Sun backs perceived winners shock

Good riddance

Gordon Brown's courting of Rupert Murdoch -- an area I have pursued for years through the Freedom of Information Act -- has finally been proved pointless today with the Sun's decision to return to its core values and support the Conservatives. Doubtless Brown will be bitterly disappointed that the paper which backed Tony Blair in 1997 and through his lowest moment over Iraq has abandoned New Labour amid a media consensus that the Tories will win next time. But the "blow" is not as great as it seems, as Alastair Campbell -- who went so far out of his way to win over the tabloid for Blair -- explains on his blog today.

First, Sun readers are human beings, too, and must occasionally wonder in amazement at some of their paper's pronouncements, such as those against the very rich paying 50 pence in the pound on income tax.

Second, as my colleague Mehdi Hasan just said on Sky News, it was never "the Sun wot won it", and it is patronising to assume that, because Murdoch and a few executives have decided to back who they think are the winners of the next election, millions of readers will, sheep-like, follow suit.

Third, progressives in the party should rejoice that it is rid of this fairweather friend. The damage done to progressive politics over the past ten years by Blair and Brown, operating within the restraints of seeking to please the right-wing media, is untold.

Arguably it is to Brown's credit that he managed to give a speech so social democratic that it alienated the Sun's right-wing proprietor. Clearly, you can no longer please both the Labour Party and Rupert Murdoch.

Do not forget: Murdoch's world-view is directly opposed to that of a party which -- with six months to go before the fight of its life -- can, at last, be itself.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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