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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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.