Labour candidate in Liverpool criticises Starmer for advert on Sun homepage

Labour has been criticised by one of its own parliamentary candidates for paying the Sun to advertise Keir Starmer’s policies to its readers.

Visitors to the Sun’s homepage on Monday afternoon were greeted with full-site takeover adverts featuring Starmer’s face, urging readers to “vote for change” and listing his “first steps”.

The exact amount Labour spent on the advert will not be known until after the election, but industry sources suggested the rate for such a paid promotion would usually run into the tens of thousands of pounds.

Kim Johnson, who is standing for re-election as a Labour MP in Liverpool Riverside, criticised her party leader for paying the newspaper, which is still boycotted in much of Merseyside due to its false reporting on the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster.

Johnson said her city still felt let down by the decision of the paper, widely known there as “the Scum”, to blame Liverpool fans “for what we now know was the fault of the South Yorkshire police”.

She added: “When he was seeking support to be the leader of the Labour party, Keir stood in my constituency and pledged that he would not write in the Scum newspaper. So myself, Riverside residents and the whole city will now be very disappointed that he has broken his promise to boycott. By U-turning on this pledge, he fails to recognise just how deep the hurt runs in this city.”

When running for party leader in 2020, Starmer told an audience in Liverpool that he would boycott the Sun during the leadership contest. “This city has been wounded by the media – the Sun … I certainly won’t be giving an interview to the Sun during the course of this campaign,” he said.

Once he became leader, he adopted a more welcoming stance towards the outlet. In 2021, Starmer angered many Merseryside Labour MPs by writing an article in the newspaper. Since then he has made regular appearances in the Sun and has agreed to a live interview on its YouTube channel this month. The shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, has also gone out of his way to woo the outlet.

Labour has had a troubled relationship with the Sun. It embraced the Murdoch family’s newspaper under Tony Blair’s leadership, when it won the outlet’s endorsement for three consecutive elections. But since then it has struggled to manage the relationship. Ed Miliband apologised for endorsing the Sun’s World Cup special edition, saying he “totally understands the anger that the people of Merseyside feel towards the Sun”, while Jeremy Corbyn was openly critical of the newspaper.

The Sun, which has backed the Conservatives for the last four elections, has yet to endorse a party in this contest. Even in an era of declining newspaper circulations, there is a perception in Labour leadership circles that winning the support of the paper would symbolise how Starmer has changed the party – a verdict that Starmer’s opponents would also agree with.

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It is not unusual for political parties to buy advertising in newspapers during elections, although in recent contests parties have tended to focus their spending on local news outlets rather than nationals. There are no records of Labour spending money on advertising in the Sun in recent general elections.

Labour buying advertising from News UK, the parent company of the Sun, is also notable given the personal history between Starmer and the organisation. As director of public prosecutions he was responsible for bringing criminal cases against many Sun journalists during the phone-hacking scandal.

Increased spending limits for this election are already allowing Labour to do things it could not previously afford to do. The party has already bought a full-page advert in the Conservative-supporting Mail on Sunday addressed to “the pensioners of Britain” from the shadow work and pensions secretary, Liz Kendall.

The Guardian

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