant (illegally invading Iraq), dishonest (what WMDs?) and cavalier (24-hour drinking for the masses, for heaven's sake). The Daily and Sunday Telegraphs, of course, plus Richard Desmond's quartet of titles - the proprietor wooed so cringe-makingly by Downing Street having jumped ship and run up the blue flag.

Both the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday - Blair's most scathing critics - will be plotting his downfall, too, although whether Paul Dacre, an editor-in-chief to whom the word "losing" is anathema, puts his weight behind the no-hope Tories remains to be seen. He might simply urge readers to unseat as many Labour MPs as possible by any means other than those resulting in arrest or a recount.

I am not privy to editorial policy decisions at this newspaper group, but it is hardly an admirer of Blair and unlikely to lend unequivocal support. Others among the big hitters include the London Evening Standard, where left-of-centre members of staff have been concerned by its political alignment, under Veronica Wadley, with the Daily Mail; and The Observer, by no means as liberal-leaning as its partner in Farringdon Road.

That leaves News International, where the maverick Rupert Murdoch could express his dissatisfaction with Labour by leaving it to his good men, and a woman, to decide whether to come to the party's aid. If so, Blair can't anticipate a clean sweep at Wapping, especially if the political editor Trevor Kavanagh can persuade his editor Rebekah Wade to send the Prime Minister a copy of the Walker Brothers' "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine (Anymore")...

It wasn't The Sun wot won it at any election, of course, but the Government will be bereft if it loses the support of Britain's biggest-selling daily.

In the wee small hours, Blair may well hear bayonets rattling in their scabbards.

Polls on trust? Can't trust'em

Overall, there were no shocks in the top-10 most-trusted news sources revealed by a Press Gazette/YouGov survey. As I always maintained, the Gilligan affair and subsequent inquiries did nothing to prevent the BBC coming out ahead by the combined length of the Hutton and Butler reports. Nor was it surprising that the more serious of our daily newspapers, including this one, all claimed a place among the first eight (the lowly position of the Financial Times was presumably because of its limited appeal).

But careful perusal of the complete results, especially those dealing with the trust rating of newspapers and magazines, must have had the pollsters rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Is the Daily Express, scaremonger-in-chief over asylum-seekers, Roma, and anyone else that it can convince its readers is a threat to their well-being, really trusted twice as much as The Sunday Times? Does the Morning Star, a political relic, really inspire trust equal to that commanded by Time magazine and The Spectator - an organ of right-wing sophistication that, in spite of apparent rampant sexual shenanigans, constantly outperforms the Tory party.

Then there's the tit-bum-and-blokes bible, the Daily Star, achieving a trust rating double that of the Evening Standard and Sunday Telegraph...

I could go on, but the most dramatic statistic of the survey was surely the 25 per cent of those asked to name a paper, magazine, website or broadcast news programme that they found trustworthy, who could not come up with an answer. Trust me, that's worrying.

Comments