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Standpoint, the Critic and UnHerd: who’s their daddies?

SOLOMON HUGHES looks at the phenomenon of flash right-wing media that doesn’t make any real money, existing only to satisfy the political desires of right-wing men with deep pockets

MORNING STAR readers are, by definition, familiar with the world of left-wing newspapers and magazines.

There are political and stylistic differences between, say, the Star and Red Pepper or Tribune. And there are newer, web-based kids on the block.

But there are common features, especially around money: many fundraising drives among readers, lots of reaching out to trade unions for support, modest pay for staff.

These magazines and publications have a place because they have fought for it on shoestring budgets.

But there is another world of political magazines — glossy-looking ones with very right-wing “sugar daddies.” They pay well but rely on millionaires more than actual readers.

Standpoint is a good example, a monthly magazine that was launched in 2008 under editor Daniel Johnson, the son of Thatcher speech-writer and Pinochet supporter Paul Johnson.

Under Johnson, Standpoint took a firmly “neocon” line.

To get a flavour, in 2015 Johnson wrote in Standpoint that “the Islamisation of Europe is no longer a far-right fantasy, but a real possibility,” fretting that “over the next generation, Muslims in Europe are certain to multiply rapidly, due not only to migration but to higher birthrates.”

Johnson argued growing Muslim populations might create “a new European hell.”

Pretty nasty stuff, but typical of Standpoint. Labour “moderates” were similarly attacked.

Back in 2010 Standpoint argued that Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband were too close to “supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Wes Streeting was attacked because he criticised Douglas Murray, the neocon who said: “Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board.”

In Standpoint’s view, Streeting was the “dishonest” baddie, Murray the good guy.

We have a good idea of how Standpoint is funded. It is run by a charity called the Social Affairs Unit, which was founded in 1980 as an offshoot of the free-marketeer Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA), to put its right-wing focus on social rather than financial matters.

The Social Affairs Unit became independent and Standpoint became its main project.

Thanks to Charity Commission rules, this means we have a picture of Standpoint’s finances, showing big subsidies for a small sale.

The latest accounts show the Social Affairs Unit gave Standpoint a £687,000 grant in 2019 — and also generously employed both the managing editor and editor of the magazine.

The editor gets around £80,000 a year and staff costs were around £125,000.

The Social Affairs Unit says it gets back £117,000 from the magazine, which doesn’t even cover the salaries of Standpoint’s editors: the magazine was burning through around £800,000 just to make £117,000 back.

In 2018 the Social Affairs Unit and Standpoint had a financial crisis — the grant to Standpoint dropped to £245,000.

In previous years it had fluctuated, sometimes as low as £300,000, but sometimes over £1 million.

One of the Social Affairs Unit’s bigger multimillionaire backers pulled out. They turned to Jeremy Hosking, who reportedly put £850,000 into the Social Affairs Unit and the magazine in 2019.

Up until then Standpoint had a mostly “neocon” approach, but Hosking is slightly different. He is a City financier who switched from funding the Tories to being a big backer of the Brexit Party (he gave them £243,000).

Hosking really wants to be involved in politics, though he doesn’t get taken as seriously as he would like by the Conservative establishment.

Hosking also collects old steam engines, so clearly has a bit of nostalgia for the old days and old ways.

This attempt to keep Standpoint going hasn’t really worked. After Johnson resigned as editor in 2018, the magazine has seen other editors come and go and lost its right-wing mojo.

After some big internal row, Hosking set up a new magazine in later 2019 called the Critic and most staff left to join him.

Standpoint is still publishing — and might be trying to move away from its harder-right origins.

But the advantage of looking at the magazine is that it gives an idea of how the money works.

The Critic looks very like Standpoint of old. Johnson and Toby Young are “contributing editors.”

Articles argue that it is not worth “talking to black people about race” after Black Lives Matter because there are too many “profiteering race-baiters.”

Other articles complain that “Western elites bent the knee to Marxist social justice warriors.”

The Critic doesn’t publish detailed finances like Standpoint but we can assume that this right-wing froth also gets very generous subsidy.

Web-only news site UnHerd has some similarities: UnHerd’s “sugar daddy” is Paul Marshall, an investor with an estimated £600m fortune.

Marshall used to be a big Lib Dem donor. He pushed the Lib Dems to more free-market Orange Book politics, which led them to their coalition with the Tories.

Marshall broke with the Lib Dems over Brexit, which he firmly supported, but his support for UnHerd suggests he still wants to play a political role.

UnHerd is not as wildly right-wing as the Critic, reflecting his Lib Dem background.

But the website is keen to knock the left and promote a variety of right-wing bugbears: Murray gets a lot of space and UnHerd is particularly keen to promote anti-immigrant arguments, especially ones aimed at dividing up workers — they even have a special search button for articles about the “white working class.”

The media has long involved moguls who put money into newspapers so they can get their voice heard in politics, but they were also very driven by the commercial need to sell papers — the Times or the Spectator, say, have pretty healthy circulations.

But Standpoint, the Critic and UnHerd are, to my mind, much more driven by their right-wing sugar daddies’ urge to buy a place in politics: where we know the figures, the level of subsidy looks, frankly, ridiculous.

Unfortunately, while they are rich men’s megaphones, they get treated seriously by the mainstream press — in part because their right-wing views fit well, in part because they are glossy, but also mostly, I think, because they will pay a slumming mainstream journalist very well.

Nobody in the national press wants to draw too much attention to how heavily these magazines are subsidised or point to their more shockingly right-wing content — because they might want a bit of work from them some time.

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