Throughout my working life until 1997 there was an anti-Labour and
pro-Tory bias in the British press. The broadcasters were supposed to be
politically impartial, though I have never met a political activist who
thought they were. There was, however, one thing I felt I could rely on,
both as a journalist and press secretary: their robust editorial
independence and determination to pursue a real story to the ends of the
earth. As such, they were utterly treacherous allies of Conservative
governments - as Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and John Major amply
discovered. I don't think Margaret Thatcher had much to grumble about,
provided you never expect the media to be fair.
Then came Mr Blair. One thing he can be credited with is a
transformation of media attitudes and behaviour. Let me be clear what I
am talking about.
It is not the change in their political sympathies, which are fairly
easy to explain.
For commercial reasons, The Sun felt Mr Blair was a much better bet than
the tired, grey, decent Mr Major. So Mr Blair has to be supported, even
though The Sun doesn't think much of his performance or policies to
judge from its own pull-out manifesto. The Express stable switched from
Tory to Labour slavishness under Labour peer Lord Hollick and remains in
servitude. Otherwise, nothing much has changed in terms of formal
political affiliation. The Mails and Telegraphs remain the only - thank
God - still fairly treacherous Tory supporters.
No, the transformation I am talking about is in journalistic mores. As
one BBC veteran told me, surveying the Number 4 Millbank newsroom: 'This
lot have forgotten their job is to make life difficult for governments.'
This is perhaps not surprising when BBC edicts have put Peter
Mandelson's private life beyond public discussion 'whatever the
circumstances' and banned direct approaches to the campaigning Keith
Vaz. But it is more general.
An ITV journalist told me: 'We don't cover the things we know we would
if the Tories were in office'.
I have been trying for four years to work out the reason for this
'soft-on-Blair' approach, bearing in mind the treatment I got when I was
in Number 10. To be consistent, they should have been very bloody
After all, in 1983, they told me: 'You're too powerful with a majority
of 143 and no opposition'. Mr Blair has had a majority of 179 and no
opposition, apart from William Hague. Is their quiescence a reaction to
their utter beastliness to Mr Major? Are they cowed by Alastair
Campbell's sustained favouritism and Labour's incessant pressure, not to
mention rubbishing of correspondents to editors? Is British journalism,
like the American, now politically corrupt?
Perish the thought. But no Cabinet Minister I ever served would have
become a media election hero for socking an egg-chucker. Perhaps it's
all part of Britain's decline and fall.