The bunny budget quickly became the bingo budget. When Grant Shapps tweeted CCHQ’s latest viral poster saying beer and bingo was what hardworking people enjoy it was quickly pounced upon by opponents and derided on Twitter as patronising and out of touch.
But maybe George Osborne knows what he is doing. The Sun was unequivocal in its support for the Chancellor on this morning’s front page. ‘Win-go’ they splashed – declaring it a ‘budget for Sun readers’.
The focus on bingo has trivialised the debate, especially in the Westminster echo chamber of Twitter politics, but for the Sun, bingo is big business. Sales of their newspaper consistently spike whenever they run a bingo-related promotion on their front page. Hardworking or not, people do enjoy it.
Damian McBride, renowned for co-ordinating the media effort for several Brown budgets, has written before about how tax breaks on bingo, or a penny off the pint, will often be all the ‘bloke in the pub’ remember about a Budget. It is an easy win.
But on another key pre-Budget battle Osborne also sided with the Sun caucus. The Chancellor prioritised the raising of the lower tax threshold over the calls from Tory backbenchers to increase the 40p threshold, something else the Sun called for based on a YouGov poll of their readers.
Murdoch’s political influence may not be what it once was, but the power of his leading tabloid’s support cannot be ignored. It was the most read daily and Sunday newspaper in 2013 with over 2 million readers a day. When you hear phrases like ‘hardworking people’, ‘trying to get on’, and blue-collar Conservatives it is often Sun readers that spring to mind.
The paper also backs winners. The Sun has supported the party with the largest number of votes at the eight previous elections.
But something has to give. As the election looms and Labour are still ahead in the polls, the Sun have been sceptical of Labour’s recent positioning, particularly on the EU referendum, and their portfolio on Ed Balls makes it hard to imagine them supporting any Government that would see him as Chancellor. Either the polls predicting a Labour majority change course, or the Sun could end up on the losing side for the first time in over four decades.
It is worth noting that significant changes to media consumption mean a stamp of approval from any single paper has less of an impact come polling day than in the past. Traditional readership continues to decline and social media empowers readers, allowing them to easily gather their views from several sources.
But editors still know their readers. Newspapers are increasingly a weather vane, not a signpost – and are better connected to ordinary people than political parties. Cameron and Osborne would be right to interpret the Sun’s support as a strong indicator that many working and lower middle-class people – a decisive constituency – will back their policies.
It is also important to recognise that while much of the message ties in with the Conservatives’ wish to be seen as the ‘workers party’, this wasn’t a budget fought on just one front. The pensions and savings announcement played well with the Telegraph and Mail and could potentially win back some of their Ukip-leaning readers.
Either way, Osborne knows that if he is to get his own way next May it will need to be the Sun readers ‘wot won it.