Laura Kuenssberg. Photo: Getty
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The Canary is running a sexist hate campaign against Laura Kuenssberg for clicks

The BBC political editor is a staple hate-figure for the pro-Corbyn website.

During the bit of Jeremy Corbyn's speech to Labour conference where journalists were just beginning to drift off, Buzzfeed Political Editor Jim Waterson posted about a story on The Canary. The pro-Corbyn "alternative" site had posted an article by Steve Topple headlined: "We need to talk about Laura Kuenssberg. She’s listed as a speaker at the Tory Party conference."

As Waterson put it, "It took me two mins to call the event organiser and find out this is bollocks. She's not speaking at Tory conference. Already going viral regardless."

The Canary article claimed that "BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg is listed as an invited speaker at the Conservative Party conference. And the news raises questions about the impartiality of the journalist and her organisation. Again."

Now, it's true that Kuenssberg appears as an "invited speaker" on the event listing for a fringe organised by the Centre for Social Justice alongside former DWP minister Iain Duncan Smith. The chancellor Philip Hammond is also "invited". However, "invited" just means that the CSJ have sent her an email asking if she would attend. 

There are two problems here. The first is the way that The Canary - an independent, reader-funded "alternative" news site - uses Kuenssberg as a traffic-driver for hate-clicks. This is a flimsy story - leftwing journalists speak at Tory conference, and vice versa - even if it were correct. Which it isn't, as the BBC press office soon made clear.

So why would the Canary flam up such a small story? Simple answer: for traffic - and therefore revenue. The new left media has learned from the old right legacy press that the BBC is a big institution, and is vulnerable to accusations of bias. The Canary pummels the BBC, and to a lesser extent, the rest of the media. As a story, it's cheap, easy and requires few resources - just switch on your TV or browse the BBC website and find something you don't like. As my colleague Anoosh Chakelian reported in her piece on these alternative sites: "The Canary’s biggest target is the BBC, which it sees as biased in favour of a “neoliberal” establishment. Upon parliament’s return from the summer recess, the Canary website ran three attack pieces on the BBC in two days."

The site has a tag for its Kuenssberg stories, which include "After taking six weeks off, it took Laura Kuenssberg just two paragraphs to reveal her true colours" and "Laura Kuenssberg's response to the Labour manifesto shows the BBC is moving from bias to naked self-interest". A story headlined "petition to sack BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg was 'probably' removed ‘under establishment pressure’, says former UK ambassador" - even features the thoughts of noted Julian Assange fan Craig Murray, just to complete the circle of conspiracy obsessives.

Kuenssberg has become a lightning rod for criticism, particularly since the BBC Trust ruled that she had breached impartiality guidelines with an interview on Corbyn's "shoot to kill" policy. However, it's important to contextualise this: BBC editors receive constant complaints from politicians and their teams about their reporting. Why? Because they reach so many people. What is reported on the BBC matters. 

However, it's not hard to spot that some BBC staff get more flak than others. Those in front of camera are instantly recognisable, and so make better targets. So - let's be honest - are women. There is a strain of misogyny which delights in being told that there are some women it's OK to hate. The media should not give license to that impulse, and neither should anyone who calls themselves progressive. Internet arguments over the exact calibration of condemnation given to vitriol against Diane Abbott vs Laura Kuenssberg miss the fact that both left and right are united in finding some women acceptable targets for sexist abuse. Do as you would be done to.

The demonisation of Kuenssberg, which the Canary has taken such delight in, has had real world effects. The BBC political editor was given a bodyguard for Labour party conference, presumably as a result of threats. When the story was reported, a sizeable section of the online left, instead of believing that the BBC would make a sensible decision based on duty of care to an employee, decided to question whether it was an anti-Corbyn plot. Where were these threats? Why won't you tell us what they are? The tone was conspiracist, which is frankly boggling to anyone who has ever clicked on the replies to a Kuenssberg tweet. The hate for her is real, it is often wildly divorced from anything she's actually done, and it often takes overtly misogynist forms. 

In fact, look at one of the first responses to the Canary's own tweet of the story. 

The second point about the Canary's Kuenssberg story is that it shows something unfashionable - the importance of expertise in journalism. Anyone who has ever covered a party conference could tell you that it's far from unusual to see an event hopefully listing all kinds of grandees and big names as "invited". That's because Diane Abbott or Justine Greening will receive dozens of invitations and quite often they won't decide their diaries until after the printed conference guide has been sent to press. A more experienced political journalist would have been more sceptical of that event listing - and would also, as Jim Waterson did, contact the event organisers for clarification before publishing. (The Canary story says that the BBC had not responded by the time it published the piece.) 

In his speech to conference, Jeremy Corbyn attacked the mainstream media for fuelling online abuse. "The campaign by the Tories and their loyal media was nasty and personal," he said. "It fuelled abuse online and no one was the target of that more than Diane Abbott." On the question of Abbott, he is entirely correct - she was the subject of half of a sample of 25,000 abusive tweets sent to female MPs during the campaign. 

But Kuenssberg is also a target of waves of vitriol - and, clearly, serious enough physical threats to merit protection. The Canary's continued use of her as a punching bag for clicks suggest that they are willing to turn a blind eye to misogyny, as long as it's directed at the "right" targets. 

(Update: The Canary has now amended the article and added a note at the end, following the BBC's statement.)

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She regularly appears on BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and the News Quiz, and BBC1’s Sunday Politics. 

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.