Press favouritism will do Blair no favours in the long run

Beware the White Commonwealth. That is my advice to Labour leader Tony Blair if - and it daily becomes more iffy - he wins the General Election.

Beware the White Commonwealth. That is my advice to Labour leader

Tony Blair if - and it daily becomes more iffy - he wins the General

Election.



His handling of the media - or more precisely that of spindoctors Peter

Mandelson and Alastair Campbell - becomes ever more

counter-productive.



Frankly, it will not survive office. There are three principal

objections.



The first is Labour’s sponsorship of the only anti-sleaze candidate,

ex-BBC war correspondent Martin Bell. Neither Mr Bell nor the Labour

Party can deny his political parentage. His conception was facilitated

by the Labour candidate in Tatton who stood down to allow a white knight

to fight the Mohamed-bespattered Tory Neil Hamilton. His white-suited

candidature was born at a dinner with Tony Blair’s photographer, Tom

Stoddart, who lives with Labour spokeswoman Kate Hoey. And his political

birth was registered when Tatton Labour Party endorsed him. The saintly

and surreal Mr Bell can protest about his independence until the

chickens come home to roost.



But he is Labour’s anti-sleaze candidate - and nobody else’s. From now

on his and Labour’s moral purity and sea green incorruptibility are

firmly on the media agenda - unless, of course, the British media, like

the Americans’ differential treatment of Democrats and Republicans, has

one law for Tories and another for Labour. The early interest in Mr

Bell’s sex life suggests not.



Labour’s proprietorial interest in Mr Bell is thus an appalling

bloomer.



But there are others. For 18 years, to my certain knowledge, TV

political correspondents have tried to hog press conferences so that

they can be shown in bulletins at work at the wordface. Now, they are

accorded pride of place by the parties. This is fine if they ask the

right - ie awkward - questions, although their preferential treatment

tends to put the backs up of press journalists. But what happens when,

as TV pundits will, they turn nasty? Do you refuse to call them at a

press conference or, as with my persistent Express colleague, Peter

Hitchens, do you, as Labour does, cut them off after one inconvenient

question?



Labour’s bullying - about which journalists routinely complain - is

another offence to be avenged in due course. But the real savagery will

come if, in office, Labour continues to give preferential treatment,

both in terms of ’leaks’ and briefing, to friendly journalists. I know

because, as press secretary, I tried to institute a series of intimate

Prime Ministerial briefings for senior political correspondents.

Jealousy brought down the idea at the first fence.



Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s media relations fell apart because he

showed favouritism to an elite. They called it the White

Commonwealth.



Mr Blair should learn from history.



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