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The media is giving Keir Starmer an easy ride

Access is everything. Credit: Getty

June 22, 2024 - 8:00am

In less than two weeks, Keir Starmer will be Britain’s next prime minister. Oddly, for a man about to lead the country, he has faced very little scrutiny in the press during this campaign. Why?

While readers might think that scrutiny is one of the most essential responsibilities in political journalism, it often comes a distant second to sticking the boot into the incumbent head of government. Gordon Brown’s deficiencies were ignored because the demise of Tony Blair was so gripping. David Cameron’s epoch-shaping agenda of austerity was glossed over because Brown threw things and shouted at people. And now — while the Tories are rightly savaged for an abysmal 14 years in power — Keir Starmer is being treated with kid gloves. As evidenced during his Question Time appearance earlier this week, a potential prime minister who may receive the most substantial mandate in modern history isn’t being asked what he will do with it.

It feels stupid spelling it out, but sometimes the most valuable insights possess a childlike simplicity: the British media can only scrutinise one party, and one political leader, at a time. If you are buying stock in Labour you are selling it in the Conservatives — and vice versa.

But why does that happen? One reason is bandwagon bias. Typically, the Westminster Lobby generally decides on a “take” and rallies round it. Sometimes they are correct (that Labour would get a hiding in 2019), and sometimes they are wrong (as with Brexit, or when Theresa May was viewed as a British Angela Merkel headed for a decade in power). In any case, once they have decided on an outcome it is incredibly difficult to turn the juggernaut around — and on the inside there is no professional advantage in disagreeing.

Which leads to the second reason. If you are a journalist, and “know” who the next PM will be, you are more likely to pull your punches. After all, why sacrifice access with the government-in-waiting to have a pop at the Leader of the Opposition in a story that will be forgotten in a month? Worse still, it’s not uncommon for political journalists to pursue jobs in politics. Sunak’s own Political Secretary, James Forsyth, was previously political editor of the Spectator. His wife Allegra Stratton, once of BBC Newsnight, used to work for Boris Johnson.

That is why, as six members of the Labour National Executive Committee became Parliamentary candidates (the NEC itself has to sign off on candidacies — a clear conflict of interest), journalists at the Financial Times and Sunday Times pronounced that it was nothing new. Despite the world-weary dismissals of various political commentators, this was entirely without precedent — but the press didn’t seem at all bothered.

It should be noted that the stories about Starmer are certainly there. As Director of Public Prosecutions, he billed over £160,000 for a chauffeur-driven car in London despite living four miles from his office. And yet this is a man who promises prudence with taxpayer money. Imagine if John McDonnell had done that, or Corbyn, or Gordon Brown. But now, on such matters — or others like Rachel Reeves having her Parliamentary credit card cancelled — the media is strangely quiet.

Stranger still is the complete lack of scrutiny around Starmer and Brexit. The Labour leader now says he knew the party would lose in 2019. So why on earth did he spend 18 months shifting the party’s position on a second referendum, thereby making the chances of a soft Brexit impossible?

This, and so many others, are stories of huge public interest. But for now much of the media is pulling its punches. Hopefully, one day, it might find its teeth again.


Aaron Bastani is the co-founder of Novara Media, and the author of Fully Automated Luxury Communism. 

AaronBastani

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Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
29 days ago

Good article – but I think it misses the essential point: Starmer is part of the same Oxford-educated Blairite cabal as the vast majority of establishment journalists. Of course they want an end to the uprising of the deplorables that began in 2016 and a return to government by ‘the people who know best’.

Peter B
Peter B
29 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Not totally – Starmer was an undergrad at Leeds and only a short postgrad stay at Oxford.
But absolutely correct that Labour is every bit as infested with same Oxford PPE dross as the Conservatives. Almost by definition people who’ll never move outside their charmed circle or get their hands dirty in industry. And these are the very same people who’ll be telling us how they support “working people” (while despising the views of so many of them) and are “anti-elitist” (while being part of an elite).

j watson
j watson
29 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Hadn’t you heard his Father was a toolmaker and he helped in his workshop? Where’ve you been for goodness sake?
Anyway more seriously Farage and Tice as establishment as they come – private school boys and the former an ex Stockbroker. But let’s remember old Winnie never did a day’s manual labour in industry in his life and born in blinkin Blenheim Palace, yet understandably revered. We probably all spend too much time on the backstory and not enough on the substance of their policy offering.
Author probably correct in his analysis as to why Starmer/Labour not getting more scrutiny. One Tory, or last night Farage’s man-love for Putin, disaster after another bound to deflect attention. Scrutiny is important though and Labour will need it to govern well.

Peter B
Peter B
29 days ago
Reply to  j watson

How does that relate to anything I said ? I didn’t lump Starmer in with the “PPE dross”.
Your Farage Derangement Syndrome is getting a little tiresome. As you say, can’t we just judge things on their merits without constantly trying to play the man ?
Apparently Churchill was a part-time bricklayer (and a reasonably competent one). Not that it matters.

j watson
j watson
28 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

You did go onto to imply manual labour has a cleansing spirit with your industry line PB, but yes you were right on Starmer not being ex- PPE and fair play on that.
As regards the derangement syndrome – I’d contend it’s many others who have this and I, and good few others, see through this Grifter. As we were on the backstory to party leaders no harm highlighting the Dulwich schoolboy’s Stockbroking credentials was there.
Churchill laid some bricks in his back garden. He didn’t do it to help pay the rent.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
29 days ago
Reply to  j watson

What makes Farage different is not his class background but the fact he didn’t go to university. Increasingly the cleavage in the UK is between those who have been through higher education and those who haven’t.

Btw: the missing verbs and articles don’t make your posts seem more authoritative or intelligent.

j watson
j watson
28 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Oh jeez your chippiness about those who got to University seeps into nearly all your posts HB.
Farage didn’t need the meritocratic benefit of a degree because his contacts got him a job in the City. The public schoolboy was part of the establishment and they looked after their own.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Do you actually know that that’s the case or is this just a (now rather lazy and outdated) stereotype? There are plenty of people working in the city with working class backgrounds; something that went back to the Big Bang introduced by Mrs Thatcher. It’s a pretty meritocratic regime.

I suspect you are at least partly motivated by snobbish disdain for Farage’s style and manners, but you can’t quite put your finger on a respectable reason to attack him. So you call him a grifter without any justification – I’m sure he has many faults but that is about as far away from reality as could be imagined. Farage has often made very clear that he would much rather not be involved in politics. Despite his huge political influence, he is certainly not going to get any establishment bongs for it!. However none of the other main parties I’m making the case for a greatly reduced level of immigration the Tories mention it but of constantly failed to meet any of the targets they set themselves.

Here anyway is a better argument for you: Nigel Farage used to endlessly advocate “the Norway option”, a soft Brexit if you like! I’ve never heard him taken to task for this inconsistency and change of position.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
25 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Do you actually know that that’s the case or is this just a (now rather lazy and outdated) stereotype?
It’s snobbery.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
27 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Farage wasn’t a stockbroker he was a metals trader.
Metals trading in London via the LME is quite old fashioned – it is last ‘open outcry’ exchange in The City for e.g. and you find that many of the traders fit that old cliche of being East-End wheeler dealers.
That’s not to say that a bit of nepotism doesn’t hurt, but you don’t get to stay trading unless you deliver in the goods. In that sense, The City is one of the most meritocratic places going – they don’t care about sex, race, or sexual preference as long as you make money.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
25 days ago
Reply to  j watson

I have a doctorate – I know of what I speak. The universities were toxic in my time (the 80s). They’re worse now.

David
David
28 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

What really matters here surely is that Starmer is a “professional”, part of the credentialed producer vested interest that makes its living by over-complicating any process it’s involved in and manufacturing problems that only it has the “qualifications” to solve. No wonder journalists and the rest of the technocrat middle class are so attracted. He guarantees that the racket continues.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
28 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Correct. The bloodless but seismic Progressive Revolution 1992/7 to present has many echoes in Russian history. 1917/92 saw the overthrow of the ancien regime and dawn of an internationalist new order. Brexiteers are the White Russians whose resistance and threat was eventually – by 1923 – utterly crushed. With the Communist elite already with a total grip on power – via its core law, possession of the Civil Service, academia and captured State Media. There is no nothing to stop the final push; the re engineering of our entire society to conform with the new ideologies; multiculturalism population change and open borders; extreme race and gender credos which impose a new pyramid with non whites at apex and whites and Jews – cursed by their innate racism and unearned privilege – at the bottom. Meritocracy is outlawed by the extreme equalitarian hysteria which is the primary driver of the Starmer Labour Party, as signalled openly by the promise of an assault on elite/pricate education, the rich and non doms, landlord kulaks and punitive taxes on capital accumulation and savings. Sleep on unhappy passive desperate confused England. Two weeks before the nightmare unfolds.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
29 days ago

My political views couldn’t be further away from Bastani’s, but I admire this man as a voice of reason. He engages with his interlocutors such that I have found myself drifting off to Novara to listen to his conversations with John Gray, Philip Pilkington, etc. He is actually curious enough to want to understand the other.
Yes, Stsrmer being given an easy ride. I believe a good kicking is one rationale. But I suspect another is more subconscious. If journalists were to expose the current stste of “leadership” for what it really is, they and us would have to face some very hard truths. Perhaps the fiction is simply easier to swallow. Wr all have defence mechanisms.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
28 days ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

Well said. Uttely complexit ALL in the catastrophe of Lockdown. How gleefully they rode the wave of human interest, sci fi like horror and power as they adopted a false WW2 like status as Ministry of Gealth Propaganda. How easily they surrendered their values – the duty to question authority and to serve the public. We got a debased BBC hounding all sceptics and a deliberately induced media hysteria that has damaged our children, broken a crazed Covid Only NHS and left 11 million rotting on welfare devoid of the old work ethic now the State provides. Small wonder the aeasly impoverished Third Estate now shies away from Truth. Ditto interrogating the impending eco/climate energy catastrophe driven by this addiction to the journalism of Fear, false projection and outright base lies. Ditto too the alarming cracks in communal bonds driven by their cover up of inconvenient truths. The Shield is down.

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
29 days ago

They know full well what he will do with his majority, and the media all know what happens to non-believers in Blair-Brown Labour. They want to keep their jobs.

Peter B
Peter B
29 days ago

“It feels stupid spelling it out, but sometimes the most valuable insights possess a childlike simplicity: the British media can only scrutinise one party, and one political leader, at a time.”
But this is not true, is it ?
The American colloquialism for this is so much better: they say that a person “can’t walk and chew gum at the same time”.
Are the British media really that educationally subnormal that they can’t critique more than one party at the same time ? Or do they choose to behave that way ?
It is certainly the case that they currently holf the government to a higher standard than the opposition – I heard Lewis Goodall saying exactly this on Radio 4 the other day. Alongisde a claim that they would be equally tough on a new Labour government.
Am I alone in finding this fundamentally wrong ? Shouldn’t the opposition come under just as much scrutiny as the government ? If the media really take this view, then they are by definition not acting impartially and effectively campaigning against the elected government of the day and for the opposition. Regardless of which party is in power.
Going beyond this, we endlessly hear about how the media has a “duty” to “hold the government to account”. Does it really ? Where did this idea come from ? Surely it’s actually the job of the electorate to do this. This seems far more like a myth created and pushed by the media to accumulate unaccountable power to itself.
I’ll say it yet again: the media in the UK are far worse than the politicians. And worse, they drag the politicans down to their level.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
29 days ago

Imagine, just imagine, that a Labour Leader with none of the personal popularity of the early Tony Blair really did deliver a victory beyond Blair’s wildest dreams. I spent most of Blair’s first term at university, constantly being told by the Tory Boys that they had won the argument, and that anyone who disputed that could take it up with the Leader of the Labour Party. They knew a week in advance what was going on in the Government, and that was only at Durham. The ones at Oxbridge must have been writing the legislation. Look over it, and that makes perfect sense. Keir Starmer would be like that, only very much more so.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
29 days ago

The coming election us likely to see the lowest turnout in modern history and the lowest combined vote for the top two parties.

Like I suspect a plurality if not a majority I am just no longer interested in which lot of Oxbridge drones with no understanding of science or technology sit in the HoC.

Much as I despise Farage, he is correct that Stamer and Sunak are cheeks of the same arse. Many Tory and Labour MPs and London media are actually mates from the same narrow grouping – I don’t call them “elite”.

So I have given up on the myth that Parliamentary democracy based on tribal groupings is genuine or effective.

I will only bother to vote to help get my local MP out, as he is even more useless than the alternatives.

D Glover
D Glover
28 days ago
Reply to  JOHN KANEFSKY

Much as I despise Farage, he is correct that Stamer and Sunak are cheeks of the same arse.

That wasn’t Farage, that was George Galloway.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
28 days ago
Reply to  D Glover

Ah, OK, thanks!

james elliott
james elliott
29 days ago

:As Director of Public Prosecutions, he billed over ÂŁ160,000 for a chauffeur-driven car in London despite living four miles from his office. And yet this is a man who promises prudence with taxpayer money”

That sounds less like lack of prudence and more like outright theft.

D Glover
D Glover
28 days ago

This isn’t getting the exposure it deserves. The Pensions Increase (Pension Scheme for Keir Starmer QC) Regulations 2013
https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2013/2588/contents/made
Imagine if a politician on the right had his own unique pension scheme enacted by legislation. The horror!
And why does no interviewer ask Sir Keir the following questions;
“How will the Border Command differ from the Border Force?” & “Will it have jurisdiction in France where the smuggling gangs operate ?”
No, our next PM is being given a very easy ride.

Tony Nunn
Tony Nunn
28 days ago

“In less than two weeks, Keir Starmer will be Britain’s next prime minister.”
A bit premature, isn’t it? He might be run over by the proverbial bus. He might even lose the election.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
28 days ago

In short, the MSM is as corrupt as the rest of the political class… But did anyone think they weren’t?

Chipoko
Chipoko
28 days ago

The media is giving Keir Starmer an easy ride.”
No surprise!

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
28 days ago

This is getting very sinister. No one has voted yet but the author already knows the outcome?
It makes me wonder if the poles are being managed in some way in order to tell people how to vote.

Jake Raven
Jake Raven
28 days ago

The reason Labour gets an easy pass is that most in working in the MSM are card-carrying Labour supporters that have a left wing bias. They will do whatever is necessary to ensure a Labour victory.

D Glover
D Glover
27 days ago
Reply to  Jake Raven

But some of them work for the Telegraph, Mail or Express. Why aren’t they being told to question his past? Why aren’t they being told to question his policies?
Please see my remarks further up the page about his pension arrangement, and the so-called ‘Border Command’. Why aren’t they being scrutinised?