Here’s a challenge to all lefties from former Lib Dem MP Norman Baker (I picked it up from his Facebook Page) – I’ll admit it is a dilemma that I have personally struggled with:-
‘Now here’s a puzzle. People who share my liberal/leftie views make two complaints to me about the plentiful right-wing media here in the UK, from the Mail to the Sun, from the Torygraph to GB News.
The first complaint is that these outlets are biased against those on the left and exclude voices to balance the diet of right-wing material they churn out.
The second complaint is that people like me who have liberal leftie views should boycott these outlets as they are the spawn of the devil.
Notice the contradiction here?
Actually what people want, in the famous exhortation of Gavin Williamson (sorry, Sir Gavin) is for these outlets to “go away”. But they aren’t going to go away, are they?
My strongly held view is that if I can have an opportunity to put my views across – and they are my unfettered uncensored liberal views – to an audience that wouldn’t normally hear them, that is an opportunity that I should not turn down. If I want to change minds, it is ultimately more useful to write for the Mail or the Sun, which I do intermittently, rather than for the Guardian (though I write for them too sometimes).
Someone recently drew a comparison between me being on GB News and the participation of the Lib Dems in the Coalition between 2010 and 2015. That is an entirely fair and apposite comparison. Many took the view that the Lib Dems should not have gone into coalition with the Tories. Yet the alternative would have been a Tory-only government and I think people can see how disastrous those have been since 2015 and begun to see the beneficial effect of the Lib Dems in the pre-2015 arrangement.
It is always an easy course, and a satisfying one, to shout from the sidelines rather than deal with people whose views are quite different to your own. Purity is retained, but at the price of impotence. Of course the Lib Dems suffered hugely from being in the Coalition (though recent elections suggest that we are on our way back) and no doubt I annoy some people by engaging with the right-wing media.
But back to my puzzle. If some want to argue that people with leftie views like me should boycott such outlets, that’s fine. I respect that view, even if I disagree with it. But don’t then complain to me that all liberal leftie voices have been excluded from those outlets.’
Of course, as a leftie, I don’t watch GB News or Talk TV as their purpose, at least to me, is to present news in a right of centre way; why would I watch right-wing propaganda dressed up as news? But I’m sure there are many who think of themselves as left-wing who read the Express or the Mail and do watch these news outlets, I even know some of them! To me, the quality/independence of news is far more important than the political slant TV stations or newspapers put on their news streams, but let’s have a look at ‘leftie’ Norman’s position.
He clearly holds the view that his engaging with right-wing TV and newspaper outlets is a good thing as he uses such engagements to try to challenge the right-wing thrust of the journalists and presenters. I suppose the big question is though, does anyone who tunes into or reads right-wing news outlets seriously take on board the views of lefties who happen to be there making a progressive challenge? I’m guessing not very much.
However, Norman is clearly engaging with that section of the electorate that ‘lefties’ often ignore; the working-class, right-wingers who delivered Farage’s/Johnson’s Brexit. They will predominately be white, very much not progressive and often will have been Labour voters/supporters in the past. The very part of the electorate that Johnson and Starmer are fighting tooth and nail over and why Starmer’s Labour Party has to look right of centre.
Labour, as a class-based party, has always had supporters/members who no one would claim to be progressives/lefties in any way; they’ve always been drawn towards right-wing media outlets as they were towards the right-wing Brexit. But can lefties participating in such outlets really make them think again? My view is only at the margins and at very narrow margins at that. So I get what Norman Baker is trying to do but am not at all convinced he will save many who read the Mail, Express or who watch GB News/Talk TV from the clutches of the right. Hat’s off for his trying though.
Oh and on the Coalition, for me the Lib Dem failures were:-
* Being seen to be ‘lying’ over tuition fees by progressives. No amount of ‘explanation’ over this will ever change this view and neither, in my view, should it.
* Voting for illiberal things when the Tories were utterly unreliable political partners who should not have been trusted one inch.
By the way, Baker is a good writer. I’ve read two of his books – And what do you do? about the Royal family and The Strange Death of David Kelly about the very odd death of a government scientist.