Stephen Glover On The Press

New Labour's boat was there for the rocking. But it just didn't happen

Many people believe that Tessa Jowell has been the victim of "media frenzy". The phrase was used by Sir Alastair Graham, chairman of the committee on standards and public life. It was implied in remarks made by Baroness Jay, an old friend of Ms Jowell's. The Culture Secretary's pals, and the Government's supporters, suggest that this is another example of trial by tabloid. There may even be a feeling among those who think she is probably guilty that she has been given a pretty rough ride.

It is all nonsense, of course. If this was a media frenzy, it was a very half-hearted and uneven one. It was the Sunday Times which broke the story on 26 February. It reported Ms Jowell's signature had been on a mortgage application in September 2000, which was soon paid off with a "gift" received by her husband, David Mills. Only the Daily Mail thought the story important enough to splash with it the following morning.

The front page of a newspaper is a kind of megaphone, and its lead story is the megaphone at its loudest. Not once last week, between Monday and Friday, did the Sun, the Daily Express or the Daily Mirror run Tessa Jowell on their front pages. The Times, the Independent and the Financial Times splashed with the story once, the Daily Telegraph twice. The Guardian led four times during the week (on one occasion only from the second edition) while the Daily Mail splashed four out of five times, and on the other day carried a photograph of Ms Jowell on its front page.

As New Labour's most ferocious critic, the Mail might have been expected to lead the charge, and so it did. (I should declare an interest as a Mail columnist, who threw a few grenades in Ms Jowell's direction last week). But no straightforward pattern can be discerned in the reactions of other newspapers. The Guardian, after all, remains quite friendly towards New Labour and yet, after the Mail, it devoted the most energy to eviscerating Ms Jowell and her husband. The Daily Mirror, a less independent-minded supporter of New Labour, played down the story, though it ran one robust leader. Less easy to explain was the relative lack of interest on the part of the Tory Daily Express. Perhaps it was trying to distinguish itself from the distinctly aerated Mail.

There was, however, a familiar pattern visible in the Murdoch press. As I have said, it was the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times which broke the story. This paper has shown itself a regular and effective critic of New Labour - for example, in its pieces about Tony Blair's manipulation of the honours system. For some reason, Rupert Murdoch allows it a surprisingly free rein. By contrast, the Sun and the Times have been dependable friends of the Government since 1997, and rarely stray off-message. On this occasion the Times, while obligingly keeping Ms Jowell off its front page save for one day, did give over quite a lot of inside space to the story. The Sun, by contrast, consistently buried the controversy on page two, which is considered a dead news page. It ran two leaders about Ms Jowell, the first strikingly sympathetic, the second - after she had been preposterously judged blameless by Mr Blair, the man who has most to lose by her resignation - a little harsher.

We are being asked to believe that the Culture Secretary cheerfully raised an enormous mortgage on her house and did not realise until four years later that it had been almost immediately redeemed by Mr Mills' "gift"! Even the dimmest person would surely have noticed that outgoings had been substantially reduced by the early repayment of the mortgage.

So: the Sun, which by a considerable margin has the most readers of any newspaper in Britain, once again elected not to rock New Labour's boat. Some people will remember how during the years of Tory sleaze the paper screamed and yelled on its front page. New Labour sleaze, however, concerns it a great deal less. Indeed, it has been consistently indulgent towards Mr Blair, and has derided suggestions that he or the Government lied over Iraq. It ignores or underplays every bit of bad news that comes out of that country. If during the past week you had been one of the Sun's 10 million readers, and happened not to watch television news, you would have had little or no idea that a Government minister faced extremely grave charges.

Some media frenzy! The two red-top tabloids - the Sun and the Daily Mirror - scarcely laid a glove on Tessa Jowell. The Mirror's dogged loyalty to the Government may not be attractive, but at least it originates in some atavistic allegiance to socialism. In the end, all that binds the Sun (and the Times) to the Government are the business interests of Mr Murdoch, a man who does not live in this country, and probably cares little for it. If many British people have not yet grasped that we have an unusually mendacious Government, a good part of the credit must go to Rupert Murdoch.

It's unfair to lampoon David for his lack of numerical nous

Celebrities are usually fair game. They want to be presented in the fawning terms of Hello or OK! magazines. Newspapers should be more clear-eyed. Nonetheless, on 26 February the Mail on Sunday was unnecessarily beastly to poor David Beckham.

The newspaper made much of Beckham's confession, in the course of an interview with its Live magazine, that he had difficulties with the maths homework of his six-year-old son, Brooklyn. The following day an article in the Daily Mail ragged Beckham mercilessly as a dimwit. Wasn't all this a bit mean-spirited?

In the first place, credit should go to Beckham for admitting his shortcomings. In the second place, his difficulty with comparatively simple maths and English only confirms the inadequacies of the educational system which let him down. As Richard Littlejohn remarked in the Mail, Beckham is obviously bright. It is the system which betrayed him, not Beckham, that should be lampooned.

Whatever Beaverbrook was, he certainly was not pro-fascist

The measured reaction of the London Evening Standard journalist Oliver Finegold to a torrent of abuse from Ken Livingstone does him great credit. The Mayor of London had claimed that Mr Finegold (whom I have never met) swore at him, but a recording made by the reporter shows that he did not. Mr Finegold remains polite even when Mr Livingstone compares him to a German war criminal, though, as a Jew, he says he is "actually quite offended" by the comparison. Mr Livingstone was not merely rude and abusive. He is also ignorant of history. He suggests that Mr Finegold works for a paper that has "a record of fascism". In fact, during the 1930s the Evening Standard was owned by Lord Beaverbrook who, although something of an appeaser, was certainly not pro-fascist.

The Standard's then-editor, Frank Owen, could be fairly described as an anti-fascist.

In the 1980s the Standard became part of the Mail group.It is certainly true that in the 1930s the Daily Mail briefly supported Oswald Mosley's blackshirts, and its proprietor, the first Lord Rothermere, carried on a warm correspondence with Hitler, though he secretly passed on some of the information he gleaned to the Government. None of this, however, remotely makes the Evening Standard a newspaper with a fascist past.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Printing Trainee / Computer Graphics

£8000 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have an interest in compu...

Recruitment Genius: Content / Copy Writer

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has bec...

Reach Volunteering: Trustee with experience in science communication

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: The Society for Expe...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible