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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.