Can the Sun on Sunday really keep Rupert happy?

The Murdoch tabloid will have to buck the industry trend.

So, no pressure then. Thirty six hours before the presses were set to roll for the debut edition of the Sun on Sunday -- aka NotW: Resurection -- Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter. He wrote:

The Sun:great speculation, sweeps, etc on Sunday's sale.I will be very happy at anything substantially over two million!— Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) February 24, 2012


Murdoch, whose every passing tweet reads like an audition for an as yet to be commissioned series of Grumpy Old Men, has promised staff in Wapping to stick by "you all, in London, for the next several weeks". To some that sounds warm and avuncular. To others, like a threat.

And quite what "substantially over two million" means is anyone's guess.

There remains an appetite for Sunday redtops -- both the Sunday Mirror (sales up 65 per cent since the News of the World stopped printing) and the Daily Star Sunday (up 95 per cent from a lower base) greatly benefitted from the absence of a Murdoch tabloid on the Sabbath.

Yet the overall trend for newspaper sales is firmly in the other direction -- and that hasn't changed in the six and a half months since the NotW said "Thank you and Goodbye".

Consider that most nationals are down substantially (that word again) year on year -- sales for the Sun, for example, are 8.35 per cent lower, according to the most recent figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

Prior to its closure the NotW was already suffering a similar decline. In the six months from January to June 2011 the paper sold an average of 2.68 million copies a week; impressive numbers but 7.75 per cent fewer compared to the same period 12 moths earlier. Go back to 2010 and the decline was 3 per cent. So the loss of sales is not only ongoing, it's accelerating.

Consider too, that in the age of Leveson, a more button-upped Sunday tabloid will have lost the shock appeal on the news-stand it once had.

The buzz around the first issue will help Murdoch towards his personal target but once things settle into the weekly routine, will the Sun on Sunday really be able to hit 2.5 million, or more?

Regardless, our own Peter Wilby believes the shareholders at News Corp are playing a longer game that ends in the sale of Murdoch's UK newspapers. In the current New Statesman, Wilby writes:

A successful launch of the Sun on Sunday ensures a higher sale price.



Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.