Nobody loves a journalist at election time, but here are my journalistic heroes from this depressing election.
Let’s start with Daniel Sheridan, a young reporter from Leeds. Strictly speaking, Sheridan doesn’t belong in a list of political heroes as he was just doing his job. He wrote the original story in the Yorkshire Evening Post story about the four-year-old boy being treated while lying on the floor of Leeds General Infirmary.
The story of Jack Williment-Barr went viral and became something of a political football after it was splashed across the front of the Daily Mirror.
The ITV reporter Joe Pike tried to show Boris Johnson a photograph of Jack on his mobile, but the prime minister refused to look, grabbed the phone and popped it in his pocket.
Johnson made himself look like an empathy vacuum and Joe Pike is therefore another of my heroes, for persistence in the face of blustering bullshit.
Next up is James Mitchinson, editor of the Yorkshire Post. When the story of young Jack went viral, a loyal reader wrote to him expressing her sorrow that he’d fallen for a fake story. She’d seen social media posts claiming the story was a set-up.
A series of identical posts attributed to different names claimed the story was faked. The Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson even tweeted that paediatric nurses had told her the photo was “100% fake”. Oddly, her source seemed to be the same faked post. A level of research that would have got young Daniel into trouble.
Mitchinson politely pointed out that the story had been checked in the usual fashion. As he later wrote in his newspaper and the Guardian, “our original story was sucked into a vortex of disinformation that would make Orwell blush”.
Mitchinson makes my list for defending local journalism. And for today’s front-page leader column under the headline, “Call for urgent electoral reform.”
In a long and balanced piece, Mitchinson says: “The people of this country must never again be asked to navigate a maelstrom of misinformation in order to decide who will govern them.”
This brings me to an unlikely bedfellow. But this dreadful election teaches us that sense can be spoken by those on the ‘other side’.
Peter Oborne is the true political hero of this election. This lifelong Conservative has always voted Tory. Until recently he has written for publications on the right, including the Telegraph, Mail, Evening Standard and Spectator.
He is an old-fashioned Tory who now says in a comment piece for the Guardian: “Boris Johnson wants to destroy the Britain I love. I cannot vote Conservative.”
Oborne argues that under the tutelage of his adviser Dominic Cummings, Johnson is attempting to “destroy Conservatism”. He writes: “This is why during his brief term as prime minister Boris Johnson has attacked parliament, mocked the rule of law, abused the monarchy, and shown a total disregard for the truth.”
He also says of the party he once supported: “Something horrible has happened. The Conservative party lies. It cheats. It bullies. It’s not the wise, gentle, decent party of the postwar era.”
I might quibble with gentle and decent, but his argument is copper-bottomed.
That’s not why Oborne is my political hero, or not wholly why. No, he earns that honour for being the only commentator to point out that the political editors were passing on government propaganda by quoting unnamed government or Downing Street sources.
And he earns it again for his website chronicling Boris Johnson’s shaky relationship with the truth. It’s well worth a read at boris-johnson-lies.com
Also in my hero list is Pipa Crerar, political editor of the Daily Mirror, leader of her paper’s unstintingly sharp election coverage. Being banned from the Tories’ election bus seems to have done her a power of good.
And a last word for Marina Hyde of the Guardian, just named political commentator of the year in the British Journalism Awards for being “clever, innovative and consistently on the ball”.
To be so acridly witty all the time about everyone and everything is quite the achievement. Marina has made this election a little more bearable.
Footnote: The politest possible heckle on Facebook points out that John Crace of the Guardian has been overlooked. How did I manage that oversight? Crace is a brilliant political sketch writer who manages to pull witty nuggets from the daily slime bucket of politics. Happy to put that right.