If, like me, you sometimes puzzle over why David Cameron was determined to get so close to Rupert Murdoch, you may find the answer in the newly published The British General Election of 2010 by Dennis Kavanagh and Philip Cowley. A fascinating chapter on the press, written by Margaret Scammell and Charlie Beckett, contains a statistical table compiled by Ipsos Mori, which shows which political party readers of every national newspaper supported.
The table, which draws on a wide base of 10,211 electors across Great Britain and so may be judged representative, could keep me happy for hours. Did you know, for example, that although 59 per cent of Daily Mail readers supported the Tories, 16 per cent backed Labour and 16 per cent the Liberal Democrats?
The National Readership Survey for the second half of 2009 gives the Mail 4,934,000 readers. (Remember that "buyers" and "readers" are different, with the latter outnumbering the former by between two and a half and three times, the proportions varying between titles.) So nearly 790,000 Mail readers supported Labour, and the same number Lib Dem, though fewer will have actually voted. The proportion of Mail readers who did so was 73 per cent.
Another gripping fact is that at 44 per cent The Independent has the highest proportion of readers who supported the Lib Dems in the 2010 election. The Guardian had the second-highest proportion at 37 per cent. This figure is arresting because it represents a decline of 4 per cent from the 2005 election. In others words, although The Guardian recommended its readers vote Lib Dem in 2010, a smaller proportion appears to have done so than in 2005, when it had suggested they vote Labour.
But for me, the most fascinating information concerns the mass-circulation Sun. At the end of September 2009, during Labour's annual party conference, the paper made a great drama out of dropping New Labour and embracing David Cameron. People who seldom look at the paper are probably unaware of the vitriol and nastiness of the day-in-day-out attacks which it then launched on Gordon Brown, once its hero, and its absolute and relentless enthusiasm for Mr Cameron and the Tories. Such blind partisanship would annoy many people, but it seems not to have that effect on many readers of The Sun.
Between 2005 and 2010 there was a 13.5 per cent swing among Sun readers from Labour to the Tories, which is a significantly larger figure than for any other newspaper. Looking at it another way, in 2005 45 per cent of Sun readers supported Labour, and 33 per cent the Conservatives. In 2010 28 per cent backed Labour and 43 per cent the Tories. The readership of the Sun supposedly declined from 8,825,000 to 7,761,000 over the period, so the Tories got a much bigger proportion of a slightly smaller number – in round terms nearly 425,000 more Sun readers backed them in 2010 than in 2005.
Without knowing the geographical distribution of these readers, it is impossible to know whether they swung the election for the Tories in a number of marginal seats. What is clear is that The Sun delivered a Lab-Con swing more than twice the national one of 5 per cent, though it was 7 per cent among the C2DE socio-economic classes which make up nearly two-thirds of The Sun's readership. The paper must also have exerted an influence through its online edition.
We can't say "it was the Sun wot one it", because the Tories didn't win. However, we are probably justified in saying that the paper's remorseless anti-Labour and pro-Tory campaign did help to influence a sizeable number of readers. Interestingly, other right-wing papers, particularly the Mail, showed much smaller Lab-Con swings. In fact, the figure for the Mail was only 4 per cent. It is true, of course, that a much greater proportion of its readers already backed the Tories. Yet it is also the case that the paper ran a much less stridently anti-Labour and less passionately pro-Tory campaign than The Sun, though it took some notable swipes at Nick Clegg. How much better would Mr Cameron have done if he had captured The Mail as he did The Sun?
The question is whether David Cameron's pact with Rupert Murdoch, Faustian or otherwise, will pay off. It's too early to say. There has probably been a substantial reward, and The Sun has delivered on its side of whatever bargain was made. What we don't yet know is how much his closeness to Mr Murdoch and the News International will damage David Cameron in terms of reputation.
A high price for legal oversights
The Spectator has recently been on the receiving end of some ruinously expensive legal cases. In July 2008, its website published an article by Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, in which he described a London-based Islamist group called IslamExpo as a racist, fascist and genocidal organisation. A couple of months ago, the magazine published an apology, having incurred substantial costs.
A leading light of IslamExpo is Mohammed Sawalha, a Palestinian émigré living in London. I understand The Spectator has recently settled with him after publishing a blog on its website by my friend Melanie Phillips which he regarded as libellous, and has again incurred costs said to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The magazine's editor, Fraser Nelson, may feel aggrieved inasmuch as both blogs were published before he became editor, and evidently did not receive the same legal attention as articles in the magazine would have. Small and relatively impecunious publications are, of course, especially vulnerable to all sorts of litigants. Middle Eastern politics present a notorious legal quagmire, and must be negotiated with care. Let's hope there are no more nasty cases in the pipeline.