Why it won’t be ‘The Sun wot won it’ in 2024

Why it won’t be ‘The Sun wot won it’ in 2024

The Sun famously claimed it had won the election for John Major’s Tories in 1992.  Rupert Murdoch later denied that claim, telling the Leveson Inquiry that the ‘Won It’ headline had been “tasteless and wrong”, adding: “we don’t have that sort of power” (although the Mandy Rice-Davies principle applies here of course).

The Sun’s 1992 claim has to be filed under ‘Unprovable’, but with the largest UK daily circulation at the time of 3.8m copies, and a relentless anti-Labour campaign in the run-up to the 1992 election, it seems very probable that many Sun readers were indeed swayed.  So much so that during the approach to the 1997 election Tony Blair assiduously cultivated Murdoch and his papers and gained their support ahead of election day.

Times have changed dramatically though since then.  The Sun no longer publicises its falling circulation figures but the Press Gazette estimates circulation to be about 700,000 – over 3m down on its 1992 numbers.  Given the estimated 2 to 3 readers per copy that’s up to 9 million readers lost. 

Many millions view the Sun’s online website of course but as the chart below shows it doesn’t have the pre-eminence it had in 1992 (numbers = unduplicated visitors per month):

As can be seen, the Sun Online is marginally the largest of the five big newspaper sites (albeit it is falling the fastest: -17% last year).  

However, the nature of these sites – including the Sun Online – is very different to a printed paper. Many visits will be direct to a particular item – there is no need to read the front-page propaganda and no sense of reading the whole paper because, well, you paid for it.

The other impression I get from that chart (which is extended to the top 50 on the Press Gazette site) is that the online media reach is pretty evenly split between left-leaning, neutral, and right-leaning. 

The media world is utterly transformed since 1992; the power of the press-barons has wilted.  Labour could afford to blow Murdoch and the Sun a huge raspberry – it would have no significant influence on the election outcome.

In any event, I do have a hunch that the Sun might end up backing ‘time for a change’ Labour, just to be on the winning side.


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