Philippa Stroud: where is the media outrage?

The Observer reported on Sunday that a Tory PPC ran a church that tried to “cure” homosexuals. Why h

On Sunday, the Observer carried this report on a high-flying Conservative candidate, Philippa Stroud, who is standing in the seat of Sutton and Cheam, in Surrey.

It's entirely possible that you missed the story, as it doesn't appear to have been picked up by any other mainstream news outlets.

If you did, the main charge levelled against Stroud is that she founded a church and night shelter in Bedford, the King's Arms Project, which tried to "cure" homosexuals by driving out their demons through prayer.

One girl described her experience to the Observer:

Abi, a teenage girl with transsexual issues, was sent to the church by her parents, who were evangelical Christians. "Convinced I was demonically possessed, my parents made the decision to move to Bedford, because of this woman [Stroud] who had come back from Hong Kong and had the power to set me free."

The Pink News followed up, obtaining a statement from the candidate:

Today, Mrs Stroud issued a statement saying: "I make no apology for being a committed Christian. However it is categorically untrue that I believe homosexuality to be an illness and I am deeply offended that the Observer has suggested otherwise."

When PinkNews.co.uk pointed out to her spokesman that the Observer's prime claim was not that she believed homosexuality to be an illness, rather that she appeared to believe it could be overcome through prayer and removing "demons", he said: "We will not be adding to or subtracting to the statement." [Sic]

It's difficult to see why this story hasn't created a huge storm in the mainstream media, particularly because the Conservatives' questionable position on gay rights has been a talking point of this election.

It seems even stranger, given that the comments of Manish Sood -- a Labour candidate much less influential in his party than Stroud is in hers -- about Gordon Brown's premiership have, within hours, made it into almost all the mainstream media outlets.

A campaign to bring the story to wider media attention has had #PhilippaStroud trending on Twitter. Last night, a Guardian blog reported that the story had been linked to on Facebook more than 5,000 times and tweeted more than 7,000 times.

As one tweet sums it up:

Gordon Brown calls ONE voter a bigot. Press goes MENTAL. #PhilippaStroud calls MILLIONS of voters demons. Silence. Why?

If the allegations are true -- and at the moment there is no reason to doubt it, as they have not been denied -- it is a very serious matter indeed that Stroud could hold public office in just two days' time.

Will the main broadcasters and newspapers pick up on the story? Where's the media outrage when you need it?

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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