The weird history of the cow site: Why Unherd shouldn't be seen as 'respectable'.

It's the site for awful people which pretends it's 'rational'.


Have you heard of UnHerd? If you’re a consumer of UK political doggerel and slightly wrongheaded assertions cloaked in the pseudo-emotion free trappings of ‘rationalism’ you may have. The British news comment site, founded in 2017, is also know to its detractors as “the cow site” due to its unusual cattle-based branding.

Edited by the eminently pleasant Sally Chatterton, who I had some dealings with when I was a contracted writer on the Telegraph Comment desk, it was founded by the eminently contemptible Tim Montgomerie, a former Times columnist and recently an advisor to Boris Johnson. He left the site in March 2018.

When he announced UnHerd, Montgomerie made the now infamous comment which led to the “cow site” dig:

"Today I'm unveiling the icon that will top those emails – a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behaves in unmissable ways as a result."

Montgomerie’s career to that point was perfectly summed up by Simon Childs of Vice:

Editor Tim Montgomerie is a Thatcher fan-boy who became comment editor for Times in 2013 and lasted a year before resigning. He still had a column, which he used to make a big huffy deal publicly when he quit the Conservative Party last year, to protest David Cameron wanting to stay in the EU. Previously he had edited ConservativeHome, the "grassroots" Tory comment website that has been owned by billionaire Michael Ashcroft since 2009. Before that, he wrote speeches for William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, two failed Tory leaders. The UnHeard looks set to be another huge and epic contribution to British public life.

UnHerd columnists include Giles Fraser — the turbulent Brexit priest and shit-stirrer — John Gray — the philosopher turned shit-stirrer — Matthew Goodwin — the man who had to eat his own book on television and shit-stirrer — and Douglas Murray — who is a shit that’s always stirring. There are also writers like Tom Chivers, another ex-Telegraph colleague of mine, who does the ‘eminently reasonable analysis of a current event from a tediously rationalist perspective’ pieces, providing ideological air cover for the real headbangers and bringing in the FBPE crowd.

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UnHerd doesn’t have a paywall and exists purely due to the largesse of former LibDem donor and Brexit enthusiast Sir Paul Marshall, a hedge fund multi-millionaire who started his firm, in part, with money from George Soros. There’s obviously no issue at all with being in business with George Soros but some of UnHerd’s more UnHinged fans might not see it that way, give Soros’ centrality in some truly bogglesome conspiracy theories beloved of the far right.

Why do I dislike UnHerd? Because it purports to be ‘reasonable’, ‘fair’ and ‘balanced’ while pushing a relentless right-wing, cruel and populist agenda. It clothes itself in respectability but it is as dangerous as any YouTube cesspool.

Again, Simon Childs summer up the lie of UnHerd’s commissioning policy perfectly:

The site that claims to be for unheard voices, while its contributors are a parade of people who already have big media profiles, or are think-tank directors with books out.

UnHerd exists as part of a right-wing ecosystem of people, think-tanks, and publications that cosplay as outsiders while having access to the people at the heart of power and often having had access to the levers of power themselves at some point UnHerd cries that no one listens to it, while holding a hedge fund boss’ golden megaphone. And its free thinkers just happen to say exactly what that Brexit-obsessed big boss likes to hear.

When The Clash sang….

… The new groups are not concerned 
With what there is to be learned 
They got Burton suits, ha, you think it's funny 
Turning rebellion into money…

… they were unfairly taking a swing at The Jam, but those words fit UnHerd perfectly, though you’d never catch the fancy boys of UnHerd slumming it in Burton suits. Their hedge fund sugar daddy would be appalled.

Thanks for reading. If you like dogs and/or have a dog, my dad, The Canine Behaviourist, has started a newsletter to help people look after their furry friends better. And if you want more from me, I’m a guest on the season finale of The Freelance Podcast.