Where Trump leads: Where do local politicians take their cues?

Preston is a city on reinventing itself. But with regeneration comes scrutiny. Luke Beardsworth, publisher at the newly-launched Lancs Live, on how politicians don’t always appreciate a critical eye on their work…

A politician criticises a journalist or a publication in a very public manner for publishing, in this writer’s opinion, what is a quite straightforward story. Another journalist questions that public criticism and is swiftly mocked, and then blocked, on social media by not just the politician in question — but official channels too.

Luke Beardsworth

Forgive the somewhat heavy analogy here. Are we talking about Donald Trump across the pond and his persistent attacks on pretty much anyone that doesn’t try to tongue him? Are we talking about Johnny Mercer, MP in Plymouth Moor View who takes aim at PlymouthLive on a regular basis? Or are we talking about the Labour Party? None of these are comfortable bedfellows but I’m quite sure supporters of the latter would be most upset to see that description could apply to all three.

The story, then. Cabinet member for resources and finance councillor at Preston City Council Martyn Rawlinson made the following comment regarding a project: “We also need a developer and an investor.” This was construed as suggesting the scheme may have hit financial difficulties by Blog Preston — after Martyn declined the chance to clarify his comments. That strikes me as a fairly reasonable outcome. Martyn, and through him the official Labour social accounts for Preston, disagreed.

The article was branded as “false suggestions” by the Preston Labour account. Now your opinion on that particular tussle probably depends on any number of things. Blog Preston’s stance (no surprise considering, in the interest of clarity, I used to help run it) is something I thought was reasonable. You might disagree. That is really beside the point that needs to be point.

Pointing the finger at Blog Preston as ‘false suggestions’ is one thing. Calling it misrepresentation and criticising Blog Preston for ‘not supporting the city’ is another (and the other thing that it is, is confusing “supporting the city” with “supporting Labour”). From there though, we descended into the Labour account stating: “We are really not being lectured about honesty from a journo.”

So, full disclosure, I get why people don’t trust journalists. I also expect Rawlinson to understand that the reputation of regional media has suffered unfairly for the sins of more tabloid national media. Given that local politicians no doubt bemoan the same compared to their national counterparts, it shouldn’t be so hard a conclusion to come to.

My response to this was: “Just once it would be nice to see someone in politics hold their hands up for something they have said instead of pointing at the journalist and blaming them for telling people. And the idea that BP (Blog Preston) is anything but supportive of Preston is laughable.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the natural instinct here is to blame the media. I’m half-shocked they didn’t use the phrase MSM to describe the hyperlocal site. Jeremy Corbyn is a massive fan of it. As is Donald Trump. There are differing points here. I largely believe that Donald Trump is treated fairly and is a nasty bloke. I don’t think Corbyn is treated anywhere near as badly as he thinks he is — but I do understand why he harbours a certain distrust for certain titles.

One person who saw the debate unfolding said: “As a lifelong Labour voter, the way you’ve handled this grievance has been utterly, utterly embarrassing.” To this day, I don’t really understand what Rawlinson or Labour were trying to achieve in how they behaved, but the comment above is interesting .

It’s interesting because it reflects how I felt about it as someone who perhaps naively wants the UK to be a place that Labour are capable of better. But disagree on any one issue? You’ll be blocked — as I was for engaging with them on this issue.

I later expressed ‘my disappointment’ to that the Labour Party now acts to stamp out debate in this way rather than engaging with it properly. The response, through official channels, was ‘maybe it was because you agreed with the decision to twist the Councillors comments?’

The entire exchange left me, and writing this now still leaves me, baffled. The conclusion is the same as I outlined earlier. Pointing your finger at journalists, for reporting when you do something, is lazy. Whether your Martyn Rawlinson, Johnny Mercer or Donald Trump, it all at once portrays an arrogance that said politician can do no wrong while undermining fantastic work done by local journalists to improve the area they live in.

Next: Why society should fear the constant political attacks on journalists and journalism

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