An opportunity for Labour to set the gold standard in media relations

The News International scandal poses some difficult questions for the Scottish Government, says DUNCAN HOTHERSALL


The epicentre of the News International earthquake this week has undoubtedly been London, but tremors have been felt north of the border too.

I can genuinely say that watching my party leader shake off the shackles of the Murdoch media game in the House of Commons was one of my proudest moments as a Labour member. Though there was much to admire in New Labour, the calculated pursuit of editorial support via socially conservative justice policies was one of its worst features, and it is only this decisive shift away from editor-wooing which has truly marked Ed as a post-New Labour leader.

Success in this move will only be possible if all other parties agree the same shift of principle. David Cameron, almost fatally weakened by the scandal, can’t afford to do anything else though will need to be carefully watched. The Lib Dems, to their credit, never sold their soul to Murdoch – they were saving it for the coalition negotiations in which it became a most effective bargaining chip.

But attention is now focusing on the SNP. The Scottish Sun and the Scottish News of the World surprised many when they gave a personal endorsement to Alex Salmond ahead of May’s election, though cynics quickly asserted that this was nothing more than a Tory plan to hurt Labour. But questions are now being asked about Salmond’s relationship with the Murdoch empire, and it would behove him to come clean, as the UK party leaders have, on the meetings and discussions he had in the lead-up to that major shift on Murdoch’s political alignment in Scotland.

I think the Labour Party has an opportunity to take a lead on this issue in Scotland just as it has in the UK. We have a close relationship with Trinity Mirror, publishers of the Daily Record, and we should take the initiative now to outline how that relationship has worked in the past, and how we want media relations to work in the future. In particular, I think we could meet the public mood by setting out an open and accountable approach to media relations for the party in Scotland from now on. When we meet with editors we should declare it. When we employ people with connections to newspapers we should declare that too.

Labour could become the gold standard in open and accountable media relations in the internet age, and in so doing we could force other parties to meet the same standards and immeasurably improve the quality of political discourse in this country.

Duncan Hothersall is a Labour Party member and was the founding chair of Pride Scotland as well as a founding director of the Equality Network. Follow Duncan on Twitter at @dhothersall.

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10 thoughts on “An opportunity for Labour to set the gold standard in media relations

  1. I think we can go further than that. The Banking crisis, expenses scandal and now press/police corruption have laid bare the corrupt “elite” at the heart of our country both Scotland and UK. Labour should take an anti corruption responsibility agenda to the electorate in the future. People are angry that all this has happened but they’re also resigned that once again nothing will change.

  2. These changes could happen, but most likely they won’t. The best piece I’ve seen on the political implications was at the New Statesman by Dan Hodges (7 July, “The phone hacking scandal is a disgrace …”). Mr Hodges doesn’t think much will change and neither do I. Unscrupulous journalists and politicians and corrupt police have an interest in things continuing just as they have, so that’s probably what will happen.

    But Mr Hothersall is right to draw attention to Labour’s ties to Trinity Mirror. Right now News International’s tabloids are the villains of the piece but that could and probably will change. Looking back to earlier non-investigations, where bungs to the police were concerned all tabloids were alleged to behave in much the same way. There will be plenty more dirt to come if the promised investigations live up to their billing.

  3. I love the way you say Salmond has to “come clean” as though he has something dirty to hide.

    What is the difference between the SNP and Labour/Tories on this one? Simply that the SNP has given the lie to the oft-quoted line that you can’t win an election without the backing of the Sun.

    That belief is what motvated both Labour and the Tories to bend over backwards to please News International (well, that and the personal files News International kept on MPs as an added incentive for them not to ask awkward questions – the kind of thing old fashioned people like me call blackmail).

    But the SNP did win an election without the backing of the Sun. (I am sure I don’t need to remind anyone here of the notorious 2007 election Scottish Sun front page). And without the backing of the Daily Record or any other tabloid.

    Incidentally I would be a bit wary about embracing this decisive shift away from editor-wooing – as Hugh Grant reminded the QT audience Labour’s great and good were accepting hospitality from Rupert Murdoch just a few short weeks ago. They are distancing themselves now because Murdoch, as well as NoW, has become toxic but let’s wait and see what happens in the long run.

    1. If Salmond and the SNP had no meetings or discussions with anyone from the News International stable then it would surely be opportune for this to be crowed from the rooftops right now. Why isn’t it being? Perhaps because we know of at least one meeting, in February of this year, between Alex Salmond and James Murdoch.

      I want both Labour and the SNP to “come clean” here. But there is only a small window of opportunity. We should be making a break from the stitch-ups of the past, not throwing partisan mud.

      Unless the SNP has genuinely had no discussions at all with News International media. In which case more power to them, and they should tell the world.

      1. We know that Alex Salmond met with James Murdich once.

        We also know that most of the Shadow Cabinet accepted News International’s hospitality a matter of weeks ago.

        Frankly, do you think that Rupert Murdoch or even Rebecca Brooks either knew or cared? The Scottish Sun is small fry in the context of the NI operation. I think the two people who had most to do with it are Bob Bird and Andy Nicol.

        Nevetheless the underlying point and, as I said, the main difference between Labour and the SNP is that the SNP has had the experience of winning an election in the teeth of tabloid hostility. It is possible and maybe that is what all political parties need to realise. Instead of which they seemed to cedit the tabloids with the ability to deliver votes – when it was more a case of tabloid editors judging which way the wind was blowing. The Scottish Sun got it wrong in 2007, they weren’t going to make the same mistake. I would expect other papers which have been historically pro-Labour to reassess that positon. The Evening Times already has – who knows the Daily Record may be next, Ok that was a joke.

  4. I would consider keeping quiet about your “close relationship with Trinity Mirror, publishers of the Daily Record” until the dust has settled.

    Not beyond the realms of possibility that they may also have some dirty secrets as well. Probably not hacked any phones but encouraging police corruption for stories, who knows.

    1. It’s precisely because there are probably dirty secrets buried in the Labour/Trinity Mirror relationship that I think now is the right time to open that can of worms. Let’s face the music for whatever has happened and move forward, rather than feeling beholden to undemocratic forces in the future.

  5. very true, james.

    The Mirror group papers have been one of the most quiet about the phone hacking scandals.

    i assume this is because all the tabloids at are least as guilty in these type of illegal methods.

  6. As much as I am not an admirer of the Daily Record, they are not in the same league as the Murdoch papers. Sure they will no doubt get the odd story from a polis, who might get a few drinks back, but there is no reason to suspect them of wholescale corruption & criminality.

    In a similar vein, there is no need to suspect Mr Salmond of dodgy behaviour because he did what every other politician has done – supped with the devil.

    What we should be looking at here is the man with the horns & the fork who smells of sulphur. He’s the bad guy. The political class as a whole need to nail him. They need to realise that the electorate would vote Hugh Grant in as Prime Minister if they had the chance, rather than any of them.

    If NI goes down then the rest of the press will notice & act accordingly.

  7. The focus is now on Labour to follow the SNP’s lead – When will Labour be releasing details of their dealings with News International of the last few years?

    Since the SNP have released all their correspondence with Murdoch et al. I’m assuming that Labour are busy compiling their details to be made public shortly?

    I expect they will be at least as comprehensive as the SNP’s.

    Don’t forget about that pesky FOI Act. Someone might get there first…

    Publish and be damned – Just like the SNP.

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