The Sun's vulgar campaign against Brown

Murdoch should call off this shameful and tawdry campaign

The Sun has never handled politicians with kid gloves. During the exchange rate mechanism crisis in 1992, the then editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, famously told John Major: "I've got a large bucket of shit lying on my desk and tomorrow morning I'm going to pour it all over your head." But the paper's personal campaign against Gordon Brown marks a new level of vulgarity.

Its decision to attack Brown relentlessly over the spelling errors in a letter of condolence, with little or no reference to his damaged eyesight, was questionable enough, but it's the tabloid's persistent exploitation of a mother's grief for political purposes that is truly shameful.

There is no doubting the sincerity of Jacqui Janes, the mother of the dead soldier, but are we really to believe that she decided of her own volition to record her painfully awkward exchange with the Prime Minister?

The scribblers of Wapping would do well to listen to their former colleague George Pascoe-Watson, who has publicly expressed his concerns over the Sun's coverage. As John Rentoul reports, the red-top's former political editor said that it was "reasonable" to argue the paper was using Janes's grief to attack Brown and declared that there was no doubt Brown "cares passionately about the care of our troops".

I agree with those who say Brown's letter should have been given a quick once-over by a No 10 aide, but one could equally point to this as a refreshing departure from convention. A meticulously edited letter may have been more popular. It certainly would have been less personal.

It is something of an irony that this renewed assault on Brown should follow Rupert Murdoch's public expression of regret over the Sun's stance. In his most recent interview he said: "The editors in Britain, for instance, have turned very much against Gordon Brown, who is a friend of mine. I regret it."

Murdoch's words have been dismissed as a cynical front by Roy Greenslade and Michael White, but they reflect what Michael Wolff, author of the Murdoch biography The Man Who Owns the News, has long reported: that Murdoch has never been personally enthusiastic about the Sun's defection to the Tories and only nodded through the decision to keep his son and heir apparent, James Murdoch, onside.

As Wolff, who spent more than 50 hours interviewing Murdoch, wrote shortly after the Sun's announcement: "There may not be another politician in Rupert's nearly 60 years of helping to shoehorn the leaders of three countries into office who has personally appealed to him as much as Gordon. Rupert's voice changes when he talks about him. He gets ruminative (and Murdoch is not a ruminative man), and sentimental, and almost glassy-eyed."

It's partly a family thing: like Brown's father, the Reverend John Brown, Murdoch's paternal grandfather was a Scottish Presbyterian minister.

If he has any sense of dignity or loyalty, Murdoch should get on the phone to Wapping and call off this shameful, tawdry campaign.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.