‘Straight As A Die’ – Giving Starmer A Free Pass

The BBC’s banner headline reporting the UK’s 4 July general election result was clear:

‘Chris Mason: “Starmer tsunami” and civility after brutality’

This alliterated nicely but gave the misleading impression that there had been a massive display of public support for Keir Starmer. Mason’s own analysis pointed elsewhere:

‘The story of this election is one of an electorate showing a ruthless determination to eject the Conservatives.’

Indeed, the results show a mere 1.6 per cent Labour increase on former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s supposedly disastrous 2019 vote share following the most intense propaganda blitz in UK domestic political history. Moreover, the 1.6 per cent increase hides the fact that, because less people voted, Starmer actually received fewer votes than Corbyn did in both 2017 and 2019:

‘2017 (Jeremy Corbyn) — 12,877,918

‘2019 (Jeremy Corbyn) — 10,269,051

‘2024 (Keir Starmer) — 9,686,329’

So, while journalists are claiming a ‘sensational’ result for Labour, the reality is that the party’s total vote has fallen by 6 per cent since 2019.

The real ‘tsunami’ saw a 19.9 per cent decrease in the Tory vote and a 12.3 per cent increase in the Reform UK vote – the wave swept from right to far-right, not towards Starmer’s ‘extreme centrism’.

Peter Oborne commented:

‘Labour is set to poll about 34 percent, not even two percentage points more than Jeremy Corbyn scored in 2019 and significantly less than the 40 percent that Corbyn scored in 2017.

‘To put it another way, thanks to the second lowest turnout since 1885, scarcely 20 percent of eligible British voters support Keir Starmer’s Labour. Yet, he will end up with approximately two-thirds of all parliamentary seats.’

Remarkably for an incoming Prime Minister, Starmer’s personal vote tally declined dramatically:

‘Starmer has held the seat since 2015, but his vote share dropped by 17% after a surge in support for independent, pro-Gaza candidate Andrew Feinstein.’

Tom Mills of Aston University noted wryly:

‘If you’ve just joined us, Labour has achieved a landslide with less votes than it won in 2019.

‘Which you’ll recall was so bad that the then leader unfortunately had to be expelled from the parliamentary party.’

Real Issues ‘Virtually Non-Existent’

One of the great myths of our ‘managed democracy’ is that ‘mainstream’ journalism provides the public with the balanced information it needs to make an informed decision at election time. In reality, the ‘free press’ does a spectacular job of not talking about issues that would facilitate informed public participation.

Amazingly, one might think, in the first three weeks of campaigning for the 2001 general election, the communications research centre at Loughborough University found that there had been ‘little sign of real issues’ in media election coverage, where ‘few issues make the news’ (Peter Golding, ‘When what is unsaid is the news,’ The Guardian, May 28, 2001). Topics like the environment, foreign policy, poverty and defence were ‘all but invisible’ following the pattern of the 1997 and 1992 elections. (Peter Golding, email to David Edwards, 10 June 2001)

Or consider that, just two years into the seething bloodbath of the full-scale, unprovoked and illegal US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq, Iraq comprised just 8 per cent of media reporting during the 2005 election campaign, as compared with 44 per cent for ‘electoral process’ (See David Deacon et al, ‘Reporting the 2005 U.K. General Election,’ Communication Research Centre, Loughborough University, August 2005). Everyone knew Bush and Blair had fabricated a case for war, huge numbers of Iraqis were dying, and yet the war was still not deemed an issue by corporate media in deciding if Blair was fit to remain Prime Minister.

No-one should therefore be surprised by this comment from Des Freedman, Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, on the latest election:

‘In terms of content, the media are overwhelmingly preoccupied with the “horse race” aspect of the election – reporting on opinion polls, PR strategies and TV debates – rather than holding parties to account in relation to a broad set of policies. The Loughborough researchers found that coverage of the “electoral process” has taken up 35% of all coverage on TV and in newspapers since the start of the campaign. Adding in stories on corruption, scandals and sleaze (such as the recent betting scandal that has plagued the Tories) and you find that 42% of all coverage is related to “process” more than substantive policy debate.

‘The only policy issue that even gets into double figures is that of taxation, at 11% of total coverage.’

Yet again, media focus has been on ‘electoral process’ with ‘little sign of real issues’.

Thus, closely echoing the blanking of Iraq in 2005, Freedman notes that coverage of Israel’s genocide in Gaza has been ‘virtually non-existent’. According to Loughborough University, the categories ‘defence/military/security/terrorism’ account for just 3 per cent of total coverage, most of it focused on whether Labour or Tories are more pro-Nato.

And yet, a few days after Hamas launched its attack on 7 October 2023, Keir Starmer was questioned by Nick Ferrari of LBC on Israel’s response:

‘A siege is appropriate? Cutting off power, cutting off water?’

Starmer replied:

‘I think that Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation.’

In 2019, ‘mainstream’ media were far more concerned about Jeremy Corbyn having questioned the removal of an allegedly anti-semitic mural than they are now about Starmer’s stance on Israel’s authentic, ongoing genocide in Gaza. A 5 July report in The Lancet medical journal commented:

‘… it is not implausible to estimate that up to 186,000 or even more deaths could be attributable to the current conflict in Gaza. Using the 2022 Gaza Strip population estimate of 2,375,259, this would translate to 7·9% of the total population in the Gaza Strip’.

The Guardian’s leading article in response to the election result noted merely:

‘In areas with a high proportion of Muslim voters, anger around Labour’s apparent ambivalence over Gaza saw the party lose ground…’ (Our emphasis)

Complicity in Israel’s atrocities is not ‘ambivalence’. But even if Starmer had shown ‘ambivalence’ over genocide, that would be appalling enough, would it not? And worth more than a bland comment in passing?

Another Guardian report commented:

‘Starmer has been criticised by party members for a Middle East stance that could be seen as more pro-Israel than that of the Tories. The former barrister was accused of dithering for months while Israeli bombs killed more and more people. Labour’s manifesto mentions Gaza once, on page 124.’ (Our emphasis)

This is simply false: Starmer did not ‘dither’; he expressly confirmed Israel’s ‘right’ to inflict collective punishment by cutting off power and water from 2 million civilians.

Other subjects of deep concern to the British public have been similarly blanked: health provision and the NHS accounted for only 5 per cent of coverage, while environmental issues including climate change made up a pitiful 2 per cent of total media coverage.

Comparing Treatment Of Corbyn and Starmer

In July 2015, state-corporate politics and media launched an unprecedented smear campaign to derail Corbyn’s project, peaking just prior to the 12 December 2019 election. That month, Loughborough University found that pre-election coverage of Labour in the press had been consistently ‘very negative’, while coverage of the Conservatives had been consistently ‘positive’.

Our own ProQuest database search of UK newspapers for articles mentioning ‘Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ showed how the smears massively intensified as the election grew closer:

September = 337 hits

October = 222 hits

November = 1,620 hits

On 25 November, The Times published an article by Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, titled, ‘What will become of Jews in Britain if Labour forms the next government?’ Mirvis insisted that Corbyn should be ‘considered unfit for office’, adding:

‘I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt, the very soul of our nation is at stake.’

In response, high-profile journalists cast aside all semblance of impartiality. ITV’s political editor Robert Peston tweeted:

‘The Chief Rabbi’s intervention in the general election is without precedent. I find it heartbreaking, as a Jew, that the rabbi who by convention is seen as the figurehead of the Jewish community, feels compelled to write this about Labour and its leader. I am not… making any kind of political statement here.’

The BBC’s then political editor Laura Kuenssberg tweeted on the chief rabbi’s smears an astonishing 23 times in 24 hours. Kuenssberg even retweeted the following comment from chat show host Piers Morgan in response to then Labour shadow international development secretary Barry Gardiner’s refusal to field further questions on anti-semitism:

‘Wow. The breathtaking arrogance of this chump telling journalists what questions to ask. They should all ignore him & pummel Corbyn about anti-Semitism.’

Kuenssberg apparently later deleted this retweet.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald was typically forthright in responding to Mirvis’s attack:

‘This is utter bullshit.

‘The British Conservative Party is rife with anti-semitism, while there’s no evidence Corbyn is.

‘If you want the Tories to win, just say so. It’s incredibly dangerous to keep exploiting anti-semitism for naked political and ideological ends like this.’

This is just a tiny sample of the media hostility faced by Corbyn (See here and here for many more examples).

So how did our impartial, neutral corporate media’s pre-election treatment of Starmer compare? Des Freedman commented last week:

‘What we have really had during the course of the campaign is a plethora of puff pieces on Labour. Many journalists, aware that they will be dealing with a Labour prime minister from 5 July, appear all too happy to cosy up to senior Labour figures.’

That, actually, is not the reason establishment journalists are so favourable to establishment-friendly Starmer. Freedman continued:  

‘So we have had a very upbeat profile of shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves in the Guardian arguing that, despite her free-market commitment, she ‘carries little ideological baggage’. There is a rather sickening Guardian interview with Starmer in which we learn very little about his politics, but do find out that he doesn’t have phobias and doesn’t dream at night. And there is an utterly unrevelatory feature in the Financial Times on Starmer which characterises him as a ‘rational, diligent, ruthless’ lawyer but somehow fails even to mention his dealings with Julian Assange when he was the head of the Crown Prosecution Service.’ 

Despite Starmer famously scrapping every one of his 10 ‘socialist’ pledges, Polly Toynbee wrote in the Guardian of how the Conservatives failed to punish wrongdoing in the party because they didn’t take it that seriously:

‘Straight-as-a-die chief prosecutor Starmer will allow no such equivocation.’

After all, a salient characteristic of the Prime Minister who used fake smears to purge much of the Labour left is his ‘solid decency’. In June, billionaire Conservative donor John Caudwell supplied some detail:

‘What Keir has done, as far as I can see, has taken all the left out of the Labour Party. And he’s come out with a brilliant set of values and principles and ways of growing Britain in complete alignment with my views as a commercial capitalist.’

Caudwell’s sage observations of course help explain the green-lighting of Starmer at the other end of the supposed media ‘spectrum’ from the Guardian. Daniel Finkelstein, otherwise known as Baron Finkelstein of Pinner in the London Borough of Harrow, commented on Starmer in Rupert Murdoch’s The Times:

‘He has pushed Corbyn out of the party, taken a robust stance on defence and supported a nuclear deterrent, abandoned almost every left-wing policy pledge he made during the leadership election and endorsed a tough policy on public spending, where once he attacked austerity.’

Finkelstein’s conclusion:

‘Starmer is bright and extremely diligent and often finds that evidence and reality push him away from his ideological starting point.’

Seeing what he wanted to see, Finkelstein noted that Starmer had run as a unity candidate for Labour but ‘came to see that this position was impossible and that the policy of the Corbynites was irresponsible’.

The verdict:

‘But as long as we don’t mind too much that he takes his time and sometimes gives a muddled first response, he will often get there in the end.’

Get where? Where the establishment needs him to be. This was captured beautifully in a compilation of two short video clips comparing two comments from Starmer: one, several years ago, saying that he would certainly not be giving interviews to The Sun newspaper; and the second, this recent declaration:

‘I am delighted to have the support and the backing of The Sun. I think that shows just how much this is a changed Labour Party, back in the service of working people.’

The standfirst of another deeply empathetic Times piece asked:

‘Friends say he’s warm, kind and funny. So why can’t he show that side to the public? Josh Glancy joined the campaign trail in search of the real Keir Starmer’

Glancy was keen to emphasise that Starmer ‘is, in many ways, a pretty normal bloke’.

Journalist Neil Clark commented on X:

‘Impossible not to notice how friendly BBC, ITV & C4 have been to Labour in this election, & the stark contrast between now and 2017 & ‘19. No real scrutiny of the party’s policies, no hostile questioning, no “Gotchas”, Starmer given a very easy ride, so different to before.’

There were no ‘Gotchas’, because the propaganda arm of state-corporate power was not trying to get Starmer. The Guardian, for example, has long featured a sub-section of its archive, titled: ‘Starmer’s Path To Power’.

The Loughborough University research notes that ‘First name only’ references to the Labour leader have increased from 4 percent in 2019 to 29 percent in 2024. Establishment-friendly Starmer is often ‘Sir Keir’, while the openly targeted Official Enemy was strictly ‘Corbyn’.