This could be a watershed day for the Guardian. Its sale of the Manchester Evening News breaks its last link with its solid Northern roots and delivers the MEN into the less-than-liberal hands of Trinity Mirror (which is already, we learn, planning to move the reporters of the “Manchester” Evening News to Oldham, ten miles away.)
And it threatens to make the Guardian itself, whose sale has long been disproportionately London-centric, even more of a newspaper for the London metropolitan classes than it already is. Is that a problem? I think it could be.
The British Left has always been a coalition between the metropolitan and the working class. Part of Labour’s problem is that the metropolitan element has come too much to the fore and the working class vote has sheared away.
The Guardian, of course, did not have an enormous working class readership, but it did and does have a substantial chunk of non-metropolitan, non-trendy (and often Non-Conformist) readers, many in the north. Nor, of course, is the Guardian the same thing as the Labour Party – but it is perhaps the single most important part of the broader Left.
Maybe I’m making too much of the distinctions between these groups. Maybe, in a more fluid age, they’re outdated. But all the evidence suggests that the market for London-style metropolitan leftism is pretty limited – even in London – and the Left only prospers when it embraces a broader, more diverse base.
Then there’s the question of whether this is a good deal. The Guardian Media Group is in bad financial difficulties, but the price it has got for the MEN won’t help much – only £7.4 million is cash and the other £37.4 million is Trinity Mirror releasing the Guardian from a contract to print the very papers it has just sold. GMG insists the £37.4 million is a “real saving” to it, an amount it was contracted to pay whatever happened to the newspapers. Well, up to a point: of course, sales and ad revenue from the papers would have covered, or largely covered, the cost of printing them.
Maybe, with the MEN now barely profitable, the real idea is to prevent GMG having to bear any losses that may be made in the future by the Manchester operation. But this deal could still leave a less tangible price to pay.