Has the Daily Star decided to back the English Defence League?

Front page suggests paper wants to bring far-right party into mainstream

"Front page", boasted the Facebook page of the right-wing English Defence League yesterday as it triumphantly linked its followers to a headline in Richard Desmond's Daily Star that noted that the anti-Islamic organisation was to become a "political party".

It's a rare thing for the Star to "splash" on politics. And although the coverage referred to the EDL as being a "far-right group", it reported its activities in an uncritical manner and noted that, in a phone poll of readers the previous day, 98 per cent of respondents had "said they agreed with the EDL's policies".

The media website Engage immediately asked "Is the EDL the Daily Star's New Friend?" A day earlier the newspaper had run a story saying that the EDL would "fight for heroes" and claiming that two Muslim councillors had "snubbed" a soldier by not rising to their feet when he was being given a standing ovation for winning a George Cross.

Yesterday's story carried the headline "EDL Chief: Vote Us Into Parliament!" It reported the wish of the group's leader – who uses the pseudonym Tommy Robinson – to appear on the BBC's Question Time.

"The EDL boss said that, unlike bumbling BNP leader Nick Griffin, 51, he would be a surefire hit on the show," the paper said. The article appeared alongside the Star's coverage of upheaval in Egypt, a piece that began: "Thousands of illegal immigrants will flee riot-torn Egypt and flood to Britain."

The paper's report that the EDL was preparing to field MPs was accompanied by Mr Robinson's observation that the group's 74,000 following on Facebook would exceed the online support of the three main political parties by the end of the year.

Among those Facebook followers yesterday, the Daily Star's apparent warmth to the group and a lead editorial headlined "Don't dare ignore EDL", was a source of pride and exhilaration.

Stephen Martin, who uses the slogan "British by Birth, English by the Grace of God", described his morning commute. "TODAY i sat there with my daily star with PRIDE, the pictures and banners were fair, the write up was fair, the Star comment was fair and 98 per cent back us (including everybody sat with me)," he wrote. "We have a voice now, 25p a day, if they have 74,000 new readers, we have a BIGGER voice."

Tom Evans ("English and Fuckin' Proud of It") agreed. "i think everyone should support the daily star and buy it a couple times a week at least lol... they are the only one to stand up for the EDL." He said other EDL followers were thrilled at the "awesome" and "amazing" 98 per cent approval rating from Star readers.

The newspaper's long-standing editor Dawn Neesom is one of Fleet Street's stalwarts. A proud East Londoner and keen kickboxer, she follows West Ham United home and away and prides herself on being in touch with the instincts of the Star's working-class readership.

The EDL draws much of its support from football followers. Sources said it was Ms Neesom's decision to give the group such a high profile, and not that of the paper's owner Mr Desmond.

Ivan Lewis, shadow Culture secretary, said: "Newspapers have a right to cover whatever they want in a democracy within the constraints of the law and their code of practice."

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