The media turns its back on Labour

By Ian Dunt

Labour’s plunge in support has taken on a new aspect with newspapers turning their back on the governing party.

The Guardian has left Labour to back the Liberal Democrats while the Times has stopped supporting Labour to back the Conservatives.

The Times’ move will surprise few people. As one of Rupert Murdoch’s outlets, most commentators thought it was only a matter of time before the newspaper backed the Tories.

The Sun switched allegiance to the Tories moments after Gordon Brown delivered his speech to the Labour party conference last year. Its support has not prompted an outpouring of support for David Cameron, whose lead in the polls remains slim.

“The Times has not endorsed the Conservative party at a general election for 18 years,” the Times leader reads.

“For far too much of that time, the Conservative party turned inward and vacated the ground on which British electoral victory is won – a commitment to the prosperity and liberty fostered in a free-market economy and a sense of justice in an open and tolerant society.”

It goes on: “Labour is tired, defensive and ruinously reliant on higher government spending. David Cameron has shown the fortitude, judgment and character to lead this country back to a healthier, stronger future.

“It is time, once again, to vote Conservative.”

But media commentators will pay far more attention to the judgement of the Guardian, which would have been far more likely to support Labour.

The paper was considered a cheerleader from Gordon Brown while he was chancellor. Its decision to back the Liberal Democrats will cause deep concern Labour’s campaign team.

“If the Guardian had a vote in the 2010 general election it would be cast enthusiastically for the Liberal Democrats,” the paper’s leader reads.

“It would be cast in the knowledge that not all the consequences are predictable, and that some in particular should be avoided. The vote would be cast with some important reservations and frustrations. Yet it would be cast for one great reason of principle above all.

“The election presents the British people with a huge opportunity: the reform of the electoral system itself.”

The paper cites Labour’s achievements, such as public service funding, the minimum wage, civil partnerships and the extension of protections for minority groups.

But it harshly criticises the government’s record on civil liberties and foreign policy.

“There is little doubt that in many areas of policy and tone, the Liberal Democrats have for some time most closely matched our own priorities and instincts,” it reads.

“Trapped in the arid, name-calling two-party politics of the House of Commons, Nick Clegg has seldom had the chance to shine. Released into the daylight of equal debate, he has given the other two parties the fright of their lives.

“A newspaper that is proudly rooted in the liberal as well as the labour tradition – and whose advocacy of constitutional reform stretches back to the debates of 1831-32 – cannot ignore such a record. If not now, when? The answer is clear and proud. Now.”

This weekend will see frantic last minute campaigning by all three party leaders, with many analysts predicting that voters will cement their intentions over the bank holiday.