New Labour leaves the press searching for the write stuff

Away from my desk last week, with all the time in the world to read and analyse the post-election press, I tried to work out which publications offer the best insights into the thoughts and policy aspirations of the Labour Government. It is clear that all newspapers, even those technically supportive of Labour, are still struggling to come to terms with the new agenda, and - naturally - the new circulation opportunities these policy changes bring. The forthcoming budget, for example, has got the marketing directors salivating. But they’re struggling. That at least seems to be the most charitable explanation for the Observer’s decision to run excitable 148 point headlines across its front pages - ’Blair’s new tough line on single mothers’ is the latest effort.

Away from my desk last week, with all the time in the world to read

and analyse the post-election press, I tried to work out which

publications offer the best insights into the thoughts and policy

aspirations of the Labour Government. It is clear that all newspapers,

even those technically supportive of Labour, are still struggling to

come to terms with the new agenda, and - naturally - the new circulation

opportunities these policy changes bring. The forthcoming budget, for

example, has got the marketing directors salivating. But they’re

struggling. That at least seems to be the most charitable explanation

for the Observer’s decision to run excitable 148 point headlines across

its front pages - ’Blair’s new tough line on single mothers’ is the

latest effort.



And the Daily Mail’s revelation this week, that ministers are being

ordered to cancel informal briefings and contacts at which provocative

policy ideas are floated to gauge reactions, only served to underline

the media’s exclusion: how are journalists expected to access the inside

track if Government operates such a tight ship? Labour in Opposition and

during the election ran a highly disciplined campaign, which used

tabloids as PR tools, and allowed very little debate of key policy

issues or testing of its manifesto. This has been carried over into

Government with devastating effects. The decision to give the Bank of

England its independence took everyone by surprise. So did the decision

on tobacco sponsorship. However, the FT has managed to come closest to

tracking Gordon Brown’s ambitions so far: the pink ’un was way out in

front in predicting a new form of regulator for the City.



It was also the first, on the day after the election, to spot Blair’s

decision to recruit the sharpest business and City brains for the most

difficult problems. Radio 4, through Kaleidoscope and Medium Wave

exposed the change towards the media through revealing interviews with

Heritage Secretary, Chris Smith.



The New Statesman has been rising in my estimation with every issue. It

goes through the simple, sound exercise of interviewing the key Labour

players, and asking about their plans. In last week’s editor Ian

Hargreaves won from Martin Taylor the key observation that unifying the

benefits and tax system was a non-starter.



There is a real shortage of informed columnists who understand new

Labour in the national press. For 18 years the right has dominated, now

a range of writers: Barbara Amiel, Simon Heffer, William Rees-Mogg, Paul

Johnson seem as out-of-touch as defeated Tory MPs, an isolation that

will become even more acute once the party has picked a new leader. But

nature abhors a vacuum. A new generation of commentators must also

surely rise, perhaps from the weeklies or think tanks, and sweep to

power. But will they be able to write?



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