Keir Starmer’s previous backing for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is one of the few lingering lines of attack that can be exploited by Conservatives-supporting newspapers.
Having had to witness the Tories trashing their claim to financial prudence and currently mis-manage a worrying Winter of Discontent, the party’s tabloid cheerleaders are having to scrabble around to produce anti-Labour story lines.
Corbyn lives on as a threat to the country in the minds of Daily Mail headline writers.
So toxic is his name, it can be exploited simply by association to trash Starmer’s reputation and generate scare stories about his party’s policies.
Labour’s pledge to remove the exemption from VAT on fees at private schools – by the removing their charitable status – is a ready-made attack line.
By juxtaposing a 2017 Corbyn quote about the plan to charge VAT with Starmer’s renewed commitment to remove private schools’ charitable status, the Daily Mail tried to substantiate its headline: ‘How he parrots the hard-left’.
‘Keir’s class war’, said the paper’s commentator Stephen Glover as he fulminated about what he said was Starmer’s failure to repackage himself as a moderate.
‘A vindictive policy that smacks of class envy straight from the Corbyn play book’ was the headline over Glover’s commentary.
For two days in succession the Daily Mail devoted its front page to a scare story that appeared to come from nowhere, a story line that seemed to be substantiated by a single damming quote about Labour ‘trying to price people out of sending their children to private schools’ – a quote supplied by ‘Tory grandee Sir John Redwood, who headed Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit’.
‘Fury over Starmer class war on private schools’ (28.11.2022) was followed next day with a front page with the headline, ‘Keir’s class war threat to 200 private schools’ (29.11.2022) – a policy that could lead ‘mass closures’.
Corbyn’s leadership has left a troubling legacy for Starmer.
The more the tabloids can associate Starmer’s leadership with the policies of his predecessor, the greater will be the chance of the Tory press raising the spectre of the hard left taking control – a scare tactic that will be open to all manner of fabrication.
As the general election edges ever closer Labour’s media strategists will find themselves pitted against the headline writers of Conservative supporting newspapers who will doing their best to undermine the party’s push to reassure voters that Starmer has purged Corbyn’s influence.