The Sun photo-opp farce shows how Labour’s activist tail wags the party dog

by Atul Hatwal

Only in today’s Labour party, with this Labour leader, could a photo-opp for Britain’s most popular newspaper, degenerate into such utter farce.

Set aside for a moment the inexplicable political judgement in agreeing to the picture in the first place. The judgement that a leader who has defined himself as the iconoclastic scourge of Rupert Murdoch, could credibly pitch-in to help the Sun’s World Cup promotion, without harming his brand.  Difficult as it might be, set that aside.

Because once the decision to take part had been made, that should have been it. Yes there was going to be criticism and yes the picture was gormless, but this should have just been an afternoon’s amusement for the Twitterati.

Instead, Ed Miliiband’s response to his party critics has turned a minor Twitter storm into a running news sore where, yet again, his leadership is in question. Today’s quasi-apology is as disingenuous as it is unbelievable:

“Ed Miliband was promoting England’s bid to win the World Cup and is proud to do so.

But he understands the anger that is felt towards the Sun over Hillsborough by many people in Merseyside and he is sorry to those who feel offended.”

First, to pretend that the photo-opp was about England and the World Cup takes the viewing public to be imbeciles. It’s quite clearly a promotion for the Sun. The clue is in the copy of the Sun that Ed Miliband is holding up.

Second, the unquestioning capitulation in the face of protests from Liverpool’s Labour activists and MPs is worrying.

At the time of the Hillsborough disaster, the Sun’s coverage was a disgrace. But times change and since Hillsborough, so has the Sun.  In 2012 the paper offered up a front page apology for its past reporting with an editorial that was utterly unequivocal,

“Twenty-three years ago The Sun newspaper made a terrible mistake. We published an inaccurate and offensive story about the events at Hillsborough. We said it was the truth – it wasn’t.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel has now established what really happened that day. It’s an appalling story and at the heart of it are the police’s attempts to smear Liverpool fans.

‘It’s a version of events that 23 years ago The Sun went along with and for that we’re deeply ashamed and profoundly sorry.”

This doesn’t right the wrong from 1989, but it does demonstrate that the Sun has learned from the past. The enduring hostility to the Sun in Liverpool is understandable, but Ed Miliband is a leader who aspires to lead the nation and needs to connect with the 4 million readers of Britain’s most popular paper.

Rather than meekly backing down in the face of the inevitable criticism, Ed Miliband should have acted like a leader: he should have pointed out that the Sun had apologised and the political madness of effectively conceding that a Labour leader cannot be seen to say anything positive about the Sun.

To coddle those who believe Labour should have no truck with the Sun is equivalent to maintaining a boycott on German goods because of the war.

At some point, the past has to be left in the past.

It’s notable that many of the voices from Liverpool currently castigating the Labour leader were also working for the party, or representing the party as councillors, back in 1997 when the Sun backed Tony Blair. But strangely, back then, a time before the Sun had apologised for Hillsborough, none chose to break cover and dissent publicly.

Ed Miliband might be leader, he might want to speak to the millions of British voters disconnected from politics, but the lesson of this furore is that he is only prepared to operate within the narrow parameters defined by his activist base.

In Labour today, the activist tail wags the party dog.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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36 Responses to “The Sun photo-opp farce shows how Labour’s activist tail wags the party dog”

  1. Robert says:

    I agree. I do not read The Sun but a leader of a major political party cannot ignore 4 million people. There are not enough Guardian and Independent readers to win a general election!

  2. Jimmy says:

    Too late to do anything about it now.

    Let’s pick the grown up next time.

  3. Seymour says:

    Ed made it worse by issuing a not-apology.

    I don’t really understand why some in liverpool are holding fast to an event 25 years in the past, those directly impacted may remember and be sad but it seems to rule all their actions.
    Those who use it as a political football, councillors and MPs, are due nothing but contempt, tearing open other peoples old wounds isn’t nice.

    Ed should realise that liverpool will vote labour whatever he says or does.

  4. Tafia says:

    Oh dear Atul, you obviously are not a Liverpool fan are you. The Sun is a scum rag and printing a front page ‘apology’ does not make amends for the blatant lies that they published – not even near. In Merseyside the Sun’s sales figures are dramatically lower than elsewhere in the UK. A lot of independent newsagents even refuse to stock it. The free World Cup copy of the Sun that was delivered to every household was not delivered on Merseyside or neighbouring areas after postal workers refused to even handle it.

    Already one Labour councillor has resigned from the party today over this with more to follow. Miliband has well and truly shot himself in the foot with the people of Merseyside and Liverpool supporters generally.

    Which ever of his SpAds thought this was a good idea should be taken to a car park and bludgeoned with a piece of piping until all signs of life cease. That or returned to the Tory party from where they obviously came.

  5. steve says:

    Miliband is a Michael Foot of the Right. He supported the disastrous military intervention in Libya. He supports austerity. He’s dumped the trade unions and now he wants to help Murdoch promote a newspaper.

    The cherry on the cake will be his failure to win the general election in 2015.

  6. Tafia says:

    Tonights Liverpool Echo:-

    In addition there is hate stuff circulating on Facebook and twitter as well as ridiculing photoshop pictures. The bloke has single-handedly destroyed what little credibility he had on Merseyside and Andy Burnham must be cursing him with venom.

  7. swatantra says:

    Not what I meant by building good relations with the Media, which labour must do if it is to win an Election.

  8. Neil Jennison says:

    Seems like fair comment to me.

  9. Richard Hall says:

    Could not disagree more with your comments about the Sun. Who cares about it’s 4 million readers! The Sun is responsible for much of Britains Yob Culture, along with its its now defunct rag the NOTW. Ed Miliband needs to disinfect his hands after holding that crap. Shame on him. Whoever advised him to take part needs to give his or her head a shake. If he wants to get behind the English football team, and traditional labour supporters, he should get himself a collection of red ties and chuck out the Tory blue ones. I think in today’s society princilpes and standards have gone out of the window. I say well done to the people of Liverpool who are better off without the Sun comic in their homes.
    This article has really wound me up when I was really enjoying my Friday evening, so much that I shall be unfollowing Labour Uncut. Good night & Goodbye

  10. Left Is Forward says:

    The real problem isn’t the Sun in particular – egregious and unforgivable as its past might be. Nor is it Murdoch himself. Hate him or loathe him, he is just a single instance of a wider trend. A focus on the wrongs of Murdoch personally, or his media operations specifically, often serves to distract attention from the general problem.

    We have simply allowed the capitalist class to take control of the media.

    That’s the disease in a nutshell, everything else is just symptoms. One consequence is that the aim of media “reporting” is not to spread truth and insight, but to make a profit. That is surely unacceptable. It explains the terrible lies spread by the Sun about scousers (lies shift copy) as well as their pathetic and overdue “apology” (wriggling out of a boycott shifts copy). It explains the Daily Mail’s misogynistic obsession with bikini shots (boobs shifts copy), the way the Telegraph on exam results day is filled with nubile young ladies clutching their AAAs (leering shifts copy). It explains why the FT can fill its pink pages with the profits and prospects of powerful corporations, but makes no effort to hold them to account with any investigation or reportage of their abuses in tax, the environment, human rights of workers or consumer protection (uncomfortable truths shift no copies at all). It explains the pathetic celebrity tittle-tattle that is forced down the gullet of tablet-readers (crossing the political divide, this is the shame of the Mirror just as much as the Sun). And don’t think that only right-wing papers were involved in phone-hacking to get a juicy piece of trashy gossip and a few more sales.

    There is a second problem with private ownership of the media, one that is more widely acknowledged. It produces a cabal of untouchable, unelected and influential titans. People whose power emanates from their control of information streams, the very cultural, linguistic and mental landscape of the electorate. Our minds are for sale, and we know it. Yet where is the resistance? We rag on Rupert and it makes us feel better. The fact we don’t buy the Sun assuages our guilt, even though we weren’t in its target audience in the first place. We think that opposition to Page 3 boobs makes us better people, while at the same time we rally to the cause of “free speech”, oppose religiously puritan restrictions on freedom of sexual expression and are mortified at plans for anyone to snoop on our internet search history. We are confused, and lack a comprehensive or even comprehensible position – let alone the type of concerted direct action we need to make a difference.

    We can only reach clarity by looking at the bigger picture. We should oppose all instances of private control over our information, and thereby our thoughts – and that means any corporate or commercial control over our media. The focus of reportage should be the truth – uncomfortable and damning if necessary – not the shareholders’ bottom line.

    Progressives should rally around several actionable objectives to achieve this. Firstly, we must make a personal response to any and all involvement of commercial or corporate interests in the media. At a most basic level this involves boycotting the purchase of newspapers or subscription TV channels, and avoiding associated websites which profit from advertising, and encouraging other people to do likewise. We must also limit their positive exposure: Miliband allowing himself to be roped in to the promotion of The Sun was egregious, but so would be his involvement in effectively advertising any profit-driven media company. We must seek to denormalise the existence of such products (for that’s what a for-profit newspaper is), learning lessons from the successful No More Page 3 campaign which has successfully removed key targets from locations such as university campuses, or resources such as the mailwatch blog which are powerful tools to expose the real human damage that the production and sale of these products can cause. As well, of course, of the lies they tell.

    Secondly progressives must work to create an alternative to the for-profit press. We can achieve this through collaboration with the existing, and vibrant, alternative media and open source/open content communities. We should also seek to promote existing media sources under ownership of charitable trusts, as well as community-owned and collective-owned publications. We should encourage the setting up of more such operations, and set as a policy goal for the next progressive government a greater involvement of the state in content production. Certainly commercial television companies should be nationalised – a model that already works well with the BBC – and government newsprint and web operations should serve as a complement to private media. This is hardly Big Brother stuff: the most-read news site in the UK is the BBC’s, and the fact it has a monopoly as a state media service is undesirable from a pluralist perspective. High quality free content produced under public ownership in the banner of ITN or Channel 4 would serve a public benefit. A free, liberal and diverse media can function without any Tory sugar-daddies to prop it up – in fact, removing such figures should be regarded as essential.

    Thirdly, we should campaign for a new regulatory regime that will grant media licensing only on a not-for-profit basis. Past experience shows we can make no shady deals with moguls – there is no such thing as “arms length” ownership, or zero proprietorial influence on editorial decisions. The ability of the capitalist class to own and manipulate information flows must be terminated, and the truth must no longer be filtered through the medium of the profit motive. No more Sun, no more Sky, no more Star, no more Times or Torygraph or Daily Hate. No more vehicles for mogul influence. No more lies. That’s something far more important to fight for, than a storm in a teacup over a single poorly-judged photo op.

  11. Labour Supporter says:

    If Ed Miliband wants to annoy Liverpudlians and Labour activists, that’s his call but he could at least do it without looking like a perv in a playground. He really needs to sack his advisers!

  12. Jules Wright says:

    Eh? Photo-op? It’s a proof-of-life shot. Which failed.

  13. Dougie says:

    Did Ed apologise after he was pictured holding a copy of The Sun in 2011? Did he apologise after he was pictured doing the same thing in 2012? If he did, clearly he didn’t mean it. If he didn’t, why apologise now?

  14. Ultra_Fox says:

    This is not just about Hillsborough. The Sun remains a cesspit of bile and porn. Ask anyone from the Everyday Sexism or No More Page 3 campaigns about the number of women’s lives it continues to blight. Or any of the trade union leaders who Murdoch has smeared over several decades.

    Ed should have had nothing to do with a crass stunt designed to distract the public from both the Hillsborough inquests and the end of the phone-hacking trials.

    The most distressing aspect of all is there is clearly nobody in the leader’s office with the political awareness to anticipate the likely reaction within the party. There needs to be a thorough purge of staff between now and next May.

    If he makes another blunder of this magnitude in the coming months, the Tories can look forward to another term of office.

    Neil Kinnock thought he could throw scousers, among others, under the bus in the 1980s. We know about the electoral benefits that approach brought, and assumed that the present leader did too.

  15. Tom Mein says:

    In future maybe it would be better if the labour party media people simply held up a photograph of Ed for the people of the UK to see their future PM?
    Seems to me that it would save an awful lot of work in keeping him away from sandwiches, cups of tea, newspapers and people.

  16. Tim says:

    I routinely, but reluctantly, vote Labour on the basis that the alternatives are worse. But how can I trust this man and this Labour Party leadership with my vote in 2015? There is scant evidence of strategic thinking or good judgment on just about any subject you care to examine, and this photo op is just a minor example. I agree with the thrust of the article.

  17. John Reid says:

    Tafia ,your last line about the Spad who advised it should return to the Tories, are you saying he was planted in the Tories to smear Ed?, deliberately, and convinced Ed to do it, as away of bring him Down?

    Steve, Miliband is a foot of the right,he didn’t dump the unions, he opened up union members as to did they want part of their subs to go to labour, we’re a democratic socialist party, and this is democracy, Ed was against intervention in Syria, Foot supported military intervention in the Falklands

    Richard hall. Who cries about the suns 4 million, readers, w e ll there’s more than one person who reds the sun, for every copy printed, but even in the 80’s half the sun readers voted labour, but of course the half who didn’t, who had previously voted labour in the 70’s was one of the reasons we lost 4 elections on the trot

  18. Stuart Bruce says:

    The reason the activist tail wags the party dog is the dog has no head. We are leaderless. You forgive a good leader, you follow a good leader even when you doubt them and disagree with them. Labour doesn’t have a leader.

  19. SadButMadLad says:

    You don’t give offence, you take offence. Liverpudlians are expert at making themselves victims by playing the offence card. They do it because it gets them more attention and more money.

  20. Madasafish says:

    Now just imagine that Ed Miliband was PM and had to make a major decision on a matter of national importance (like the NHS) – rather than posing with a newspaper..

    Who on earth is going to trust him to get it right – not all of the time (which is impossible) but most of the time?

  21. Chris says:

    ^^^^^^^^ Cobblers.

  22. DICK R says:

    Just another one for the Milliband idiot photo exhibition !

  23. John says:

    It could just be that RedEd is incompetent?

  24. Bob says:

    And it was a Conservative government who have allowed a second inquest which was blocked by Jack Straw.

  25. Feanor says:

    I’m a floating voter and this article, and the comments, sum up exactly why I’m highly unlikely to vote Labour at the next election.

    Steve’s comments show exactly what’s wrong with Labour’s powerful far-left fringe. Making Miliband out to be right-wing is daft. If he were any more left-wing than he is then he would have even less chance at winning the next election than he already does. Labour’s far-left fringe needs to accept this and stops trying to get a leader that fits their ideology and instead realise the need for a compromise leader that’s acceptable to centrist floating voters. Until and unless they do this they will be undermining their own cause and will continue to sink into political irrelevance.

    Left Is Forward – TL;DR. Maybe start your own blog?

    This article is a refreshing dose of self-reflection, honesty and political realism, and more is needed if the party is to be successful again. The Unions should be berated for choosing the wrong Miliband in the first place; I and the country are crying out for a competent, viable alternative to the bumbling people we currently have in charge and at the moment we don’t have it.

  26. Tafia says:

    John Reid – “Tafia ,your last line about the Spad who advised it should return to the Tories, are you saying he was planted in the Tories to smear Ed?, deliberately, and convinced Ed to do it, as away of bring him Down?”

    Look at it this way John, what genuinely pro-Labour advisor would have recommeded he do this?

  27. John reid says:

    Bob, I think it was Blair who over ruled Straw on no, second inquest,all power to Andy burnham who got theolitical ball running, after the families had been calling for one for years.

    Left is forward, no more mirror or Times, so will we all read, little red book of China, or Pravda?

    Ultra fox, militant didn’t speak for “scouters” Liverpudlians, or after Kinnock bravely took on undemocratic Trotskyite infiltrators out for themselves , that the majority of Liverpool labour wanted hem gone, they certainly didn’t deserve the tag Scousers, half were middle class, business men, and as for the other you claim, Scargill, I assume left over clause 4′ yes that electoral approach, it increased labours percentage of the vote from 27% to 30.2 and 34.5 respectively.

  28. ha says:

    Interestingly, the then Liverpool chairman claimed *Chelsea* fans caused Heysel.

    Did he ever apologise for that?

  29. WHS says:

    @Tafia. Yeah, you’re right, the Sun’s name is mud in Liverpool. True. But, d’ye know, Labour hold all 5 seats in Liverpool already. If Miliband had instead stamped his complimentary copy of the Sun in the mud rather than holding it up to the cameras, he’d have won some more votes in Liverpool. And? You don’t get extra Commons seats for bumping up the ghastly Luciana Berger’s majority up a few more thousand.

    Miliband has shot himself in the foot by apologising, not by posing.

    But then I’m a Tory so I can PSML at Labour’s 80s-esque introverted squealing.

  30. Ex Labour says:

    If this doesn’t finally show that Miliband is a twat, who does twatish things and then compounds them by doing even more twatish things, then Labour supporters must be blind.

    Those who moan about posing with the Sun miss the point that a politician not engaging with the biggest selling newspaper would be a mistake. Then apologising for doing so is an even bigger mistake on his part and is pandering to the Liverpool looney left.

    Its sad to see Liverpool politicians invoking a twenty five year old event to cause problems. But this is Liverpool, its Labour and its politically correct nonsense.

  31. John reid says:

    Ex labour I usually sympathise in a lot of what you say, but any one who criticised miliband for doing this, when he’d spent the last 3 years ,condemning the worse aspects of the Sun, trying to over rule Levenson, and Andy burnhams work withe the J4T96 campaign, to get an inquiry after Blair blocked it, shows misjudgement on Miliband part, after miliband looked at ease in the photo, clearly football and the Sun and politics are all a hot potato, after Hilsborough,and Miliband apologising so quickly after agreeing to this, shows lack of for sight and also lack of strength in either now aligning himself with the Sun, not to write an article to get a view across ,but to just promote himself or standing his ground and defending why he did it. This doesn’t make those angry at smear campaigns loony or hanging on for 25 years.

    From Livingstone saying Mrs Thatcher let bobby sands die( did she hold him down, not put food by his bed, too Bernie Grant the police killed Cynthia Jarret, she had a heart attack and was close to death,her body riddled with heart disease, to those who democratically voted not to strike in the miners strike, were ‘scabs’ and David wilkie was a friend of a scab, so his killers were acting in self defence, there’s lots of lies that the left have said 30 years ago, I won’t forget them till , it’s accepted the real loony left infultrated the party and said them, as when Sharia law Muslims are defended by the new far left, making up twaddle about the masojanistic, homophobic, anti semetic views they spout, are a right wing hoax, then I’ll criticise them as much as the South yorks federation, smeared the 96 via the sun, to cover up the lack of police organisation after the tragedy, and by blaming everyone, such as those who surged ,drunk without tickets, it was presented as blaming no one.

  32. Tafia says:

    Its sad to see Liverpool politicians invoking a twenty five year old event

    Ex Labour – It was a smidgen more than merely ‘a twenty five year old event’. It involved weeks of blatant front page lies by the biggest newspaper in the country, lies by senior police officers, tampering with evidence, altering statements without the knowledge of the statement-givers not to mention the ner-100 fatalities and hundreds of injured. When you stand with the Sun, you stand with that like it or lump it.

    WHS – And it can also cost Labour thousands of votes. And the people of Merseyside aren’t afraid of switching votes at all levels from council upwards to other parties over far less serious things than this.

    To a sunstantial number of voters on Merseyside Hillsboro is a far bigger political thing than defence, NHS, welfare spending and education all put together.

  33. Ex labour says:

    @ John Reid

    John, I understand where you are coming from, but my point was either he should do it and stand by it, or not do it. Doing it and then apologising is bordering on stupidity. Who is advising him ? Also the political reality is that politicians can not afford to ignore newspapers with large circulations as part of their campagning message. Miliband looks ill at ease with any situation.

    @ Tafia

    Of course it was (and still is) a major event in the whole nations psyche and I’m not belittling this in any way. I lived through the miners strike, as most of my family were involved in the mining industry, and I saw first hand the behaviour of the police and how they lied and framed individuals with trumped up charges. From my perspective I hope that the new inquest and its findings will hopefully lead to an inquiry on the miners strike which some have already called for.
    The Sun’s rather extreme position at the time of Hillsborough was in all reality dictated by one man, and of course UK tabloids are generally unaquainted with the truth anyway. I can understand the reaction when it happed and in subsequent years particularly for the families of those killed and injured.
    My point was that is Liverpool’s politics always going to be front and centre for the national Labour party ? If it is then someone needs to get hold of his activities and make sure he doesn’t land himself in it. Also I dont see any swing to any other party in Liverpool despite recent events.Its still dominated by the looney left – just read Private Eye every now and again. Will the Tories get any credit for quashing the original inquest findings and re-opening the investigation and having a new inquest?

  34. Tafia says:

    Ex Labour, the reason Liverpool Labour is more left wing than a lot of places is exactly the same as why Welsh Labour and Scottish Labour are – because Blairist Labour-Lite is deeply unpopular in a lot of Labour strongholds and they will not vote for representatives who subscribe to it.

    To them, the red flag and trades unions and democratic socialism still stand for something – unlike the amoral ‘all things to all men’ position of the Blair/New Labour vermin.

  35. LesAbbey says:

    Labour’s activist tail wags the party dog…

    Quite right Atul. Who do these activists think they are? Do they think they have the right to a voice in the party? They have to learn to just listen and take orders from their betters, that’s people like Atul. They are just the cannon fodder to knock on doors after all.

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