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Mandelson bites back at the Sun

A virtuoso performance but Labour should end its neurotic focus on the tabloid

Lord Mandelson gave a bravura performance on the Today programme this morning, railing against the "crude politicking" of the Sun. Is he right to claim there's a "contract" between the paper and the Conservatives? Essentially, yes. As I've noted before, David Cameron's plan to freeze the television licence fee and, even more, his pledge to abolish Ofcom are remarkably convenient for the Murdoch-owned Sky.

Mandelson said: "What the Sun can do for the Conservatives before and during the election is one part of that contract. And presumably what the Conservatives can do for News International if they are elected is the other side of that bargain." Spot on.

He was also right to argue that the Sun exculpates the Taliban when it focuses so relentlessly on equipment failures in Afghanistan."If you read the Sun, you would think that the enemy that our brave troops on the ground are fighting is the British government," he said. (Incidentally, this criticism also applies to Jacqui Janes, who spoke as if Gordon Brown, rather than the Taliban, was personally responsible for the death of her son.)

Much as I enjoy Mandelson's sharp turn of phrase, I think it's time for Labour to end its neurotic focus on the Sun. Ministers cannot claim that the tabloid has little or no influence on elections and then devote appearance after appearance to trashing its editorial stance.