Politics, Media and International Relations

Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


Labour and the Press, 1972–2005

From New Left to New Labour

Sean Tunney is Senior Lecturer in Journalism at the University of Portsmouth. He has worked as a journalist on both national and local newspapers and on the web, and has written on media history and on British and European politics.

Based on previously unpublished material, this book tells the story of how the Labour Party transformed its relationship with British national newspapers and their owners.

This first book-length discussion of the subject spans over 30 years, from the period of the new left to the dominance of New Labour.

A key finding is that tension between Labour’s desire for newspaper coverage, and its policies for diversifying the press, has been an underlying pressure on party policies since the 1970s.

Labour sought to develop policies regulating newspaper ownership and the role of journalists. It endeavoured to both correct what it perceived as press bias against the Labour Party and to address the broader issues of political and cultural diversity. Labour’s Relationship with the Press provides a lucid analysis of how Labour’s policies on the press sit within the context of the party’s overall development – from Harold Wilson, through the party’s flirtation with Robert Maxwell, to the robust approach of Tony Blair. It offers a fresh insight into New Labour’s concern with press management and political communications. The author demonstrates how tensions of the past shed new light on Labour Party practices of the present.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-138-2
Hardback Price: £47.50 / $67.50
Release Date: October 2006
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-139-9
Paperback Price: £17.95 / $32.50
Release Date: October 2006
Page Extent / Format: 256 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


List of Abbreviations
Labour in Government

1 Introduction: Labour's Problems with the Press
2 The People and the Press: Party Debates up to 1974
3 The Party, the Government, the Commission and its Minority: Labour from 1974 to 1979
4 Flow and Ebb: Labour from 1979 to 1983
5 Changes and Political Communications: Labour in the 1980s
6 Policy Reviewed: Neil Kinnock and John Smith
7 Living with the Enemy: Press Policy under Tony Blair
8 Epilogue and Concluding Remarks: How Did We Get Here?


The British Labour Party began serious discussion of the media and their relationship with political democracy in the early 1970s. The policies that emerged from this ran into disagreement and were gradually abandoned. Sean Tunney sets out to explain why Labour’s press policy was not implemented. This takes him steadily through the shift in this policy from canvassing structural changes in the newspaper market in order to deal with the problem of concentration of ownership, to developing a political marketing strategy and placing emphasis on effective presentation and spin… His book presents a clear-sighted survey of the shift from the Wilson period to now, and offers a new look at New Labour’s close attention to press management and managed political communications. It deserves to be widely read.
European Journal of Communication

Tunney details the emergence, in the 1970s, of pressures from trade unions and party members for reform of press ownership and control. These culminated in the radical proposals of the 1974 discussion document, The People and the Media, elements of which influenced the 1983 election manifesto. Differences existed between those who wanted to promote diversity and others concerned with getting Labour a voice in the national newspaper market. A succession of electoral defeats (1979-1992) and the accommodation of the Labour and trade union leaderships with the neo-liberalism of the Thatcher years, left progressive policies on ownership, diversity and right of reply behind.
... This book is a record of failure, despite tremendous efforts of analysis, time and imagination by reformers, to democratise mass communications. Yet it is also an account of the complexities of trying to change press policy and a rich record of the proposals devised to improve the media. To influence the future we need to understand our past. Labour and the Press provides readers with an indispensable aid to understanding and a platform for reflection on future strategies for change.
Tom O’Malley, Free Press

Tunney explains why Labour has been so troubled by its relations with the press and why this relationship still matters. His very thorough research critically scrutinises a variety of radical Labour proposals for press reform since the 1960s, explaining their shortcomings, as well as the problems they were designed to solve. His book also traces the origins of New Labour’s reconciliation with the press oligarchs, exposing the logic and consequences of a communications strategy based upon resignation before - often active endorsement of - the plutocratic status quo.
John Callaghan, Professor of Politics in the History and Governance Research Institute, University of Wolverhampton

This is a meticulously researched book which, by drawing on a wide range of primary sources, throws a great deal of light onto a hitherto under-researched aspect of media policy in Britain. Its charting of the developments and shifts in Labour policy towards the press illuminates not only changes in Labour thinking on the media in general, and the press in particular, but also the processes which gave rise to, and have sustained, the whole New Labour project. This should be required reading for anyone interested in either the British press or in the changing nature of the Labour Party since World War II.
Julian Petley, Professor of Film and Television, Brunel University

This well-researched and tightly argued book on partisan politics and media policy making in Britain has valuable lessons for people concerned about the interplay of journalism and effective self-governance worldwide. It is one of the most important books in media studies in years.
Robert W. McChesney, author of The Problem of the Media

Books can be ordered by phone or online

Ordering in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australasia, South America and Rest of the World

Gazelle Book Services
Direct sales tel.: +44 (0)1524 528500; email:
Web ordering:

Ordering in the United States and Canada
Independent Publishers Group (IPG)
Direct sales tel.: (800) 888-4741
Web ordering:

Bookseller Ordering
Information is provided under the Resources tab.

eBook Ordering
e-Book type availability can be sourced via by book title. Kindle availability is via Amazon .com and sites.