Determined to pull more readers rightwards, and often propped up by millionaire donors’ intent on using their money to play politics, right-wing political blogs have become a distinctive force in UK politics.
The Telegraph is up for sale as a result of the Barclay family losing control of their media empire in a row with Lloyds Banking Group. Frederick Barclay, with his twin brother David, had paid £665m for the Telegraph and Spectator titles in 2004. At the time, the internet era was starting to flourish and the blogosphere exploding, marking the beginning of a decline of the traditional print-centric newspaper business model. As such, it is widely believed that the Barclays had overpaid for the media titles.
As digital disruption continues to take its toll on the newspaper industry, which is largely controlled by Tory-backing billionaires, the Right maintains its domination of the blog wars in Britain. Determined to pull more readers rightwards, and often propped up by millionaire donors’ intent on using their money to play politics, right-wing political blogs have become a distinctive force in UK politics.
In continuing to top the ‘best political blogs’ annual polls, and being read millions of times over, these opinionated and easily sharable right-wing news sources are inevitably impacting on public opinion. This in turn is dangerous for democracy.
Here are the main right-wing blogs in Britain which enthusiastically adopt the same ideological side as the mainstays of right-wing media presence.
Flicking through the ‘best political blogs UK’ lists and the same name regularly tops the rankings, Guido Fawkes. How sites like FeedSpot and Insider merit their rankings isn’t clear, but nonetheless, Guido, with its 58K Facebook followers, and 388K followers on Twitter, is regularly given the accolade of the UK’s top political blog.
Its staff claim to be campaigning journalists against ‘sleaze, corruption and hypocrisy,’ but its content is heavily slanted to the right.
The blog was launched in 2004, when Labour will still in the ascendancy, by the British-Irish right-wing political blogger, Paul Staines. Staines acquired an interest in politics as a free-market libertarian in the 1980s. While studying at university in Hull he joined the Young Conservatives “because they were the only people around who were anti-Socialist or at least anti-Soviet.”
Describing his politics as “Thatcher on drugs,” the blogger once said: “I never wore a ‘Hang Mandela’ badge, but I hung out with people who did.”
In its approval of Guido Fawkes as the UK’s number one top political blog, Vuelo describes the site as a ‘major mover in the world of Westminster, capable of changing the political landscape.’
And Guido has certainly had a stab at political agenda setting over the years. Staines claims to hate politicians but clearly doesn’t hate them equally. He was an early backer of Boris Johnson to be prime minister having registered a website in 2012 called Boris2020. He is also a committed Brexiteer, and Remainers regularly get a thrashing on the site’s Euro Guido page. ‘City defies Remainer expectations,’ is its most recent Eurosceptic blog. Meanwhile, its ‘Gaia Fawkes’ page regularly criticises the green movement, and often promotes reports by the UK’s most prominent climate science sceptic organisation, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).
In 2014, as the website celebrated its ten-year anniversary with a swanky dinner party at Westminster, the then prime minister David Cameron sent a video message apologising for his non-attendance.
Guido has claimed many a scalp in Westminster, but it is the left-wing who are most often in firing line, making its claim to have disdain for the establishment incredibly two-faced. The blog site was the first to report on Jeremy Corbyn’s Seder dinner with the left-wing Jewish group Jewdas, which provoked criticism about the former Labour leader’s ability to take concerns about antisemitism seriously. The site also helped destroy the career of Damian McBride, former Whitehall civil servant and special adviser to the PM Gordon Brown, who it discovered was planning to smear senior Tories.
In 2017, Staines was accused of misogynoir for mocking Diane Abbott by posting a photo of himself in bed with a cardboard cut-out of the then shadow home secretary.
Interestingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the right-wing mainstream press, have keenly collaborated with Guido. From 2013 to 2016, the Sun on Sunday published a weekly Guido Fawkes column, meaning the political blog reached a potential readership of four million, on top of the 50-100,000 readers it got every day in 2013.
And readership of the site is growing. According to figures by Press Gazette, in July 2022, audiences spent most time on Guido Fawkes than on any other political news site, and topped the list when it came to page views, with 3.3 million page views, ahead of Politico (2.5 million).
The website admits it is not published in England or Wales but rather in the United States ‘under the protection of the First Amendment to the Constitution.’ The blog is funded through advertisements on the site, and it is unclear whether it receives financial support through additional sources.
Unlike Guido with its unabashed angry right-wing view of the world, Conservative Home (ConHome) offers some erudition in its writing. While pro-Tory, it is not uncritically so, leading and reflecting real debates going on inside the party. As such, left-wing writers like me can subscribe without suffering the same mental torment as say browsing through a copy of the Mail. That said, I only subscribe because I have to and otherwise wouldn’t touch the Tory Party-cheerleading right-wing blog with a bargepole.
ConHome was founded by Tim Montgomerie in 2005, like Guido, when Labour was in power. Like Paul Staines, Montgomerie has a colourful background of right-wing activism. He was a co-founder of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a right-wing think-tank, which, alongside other think-tanks founded in the early 2000s, such as Policy Exchange and Civitas, helped David Cameron’s Tories ‘modernise’ by adopting what has been described as ‘a post-Thatcherite style of liberal Conservatism.’
Montgomerie edited the site until 2013, when he left to join the Times, acting as the newspaper’s comment editor but resigned less than a year after taking up the job.
In 2017, he founded UnHerd, another right-wing blog, but more on that shortly. In September 2019, Montgomery was appointed as ‘social justice advisor’ to the then PM Boris Johnson. A vocal Brexiteer, in 2020, the ConHome founder was reported saying that the British government should have a “special relationship” with Viktor Orban’s Hungary after Brexit.
Today, Mark Wallace is ConHome’s chief executive, and former Tory MP Paul Goodman is the site’s editor. If these Tory blogs share one thing, it is associations with right-wing think-tanks. Wallace is a former campaign director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), which campaigns for a low tax society and has traditionally opposed government measures to combat climate change.
ConHome is owned by Conservative party donor and former treasurer Lord Ashcroft. In 2009, as deputy chairman of the Tory Party, Ashcroft took a controlling stake of almost 58 percent in PoliticsHome, the supposedly neutral sister-site to ConHome. In 2011, Ashcroft sold PoliticsHome to Dod’s Group, the publishing company which he co-owns. He continues to play an active writing role on ConHome.
With 4.6K followers on Facebook and 108.2K on Twitter, ConHome might not have the social media following Guido Fawkes has, but its daily readership includes occupants of Downing Street and members of the Cabinet. In 2019, the website bragged about repeatedly breaking readership records, having had over 15.9 million more pageviews than in 2018. As for funding, the site seems to be financed by advertising. Though it has been said that the blog has received funding from the notorious Tory Party donor Lord Ashcroft.
Hailed as ‘an icon of British conservative journalism,’ the Spectator, first published in 1828, is the oldest surviving weekly magazine in the world. It became one of the best-selling periodicals of the 18th century. In 2007, the title launched its Coffee House blog, aimed at being a ‘21st-century version of the 18th-century forums from which the magazine was born.’
Editorship of this politically conservative, Eurosceptic news resource has often proved a steppingstone into a high position in the Tory Party. Boris Johnson edited the Spectator from 1999 – 2005 before becoming London Mayor.
Today, the Spectator is edited by Fraser Nelson, whose journalistic career spans a number of right-wing news outlets, including the News of the World, and the Times. Nelson is also on the advisory board of the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), the free market thinktank founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher in 1974.
While the Spectator does feature some erudite political analysis and informative long-forms, when we look at the commentariat who the site provides a platform for, including Douglas Murray, Toby Young and Brendan O’Neill, you can imagine the type of content that gets published. “I’ve just been radicalised by Just Stop Oil,” was a recent article by Toby Young, which hails ‘Lord Frost’s superb lecture for the Global Warming Policy Foundation about the harm Net Zero will do the British economy.’ You get the picture.
Despite such dubious rants, in February 2021, subscription figures of the title’s UK magazines exceeded 100,000, the biggest increase in its 192-history. The same year, the website was viewed 75 million times.
Owned by billionaire Barclay family, like the Telegraph, the Spectator is currently in search of a buyer. As the Evening Standard reports, Westminster is alight with intrigue over the sale of both publications, and there is a somewhat anxious mood within SW1 offices over the future of the famous title.
It might claim to ‘challenge the herd with new and bold thinking in philosophy, politics and culture,’ but a quick (apprehensive) glance at the UnHerd website shows yet more of the same culture war-stoking, transphobia-defending, anti-EU, right-wing propagandic drivel.
‘Why are teachers striking over slavery?’ was a recent headline about unions in California apparently prioritising ‘progressivism over fair pay.’ ‘How the elites squandered Brexit,’ was another, in a column about Britain still resembling an EU member state.
At the vanguard of Unherd’s incredibly right-wing antagonistic commentary is Paul Marshall, the blog’s publisher, who writes a regular column for the site. In his latest piece entitled ‘Prince Harry’s unbrotherly resentment,’ Marshall argues, ‘no wonder the woke creed appeals to the spare royal.’
Away from his painful-to-read columns, you may have heard of Paul Marshall as being the chairman of the right-wing TV channel GB News. Yes, the hedge fund boss with his estimated £630m fortune, is dipping his wealthy toes in a number of media ventures, and is also lucratively funding them, using his own money to play politics. In 2020/21, he invested £10m into GB News. Another staunch Brexiteer, Marshall gave £100,000 to the Leave campaign during the referendum.
Reports show that in 2021, Marshall lent UnHerd £1.6m, taking his total loan to the website to around, £5,649,999. Without advertisers, UnHerd doesn’t have any other funding, except from a partial paywall. To be honest, in interrupting the stories, the paywall comes as a welcome relief, giving you additional reason to hastily click away from the site.
The Daily Sceptic
One lesser-known right-wing blog is the Daily Sceptic. The website is important in this discussion because of who founded it, Toby Young, who also serves as the blog’s editor-in-chief. In 2018, the right-wing commentator, who has a history of making profoundly politically incorrect comments in a bid to gain attention and bait liberals, was appointed as a board member of the government’s new higher education regulator. The appointment attracted criticism because of Young’s history of controversial tweets. Young founded the Daily Sceptic as a successor to his previous Lockdown Sceptics blog, set up in April 2020.
Daily Sceptic has published many a dodgy column, including misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines and climate change denial. One especially controversial piece claimed that ONS data showing an increase in teenage deaths in 2021 was connected to the UK’s rollout of Covid vaccines. The ONS confirmed that there was no evidence linking the two.
Despite having a history of showering the public with dangerous misinformation and insulting comments, Toby Young is regularly cited by the mainstream right-wing media. The likes of the Mail and the Sun often use Young’s comments to bring supposed greater credibility to their woke-bashing tirades.
So again, as with the Sun on Sunday’s Guido Fawkes column, collaboration is taking place between the mainstream right-wing press and these opinionated blogs.
Worryingly, this is giving right-wing voices a megaphone to shout their misinformation and hatred from both mainstream and fringe platforms, providing them with one big stage to gain traction.
But while the Right might have had a free rein over the web when digital disruption was gaining momentum, left-wing blogs have unquestionably gained ground. Recognising the canon of Leftie talent emerging on the web, even Tim Montgomerie wrote in 2009 that “there are clearer and clearer signs that the right’s dominance of the internet is being challenged as never before.”
The ‘best political blogs UK’ lists do comprise of a number of left-leaning blogs. Like this one by Vuelio, which ranks Left Foot Forward in seventh position.
With the future of print media looking more precarious than ever, as per the sale of the Telegraph, the blogosphere is likely to become more influential still. With the odds being stacked against the Left with a media that is shifting further to the right, sites like Left Foot Forward, which challenge the Right and provides a forum for fresh thinking, are more important than ever.
Right-Wing Media Watch – Are the Tory press part of a coordinated plot to intimidate Labour into watering down its climate plan?
Staying on the theme of right-wing media influence on politics, the usual climate science denial suspects in the Tory press have been at it again, bashing Labour and their climate policies.
Since Keir Starmer announced, a little over a week ago, plans to block all new North Sea oil and gas developments and to limit borrowing to green investment, the Tory press have spiralled into some kind of rabid rage against Labour’s blueprint to make Britain a ‘clean energy superpower.’
As Josh Gabbatiss, climate policy correspondent at Carbon Brief, eruditely pointed out on Twitter, the right-leaning UK newspapers have published at least ten editorials over the past week raging about Keir Starmer’s plan to end new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.
“They are trying very hard to frame the policy as “extreme” and “dangerous,” writes Gabbitass.
The Dale Vince story – Vince being a Labour Party donor who has also given money to the protest group Just Stop Oil – has been at the nub of media attempts to weaponise environmental action against the opposition. And just when we thought story had finally ran its cause, ConHome restored it this week, using it as a hook to demean the Net Zero consensus.
“It’s all well and good to frame Net Zero as an opportunity rather than a challenge for Britain, but positive thinking can’t replace hard reality,” writes Poppy Coburn.
It could be argued that, as well as bashing Labour, their obsessing over the story could be part of a coordinated plot to scare Labour into watering down its decisive position on climate policy.
As well as a grilling by the Tory media, the radical pledge to ban all North Sea oil and gas licences has sparked anger among businesses in the north-east of Scotland, and among Conservatives. Grant Shapps said the plan was an “ideological vendetta against British energy independence.” Even Gary Smith, leader of the GMB union was critical, saying Labour’s policies “are going to create a cliff edge with oil and gas extraction from the North Sea.” Starmer has also faced pressure from some of his frontbench to change the remit of the £28bn climate fund so that it enables investment in non-explicitly green infrastructure projects.
Meanwhile, probably anxious that there could be a U-turn on the horizon, Starmer is being urged to stick to the plan. Some 139 organisations, including the Women’s Institute and environmental campaigners, have written to the Labour leader, urging him to stand firm on the proposals.
The Conservative press, which has a history of climate change scepticism and support for fracking, are no doubt rubbing their hands in glee at the high-profile opposition to Labour’s plans. Couple this with Starmer’s proclivity to U-turns, having backtracked on a series of policies recently, including the pledge to abolish tuition fees, and there could well be a coordinated plan in the place to coerce Labour to water down its more radical policies.
Woke bashing of the week – Culture warriors target Michael Sheen and so-called ‘woke’ casting
The iconic Welsh actor Michael Sheen is the latest high-profile star, who like Gary Lineker, refuses to keep quiet on issues that matter to him, to come under the radar of the culture war stoking brigade.
Writing for the Telegraph this week, Ross Clark claims that Sheen shows the ‘bland future of woke casting.’ The author is referring to a recent interview with the actor in the Telegraph, in which he said he finds it “very hard to accept” when Welsh characters are not played by Welsh actors. Sheen defended his claims by saying as a white man he would not expect to be cast as Othello, a role typically today played by black actors.
He said it would be “sad” if non-disabled actors were not allowed to play Richard III, who had radial dysplasia. Sheen also criticised casting “posh” actors in working-class roles.
No doubt ruffling the feathers of the right-wing anti-wokesters further, the actor also criticised the title of the Prince of Wales, saying he sees “no reason” why the “silly” title should be used in the modern age.
But for Ross Clark, who writes for a number of right-wing newspapers where he regularly criticises climate science, wokeness and the ‘left-wing mob,’ Sheen’s comments provided the opportunity to have a stab at the ‘bland future of woke casting.’
“Guff about only playing characters with whom you share a lived experience only crops up as an excuse for ‘positive’ discrimination,” writes Clark, who argues that the rules of authentic casting only work in one direction, as the same prohibition of ‘privileged’ groups playing aggrieved minorities is not shared when it comes to aggrieved minorities playing privileged groups.
Whether there is any truth in Clark’s hypothesis or not, authentic casting certainly has its merits, including forming real connections with the audience and bringing first-hand experience to the story and character. Take Channel 4’s Derry Girls. The writers and producers refused to compromise on the Derry accent. And, of course, the hit comedy recently won a BAFTA.
But then the ‘woke’ tirade against Michael Sheen comes as little surprise, as the right-wing press has never kept its disapproval of the actor, who has long been involved in political campaigning to end austerity and social inequalities, hidden.
‘Outspoke actor Michael Sheen stirs controversy AGAIN’ splashed the Mail, in a pop at the actor’s public intervention about renaming the Brecon Beacons National Park to its Welsh counterpart Bannau Brycheiniog.
In 2016, the Sun didn’t hold back in relishing over locals in Sheen’s hometown of Port Talbot branding the actor as ‘another champagne socialist’ after – apparently – announcing he would be taking a break from acting in order to fight the rise of ‘demagogic, fascist’ politics after being left ‘sad and frustrated’ by Brexit.
Of course, in their sensationalist belittling of the much-loved actor, the right-wing press conveniently avoided printing that Sheen denied reports that he was swapping acting for activism.
That would be far too factual and not near woke enough.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward
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