LETTER from THE EDITOR

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The Independent Online
Herewith an epistle from an exhausted, unslept, raw-eyed and, I fear, rather smelly editor. Election campaigns are always tiring affairs for hacks, but this is especially so on a small paper like The Independent. After a long night of curled sandwiches, warm lager, battered keyboards and much shouting, the newsroom looked rather as I imagine the Japanese embassy in Lima to have been in the closing stages of the hostage crisis. By the end of this campaign, our election desk, confined to a small glass cubicle echoing with the constant babble from rival televisions, had begun to behave like a bunch of caged primates subjected to cruel and unusual experimentation - hysteria-tinged gusts of laughter; strange and impenetrable jokes; a cruel enthusiasm for the termination of certain political careers. But they did the business. GK Chesterton had some line about journalists working harder than any other lazy people in the world. I know now what he means.

According to a stream of nice letters, you seemed to think so, anyway. We didn't get the lift in sales we'd had in earlier elections, though things picked up briskly in the last few days of campaigning, and we seem to have outdone the rest yesterday, when it really mattered. But then newspapers generally weren't avidly consumed during the campaign. I think people simply reckoned they knew the likely result and mentally shrugged. Now it's over, and the result is more interesting and unexpected than anything in the campaign, I suspect interest will pick up.

What, though, about our experiment of sending reporters to marginal constituencies to talk to swing voters? That produced a feeling, halfway through the campaign, that ``it isn't over yet''. In fact, given the crushing nature of the defeat, it must have been, or nearly. Yet the tentativeness of these swing voters about New Labour was real enough; the doubts of undecided people only a couple of weeks before polling told a story of a country that has grown a little cynical of politics. If Tony Blair can break down that cynicism, he will have done a great job for the country.

Scepticism, though, is a different matter. In this campaign, Independent readers were disproportionately pro-Labour and pro-Liberal Democrat - and so, I have to say, was the paper's staff, according to straw polls in the office. When we put our final edition to bed on Thursday night, I made a short speech of thanks to the Stakhanovites still standing, and including a word of commiseration to all Tory-voting colleagues. A single, two-fingered hand was raised from the other end of the room.

Yet the paper continued to ask uncomfortable questions through the campaign - infuriating Labour headquarters. We won't stop doing so now Labour is so securely in government, and you wouldn't expect us to. I want the paper to offer constructive, friendly analysis, but to do so standing clearly outside the Labour family. The size of Blair's triumph compels respect and a certain humility from the press - his spin doctors and political strategists could not have played it better. But any journalism worth its salt will be compelled to worry late at night about the huge, unconstrained power of the new government. We want it to succeed, but we are wary of everyone in power. We cannot help it; that is our instinct. There is nothing more important now than to give this hugely popular new leader a fair press: but political journalism without scepticism - and a due measure of outright impertinence - is merely turgid propaganda. British politics is in a sense starting again and will require a new standard of reporting to get its measure; and that is what we will do.

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