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100 business chiefs back the Conservatives - it's more important than you think

The latest attack on Labour by business may be dismissed as "man bites dog", but it could do damage to the party, albeit indirectly.

103 business leaders have endorsed the Conservatives in a letter to the Telegraph. Does it matter? 

Like Harry Potter's Mirror of Erised, you can see what you want in it. Labour optimists will point out that many of the signatories are Conservative peers and donors. It's likely that the tax affairs of some of the other signatories will now come into the spotlight, which some party insiders believe will harm the Tories.

Labour strategists, who have long-anticipated this attack, also hope that the focus on their offer to business earlier this week - lower business rates for small businesses, no destabilising In-Out referendum on Europe for the big corporates - will sufficiently muddy the waters that the row doesn't do any damage to the party's standing in the polls.

But pessimists within the party will point to the presence of Duncan Bannatyne, who warned against a Cameron government in 2010, or Sir Charles Dunstone, who endorsed Labour in 2005. They fear that the support of business leaders provides a kitemark of credibility that the party cannot afford to do without.

A lot hinges on how Labour react to the letter. A week-long row with a few - many low-profile - business leaders is unlikely to do Labour much direct damage.  But a week spent on the rather abstract question of whether Ed Miliband is a danger to business is a week spent away from the party's issues. As one MP commented to me during the party's last row with business: "I doubt any of my constituents heard about it. But it certainly meant they didn't hear about the paternity stuff."

Just as the party's announcement on extending paternity leave was overshadowed by Miliband's clash with Boots chief Stefano Pessina, it could be that this row blots out any headlines for Labour's strengthened pledge to curb zero-hours contracts. That's far more worrying than any number of letters to the Telegraph.

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

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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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