It's the Post what won it

24th March 2000 at 00:00
IT WAS not The Sun "wot won it" but it may just have been the Yorkshire Post.

We have all grown used to the national media's claims to influence.

The Sun boasts it won the 1992 election for the Tories.

But spin doctors have, in recent weeks, been facing up to the fact that local newspapers can influence national policy.

The vote among Ripon parents to keep selective admission at their grammar school had a huge impact. Education Secretary David Blunkett found himself fending off charges that local ballots to decide the future of selection were a futile exercise in divisive politics.

While the margin of the pro-grammar victory suggested a genuine groundswell of support in Ripon, the pro-selection Yorkshire Post played such an active part in forming opinion that anti-grammar campaigners are seriously questioning any further moves in its circulation area.

"A message went out from Ripon last night which should be heard in Downing Street ... that selection by aptitude and ability is to be preferred to selection by affluence and influence," it said.

Its campaign was described by the Ripon anti-gramar reformer Debbie Atkins as the "drip, drip, drip of opposition propaganda".

The real worry of the anti-selection camp is that the Yorkshire Post is no aberration.

Local papers appear to have an instinctive dislike for the case for radical change to often highly respected schools in their areas.

The thought of an influential body of grammar parents venting their spleen to defend their schools seems to swing it for editors across the country.

They either stay silent - the policy of the Ripon Gazette - or support the grammars in the style of the Yorkshire Post.

Prominent exponents of the latter are London's Evening Standard and the Halifax Evening Courier, where a pro-selective stance has helped ensure reformers have not made the first moves towards a ballot.

In another potential ballot area, the Kent Messenger claims to be neutral, while its managing editor, Norman Smith, admits privately that "we are basically for the grammar schools".

As Labour found in 1992, it is hard to win if the media is against you. The question is whether campaigners can succeed where Neil Kinnock failed.


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