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.
Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.