30 September 2009

Cause and affect

With timing designed to cause maximum political embarrassment, yesterday The Sun announced it was switching its political allegiance from New Labour to David Cameron's Conservatives (formerly known as The Conservative Party). Gleefully parading its already monstrous ego, as both creator and subject of the news, the story also led the news on the BBC and ITN news, to the eternal discredit of those who should know better.

No doubt the BBC would maintain it was an important story because of the supposed enormous political influence The Sun holds. Famously, after the 1992 surprise Conservative election victory, the paper claimed "It was The Sun wot won it", which did more to enfeeble the British political system and diminish democracy in this country than anything in the last 20 years. Not because it was true, but because politicians believed it was true, and have been cowed by it ever since.

I would like to say for the record that the emperor has no clothes. The Sun can no more win an election than increased sales of ice cream causes hot weather - it is a confidence trick of causality, muddling up cause and effect. Yes the paper has publicly backed the winning party for every election in the last 30 years, but that's like me saying my support for Manchester United has caused them to win the Premier League. People will ultimately vote a government in or out not because The Sun tells them to, but because they come to a conclusion about the issues themselves through a mixture of media influence, including The Sun, peer pressure/influence, prejudice and judgements about likely outcomes to their own personal circumstances. The Sun is the ultimate glory fan, backing a winner to bask in its reflected glory, deluding itself that it says something about its wisdom.

In the past, The Sun has backed the Community Charge, decried Scottish devolution and the minimum wage and U-turned more times than a driving school. Its track record of influencing change is no better than mine. Yesterday's switch of tack does not condemn the Labour Party to defeat at the next election, for they have already done that themselves - it merely goes to show it positioning itself in line with its readers' views. I would urge all politicians to consult the next set of ABC figures in December to see how far The Sun's readership has declined these last 20 years, and how many other sources of news people use these days. Then just maybe our politicians will remember they have spines.