Heart of Darkness

Brinkley and Lyall

Heart of Darkness

Brinkley and Lyall

Heart of Darkness
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Oct. 22 1998 10:10 AM

Brinkley and Lyall

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Sarah:

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You're right. The story of the Rover layoffs seems to mean something different to everyone who has written about it. But the one thing almost no one is writing about is what it means to the 2,400 workers who are losing their jobs--and what prospects await them, and their community, when the jobs disappear. Unlike U.S. papers, which love stories about dying communities, the British papers seem to treat the North like a remote foreign country (or some distant colony) about which they cannot be expected to know very much. Instead, the reporting of the Rover story is entirely about political tactics. New Labour refusing to bail the factory out or lower interest rates or do anything else to help (other than offering the unappealing Peter Mandelson's insulting exhortations to the workers to work harder), so as to prove its economic toughness. Old Labour is expressing outrage at the clumsy statements of the Bank of England governor to try to embarrass New Labour. (The governor did not actually say what he is widely quoted as saying: that the layoffs are "a price quite worth paying" for a stable currency. That was a phrase in a question asked him by a journalist, which he did not duck with sufficient skill.) And the Tories, in their decripitude, are jumping on this story stunningly hypocritically--given their own record in dealing with such issues--as part of their guerrilla-style effort to weaken Labour in any way possible while failing to produce any plausible program of their own.

Maggie is back again--this time calling for the prompt release of Pinochet (from America, where she is lecturing) because his help in the Falklands War saved many British lives. The Pinochet issue seems to be simmering in the background again, with no real news to report. But the opinion pages are filled with pious statements on both sides of the issue, which suggests everyone is ready to pounce as soon as there is some development. I don't envy Tony Blair in dealing with this one.

As usual, almost no foreign news today of any consequence--and most of it about the U.S. (or at least about the Mideast talks in the U.S.). The Financial Times does seem to be less likely to sensationalize these stories, although it covers a narrower range of them than the others. But you're right--reading the papers here is like cutting through a thicket. That's probably in part because I'm not used to them and don't yet really know how to interpret them. But it's also because there seems to be no established arbiter of what's important in the way that a few papers serve as arbiters in the U.S.

I note that Geoff Boycott is back from his ordeal in Paris expressing relief to have returned to a place where they don't speak French. I gather from the papers today that he is well known here not just for having once played cricket, but for being a cricket broadcaster today. Does he know Marv Albert, do you think?

And finally, none of the English papers, unsurprisingly, has the biggest story of the day--the Yankees winning the World Series!

--Alan

Alan Brinkley is history professor at Columbia University and author of The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War. He is teaching at the University of Oxford, England, for a year. Sarah Lyall is a journalist who writes for the New York Times from London.