Why the Daily Mail's Right Minds fails to deliver

No, it's not the politics or the 55-deck shrill headlines that disappoint.

I don't think Right Minds is for me. This isn't a tremendous surprise given my political leanings, but it's not that. I'm used to reading the Mail and being infuriated by their columnists, or irritated by their 55-deck shrill headlines about benefit cheats, gypsies and single mums, but it's not that either.

No, for once, it's rather sad to note that the Mail have gone through with something and haven't done it very well.

It's not often that the Mail are behind the curve on something, but here it is: their attempt at a multi-authored Huffington Post-style brains trust, to rival Telegraph Blogs, Comment is Free, the Spectator Coffee House and others went live today.

Already nicknamed the "Heffington Post" because of Simon Heffer's editorship, I was expecting the trademark Mail slickness to set a new benchmark for the rest of us to have to strive for. But no. It's a bit of a mess, and that's rather disappointing.

The Mail may be many things to many people, but the one adjective I never thought I'd use about it was "amateurish". There's a sticky-back-plastic cobbled-together feel of Right Minds which goes against everything the Mail stands for in terms of quality. There's a giant photo of Richard Littlejohn at the top of the page, for example, that beams out at you in that mildly terrifying way he does, but it's been blown up so much it's gone fuzzy; and Norman Tebbit's name is spelt wrong -- the sort of mistakes that the Mail just doesn't make.

The title page is littered with so many choices it's like one of those baffling restaurant menus that you end up staring at for half an hour rather than choosing something to eat. Where to begin? Where to end? Why to bother?

You're overwhelmed as a punter, drowning in a soup of content, struggling to navigate your way around the competing articles. Perhaps the idea is that you flounder around and end up clicking on stuff as you try to get your bearings; perhaps it's a case of "more is more" and they're just trying to deluge us with as much content as possible so we couldn't possibly not find something to read.

But it doesn't seem very Daily Mail to me. With the Mail the newspaper - and its staggeringly popular website about Kim Kardashian in a bikini with various less important news articles tacked onto the side - you might dislike or even despise the content, but you always have to admire the professionalism; you might not like what they're doing but you have to begrudgingly give them their dues for the standards they set. But that's not the case with Right Minds, and I find that a bit of a let-down. I'm not the Mail's biggest fan by any stretch of the imagination, but this is just rather disappointing.

That said, what did I find to enjoy? Well, I had fun with this Q and A on spiders with Craig Brown (including a rather delightful line about "Arachnid Correctness gone mad"), and, as is so often the case, the Mail's leader column provides the kind of consumer champion voice over banking that cuts right through party affiliation, backed up by this article from Alex Brummer.

I looked in vain for a "token leftie" but all I could find was Roy Hattersley, and he was droning tediously on about HP Sauce so that didn't help. Perhaps it's just the way that things have fallen as the venture starts out, but there seems to be a preponderance of men v women. The links don't really add much either -- Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale, John Redwood, it's the same old usual suspects, the kind of thing that someone just starting out as a Tory blogger would put on their blogroll.

I'm sure it'll get better. And it's wrong to imagine that the "Heffington Post" will fail, because it has such huge resources at its disposal that it can't possibly fail. Doubtless a top team have been behind the scenes working out how to drive as much traffic as possible to the site, and it will boost the Mail's ever-growing website presence.

But I had hoped for something a bit more market leading, a bit less safe, a bit more worthy of admiration, even if I didn't agree with the politics.

 

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.