Labour bullies journalists to follow party spin

Last month, Ed Miliband banned his MPs from using the word “coalition” to describe the government, hoping that the phrase “Conservative-led government” would diminish the role of the Liberal Democrats within the coalition and help to tease away Lib Dem voters.

Now it seems Labour would like to see journalists whipped into line. According to Joe Murphy at the Evening Standard, Miliband’s newly-appointed Director of Strategy and Communications Tom Baldwin instructed the BBC, ITV and Sky that they should stop using the word “coalition” and use the phrase “Tory-led government” instead.

One senior broadcaster said it had “a bullying tone” and smacked of “the bad old days”, when Tony Blair’s spin chief Alastair Campbell, a friend and mentor of Mr Baldwin, was accused of attempting to micro-manage media coverage. Another journalist said it was “an attempt to impose Labour language on neutral news coverage in the Orwellian tradition”.

From Tom Baldwin’s letter

As you may have noticed, we have changed our language in recent weeks to avoid describing the Government as a coalition or a partnership of equals. We believe a more accurate description is that this is a Conservative-led government.

I understand that the phrase a “Tory-led government” is two words too long to be repeated on every occasion. But I also think that you are making a choice whenever you call it “the coalition”. When we were in power, no one was left in any doubt that our most unpopular decisions were those of a “Labour government”. The word “Coalition” is one that avoids party labels while also suggesting a degree of inter-party harmony and co-operation which is, day-by-day and split-by-split, being shown as false.

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  • Nick (not Clegg) 18th Jan '11 - 2:40pm

    I fail to see anything “bullying” in Mr Baldwin’s letter. I think he makes a fair point. Are “senior broadcasters” such timid and sensitive souls that they feel bullied by such a letter?

  • Allen Taylor-Hoad 18th Jan '11 - 2:51pm

    Ed Miliband hopes that using the phrase “Conservative-led government” will start to put the blame for the atrocious policies of the last eight months where they belong – on Cameron and Osborne. Until now, it’s been the Liberal Democrats taking all the flak.

    Forgive me for changing the subject, but is your party (until last May, my party) really going to help vote through the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS?

  • It’s not a “Tory led government” it’s a Tory dominated government! You’re not suggesting it’s a Lib Dem led Government by the way are you? What a joke!

  • Dearie me – it’s a matter of perception isn’t it.

    Here was me thinking it was part of Ed’s new initiative to take some of the flack off Clegg – seems you can never please some LibDems as Cameron is starting to find out 🙂

  • Leviticus18_23 18th Jan '11 - 3:18pm

    If you think that’s bullying, you should see the letter I got from E-ON!

  • It might be useful. One can now watch out for this phrase in various media outputs and any journalist who uses it can’t help but reveal a certain agenda. Ever since this demand was revealed (just after the new year, I think? It’s no longer news) I have been watching out for it and I have spotted a few intances already.

  • I should point out that the word ‘bullying’ is used in the original ES article, by ‘proper’ journalists.

  • So writing a letter expressing a view, and lobbying, is now considered bullying? Good job Prince Charles has Crown Immunity, otherwise quite a few government Ministers might have a claim.

  • Leviticus18_23 18th Jan '11 - 3:33pm

    But, it is a Tory led government.

    Isn’t that the reason given for all the u-turns…? We don’t have a majority, etc, etc, etc…

    So, cutting funding to schools, privatising the NHS, being green by selling off the forests and building nuclear power stations, tripling tuition fees and the inevitable roll over on Control Orders are all because the LibDems are part of a Tory Led Government. Or were these in the manifesto all along?

  • So that’s your excuse Sara, ‘they said it first, Miss’?

  • Bloomin’ eck, he wrote a letter to some journalists, the monster!!!.

  • Foregone Conclusion 18th Jan '11 - 3:37pm

    The whole idea of a press officer sending out a request to journalists about their use of language is really pretty silly, and it stinks of control freakery. The fact is though that if the shoe was on the other foot, the Labourati would be screaming that this marked the beginning of the end of press freedom in this country and the rise of dark Colsonian tyranny. It’s nothing like that, of course – it’s just rather pathetic.

    “Ed Miliband hopes that using the phrase “Conservative-led government” will start to put the blame for the atrocious policies of the last eight months where they belong – on Cameron and Osborne. Until now, it’s been the Liberal Democrats taking all the flak.”

    Well, the second half of this is true, but Milliband still wants us to feel the flak. The whole purpose of the ‘Conservative-led government’ tag is to minimise our role and contribution, in order to make us look silly, stupid and used. And it’s working.

  • @Foregone Conclusion

    It’s not Ed Miliband that “make us look silly, stupid and used.”. Trust me on this one.

  • Foregone Conclusion 18th Jan '11 - 3:46pm

    Well, it doesn’t help that we’ve got a hostile media, crap PR and the great tutition fees debacle. Actually, what am I saying? Compared to those, it doesn’t matter what Miliband says.

  • Isn’t the term ‘X-led government’ or ‘X-led coalition’ the typical journalistic norm for describing a coalition government in other countries?

    Certainly in talking about Israeli politics, the phrases ‘Likud led coalition’ or ‘Likud led government’ are regularly used by the Haaretz as well as the UK press.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 18th Jan '11 - 4:09pm

    Shock horror Labour leader’s press spokeman expresses a political view. How is it bullying or an instruction?

  • Same old Labour, same old control freakery.

    Another reason to thank the public for putting a Coalition with them out of the question.

  • Love it! >> Andrew Tennant: “‘Government’ wasn’t a very accurate way to describe the 13 year incompetent bitch-fest Labour doled out on us either, was it Tom?”

  • @Leviticus18_23. You put it perfectly.

  • @Sara

    Glad to hear there are still ‘proper’ journos at the ES – I thought they were all long gone. Got to admit whenever anyone made the mistake of trying to bully me or tell me what or how I should write a story then they got what bullies don’t enjoy and it never happened again 🙂

    Ah but that was back in the good old days when you knew what bullying actually meant after a bagpipe-blowing session with Alastair Campbell.

    The only journo that could have felt threatened by Baldwin’s letter is one who normal covers WRI meetings – no the WRI ladies are much tougher than Campbell – OK those who cover LibDem conferences – that’s better 🙂

    I really am mystified by this as I would have thought every LibDem would be happier with the government being described correctly and the blame being laid at the door of Tory ideology rather than poor Old Nick. But what really is interesting is that BBC, ITV and Sky aren’t saying they felt bullied and, indeed Sky know a bit more about real political bullying from nuke in the pocket Cable.

    And who are the unnamed ‘senior broadcaster’ and ‘senior journalist’ so frightened of being named – maybe if they removed their jellyfish spine and grew a bit of backbone they wouldn’t feel bullied. Are we relying on people like this to defend the public interest against Tory government cuts – I hope not because they will run away. Can you imagine them on the streets of Tunisia reporting on the courage of ordinary citizens prepared to die for their democracy.

    Amazing how this tripe surfaces after Milliband revamps his media team recently and it’s working with him producing a lot more media-worthy attacks and comments against Tory policies.

    One thing about the article that had me in stitches was the comment: ‘Another journalist said it was “an attempt to impose Labour language on neutral news coverage in the Orwellian tradition”.

    Certainly doesn’t read like a tabloid journo – Spectator perhaps – but ‘neutral’ news coverage puleasssssssse give me a break. Where is this neutral news coverage?

    Certainly not being provided by the scaredy-cats who think there’s the slightest tone of bullying in the letter. They are most definitely too scared of their political masters to provide balanced, neutral news coverage.

    Bullying is a terrible thing that can destroy lives completely – please don’t trivialise this social evil for the sake of trying to score a cheap and transitory political point while the cancer that is bullying relentlessy destroys its victims.

  • Foregone Conclusion 18th Jan '11 - 5:57pm

    EcoJohn – the article says that the letter, intriguingly, was only sent to BBC, ITN and Sky, not any of the print media. Television news is, of course, held to a higher standard of impartiality than the newspapers.

  • @Foregone Conclusion

    Good point – I missed it. If I was into conspiracy theories I would sniff that a General Election is in the air and the LP wants to make sure labels which suit them politically are applied and become the norm. But I’m not into conspiracy theories so wishful thinking 🙁

  • Tony Dawson 18th Jan '11 - 8:31pm

    Maybe they like the term ‘Tory-led government’ because it reminds them of Gordon and Tony’s 13 years and they want to pretend things haven’t changed since last May?

  • Paul Kennedy 18th Jan '11 - 8:41pm

    Hopefully, this cynical attempt by Mr Spiniband to airbrush us out of the Coalition will backfire: journalists cannot now use the phrase “Tory-led government” without revealing themselves as biased to Labour.

    We should complain to the broadcasters about any journalist who does so.

  • I think “Tory lead” might be overstating your influence.

  • Grammar Police 18th Jan '11 - 9:36pm

    Why Labour have any views on the way the media describe the coalition is beyond me. The only reason they’re doing it is for political gain, and exactly the reason they should be ignored.

  • It’s actually good for Labour when Lib Dems are reduced to making self-evidently stupid accusations about bullying re a letter of sheer and unremitting politeness. It makes the Lid Dems look odd, and prone to histrionics. Whenever you see something that irritates you with its sheer stupidity, don’t assume such criticism does the cause it claims to represent any good 🙂 The Lib Dems have been the good guys of politics since time began – now they’re the bad guys, and really hated, they’re bewildered, and have no notion of how to react – they look increasingly silly 🙂 They really are spooked, and throwing mud in desperation.

  • It is a Tory led government, I’m not quite sure how pointing this out amounts to bullying.

  • @Grammer Police
    “The only reason they’re doing it is for political gain, and exactly the reason they should be ignored.”

    The only reason any political party has PR and Press Officers os for political gain…

    Shock horror, “press officer promotes party line” the whole thing is a non story. I imagine if any parties communications with the press are laid bare we would see similar. Until these people are taken out of politics, particulalrly those with dodgy histories (Mr Cameron take note) Politics will be the worse for having them..

  • toryboysnevergrowup 18th Jan '11 - 10:53pm

    What I find interesting is how the poster has been somewhat economical with the truth as this would weaken her bullying claim. If you actually look the letter, which is printed in full in the Evening Standard but not here, you will see that Tom Baldwin’s letter uses the word “suggest”. This is of course then interpreted here (and by the ES journalist – to who the letter wasn’t even addressed) as “bullying” – and some idiotic commenters here then equate this to Stalinism (the person concerned should, I suggest, hang their head in same and go and read some books about what Stalinism was really about before advertising their ignorance any further)and the like. But of course LibDems don’t spin do they!

    Meanwhile in the real world Sussex County Council has announced to day that it will axe 8 out of its 30 Sure Start centres – another proud achivement of the Coalition I presume, since we cannot call it the Tory led government.

  • Allen Taylor-Hoad 18th Jan '11 - 11:24pm

    Surely if Ed Miliband wanted to “airbrush you out of the coalition”, he’d refer to “the Tory government”? “Tory-led” is an accurate description, especially as we now have the most right-wing government in living memory.

    (Forgive me for changing the subject, but are you all really going to stand by and watch the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS for the sake of Tory dogma, or are you going to take back your party from its crypto-Tory leadership?)

  • I concede that over the past few months it might have seemed like we don’t but we do actually have people working in communications that are undoubtedly doing exactly the same thing. What are the odds that there isn’t a similar missive sitting in an inbox somewhere from a Conservative or Lib Dem Communications guru suggesting reporters might want to add a few more “finances/debts left behind by the last government” lines to their stories. Or perhaps a request that reporters could stop saying “The Government claims…” and probably a darn sight more aggressively than the example above.

    Can we not descend into the kind of silly hypocritical finger pointing you see on an infant school playground if for no other reason than it will inevitably lead to embarrassment in the future.

  • @Andrew Tennant

    “While happy to have a debate on the compassionate nature or otherwise of the coalition’s policies on benefits and disability”

    That’s great to hear, as it always seems to go a little quiet when the issue of the DLA cut is brought up. It is in my opinion an utterly shameful action that I have not heard a reasonable answer for. Can I direct you to the comments towards the bottom of Paul Walter’s opinion piece


  • Hove Howard 19th Jan '11 - 8:06am

    @ Paul Kennedy

    “Hopefully, this cynical attempt by Mr Spiniband to airbrush us out of the Coalition will backfire: journalists cannot now use the phrase “Tory-led government” without revealing themselves as biased to Labour.

    We should complain to the broadcasters about any journalist who does so.”


  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Jan '11 - 9:05am

    Mr Miliband’s suggestion is very sensible, it seems to me that all he is doing is asking journalists not to report the Cleggite spin that our party is having a major role in this government, and to report the government more accurately as it is. As the Cleggite spin is clearly doing the opposite of what the Cleggies supposed it would (unless their aim all along really was to wipe out the left of our party and merge the right with the Tories), it is to our favour if the journalists go along with this suggestion.

  • Actually, I don’t have a problem with it being described as a “Tory-led government.” Most people won’t hear the “led” bit and – hopefully – will then blame the Tories for the crap policies.

    And yes, journalists – anybody – can be bullied by another person, in the same workplace or classroom or not. Alistair Campbell was frequently accused of bullying, as on occasion was Bernard Ingham. It doesn’t matter whether the person on the receiving end “takes it” or not – the action by the bullyer is still bullying.

  • John Fraser 19th Jan '11 - 9:14pm

    labour are the opposition and for goodness sake the Conservative Led Coaition has given them some easy right wing dogma to oppose.

    Why such anti Labour rhetoric if there doing nothing some Lib dems says their ineffective … theres a weird their all out to get us mentallity in my fomer party. Your very useful enegies would be better spent internallopposing some of the nonses that the Coalition or whatever you call it is promoting

  • Ed The Snapper 19th Jan '11 - 9:35pm

    Personally, I could not care less whether the media use the term “Tory-led Government” or “Coalition Government” to describe the current government. What I do care about is the mis-use of the term “bullying” to describe a letter to journalists. “Bullying” is an invidious process that destroys lives and wreaks chaos. I do not think that the letter in question can in any way be described as bullying. Mis-use of such terminology trivialises a terrible problem within society.

  • Its a Liberal Democrat, Conservative Coalition and I think you will find enough references in Hansard to
    confirm this. One of Ed Millibans recent adminsions is that the Labour party tends to “overmanage” try bully its more accurate. Blair,Brown, Balls and a guy called Chris Mole junior transport minister, (sorry oversight there he got kicked out of Ipswich at the last election) all well known Labour “overmanagers”. I’m sure readers can think
    of many more.

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