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Monday, 2 April, 2001, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
The Sun's election predictions
By BBC News Online's Ben Davies

Last Saturday the Sun newspaper got it right and predicted a June election.

Admittedly they had a bit of a false start when - just two weeks earlier - they confirmed that 3 May was the date.

But no need to worry about that little hiccup for the UK's biggest selling tabloid.

Tony Blair was "putting country before party", as the Sun put it in displaying the kind of support highly prized by any prime minister only weeks away from a general election.

It is interesting to reflect on how the news broke.

When, on 20 March, the Sun said that it had been right all along and the election would be on 3 May, it reportedly had had a bit of a tip from someone high up in Downing Street.

So it must have been embarrassing for those in the Labour Party who had spent time wooing the tabloid to find it so wrongfooted because, as it turned out, Mr Blair had changed his mind.

And sure enough, last Saturday morning - just eleven days after its previous prediction - the same paper told its readership the news that the election was off.

New Labour's achievement in winning the paper's support is highly valued by the party's media managers.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair on the day The Sun said the election was postponed
The Sun spent all of the 1980s and a large portion of the 1990s attacking Labour.

Its criticism was particularly vitriolic about the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock who it constantly attacked while pouring praise on the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

In 1992, when John Major was running against Mr Kinnock, the Sun's front page on the day of the poll proclaimed: "if Labour wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights".

The next day, in typically self-congratulatory form, it claimed it was "The Sun wot won it" for the Tories.

Old enemy of Old Labour

Although previously unceasing in its praise of the Tories, by 1997 Labour had won the Sun over after a substantial wooing exercise.

And just a month ago, immediately after the Budget, the Sun said it was once again behind Mr Blair.

How embarrassing then to find that an apparently well-sourced story about the election date proved to be entirely wrong.

Many commentators are now suggesting that Labour officials knew they had to make amends for this humiliation.

A leak?

And some pundits are saying that someone in the prime minister's press team thought the best way to say sorry was to let the Sun break the news that the election was postponed.

With Mr Blair at Chequers, his official country home, the usually wise said he would take the weekend to decide whether to proceed on 3 May.

Therefore, it was quite a surprise to find out on Saturday morning that the decision had been made and apparently leaked to the Sun.

The surprise is said to have extended to some cabinet ministers.

But the paper's political editor Trevor Kavanagh insists there are a lot of assumptions being made by those who failed to break the story.

"It was good journalism and a story that nobody else had," he told BBC News Online.

For the moment, the paper feels able to go on backing Mr Blair and praises his "courageous" decision to postpone the poll.

But just like it ditched the Tories, the Sun may one day tire of New Labour.

Could a referendum on the euro be the likely scenario for a parting of the ways?

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See also:

01 Apr 01 | UK Politics
01 Apr 01 | UK Politics
01 Apr 01 | UK Politics
30 Mar 01 | UK Politics
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