Guido Fawkes is like a media protection racket...

...and even writing this is a risk.

I honestly have some trepidation about writing this edition of the newsletter. Why? Because my topic is Guido Fawkes, the right-wing political blog (which also runs verticals dedicated to Media, Ecology and the EU). Guido, founded in 2004, by Paul Staines, domiciled in Ireland but a British politics-obsessive with a past in libertarian politics and raving, pulls no punches.

Guido also throws its punches with little regard to their effect and with a focus on hitting people it disagrees with, despite head fakes towards the concept of being an equal opportunity offender. Labour takes more kicks than the Conservatives in Guido land, and the right-wing press is given an easier ride than the small number of left-wing media figures in the UK with any real platform. 

Why am I mildly concerned about writing this newsletter edition? Because it could put me in the sights of, as other blogs have described him, ‘the perpetually thirsty’ Mr Staines and his lieutenants, Tom Harwood (a telegenic contrarian who looks like he should be wearing lederhosen and serenading a Von Trapp sister) and Christian Calgie (a bespectacled Muttley who chuckles along like the Richard Hammond of the trio during their video podcasts). Guido loves to go digging in the trash. It also likes to argue in bad faith when attacking its perceived enemies. 

I’ve written before that there is a troll pipeline that leads directly from anonymous shitstirrers to columnists at the ‘respectable’ outlets. There is also a Guido pipeline of not only stories but staff. Guido alumni are now in two of the most influential positions in British media — Playbook editor for Politico Europe for Alex Wickham, late of Buzzfeed, and Political Editor of The Sun for Harry Cole, whose time at Guido Fawkes was longer, louder, and involved more tanks than anyone else’s.

Harwood, who is still at Guido — though for how long?, also writes for the Daily Telegraph and appears frequently on BBC News despite being a critic of the corporation at every possible opportunity. His colleague Calgie operates more quietly but spearheaded a successful effort to get Downing Street press briefings televised. 

That’s the thing: Guido Fawkes is unpleasant. It argues in bad faith almost constantly. It trades in hatred, spite, and half-truths, but it is a tightly run ship. It breaks stories, over and over again. It often finds out things that later lead news bulletins. That’s a success for Guido and a problem for the UK political press: 

  1. They don’t break a lot of stories because they’re too sedate and supine 

  2. Guido is extremely right-wing and that shifts the centre of gravity of the political press even further right 

  3. Guido’s story breaking skills means its alumni spread through the UK political media further increasing Paul Staines’ influence and decreasing the breadth of opinion and approach.

Guidoisation is a triumph for Staines, a win that any reasonable analysis cannot deny. But it is dangerous. It shifts the Overton Window so far to the right that if it was a photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, you’d see some tourists gawking and not one stone of the monument. “What Guido wants, Guido gets” should not be the mantra for the UK media, but it is right now. Similarly, that other journalists work in fear of Guido, effectively making it a media protection racket, is not healthy for anyone. 

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