Opinion: Kelly story exposes wider media hypocrisy

You can tell how damaging the Ruth Kelly school story was to Labour by how hard its PR supremos tried to keep it out of the media. The irony is they would have had succeeded but for the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror.

This was the only media outlet that refused to be bullied by Downing Street into not naming Kelly and thus effectively exposing her dyslexic child. The Westminster hacks knew about Kelly’s child being sent to a private school but were put off naming the minister by threats of being in breach of the PCC code on identification of children.

Indeed, it is astonishing that apart from the Mirror, not one hard-nosed editor ran the story, though cynics might point to the fact that most editors send their kids to private school (according to one Westminster old-timer).

But once the Mirror named Kelly, all the media felt obliged to run the story in full, and so the Number 10 PR machine changed tack. The emphasis moved to the fact that Kelly’s son had ‘substantial learning difficulties’, thus justifying the £15,000 annual fee for him to attend a prep school. The PR team also played heavily on the fact that many of the BBC’s top brass also send their kids to such schools.

Inevitably, Kelly got the ‘full support’ of the Prime Minister, and Downing Street put up any female MP who would sympathise with Ruth over the airwaves.

To a certain extent it worked in taking the pressure off Kelly, but most of the coverage now focused on what Labour had done for children with learning difficulties, and that was not all good. It also emerged that Tower Hamlets, where Kelly lives, adequately provides for dyslexic children.

Downing St comms head David Hill would have been fairly pleased with his work. Inevitably the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph flagged up Labour’s ‘hypocrisy’, and The Sun didn’t pull any punches either. But the rest of the papers were soft on the ex-education secretary.

However, only the Tories came out of this story with any credibility, which is astonishing given that half the shadow cabinet went to Eton. The difference is that they are open about it. If Kelly had come clean with an announcement about her son then she would only have had positive headlines.

There is one man I know who will be privately fuming over Kelly’s decision. The Chancellor had his new year’s message almost blown away by the ‘scandal’, so don’t expect Kelly’s name to appear in Gordon Brown’s first Cabinet.
charlie.whelan@haynet.com

 

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