ONE of the enigmas of this election is the way the apparent Liberal Democrat surge largely disappeared in the final two weeks. There were a number of reasons for this, but one of them might have been the vituperative campaign mounted by The Sun.
The Press Complaints Commission states: “A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published.”
Most of what follows seems to come within that rubric, and will be passed on to that body for its judgement. More than that, The Sun seems to have been abusive to the parties and characters it was against electorally.
Labour was: “Smear, lies, Labour, and lies and lies and lies” (24 March), and, we learned — although it might be a misleading statement under the PCC’s terms — that one Manish Sood was the “one honest man in the Labour Party” (5 April). We were told that Britain is “nearly bankrupt” (4 April), “Our economy could collapse” (19 March), and “Labour is sinking into civil war” (26 March), all of which seem significant inaccuracies.
Gordon Brown received abuse. He was a “psycho” (29 March), a tired old stag (30 March), and Tim Martin, of Wetherspoon, was brought on to say that Mr Brown was to be compared to “the slops at the bottom of a beer barrel” (6 April). No one should be addressed like that. On 8 May, the then Prime Minister was described as “Squatter, 59, holed up in No. 10.”
As the Lib Dem opinion-poll surge took place, the main abuse fell on that party, and its leader. Their policies were “potty”, “a ragbag of loony policies”, and we learned that “Six out of ten crackpot Lib Dem policies are seen as pie in the sky,” although this may be a tenuous conclusion from a YouGov poll (19 March). The PCC can establish whether it is a “significant inaccuracy”.
There were “Lib Dem schemes to allow 16-year-olds to watch and take part in porn” (26 March), though both Lib Dems and Labour were some kind of threat to Page 3 (29 March). More generally, the Lib Dems “had lost the plot” (21 March), and Kelvin MacKenzie was able, presumably after much thought, to call them the“Lib Dims” (6 April).
The Lib Dem leader was “Tricky Nicky” and a “Brussels fanatic” twice (28 and 30 March). “He wants to hold the whole country to ransom” (27 March), although it was not clear how this might be done. “Mr Clegg is the political equivalent of a holiday romance” (20 March). He is a “cynical crowd-pleaser” and a “barmpot” (22 March). On the positive side, it was said that “he could not name one of The X Factor judges.”
More sinisterly, there seemed to be an attempt at a racial smear and an attempt to imply that Mr Clegg is a traitor. “Clegg seems more like a double agent — a pure-bred European aristocrat working for the other side” (26 March). There were sexual innuendoes, and a persistent pattern of talking the man down.
This journalism, given to readers already dulled by other appalling abuse, including a vacuous and disgusting attack on a fine England footballer, which I will not recount here, seems to be a prostitution of democracy. “You shall not bear false witness” should be the underlying principle of every election; yet The Sun seems to be walking over decent people to further its own power.
David Cameron was prepared to say: “I share the values of Sun readers,” and to be photographed buying a copy of that newspaper (6 April). What, we ask, are the values he shares, and what is this mutual support? If this is, as it seems, electoral abuse, The Sun should provide a full front-page apology and large damages to the parties involved.
Dr Alan Storkey is the author of Jesus and Politics (Baker Book House, 2005).