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22 September 2018

Momentum banning the Sun? It’s the only polite thing to do in Liverpool

You wouldn’t invite Harvey Weinstein to a festival of films by great female directors. And you wouldn’t invite the Sun to Liverpool. 

By Frank Cottrell-Boyce

“This is outrageous – banning journalists because you don’t like their paper’s editorial line smacks more of Donald Trump than the lovely open, democratic social movement Momentum aspires to be.”

This tweet stopped me mid-scroll at the checkout.  It whirred in my mind all afternoon like a cryptic crossword clue I couldn’t solve. It refers to the decision by Momentum not to allow Sun journalists into its conference in Liverpool, The World Transformed.

Are there really people in Tweetsville who is concerned that the voice of the Sun might be stifled?  Or those who think that Sun journalists might be in some way inhibited from writing about an event on the grounds that they weren’t really there? Are there people who think that if Momentum bans the Sun from an event in Liverpool that would be because they are intolerant of free speech and not because, you know, just good manners.  How long does it take news to travel from Liverpool to London?

Because here is some news for those trapped in a Westminster bubble. In Liverpool, for three decades we have been campaigning against the Sun. The boycott started when, shortly after 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at Hillsborough, the Sun ran a story under the headline “The Truth”, which peddled the false allegations that Liverpool fans had stolen from the victims and obstructed the efforts of the police. Examination of film showed that not only did hundreds of Liverpool fans try to help the victims, but some police were simply standing by. 

It’s not a political thing, banning the Sun, at least, not in the sense that the city is not divided about it. It doesn’t come from top down. It came from the terraces, and year by year as people began to realise the enormity not just of the tragedy but of the cover up and its consequences, everyone joined in. Nowadays, you can buy the Sun in Liverpool, just as I’m sure you can buy crystal meth or an illegal firearm, but really it’s not the done thing. Bringing Sun journalists here is simply inappropriate. You wouldn’t jet ski in the Grand Canale. You wouldn’t play your washboard in the British Library Reading Room. You wouldn’t invite Harvey Weinstein to a festival of films by great female directors.  And you wouldn’t invite the Sun to Liverpool.

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This is about humanity, not politics. To say the “Total Eclipse of the Sun” campaign has traction because we “don’t like the paper’s editorial line” is like  … well I’ve tried to think of an analogy but as far as missing the point goes, this phrase has gone beyond the reach of simile. If you think Hillsborough was just about football or just about Liverpool, then I strongly suggest that you read Adrian Tempany’s brilliant And the Sun Shines NowThe book traces the poison that Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie pissed onto the body politic that day, and shows how it corrupted our civic sphere – how it helped tighten Murdoch’s grip on power (and therefore had its part to play in the rise of Trump), how it cemented the chumocracy and above all how it helped demonise the working people of these islands. 

That demonisation contributed to a sense of marginalisation and alienation that finally erupted in the fury-driven populism which is currently stabbing the nation in the eye. You can hear the counterpoint to that alienation in the smug, flouncy, uninformed and disconnected protest that this is about free speech. It is such sheer ignorance that “smacks more of Donald Trump”.