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: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.