The old left right split

24.01.10

Alistair Campbell: Former Director of Communications and Strategy for the Labour Party

The New Labour project spent years courting the traditional Tory press. The Sun famously switched sides to Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell in 1997 and in 2007 Gordon Brown formed a real friendship with Paul Dacre, Editor of the Daily Mail. It is widely believed that Dacre is not a fan of David Cameron’s flashy, metropolitan brand of Conservatism (he does apparently like discussing various thickly bound books with the PM).

But in the last few months this has been unravelling fast. It seems that “Fleet Street” has very much gone back to its core vote. The Sun of course switched back to the blues after the last Labour party conference but even more worrying is the sudden lurch to the right (even more so) of The Times, Telegraph and Mail.

A good test of this was The Treasury’s recent document exposing the Tories “alleged” £34 billion credibility gap in their spending plans. The business journalists I spoke to believed it to be an extremely meaty document, well researched and full of annexes. But it did not get the hearing it deserved in this new media landscape.

“Darling in Dodgy Dossier” said The Sun. “Tories Ridicule Labour Attack on Spending” said the Telegraph with similar headlines in the Mail. In the very same editions there was hardly a pip squeak about the internal row within the Conservative Party on their proposed marriage tax.

This is a massive problem for The Labour Party. In 1992, the incumbent Conservative Party led by John Major was way behind in the polls but they still won the general election because of the backing of the Murdoch press. We all remember the famous Sun headline the day before a Labour Government was expected to take power: “Will The Last Person To Leave Britain Please Turn Out The Lights”. This incumbent Labour Government who’re way behind in the polls do not have similar media backing. This is a big enough problem on its own but an even bigger problem when you take into account The Labour Party has no money. They can’t afford leaflets, phone lines and posters (and certainly not airbrushed) which means the media is absolutely pivotal to getting across their message. Brown is also not a good TV performer making the print media particularly important.

What about the new online media and the blogasphere? There is no doubt this is becoming increasingly important but it is just not as sophisticated here in the UK as it is in the US where it played a big role in President Obama’s election campaign. Also the right are clearly ahead of the left in taking advantage of this new medium. Paul Staines’ right wing blog Guido Fawkes has a huge following and is constantly lobbing personalized attack grenades at Brown. (I must admit that I have enjoyed viewing mydavidcameron.com set up by independent graphic design artist Clifford Singer which allows viewers to design their own airbrushed David Cameron poster).

What does this all mean in the run up to a General Election? Gordon Brown can have a good day but it still feel like a bad one. PS

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