Sunday 26 February was, according to the producers of the biggest-selling paper in Britain, the day “a new Sun rises” and the beginning of “a new era for Britain’s No 1 paper”.
It was the day the Sun appeared on a Sunday for the first time in its history. A grandiose editorial promised a fresh start. In fact the most noticeable thing about the latest Murdoch project was how predictably similar it was to the daily rag produced under the same title. If we expected a thinly-disguised News of the World, the paper shut down under the pressure of revelations about its role in the phone-hacking scandal, what we got was just thin.
As its old nickname suggested, the News of the Screws as a brand depended on scandalous revelations about the private lives of the rich, famous and (occasionally) powerful. Now that the most obvious means of obtaining such stories has been, at least temporarily, cut off, the Murdoch press has to manage on scraps of fairly low-level celebrity tedium.
Hence the front page of the first edition of the Sunday Sun went with a splash about a “Britain’s Got Talent” judge, Amanda Holden, and her “nightmare birth ordeal”. This “Sun exclusive” dominated four of the first seven pages of the paper. The rest of those pages dealt with the heart attack of Adele’s “doting gran” and a topless picture of an “X Factor” judge. Far from offering anything “fresh” this was no better than could be found in any of the celebrity glossies.
The new Sun’s leader article also insisted that “our readers’ interests, fears, hopes and aspirations are at the centre of everything we do”. There was little sign of any commitment to its overwhelmingly working-class readers’ interests or hopes but, as always with the Murdoch press, there was plenty of effort to exploit the “fears”. The first news story in the paper praised Theresa May for new measures to make it harder for migrant workers to settle in the UK and readers were reminded how much it is costing the taxpayer to keep “hate preacher Abu Qatada” free.
For all that, the politics and the prejudice were low-level. The overwhelming impression you get from the Sunday Sun is of being swamped by celebrities, and mostly those who have long ago had their best days: David Beckham, Gary Barlow, Katie Price and Amy Winehouse’s ex-hubby.
I am always disappointed when anyone who should know better agrees to become a columnist for the Sun and for certain it diminishes them forever. Ken Livingstone and Alastair Campbell have taken the Murdoch coin and, since last Sunday, I will never look at Roy Keane in the same light again. What struck me about the newly launched Sunday edition, however, is that they found a celebrity columnist so shallow and dull that he diminishes the paper rather than the other way around.
It is not a promising augury of the paper’s pledge to be “the most lively, interesting, informative and entertaining news source in the business” that they have signed up Toby Young as a regular columnist. The repellent Young led his first column with the claim that “Labour made the NHS sick... not Lansley”. So far, so predictable. What defines him though is a shorter piece which attacked the award-winning movie The Artist. In fact the paper’s editor thought highly enough of this to introduce Young to his readers on page 2 as “the only person brave enough to say The Artist is a load of pretentious rubbish”.
The Sun’s conception of bravery in its columnists amounts to a willingness to say things even though they reveal the writer to be a moron. The entire content of Young’s criticism (I don’t caricature here) is that it is “a French, black and white, silent movie”. It’s very likely that those criticisms have been placed in order of sinfulness. Judging by his career so far this will set the tone for Toby Young’s particular contribution to the Sun. A man who has made it his mission to set up a free school where children are taught Latin and the classics uses the space afforded to him in the paper read by the masses to sneer at culture of any quality and insist (as he did in this column) that the best film Oscar should go to “big-budget summer blockbusters”.
I doubt that the first edition of the Sunday Sun will prove typical of its future direction. Its leader article, “A new Sun rises today” acknowledges the difficult circumstances of its birth and promises to be different and atone for past sins. There are promises to abide by the Press Complaints Commission’s Editors’ Code and the company’s own News Corporation Standards of Business Conduct.
Finally, they bring their readers’ attentions to the establishment of a new post of “Sun Readers’ Champion” whose remit is to accept feedback and correct significant errors. I predict that once the paper becomes more established and the phone-hacking scandal is a more distant memory the Sunday edition will take on a more familiar xenophobic, anti-working class and reactionary identity.
When it does you can email your complaints to SunChampion@the-sun.co.uk.