ordon Brown is every bit as fixated on the Press as Tony Blair. Like the Prime Minister, he cultivates proprietors, editors and political journalists, and is just as sensitive to stinging criticism.
In the past couple of weeks, as his forces moved against Mr Blair, a problem arose. The Murdoch-owned Sun was not at all happy about the way Mr Brown's allies were destabilising the Prime Minister. While its sister paper, The Times, seemed almost to enjoy Mr Blair's predicament, the Sun remained loyal to its old hero, and was contemptuous of the Brownites' behaviour. On 8 September it published a piece by deputy editor Fergus Shanahan suggesting that Mr Brown was nutty and dangerous and unfit to be Prime Minister.
As "Gord", as the Sun calls him, and Tony appeared to make up, so the paper became friendlier towards the Chancellor. By 11 September it thought that he was "probably fit to lead Britain", though "he's going to have to prove it". When Gord seemed to stand up to TUC bosses at their conference in Brighton, the Sun was suitably encouraged.
Meanwhile Gord had a plan of his own to work his way back into the bosom of the Murdoch media. Last Thursday he gave an interview to Kay Burley of Sky News, controlled by Mr Murdoch, in which he spoke affectingly of the loss of his baby daughter four years ago. The following day the Sun was the only national newspaper to splash with the story, under the headline "Baby died in my arms". The paper had some nice things to say about the Chancellor in a leader article, and was surprisingly withering about David Cameron. In a piece alongside, George Pascoe-Watson, the political editor, obligingly deconstructed a YouGov poll in Gord's favour under the headline, "Brown has won back trust of voters".
So everything is all right after all. In the space of a week Mr Brown recovered his position with the Sun. My guess is that as long as the transition is reasonably smooth, and the gutters do not run with too much of Mr Blair's blood, the Sun will stick with Gord. Its political guru, Trevor Kavanagh, harbours misgivings about him, but Mr Murdoch has clearly not yet given the signal to drop Gord in favour of Mr Cameron. Unless things go very wrong in the next few months, the Murdoch press will support Mr Brown when he becomes Prime Minister.
The question then arises as to what kind of backing Mr Brown will receive elsewhere. One assumes that The Guardian and The Independent will both be friendly. The Daily Mirror will be loyal to a Labour Prime Minister, and its political editor, Kevin Maguire, is in any case close to the Brownites.
The Tory-supporting Daily Express will presumably be unfriendly, as will The Daily Telegraph, though there is no reason to suppose that either paper has a personal animus against the man. The position of the Daily Mail is more nuanced. It is no secret that its editor, Paul Dacre, burns at least a small candle for Mr Brown, believing him to be a man of principle and substance. The paper has praised his stewardship of the economy while deploring "stealth taxes". Some of the Mail's columnists, such as Richard Littlejohn, Peter Mckay and Allison Pearson, are somewhat less enamoured, and Ms Pearson gave him a particularly rough outing last week. The Mail is rather less monolithic than many suppose.
Of course, if Mr Brown makes a complete hash of things, his cheerleaders will melt away very quickly. In this category I include Mr Murdoch. He obviously won't stick with Mr Brown if readers turn against him in their droves. But for the moment the clear policy is to give Gord a go. Mr Cameron will have to wait a while yet for the call.
WHEN A NEWSPAPER dies I am usually ready to shed a tear, but last week's closure of the West Belfast-based Daily Ireland has left me pretty dry-eyed. Launched in February 2005, it was very friendly towards Sinn Fein, though its owners commenced legal proceedings against Michael McDowell, the Irish Republic's Justice Minister, after he had suggested that the paper was funded by the IRA.
Daily Ireland had hoped for government support, and Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff, was sympathetic. Its publisher, the Andersonstown News Group, received some £750,000 from government bodies between 1999 and 2004.
In the end, Invest Northern Ireland declined to provide further funds after opposition from Unionist politicians and from the nationalist Irish News, which very reasonably objected to the prospect of the state funding a rival newspaper.
Last week Mairtin O'Muilleoir, the former Sinn Fein councillor who runs the Andersonstown News Group, complained that the Government had hastened Daily Ireland's demise by withholding official advertising. The real reason for its failure is that it did not build up a proper readership. Its break-even was said to be a circulation of 20,000 a day, though that may have assumed more advertising than was realistic. In the event the daily sale was 10,000 as against the Irish News's 50,000.
This suggests that Daily Ireland's and Sinn Fein's view of a radically republican Ireland may not be as popular or as widespread as had been feared. The newspaper's owners hoped that thousands of people in the Irish Republic would flock to the paper. It managed to sell fewer than 3,000 copies there. Fittingly, the final issue of Daily Ireland ran a front-page picture of Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, reverently laying a wreath on Yasser Arafat's grave. This was not an image to stir many hearts.
Drawing pins are out in broadsheets' wallchart wars
Spare a thought for primary school teachers. The Independent has been giving away information-packed posters about the workings of the solar system, the human body or the earth. Meanwhile, in this latest clash in the "wallchart wars", The Guardian has been handing out attractive posters about trees and animals.
Classroom walls are already full. My own drawers are heaving with wallcharts, and I will soon have to go off to Habitat to buy a new chest of drawers - unless newspapers start giving away furniture. But I still prefer wallcharts to DVDs of films I never wanted to see. They are cheaper for publishers, and effective in attracting extra sales. The Independent and The Guardian have been putting on 15,000 to 20,000 copies a day.
The Guardian may be particularly anxious to add extra sales this month. Its new Berliner format was launched last September, and the hope will be to show there has been little - ideally no - year-on-year decline. This will call for subtle manipulation. As well as the wallcharts, a couple of DVDs, and even some manufactured foreign sales will be needed to produce the desired result.
We shall return to the Berliner Guardian. Rather to my surprise, I am finally beginning to like it.Reuse content