Writing About Brexit: media manipulation against Labour

EdinburghEye on Ko-FiThis was first posted on Facebook on 6th December 2019, with support from my Ko-Fi network.

On media manipulation, conscious and unconscious.

Paul Brand is a political correspondent for ITV News. He is by no means a knee-jerk Tory supporter.

Yesterday he posted a thread of three tweets, which read:

Factory worker in Matlock:

“This is a Labour area, we all vote for the Labour Party round here, but it’s not what it used to be is it?”

“So how will you vote this time?”

“Boris”

Some of you will undoubtedly scream at me, but this is what I keep hearing in Labour leave areas.

Note they almost always say “Boris” and not “Conservative”. Lots of voters in Matlock today told me they don’t really see him as a Conservative, despite the fact he’s been a Tory Mayor of London, a Tory MP, a Tory cabinet minister and a Tory PM. A clever illusion.

Already being dismissed because Matlock is in Derbyshire Dales, but these were lifelong Labour voters on a factory floor telling me they will vote Tory. Find ways to dismiss it, or face it head on. BECAUSE LABOUR HAS ONE WEEK LEFT TO CHANGE THEIR MINDS. [emphasis mine]

He then added screenshots of the results of local council elections (in May 2019, the borough council for that area became Labour-controlled for the first time in 20 years – 25 Labour, 19 Tories, 1 Green) in order to “prove” that this was a Labour area.

Paul Brand was travelling with Boris Johnson’s battle bus, which was greeted on arrival by anti-Tory protesters, which Paul Brand duly recorded in an earlier tweet.

Boris Johnson then toured a knitwear factory in Lea Bridge, which a Matlock resident told me is NOT in Matlock, it’s THREE MILES away.

The workers in the knitwear factory may well have said “this is a Labour area, we all vote Labour” but it’s clear from the reaction of a Matlockian that they will have a very narrow definition of what constitutes their local area.

The local MP is a Conservative, Derbyshire Dales is a safe Tory seat – that’s why Boris Johnson went there. There may well be people alive in the constituency who are lifelong Labour voters and who remember voting Labour for a Labour MP and a Labour government, but as that was in 1945 they would have to be at least 95 years old and are almost certainly not still working in a knitwear factory.

What struck me most, though, was that assertion “Labour has a week to change their minds”. While there is a Labour PPC standing in the Derbyshire Dales constituency, Claire Raw, and the Tory incumbent stepped down in November so the Conservative candidate is a new face, Sarah Dines, the Conservatives won the Derbyshire Dales in the 1950 general election and went on winning every general election thereafter: since 1987, the Conservative candidate has only once had a majority less than 5000, in the 1997 national swing to Labour, and mostly wins with majorities of 10,000+.

While obviously the local Labour constituency party will campaign for their local candidate and work hard to give Claire Raw a good showing, I do not doubt that they don’t really expect her to win – and the national Labour party is not going to waste their funding to campaign for Labour in a safe Tory seat.

When Paul Brand says “Labour has a week to change their minds”, Paul Brand is either ignorant of all of the above, doesn’t understand that Labour councillors get elected even in safe Tory seats, or is deliberately lying to make it look as if Labour is underperforming.

My guess is, after the first tweet of the visit which necessarily – if you’re any kind of honest reporter – had to show the anti-Tory protesters, Paul Brand then thought he had to show “balance”, and assumed his followers would not realise that he was in fact visiting a safe Tory seat and his talk of this being a “Labour Leave” area was rubbish. It’s also plausible to me that as a Londoner Paul Brand genuinely doesn’t understand that to a local in Derbyshire “our area” could mean just a couple of square miles – Lea Bridge is not Matlock, but if you’re travelling through England on a Tory battle bus, they all look about the same and Lea Bridge is in the Matlock postal area.

Paul Brand is a reporter I would have trusted to report honestly: it was only his own admission that this was Derbyshire Dales he was talking about (and the handy Electoral Reform Society tool that let me know Matlock hasn’t changed party in 69 years) that made me wonder: is he misleading?

Answer: yes, he is. The only part I can point to which I can say definitely is a lie is his assertion that Labour has a week to change their minds; he must know, if he is any kind of political journalist at all, that Derbyshire Dales will return a Tory MP on 12th December, and it makes no real difference if it’s by a majority of anything between four or fourteen thousand.

So that leaves us here: On a visit to a safe Tory seat where Boris Johnson was greeted by angry protesters, Paul Brand found it necessary to push the idea that Labour is a failure.

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