Copyright: John Frost Newspapers
The newspaper: The Sun
The date: April 9, 1992
The news event: The General Election when Neil Kinnock was the Labour Party leader
What you see
This is a classic example of the use of ‘personality politics’ started by Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie. It is a striking front page, bringing a lot of humour into the serious business of politics and a general election. But it caused a lot of anger among Labour party supporters.
The Conservative Party under John Major was fighting to stay in power against a determined bid by the Labour Party. The Conservatives had held on to government control since Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first woman Prime Minister on May 4, 1979. She had resigned two years earlier in November 1990. At the time most national newspapers, with the possible exception of The Independent , supported one of the three main political parties. The Sun and its owner, Rupert Murdoch, supported the Conservatives, mainly because they believed that the members of that party would support his growing media empire in Britain. (Later on The Sun came out in support of Tony Blair). Kelvin MacKenzie had little time for politicians of whatever party. He has been quoted as saying that:
‘As a newspaper is an unlicensed product . . . [it] can/will/must reflect the prejudices or delights of an editor or owner. This gives an editor a unique power . . . to damn or praise the most powerful in the land. And if you intend to give the mighty a mauling then the front page is the best place to do it .
In this case, his target was Neil Kinnock who did lose the election.
Many would question MacKenzie's claim, and ask whether newspapers have a duty to report political facts truthfully and carefully whilst leaving the 'personality politics' behind. Is the 'unique power' of the newspaper editor a good thing for British politics?
The front page
It is likely that the editors wrote the headline first: 'If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.' They then worked out how to fill the rest of the page. The paper shamelessly mixes news and comment, so that the editor's opinions are starkly obvious. But this is nothing new - see the front page from the Daily Mirror at the time of the general election on July 5, 1945 .
After writing the headline there would have been a discussion about how to illustrate the page, and make the headline more powerful. When there was no obvious single photograph, the decision was taken to ask a graphic artist to place an image of Kinnock inside a light bulb. Perhaps to show the paper's true colours on that day, the background to the headline was a Tory blue. Above the main story was a simple headline: PHOTO FINISH, and another story saying the election was going to be a close run contest. It is surprising that the paper did not take up the whole of the front page with the Kinnock story, but instead found room to squeeze in a narrow single column story in the first column about former Wimbledon tennis champion Arthur Ashe developing Aids.