Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Press puts the boot in to the Lib Dems... and we know why

The British press are having a field day with the Liberal Democrats. Day after day a little more juice is wrung out of the allegations that former chief executive Chris Rennard groped women in the Lib Dem office. 

I think we are entitled to ask "Why?"

It is not that such usually misogynist newspapers as the Daily Mail have discovered a new compassion for women abused in their workplaces. Similar allegations are made against journalists every few months, if one believes Private Eye.

It is not even about whether the allegations were properly handled. They probably weren't.

It is about politics pure and simple. The timing of the story- a few days before a critical by-election that the Liberal Democrats must win if they are to have any chance of an electoral come-back- is the real clue.

The fact is too that the scale of the coverage is a real giveaway- the Press has an agenda that is overtly and implacably hostile to the Liberal Democrats: their party, their leader and their policies. In particular their policies towards the Leveson inquiry. 

The attitude of 95% of journalists to the Liberal Democrats is "if you can't beat them, smear them". From the absurd allegations that "Nick Clegg helped a charity" (also helped by his wife), the coverage of the Lib Dems has been alternately contemptuous and ridiculous.

What seems to be interesting is that the voters of Eastleigh may not be playing ball. Poll after poll seems to show the Lib Dems squeaking through- which is most certainly not what the British press wants to have as the coda for the story.

If the Lib Dems do claim an improbable victory, then it really asks two questions of the media in the UK: firstly since they have continued to publish smear and innuendo- convicting a man before he can even make his case and damning all his associates- many would ask whether this shows that Leveson is even more necessary. 

Secondly, and far more worrying for the Fleet Street editors, will be whether Eastleigh is a demonstration of the limits of their power. Despite all guns blazing on the story, the intended target, the Eastleigh electorate, seems not to be responding.

I have long ago learned to dismiss headlines which use capital letters for emphasis, as in the typical Daily Mail headline; "a MILLION Bulgarians coming to YOUR town will give you cancer". Perhaps the voters are straining out the rest of the headlines now too. 

Such a failure of the Press in Eastleigh- I suspect- will simply accelerate the transformation of the Dailies Mail and Telegraph into becoming the political wing of "Hello" magazine.

I guess we will see on Friday morning.  

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