When political prejudice is all in the mind.

By DAVID WOODING

SOMEBODY tweeted me the other day asking why I only posted poll results which showed the Tories in front. 

I then dug out a tweet of mine from a few weeks earlier which began: “Labour surge into a six-point lead…”  Another time I wrote how  Ed Miliband has trounced David Cameron at PMQs. Within seconds, I received a reply from a top Tory asking if I was watching the same debate. On a single day I received tweets from a Leftie calling me a “Tory c*** sucker” and a Ukip supporter branding me a “first class Left-wing p****” who should be working for the Guardian or the Mirror. You see, it is all in the mind, depending on whether you wear blue, red or yellow tinted spectacles. In fact it is YOU the complainant who is biased because you only see it your way and don’t like your side being criticised.

Lots of fellow journalists get the same unwarranted criticism. I stumbled across this short piece by Michael Deacon of the Daily Telegraph which sums up why most of us are NOT biased while many of those who read us and get irate are.

By the way, there’s nothing wrong with a journalist being biased if he or she wants to. My good pal Kevin Maguire of the Daily Mirror is shamelessly Labour and does a great job of it. Call me simple, but I just like to get political stories, whoever it hurts or boosts – which is why I object to being called biased. Here’s Michael’s piece which you should read before you call foul at us again.

Every football journalist in this country is routinely accused of two things. 1) Being biased towards Manchester United. 2) Being biased against Manchester United.

It’s like that with politics. A lot of people on the Right think the BBC is biased to the Left. And a lot of people on the Left think the BBC is biased to the Right. I’ve been told that I’m biased for and against the Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and Ukip (Ukip opponent: “You treat Farage with kid gloves.” Ukip voter: “You’re racist against Ukip!)

This is why I’ve got no time for the claims by some viewers that Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley were biased in their treatment of David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Some thought the presenters were nakedly Cameron. And others took them for blatant Lefties.

The truth about claims of media bias is that the claims themselves tend to be biased. People only ever detect bias against their own side.

To go back to football: fans always accuse the referee of being biased, but only in their opponents’ favour. You can start to take claims of bias seriously the day you hear them shout, “Oi, ref! That’s never a penalty! Our striker blatantly dived! Are you taking backhanders from our chairman or what!”

Well said, Michael.So next time you rush to Twitter to hurl abuse, just take a long look in the mirror (the one on your wall not the one that lands on your doormat) and ask who is really the biased one here. And don’t forget to re-tweet me when I land a blow on the other side.

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PM lacks full public confidence in tackling terror

By DAVID WOODING
BRITAIN today delivers a damning verdict on David Cameron’s handling of the terrorist threat.
Six in ten people have no confidence in the PM’s response to the crisis and fear he will have little real impact.
Most doubt he has the authority within his party – or the coalition – to take the decisive action needed.
And more than half say he was wrong to jet off on holiday three days after soldier Lee Rigby was murdered.
Serious doubts over Mr Cameron’s reaction to the Woolwich attack are revealed in an exclusive Survation poll published in The Sun today.
Alarmingly, even Tory voters are split over whether his action plan will make the country any safer.
They want him to take a much tougher line, locking up fanatics who provoke violence and sending terrorist suspects back where they came from.
Mr Cameron has vowed to muzzle hate-preachers and stop them spreading their poison in schools, colleges and prisons.
He will head a new task force of MI5 chiefs, cops and religious leaders to tackle extremism and radicalisation.
But a massive 60 per cent of people don’t believe his plan will have a real impact on the problem.
And even more – 63 per cent – do not have full confidence in the PM’s overall handling of the terrorist threat.
But 54 per cent DO have confidence in MI5’s ability to protect them from terrorist attack.
Deserting
Survation chief executive Damian Lyons Lowe said: “At a time when the public are looking for leadership, David Cameron appears a little too chillaxed.
“It is difficult for him to be seen as acting decisively when it doesn’t look as though he has control of his own party, let alone the Coalition.”
Mr Cameron’s decision to fly to Ibiza with his family has clearly dented confidence in his, the poll suggests.
Some 56 per cent said he should have put off the sunshine jaunt and stayed in London to deal with the crisis personally.
Only 36 per cent think he was right to take a family holiday.
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Tory supporters are deserting Mr Cameron in droves and flocking to UKIP.
A quarter of those who voted Conservative in 2010 now plan to vote for Nigel Farage’s anti-EU party.
Support for UKIP among the over-54s – those most likely to turn out at an election – is a whopping 25 per cent.
Tories now lag nine points behind Labour as the party people are most likely to vote for.
The poll puts them on 25 per cent, with Labour at 36, UKIP on 20 and the Lib Dems in fourth place on ten.
Seven out of ten people think the UK government should deport foreign criminals while their appeal are ongoing.
And 56 per cent say Britain places too much emphasis on protecting freedom of speech and not enough tackling incitement.
Nearly four in ten – 38 per cent – believe attempts to kick out hate preacher Abu Qatada will fail and he will stay here indefinitely.
Only 24 per cent think he will be forcibly extradited to Jordan by the government.
Despite huge condemnation from the Muslims over Drummer Rigby’s murder, most people believe they are not outspoken enough.
Six in ten think Islamic communities have been too complacent and need to do more about the threat of hate preachers and extremism.
This compares with 26 per cent who believe they have been trying hard and doing all they can to combat the peril.
NUMBER CRUNCHING
Poll highlights:
State of the parties: Con 25 (+1), Lab 36 (+1), UKIP 20 (-2), Lib Dem 10 (no change)
What is your assessment of level of terrorist threat?
Very/serious 55, Moderate threat 39, None 6.
Confidence in Cameron’s proposals to have a real impact.
Yes 25, No 60, Don’t know 14.
David Cameron lacks  authority in his party to take decisive action.
Yes 56, No 34, Don’t know 11.
David Cameron’s holiday in Ibiza.
Should have postponed 55, Right to go 36, Don’t know 9.
Confidence in Cameron’s handling of terror threat.
No 63, Yes, 27, Don’t know 10.
Muslim communities need to do more about threat of hate preachers 60 per cent. Doing all they can 26, Don’t know 14.
Abu Qatada will be forcibly extradited 24
He will return to Jordan voluntarily 20
He will remain in UK indefinitely 38.
Don’t know 17.
Survation conducted its survey by online panel on May 30, 2013. It polled 1,007 adults aged 18+ in England, Scotland and Wales.

It’s The Sun wot swung it…or was it?

By DAVID WOODING

MYTHS and conspiracy theories galore have been peddled at the Leveson inquiry about the power broking that goes on between newspaper owners and political leaders.

But today I find myself agreeing with Alastair Campbell. Labour’s former spin doctor told the hearing there was no “express deal” between Labour’s Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch in the run-up to the 1997 election.

He goes even further and downplays the “perceived power” of newspapers to influence elections.

“I just don’t buy it,” he said. “The Sun backed us because we knew we were going to win. We didn’t win because The Sun backed us.”

There are two things that trouble me, however, about his insistence that Labour didn’t care whether or not he won the support of  Britain’s top-selling newspaper.

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First of all, why was the party leadership  so incensed when The Sun ended 13 years of support?

And secondly,  I wonder if he could explain the slightly different view voiced in a private discussion I had with a senior figure close to Mr Blair just before polling closed on May 1, 1997.

I am not going to reveal my source, but I was summoned to a hotel room in Sedgefield and told in gushing terms how The Sun helped to clinch the landslide victory.

The Labour source said:  “The Press has made a huge difference in this campaign.

“If we’d had The Sun going on at us hell-for-leather on Europe, it could have been a different story.”

I used his words to create a story under the headline “It was The Sun wot swung it” which was publshed next day. (See reproduction of the story below)

My own view has always been that politicians talk to journalists to spread their message, promote themselves,  and smear the opposition – sometimes those within their own party.

We in turn stay close to them because it’s our job to get stories.

Funny how one party cries foul when the other is getting all the attention and then says it is perfectly above board when it’s their turn to get a good Press.

Give us credit for your successes if you want to – or claim it was all your own work.

But you can’t have it both ways.

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The article from The Sun, May 2, 1997:

It’s The Sun wot swung it

By DAVID WOODING

JUBILANT Tony Blair praised The Sun last night for helping to clinch his stunning General Election victory.

The new PM admittedBritain’s favourite newspaper played a big part in swinging millions of voters behind New Labour.

He told party bigwigs our support was vital in spreading the message that the party was fit to govern.

A source close to Mr Blair said: “The Press has made a huge difference in this campaign.

“If we’d had The Sun going at us hell-for-leather onEurope, it could have been a different story.”

It is the SECOND time in five years that a political leader has said “Thanks my Sun” for helping him to electoral triumph. After John Major clinched victory from Labour at the 1992 poll, Tories admitted: “It’s The Sun what won it.”

Mr Blair was swift to give credit to our role in his win when he looked back over his 34-day election trail.

He believes the size of his majority was down to the success of his carefully-run campaign – and getting the message across.

But he was also thankful for a series of own-goals from the Tories, whose election strategy he branded “a shambles.”

A senior source in the Labour leadership camp said: “We did an awful lot right and they didn’t score many points on the key issues.

“One of their big mistakes was thinking a long campaign would suit them. In fact, it was great for us. We are used to it. We ran an extremely successful campaign. Our message was loud and clear. We were all singing from the same hymn sheet.

“But if there is one person responsible for the result, it is Tony.

“He was fantastic and this will give him added strength when he moves into No 10 as Prime Minister.”

For the first time, officials admitted Mr Blair was hit by the jitters as John Major tried to make him crack.

Slick

Tories even put an undercover “gaffe watch” unit on the Labour leader and deputy John Prescott for three weeks. But they called off the spy team when they failed to find a single chink in Labour’s slick campaign strategy.

A source added: “Tony would be the first to admit he was very tense at the start of the campaign.

“Although he knew much time and effort would be spent trying to discredit him, I don’t think it dawned on him until it started.

“There was a certain amount of tension. The last weeks have meant a huge change in his family’s lives.

“He grew in confidence and stature as time went on, and by the final week he was really motoring. It has been superb to watch him go.”

Mr Blair admitted last night he feels SORRY for John Major. A source said: “He has some sympathy, but thinks Mr Major never faced up to the difficulties in the Tory Party.”

Kelvin MacKenzie on Press standards

By DAVID WOODING

KELVIN MacKenzie isn’t one to pull his punches – and was his usual knockabout self when he spoke to the Leveson inquiry on Press standards today.

Love him or loathe him, the former Sun editor knows how to get his point across in concise and often colourful language.

Mr MacKenzie revealed how:

  – HE only checked the source of one story when he was editor of The Sun and it ended up costing him £1 million in libel damages.

– A MOLE hunt launched after a major defence exclusive was chaired by the MI6 colonel  who leaked the story.

– GORDON Brown threatened to “destroy” Rupert Murdoch in a 20-minute phone tirade hours after one of his paper’s endorsed the Tories.

– DAVID Cameron hired ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson only as a gesture of political friendship to the newspaper tycoon.

Mr MacKenzie (pictured left) didn’t mince his words when asked for his assessment of what should be done to reform the British media.

“Nothing,” he declared bluntly.

He said the only new law needed is one to ban “under-talented” MPs from kissing the a**es of newspaper owners.

In a bravura performance, he gave both barrels to David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove over their “gut-wrenching” crawling to Rupert Murdoch. He even tore into Lord Leveson himself.

Mr MacKenzie told how he had suggested Labour MPs should set their mobile phones ringing every time the PM stood up to talk in the Commons – in a jibe at his “potty” decision to hire ex-News of the World boss Andy Coulson as an aide.

Mr MacKenzie gazed around the room and asked: “Where is our great Prime Minister who ordered this ludicrous inquiry?

“After all, the only reason we are all here is due to one man’s action; Cameron’s obsessive a**e-kissing over the years of Rupert Murdoch. Tony Blair was pretty good, as was Brown. But Cameron was the Daddy.

“Such was his obsession with what newspapers said about him – and Rupert had three market leaders – that as party leader he issued all his senior colleagues, especially Michael Gove, with knee pads in order to protect their blue trousers when they genuflected in front of the Special Sun.

Gut-wrenching

“Cameron wanted Rupert onside as he believed, quite wrongly in my view, that The Sun’s endorsement would help him to victory. “When the paper did come out for Cameron the Sun’s sale fell by 40,000 copies that day.

“There was never a party, a breakfast, a lunch, a cuppa or a drink that Cameron and Co would not turn up to in force if The Great Man or his handmaiden Rebekah Brooks was there. There was always a queue to kiss their rings. It was gut-wrenching.”

He added: “Cameron had clearly gone quite potty. And the final proof that he was certifiable was his hiring of my friend Andy Coulson.

“I remember telling anybody who would listen that if I were Brown, every time Cameron stood up in the Commons he should arrange for mobile phones to ring on his side of the House.

“It would have killed Cameron. Nobody took me seriously. And then the phone hacking scandal erupted. Not a scandal of Rupert’s making but the order went out from Cameron: stop the a**e kissing and start the a**e kicking.”

Turning to “this bloody inquiry” chaired by Lord Leveson (pictured right), he continued: “God help me that free speech comes down to the thought process of a judge who couldn’t win when prosecuting counsel against Ken Dodd for tax evasion and more recently robbing the Christmas Island veterans of a substantial pay-off for being told simply to turn away from nuclear test blasts in the Fifties. It’s that bad.

“I have been forced by what sounds like the threat of a jail term to give a witness statement to this inquiry.

“The questions not only made me laugh through their ignorance but also that a subject as serious as free speech should be dealt with in this manner.

“Question seven basically wanted to know if an editor knew the sources of many of the stories. To be frank, I didn’t bother during my 13 years with one important exception. With this particular story I got in the news editor, the legal director, the two reporters covering it and the source himself on a Friday afternoon.

“We spent two hours going through the story and I decided that it was true and we should publish it on Monday. It caused a worldwide sensation. And four months later The Sun was forced to pay out a record £1 million libel damages to Elton John for wholly untrue rent boy allegations. So much for checking a story, I never did it again. Basically my view was that if it sounded right it was probably right and therefore we should lob it in.

“How will this inquiry change that? Question six also deals with sources and I disclosed another story that happened during my 13 years as editor of The Sun. That morning we had led on a Ministry of Defence story revealing some kind of secret we felt our readers should know.

“The reporter concerned came in and said there was problem. No 10 had gone nuts and an official inquiry was starting into who had leaked the story with a colonel from MI6 being drafted in to head it. The reporter told me the MoD were determined to get to the bottom of it but it was not all bad news. Why was that I asked.

“Because the colonel heading the inquiry was the bloke who gave us the story in the first place. How will this inquiry change that? Yes there was criminal cancer at the News of The World. Yes, there were editorial and management errors as the extent of the cancer began to be revealed. But why do we need an inquiry of this kind?

Roared

“There are plenty of laws to cover what went on. After all, 16 people have already been arrested and my bet is that the number may well go to 30 once police officers are rounded up. Almost certainly they will face conspiracy laws, corruption laws, false accounting laws. There are plenty of laws that may have been broken. Lord Leveson knows them all by heart.

“Supposing these arrests didn’t come from the newspaper business. Supposing they were baggage handlers at Heathrow nicking from luggage, or staff at Primark carrying out a VAT swindle, or more likely, a bunch or lawyers involved in a mortgage fraud. Would such an inquiry have ever been set up? Of course not.”

Mr MacKenzie said Mr Coulson’s appointment at Number 10 was down to the PM’s personal lack of judgment.

“I don’t blame Andy for taking the job,” he said. “I do blame Cameron for offering it.

“It was clearly a gesture of political friendship aimed over Andy’s head to Rupert Murdoch. If it wasn’t that then Cameron is a bloody idiot. A couple of phone calls from Central Office people would have told him that there was a bad smell hanging around the News of the World.

“Rupert told me an incredible story. He was in his New York office on the day that The Sun decided to endorse Cameron for the next election. That day was important to Brown as his speech to the party faithful at the Labour party conference would have been heavily reported in the papers.

“Of course the endorsement blew Brown’s speech off the front page. That night a furious Brown called Murdoch and in Rupert’s words: ‘Roared at me for 20 minutes’.

“At the end Brown said: ‘You are trying to destroy me and my party. I will destroy you and your company.’ That endorsement on that day was a terrible error.

“I can’t believe it was Rupert’s idea. Strangely, he is quite a cautious man. Whoever made that decision should hang their head in shame. I point the finger at a management mixture of Rebekah and James Murdoch.

“The point of my anecdotes is to show that this inquiry should decide there is nothing wrong with the Press, that we should enshrine free speech in Cameron’s planned Bill of Rights and accept the scandal was simply a moment in time when low-grade criminality took over a newspaper.

“If anything, the only recommendation that should be put forward by Leveson is one banning by law over- ambitious and under-talented politicians from giving house room to proprietors who are seeking commercial gain from their contacts. In tabloid terms, a**e kissing will be illegal. Should have an interesting passage through Parliament.

“Do that and you will have my blessing – and I suspect the blessing from Rupert Murdoch, too.”

See also: “Keep taking the Tabloids” – this page, October 6. 2011.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Keep taking the tabloids

By DAVID WOODING

CURBS on newspapers in the wake of the phone hacking scandal pose a massive threat to freedom of speech, Fleet Street legend Trevor Kavanagh has warned.

In an impassioned address at the opening of the Leveson inquiry on Press standards, The Sun’s top political commentator suggested the proceedings would be “hostile” to tabloid papers bought by millions of readers each day.

My former boss and colleague challenged “disparaging” remarks made by the probe’s assessor George Jones and admitted he was gloomy about the outcome. Like the immaculate copy he produces in his weekly column, his words were powerful and direct.

Mr Kavanagh (pictured) said:  “Now, in what can only be interpreted as a further cloud over freedom of speech, we have this inquiry by Lord Leveson to examine the ‘culture, practices and ethics of the Press’. It is difficult to avoid the fear that this will conclude without further limits on freedom of speech.

“It is hard to escape the impression that it is out to ‘get’ the tabloids, implicitly seen as uncultured, malpractised and unethical.

“In the debate to follow, one question worth considering why nobody with tabloid experience, representing the overwhelming majority of readers and sales, is on this panel? Could it be that at least some of those scrutinising our activities are covertly, if not overtly, hostile to everything we stand for?

“Am I paranoid in wondering if I was invited as an acceptable face of a form of journalism which is otherwise concealed in the pale pink pages of the Financial Times, or worse from our commercial perspective, borrowed from someone else to keep up with the news millions pay to read?”

Salacious

Mr Kavanagh revealed how sanctimonious broadsheet editor’s often plant clues about “juicy” stories in their diary columns, knowing tabloids will seize on it – and they can then write about the story themselves.

He said: “The popular Press ventures where unpopular newspapers sometimes fear to tread. We don’t always play by THEIR rules.

“So, for instance one particularly high minded newspaper might plant a juicy clue in a diary item, knowing we would follow it up and do the job properly.

“Once we had checked it out and published the full story they were too timid to run, they condemned us while simultaneously reproducing every salacious word.”

He said tabloids must accept responsibility for the “shocking” practices which led to the closure of a great paper, the News of the World. But he claimed some politicians were using it as an excuse to neuter the Press, already facing the toughest libel laws in the world and increasing use of gagging orders by the courts.

Mr Kavanagh added: “The great sin of the popular Press is to be … popular. Our lighter, brighter papers are commercially successful. We have 20 million readers – perhaps 10 times as many as the heavies.

NotW: Shut down by hacking scandal in July

“To their irritation, they have been obliged to imitate our lively style in order to keep in the game.

“Our headlines are part of the vernacular. During last week’s heatwave, even the BBC Today programme was using ‘What a Scorcher’.

“We have been condemned for cheque-book journalism. Yet I understand the best story in recent years – MPs’ expenses – was bought and paid for by the Daily Telegraph, not by a tabloid.

“Would Human Rights judges have stopped it being published if MPs had got wind of it early enough? And would that have been in the public interest?”

Mr Kavanagh hailed the great campaigns run by tabloid papers, including Books for Schools to boost literacy and Help for Heroes.

He added:  “I say all this not just to blow the tabloid trumpet, but to paint a picture of a vibrant and dynamic industry which despite all its flaws is a force for good.”

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding