Monday, 18 May 2009

The Sun all but comes out for Cameron.

Roy Greenslade analyses whether today's Sun front page and their leader column, which calls for a general election, means that the paper has now switched its support to the Conservatives:

However, it's the sub-heading, accompanied by a picture of David Cameron, that catches the political eye: "Cameron: Only general election can end sleaze."

This would certainly imply that the paper has returned to the Conservative party fold it famously abandoned on 18 March 1997 with a front page headlined THE SUN BACKS BLAIR.

Even so, I'm not entirely convinced the paper has yet made up its mind to plump for the Tories. By contrast, it has clearly turned its back on Brown's Labour.

Its leading article states it unequivocally: "Voters have had enough of this government." It also says the government "is paralysed in the face of urgent and momentous challenges."

I imagine its readers would agree with one key paragraph:

"We are rudderless and adrift in dangerous seas with nobody at the helm, a crew of discredited MPs and a Speaker who has lost all authority."

Though there is a passing mention that people are angry with all the main parties, it eschews references to the gross misbehaviour by many Tory MPs. So that could imply a movement towards Cameron.


There will be many of you, of course, who think it irrelevant what The Sun (or Murdoch) says nowadays because you are convinced that its/his endorsement makes little if any difference to the outcome of an election.

I also happen to think it has no more than a marginal effect. What counts much more is what the paper says, day after day, week after week, in the months leading up to an election. (By "says", I don't mean the leaders, but the story choices plus their heavily angled headlines).

I am convinced that The Sun's relentless propaganda, denigrating a party's leaders and policies, gradually succeeds in influencing its audience (though proving that thesis has been beyond the talents of social scientists).

Reading The Sun every day (the things I do for this job, eh?), I am sure that its 3m regular buyers - and, say, 9m readers - will have gained an entirely negative view of Brown's premiership in the past year.

I should stress that Sun readers do not rely only on that paper. Its views undoubtedly chime with what many other papers are saying, what is broadcast on TV and radio and, of course, the reality that they confront in their daily lives.

Anyway, it means that The Sun has already accomplished its major ideological spadework. So I do not doubt for a moment that the overwhelming majority of its audience is imbued with a loathing for this government.

What the paper has yet to do is openly campaign for the Tories. It has been nervous about Cameron (as have the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Daily Telegraph). I get the feeling that it's on the brink of overcoming its nerves.

Given the mood in the country, I cannot imagine that The Sun will dare to adopt its agnostic 1974 stance. Murdoch may feel that's too great a risk to take.

One day, and it will be sooner rather than later, The Sun will endorse Dave. There will be echoes of 1997's time-for-a-change factor. This time around, there will be one significant difference from the Blair coronation: The Sun will be urging its readers to choose between the lesser of two evils.

I can't say I really disagree too much with his analysis, but I think he's missed the key point from the Sun's leader, which in effect does give the Tories the paper's full support:

Time is running out. In a year’s time, the EU will have signed and sealed the wretched Constitution.

A general election is your last chance to stop it. Eight out of 10 voters want a referendum. Labour promised one and then betrayed us.

If your candidate won’t support a vote, don’t give him yours.

Some Labour MPs might well support a vote, but the party itself certainly doesn't. The Liberal Democrats want to widen the question to Europe itself, which rules them out, leaving just the Conservatives, UKIP and the BNP as the parties that are promising a referendum, as well as a few on the far-left. Considering Murdoch isn't the slightest bit interested in any of them apart from the former, it's clear that the paper is endorsing the Tories, but not yet willing to seal the deal.

I already noted that the paper has more or less suggested that Cameron's the one to solve "Broken Britain". Greenslade is certainly right in that the paper has not, unlike others in the press, repeatedly kicked Brown. If anything, their failure to do so is perplexing: Murdoch and his acolytes especially hate the the new top rate of taxes which Brown and Darling are imposing. Why, when Blair is now long gone, is the paper if not its columnist still not putting the boot into New Labour? The answer is as Greenslade alludes to, Murdoch had yet to be convinced by Cameron. Seemingly, his performance last week has all but done so. It's still too far from a general election though, despite Cameron's histronics calling for one, so the paper is saving the switch until nearer the time. Be under no illusions though, the Sun is definitely now firmly back in the Conservatives' court.

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