Popular and personal agendas

I was interested to read Geoffrey Wheatcroft's caustic and self-justificatory defence of right-wing tabloid journalism ("The press and the swinish multitude" 11 December).

He quotes my critique of Britain's press, suggesting that those on the left who detest the Mail and Sun are elitists who hate popular culture. Anyone who attacks Paul Dacre and David Yelland is, by his twisted logic, attacking "the people". What bunk.

Wheatcroft may have forgotten that he once wrote a particularly biting attack on me in the Daily Mail. At the time, I was the BBC's social affairs editor, and he was accusing me of biased reporting - a deeply damaging charge, but not worth replying to. To my surprise, out of the blue, I received a grovelling letter from him explaining that all the worst bits had been added to his copy without his knowledge. Please would I forgive him and understand he had to earn his crust "to keep the little Wheatcrofts in shoe leather". There are honourable and dishonourable ways to earn a living. Wheatcroft chose the latter.

Polly Toynbee
The Guardian
London EC1

I strongly disagree with Geoffrey Wheatcroft's assertion that popular newspapers succeed by following the public and not leading it. How does he think public opinion is pushed in a particular political direction in the first place? Certainly not by the curriculum-constrained education system; and presumably not by radio or television, required as they are to be balanced and impartial in their news and current affairs broadcasts. No, the prime opinion-formers are the newspapers, and the populist press is, and has always been, predominately right-wing. It is owned and controlled by single-minded multimillionaires with their own social and political agendas. These people would not have wasted their investment on simply following their readers.

Perhaps Wheatcroft can explain why so many working people vote Conservative. These electors, surely, are the main beneficiaries of good public services properly funded from progressive taxation, outcomes usually associated with left-of-centre governments. I suspect that it is the daily drip, drip, drip of slanted news, right-wing editorials and downright lies that inclines many of them to vote against their own self-interest.

In these circumstances, left-wing journalists do not despise working-class voters, as Wheatcroft suggests, but despair of them.

Graham Edwards
Henbury, Bristol