by Samuel Dale
Labour MPs were cock-a-hoop at the start of the week about the Sun’s decision to quietly stop publishing photographs of topless women on Page 3.
Page 3 is a rather vulgar intrusion on the editorial of a best-selling national newspaper but part of me feels it is free to publish what it likes. However, there is a legitimate debate to be had around the image it projects and campaigners fought and clearly convinced Sun readers, advertisers and editors that it is outdated. Well done.
But then it went wrong as the Sun cheekily re-introduced topless women to its third page today to the dismay of campaigners. Don’t be fooled, this is merely the twitching corpse of a dying and outdated feature. It’s days are numbered.
For many in Labour though Page 3 is a figleaf. The real target of the campaign is the old enemy, Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation, for whom a special hatred is reserved.
Labour has no major campaign against bare breasted women in the Daily Star, for example, it is Murdoch who drives the passion.
The hatred can be irrational such as attacks on Ed Miliband for supporting a Help for Heroes campaign in the Sun for wounded soldiers. Ridiculously, he apologised for it.
After all these years, why does Labour still hate Murdoch and News Corp with such a passion?
Supporting Thatcher. The printworkers’ strike. Buying the Times. Attacking Tony Benn in the 1980s. Media dominance. Billionaire. Hillsborough. Tabloid slurs against LBGTs and mental health issues. Kinnock in 1992. Faustian pact with New Labour. Fox News. Brown in 2009. Phone Hacking.
Yes, there are many reasons for Labour to hate Murdoch but notice one thing about all these events: they are over.
Newspapers no longer hold such sway over electorates and the support of the Sun is a nice-to-have but not essential. If the Sun print lurid attacks on Miliband from now until election day – which I doubt they will – then have confidence the public will see through it. The battle is won.
The News of the World is closed down, journalists have been jailed and phone hacking campaigners vindicated. The battle is won.
The Sun is a much changed beast and today; it supports liberalisation of drug laws and gay rights. It has apologised profusely for its mistakes on Hillsborough many times, including on its front page, and carries the stain with it forever. Ex-editor Kelvin Mackenzie will never be allowed to forget it. The battle is won.
News Corporation was forced to withdraw from buying 100% of Sky in 2011 after a parliamentary vote. It has little chance of making acquisitions and expanding in the UK. The battle is won.
Labour has even been the driving force behind higher press standards and tougher rules around the media after Leveson. That battle is won too.
Despite all these victories chalked up, Labour is hungrier than ever for more bitter revenge. For Tony Benn, the strikers, Kinnock and Brown.
It’s time to let it go. News Corp has changed, the world has changed and hatred no longer makes sense. The Sun is just a slightly Tory-supporting newspaper with minimal impact politically.
There is a line between legitimately criticising a media group for inappropriate conduct and content, and Labour using its political power to blast critical journalists and companies it does not like.
The party is danger of crossing that line today and looking petty and ridiculous. The Conservatives don’t moan half as much about slanted anti-Tory Mirror stories as Labour moans about the Sun and the Times.
Rupert Murdoch, politically, is not the man he was 20 years ago. Let bygones be bygones and treat the Sun and News Corp like any other media group. Any “war on Murdoch” or special hatred for one man or company is wrong in a party aspiring to Government.
The next time the Sun wants Ed Miliband to support its Help for Heroes campaign, he should do it. It’s time to stop hating Murdoch.
Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist