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‘The Great Noticing’: What the Reaction to Keir Starmer’s Friday Night Dinners Tells us About the Hypocrisy of the Conservative Press

As Labour heads towards Government, large parts of the press are suddenly starting to notice things they have spent the past 14 years ignoring

Keir Starmer takes questions from journalists on the campaign trail. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

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In 2017, The Sun newspaper reported that the then Prime Minister Theresa May would always insist on setting aside every Sunday morning to attend church services with her husband Philip.

The PM’s former communications chief told the paper that while May’s diary was always “packed to the brim” there were two weekly events that she “simply won’t move”.

For May, this vital “me time” included going to the gym on Saturdays, and taking Holy Communion on Sundays, both of which were described by the paper as “untouchables” in her diary.

Over her time in office, May continued to attend these Sunday morning church services, with not a single news outlet or Conservative MP batting an eyelid about it.

May was not the only recent Conservative Prime Minister whose love of “me time” failed to trigger much of a reaction from the Conservative-supporting press.

In 2021, the Times reported that May’s successor Boris Johnson also liked to take regular “power naps” during his working day in Downing Street, with subsequent reports revealing that he also missed five emergency COBRA meetings in order to concentrate on writing a book about Shakespeare instead.

Yet just as with May’s Sunday morning retreats, Johnson’s absences were largely glossed over by his media supporters.

Date Nights

There was a similarly muted response back in 2012, when David Cameron revealed that he always set aside a “date night” each week with his wife Samantha.

“We have one night a week where we either stay in and do nothing or go out on our own” the Conservative Prime Minister told Now magazine.

“We have a couple of favourite Italian restaurants in north Kensington but I can’t tell you about them.”

Yet far from triggering an extended news cycle about Cameron risking war with Putin, due to him stepping away from Downing Street in order to share a plate of antipasti with his wife on Kensington Hight Street, the story was actually treated as a net positive, with the Daily Telegraph reporting that “David Cameron was right about something: date nights… are good for your health”.


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Fast forward to 2024 and the attitude of some of these same news outlets to senior politicians spending time with their families, seem to have taken a sudden about-turn.

In a story headlined “Labour isn’t working” The Sun reports today that Keir Starmer has been branded “Sir Sleepy” after saying that he will try to set aside Friday evenings for his wife and kids.

“Whether he likes it or not, if he became PM Sir Sleepy would be required to work after 6pm”, a Conservative source told the paper.

“If he thinks he can just put his slippers on and make a mug of Horlicks while he tunes into The One Show, then he is in for a shock.”

Other Conservative supporting publications also went big on the story, with supposedly neutral broadcasters also weighing in with earnest panel discussions about whether Starmer’s decision was acceptable for an incoming Prime Minister

Yet for all these waves of discourse, the story wasn’t even really news.

Starmer, whose wife is Jewish, has previously spoken about the importance of such Friday night Shabbat dinners with his family, with the Jewish Chronicle reporting last year that the Labour leader, “treasured” them as “really special”.

Yet unlike May, whose own religious observance was deemed to be wholly acceptable, the Starmer family’s weekly tradition is being treated as beyond the pale.

The ‘Great Noticing’

The reaction to this story tells us a lot about what an incoming Labour Government can expect as it heads into Downing Street.

Across a whole series of issues, large parts of the press are already going through what can be best described as a  ‘Great Noticing’ in which they suddenly start to care about things that they have spent the past decade either downplaying, or ignoring altogether.

Whether it’s the issue of politicians stuffing public bodies with political appointees, or political parties “rigging the democratic system” in their own favour, the press is suddenly starting to care about things that barely raised a ripple on their pages in the past.

How Rishi Sunak ‘Changed the Rules’ to Keep the Conservative Party in Power

The Prime Minister accused Keir Starmer of wanting to “change the rules so they’re in power for a very long time”, despite the Conservatives making a long list of changes to elections designed to keep them in office

It’s not just the Labour party that is getting this treatment. Over the past couple of weeks the Daily Mail and other publications have gone big on Nigel Farage’s pro-Putin views, while also making lots of noise about the fact that the ranks of Reform are filled to the brim with racists and cranks.

Again, none of this could particularly be described as news. That Farage and his fellow travellers are sympathetic to Moscow, while holding intolerant views, has been as clear as day ever since UKIP first appeared on the scene some decades ago.

Yet it is only now that Farage and his party risks doing major damage to the Conservative party, that Sunak’s media supporters are suddenly starting to draw our attention to it.

And while these publications are now expressing “grave concerns” about the potential influence of Russia on our politics, these are not concerns that appeared to phase them when the influence was on the party of Boris Johnson and David Cameron, rather than on the party of Farage.

Indeed, when it was a Conservative Prime Minister taking millions of pounds in Russia-linked donors, while ennobling the son of a KGB spy, most of the same publications now expressing horror about the influence of Russia on Westminster, instead sat silently on their hands.

Of course the ‘Great Noticing’ currently taking place on Fleet Street will only accelerate if Starmer and the Labour party do, as the polls suggest, form the next Government at the end of this week.

Across whole areas of public life, from our crumbling schools, to our failing hospitals, large parts of the press that have spent the past 14 years in an extended period of slumber, will suddenly be getting their tickets for the great festival of noticing to come.

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