Friday, 11 May 2012

Spectrum analysis

One of the smaller gems from Andy Coulson's written statement to the Leveson inquiry is the suggestion that the Guardian considered the possibility of endorsing the Tories before the 2010 general election. The report of this in the New Statesman prompted online comments such as "flying pigs", though there is really nothing incredible about the idea at all. The Guardian editor has denied this was ever considered, and there are many who suspect it is just mischief-making by Coulson, however the fact that he thinks it worth the punt is revealing.

What it tells us about the UK press, and its relationship with politicians, is that the ideological spectrum is not as wide as you may think. After all, when Polly Toynbee, former doyenne of the SDP, is accused of being the chief ideologist of "the left", you know somebody is either deluded or having a laugh.

In truth the left (i.e. the real left, not La Toynbee) has never had much representation in the mainstream press. The Mirror has traditionally supported the right of the Labour party, while the self-proclaimed "progressives" at the Guardian and latterly the Independent have usually supported the Liberals or other centrists. The support of many papers for Labour in the Blair years was obviously not an endorsement of anything remotely left-wing.

This is where an understanding of ideology as the self-serving justification of what 'is', rather than an argument for what 'ought' to be, comes in handy. The press has a symbiotic relationship with political power, which the Leveson inquiry is shining a light on. The question is, do we have a political spectrum that runs from barely left of centre to just-short-of-lunatic right because that is the range that the press represents, or is the range of the press the product of the political spectrum? Ultimately, it is the coincidence of the two that is significant, rather than the priority.

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