First Polly Toynbee, then Jonathan Freedland, two iconic Guardian journalists, write ‘Dear Reader’ letters, urging us to support Guardian values and practices by becoming Founder members of the Guardian. They are, as ever, persuasive, drawing down their familiarity as highly respected, long term Guardian journalists. As a long-term Guardian reader and subscriber I am susceptible; desperate to sustain media practices not determined by rich overlords or big business, and grateful on a regular basis for the courageous investigative journalism that has brought the Guardian international recognition and awards.
But that’s not the whole story for those of us firmly of the Left (i.e. not Lib Dem, Green, SDP, UKIP or Tory). And a clue to our dilemma may be found in recent readers’ letters to the Guardian (Bill McMellon and David Butler, 27 01 2-15) and Philip Clayton (18 02 2015), who note and object to the Syriza party and government being described by Guardian journalists as variously “far left”, “extremist” and “a threat to the stability of Europe”; i.e. as “illegitimate”. This stance exposes where the Guardian positions itself within UK politics now, in particular with regard to the upcoming general election, and why it falls short of being the paper that will help us bring this government down. Editorially its heart is not in it; it largely pursues its task as a journalistic exercise, a professional matter. By contrast, some of its reports voice otherwise: ‘for example, ‘Recessions can hurt, but austerity kills’ (G2, 16 05 2013, Jon Henley interviewing David Stuckler).
I have politically active friends who will not touch the Guardian now, no matter how brilliant its recent investigative journalism, because of the damage it caused in 2010 in its pre-election coverage and its explicit advocacy of the Lib Dems, which helped land us with the cruelties, destructiveness and venom of this Tory-led coalition (since meticulously analysed by Polly Toynbee and David Walker, and others). We fear something similar in the lead-up to the 2015 general election, as if it is a matter of lifestyle choice between similar ‘brands’, instead of the potentially most catastrophic shift in our society and the values that have protected the most vulnerable, expanded awareness of equality issues, social justice and human rights, and provided opportunities for young and old. Philip Clayton’s letter to The Guardian (18 02 2015 sums up Syriza’s preoccupations (bullet points added):
• Its policies of ensuring everyone receives health care is pure NHS;
• halting mass evictions of people on to the streets is common human decency;
• its determination to root out corruption and make everyone pay taxes, especially the super-wealthy, is what the Labour party, and any decent government, should support;
• its economic policies are mainstream Keynesian.
He makes two further observations in his letter:
• Germany has imposed 1930s economic policies on the southern countries of the EU with 1930s results.
• If Harold Wilson were around today, no doubt you would now label him far-left.
As David Butler asks in his letter (27 01 2015): “If what Syriza stands for is “far-left” (perhaps better described as conventional social democratic politics), why isn’t The Guardian “far-left” too?”
Perhaps because neoliberal assumptions have infected The Guardian’s unwitting heart?
val walsh / 20 02 2015