The circling wagons: How the media helps its pals and hurls shite at its ‘enemies’

Sunday succour for Allegra Stratton from old pals at The Observer while the racist Daily Mail goes for Marcus Rashford

‘Close friends’ of Allegra Stratton, who aren’t just Allegra Stratton in a series of wigs and moustaches of increasing ridiculousness, told The Observer that she was in tears about how dreadfully mean Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings, the big bad wolves, were about her taking up the new job of on-camera propagandist… I’m sorry, I mean Number 10 Press Secretary.

That Stratton was once a Guardian journalist and has plenty of pals prancing about at King’s Place, the home of both The Guardian and its sister paper The Observer, might just have helped in getting her the soft-soap front-page coverage.

The point of the piece was to make readers feel sorry for Stratton, whose ‘close friends’ — and you’re a horrible cynic if you think it’s just Allegra Stratton in different trench coats doing silly voices — simply want the world to know she’s a goodie and Cummings the Mekon and his Muttley mate Lee ‘the Chicken Man’ Cain are the baddies, skulls on their uniforms and everything.

The problem with presenting Stratton as a wounded ingenue is… well, she’s got form for being colder than a freezer floating in the Arctic Sea. Consider the following Newsnight interview, which drew hundreds of complaints and led to an official apology, in which Stratton subjects an innocent woman to the kind of interrogation usually reserved for war criminals:

An alumna of public school (Latymer Upper School) and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Stratton’s connections in Tory World were called “exemplary” by the class warriors at Tatler magazine and that’s hardly a surprise…

Stratton is married to The Spectator’s political editor, James Forsyth, and was, until recently, Director of Communications to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, who — in turn — was Forsyth’s best man at their wedding. Politico, the political website for wonky wonks, wrote in 2017 that Stratton and Forsyth are “a Westminster power couple”, and Forsyth has been pals with Sunak since they were both at Winchester College (annual fees for 2020/21? £41,709).

Funnily enough, once ‘friends’ of Stratton had talked to The Observer, she broke cover to give them a quote on the record:

“She wants to broaden the appeal of this government. She likes and respects Johnson. But she thinks that this government has to date managed to make enemies and crossed the road to pick fights, that this government has narrowed its appeal and should be doing better.”

Stratton later told the Observer: “Yes, I am upset because I was only ever trying to do the right thing by the country. And the country does not want to be run by people in No 10 who treat people discourteously and unpleasantly.”

So, while Stratton, well-connected, well-paid, well-protected, was getting gentle coverage from The Observer — a paper which still purports to be ‘of the left’ — in The Mail on Sunday, the missiles were being pointed at Marcus Rashford for the unquestionable crime of… being a young black man who spent some of the money he earned from being very good at playing football. The headline reads:

What a result! Campaigning football star Marcus Rashford has bought five luxury homes worth more than £2million

…and the deck continues:

  • Campaigning football star Marcus Rashford has bought five luxury homes

  • Striker, 23, has ploughed an estimated £1.5 million into three houses in Cheshire

  • He has mortgages from the Queen’s bank, Coutts, for all five of the properties

As many predicted, the tabloid press is now gunning for Rashford who has been campaigning powerfully and effectively to ensure that children who desperately need food support from the government receive it. By doing that and putting himself in direct opposition to Boris Johnson and his Cabinet of horrors, Rashford is now seen as a target by the tabloids, particularly The Daily Mail, MailOnline and Mail On Sunday, all of which are explicitly racist endeavours.

If — and it’s an IF that could be big enough to sit next to the Hollywood sign — the Mail on Sunday’s numbers are correct, Rashford bought three houses for an average of £500,000 and two others for around £250,000 each. The Mail newspapers are usually obsessed with property ownership and see it as a very good thing.

That Rashford, who has consistently ploughed money into charity, has also spent money to buy homes for his family is hardly scandalous but to The Mail on Sunday it smells of hypocrisy — “Look at this rich black man! He owns property and yet he wants to improve society somewhat.”

The Mail on Sunday story is written in one of its classic styles — seemingly ‘straight’ but with more dog whistles than an agility class — and the intention in the following paragraphs is purely to get its readers to turn puce at the presumption of a young! black! footballer! to spend his money and dare to involve himself in politics:

It is not known how much the apartment cost, but the average house price for the street is £200,000.

News of the Manchester United player’s burgeoning property port-folio comes as he received the go-ahead to trademark his name in America. Reports on Friday revealed that the US Patent and Trademark Office has issued him with a certificate to sell name-branded goods, including clothes, sportswear, books, grooming products and games.

If Rashford was a white player who ‘kept his nose’ out of politics, the fact that he has trademarked his name and bought some fairly modest properties (the housing market is still utterly deranged) would not be worthy of comment. The MoS is only writing this piece because it wants to needle Rashford and falsely claim he is a hypocrite.

Rashford has not forgotten that he grew up with little. He spends money and time pushing for children to have better lives. As he also says in the tweet above, he has a short career ahead of him and he’s trying to put things in place to ensure that he and his family can prosper when it’s over. Do I like the property market? No. Do I like landlordism? Definitely not. But Rashford did not create this environment and does not make the laws around them. I’m not holding my breath for a Daily Mail or Mail on Sunday spread on the property portfolios of the Tory cabinet.

I’ve connected these two stories — Stratton getting support from The Observer front page because people said things that upset her and Marcus Rashford being attacked simply because he tries to help children and happens to be rich — because they show how the British media works:

It is a prism through which people are pushed. You come out bathed in light if you’re an amenable dinner party companion or went to school with the writers and you’re twisted out of all recognition if you aren’t white, aren’t right-wing, and didn’t go to the right school or university. The media loves to circle the wagons and then tell you that the wagons don’t even exist.