The Sun puts Cameron on notice as it fails to back the Tories

For the first time in its history, the paper refuses to endorse any party for the local elections.

"It is my job to see that Cameron f****** well gets into Downing Street". So the Sun's political editor Tom Newton Dunn is said to have declared in 2010. But three years on, the paper isn't so well disposed to the Tories. Rather than casting its vote for Cameron's party, the tabloid has chosen to abstain. Its leader states:

The Sun is not going to tell you how to vote today

From our very first paper, 44 years ago, we have always remained politically independent.

We have never served any set party — and we never will.

Sometimes we endorsed Labour or the Tories at election times.

But today, as 18 million people have the chance to elect new local councils, none of the big four deserves our support.

Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and yes, even UKIP, have all proved beyond your trust.

It adds that while the Conservatives "should be the best at getting value for your pound", too many of their councils have "defied the PM's demand to freeze council tax for struggling workers. That is unacceptable". 

After Rupert Murdoch's recent meeting with Nigel Farage, the paper praises the UKIP's leader's "plain talking" but goes on to say that "little of it really stands up as proper thought-through policy" and asks: "how can you trust a chaotic mob that mistakenly puts forward so many fruitcakes and extremists?"

Just like some of those who will vote UKIP today, the Sun is likely to return to the Conservative fold before 2015 but the leader is a notable warning to Cameron. The paper is furious at his decision to cave in to Labour over press regulation and dismayed by the weakness of Britain's economic recovery. The leader that follows its non-endorsement is a typical example. 

David Cameron said the Tories were on the side of "start-ups, go-getters, risk-takers".

“What drives us mad,” the PM declared, “is the bureaucracy, the forms, the nonsense getting in our way.”

Yet two years on, small businesses – the lifeblood of Britain – are still being strangled by red tape.

It’s no wonder one in three fail within their first three years.

As they die, so does the recovery.

The days when the Sun had any significant influence on the outcome of general elections are over (if they ever existed) but a refusal to endorse the Tories in 2015 would still be viewed as a significant blow to Cameron. Two years out from the election, the paper has served the PM a warning: don't take our support for granted.

Rupert Murdoch holds up a copy of The Sun on Sunday as he leaves his London home on February 26, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.