Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

It’s election season on Fleet Street

The Diane Abbott controversy, attacking Angela Rayner and… a podcast about Lord Lucan?

Hooray for the Donald! And the Post Office! And that bereaved father who challenged Rishi Sunak over Partygate! Anyone and anything that stops us having to confront Diane Abbott.

It’s not only the right wing press that views the world through blinkers, the left can do it too – albeit without as much practice. 

Yesterday, the Mirror splashed on the family of a man murdered by a primary school teacher describing her as “evil”. A perfectly reasonable redtop lead. We don’t expect our kids’ teachers to go round knifing their partners to death. Above this story was a big picture of Keir Starmer posing for a selfie with a group of student nurses. They were all smiling and looked happy to be there, in contrast to the forlorn “crowds” that gather around Rishi Sunak for his shopfloor lectures on small boats. “We’re all behind you Keir,” said the heading.

But not quite everyone was behind him. In another world, beyond the Mirror’s blinkers, an almighty row was blowing over whether Diane Abbott would or should be allowed to stand as a Labour candidate for the Hackney constituency she has represented for the past 37 years. 

As she finally regained the party whip at the beginning of the week after more than a year’s suspension over a letter to the Observer, The Times reported that she was to be barred from standing as a party candidate on July 4. She was supposedly being encouraged to retire with dignity. But this, she said, was the first she’d heard of it and she wasn’t going quietly. 

Then another candidate – another woman of colour – was deselected from the marginal she had been nurturing for years. While the right wing press gleefully reported a Labour civil war with the “purge” of leftwingers, and the parachuting of Starmer loyalists into safe or target seats, the Mirror kept looking the other way. Wes Streeting was going to turbocharge the NHS. Angela Rayner had been cleared by both the police and HMRC over her ancient housing arrangements. Rishi had been photographed with Mickey Mouse ears. He had a £750 backpack (the Mail noticed this too, but it also spotted that Starmer had a £500 coat, which didn’t seem to capture the Mirror’s attention).

For two days the Mirror consigned developments in the Abbott saga to tint panels. This morning, it finally addressed the issue with Angela Rayner “piling on the pressure” by saying that she could see no reason why Abbott shouldn’t stand. But this was still a small double column piece on a spread dominated by those Mickey Mouse ears and assorted Tory failings or misfortunes. Of the other leftwingers turfed out into the cold, not a word.

Starmer, who has finally said today that Abbott is free to stand as a Labour candidate, has, of course, been disingenuous in keeping on saying, “It’s up to the NEC”. He is not just a member of the committee, but the party leader. She was never going to be foisted on him or removed against his will. For both the left wing of his party and the right wing press, he was destined to be damned whatever he did.

The Express and Telegraph have certainly been enjoying his discomfort. The first edition of today’s Express lead was “Exposed! Splits in Labour ranks”, while inside it delighted in Jeremy Hunt’s radio jibe that if Starmer couldn’t deal with Abbott, how would he tackle Putin? The Express is much enamoured of Mr Hunt at the moment, having repeatedly led on his speculation of what Labour might or might do with taxes as though it were gospel truth. At least we should be impressed that it cleared the front page for the Trump verdict. 

The Telegraph had been a day ahead, splashing on Abbott’s defiance yesterday, and producing a whole page of Labour turmoil today. 

Nor has the Guardian been giving Starmer an easy ride on this, with the splash yesterday and a first-edition lead today – plus a “time running out” essay on the cover of the Journal section and an open letter from an impressive group of influential black people, including David Harewood, Lenny Henry, Gary Younge, Adrian Lester and Lemn Sisay.

But there’s a title missing from that list. What has the Mail had to say about all this? Surely it’s been making hay? Well, it did a bit yesterday with “Labour in turmoil as Diane Abbott saga turns into farce” on page 6. But today “Abbot war rocks Labour” doesn’t make an appearance until the page 8-9 spread – after an Ashcroft poll showing that lots of people haven’t decided which way to vote, but (by the way) Labour is still miles ahead. Oh, and fly tippers will lose their driving licences when the Tories win. 

Maybe this is because the Mail is preoccupied. Fifty years ago a man called Lord Lucan vanished after his children’s nanny was murdered. You may have heard of him. His disappearance was one of those great mysteries, rather like that of Madeleine McCann, where common sense tells you what probably happened at the time and yet “clues” and “sightings” over the years keep the story alive. Lucan, who would have been 90 this December, was declared dead 25 years ago, by which time most people had got on with their lives and never gave him a second thought. 

But the Mail and the Mirror love this sort of thing and they have never let go. And yesterday the Mail’s doggedness paid off with a “world exclusive” on Scotland Yard’s case against Lucan. This was so sensational that it knocked the election right off the front. Do readers really care? Maybe, maybe not. 

But the bean counters surely do, as became apparent in the third paragraph of the story: “It [the Scotland Yard report] will be the basis for a world-exclusive, week-long True Crime podcast event, ‘The Trial Of Lord Lucan’. Two eminent barristers will argue whether Lucan was innocent or guilty using the bombshell dossier and other evidence. Listeners will then be asked to act as jurors and give their verdicts on MailOnline. Lucan never stood trial and the Mail‘s ground-breaking podcast series will test the evidence in the Crown’s case against him.”

And just to hammer home the message, there was a big puff for the podcast across the bottom of the page. Just to be clear, this is the country’s best-selling newspaper essentially telling readers that a self-promoting marketing exercise was the most important thing in the whole wide world for them to know yesterday. Incidentally, the Mail’s earlier foray into this world – looking at the Lucy Letby trial – has been downloaded 23 million times. Replicating those numbers is so much more important than giving readers the news.

Back to Abbott. The Mail has obviously been enjoying seeing Starmer on the rack and is happy to turn the screw. Yesterday Andrew Pierce had a full page to opine that this was the Labour leader’s first serious gaffe in a “lacklustre campaign”. His treatment of Abbott made him and his cronies look like bullying, heartless incompetents. 

This is the same Andrew Pierce who, in the four years Abbott was in Jeremy Corbyn’s top team, mocked her for tweeting about Grenfell sprinklers, for muddling up Indonesia and the Philippines, for asking questions about Antiguan coconut palms, for attacking Amber Rudd over Windrush, and for being late in filing her charity foundation returns. In almost every instance, even in items only a couple of sentences long, he gratuitously referred to her as Corbyn’s former lover, a nugget that harked back to his 2015 spread “Reds in the bed: Jeremy, Diane and a naked romp in a Cotswold field”.

As it happens, Mail diarist Ephraim Hardcastle later wrote that it wasn’t Jeremy that she was romping with in that field, but “another leftie lover” who worked for the BBC. That snippet was one of another half-dozen jibes against “the absurd Diane Abbott” by the diarist over the same period. 

And then there was the splash accusing her, along with Corbyn and John McDonnell, of being “apologists for terror”, the four-page dossier that included a cartoon of her as a superhero crimebuster holding a popgun, the spread ridiculing her after a car-crash LBC interview, the suggestion she should be arrested for drinking a canned cocktail on the Underground, the mocking for wearing two left shoes, and the repeated accusations of hypocrisy. And all this was quite apart from the casual nastiness of Jan Moir’s “Good grief! A woman MP even ghastlier than Diane Abbott” (she was writing about Emily Thornberry).

But now it’s all sympathy for this trail-blazer. Today Richard Littlejohn tells readers he’s always had a soft spot for her (to be fair, he has said the same in the past) and that crushing her makes Starmer look weak and vindictive.

Well, Starmer hasn’t played a blinder that’s for sure. But supposing he’d backed her straight off? Supposing the other leftwingers had been allowed to stand? Can you imagine the Mail headlines? “So much for the changed party… look at all these Corbynistas… you can’t trust them”.

Today’s “Abbott war rocks Labour” spread is illustrated not by a photograph of the woman at the centre of the controversy, but of Angela Rayner, talking to Sky News about why she had registered her child at the “wrong address”. 

The paper is just so reluctant to let go of this non-scandal. On Wednesday, after the police said their investigation was going nowhere, she was the main front-page picture, sandwiched between the headlines “As police DROP Rayner council house probe… she faces fresh row over pledge to ‘recognise Palestine’.” Inside, a spread focused on neighbours’ “anger and disbelief” that the investigation had gone nowhere. 

Because that’s totally the way to tell the story. Think a suspect in a murder case being released without charge and a newspaper going back to the scene of the crime and reporting on the locals saying “Yeah, well, he did it… I know what I know. It’s a stitch-up. You can’t trust the cops.”

Next day, the Mail declined to report that HMRC had also concluded she had done nothing wrong. Dan Hodges continued to tweet that she should publish her tax returns and whatnot. Why? Because he wants her to? Why should she? But maybe it’s finally dawning on Ted Verity, the Mail editor, that people don’t care. Today’s piece is almost sympathetic. And it calls her “Angela”, not “Rayner” in the headline. 

It really is time to move on.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.