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Times turns off comments on its election non-endorsement after reader backlash

"From The Thunderer to Passive Aggressive Whimperer", wrote one subscriber.

By Bron Maher

The Times has turned off comments under its leader article declaring it will not endorse a party in the 2024 general election after readers chastised the paper for fence-sitting.

The paper of record declared on polling day that despite “a general desire to see the Conservatives gone” among the electorate, Labour’s lack of clarity over its plans for government meant it “cannot ­expect an endorsement”.

The Times’ decision cuts a contrast with sister paper The Sun, which on Wednesday announced “Sir Keir has won the right to take charge”.

It has also sat poorly with subscribers to The Times, who made their feelings known underneath the leader article.

“What a useless leader article,” wrote one commenter. “You have no sense of where the country is. Get rid of [editor Tony] Gallagher pronto!”

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Another wrote: “From The Thunderer to Passive Aggressive Whimperer. What a waste of a once great reputation.”

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Only Times subscribers are able to comment under articles on its website and they must use their real names.

At some point on Thursday morning The Times turned off comments for the article, in the process making those that had already been published invisible. Carbon Brief editor Leo Hickman has screenshotted some of the deleted messages and posted them to X.

Turning off the comments provoked further irritation among Times subscribers, who began posting under another leader article published on Thursday instead.

“Shutting down the loyal readers comments on that awful editorial is a new low for this editor,” read one comment. “Let’s hope that change does not stop at No. 10 Downing Street but extends to the editor’s chair at The Times. We want our newspaper back.”

Another read: “Wondering when comments here will be turned off too. Guess what – if I wanted to read the Daily Mail I’d buy that. Let me know when The Times resumes normal service and gets a new editor.”

It is not the first time The Times faced backlash in the comment section: in June 2022 the paper prompted criticism from subscribers after it spiked an unflattering story about Boris Johnson and his now-wife Carrie.

[Read more: Times subscribers revolt over Carrie story spiked for ‘legal reasons’]

Sun’s Labour endorsement follows years of Starmer-bashing

The Times and Sun’s endorsements echo those of 1997, when The Sun shifted course to back Labour while The Times opted not to endorse anyone specific, instead generally urging support for eurosceptic candidates.

It also marks an abrupt tone change from The Sun, which earlier this year asked in a leader column: “How can the public trust spineless Keir Starmer after dozens of cynical U-turns?”

The Sun has consistently backed the winning party in UK general elections for decades, but there was some speculation this time as to whether the paper would bring itself to back Keir Starmer given his involvement in the aftermath of the phone-hacking scandal.

As Director of Public Prosecutions Starmer made the call that 20 Sun journalists should stand trial under the new offence of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office. The prosecution took a heavy toll on journalists and their families and achieved no convictions.

As one Conservative official told Politico’s Playbook: “Some of us still remember Keir Starmer as DPP giving the police carte blanche to drag Sun journalists out of their beds at dawn and into jail cells, all on the whims of Labour MP Tom Watson and other free press haters. It’s a shame memories are so short.”

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
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  • CFO
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  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
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  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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