Never mind the unions. What about the Sun’s influence on the Labour leadership contest?

The Tory press hopes to shove the Labour party to the Right


Not content with telling people how to vote in the election, the Tory press is now looking to ensure the Labour party chooses a candidate it likes.

Thus we’ve seen positive coverage of so-called Blairite contenders such as Liz Kendall and Chuka Umunna (who has dropped out of the race and endorsed Kendall) and hostile coverage of the supposedly ‘Left’ contenders such as Andy Burnham.

The Times and the Telegraph ran cheerful profiles about the ‘refreshing’ Ms Kendall. Even the Sun gave the ‘bold’ MP for Leicester the sort of warm coverage usually reserved for the Conservatives, as she ‘trashed most of Ed Miliband’s policies’ and backed free schools and more defence spending.

Kendall Sun 29 May

Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, who has secured the backing of more Labour MPs, is bloodied in the familiar style of the general election coverage.

Today’s Sun is an exaggerated form of the general trope:

“Andy Burnham today makes a desperate bid to prove he is not a union puppet.”

That’s not from an editorial column. It’s the first line of a news story.

Burnham Sun 29 May

Despite the facts being much the same – criticism of Ed Miliband and Labour’s past, pro-business talk – the contrast with the Kendall coverage is striking. The paper pulls Burnham apart for ‘aiming to woo business’ after ‘speculation Mr Burnham is Unite union chief Len McCluskey‘s choice as leader’.

The Sun says column lays it out:

“The hasty U-turn by top Labour MPs since their election disaster is jaw-dropping.

Who knows now what Andy Burnham actually stands for? One minute he’s Ed Miliband’s class-war henchman. The next he claims ‘the entrepreneur will be as much our hero as the nurse’ and admits Labour DID spend too much.

Pull the other one. And let’s see him say it to Red Len McCluskey’s face.”

(The U-turn point is interesting. If MPs had stuck to their previous positions, the same papers would be saying they are ignoring the verdict of the electorate, and had learned nothing from past mistakes.)

The piece goes on to praise Caroline Flint, who is running for deputy leader:

“Caroline Flint was another Miliband front-bencher. But there’s a difference between her and Burnham when she says she wants to appeal to Sun readers. She sounds genuine.”

Flint Sun May 29

What has Caroline Flint done to please the Sun? Under the Burnham news story, a piece on Ms Flint begins:

“Labour needs to start attacking benefits scroungers as much as bankers if it wants to regain power, says shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint.

The party’s deputy-leader hopeful said it must speak to Sun readers and aspirational voters once more.

She added the party should be comfortable giving a ‘kick up the backside’ to those choosing to live on benefits.”

Note the contrast here. Flint is praised for sounding ‘genuinely’ more conservative than Burnham.

Meanwhile, I’ve not seen any coverage of another ‘deputy leader hopeful’: the high profile Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy, who received an increased majority on a joint Labour and Co-operative Party ticket in the general election.


Ms Creasy is thought to be on the Left of the party, and is probably best known for taking on payday loan scammers Wonga.

She ‘sounds genuine’ too, though I won’t hold my breath about Sun coverage.

Because what we see is the right-wing press hoping to move the Labour party to the right, and influence the terms not just of the leadership election debate but of future general elections.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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