Britain's best-selling daily paper has, unsurprisingly considering its Australian-American owner's vehement euroscepticism, come out with all guns blazing today, ahead of Gordon Brown's speech to the Labour party conference. In a classic piece of Sun hyperbole, and with graphics reminiscent of the opening credits of Dad's Army, the paper's leader is laying out just what our new Prime Minister has to do to maintain the support of its billionaire Australian-born American tax exile owner in any forthcoming general election.
Yep, Rupert Murdoch wants a referendum on the EU reform treaty, he wants it bad, and we all know just how influential he can be on British politics when he puts his mind to it. He's already got a poll and a petition up to make the threat explicit - can Gordon avoid caving in?
Which begs the question - is it possible to have a valid referendum, based on the facts, in a country with such a single-minded media? I did the maths a couple of weeks ago, and this is what I reckoned:
Of the national daily papers, it’s really only the barely-read (and increasingly unreadable) Guardian (c.311,000 sales per issue) and Independent (c.190,000 sales per issue) who are in favour of the European Union.
The Times (c.595,000) and Sun (c.2,916,000) follow their owner Rupert Murdoch’s eurosceptic lead. The Telegraph (c.833,000) and Mail (c.2,205,000) play to the middle-England, vaguely xenophobic gallery. The People (c.667,000) is also instinctively anti-EU in most of its approaches, most of the time. The Express (c.735,000) does what the Mail does, only with less panache. If you count the similarly unthinking Star (c.667,000) and Sport (c.93,000) as newspapers, they’re also primarily anti-EU on the rare occasions they bother to mention it.
Then there’s the effectively EU-neutral Mirror (c.1,425,000) - which will run anti-EU pieces quite happily, but also take on pro-EU government propaganda just to be different to the Sun - and largely impartial Financial Times (c.130,000).So, daily - according to those ABC figures - that makes 13,055,000 anti-EU newspaper sales and 1,555,000 EU-neutral sales, compared to just 501,000 pro-EU newspaper sales.
The Tomorrow's Europe poll aims for a debate based on balanced evidence and arguments. In the UK, is it ever going to be possible to gain balance in EU debates with such rampant imbalance in the media coverage of the EU? And, if not, what use is deliberative polling other than to give us the views of an electorate which can never exist?