Feature: How media glare dazzles Labour
On a day when the media’s influence in politics is the number one topic of conversation, politics.co.uk reviews what the papers have been saying about Gordon Brown’s leader’s speech.
By Alex Stevenson
In one of the most decisive moments in the tabloid’s history, reflecting its repudiation of Neil Kinnock before the 1992 election and its ‘The Sun Wot Won It’ five years later, the Sun has abandoned the Labour government.
“Labour’s driving ambition has not been to improve Britain. It has been to retain power at all costs – with no lie judged too great in its ruthless and relentless self-promotion.
“They promised a referendum on Europe. They claimed they had ended “boom and bust”. They tried to con the public with promises of endless investment, when they knew they would have to cut.
“At the 2005 election, we and our readers believed Labour had many failings but gave them one last chance over a lacklustre Tory party.
“They have had that chance and failed.”
Another News International newspaper with its own entirely critical stance on the prime minister, the Times’ leader writers went for Brown with abandon. They suggested the speech would make no difference to the country. Judging by their attacks on it, they may be making what would have been a neutral impact into a negative one.
“Mr Brown appeared to have involved about 25 people in the writing of the speech and none of them, with the exception o the person who penned that opening segment, appears to have been by vocation a speechwriter. Such stylistic shortcomings could have been overlooked, might even have been endearing, if they had been flaws in a speech of substance. But they were not. The three big challenges that Mr Brown needed to tackle – the country’s dire fiscal position, the collapse of confidence in the political system and the difficulties faced by Afghanistan – were left, by the end of the speech, untackled.
“We began the week arguing that Labour would not make political progress under its current leader. This speech changed nothing.”
In a balanced assessment of the prime minister’s speech, the Guardian’s editorial pointed out that Brown had done more than enough to make him a viable candidate to fight the next election. But it also showed the fundamental weakness at the heart of Labour’s project for a fourth term – it’s the voters who matter. Ultimately, that’s not good news for No 10.
“Labour’s solidly successful week in Brighton will have given its supporters heart, but there has been nothing to suggest that it is likely to win a majority next spring. ‘Never stop believing,’ he said, and he did enough yesterday to keep belief alive within his party.
“That was a success, given Mr Brown’s troubles. But it is the country he needs to persuade if he is ever to return to a Labour conference as party leader and prime minister.”
The Indy’s editorial offered an in-depth analysis of the headline proposals on offer. It expressed doubts about many of them, but also acknowledged in some areas there does appear real progress. The assessment was the same as the Guardian’s; this was not a game-changing speech, but it certainly wasn’t a game-losing one either.
“Where Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour conference in Manchester last year was personal, this year’s address in Brighton was pugnacious. The attacks on the Conservatives came thick and fast, particularly on their supposed lack of economic competence. And, in fairness, the prime minister did have a strong case to make about the hesitant and confused manner in which the Tories reacted to last year’s global financial meltdown.
“In other ways, however, the speech served to emphasise the now familiar flaws in the prime minister’s own character. He failed to convey any acceptance of glaring past mistakes of his own, from the light touch policy on bank supervision to allowing the public finances to become excessively reliant on the revenues from financial services. And he offered no detail on where Labour would cut spending to back up his assertion that Labour would be more humane when it came to tackling the yawning budget deficit.”