Does the Sun’s switch in support matter? No, is the short answer. The media’s power is vastly overestimated both by politicians and, of course, journalists, but also by ideologues from all sides who blame the defeat of their hopes on the power of the Tory press, if they are left wing, or BBC bias if they are on the right.A few seconds thought should convince you of the folly of the notion. The BBC has a pro-European bias, but that has not stopped the British, or more specifically the English, being Eurosceptic. The media cannot run too far away from their readers or viewers or their readers or viewers will run from them.
If that argument does not suffice, consider Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere’s campaign in the early 1930s to insist that Baldwin commit the Tories to Empire free trade. Everyone remembers Baldwin’s put down – “What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot down the ages.” (Kipling came up with the line for him, incidentally.)
But as this report from the time shows, Baldwin went much further set about the supposedly all-powerful media which politicians must cringe before with relish.
He began by revealing that Lord Rothermere has made two demands (as the price of support by his Daily Mail and Goliath newspaper chain for the Conservatives.)
1) The platform of the Conservative Party in the coming Parliamentary campaign must be submitted to Viscount Rothermere.
2) Assuming a Conservative victory the Viscount must be informed in advance of the names of at least eight or ten Conservatives who would hold leading Cabinet.
Mad clean through, Mr. Baldwin controlled his rage, began thus: “There is nothing more curious in modern evolution than the effect of an enormous fortune rapidly made and the control of newspapers of your own. It goes to the head like wine, and you find attempts made outside journalism to dictate, to domineer to blackmail.
“Three of the most striking cases are: Hearst in America and Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook in England. Mr. Hearst has tried for years to dominate American politics and has failed every time. He asked me to write for his press last summer and I declined [cries of Hear! Hear!” from Baldwin sympathizer]. ln October he wrote a vicious article about me, and at the same time a fulsome account of Mr. MacDonald whom he has abused like a pickpocket within the last two months.”
Having called Lord Rothermere a blackmailer by implication Mr. Baldwin said that a more preposterous and insolent demand than the Press Lord’s “was never made on the leader of any political party ” With rising anger he lumped Baron Beaverbrook with Viscount Rothermere shouted. They desire to dictate the policy of a big party, they desire to choose its “leader they desire to become Ministers of the crown!”
Beaverbrook and Rothermere duly slunk away. Baldwin dominated the Tory Party until his retirement. The Thirities were the heyday of newspaper reading. Modern newspapers and TV stations face a fragmenting audience and collapsing revenues. It is highly unlikely that press barons are more powerful now than they were then.