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.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.