Campaign 'left papers muddled'

September 26, 1997

THE BRITISH press did not lurch to the left during the 1997 general election. Instead of reorientation, it displayed all the symptoms of disorientation, according to academics from Loughborough University who will speak at a conference this weekend on the 1997 election.

Peter Golding, David Deacon and Nick Billig will tell the meeting, being run by the Political Studies Association's specialist group on elections, public opinion and parties, that newspapers seemed unable to give a clear lead to their readers, and were responding to public opinion rather than setting it. An analysis of the "framing" of stories - the context in which they were set - reveals a rough equality between Labour and Tory assumptions.

Dr Deacon said some newspapers seemed to like New Labour rhetoric but were unable to commit themselves to recommending Labour, such as The Times, which invited readers to support Eurosceptic candidates irrespective of party.

The Financial Times, which supported Labour overtly in 1992, actually supported it less strongly in 1997, at the risk of backing the wrong horse twice in a row.

"The Conservative press as we have known it was neutralised during the election but the press is still very conservative," Dr Deacon said. "It it still very anti-unions, very Eurosceptic and opposed to things like welfare." This leaves open the prospect of a return to the more enthusiastic Tory press of old.

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