The Sun Drops Support For Labour, Now Only Believes In The Individual
The Sun’s late show of support for Tony Blair six weeks before the 1997 general election sealed, maybe even swelled Labour’s landslide victory, as it did in 2001 and 2005. Today they’ve finally removed that support and switched to the Conservatives, a move which neuters any post-conference surge from Labour, but will it be seen as the moment that the election was truly decided?
Using the tried and tested marketing wheeze of projecting things onto walls, the side of the blue-lit News International printers last night read “We’re Feeling Blue” (with echoes of the red smoke pouring out of the NI chimneys back in 2005). Then today’s headline – “Labour’s Lost It” – leads into an editorial that’s a roll call of pet Sun causes; it’s a rhetorical marvel, with flashcards like “Baby P”, “bogus asylum seekers” and “our troops” patronisingly deployed to effect a kneejerk reaction in its readers.
Despite its wan support of the Tories, what you can hear loudest of all is the mindset of the corporation – there is a poisonous and deeply unpatriotic distrust of the state in The Sun’s paranoid editorial, that the chest-beating nationalism of its final lines (“the Conservative leadership can put the great back into Great Britain”) does little to dissipate. “The will of every family to improve its lot through its own efforts”, “clipboard-ticking target managers”, “decent people live in a virtual police state of snooping cameras and petty officials empowered to spy and to punish” – there’s an individualism and libertarianism from The Sun that is the voice of the mogul, not the people.
It’s depressing even before you look at the nauseating and hateful generalisations (“a huge, idle underclass for whom work is a dirty word”), the shonky straw men arguments (“over ten years NHS spending rose 140%, but MRSA-related deaths went up 313%”) and shoehorned debates – “Great Britain is the most watched nation on earth with 20% of the world’s CCTV cameras but only 1% of the population. But what happens when The Sun turns the camera on 12 years under New Labour?”
So Murdoch can be heard throughout this missive, but his unconvincing party political support may not make a difference this year. Roy Greenslade, writing in the Guardian today, says that the Sun is “seeking to back a surefire winner rather than daring to take any political risk” – the tortuous progress of this election cycle, beginning somewhere around when Brown went back on his call for an election, means that opinion has taken longer to properly foment; perhaps the dynamism of previous election campaigns made them riper for media intervention. You can’t help but feel that people have already made up their minds, and it’s just a case of limping on until next year.
Labour for their part are saying they can do without The Sun. “I don’t think editorials will decide elections”, said Brown this morning. “I think that Sun readers actually, when they look at what I said [in the conference speech], will agree with what I said.” Meanwhile Mandelson said that “the last thing Sun readers want is to see their newspaper turned into a Tory fanzine. They want a newspaper, not a propaganda sheet.” I actually think there’s little chance of a Tory love-in though – more likely is a continuation of the distrust in the party political machine and big government altogether. Both Brown and Cameron have closely courted Murdoch, but the fact is that he’s merely going to put up with the one that most people already seem to like.