Was Times leant on to change “neck & neck” to “Cameron nicks it”?

The Times changed the front page of today's paper from earlier editions, which read "Neck and neck" to the final edition, headlined "Cameron nicks it".

The Times newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, changed the front page of today’s paper from earlier editions, which read “Neck and neck” to the final London edition, where the headline was “Cameron nicks it” – while all the time using the same similar polling evidence.

David Cameron’s narrow lead over Nick Clegg – 37 per cent to 36 per cent – falls within the margin of error. Closer analysis of the post-debate Populus poll shows only a seven-vote lead out of a sample of 1,067 – 392 to 385 (36.7 per cent to 36.1 per cent), with Gordon Brown on 290 (27.2 per cent). The change of headline raises the question once more of proprietorial influence in News Corp’s stable.

Today’s Independent reports that The Sun spiked a poll showing voters feared a Liberal Democrat government less than a Conservative one. Only 21 per cent of those polled would be dismayed if a Liberal Democrat administration were formed, compared to 45 per cent for the Tories.

And it’s not just his own papers Murdoch is seeking to dictate to, the Indy itself falling victim to Murdoch’s wrath. Today’s Mirror reports how James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks “invaded the Independent’s offices after the newspaper attacked David Cameron’s backroom deal with US-based mogul Rupert Murdoch”.

It adds:

“The Aussie-born billionaire’s son James and flame-haired sidekick Rebekah Brooks strode into the newsroom brandishing the paper with the headline Rupert Murdoch Won’t Decide The Election – You Will. The wild-eyed duo then started to harangue bemused editor Simon Kelner in a foul-mouthed tirade.

“Murdoch Jnr, 37, who runs Sky TV and his dad’s right-wing papers The Sun and The Times, accused Kelner of “impugning our family name” and shouted: “you’re a f****** f***wit.” The crazed duo then threatened to “expose” the Independent’s owner, ex-KGB agent Alexander Lebedev.

“They also ranted about online Indie ads which said: “A few people count too much. Rupert Murdoch controls 40% of the Press in Britain. On May 6 he will throw the weight of the country’s two biggest newspapers behind one party.””

UPDATE 17.41:

The Times’ communications team have been in touch. They say:

“We were not using the “same polling evidence” for our first and second editions and that’s why there was a difference between our headlines. The first edition of The Times went to press at 10.30pm on the basis of 904 respondents to our Populus poll, which was critical mass although the full count had not finished. The first results that we were given from Populus were Cameron 36; Clegg 36; Brown 27 – exactly neck and neck. The second edition went to press at 11.45pm with the full results in – this time showing a one percentage point lead to Cameron on the final count of 1067 respondents.”

Left Foot Forward has amended the opening line from “same polling evidence” to “similar polling evidence”. We note that Cameron’s apparent 1 point lead is due to the rounding of his 36.7 per cent score while Clegg was on 36.1 per cent – within the margin of error as we stated.

We have asked Populus for a breakdown of the earlier 904 respondent poll.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.