Beware the White Commonwealth. That is my advice to Labour leader
Tony Blair if - and it daily becomes more iffy - he wins the General
His handling of the media - or more precisely that of spindoctors Peter
Mandelson and Alastair Campbell - becomes ever more
Frankly, it will not survive office. There are three principal
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
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
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
Mr Blair should learn from history.