Brown's Fleet Street friends

He may have lost the Sun but Brown still has the support of the FT

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As Gordon Brown contemplates the Sun's defection to the Tories and the unhappy precedent of Neil Kinnock's defeat, he would do well to turn to today's Financial Times.

Along with the Mirror titles, the FT is Brown's last genuine friend on Fleet Street. The paper's leader today proclaims:

There is life yet in Gordon Brown. Or so it seemed, as he began his speech with a combative yet uncharacteristically succinct crescendo of the achievements of the past 12 years, the vindication of Labour's fight for change.

Thanks to an influential social-democratic faction the FT has endorsed Labour at every election since 1992. It's also the most Europhile newspaper in the country and is contemptuous of the Tories' sinister alliances in Brussels.

The paper's circulation may be a modest 395,845 copies a day (though that's more than either the Guardian or the Independent), but given its wealthy readership it effortlessly punches above its weight.

Meanwhile, the Tories, not surprisingly, are jubilant after winning the support of the Sun. Eric Pickles, the party chairman, said this morning that he had shared a "private moment" with the disgraced Andy Coulson on hearing the news. It was in part the fierce criticism of the former News of the World editor by the liberal press that convinced Rupert Murdoch to back Coulson's new boss, David Cameron.

But the Sun will not be an uncritical friend to the Conservatives and it was pathetic of Lord Mandelson to bleat about the paper becoming a "Tory fanzine". It's either acceptable for newspapers to hold political views or it's not. Certainly by this logic the Mirror is little more than a Labour Pravda.

The Sun is likely to press Cameron to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty even if the Irish approve it this Friday. It will lead the calls for him to repeal the 50p tax rate. It will encourage him to drastically reduce the NHS budget. Alastair Campbell was right to contrast today's negative headline, "Labour's lost it", with 1997's positive message "The Sun backs Blair". Here the paper mirrors the public's own uncertainties about Cameron.

That the tabloid's declaration for the Tories came after a speech in which Brown pledged the sort of "tough" action on antisocial behaviour consciously designed to appeal to the Sun is a painful irony for Labour. The futility of pandering to the conservative right has been exposed once more.

George Eaton is senior online editor of the New Statesman.

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