BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Friday, 24 November, 2000, 05:05 GMT
Method in Blair's tabloid outburst

Tony Blair:"Itching to go on the attack."
Tony Blair's outburst this week about 'biased' reporting has distinct echoes with his predecessor as prime minister, writes BBC News Online's Chris Horrie, author of Stick it Up Your Punter.

Tony Blair this week blasted The Sun and Daily Mail for peddling "anti-European nonsense" in their reporting of proposals for the EU military rapid reaction unit.

"I'm used to the British media being impossible on the topic of Europe, but I hope the public will be given the facts," Mr Blair raged at a press conference in Moscow.

Commentators likened Mr Blair's outburst to similar attacks made on the tabloid press by John Major when he was under great pressure in the run-up to the last general election.

Sun editor David Yelland
Sun editor David Yelland
One tabloid editor later revealed how Mr Major had called him to No 10 Downing Street and raved at him about biased reporting. The editor merely concluded that he had "gone off his trolley".

The danger, it was being said this week, was that Mr Blair might be repeating the same mistake as his predecessor, becoming obsessed about the tabloids, annoying editors in the run-up a general election and thus damaging his chances of a second term.

According to sources close to the Labour PR machine, Mr Blair and his closest advisors have been "itching to have a go" at the press since at least last spring when The Sun and the Daily Mail started running various negative "knocking" stories about the government.

Labour chiefs are particularly exasperated over coverage of the Millennium Dome. There was Labour anger too at the role played by the Sun and the Mail in supporting the fuel protesters.

I'm used to the British media being impossible on the topic of Europe, but I hope the public will be given the facts

Tony Blair
Labour PR chiefs decided that they had little chance of retaining the editorial support of the tabloids during the next general election. Expecting a rough ride anyway, they decided to "get their retaliation in first".

This week it was decided that coverage of the EU military proposals was the "right issue and the right moment" for a counter-attack against the tabloids in order to "teach them a lesson".

The result may be that Mr Blair loses the support of the Sun and the Mail, which was reckoned to have contributed to his landslide victory in 1997.

But the link between newspaper reading and voting behaviour is notoriously difficult to establish.

They hate the tabloids and have wanted to have a go for ages

Labour insider
It is doubted whether a newspaper can persuade people to vote positively for a particular politician or party it recommends. But it is known that a determined "knocking" campaign can turn voters off. Previous victims of such campaigns include John Major and Neil Kinnock.

In 1992 opinion polls showed that Neil Kinnock was likely to win the general election and defeat the incumbent Conservatives under John Major or that, at least, the result would be very close.

But in the final week of the election campaign a series of devastating personal attacks on Mr Kinnock seemed to deter enough potential supporters. The Conservatives got back into power with a huge majority and The Sun ran a headline claiming to have "won" the election for Mr Major.

Chastened by this experience, the 1997 Labour election team set out to at least neutralise The Sun.

To the Labour team's delight The Sun decided to back Mr Blair personally (though not the Labour Party as such).

After his landslide victory Mr Blair wrote to thanks the paper's editor, adding: "you really did make a difference".

'Doing without The Sun'

It now seems that Labour's top team have decided that they might have to do without its support next time.

Insiders say that while Mr Blair might be weakened as a result, voters scared off by a Sun "knocking campaign" will have "nowhere to go" because William Hauge and the Tories have not yet recovered strongly enough to benefit.

Mr Blair's attack on the press might have been seen as "madness" by some commentators. But there is a method in his madness.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

23 Nov 00 | Talking Politics
Blair goes to war over Euro army
21 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Blair turns on 'Euro army' critics
23 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Blair in Euro tabloid row
Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories