The Labour leadership: who the newspapers are supporting

The Staggers takes a look at which candidates the national newspapers and their columnists have back

 

On Wednesday 1 September the ballot to choose the next leader of the Labour Party opened and the Labour leadership battle moved into its final stages.

Despite the distraction of Blair's memoirs, some newspapers and commentors have still found the time to declare their support for a preferred candidate, starting with our endorsement of Ed Miliband and our coverage of Jon Cruddas's endorsement of David Miliband.

Here is a round-up of the newspaper editorials:

The Observer chose this Sunday to declare in favour of David, claiming that:

. . . there is a breadth and subtlety to David Miliband's campaign that elevates him above his rivals. He is unquestionably loyal to the Labour tradition, but loyal also to the politics of winning general elections.

The Guardian meanwhile has chosen to sit firmly on the fence, stating that:

The truth is that both reaching out and moving on are essential, which is why neither is yet the obvious winner. In the three weeks of voting, it is to be hoped that one brother or the other will prove they can manage both at once.

The Independent has plumped for David, stating:

David Miliband has stressed repeatedly that Labour must appeal beyond the core vote if it has any chance of being a credible challenger at the election. In making this point he has not stayed in what his brother describes as a New Labour "comfort zone". If he had done so, he would deserve to lose.

The Times (£) editorial was short and pithy, but still came out strongly for David in the end, noting:

Mr Miliband understands that Labour needs a credible line on the deficit; he has tried more than any other candidate to appeal to the electorate as a whole. He is the only candidate who commands the personal authority to be a credible prime minister and Labour can be a serious opposition only if it is seen as an alternative government. There is only one candidate who comes close to answering that description: David Miliband.

The Financial Times, despite coming out for David, has been disappointed by the leadership contest:

The quality of the leadership debate has been dispiriting. It has been too inward-looking and deferential to the core vote. The candidates have largely failed to articulate a clear vision of Britain's future that could serve as a road map back to power.

The columnists and bloggers have shown a little more variety:

Jackie Ashley (the Guardian) strong supports Ed, but is afraid that he is too dependent on the unions:

He could become the "public-sector leader" or the "northern leader" rather than, as he wants, the leader of the "squeezed middle".

Johann Hari declares his support for Ed as well, but adds this warning:

It's not enough to say the debate should be solely "future oriented". The next Labour leader will face similar decisions. What he did in the past will shape what he does in the future.

Matthew Norman (of the Independent) is strongly convinced that Ed is the man for the job and argues:

It isn't that he speaks something far closer to English than the strangulated, triangulated patois of sonorously meaningless cliché that is his brother's lingua franca, although that certainly helps as well.

It's not even that he conveniently splits the difference between David's Blair Gold tribute act and Balls's core vote-protecting, comfort blanket statism, though that helps even more. It is simply that he had the cobblers to stand for the leadership at all, knowing that this must threaten one of the central relationships of his life.

Finally, Jonathan Freedland does as good a job as ever at sitting on the fence:

In an ideal world, there would be a combined Miliband name on the ballot, blending the strengths of both. As it is, there are two imperfect, all too human individuals. Since only one can triumph, it is incumbent on the eventual winner to take on the arguments and qualities embodied by his defeated brother. The party has been offered an either/or choice. But the truth is, it needs both.

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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.