The Conservative Party is not a potent force but newspapers are as self confident and vibrant as they’ve ever beenSteve Richards
It is newspapers that have the real influence at election time rather than bland broadcasters, according to Independent on Sunday political columnist Steve Richards.
Speaking at a Fabian Society debate on newspapers and the General Election, Richards said he disagreed with the claim that the national press only had a marginal influence on the hustings.
"It is newspapers that form the political opposition. The Conservative Party is not a potent force but newspapers are as self confident and vibrant as they’ve ever been.
"Television and radio have no influence on elections and produce bland pieces that say nothing at all. The Today programme’s only exciting contact with the outside world is when the newspapers arrive."
Richards claimed the Daily Mail had influenced Labour by making Tony Blair cautious over Europe and the party’s policies put forward at the General Election would have to pass "The Sun-test."
He added: "Newspapers are hugely influential, much more than broadcasters."
The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland agreed that newspapers were important but suggested their real influence had been over the past four years rather than in the run-up to the election.
"Most people’s minds have been made up this time. Opinion polls are not shifting and I am sceptical about how much movement there will be," he said.
Daily Mail sketch writer Quentin Letts said it was a good thing for democracy that the national press was now more balanced compared to the 1980s when most papers supported the Conservatives.
Mary Ann Sieghart, assistant editor of The Times, also welcomed the way the national press had become "less tribal" and claimed that the Telegraph and Mail now appeared shrill by supporting the Tories through thick and thin.
She also added a note of scepticism about the influence of the press pointing out that in 1979 The Sun commanded its readers to " Vote Tory" on its front page but 30 per cent of its readers still backed Labour.
Freedland suggested that some of the former Tory supporting newspapers would end their "flirtation" with Labour after the next Parliament.
Richards added: "We still have a right wing press in this country, what they lack is a party."
<Blob> Asked to predict the outcome of the election. Freedland and Richards both went for Labour by a three figure majority; Sieghart, Labour by 80 to 100 seats; and Letts predicted a hung Parliament.