WHERE HAVE THEY GONE?
They are the lost tribe of British Journalism. Trying to find a labour or industrial correspondent in a newsroom today is like entering the Disappearing World. They have vanished. Just one full time correspondent,the Press Association’s highly respected Alan Jones,is still on the labour beat WRITES JOHN MAIR Once the Labour and Industrial Correspondents Group had 65-70 members. The Financial Times alone employed six on their labour desk. In the past, the Labour Corrs were big enough in number to mount a cricket team to play the union barons before the Trades Union Congress (TUC) started each year. Today, they could not umpire that match.
Now, on March 16th the last rites will be sounded for that Group with a Media Society/LICG debate ,symbolically at the TUC , on the strange death of the Labour Corrs.
They were the aristocracy of the newsrooms in the 60s and 70s.Top of the tree. High up the pecking order, even higher than the lobby corrs. Many of the great names of modern British journalism started or stayed as labour corrs-Peter Sissons,Peter Jenkins, John Cole, Geoffrey Goodman, Kevin Maguire,John Lloyd, Bernard Ingham, Richard Littlejohn and Andrew Neil among their number. Some will take part in that Media Society debate.
But just where have they all gone? Like the rest of the country they were ‘Thatchered’ in the 1980’s.Unions were tamed/neutered(you decide) by Margaret Thatcher(and her messenger Bernard Ingham..),membership of unions plummeted, strikes became historic and so too did those who reported the struggle of labour over capital. No labour movement, no labour correspondents needed.
British industry changed too. Manufacturing became increasingly a thing of the past. Factories and mines closed and were converted to Shopping malls,enterprise zones or waste land. Cities like Coventry became mere shadows of their former mighty industrial selves. The whole pattern of employment was transformed for the better/worse(you decide).In the new era, service industry workers are loath to organise, even loather to strike. Walkouts are non existent in call centres. There’s not much left to report on the labour front. Labour Corrs have joined Britain’s industrial museum, a relic like her car industry.
Intriguingly, the decline of the Labour Corr has also seen the rise of the Union spin doctors-there to massage the image of the declining unions, to keep their General Secretary from talking to the press directly and,maybe, inappropriately. Some, like Charlie Whelan of Unite, have become powers and personalities in their own right.
But there has also been the rise of the cult of business and business journalism in the last two decades. Mammon became the new God. Huge business sections sprouted in the posh and not so posh papers, filled with ads for the new capitalism and content to match too. Playing Footsie with the FTSE became the norm. Business was ‘in’, so 1990’s, labour was ‘out’ ,so 1970’s.The denouement of that uncritical approach was seen in the Great Crash(Mark Two)of 2008. Many banks plummeted to the ground like Icarus having sailed too close to the bad debt sun. Few of the business correspondents saw that coming. Fewer still could explain it.
But with the Coalition government cutting public spending much deeper than even Margaret Thatcher dared are there signs of the labour behemoth stirring again? The TUC itself is calling a march in London against the Cuts on March 26th.Could we be seeing a return of strikes and winters of discontent over the next four years as the unemployment register mounts? Might the Labour Correspondents be in for a second wind and a return from their professional grave?The obituaries may be premature.
LABOUR CORRESPONDENTS-RIP .A Media Society/LICG debate produced by John Mair will take place at the TUC on Wednesday 16th March at 6.30.Tickets/more information from the Media Society web site(http://www.themediasociety.com/events)
WITH THANKS TO BBC.CO.UK/JOURNALISM where this has appeared.