The local paper and the local MP have much in common. Neither can survive without the support of the local community; both try to articulate the views of local people on current issues; both try to add momentum to worthwhile local campaigns; and where appropriate, they will both publicise injustices and seek remedies. (And both, being human, sometimes get things wrong. Misprints for the newspaper; gaffes for the MP)
Locally, we each have about 20,000 supporters; mine are counted once every four years by the Returning Officer and his team, and support costs nothing. The Advertiser’s is measured by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, and it costs 55p per week.
I believe we are fortunate with our local paper; (it is for others to judge whether that fortune extends to the other member of the partnership). I find it has the right mixture of good news that might go unreported, together with bad news I need to know about; and a lively letters page and balanced editorials. And splendid photographs.
I had hoped we might be joined by a local radio station – Andover FM. Readers may recall we had trials in November 2001 but, despite an approval procedure recently described to me as “streamlined” by its Chairman, there is no sign of an OFCOM decision on whether this will go ahead. So there is another local campaign for us both to support.
Each partner needs the other; the MP needs the local paper to report his activities; and the local paper needs the local MP as he is a potential source of stories. (Before we moved to Hampshire, our local newspaper led, in a quiet week, with “ MP’s son hit by snowball.” Nearly as compelling as the London Evening Standard’s “Unclaimed Premium Bond Numbers.”)
At the moment, there is much raw material for us to focus on – the future of Andover Hospital, the new Cricklade Theatre, the multi-screen cinema/ASDA deal, and the shape and extent of future housing development. I am sure we will both be campaigning for the services our voters and readers are entitled to.
Local newspapers are, rightly, prepared to criticise politicians; a few years ago, as Transport Secretary, I visited the site of a by-pass we were building to the south of Derby. I was ushered into a cabin, shaking from the exertions of an excavator nearby, its walls festooned with naked ladies to incite the workers to greater efforts.
I stood back to look at a giant plan of this civil engineering project, trying to orient myself. “Where exactly is Derby?” I asked my host, who then waved to an area well to the north of the plan.
The headline of the local paper next day faithfully reported my visit under the headline “Where is Derby?” asks Transport Secretary.