Ben Sledge 19th July 2018
Many, if not most, visitors arrive into Liverpool by train. As you exit Liverpool Lime Street, like most stations, you come face to face with a long line of taxis, eager to capitalise on weary and confused travellers. But, unlike most stations, nearly every taxi has the words “Do not buy The Sun” emblazoned on the side in place of an advert or the company’s phone number.
The taxi has taken you to wherever you want to be in Liverpool. Perhaps that’s the Tate at the Royal Albert Dock, one of the cathedrals that can be seen from all over the city like overbearing parents, or perhaps you want to go to Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club.
One thing in common with all these places, and in fact everywhere in Liverpool, is that you won’t see anyone buying, selling, or reading The Sun. Even major supermarkets such as Tesco have stopped selling the newspaper in the area citing “no demand”.
The reasons are clear. After the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 in which 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death in overcrowding, the Murdoch-owned newspaper printed pages of false claims that not only blamed Liverpool fans for the disaster, but accused them of urinating on police officers and other fans, beating up officers attempting CPR, and pickpocketing the dead. These reports have since all been proven as fabrication.
The effect that the disaster had on the people of Liverpool is huge, not least for those who attended the match, but also those who lost friends and family. The saddest of these is Stephen Whittle, known as the 97th victim of Hillsborough. Whittle had work commitments and therefore sold his matchday ticket to a friend, who tragically died there. In 2011 Whittle took his own life, with the coroner citing depression and likely survivor’s guilt caused by the events of Hillsborough. Whittle left £61,000 to the families of those who died at Hillsborough.
In the aftermath of Hillsborough, the city of Liverpool came together to stand up to the figures of authority who were lying to their faces
But in the aftermath of the tragedy, the city of Liverpool came together, not only to mourn their lost friends, but to stand up to the figures of authority who were lying to their faces. Their reaction has been widely mocked, especially by Conservative politicians such as Boris Johnson who suggested that the people share a “deeply unattractive, psyche among many Liverpudlians. They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it.” He goes on to vilify the city of Liverpool, claim The Sun and the police were scapegoats, and repeat former’s baseless reports of drunken fans being the cause of the disaster.
Scousers are similarly, if not more, unsympathetic towards then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as she opposed inquiries into the disaster, which some believe is because she was using the police force to crack down hard on the hated “left” and the working classes at events such as the Battle of Orgreave in 1984. This only served to solidify the hatred that many in Liverpool already held for her due to her policies which seemed to advocate for a “managed decline” of the city that received very little from her government.
There is still a way to go before the people of Liverpool will consider justice served
And while Liverpool is, and always has been, a staunchly left-leaning city, perhaps the fact that its residents don’t read the lies and propaganda printed in The Sun has impacted their voting habits in General Elections and in the EU referendum. The Sun printed numerous pro-Leave headlines, and the fact that they weren’t often seen in Liverpool — which voted remain — could have influenced the city’s decision.
The truth eventually became official record 27 years after Hillsborough, when a jury exonerated the fans of any wrongdoing, and condemned the police present at the match of unlawful killing by gross negligence. However, there is still a way to go before the people of Liverpool will consider justice served, as many of the police officers still await trial, and many who attacked Liverpool supporters, including The Sun and Boris Johnson, have only felt repercussions from the fans themselves.
Both Liverpool and Everton football clubs have banned The Sun’s reporters from press conferences at their stadiums
But the repercussions for The Sun are astonishing.
Communities in Liverpool have truly come together and forced a decline in the newspaper’s readership and therefore local sales figures. It makes a lot of sense that both Liverpool and Everton football clubs have banned The Sun’s reporters from press conferences at their stadiums, but the real power of the people is shown by the actions of national companies. The fact that supermarkets such as Tesco, which stopped stocking the paper purely due to a lack of demand rather than any political or moral affiliations, say it isn’t worth selling the paper, shows the power of the city and its people.
And perhaps boycotting is the only way to effectively protest in an era of late capitalism? We’ve all seen the hundreds of petitions shared by Facebook friends but realistically they mostly serve to raise awareness, and most often get rejected or remain unseen. And protests don’t force anyone to listen to them, as shown by Donald Trump simply avoiding the recent protests against him during his visit to the UK. But companies might just listen when you start eating into their profits, and the only way to do that is through togetherness, cooperation and boycotting their products.
The boycott in Liverpool occasionally extends further than Merseyside, usually with travelling Scousers, and is now reaching further with the use of Twitter through accounts such as Total eclipse of the S*n and people encouraging others to hide copies of The Sun when they see it on sale.
Political singer Billy Bragg also encourages his fans to boycott the paper, in his rallying speeches and his songs themselves.
What is immediately clear is that Liverpool has come together as a city, not only to mourn 96 of their own, but also to overcome the government and police collusion and lying media that has prevented justice for so long. When Hillsborough is mentioned, football rivalries are forgotten and communities unite.
It is awful that this togetherness and community has come about after such a terrible disaster, but the people of Liverpool are proud of what they have achieved together, and will continue to achieve together. They have shown that people can still have power over the seemingly omnipotent corporations that run the majority of today’s media and government.
Main image: James O’Hanlon
Ben Sledge 19th July 2018