Don’t click on the Daily Mail!

How many visitors to the <em>Daily Mail</em>’s website are angry liberals, peeping at the horrors be

There's a difficulty about writing about Daily Mail columnists without falling into a couple of traps.

It's become something of a cliché, the wringing-wet liberal getting all antsy about something provocative that a Mail columnist has churned out, raising yourself into a sense of righteous anger over someone else's terribly un-PC and controversial views that they churn out, every week, to a deadline and to a word count.

"Oh, there you go again," people will say, shaking their heads and tut-tutting at you, "getting all wound up by the Mail and the sentiments in it. Every week you get surprised by the fact that Richard Littlejohn doesn't vote Labour or that Melanie Phillips hasn't discovered atheism – what do you expect?"

Sometimes it can feel a bit obvious, a bit ordinary, a bit banal, to challenge columnists who are only there to bulk out the newspaper or website with some colour, whose views are bound to vary from your own.

The second trap people can fall into is promoting the very thing you're unhappy about. If you get angry about some terribly controversial and un-PC views, which are nicely laid out every week under the journalist's photo byline and illustrated by cartoons and photographs of celebrities, you might just bring them to a wider audience.

If you get angry about a Mail columnist in the privacy of your own living room, that's one thing. If you do it on Twitter, the power of the hyperlink means that you may well be inviting lots of other people in the echo chamber to get similarly angry about the same thing, who will tell their friends with similar views about how awful it is, and they'll click on the link to look at how vile the views are, and so on, and so on.

Reel 'em in

The Daily Mail's website gets millions of visitors a day. I'm starting to wonder how many of them are angry liberals peeping at the horrors from behind the curtain. It's not recorded in web traffic statistics whether you approve of the content that you've just seen or not; your presence is just added to the total. Advertisers and potential advertisers don't get told that a lot of people who visit Mail Online are swearing under their breath as they read the awful toxic words; they just get shown the numbers.

I say all this because, as I write this, I am reading on Twitter that some people are upset by a piece by the Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir in which she talks about the reaction of "gimlet-eyed" celebrities on Twitter to the death of Amanda Holden's baby.

To my mind, it seems like perfect flamebait: it's Jan Moir, of Stephen-Gately-death-nastiness fame, once again spouting off in public after a human tragedy, except this time there's the bonus idea of sticking the article full of celebrities' names and insulting Twitter. It's a perfect pointy stick to rattle around inside the hornets' nest.

I'm not saying Jan Moir doesn't believe her views about public events, which she has been producing once a week in Word format for a long time now; I'm just saying it would be easy for people to think such articles were designed to provoke the kind of reaction that would see the website swamped with traffic.

But, all of that said, if you do disagree with these articles, what can you do? Thousands of complaints to the PCC did not lead to a massive censure being aimed at the author after the Gately piece. Do you complain anyway, just to put your disapproval on the record? Do you write your own response, detailing your emotional reaction to the piece? Do you walk away and try to forget about it, knowing that something which you find unpleasant has gone unchallenged?

My own view is that this Moir piece isn't terribly offensive, but it is flamebait, and should be treated as such. She isn't unpleasant towards Amanda Holden, and saves her attacks for Twitter celebrities, who may write their own responses if they wish. Perhaps we should put away the flaming torches and the pitchforks until such time as they're needed.

Now, I realise that by writing this, and by tweeting about it, I have drawn more attention to the Moir article than it might otherwise have got, for which I apologise in advance. They win, whatever you do. Perhaps the only thing to do in future is not only not to write about Daily Mail columnists, but not to write about writing about Daily Mail columnists. Or is that a cliché, too? I don't know, but if you want a happier day, don't click on the link. I said, don't click!

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change