by Kevin Meagher
Last week, The Sun newspaper ran a feature inviting each party leader to wear a wristband showing their support for the Help for Heroes charity. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage featured. Ed Miliband did not.
There are conflicting accounts about exactly what happened, with the paper maintaining it made several attempts to secure the Labour Leader’s buy-in; while party sources claim they weren’t given enough time to comply with the request. In the event, the paper ran its front page piece, with a blank space reserved for Miliband, blaming his no-show on a “fear of offending Labour lefties.”
Amid the accusations and counter-accusations, what is clear is that the party’s explanation for not co-operating – citing Ed Miliband’s prior diary commitments – was disingenuous nonsense. It would have taken a press officer five seconds to grab a quick photo. But worse than being disingenuous, it was stupid, too, given the paper would inevitably “empty chair” Miliband for refusing to participate.
In fact, it was so obvious how things would turn out that there must have been a deeper motive. Indeed, there remain many voices in the party that want to boycott the paper as punishment for its coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy as well as the illegal phone-hacking scandal; and the party’s strategy is clearly driven by these considerations.
But boycotting The Sun is a disastrous tactic, the worst form of gesture politics. What’s the desired result? To make a principled stand against the quality of its journalism? To hurt Rupert Murdoch commercially? Of course, if anyone’s serious about punishing Murdoch or boycotting The Sun, then why not its News UK stablemate, The Times, as well? Or, better still, cancel your Sky subscription.
Worse, Labour’s approach is unevenly implemented. Ed Miliband was content to pose with a World Cup edition of the paper back in June before u-turning and apologising for doing so after ruffling the feathers of some within the party.
Disgusting though The Sun’s coverage of Hillsborough was, many other papers at the time published similar slurs against Liverpool football fans, egged on by media briefings given by South Yorkshire Police. And now the Mirror Group has conceded that some if its staff were also eavesdropping on private voicemails, so will Labour figures shun The Mirror, too?