The left is supposed to believe in diverse cultures, but it draws the line at the Sun

Reading about David Yelland, the editor of the Sun, recently, you could be forgiven for thinking that the left-wing press, and some of the right, had discovered a previously unknown, bald, beardless Bin Laden lieutenant. One minute he was pictured alongside Hitler and Stalin, the next he was branded a traitor to everything we hold dear. He was also vicious, outrageously idiotic, a grotesque embarrassment to the trade and, perhaps most unforgivably of all, bald.

The reason for the attacks was a two-page leader that the Sun ran the day after the fall of Kabul. It branded those who questioned the war (including the New Statesman, the Mirror, the Guardian and the Independent) traitors. But the subsequent flood of abuse - both professional, which is fair, and personal, which is not - had little to do with the leader and much to do with the anti-Sun, anti-Murdoch sentiment in some parts of the media. When rumours then started to circulate that Yelland had been sacked, the left could hardly contain its joy. Like sightings of Bin Laden, the rumours have (so far) proved groundless.

Among the chattering classes, there is contempt for a newspaper that they believe fails in its duty to lift up the working classes. They find it unforgivable that, like McDonald's, the Sun simply gives the people what they want and not what they believe, in their infinite wisdom, the people need.

Just over nine million people - 20.3 per cent of the adult population - read the Sun each day. If you put together all the readers of the Mirror (5,482,000), the Guardian (1,187,000) and the Independent (575,000), you would still be two million short of the Sun.

The problem with the working classes is that they always let the middle-class intellectuals down. Given the choice, nine million people do not want to be lifted up by their betters, thank you. Or perhaps they have already been lifted up by the Guardian or another paper, and just want a bit of fun.

The left supposedly believes in diversity and multiculturalism, but draws the line at British culture as epitomised by the Sun. Both the Mirror and the Guardian have had a good war in their own ways, serving their respective audiences well. The editor of the Mirror, Piers Morgan, is rightly praised for returning his title to its campaigning best. But that's the whole point: there is space and appetite in Britain for many different kinds of newspaper. When the Guardian sneers at the Sun for splashing that the Queen has a rubber duck in her bath (although, if I'm honest, its "Quack, Quack" leader gave me a laugh), it is actually sneering at Sun readers.

Some pretty vicious things have been written about David Yelland - yes, I'm thinking of you, Matthew Norman of the London Evening Standard. When Yelland attacked the NS, he did not attack its editor, Peter Wilby, for being somewhat deaf. When he criticised John Pilger, a columnist for the same paper, it was not for his cadaverous looks. Those who make fun of Yelland's baldness should remember that he lost all his hair at the age of ten and spent his childhood being tormented for it. When he told his teachers he wanted to be a journalist, they laughed in his face.

In a declining market for tabloids, he has managed to maintain the Sun's circulation at around 3.4 million and its share of the market at around 35.5 per cent. Who's laughing now?

It was with some disbelief that I read the Daily Mail's prominent page-two apology for running a drawing of the Prophet Mohammad alongside an article on Islam. "We should, of course, have realised that in Islam it is prohibited to portray a likeness of any Prophet of God," it said.

Of course nothing. I understand the commercial need to keep Muslim readers happy, but what next - the axing of the Bikini Diet because the sight of a scantily clad woman offends someone's religion?

I wonder how many politicians' wives and girlfriends lay in bed on Sunday morning reading the Mail on Sunday's "Guide to a Psychopath" and thinking: will I get out of here alive? Given that the tell-tale personality traits included lying, lack of shame, impulsiveness, poor judgement, poor consistency in work and a poorly integrated sex life, three-quarters of the cabinet and at least half of the shadow cabinet are definitely psychopaths.

Anyone who watched Michael Cockerell's film Cabinet Confidential on BBC2 will understand the deep sense of disappointment now felt by the female lobby at Westminster. The hitherto gorgeous, brooding, Heathcliffian Alastair Campbell has slipped from poll position in the much-played "Which One If You Had To?".

The rugged looks are fading as Campbell pursues his quest for the body of a 20-year-old. He could take a word of advice from that well-known socialist, Zsa Zsa Gabor: "When one reaches middle age, daaarling, one must choose between face and figure."

In bed again, I was amazed to hear Edward Stourton co-presenting the Today programme from Kabul. Surely the point of modern communications is that you don't have to go. With all respect to his journalistic skills, having Ed in Kabul added nothing to our understanding. The BBC has an army of reporters already there to tell us what is going on. How much did Ed's trip cost and should the licence-payer be forking out to hear him tell us from Kabul what the weather is going to be like in Birmingham? I suppose, having taken Kabul, the BBC now wants to go on occupying it.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Special Report - The SAS story they want to suppress