Has the Daily Star turned its back on the EDL?

The red top pledges to oppose “extremism and fanaticism no matter what quarter it comes from”.

The Daily Star's flirtation with extremist right-wing, if not right-wing, politics appears to be over. Last month Richard Desmond's flagship red top raised concerns that it was preparing to formally endorse the English Defence League after publishing an editorial entitled "Don't Dare Ignore The EDL" with the accompanying splash "English Defence League To Become A Political Party".

Fortunately it now appears the Star editor, Dawn Neesom, described in her Wikipedia biography as a staunch West Ham fan and avid kick boxer, has experienced a conversion on the road to Luton, and will be adopting a more circumspect approach to the group, which has been bringing booze-fuelled chaos to Britain's multi-ethnic communities.

A letter from the Daily Star publishers, Northern & Shell, to Nick Lowles, editor of the anti-extremist magazine Searchlight, pledges: "Our stand has always been and always will be that of strongly opposing extremism and fanaticism no matter what quarter it comes from, whether it be burning poppies or copies of the Koran." It goes on, "We assure Searchlight that the Daily Star will continue to endeavour to be a fair and accurate newspaper serving a true United Kingdom and all its people."

An editorial response from Lowles, who has been campaigning for the Star to distance itself from the EDL, expresses his belief that "the newspaper will not be backing the street gang or any other extremist organisation". He adds: "We welcome this statement and what we understand to be a change in direction. We will remain vigilant to keep the newspaper to its word."

Despite a perception that the Daily Star was morphing into the house magazine of the far right, the truth is the Star stable has adopted a more ambiguous stance to both the EDL and the league's floundering forerunners in the BNP. The Sunday edition of the paper has run a number of hard-hitting exposés of both organisations, and was highly critical of the Prime Minister's recent Munich speech on multiculturalism. Under the headline "David Cameron Boards the EDL Bandwagon" the paper charged: "Bungling David Cameron was last night accused of 'stoking the fires' of race hate just hours before a thuggish far-right march."

There have also been indications that Richard Desmond has himself been concerned about his daily paper's courting of the EDL. The Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade, who was heavily critical of the Star's favourable editorial, quoted a spokesman for Desmond insisting the proprietor had no prior knowledge of the paper's stance. The Independent also agreed to change its online headline "Has Richard Desmond decided to back the English Defence League?" to "Has the Daily Star decided to back the English Defence League?" following a request for a correction from Desmond.

The Star's decision to break from its balaclava-clad suitors comes at a time when the paper has been facing internal as well as external scrutiny over its reporting of ethnic minorities, especially those in the Muslim community. The whistleblower/disgruntled former employee Richard Peppiatt claimed in a resignation letter to Daily Star management that Islamophobia had become a key weapon in the paper's fight for circulation.

"Muslims are branded 'beardies' or 'fanatics', and black-on-black killings ('Bob-slayings', as I've cringingly heard them called in your newsroom) can be resigned to a handful of words, shoehorned beneath a garish advert," Peppiatt wrote.

In response, the Daily Star issued a statement which claimed: "Regarding the allegations over the paper's coverage of Islam, he [Peppiatt] was only ever involved in a very minor way with such articles, and never voiced either privately or officially any disquiet over the tone of the coverage. For the record, the Daily Star editorial policy does not hold any negativity towards Islam and the paper has never, and does not endorse, the EDL."

Whatever the truth of the Peppiatt allegations, the withdrawal, or non-extension, of the Daily Star's support will be a seen as a blow to the organisation at a time when it is struggling to manage internal tensions over its direction. Alan Lake, the EDL's shadowy millionaire financier, is keen to channel his progeny towards the political mainstream, and has been attempting to build connections with the European and international right, including fringe elements of the US Tea Party movement.

In contrast, Tommy Robinson, the EDL's self-styled "General", is said to want to remain true to the movement's "grass-roots" strategy of street-level demonstrations and confrontation, even though effective policing and community organisation are reducing the opportunities for disorder so beloved of many of its members.

The "tits, bums, QPR and roll your own fags" agenda pursued by the Daily Star's inaugural editor, Derek Jameson, is not to everyone's taste. But the capture of a national newspaper endorsement, from whatever source, would have been an important feather in the hoodies of the EDL. Dawn Neesom and Richard Desmond's change of heart, however belated, is to be welcomed.

Say oooh, ah, Daily Star . . .

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“It feels like a betrayal”: EU citizens react to Jeremy Corbyn’s migration stance

How do Labour-supporting European migrants in the UK feel about their leader wanting to control EU migration?

“This feels a bit different from the man I had campaigned for,” says Eva Blum-Dumontet. “It felt like he was on the side of the group that matters, regardless of whether they were actually going to make him gain voters or not. He was on the side of what seemed right.”

Blum-Dumontet is a 26-year-old EU citizen who has been in the UK for five years. She works as a researcher for a charity and lives in north-east London’s Walthamstow, where she is the local Labour party’s women’s officer.

She joined Labour just before the 2015 general election, and campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn during his leadership bid that year. She spent one and a half months that summer involved in his campaign, either phone banking at its headquarters at the Unite union building, or at campaign events, every other evening.

“When he suddenly rose out of nowhere, that was a really inspiring moment,” she recalls. “They were really keen on involving people who had recently arrived, which was good.”

“Aside from the EU, I share all of his views”

Blum-Dumontet voted for Corbyn in both of Labour’s leadership elections, and she joined Momentum as soon as it was set up following Corbyn winning the first one in 2015. But she left the group two months ago.

She is one of the roughly three million EU citizens living in the UK today whose fate is precarious following the EU referendum result. And she doesn’t feel Corbyn is sticking up for her interests.

Over the weekend, the Labour leader gave an interview that has upset some Labour-supporting EU migrants like her.

Corbyn reiterated his opposition to staying in the single market – a longstanding left-wing stance against free market dominance. He added that his immigration policy “would be a managed thing on the basis of the work required” rather than free movement, and, in condemning agencies exploiting migrant workers, he said:

“What there wouldn’t be is wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industry. You prevent agencies recruiting wholescale workforces like that; you advertise for jobs in the locality first.”

Corbyn also emphasised that Labour would guarantee the rights of EU nationals to stay in Britain – including the right of family reunion – and that there would still be Europeans working here and vice versa. But, for some in his party who hail from Europe, the damage was done.

“I feel like he’s now trying to signal more and more that he’s not on all sides, he’s on the side of people who are just scared of migrants,” says Blum-Dumantet, who will nevertheless stay in the party to try and change the policy. “The idea that he is willing to engage in this whole dog-whistling immigration fear feeling is a bit disturbing.”

She stresses that, “aside from the EU, I share all of his views”, but adds:

“I feel like he’s chosen his socialist utopia – and I don’t mean that as a bad thing; I’m a socialist as well – over the reality of the concrete lives of three million people. For us, this is not about some abstract ideal, it’s about our lives, whether we can get jobs here, whether we can stay here. And for the sake of his ideal, he’s sacrificing that. That does feel like a betrayal.”

***

Other EU migrants who initially supported Corbyn also feel let down. Sabrina Huck, the London representative of Labour’s youth wing Young Labour, moved here from Germany in February 2014.

Having joined the party that year, she voted for Corbyn in the first leadership election, “particularly because of things like being an internationalist, talking about migrant solidarity”.

Huck, 26, who lives in south London and works in public affairs, began to change her mind about him she discovered his Eurosceptic views. “It’s kind of my fault because I didn’t really do the research properly on him, I guess!” she laughs.

“I understand the argument that we have put downward wage pressure on some jobs”

Now, she feels “disappointed” in Corbyn’s comments about “wholesale importation” of workers. “The way he articulates himself – it doesn’t sound like what I wanted to hear from a Labour leader, particularly somebody who’s been a proud internationalist, proud migrant rights campaigner,” she tells me.

“I think the way he was making his point about wages was laying the blame way too much with workers and not with the bosses, basically.”

Huck notes that Corbyn is against the single market because of his socialist view of the EU as a “capitalist club”, rather than concern about borders. But she feels he’s using “the immigration argument” to sound mainstream:

“I feel like he’s using it as an opportunity to further his own ideological goal of leaving the single market by tying that to an argument that goes down well with the Leave-voting public.”

***

However, other Labour-leaning EU migrants I speak to do not feel Corbyn’s genuine motive is to bring immigration down – and are more understanding of his comments.

“I appreciate and understand the argument that we have put downward wage pressure on some – particularly blue collar or poorer paid – jobs, that is the nature of mass migration,” says a 29-year-old Czech who works for the government (so wishes not to be named), and has lived here since 2014. She believes his comments were made to “appeal to the hard left and Ukip types”, and has left the Labour party. But she adds:

“I can understand how communities suffering through a decade of stagnant wage growth and austerity are looking for a scapegoat, easily found in the form of migrants – particularly in a country where minimum wage and labour protections are so weak legislatively, and so poorly enforced.”

She also is sceptical that a “mass deportation” of EU migrants from Britain is likely to happen. “The optics are too bad, at a minimum,” she says. “It would look too much like the 1930s. What would the government do? Put us all on boats back to Europe?”

“I kind of shrugged off those comments and they didn’t bother me massively”

“I think they [Labour] are feeling their way around the issue [of Brexit] and are listening for public sentiment,” says Agnes Pinteaux, a Hungarian-born 48-year-old who moved to Britain in 1998. “But reconciling their hardcore Brexit support, those who just hate immigrants, those who want ‘sovereignty’, and those who want Brexit ditched altogether is going to be impossible.”

“I think the debate about the ethics of free movement of labour is a legitimate one, but it has to be rooted in human rights and dignity,” says Anna Chowrow, a 29-year-old third sector financial manager who moved from Poland to Scotland in 2007, adding:

“I was thrilled when Jeremy Corbyn was first elected Labour leader, and I have admiration for his principled approach. [But] I am in disbelief that these comments – akin to ‘British jobs for British workers’ – were made by him. The dehumanising language of ‘importation’ and ‘destruction’ is beyond disappointing.”

***

Finding EU citizens in Britain who are entirely sympathetic to Corbyn’s comments is difficult. Forthcoming defenders of his stance are hard to come by, suggesting that it’s a minority view among Europeans living in Britain. But there are some who continue to back him.

“I like Jeremy Corbyn’s authenticity. He comes across as genuine and honest, and I agree with most of his ideas. Contrary to the majority of politicians, he’s actually not afraid of coming across as a human being,” says Teresa Ellhotka, 24, who moved to the UK from Austria in 2016 and works in PR.

“His ideas and visions are, in my opinion, still very progressive”

“I kind of shrugged off those comments and they didn’t bother me massively,” she says of Corbyn’s stance on EU migrants. “My mind about Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t changed drastically as his ideas and visions are, in my opinion, still very progressive and I admire that he is dedicated to change but in a human way, and doesn’t suggest fighting fire with fire – as many other politicians, and people, seem to do.”

Ellhotka admits to being “a little surprised, as I did not expect this stance from him at all”, but feels there has been “so much back-and-forth” on the issue that she’s stopped worrying about what politicians say.

“Nobody seems to know what exactly is going to happen anyway.” The only thing, perhaps, that all politicians – and their voters – can agree on.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.