General Election: Did Merseyside’s rejection of The Sun help Labour?

The UK's most read publication - The Sun - waged all-out war on Corbyn. But Merseyside voters rejected the hate.

The ‘Brexit election’ saw shock gains by the Conservatives in long-standing Labour constituencies in the North like Darlington, Blyth and Durham North West. But 14 Labour MPs retained their seats – or gained them back from ex-Labour defectors – across Merseyside.

Some of the largest Labour majorities were made in Liverpool, with Walton’s Dan Carden winning 84.7% of the votes and Knowsley’s Sir George Howarth winning 80.8%. Although an argument can be made that these seats were retained or gained because some of these MPs have been long-standing candidates, Birkenhead’s Frank Field, former Labour MP of 39 years, ran as an Independent but lost to Labour’s Mick Whitley by 17,705 votes.

What makes Merseyside so different in their voting intentions than say, Workington, which has a similar racial and gender demographic but was gained by the Conservatives from Labour? Clearly, there are other loyalties at play, and this can be found in a regional distrust of the right-wing media.

Liverpool was largely a Remain area in the referendum, and a report this year by academics from the London School of Economics and the University of Zurich found that Merseyside rejecting the most read newspaper in the UK – The Sun – played a role. The study showed that attitudes towards the EU got significantly more positive in Merseyside during the boycott.

After the election, Professor Jon Tonge of the University of Liverpool, told the BBC that Merseyside remained strongly Labour due to a local history and culture that ‘sets it apart from the rest of England’: “It’s the socialist republic of Liverpool. The citadel. It’s Corbynista-land”.

Merseyside’s ‘Total Eclipse of The S*n‘ campaign seeks to eradicate The Sun newspaper from shop shelves – and it has been successful. Campaign banners are hung around the city, many black cab taxis advertise the message and independent shops pledge support with stickers in their windows declaring that they do not sell The Sun.

This campaign was formed in the years since the 96 deaths of Liverpool FC fans at Hillsborough during an FA Cup match, and the deeply offensive coverage that The Sun newspaper published that claimed that Liverpool fans picked the pockets of victims. Following advice that Liverpool should be “allowed to decline” some years before, Margaret Thatcher voiced a concern that a report into the disaster would be a “devastating criticism” of the police and should not be pursued, leading to a cover-up that has yet to be resolved. The connection between the media and politics has been ever-present in Merseyside. The right-wing media and the Conservatives have been rejected repeatedly ever since.

Much of the criticism that Corbyn supporters had, and still have, is the media’s portrayal of him as unelectable – a message particularly pushed by The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Express – and of course more subtly in other parts of the media. In terms of The Sun, Merseyside voters have remained indifferent to their message by simply not engaging with it, but in voting overwhelmingly for Labour they have also displayed an awareness that the political messages of the right wing newspapers should be questioned because they are undeniably linked to political bias.

My guess is that Merseyside residents will continue to vote for Labour, no matter who is the leader. But in personal experience, Corbyn and his shadow cabinet are well-liked, shown by huge numbers of people attending the rallies he put on during his leadership. It’s no coincidence that the ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ chant was first coined in Birkenhead’s Prenton Park during a Libertines concert.

By staying loyal to their voting habits, Merseyside has not only shown their rejection of the Conservatives, but also their rejection of a media-spun stance that arguably won the election for the Tories.

It is important to analyse where Labour went wrong, but equally productive is to see where it went right, as it did in Merseyside. I’ve no doubt that rejecting a key plank of the hard-right press has played a part – as part of a long term political praxis, a general questioning of what news can be trusted.

Encouraging this scepticism to the right-wing press, and building our own media, could help a future Labour victory. 

Jessica White is the editor of Another North, an online literary journal promoting writing from and about the north of England. She is also a PhD student at University of Liverpool, looking at class systems and handiwork in Victorian literature.

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15 Responses to “General Election: Did Merseyside’s rejection of The Sun help Labour?”

  1. Michaela

    First I’ve heard of the theft allegation. After the Lockerbie disaster suitcases of the dead were robbed. After 9/11 and Grenfell, fraudsters made compensation claims. It’s normal behaviour, people being what they are. I’m not aware that such reporting led to boycotts or what evidence the Sun had in their case or whether it was tested and those responsible for lies held to account.

    Aside from that, banning newspapers (if the Sun is a newspaper) is consistent with everything that frightens voters off socialism – Erdogan, Putin, the disgusting Iran regime, China, Cuba and just about two thirds of the world are the ratholes they are partly because of attacks on the press. There’s nothing ‘right wing’ about deploring what Corbyn and his NEC have done to Labour.

  2. Matt B

    Michaela, search ‘sun, the truth’ you will find your answer. That you don’t know this is exactly why the campaign continues

    Just to be clear, the s*n is not ‘banned’, its free to peddle it’s lies, it’s former Sunday edition, The News of the World however, yeah have a look in to that.

    If you don’t think holding those that claim to broadcast the news to account for falsehoods, blatant lies and propaganda (often directly from No10) is something that any populous should do, I’d suggest 1984 as a good read.

  3. Michaela

    Matt – I have said lies should be tracked and corrected and was asking why, since I was unaware of this business (following neither the ghastly bone-headed game of football nor the Sun) why that has not been done. If I were on the IPSO panel I would make lying papers print corrections and apologies – and nothing else – on their front pages. I don’t need reminding about 1984 – it’s already here with the harrying of just about anybody who challenges the orthodox nonsense whether it’s non-existent racist northeners, climate alarmist lies, or IPSO’s pernicious censorship of news of crimes that some of our ‘communities’ don’t want to hear.

  4. Sam Bentley

    The Sun is the trashiest, most racist, excuse for a newspaper. The only good thing about it is that it makes decent lining for my cat’s litter tray. It was not banned it was boycotted which are two totally different things. People are much better off reading independent newspapers or visiting independent new sites than reading main stream publications. Mainstream media publish what the government want people to know, they are part of the ‘dumbing down’ process. I applaud Liverpool for its actions and wish more cities would follow its example

  5. Patrick Newman

    Labour has to fight the well-heeled Tory Party and then it has to fight five billionaire controlled national newspapers. There is only one title that almost unequivocally supports Labour – The Mirror. Labour has to do work-rounds with the BBC which everyday times 5 reads out the anti-Labour national press whilst claiming it is not biased. I am reminded of a passage from Tom Stoppard’s “Night and Day” where the protagonist says “I’m all for the freedom of the press, it’s the papers I can’t stand”! Sadly we are unlikely to see Leveson II for a long time.

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