Daily Star’s tacit support for EDL is no surprise

It could be a good thing – at least we now know where they stand.

Wednesday's front page of the Daily Star has been widely seen as an endorsement of the English Defence League. Roy Greenslade of the Guardian called it "a clear piece of propaganda on behalf of the EDL", while the Independent's Ian Burrell asked, "Has the Daily Star decided to back the EDL?"

It's just a coincidence, of course, that Richard Desmond should moot the EDL's spiritual home of Luton as the base for his newspapers, but it couldn't be better timing. Who knows? Maybe the EDL will hold a "Welcome to Luton" street party for Star hacks when they arrive at work for the first time in Bedfordshire.

My fellow media blogger Five Chinese Crackers expresses the view of many of us who viewed the Star as just a worthless comic and not worthy of serious criticism, saying: "I hardly ever looked at the Star, since it exists primarily as a vehicle for selling pictures of tits to stupid people," but admits we're going to have to start taking it seriously now.

This is, after all, a national newspaper – of which there are only ten – aligning itself with an organisation that many consider to be odious, hostile to freedom and deeply unpleasant. Of course, as many other bloggers have documented down the years, Daily Star headlines often bear little or no relation to the stories below, and it's a similar case with this one. The EDL boss saying "We aren't ruling it out" is alchemised into "EDL to become political party". No matter. The Star has its story, and backs it up with a remarkably chummy editorial column.

It's been coming for a while. Back in November, Hope Not Hate wrote politely to the Star asking the paper to tone down its coverage of Muslims. It came on the back of a Star poll which found that 98 per cent of readers feared Britain was becoming a Muslim state – the most recent poll found that 98 per cent of readers, perhaps not entirely unrelatedly, backed the policies of the EDL.

At the time, I looked at the reaction on nationalist and EDL message boards and blogs, and found it was highly positive. One blogger wrote, delightedly, "This is the first article I have read, from both the national and regional media, that hasn't been critical of the EDL," and hoped for more in the future. It would seem that wish has been granted.

It seems an odd decision, on the face of it, from the Star to be so matey with the EDL. Perhaps 98 per cent of Star readers really do support the EDL; and phone polls are entirely representative of a readership's feelings on any particular subject. Perhaps there is a lot of latent support for the EDL from ordinary Brits who feel angry at what they see as the Islamification of their country, based on the kind of stories they read in the Star (and elsewhere, in slightly more complicated terms). Perhaps it's just a way of targeting a narrow demographic as a way of tunnelling out of the general slump in newspaper sales, abandoning broad appeal in favour of a particular type of reader.

As I said last week, newspapers may be reflecting their readerships, but if they're just confirming prejudices rather than reporting what's actually going on, that erodes the credibility of all newspapers even more.

If you look back further, this was a newspaper that would have had a "Daily Fatwa" edition published, had it not been for a revolt by the newsroom's union chapel. So, this isn't a new flirtation, but perhaps rather a "coming out" by the Star, and perhaps is to be welcomed by the rest of us. At least we know what we're dealing with now, and it's out in the open. At least we know where they stand.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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How the Conservatives lost the argument over austerity

After repeatedly missing their deficit targets, the Tories can no longer present spending cuts as essential.

“The age of irresponsibility is giving way to the age of austerity,” declared David Cameron at the Conservatives' 2009 spring conference. Fear of spending cuts helped deny his party a majority a year later, but by 2015 the Tories claimed vindication. By framing austerity as unavoidable, they had trapped Labour in a political no man's land. Though voters did not relish cuts, polling consistently showed that they regarded them as necessary.

But only two years later, it is the Conservatives who appear trapped. An austerity-weary electorate has deprived them of their majority and the argument for fiscal restraint is growing weaker by the day. If cuts are the supposed rule, then the £1bn gifted to the Democratic Unionist Party is the most glaring exception. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, sought to justify this largesse as "investment" into "the infrastructure of Northern Ireland" from "which everybody will benefit" – a classic Keynesian argument. But this did not, he hastened to add, mean the end of austerity: "Austerity is never over until we clear the deficit."

Britain's deficit (which peaked at £153bn in 2009-10) was the original and pre-eminent justification for cuts. Unless borrowing was largely eliminated by 2015, George Osborne warned, Britain's public finances would become unsustainable. But as time has passed, this argument has become progressively weaker. The UK has cumulatively borrowed £200bn more than promised by Osborne, yet apocalypse has been averted. With its low borrowing costs, an independent currency and a lender of last resort (the Bank of England), the UK is able to tolerate consistent deficits (borrowing stood at £46.6bn in 2016-17).

In defiance of all this, Osborne vowed to achieve a budget surplus by 2019-20 (a goal achieved by the UK in just 12 years since 1948). The Tories made the target in the knowledge that promised tax cuts and spending increases would make it almost impossible to attain – but it was a political weapon with which to wound Labour.

Brexit, however, forced the Conservatives to disarm. Mindful of the economic instability to come, Philip Hammond postponed the surplus target to 2025 (15 years after Osborne's original goal). Britain's past and future borrowing levels mean the deficit has lost its political potency.

In these circumstances, it is unsurprising that voters are increasingly inclined to look for full-scale alternatives. Labour has remade itself as an unambiguously anti-austerity party and Britain's public realm is frayed from seven years of cuts: overburdened schools and hospitals, dilapidated infrastructure, potholed roads, uncollected bins.

Through a shift in rhetoric, Theresa May acknowledged voters' weariness with austerity but her policies did not match. Though the pace of cuts was slowed, signature measures such as the public sector pay cap and the freeze in working-age benefits endured. May's cold insistence to an underpaid nurse that there was no "magic money tree" exemplified the Tories' predicament.

In his recent Mansion House speech, Philip Hammond conceded that voters were impatient "after seven years of hard slog” but vowed to "make anew the case" for austerity. But other Tories believe they need to stop fighting a losing battle. The Conservatives' historic strength has been their adaptability. Depending on circumstance, they have been Europhile and Eurosceptic, statist and laissez-faire, isolationist and interventionist. If the Tories are to retain power, yet another metamorphosis may be needed: from austerity to stimulus.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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