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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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.