What the papers don't say...
FOR MUCH of my journalistic career, I have written for right-wing newspapers, justifying it by saying that sport was a largely apolitical element of the paper and that, anyway, they always at least presented the other side of arguments, even if with their own vested interest slants. Besides, it is always better to know what the enemy is up to from within. And if I didn't do the job, somebody right-wing might.
This election campaign, however, has left me sad and sickened. The newspapers of the right have abandoned all semblance of fairness and balance. They have been vicious in their bile towards Ed Miliband personally and dismissive of Labour party policies while propagating, in the face of all evidence, failed Conservative politics. I have never known before such blatant one-sidedness.
I do not like biting the hands that once fed me, so well and for so long. All of the half a dozen national papers I worked on are (or were) fine news-gathering organisations and with some wonderful people and writers. It might surprise many to know that despite the agendas and preoccupations of their owners, aimed at preserving their own wealth and status, papers across the spectrum are staffed by more left wing people than right, in my experience.
Thursday's vote will be crucial to the immediate future of this country, defining the lives of its young, disenfranchised and demoralised. Now is no time to stand back and remain disengaged. It is a time to stand up, to be bold and brave.
Many and varied are the issues but at the heart of it all are two: the NHS and the economy, pointing up as they do the apparent differences in parties and philosophies. All else seems to be dependent on health and wealth. And conventional wisdom has it that Labour will take care of health better than the Conservatives while the Tories are the party to trust when it comes to money.
Not that you would know whether this is myth or reality judging by the coverage. Largely all we see is Red Ed, the back-stabbing naif pandering to Russell Brand. Cameron? Statesmanlike. Osborne? You wouldn't want to have dinner with him but at least he'll enable you to pay for it.
Privately, however, many on the right-wing papers believe this has been a lamentable campaign by the Tories, though dare not say it for fear of offending some brothers living on a Channel Island, an Australian-born American citizen or a Viscount whose money is largely invested overseas. Privately they believe the Tories should be 10 points ahead in the polls given all the support and the easy ride they are receiving.
Labour, with Miliband's dignity and acquired thick skin at their centre, seek to concentrate on politics not personalities when Boris lets his mask of geniality slip. Again, not that that is what the papers say, apart from the outnumbered Mirror and Guardian (for whom I also worked for a decade).
I have been having treatment these last five years for cancer, as has my wife. We are fortunate to be near enough to the wonderful Royal Marsden in London and receiving marvellous treatment at a clean, well-appointed hospital from dedicated professionals.
Even the Marsden is starting to creak, however, as victim of its own success. You wait longer in clinic and particularly for drugs at the pharmacy. Few patients care too much, for you know the staff are doing their best and you will not be forgotten.
The hospital is luckier than most, though, in its ability to raise funds. It is a no-brainer - cancer, central London. Many celebrities contribute or donate their services. The Marsden thrives despite the system, rather than because of it, however. It is a beacon surrounded often by darkness.
How do I know this? Because I have seen my mother-in-law treated in a large Northern hospital that is bursting at the seams, staff desperately trying to patch up the holes.
I have seen waste and inefficiency, but more seriously an adequate lack of post-operative care from overburdened staff and non-functioning systems that provoked us to complain to the powers that be. And then, after that, due to swingeing cuts, came the absence of joined-up actions that means people going home being left without care packages while various agencies and organisations shift responsibility.
Five more years of all that? Many will - quite literally - not survive it. The vulnerable are always grateful for any care they receive but staff I am frequently in contact with and who administer it know they could do so much more and so much better if they are given the tools to do the job by a party that plans not privatisation but provision.
But who will pay for it? The Tories are more capable, we are told. They are the wealth creators. Magically, having cut for five years, they are now in a position, they say, to find an extra £8 billion a year. Perhaps by cutting welfare by another £12 billion. They won't really say how.
Again, my disappointment with the papers surfaces as they knowingly ignore the myth, refuse to focus on five years of Conservative book-cooking as they surely would not have had it been a Labour government.
Figures show that in the first 10 of 13 years of Labour, the Tony Blair decade before the recession, the National Debt rose by £405 billion. In just five years under the Tories, it has grown by £655 billion.
In 2007, the deficit was £36.4 billion but rose to £156.3 billion after the banking crisis that began in the United States. That was due to the bail-out of Northern Rock, Lloyds et al. (What, by the way, would the Tories - who had for years been calling for lighter regulation of the banks - have done? The same, surely).
Now the Tories say they have shown themselves to be safe hands when it comes to the economy by halving that deficit to £75 billion. Yet it is still double Labour's figure before the banking crisis.
Have a look at the way two different newspapers, The Guardian and the Daily Mail, reported an interview by the former governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, last December...
This is how the Mail saw it...
And then this week, take the comments of the permanent secretary to the Treasury, Sir Nicholas Macpherson...
A search of both the Mail and Telegraph websites did not show up this story, not even their own version of Sir Nicholas's comments.
As for the Conservatives insisting they are the party who cleared up the mess they inherited and now want us to continue on the same path, the growth rate when Labour left office in 2010 (when the worst of the banking crisis was over) was 1 per cent. It is now 0.3 per cent.
Are these merely the naive, ignorant rantings of a sports writer who should stick just to what he knows and not get involved in politics? Well, try instead then this brilliant analysis by Larry Elliott, a former colleague on local papers and one of the finest and most experienced economics journalists of the last 30 years...
There you have it. Many say this is a boring election campaign and that there is nothing to choose among politicians any more. Actually, it is riveting, its implications enormous, and there is a clear choice.
David Cameron has been forced to lurch to the right to appease the UKIP element - inside his party too - by conceding a referendum on Europe.
In the middle is Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats seeking to justify their capitulation on key issues in coalition as the realpolitik of keeping the Conservatives in check.
Coming up on the rails is the Scottish Nationalist Party, whose growth hurts Labour the most but is really a response to Tory attitudes and policies that have so alienated Scotland and which will demand a reassessment of the British electoral system and how Britain governs very quickly after the election.
Ed Miliband, meanwhile, is the more left-wing consequence of the decline of Labour post-Blair, when they were weak and weary after the 2010 election but could still have governed had they had the stomach and humility for it. It is why the party chose Ed and not brother David, who was too aligned with New Labour rather than its roots.
It is one area in which there must be reservations about the current Labour campaign, just as was proved at the last election. The party has given in to its strategists (whose advice has probably been prompted by fear of opening itself up to new bile from the right-wing press) with their message that appears to be: don't mention the Blair years. This despite him knowing better than any other Labour politician how to tap into the times and get elected.
Has Iraq really overshadowed all else? Dare we not recall - until the banks betrayed us - the good economic years that such as myself were fortunate to enjoy and which we want young people to experience again? When even the right-wing press in its fairer days was lauding a clever Chancellor in Gordon Brown? The minimum wage? Hospital waiting times down? Improving education standards? Peace in Northern Ireland?
Newspaper sales are falling. They are nearing just one third of what they were 20 years ago. Their influence wanes from their historic roles as the big beasts patrolling British culture. Their owners try and work out how to make money from the internet and compete with the iniquity of the BBC having public money to fund their comprehensive website. (One thing I do have sympathy with Rupert Murdoch about).
I believe they have misjudged this election and their readerships. The British may have their entrenched beliefs - even if many float more now with their scepticism of modern politics and some of its questionable personalities - but they are fair-minded. They know when they see propaganda, not news.
If the papers are not careful, they could see their circulations slip yet further after this election as the disillusioned refuse to part with their money for such deception. Coming on top of the whole hacking issue (and this comes from one whose mobile phone number was on Operation Weeting's list) it is another self-inflicted wound.
It is why so few young people refuse to buy into the mainstream press any longer (and not just because they expect stuff for free on the internet; if they had proper jobs, not just internships and zero-hours contracts they might have more disposable income). They want new, less tired, takes on events, new less biased analyses.
They don't want the emasculated Independent - the Independent, for goodness sake - to do the bidding of its Russian owner and tell them to vote for the status quo. Despite what the Who sang to our generation, we may well have got fooled again - but it doesn't mean a new generation should, and shouldn't rail against it.
Instead of being anti everything, I want them to be for something. Despite the image, the young people I meet are bright, more aware of the environment than we certainly were, and willing to work and buy houses if we just empower them.
Above all I want them to feel that new world feeling I did on the morning of May 2nd, 1997 when Labour swept into power on a tidal wave of optimism that hindsight may claim was overegged (probably due to relief at the end of Thatcherism, if not still its legacy) but which was immeasurably preferable to these past five years.
And I hope the papers I'll be buying on May 8th, 2015 will be those capturing with fairness, without bitterness, a sense of hope provided by a party with its heart in the right place, the Labour party.