University 18 Yrs + | British Politics & the Media
Introduction to the British Press
The types of media available to politicians have developed over time:-
The development of the printing press revolutionised communication.
Before this political arguments could only be communicated by word of mouth and the Church controlled the production of culture through the copying of material longhand by monks.
From the 16th century the political pamphlet became a major method of communicating political ideas and influencing opinion. The British Library has a collection of 22,000 pamphlets published during the English Civil War collected by the bookseller George Thomason, probably representing 80% of those printed.
In the 18th century, Robert Walpole, the first British Prime Minister, understood the political significance of pamphlets and, in an early version of political spin, paid people across the country to write pamphlets which attacked his opponents and put his policies in a good light.
As late as 1940, the pamphlet ‘Guilty Men’ by Labour (Michael Foot), Liberal and Conservative Evening Standard journalists attacked the pre-war appeasers of Hitler amongst the British establishment, sold 200,000 copies and had some influence on the Conservatives’ defeat in 1945 by discrediting the foreign policy of pre-war Conservative Governments. Political pamphlets no longer exist but think tank reports still play an important role in disseminating new ideas and policy analysis.
Although newspapers, as regular publications, first appeared in the 17th century, technical changes in the late 19th century which made cheap paper possible, stimulated the production of newspapers for mass consumption.
The invention of the telegraph in the mid- 19th century allowed journalists’ reports, often from agencies such as Reuters, and photographs to be sent over long distances and the railways at about the same time allowed newspapers to be distributed.
In 1896, Lord Northcliffe launched the Daily Mail as a newspaper that would appeal to a wider audience with features that would entertain as well as inform and was the first paper to sell a million copies. Northcliffe also took over The Times and Lord Beaverbrook bought The Express in 1916 and turned it into a popular paper similar to the Daily Mail.
Newspapers became more partisan and politically influential. The Times criticisms of Asquith’s running of the First World War helped to bring down the Government and in the 1930s its support for appeasement helped the Government to maintain its policy.
In the 1920s the support of Rothermere and Beaverbrook for protection as an economic policy and their decision to run candidates against official Conservative in by-election led the Conservative leader, Stanley Baldwin, to give his famous and bitter speech about their ‘power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages’.