The other day the nation was treated to a terrifying spectacle: all three party leaders posing with a copy of The Sun newspaper. They stood, or in Ed's case sat, clutching it proudly while grinning inanely at the person brandishing the iPhone. If it hadn't been so sad it would have been laughable.
Due to his participation in this collective idiocy, Ed Miliband has been dragged over the coals by pretty much everyone with a pen, keyboard or gob. And many column inches have been dedicated to a dissection of this issue. So now it's my turn.
First, why did any of them do it? What possessed them to decide to associate themselves so closely with this mass air drop of The Sun to almost every house in the country? And no, it wasn't because it had the words 'This Is Our England'; on the cover. In my view the reason they all did it was quite simple: because David Cameron did it. And that means the other two felt, wrongly, that they had no choice. Dave has a track record of holding up The Sun newspaper - and who would blame him? If The Sun backs you, according to them, you'll be the 'one wot won it'. And there is an election coming up and Dave needs a majority. But Nick and Ed?
There are a number of different versions of Sun-holding political leaders hanging around the web but I've chosen these three:
Now you don't have to be an expert in body language to see that Nick Clegg would rather be holding a copy of The Communist Manifesto than holding The Sun. In the photo he puts as much space between himself and the paper as possible; holds it with the tips of his fingers; turns it reluctantly towards the camera and stands next to a desk on which he no doubt threw it as if it was on fire once the snap was taken. And snap it was; it's blurred probably because he was getting ready to ditch the paper and run screaming from the room. His heart wasn't in it - and in this case he should have stuck with his gut reaction and stayed away from the whole happy-snappy thing. But sadly for him, a Sun photographer caught up with him and made him DO IT AGAIN PROPERLY:
Ed Miliband however was rather keener to have his photo taken. And unlike the others, it was actually one of a number taken by a Sun photographer with a real camera. This was something that was not a spur of the moment decision. Ed wants to be seen with The Sun but there's a little man on his shoulder saying: 'Are you sure? Are you really sure?' However his advisers are, for some inexplicably reason, very sure it's the right thing to do, so he's doing it. He's looking straight into the camera but he betrays a slight hint of embarrassment - or is that fear? Either way, he's slightly torn. But let's face it, what normal party leader wouldn't be a bit uncomfortable promoting a newspaper? Which brings me neatly onto Dave.
David Cameron is a pro when it comes to these things. He is the only one holding the newspaper open. This is clever because it suggests that he actually reads it - which he doesn't - other people read it for him and photocopy salient bits and he reads them together with other photocopies of salient bits from other newspapers. He wouldn't read the thing himself - he'd get his hands dirty, actually and metaphorically. The photo is clever too - just the right amount of candid and it's taken in the Cabinet Room; like the paper was casually lying, as it always does, on the massive historic elliptical desk and he picked it up because, well, it's such a great read!!
Photos dissected, we can safely say that David Cameron was the only one totally committed to this endeavour and totally relaxed. For him it's a PR win/win. He was delighted to be asked and complied without reservation. But for the other two, the decision was less clear cut.
The media have now pronounced that it was not OK for Ed to display a copy of The Sun. But bizarrely, it was OK for the other two to do it. This reasoning is based on The Sun's wholly disgraceful behaviour over the Hillsborough Tragedy. But why single out Ed - surely if it's no good for Ed it's no good for the other two. But who ever said there was logic in the media?
In my view, they were all wrong to hold up a copy of The Sun. In the same way that they would be wrong to hold up a copy of the Guardian or The Times or The Mirror or the Daily Mail. Why? Because by acting as a PR tool for a national newspaper they're calling into question their ability to make legitimate policy.
Let's look at it objectively. When a Prime Minster, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition pose, all-smiles, with a newspaper they're endorsing its content. Not just this edition - every edition. If they're endorsing the content that means they think the paper is powerful; that it can do something for them. But they know it's a two-way street. They will have to do something for the paper in return.
In Clegg's case, holding the paper is the most he'll ever be persuaded to do for The Sun and he doesn't like doing this one little bit. In Ed's case, he's not 100 per cent sure but he trusts his advisers and would consider doing other things for the paper. Cameron however is more than delighted to scratch the paper's back and that brings us to the natural conclusion: how much policy has been and will be made in the next two years by The Sun newspaper? Judging by the photos, quite a bit.