Thursday 14 January 2021

Telegraphing Compliance

The post below should be a lesson to everyone. Read things properly. Keir Starmer will not be having a regular column in The Telegraph

In a throwaway line in The Indie, we learn Keir Starmer will shortly avail himself of a weekly article in The Telegraph. This might seem an odd decision for several reasons. As the house journal of the most unhinged sections of the Conservative Party, there aren't too many Labour-leaning voters to be found turning its pages. Indeed, according to 2017 data the Telegraph is the most Tory of the papers, with 79% of its readers voting for Theresa May versus 12% who went for Labour. What's the game then?

Five weeks after he became Labour leader, Keir Starmer was allowed to have a soft focus article in The Telegraph about VE Day. Back then, this caused a scratching of heads and a deal of criticism, and this very blog noted how it signalled (some might say, telegraphed) his compliance with the establishment-determined rules of the political game. And few would dispute Keir started as he meaned to carry on with his reluctance to rock the boat and even back campaigning unions when they had the full weight of public opinion behind them.

How then should we assess the fruits of this strategy so far and, in particular, his (by now) multiple dalliances with the Telegraph? As of the moment, the paper's coverage of the Labour leader is much more balanced. Sticking 'Keir Starmer Telegraph' into Google this morning gives the following top three entries. Top is the laughable 'The vaccine miracle would never have happened under Prime Minister Starmer', then 'Keir Starmer's family agenda is a threat to the Tories', and thirdly 'Sir Keir Starmer rules out major changes to Brexit deal'. The media watchers in LOTO would be quite happy with two out of three. And yet, again, what is the point? Few would-be Labour voters are going to see the missives, and especially so as they are filed behind the paper's paywall, where presumably Keir's future contributions will be lodged.

Almost a year on the essentials of the compliance argument holds, but what relationship Keir is trying to strike isn't entirely a relationship of subservience, of demonstrating how safe one's pair of hands are to the interests the Tory press hold dear. There is a pro-active element to this strategy. The first, as we saw back in May, is a means of rendering Keir familiar to right wing readers. If he spends the next several years of ghost written columns labouring on Blue Labour themes, like praising the army of waxing lyrical about Christianity, the idea is uncontroversial pronouncements on core Tory concerns will endear Keir and make it more difficult for the press to demonise him as per his predecessor (and, for that matter, predecessors). Besides, surely it would be bad form for the Telegraph to lead a full-throated denuniciation of their new star columnist?

The second is disruption. In the game of Westminster thrones, having a column in Boris Johnson's former paper might irk him a little, but the presence of Keir in the most Tory of Tory papers disarms the inevitable attacks and scrambles their coherence. If he's so appalling and dangerous, why has this pillar of the Conservative establishment given him a platform? How can the things nasty Tory journalists are saying about him be true if, in the pages of the Telegraph, he's saying something different entirely and Tory-minded readers can see what he has to say in his own words? And if he's planning on stealing our Brexit, dozens of filings say otherwise - occasionally back up by Telegraph editorial comment on his musings.

This is what you might call clever-clever politics, or playing chess five moves ahead. Keir Starmer and his helpers know that to win the red wall back and make advances elsewhere, Labour has to pierce the blue wall: the near monopoly the Tories have on popular political coverage in this country. Getting a Telegraph column fits well within this strategy, even if its audience is nowhere near as broad as The Mail and The Sun. Could it work? Possibly. But if the price is moving to the right, not challenging the basis of Tory power and eschewing the interests of Labour's existing voter coalition, such prostration will be for nought.

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SimonB said...

It looks like the strategy is to look like a government-in-waiting. Tory government in waiting, that is. Given the shambles of the actual tories it might work.

David said...

TBH if we get this shit shower out I'd have anything to the left of John Major. Anyway Starmer is throwing us a few bones, how about this one?

theOnlySanePersonOnPlanetEarth said...

Newspapers, newspapers? mmm

remind me are they like an 18th century version of Twitter and Facebook?

Blissex said...

To pursue authoritarian, affluent, brexiter tory voters Keir Starmer has sent over the past six months loud repeated messages to most scottish and "Remainer" voters that New, New Labour is not interested in them.
It looks almost as if New, New Labour is not pursuing tory voters with opportunistic tory policies, but pursuing tory policies with the excuse that they attract tory voters.

Anonymous said...

Erm.......this isn't actually true and you have all been had ;)