Is it the end of the bad old days for the Daily Express and Daily Star?

With increasing cross-promotion within his group, Richard Desmond can no longer pander solely to Little Englanders.

Richard Desmond's empire is a curious thing: on the one hand, you have newspapers that worry about immigration and have strayed into toxic territory by giving positive coverage to the English Defence League; on the other, you have magazines like OK!, so fluffy and inoffensive that turning the pages is like being pelted with Care Bears.

Perhaps it's with one eye on detoxifying his newspaper brands that Desmond has branched out with the Health Lottery, a fundraising enterprise that aims to give £50m a year to health charities. With 20.5p per £1 ticket going to those charities (compared with 28p per £1 for the National Lottery), the scheme will have to sell 243 million units a year to hit that goal – but as there are so many promotional outlets available to market the new game, don't write it off. We'll be seeing the Health Lottery on Channel 5, and reading about it in the Express, the Star and OK! Magazine – something to look forward to for us all, there.

Described as "an exciting new lottery" by the Daily Express and as "Northern & Shell's exciting new brand" by Channel 5's Kate Walsh at the press conference, the Health Lottery is a laudable venture. Even those of us who aren't Desmond's biggest fans should wish it well – not just because of the charity element, but because, perhaps, it marks a turning point for his newspapers.

With such a generous venture in the pipeline, Desmond moved to distance his publications from the English Defence League – and the Daily Star on Sunday at the weekend even took a potshot at the Little Englanders, showing a "chilling photo" of EDLers with guns (or replica guns) in their hands, highlighting racist chants and mentioning a "sick Nazi salute". Getting readers by confirming people's prejudices about immigration is one thing; seeming to give tacit support to a polarising organisation such as the EDL is quite another.

The closer Desmond brings his brands together – and the cross-promotion shows no sign of letting up right now – the less spiky the likes of the Star and Express will have to become. That might erode a little of the character of the newspapers, but it might chip away at their nastier side, too. Headlines like BBC PUTS MUSLIMS BEFORE YOU or THEY'VE STOLEN ALL OUR JOBS don't sit nicely alongside the cheerful, breezy tone of OK! magazine or the mass appeal of Channel 5's shows like Home and Away.

Pandering to Little Englanders every now and again might have done a good job in retaining a few hardcore readers for the Express and the Star, but that kind of tactic might become a hindrance when you're trying to make those readers hop over to OK!, or get OK readers to hop over to the Express, or Channel 5 viewers to buy your newspapers as well.

Here's wishing the Health Lottery well, then. It could raise a lot of money for charity and it could mark the end of the bad old days for the Express and the Star. It may seem unlikely, but I'll take a gamble . . .

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Even before Brexit, immigrants are shunning the UK

The 49,000 fall in net migration will come at a cost.

Article 50 may not have been triggered yet but immigrants are already shunning the UK. The number of newcomers fell by 23,000 to 596,000 in the year to last September, with a sharp drop in migrants from the EU8 states (such as Poland and the Czech Republic). Some current residents are trying their luck elsewhere: emigration rose by 26,000 to 323,000. Consequently, net migration has fallen by 49,000 to 273,000, far above the government's target of "tens of thousands" but the lowest level since June 2014.

The causes of the UK's reduced attractiveness are not hard to discern. The pound’s depreciation (which makes British wages less competitive), the spectre of Brexit and a rise in hate crimes and xenophobia are likely to be the main deterrents (though numbers from Romania and Bulgaria remain healthy). Ministers have publicly welcomed the figures but many privately acknowledge that they come at a price. The OBR recently forecast that lower migration would cost £6bn a year by 2020-21. As well as reflecting weaker growth, reduced immigration is likely to reinforce it. Migrants pay far more in tax than they claim in benefits, with a net contribution of £7bn a year. An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent.

Earlier this week, David Davis revealed the government's economic anxieties when he told a press conference in Estonia: "In the hospitality sector, hotels and restaurants, in the social care sector, working in agriculture, it will take time. It will be years and years before we get British citizens to do those jobs. Don’t expect just because we’re changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut - it won’t."

But Theresa May, whose efforts to meet the net migration target as Home Secretary were obstructed by the Treasury, is determined to achieve a lasting reduction in immigration. George Osborne, her erstwhile adversary, recently remarked: "The government has chosen – and I respect this decision – not to make the economy the priority." But in her subsequent interview with the New Statesman, May argued: "It is possible to achieve an outcome which is both a good result for the economy and is a good result for people who want us to control immigration – to be able to set our own rules on the immigration of people coming from the European Union. It is perfectly possible to find an arrangement and a partnership with the EU which does that."

Much depends on how "good" is defined. The British economy is resilient enough to endure a small reduction in immigration but a dramatic fall would severely affect growth. Not since 1997 has "net migration" been in the "tens of thousands". As Davis acknowledged, the UK has since become dependent on high immigration. Both the government and voters may only miss migrants when they're gone.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.