Magazine article The Spectator

The Sun Wears Its Heart on the Right but It Will Back Labour at the Election

Magazine article The Spectator

The Sun Wears Its Heart on the Right but It Will Back Labour at the Election

Article excerpt

There is much rejoicing on the Left that Tony Blair has finally given up on the Sun and the Daily Mail. His recent remark that 'you can't please all the people all the time' has been widely interpreted as a dig at these two newspapers. Mr Blair has spent an awful lot of time trying to tame these wild beasts, it is said, and he now realises it is hopeless. His apparent repudiation of the right-wing press encourages the Left to hope that he may be more radical in a second term.

As far as the Daily Mail is concerned, the chasm with New Labour is probably unbridgeable. The Blairites wooed the Mail because it has among its readers the highest number of swing voters - those who switched from Tory to Labour at the last election - of any newspaper. But there was never any real closeness. The Mail, after all, endorsed the Tories in May 1997, though admittedly without much enthusiasm. There may have been a brief honeymoon, but for at least three years the paper has been a stern and unremitting critic of many government policies. I wouldn't say that relations have broken down because, in truth, they have never been very good.

The Sun is an entirely different proposition. The paper was once an enthusiastic supporter of New Labour, which it endorsed in 1997. There was a true honeymoon, and quite a long one. But after a while disenchantment set in, and for at least a year the Sun has often been a vituperative critic of New Labour. The issues which have made the paper's editor, David Yelland, see red have included the euro and the Dome. More recently, the Sun has also laid into the government over the European Army and castigated New Labour over its relationships with some of its donors. Meanwhile the paper has enjoyed something of a love affair with William Hague after Amanda Platell, the Tory leader's media adviser, had acted as an assiduous go-between.

All this has led some observers to suppose that the Sun might reject Labour and support the Tories at the next election. It is not to be. Within the past two or three weeks the paper's attitude towards the government has perceptibly softened. This may well be related to a meeting which took place between Rupert Murdoch and Mr Blair before Christmas, during which the Prime Minister is believed to have reassured the Sun's proprietor that there will not be a snap referendum on the euro after a Labour victory. This may seem a slight concession, but in the circumstances it was enough to tip the balance.

The truth is that the Sun does not like backing a loser - it has endorsed the winner in every election since 1979 - and expects the Tories to lose. Its heart is on the Right, and its love for Mr Hague has not abated. It is his party that is the problem. 'Hague is a one-man band', the paper bemoaned just before Christmas. 'He is a man - alone in the desert - trudging towards inevitable defeat. But his is a noble struggle.' The theme of Tory hopelessness was taken up again in a leader on 8 January, when the paper also lavished praise on the government, its warmest for a very long time. The Conservatives were 'in crisis' and some of them 'don't seem to want to fight'. As for Mr Blair, 'he and his Chancellor can quite rightly point out that they have improved our lot'.

It was therefore no great surprise when Trevor Kavanagh, the Sun's influential political editor, said on BBC 1's Question Time last week that his paper would probably support Labour at the next election. If it were true to its core beliefs, it would back the Tories, but it is sure they are going to lose. …

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