John Woodcock: Media must end this political bias

Labour people have long protested that Conservative prime ministers get an easier ride from the media in government.

Tony Blair said as much in his memoirs. Gordon Brown certainly thought so at times.

To an extent, all political leaders endure media fire storms and each must think the one they are going through is uniquely awful and biased against them.

But whether or not it has been true in the past, Fleet Street now has the chance to prove the thesis no longer stands - starting with the evidence emerging this week of the continuing hole in the defence budget, and the potentially grave consequences for the country.

Until now, coverage of defence has reinforced the perception that the media playing field is not level. Take the battering the press gave Brown over perceived shortages of helicopters for Afghanistan. Then compare the muted response when it became clear that those who fuelled the assault in opposition are not guaranteeing a single extra helicopter on their watch.

Imagine the treatment that would have been meted out to the last government had it cut pensions and benefits for our troops in the way David Cameron is doing. Then ask why it is only the Mirror making the running on the issue now.

As for aircraft carriers without aircraft - Labour ministers attempting to sell that announcement would not have got out of the studio alive. But the real test will be how the media hold the new government to account for the fact the defence black hole it claimed it was plugging is manifestly still there. Ministers, of course, claim that the continued problems that are surfacing are all down to the legacy left by Labour.

But they gave up the right to rely on that excuse when they claimed the strategic defence and spending review was a once-and-for-all fix to the decades-old problem of defence resources. I suspect that if we had made hay about the perceived mistakes of our predecessors but then manifestly failed to learn from them, we would have been kicked from pillar to post.

Let's see if that happens now.

- John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown

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