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Swimming with sharks

Sun-ragoutLabour relentlessly courted Rupert Murdoch to such an extent that we appeared to be living in a mediaocracy, not a democracy, says James Gill

On Wednesday 30th September, the UK’s biggest selling paper suddenly declared that “Labour Lost It” and in a turn of large font type theatricality, the paper subsequently announced that it was shifting its allegiance back to the Conservatives after 12 years of cautious support for Labour.

The story gained national attention, with other papers rigorously scrutinising the reasons and factors for the swapped allegiance. From this show of excitement and foreboding at one paper’s opinion, it appears that Mr Murdoch and his editors have lost none of their ego.

An ego similar to the unscrupulous bankers and financiers who believed themselves at one time to be the ‘Masters of the Universe’…..

James Gill

James Gill

As an outside observer of politics, I find this showcase of a single tabloid paper being able to change the weather ludicrous and a downright pandering to political cynicism.

In a modern liberal democracy, it’s quite daft that so much political ground is surrendered to a single newspaper, especially one that shows as much cheap bias and populism as The Sun.

The notion that the largest selling paper decides elections and speaks for the great majority of British is not only nonsense, but buying into it is dangerous, creating a perception of an alternative world where cliques of media proprietors run rampant with uncompromising hunger.

The fact that Labour under the (virtually dual) leadership Tony Blair and Gordon Brown mercilessly courted Murdoch (the owner of The Sun, News of the World, Times and Sunday Times) to endorse the Labour Party for election.

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

So bitter and brutal had the Sun’s attitude been to Labour from 1979-1992 that for all concerned, it seemed the Sun’s endorsement was the only serious avenue into power, through appealing to the stereotypical likes of so-called Middle England and Essex Man.

This media-government relationship was so tight and valued that throughout the Blair period, advisers and insiders were quoted as constantly assuming that Rupert Murdoch was always the invisible member of Blair’s cabinet – particularly on EU matters.

Blair was said to have backed down on Euro entry when The Sun branded him “The Most Dangerous Man in Britain”, as well as securing The Sun’s support for the 2005 election by promising a referendum on the now-defunct European Constitution.

This isn’t the first time that a newspaper magnate has tried to wriggle his arms into the heart of an incumbent government, attempting to encourage or guide it’s direction.

Cecil King and Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere were the moguls who dominated the pre-Murdoch era of populist journalism, the former using the Mirror to operate against the Wilson government of the 1960s, while Rothermere’s Daily Mail endorsed the appeasement of Nazi Germany nad discrimination against Jewish refugees.

Cecil King was a massively ambitious newspaper proprietor who first held any form of significant power in a daily paper at the age of 23 and later translated this power into anti-Wilson sentiments after Wilson denied him a peerage for the House of Lords.

He shrugged his shoulders with MI5 agent, Peter Wright, coordinating a plot to bring down the democratically elected Wilson and replace his government with a coalition headed by Lord Mountbatten.

Harold Harmsworth was not only the owner of the Daily Mail, he was a member of Oswald Mosley’s Union of British Fascists (BUF) – the party of pre-World War Two racism and bigotry.

The Daily Mail was awash in rife anti-Semitism – Rothermere famously wrote a Daily Mail editorial entitled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, in January 1934, praising Mosley for his “sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine”.

The Blair media age, with its association with Rupert Murdoch and the two examples above portray a picture of a country run by cliques rather than the ballot box, one can anticipate a sense of deep cynicism and disillusionment amongst voters barraged (even moreso now) by soundbite politics.

However, there is a glimmer of hope in the new globalised age of alternative forms of media rather than a consistent dependency on a few newspaper outlets for the current affairs and reviews.

Blogs from various mavericks from all across the political spectrum give a breath of fresh air for those who have no particular allegiance to a party or newspaper (most of the country!) to air their views in a much more direct and accomodating way, without having to sway to a particular editorial stance.

The largest selling paper The Sun (contrary to its own hype) does not represent the views of the large cross section of its estimated 9 million readers (and 3 million purchasers), merely the opinions of its editorial and Mr Murdoch himself.

In 1945, Clement Attlee’s Labour party won an election with an almost universally hostile media reception from the then contemporary outlets. His health minister, Nye Bevan, was endlessly decried as a dangerous, pro-Communist fellow traveller for his ambitions for a public healthcare service.

As Gordon Brown said, it is policies that win elections, not headlines. Of course newspapers do have their few committed readers and opinions of newspapers can influence how people perceive current affairs, but their viewpoints are not so great as to give one party a free ride through to victory at an election.

An often cited case of the papers’ so-called ‘power’ was the 1992 election when Neil Kinnock’s head appeared in a light bulb under the title “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights”, then subsequently declaring “It’s the SUN WOT WON IT!”

People simply found John Major a more attractive candidate than Neil Kinnock based on both parties’ campaign methods – while Kinnock overdid his bid to look prime ministerial – WE’RE ALRIGHT, WE’RE ALRIGHT, WE’RE ALRIGHT!! – Major got on his soapbox, went up and close to the voters and endured their simultaneous wrath and respect; the result being Knnock appeared too packaged and distant, while Major appeared more genuine and sincere, a purely rational decision – with an ever so slight impact from the papers.

For the sake of a better future, we need to unravel this bubble of media hype around ourselves and become more critical and independently perceptive of the country we live in to strengthen our democracy.

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One Response

  1. Whilst I agree with the sentiments of this piece … Labour weren’t the only ones that got into bed with the devil. The Tories did and have been doing business with Murdock for a long time now. Plus I don’t understand what all the fuss is about in regards to the Sun changing sides. In the past it would have mattered, but with the proliferation of new media sources i.e. satellite TV and (most importantly) the Internet … there are other more effective ways of indoctrinating the public and manipulating swing voters.

    I think that it is more about populist voters influencing the Sun’s political stance than vice versa.

    In regards to your ending about “John Major a more attractive candidate than Neil Kinnock,” it wasn’t as clear cut as that. I think that the Tories winning in 1992 had more to do with their “better” economic track record than image. One of the major reasons that Blair won in 1997 was because him and Brown had a better economic strategy than the opposition. If this recession didn’t occur, do you think that Labour would be in the position that they are in now?

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