According to then editor Dominic Mohan in his supposed “apology” for the paper’s shockingly unpleasant attacks on Liverpool fans in the wake of the Hillsborough stadium disaster, the Super Soaraway Currant Bun had moved on from the bad old days of Kelvin McFilth, and its journalism was more considered, more sensitive. The suggestion was that it no longer made stuff up for the hell of it.
And, as Captain Blackadder might have observed, there was only one thing wrong with this – it was bollocks. We can see exactly how far the Sun has progressed in the last 30 years from its latest smear campaign against Mil The Younger today, the distance travelled being not unadjacent to zero. The same prejudices are in use as then. It’s as if Kel had never left the building.
At the top of a whole page of gratuitous Labour bashing – not that the Sun displays political bias or bends to the dictates of its proprietor, you understand – we see a photo of Miliband altered to show “Inside Red Ed’s ‘Ead” (geddit?!?). This is designed to convey one very simple message: Miliband’s head doesn’t work in the same way as all those patriotic, hardworking Sun readers.
Yes, we’re supposed to get the message that Miliband is not as other politicians. There is something wrong upstairs. This builds on all the “Odd”, “Weird”, “Geek” and other insults that scrape the barrel, but can be got away with. From here, it is a short ride to calling him “batty”, “potty”, “loony”, or just straight “mad”. The language of the playground is safe and well at the Sun.
At this point, those of us of A Certain Age may remember what happened 30 years ago during the Chesterfield by-election, where Tony Benn was Labour candidate, having lost his seat in Bristol the previous year. It was the same as the Miliband attack: if in doubt, allege he’s not all there. As Roy Greenslade put it, “the paper indulged in its most sustained and vicious character assassination”.
“On the day of the poll, the Sun ran a feature headlined ‘Benn on the couch: a top psychiatrist's view of Britain's leading leftie’. It claimed he was ‘a Messiah figure hiding behind the mask of the common man … greedy for power and willing to do anything to get it’ ... It purported to be the opinions of an American psychiatrist who subsequently denied the validity of the opinions”.
The Sun, on the basis of an analysis from someone who had never met Benn, concluded that he was “stark, staring mad”. In 30 years, all that has changed is the identity of the target – and that the paper is now merely inferring some kind of mental health issue, rather than coming out and saying it. The Hillsborough victims were right to tell Mohan and his boss to stick their “apology”.
Same Sun. Same prejudices. Same smears. Same bigotry. And bang out of order.