Sunday, 17 October 2010

The newspaper that shouldn't have died

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the savage termination of the last liberal national daily newspaper, the News Chronicle. I am grateful to an article by York Membery in the latest Liberal Democrat News, both refreshing my memory and filling in the background details. It confirms what many people felt at the time, that, with better management, the newspaper need not have folded - certainly that it did not need to be abruptly handed over to the Daily Mail, a newspaper which was more illiberal then than it is now.

I remember the distress and anger with which Norman Cullis, an elderly colleague in the office where I had taken up my first job, and a life-long Liberal, reported the fact that the Daily Mail had dropped without warning on his door-mat instead of the usual Chronicle. He had no intention of continuing to take the rag, his opinion of which was one of the few things he shared with the office socialist, John Watkins. He asked me about the Guardian, which had become my regular reading as soon as I could afford a daily newspaper, and whose own Liberal history he would have been more aware of than I. My enthusiastic recommendation was put in doubt soon afterwards when editor Alistair Hetherington put the paper unambiguously behind Labour.

The Chronicle itself had supported Labour in the 1945 election, no doubt seeing Clement Attlee's party as the best hope for radical reform. It continued to advocate Labour in 1950 & 1951, but called for a big Liberal vote in 1955 and 1959. It had deviated from its roots less than most journals. One root was the radical Daily News (first editor, Charles Dickens) and another the Daily Chronicle, another Liberal-supporting newspaper. They merged in 1930. News Chronicle was part of the Cadbury family holdings because George Cadbury had bought the Daily News in 1901 to campaign for pensions and against sweated labour.

It seems that the post-war generation of Cadburys had lost sight of the family's earlier Quaker idealism. The chocolate side, as we know from the recent American takeover, had become just another limited company, quoted on the stock exchange. Laurence Cadbury, the family member responsible for the News Chronicle, "seems to have lost the will to keep it alive," in York Membery's words, "ignoring every circulation-boosting suggestion".

Nowadays, while there are daily papers which are not tied to a particular party, and which have from time to time plumped for Liberal Democrats at a general election, there is not one which is recognised as a Liberal Democrat paper, as the Daily Telegraph is a Tory one, and the Daily Mirror, Labour. The "dead-tree" press may be slowly dying, but the titles are moving across to the Web and BBC News still takes many of its stories from the "Street of Shame". The loss of the Chronicle still matters.

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