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9 June 2017

How the right-wing press has turned on Theresa May

As the Tories fail to win a majority, the papers have changed their tune.

By Anoosh Chakelian

I know, I know. It’s not exactly a story that the media is fickle. But the about-turn Britain’s right-wing newspapers have made in response to Theresa May’s failure to win a majority is quite a sight.

Just check out the headlines from various morning editions:

These are the same papers that applauded Theresa May regardless of what she did – even when she was announcing Labour policies. The Mail praised her energy cap policy as a “crackdown on rip-offs” while balking at the same policy from Ed Miliband as “back to the bad old days”. When she announced the “dementia tax” – a policy labelled the “death tax” when mooted and dropped by Labour, and bad enough for even May to ditch – the Mail rather desperately trilled: “You won’t have to sell home to pay for your care”.

And in case our memories don’t serve us well, here’s how enthusiastic they were about May just before the election:

This hasty dumping of their queen shows quite how desperate such publications were for a Tory government. This was in spite of being unsure about the chosen leader all along, as she made gaffes and lacked charisma – and having readerships horrified by her social care policy. Nevertheless, the papers bigged up everything May did without scrutiny just for the sake of a Tory win.

Yes, all publications have their stances, and you wouldn’t expect the right-wing press to come out against a Tory Prime Minister going into an election. But their eagerness to ditch her, and failure to unpick policies that would have negatively affected the majority of their readers, suggest that they were doing the work of campaign leaflets – rather than the press – up until the election result.

As has been again proved by Jeremy Corbyn’s impressive performance, the influence of a biased press isn’t as powerful as people believe. Sadiq Khan won the London mayoral election against an offensively hostile Evening Standard. The SNP swept to power across Scotland in 2015 when hardly any papers wanted it to. But perhaps they should learn from May’s humiliation that their agendas should not be as naked as those of the parties they are supposed to be holding to account.

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