John Cole: The most recognisable and respected broadcast political journalist since World War II
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt.
Friday 08 November 2013
John Cole, who died yesterday aged 85, not only did more than any single figure to create popular understanding of the turbulent 1980s, but pioneered the best in modern political broadcast journalism.
As BBC political editor from 1981 to 1992, a job he took at the age of 54 after a successful career as a senior executive on the Guardian and Observer, he brought into millions of homes, with insight and a rare ability to communicate it, the double story of Margaret Thatcher’s government and the fraught attempts of her opponents to come to terms with her revolution. That the Northern Ireland accent and the famous overcoat made him so easily caricatured in Spitting Image was in fact a tribute to his importance as the most recognisable and respected broadcast political journalist since World War II.
As David Cameron and Ed Miliband led tributes to Cole, his present day successor Nick Robinson tweeted: “The man I learnt so much from……has died. He shaped the way all in my trade do our jobs.“ His family - his wife Madge, four sons and nine grandchildren - said: ”For us he was the most loving, funny and devoted husband, father and grandfather. We will miss him terribly, but have so many memories of the tremendous happiness he has brought into our lives.“
He was one of a shrinking breed of political journalists who had been labour correspondents - as he was at The Guardian - which gave him at once a deep lifelong belief in the value of free trade unions and a healthy scepticism about trade union political influence in the Labour Party through the block vote.
As a new political correspondent in 1987 - he was invariably helpful to younger journalists - I can remember chatting with him in a car during the Greenwich by-election, then likely to see a spectacular victory for the SDP over Labour. “Well, there’s only one alternative government,” he said in his characteristic Ulster burr. This private view, dismissive of the long-term prospects for the Social Democrats, was as correct as it was unfashionable at the time.
A Northern Ireland protestant who was also an anti-monarchist, he was unashamedly a Labour man. Yet he remained free of accusations of bias, even at time when many Conservatives were attacking the BBC as an institution. He secured a famous interview with Margaret Thatcher the morning after the Brighton bombing. But perhaps his greatest scoop was his reporting in 1990 the likelihood that she would stand down. He could not have done this if he had not been trusted by his many Conservative sources.
And this was his most prized asset at the BBC. He was trusted by his informants right across the political spectrum, who knew that while they would not be protected from his criticism (“There is nothing worse than reporters who are prisoners of their contacts,” he wrote in his illuminating memoir As it seemed to me) they would not be betrayed as sources. But he was also one of a select few among 20th century broadcasters - Walter Cronkite comes to mind - who was trusted above all by the viewing public.
- 1 Kermit the Frog has a new girlfriend named Denise
- 2 The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
- 3 Moscow voted the world's unfriendliest city
- 4 I'm pansexual – here are the five biggest misconceptions about my sexuality
- 5 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
The one chart that shows how George Osborne is almost certainly going to be our next Prime Minister
The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
Three-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jewish children told 'the non-Jews' are 'evil' in worksheet produced by London school
Bono's group has made more money from Facebook investment than from all his music
Wikipedia rocked by 'rogue editors' blackmail scam targeting small businesses and celebrities
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£10400 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...
£22000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role is a mixture of office...
£17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...