What is it about Tories and buses? According to urban legend, Margaret Thatcher said that anyone over the age of 25 who used a bus could count themselves as a failure. The slogan on the Leave campaign’s battle bus said leaving the EU would save Britain £350m a week – for the NHS. And now they’ve banned the Daily Mirror from their election campaign bus.
“They don’t feel we are being sufficiently supportive,” our political editor Pippa Crerar told me. “Sufficiently supportive?” I choke. “We’re the Daily Flipping Mirror. We haven’t been sufficiently supportive to a Tory PM for the best part of 116 years.”
“Apparently our coverage has been deemed to be too personal against Boris,” she adds. No, it’s not payback for the Mirror chicken dispatched personally to accost the PM every time he leaves home (a role once held by our former journalist Lee Cain, who is now No 10’s director of communications). I think the “personal” bit is our questioning of Johnson’s personal honesty.
We’ve made no bones about the fact our PM lies. Frequently. To voters, to his colleagues, to former bosses, to his wife… to the Queen. And although truth is about as fashionable as snow wash denim these days, we still feel compelled to tell it.
It’s why the Mirror has filled its pages in recent weeks with stories of real people suffering the impact of Tory policies in our hospitals, care homes and during the recent floods. Initially, I was incandescent about the bus ban. Readers have a right to know what a new Tory government has in store for them – good or bad. And journalists need access to scrutinise policy.
But I’m also aware we are being goaded into a Trump-like trap. Johnson is following his strategy of isolating parts of the media. He’s also done it to Channel 4 News, refusing to appear on its debates. Across the board, there has been remarkably little opportunity for robust scrutiny of his plans.
Who needs scrutiny when you’re running your own Twitter fact-checking service? We also know the Boris Johnson team understands the value of creating media outrage. What better publicity could they hope for in the Mirror than a front-page story? If the Tories want to convince “Workington Man” to switch to them, there are few places better to find him.
This one incident illustrates what we’ve become as a country. The precedent the Tories have set of banning news brands they don’t like makes it far easier for Labour to block access for right-wing papers. And so we lurch another step towards politicians only engaging with those who agree, “othering” those who don’t, and a deeper, nastier polarisation of positions. The losers are the voters we should be working to inform.
Whenever you get disheartened there is always good news if you look for it. I attend the annual dinner for Hope Not Hate, the anti-fascist, anti-racist charity with whom we’ve worked for many years. Founder Nick Lowles and his team do an incredible job tackling extremism, and run research and education projects that prevent the growth of hatred. We hear of one man who worked undercover in a far-right group for ten years and helped identify London nail bomber David Copeland. And I meet two wonderful women – Julie Siddiqi and Laura Marks – who have set up a group connecting Muslim and Jewish women.
Smashing the class ceiling
One recent evening I chaired a panel event entitled “Breaking the Class Ceiling. Has journalism become an industry for the elite?” No prizes for guessing the correct answer to that question – but a handsome reward to anyone who answers the next: “And what can be done about it?” According to the Social Mobility Foundation just 11 per cent of journalists are from “working class” backgrounds: 86 per cent of the industry is university educated, and 94 per cent is white. The Sutton Trust has reported that 43 of the UK’s 100 most influential journalists attended fee-paying schools. It’s a terrible situation – how on earth can we represent our country as a whole if we aren’t reflective of it? The Mirror tries hard to ensure we have a staff which, er, mirrors its readers. But we can always do more, and there is a huge amount of action the industry must take.
Echoes of Attlee
It’s been manifesto week for the parties. We needed extra pages (fortunately advertising is good in the run-up to Christmas) to cover the myriad of Labour promises. And they seem to have gone down well with the readers – in Workington and elsewhere. From Penrith, John Bainbridge writes to me: “The Labour Party manifesto is the most inspired political document since the Attlee government in 1945, which gave us the NHS, new homes and proper employment.” Our readers, like the rest of the country, are split on Brexit. They’re pretty unanimous, however, on the threat they feel the Tories pose to the NHS and the public sector generally.
No 10 may push the view that Britain consists of two tribes; left wing urban establishment types who feed on falafel and New Statesman editorials, and “real people” who want their country back and blue. But the reality is different. We speak to the compassionate working masses every day. Even our readers who voted for Brexit (slightly less than half) tell us frequently they could never bring themselves to vote Tory.
A slightly grubby moment
I’ve been watching series three of The Crown, only to find that episode five focuses on a slightly grubby moment in Mirror history. The action centres on 1968 when Cecil King, then a director of the Bank of England and chairman of IPC, which owned the Mirror, conspires to bring down Harold Wilson’s government. The coup failed and King was out of a job. It’s a good time to remember the verdict of the Mirror’s then editor, Hugh Cudlipp, who’d opposed King. “The power of the Press is no greater than it should be,” he wrote. Ponder that on the bus home.
Alison Phillips is editor of the Daily Mirror