29 JULY 1966, Page 10

Two-way Mirror


By DAVID FROST HE Daily Mirror slammed into the 1 attack .

WE CALL IT THE 'MIDSUMMER MADNESS' BUDGET . . . his statement in the Commons was a dreary repetition of stale, short-term, last-minute measures: Higher prices to cut buying . . . no sign of a resolute long-term plan which would end Britain's plunges from inflation into stagnation ... will do NOTHING to increase Britain's pro- ductivity.... These steps therefore can contribute NOTHING towards ending the real causes of our economic crisis....

Strong words from the Mirror. They did not like the increase in excise duty on beer, cigarettes and petrol. They were firmly against the 10 per cent increase in purchase tax on cur- rent rates. And they were decidedly cool towards the whole idea of wage freeze.

The deflationary Budget they were attacking was the Selwyn Lloyd effort of July 1961. The Mirror's response to many of the same measures in July 1966 was the headline: THIS, AT LAST, IS GOVERNMENT WITH GUTS. An apparent volte- face which can give Tory spokesmen a little legitimate innocent fun. But is it, as some of them have been hinting darkly, an example of savage left-wing duplicity—a further indication of how far this predominantly left-wing press of ours is prepared to go in order to support Mr Wilson? Of course not. (Let's face it—there was a pretty discernible change of emphasis the other way by the Telegraph.) The fact is that between July 1961 and July 1966 not only has the Govern. ment changed: the Mirror has changed.

Through the past five years one of the most interesting operations to watch in daily journal- ism has been the brilliant way the Mirror man- agement has understood the growing aspirations, the growing education of its audience and con- sistently managed to keep itself that vital one step ahead. The way the Mirror has understood that the day has passed when the workman wanted to make a defiant statement about his working- class status by the mere act of buying his news- paper in the morning, that the Mirror had in fact to become the sort of paper that the com- muter would read on his train into town in the morning, not under cover of a copy of The Times but quite openly.

The change in the Mirror has been highlighted of late by the switch from a gossip column to the 'Inside Page,' with its catalogue of very aware news stories. It was quite in keeping with all this that the Mirror should adopt a more and more active role in policy-making. The fre- quency of its campaigning editorials has grown —and, interestingly enough, research shows that circulation grows with them—and its desire to tell the public the facts about the economy has grown along with it. In the last few months the two concerns have fused together with an editorial desire to get the Government moving, and the ability of the chairman of the Mirror, Cecil King, to see more and more clearly as a director of the Bank of England what the inter- national financial community are making of that Government. The Mirror could not have opposed the Wilson Emergency/Panic Measures. He was only doing what they had told him to!

Which leads to perhaps the most interesting change of all—that in the Government. In 1961 we had a government that Socialists would have called hopelessly out of touch with what people were thinking, and Conservatives would have said was courageously independent and deter- mined to do what it believed was right. In 1966 we have a Government which is splendidly switched-on, which listens to journalists, and which is at this moment undoubtedly preparing a slap-up reception at No. 10 for the England team if they win the World Cup, and perhaps even if they are just plucky runners-up.

All of which is great if the journalists are always right. Or if action is taken only in re- sponse to the mood they create when that mood is a valid expression of what is really happen- ing. As it is, one feels that with a government that both watches the press and is proudly and openly pragmatic, and a Daily Mirror that is flexing its muscles after one triumph, there is no limit to what the World's Largest Daily Circula- tion might achieve.