Friday, 9 October 2009

On the art of not asking the right political question

In this post Simon Cross examines last week's announcement that The Sun is backing David Cameron in the next General Election.

The Sun newspaper, Britain’s biggest selling national daily tabloid, last week announced that it was no longer backing Gordon Brown and the Labour Party in the next General Election (to be held by early June 2010 at the latest). The decision by The Sun about which leader and party to support in the General Election is often taken to be a huge symbolic moment in the political life and death of government.

However, it takes no great political insight to have foreseen this withdrawal of support.
The Sun has been attacking Brown for a long time now. Nor should anyone give much credence to the notion that The Sun’s decision to withdraw support from Gordon Brown will actually decide the election when it comes. At best, the paper’s influence will be marginal though this does not negate the point that the paper seeks to curry influence with the likely government in waiting – look no further than Rupert Murdoch’s all too real telephone hotline to Tony Blair in the run up to the Iraq War.

But the real story here is Rupert Murdoch’s brazen attempt to set the agenda of intense anti-Brown/Labour rhetoric that will be intensified from now on. With this in mind, when I watched The Sun’s political editor Trevor Kavanagh being interviewed on BBC1’s political coverage of the Labour Party conference in Brighton. He confirmed that the central decision to switch allegiance from Labour (the paper will back David Cameron’s Conservative leadership) had been taken by Rupert Murdoch in his capacity as Sun proprietor.

Again, this is no surprise. What is a surprise however is that the interviewer viewed this admission as the end-point of the debate when it surely should have been the beginning. The next obvious question to ask Kavanagh should have been the democratic illegitimacy of an Australian-born US citizen using his privately owned newspaper in a blatant attempt to influence the outcome of a General Election of a sovereign nation of which he is not a citizen!

Why did the interviewer not ask this question? Incompetence is one answer. Poor political savvy is another. However, journalists rarely possess the intellectual rigour needed for exercising ‘joined up thinking’ and which makes for the art of asking the right question. Meanwhile, we can expect Rupert Murdoch to invite David Cameron (ala Tony Blair in 1996) to appear before his senior executives in the Cayman Islands (or wherever) and for the Etonian-educated leader of the Tory Party to drop everything to curry favour with a man who regularly pronounces hatred for the British class system. Should make for an interesting relationship over the coming years but as always these relationships are maintained far from the democratic gaze.

(photo credit: just.luc, permissions)

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