At a time when newspapers nail their political allegiance to whichever party they believe will win power and when there is little remaining of a mass circulation left-wing press, The Miracle of Fleet Street is a refreshing and intriguing read. The book, first published in 1925, is an account of the early days of the Daily Herald, a paper which evolved from a daily strike bulletin to become the voice of the labour left and their struggles for better working conditions, higher wages and women’s rights. It was these causes, and those more broadly of the poorest in society, which the Herald continued to support for nearly half a century before it fell into the hands of Rupert Murdoch who relaunched it as the Sun.
The book, now republished by Spokesman, is the work of George Lansbury who was part of the group who set-up the paper, and who later went on to become its editor. Lansbury chronicles the paper’s early life in plain but passionate prose, detailing the causes they took up and the continual financial and logistical problems that faced them at every turn. In those early years the Herald was ‘the hope of every rebel in the land’ and in its first issue was the only paper to attack the management of the Titanic for not adequately providing enough life boats for the poorer passengers on board and for prioritising the lives of the rich over women and children.
Lansbury himself was an intriguing character: a Marxist, East End MP, Labour mayor, anti-imperialist, republican, supporter of the suffragettes and pacifist. He never compromised his position for personal gain, a trait which was echoed by the policy of the paper which refused the money it could have received by selling its principles to potential advertisers.
If you are looking for a balanced and considered analysis of the press, Fleet Street and the Herald in the early decades of the twentieth century then you won’t find it here. However, what Lansbury presents is the inspiring story of a group of committed individuals who stood together to fight against the prevailing attitudes of their time. As you finish this book you can’t help but wish that such a mass-circulation paper existed today.
The Miracle of Fleet Street: The Story of the Daily Herald by George Lansbury is published by Spokesman Books and is out now. [http://www.spokesmanbooks.com]
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This post was written by Matt Genner