Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

The news that the circulation of the Sun sank below three million in December, its lowest since the early Seventies, is a landmark. The moment that the Sun's circulation overtook that of the Mirror, in May 1978, revealed a big shift in the political and social history of this country. No longer were the aspirations of the working class linked umbilically to the Labour movement, as, since 1945, they had appeared to be. In a conversation I once had with Rupert Murdoch, who has owned the Sun since 1969, he explained the trend.

The Sun rose, he said, because, with postwar recovery, working people wanted more freedom and more fun. They owned cars, they could buy much more home entertainment and foreign holidays; they wanted the chance to buy their council houses. The Sun offered them emancipation, while the Mirror offered them a culture of resentment and collectivism. There is a lot of truth in this analysis. Politically, Margaret Thatcher was the beneficiary, and, ever since, party leaders have been at pains to have the Sun on side.

The paper -- though in reality often doing little more than working out who is winning and then backing him -- has wished to assert its kingmaking power. Why the change? Not because another paper is overtaking the Sun.

The Mirror now has less than half the sale of the Sun, even in its reduced state. The Daily Mail's circulation is falling too, though less than that of the other tabloids. It is not even because of a drop in editorial quality, although the Sun is certainly much less exciting than it was in the glory days of Kelvin Mackenzie.

I think it is more to do with Murdoch's point about emancipation. The popular papers have not really adjusted to the aspirations of the second generation of mass ownership.

The majority of people now wrestle with complicated issues of borrowing, pensions, insurance; many own shares. They may well work for foreign employers, or work, for long periods, abroad. Roughly half of the children now being born will go to university. Most people use the internet, and it accustoms them to a world in which choice can be very precise, and where they can pursue particular interests in depth. For such people, tabloids may still be amusing, but they do not give them their window on the world, nor do they express their hopes and fears, nor do they give them very useful advice. If you look at the Sun today, it seems, as it never did before, old-fashioned.

I do rather miss the days when it was the Sun which got there first -- I remember first making the acquaintance of Carla Bruni, now President Sarkozy's friend, as 'The Botty That Drove Mick [Jagger] Potty' -- but it will be a liberating thing if politicians no longer have to suck up to the paper. Notice that David Cameron does not bother to prostrate himself before it: that is astute of him.

Although Peter Hain looks gloriously indefensible in the row about donations to his campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour party, I am utterly sick of people saying that everything in politics should be 'transparent'. How could it be? Huge tracts of government and party life depend on the privacy, and sometimes the secrecy, of many dealings. Suppose, for example, that a Member of Parliament is thinking of defecting from one party to another. He will naturally have to negotiate with the party he proposes to join, and he will seek assurances about how he will be treated, perhaps even the promise of a job. …

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