A new war is being waged in British politics. No, it’s not Conservatives vs. Labour… or Blue on Blue or Red on Red, this time Downing Street is facing down Fleet Street. It is a cold war that has been brewing ever since Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings stormed through the doors of Number 10 and it’s been heating up over recent weeks.
In tactics more at home across the pond in Donald Trump’s White House, Number 10 has begun attempts to freeze out journalists and media outlets that have been troublesome to the Johnson government. In the latest execution of this strategy, journalists from a select number of outlets (namely The Mirror and The Independent) were barred from attending a briefing with chief Brexit negotiator David Frost in a Mexican stand-off between staffers and journalists. When neither side would give, the collective media lobby walked out in an act of solidarity.
At the root of this conflict is the new comms approach being taken by Number 10 and Dominic Cummings, who has been infamously vocal in his desire to shake things up. The fact is that Number 10 believes they can reach millions of voters directly through social media in a way that allows them to bypass traditional media and have control over the narrative. No need for pesky journalists who will not toe the party line. This government increasingly views traditional media as irrelevant and unnecessary.
And to a certain extent, they have a point. Social media does allow a direct line to potential voters and it is a method that helped to win first, the Brexit referendum and then the 2019 General Election. However, it would be foolish of them to discount the traditional media in its entirety and even more foolish to make an active enemy out of the lobby. These are experienced political journalists who know how to throw their weight around and, as evident this week stick together. Should the Government find themselves at the wrong end of media story – which knowing Boris Johnson could be just around the corner – they can’t expect an easy ride. They may well find this cold handling of the media comes back to bite them.