Daily Star gives free publicity to the EDL … again

EDL to become political partyENGAGE draws our attention to the front page of today’s Daily Star which reports the EDL’s supposed threat to contest parliamentary and council elections, under the headline “English Defence League to become political party”.

As you might expect, this being the Daily Star, the headline is not entirely accurate. The report begins breathlessly: “The English Defence League is set to break into mainstream politics with a bid to get MPs in Parliament. It wants to field official EDL candidates in national and council elections.”

But it goes on to quote EDL leader Stephen Lennon as saying something rather less dramatic about the EDL’s plans to transform itself into a political party:

“We aren’t ruling it out. I think this country needs a party that’s not afraid to say things some would consider unpopular. My hope is still that the Tories will take a tougher stance. We are a single issue group and at the moment we would rather have a dialogue with the other political parties – but that could change.”

Lennon seems more interested in persuading the BBC to give him further television exposure than in standing for election. He told the Star: “Get me on Question Time. I’ll have 10,000 people turn up to support me.” Yeah right. This is the man who confidently predicted that 8,000 supporters would attend the EDL’s demonstration in Luton last Saturday. In the outcome, Lennon managed to attract no more than 2,500 to 3,000.

The article concludes: “In the Daily Star phone poll yesterday, 98% of readers said they agreed with the EDL’s policies.”

This poll was conducted following the Star‘s report on the EDL’s plan to hold a demonstration in Birmingham next month. Headlining the piece “English Defence League: Will fight for hero’s” (sic), the Star was keen to emphasise that the protest would be directed against Salma Yaqoob and Mohammed Ishtiaq, though the EDL’s initial publicity for the event doesn’t in fact mention them. The two Respect councillors have already been threatened with violence. Given that homes were attacked after Saturday’s demonstration in Luton and the EDL’s recent protest in Shotton was followed by arson at the proposed site of a new Islamic centre, you can’t but worry about the implications for Salma and Mohammed’s physical safety. Yet the Star has no hesitation in plugging the EDL’s demonstration and encouraging them to target the two councillors.

This is not the first time that the Daily Star has irresponsibly boosted the far-right racists of the EDL. In September 2009, under the headline “Case for the defence“, the paper provided a platform for the EDL to claim that they “oppose Nazis and racists as much as al-Qaida hate-mongers”, when the presence of known fascists in prominent positions within the EDL was already well established. The Star followed this up with another puff piece which uncritically repeated the EDL’s bizarre assertion that they had been “swamped with messages of support from all races” as a result of the Star‘s report. Needless to say, the EDL seized on this free publicity to bolster their bogus claim that the organisation is not racist.

After being criticised over its promotion of the EDL in 2009 the Stardid appear to back off. The “Case for the defence” article was removed from its website and, as ENGAGE points out, the paper went so far as to condemn “EDL extremists”. But now that Lennon is persona grata on Newsnight it is hardly surprising that the paper should return to providing “Tommy Robinson” and his gang of racist hooligans with favourable publicity.

Update:  See Ian Burrell, “Has Richard Desmond decided to back the English Defence League?”, Independent, 10 February 2011

It seems, in fact, that the Daily Star has gone beyond merely backing the EDL and is actually suggesting their political line to them. It is the Star rather than the EDL leadership that is pushing for an intervention in electoral politics, and the proposal that the EDL’s Birmingham demonstration in March should target Salma Yaqoob and Mohammed Ishtiaq also appears to originate with theStar.

Further update:  Today’s Daily Star continues the promotion of Lennon and the EDL and reports: “We asked in yesterday’s voteline if you would back the EDL and 99% of you said you would.”

See also “Daily Star champions the English Defence League”, Greenslade Blog, 10 February 2011