A LETTER in the New Journal has been causing a stir among Labour Party members after a reader suggested the newspaper was effectively supporting Sarah Hayward in the Holborn and St Pancras selection contest. Here’s the text:
IS it my imagination or has the New Journal decided to act as the campaigning voice for Cllr Sarah Hayward’s candidacy for MP selection in Holborn and St Pancras Labour Party selection process?
Every week I see photos of Cllr Hayward gladhanding a local TV celebrity or being endorsed by the old Labour guard but I’m not seeing the same fair coverage for the other candidates who are also standing for selection.
If the New Journal feel that they support one candidate for the selection, they should come out and say so.
I’m not a Labour Party member but feel it is pretty certain that Camden will have a Labour MP after the election. Do us the service of providing a fair platform for all candidates.
We thought about writing an ‘editor’s note’ under the letter on publication, but decided against it because such notes should be used sparingly and, hopefully, readers can judge the coverage for themselves. And yet, by not saying anything, you leave yourself open to the idea that you’ve accepted the accusation… which obviously we don’t.
In this long drawn out process, the same accusation has been levelled at the newspaper, albeit not in the letters page, more in private moans, in terms of Sir Keir Starmer and Raj Chada, with some activists completely sure that we favour their campaigns to replace Frank Dobson.
When reporting on elections, the truth is we do sometimes zone in on the players with the best chances. You could interview a Tory running in a by-election in Kentish Town or a Labour candidate in Frognal and fill half a page of the newspaper about their plans for world domination. After they’ve been thrashed in the election, readers then wonder why they’ve had so much coverage beforehand and we look a bit silly.
Now, in the Holborn and St Pancras selection contest, Sarah is far from an outsider and the coverage she has had reflects that. We’ve interviewed her about why she thinks she would be suitable and reported on her high profile endorsements.
But take the coverage as a whole and you can see Sir Keir has had page leads about his support from former Mayor Ken Livingstone, while Raj claimed similar space when he received union backing. We’ve also interviewed Patrick French, Thomas Gardiner and Ivana Bartoletti. It’s true we could have printed more from Angela Pober, although she has not courted press publicity in any real way since declaring her own interest. In general, and I would say this, I think it’s been pretty fair.
At this point, it might also be worth linking back to the blogpost where it was explained that Sarah’s position as council leader comes with a natural advantage in terms of press exposure. The Town Hall’s communications department, after all, sends out photos of her on a weekly basis. There she is opening new schools, smiling at flower shows, that sort of thing. These are not related to the selection contest but get her face in the papers through a means not open to rival candidates.
On the ‘page lead’ about Sarah’s endorsement from Lord Prescott, it is hard to argue that this wasn’t worth a bit of prominence. Prezza was after all the deputy prime minister and more importantly his comments were unlike any of the endorsements that any of the potential candidates have received so far. Rather than just say, Sarah is great, la-di-dah, he went to say what he didn’t want, jibing at the field about his dislike for ‘smooth talking professional politicians’. This meant his intervention was digested in two different ways. Some people saw ity as a filip for Sarah. Others, people who find Lord Prescott an arsey loudmouth, who nodded his head during the worst excesses of Blair and has recently undermined the Labour leadership by riffing about Ed Miliband’s timidity, thought it was actually a bad choice to parade his endorsement. The most irritated said the jibe agains the unnamed ‘smooth talkers’ was the first whiff of negative campaigning in a process where candidates have previously promised civility. So, the story gave Sarah a main stage feature, but also started a debate, which is kind of part of the job here.
But you know, the real issue here isn’t about getting the rulers out and measuring column inches from the last few weeks, because stories about endorsements are only a small part of what’s going on. The real criticism of the coverage should be that we have yet to show readers what the difference between the potential candidates are. We do not really know yet what splits them, what people are actually voting for when they choose on over the other. They can all say, for example, that housing is important to them and it’s a really big issue. But what are their unique ideas for tackling that entrenched problem. Similarly, they are all likely to say they want to save the NHS, but in what different ways? So far, a lot of their answers seem very similar and I would not envy the members who will soon have to make a decision.
This is not really the candidates’ fault, though. The Labour Party has been snail like in its reaction to Frank Dobson’s retirement announcement. Officially, the contest we stand accused of being biased about has not actually begun. When it does, some public hustings might be the way forward, at least in terms of letting the constituency, regardless of political affiliation, know what they can expect from the person almost certain to become our MP.