When crises occur, the immediate reaction is always to apportion blame, simplify arguments, take sides, get angry, and then do something…anything. The sensationalist press exacerbates this process, and since our politicians are so heavily influenced by media opinion, they often follow suit. Thinking outside the box is a definite no-no (see: Jeremy Corbyn).
The UK government’s reaction to the recent attack in Paris has therefore been just as expected. Events in France have given David Cameron and his Cabinet more ammo for the weapons they were already firing, while excusing them from tackling the more difficult questions. Increasing surveillance, dividing communities, turning teachers into thought police, strengthening anti-immigration sentiment; these are the orders of the day. Here’s a wider look at the causes of war in the Middle East and terrorism in the West. Continue reading
At the time of writing, it has been five and a half months since the nation woke up to a Tory majority in the House of Commons. Since then there have been riots, protests, name calling, egg throwing and Jeremy Corbyn. It’s been a busy summer, but we’ve finally come to rest in our allotted positions: the establishment on the right, the opposition on the left, with clowns and jokers left to fall where they may. It was all becoming so simple, so expected. Corbyn asks his questions, Cameron struggles to make himself heard over the laughter of his baying hyenas, and England finds itself merrily knocked out of another sporting competition. How completely and utterly dull. Until the House of Lords of all things started rearing its antediluvian head and forcing its way onto the front pages by defying the Tory government it is normally in such loyal service to.
For those of us who routinely forget the House of Lords exists, the tax credits vote was a surprising and confusing moment to process. An ancient, traditionally rightward-leaning body, a stalwart desert oasis of the mirage that is British democracy, doing something…good?
There can be no doubt that anything which puts the brakes on Osborne’s plan to skim £4.4 billion off his fabled deficit by stripping some of the country’s poorest working families of their tax credits is a good thing. Not only is his proposition cruel, underhanded and ethically bereft, it makes a mockery of everything the Conservatives claimed to stand for at the general election. Supporting hard workers; getting people back into jobs; the party of working Britain; the Tories who painted themselves as the nation’s security system are now breaking into our homes and robbing us blind while we’re out at the jobs they so badly wanted us in. Thankfully, the scheming has been waylaid for the time being, but as per usual it’s come at a price.
Which is more disagreeable: the archive picture of David Cameron with the Remembrance poppy photoshopped onto it, or the one in which the war-hungry PM wears it for real? Downing Street on Monday bizarrely decided to use the (poorly) altered photo as its Facebook profile pic, before swiftly taking it down and replacing it with one of the Prime Minister wearing the red poppy in live-action; the change occurring because the suggestion that Cameron couldn’t be arsed to pose for a photo wearing the poppy might be deemed offensive (imagine the typhoon-level media shitstorm if Labour had done the same with Jeremy Corbyn). The replacement image – of DavCam beaming, blood-red paper flower on his lapel – is no less insulting or fraudulent, however.
Those in the public spotlight who shun the near-ubiquitous red poppy have their reasons. Derry-born footballer James McClean elects to forego wearing the poppy because of what it symbolizes in his home town, while news presenters Jon Snow and Charlene White won’t wear the poppy because they wish to remain impartial and not show favouritism towards any one charity or cause. The political commentator and WWII veteran Harry Leslie Smith, meanwhile, last year stopped wearing the poppy because he felt the symbol had been “co-opted by current or former politicians” to justify new wars.
You have to wonder whether those who routinely wear the poppy, like David Cameron, so carefully consider the statement they’re making every time they pin the paper on their chest. The Remembrance Day flower was inspired by the poppies that grew out of the graves of soldiers in Flanders during WWI. It stands for the wasted dead. It is a symbol of all those who lost their lives in battle from the Great War up to the present day. The poppy, plucked from the gore-soaked fields of one of WWI’s most notorious battlegrounds, is designed to remind us that war isn’t – to say the least – favourable.
Four years ago, the BBC buried its own Newsnight investigation into Sir Jimmy Savile. In the time since, it has pushed the BBC whistleblowers who helped to expose Savile out of its ranks, while at the same time apparently concealing the alleged deep-rooted cover-up that took place within the corporation regarding Britain’s most notorious sex offender. You’d think the Beeb would be wary, then, of drifting once again into the murky waters of child abuse and alleged institutional whitewashing. But on Tuesday night, by choosing to air a new episode of Panorama, the BBC not only waded back into those waters, it made active steps towards hampering a very serious, wide-ranging police inquiry.
Panorama’s The VIP Paedophile Ring: What’s The Truth?, presented by Daniel Foggo, did not get to the bottom of its own question. The irony in that subheading – What’s the Truth? – is that this was a show that deliberately omitted numerous key details. Ignoring the various accounts of ex-police officers and other credible witnesses, the show focused solely on the shakier aspects of the nationwide investigation into VIP child abuse, electing to paint the case against as much stronger than the one for. Foggo called Leon Brittan a “poor man”, while the programme itself depicted victims as liars, and hinted that new Labour deputy Tom Watson was no more than an opportunist using the scandal for political gains. There was an attempt to discredit Exaro, the investigative news organisation that has brought the VIP paedophile scandal to public – and police – attention. This was, to anyone in the know, obviously nothing more than a hatchet job.
Which news item did you hear about this week – the fact that the NHS has been brought to its knees so severely that a third of UK GPs expect to quit in the next five years, or the fact that Jeremy Corbyn had help writing his Labour conference speech? The fact that the World Economic Forum has placed our ‘big picture’ economy 108th in the world table, below Haiti and Zimbabwe, or the proposal that Corbyn is a threat to what is claimed to be the fastest growing economy in the developed world? The fact that David Cameron’s government has been doing deals with human rights violator Saudi Arabia in secret, or that Corbyn borrowed a tie for Monday’s conference? Most likely, you heard the second story over the first in each case.
It’s obviously no accident: as we’ve highlighted before, the UK press predominantly supports the Conservatives, meaning news that reflects badly on David Cameron’s party isn’t as widely reported as that which affects Jeremy Corbyn’s. Increasingly, people are turning away from the mainstream media to alternative sources for their news, but not quite enough for the public opinion-at-large to change. The Tories wouldn’t have returned to power in 2015 otherwise, and the Labour party wouldn’t now be going through a crisis in search of lost votes. Unfortunately for fans of impartial news coverage, the right-wing control the conversation in this country. On Monday, Jeremy Corbyn made reference to that in his conference speech. Simply pointing out the bias against himself and his party, though, isn’t enough.
Well, what a week it’s been. Britain’s shiny new bus pass-wielding Karl Marx has already stolen food from war veterans, spat in the face of the Queen (aka Victoria WHO?), destroyed the sanctity of PMQs by daring to ask questions and offended every woman in the universe by giving only 16 of them well-paid, respectable positions in his cabinet. And yet, somehow people aren’t baying for his head on a pike – why? Because anyone who doesn’t get that a sizeable part of Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal is his uniquely mild version of not giving a shit what you think, isn’t fully tuned in to the fact that the new Labour leader is telling the best damned story British politics has seen for decades.
Whether we like it or not, politics today (particularly large scale elections) is far less about board rooms or seminar rooms, and far more about living rooms. Without an engaged populace at the base of a campaign to fervently scream and flag wave for your corner, without people who truly believe in what you’re selling, you’re not a politician. You may be an intellectual, but not a politician.
How then do you engage people in a topic as frequently dry and tedious as political debate? The answer (unfortunately), for the most part, is you don’t. For we, the proud proletariat, are far more likely to engage our minds using straightforward narrative rather than prolonged discussion. Most of us prefer a sitcom to PM’s questions, a soap opera over a live party election hustings. That’s because these stories offer us a satisfyingly easy choice: one side is good, one side is bad. It’s clear, it’s simple, it’s easy to know who to root for. It’s not, say, Ed Miliband’s confusing stance on immigration.
Bookies’ favourite, frontrunner in the polls, backed even by voters in Scotland – it seems now nothing and no one is going to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming the next Labour leader. Not that some haven’t tried: the right-wing media troika of The Sun, the Daily Mail and The Telegraph have done their bit by scraping the barrel to paint Corbyn as a heartless husband and anti-Semite, but mostly it’s been those within Corbyn’s own party delivering the worst blows. The leadership rivals have pitched in of course – Liz Kendall has called Corbyn a potential “disaster” for Labour, while Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper share the opinion that Corbyn would turn Labour into a mere “party of protest”. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, meanwhile, have all conjured up their own apocalyptic visions of Labour under Corbyn.
By now, you’ve probably heard the ‘Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable’ line (which, as the man himself pointed out, can hardly be true when he’s been voted in eight times as an MP already) so many times you’ve lost count. We’ll see in 2020 (providing the current government makes it that far) how true this argument is, but right now the fact is that Corbyn is quite the opposite of ‘unelectable’. If social media chatter and sell-out crowds weren’t evidence enough, a recent poll suggests that, to the general public, Corbyn is actually considered the most electable of the Labour leader candidates. According to Survation, should he win the leadership bid, Corbyn would be the Labour head that supporters of rival parties would be most likely to vote for in the next election.
This should be music to the ears of Labour officials desperate to reclaim the votes they lost in 2015; with reports suggesting some ex-Labour voters may never return, the party needs all the help it can get. And, with Labour’s perceived fiscal irresponsibility proving to be one of the main reasons voters shied away from Labour in May, the chances of the party will not be helped by a leader that refuses to correct the false notion that Labour crashed the economy in 2008. While Corbyn has vehemently denied the Labour crash lie, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall have been apologetic, chastising their own party for something that never happened. Yvette Cooper has joined Corbyn in rejecting the Labour crash narrative, but sided with Burnham and Kendall in abstaining from voting against the Welfare Reform bill – designed to correct the alleged mistakes of the last Labour government, and opposed by Corbyn – all the same.
The Tories have reached 100 days in full control of HM Government, and it’s been a pretty terrifying time for anyone who cares about the future of this country and our planet. Cameron and co have been implementing policies left, right and centre – many of which were never in the manifesto – and moving at breakneck speed to sell off the last of our public assets and strip us of privacy and democratic power. They’ve dropped any remaining “Green crap”, and handed tax breaks to dirty energy, all the while blaming everything that’s going wrong on the desperate migrants at Calais and people struggling on poverty wages and benefits.
With so much objectively bad policy being implemented, respected individuals and groups are beginning to speak up. While experts and academics are often hesitant to speak out against the government, there comes a point where enough is enough, when the ruling party stands to tear our country apart at the seams. The question now, as Cameron’s Conservatives mark 100 ignominious days in power, is how long this government can even last. Continue reading
Just over six months ago, I began researching an almost unbelievable-sounding story. I hadn’t heard anything about it prior to a January episode of The Trews, entitled ‘Is The Establishment Riddled With Paedophiles?’; but after reading the title alone, the curious journalist in me naturally wanted to dig. Still, I assumed reading up on this so-called Westminster child abuse scandal, or ‘VIP abuse scandal’ as it’s also known, wouldn’t lead to much. Surely the idea that powerful figures – a network of high-ranking politicians, civil servants and prominent celebrities – had been committing child abuse on an industrial scale and going unpunished for it over decades was just some Icke-ian conspiracy theory.
At the end of a long weekend of research, I emerged numbed with an article dense with allegations of rape, torture and murder of children by British establishment figures, the facts all drawn from reputable sources. This wasn’t investigative journalism – I simply trawled the internet and found articles from the Guardian, Independent, Daily Mail, Sky News, the Mirror, Telegraph, all detailing chilling tales from alleged victims and witnesses, from ex-police and crusading MPs. It was information that had been largely kept quiet, and that for the most part hadn’t been pushed as a big story.
Now it’s six months later, and it appears the mainstream media and public-at-large are finally taking notice of whatever you want to call this horrible affair. And the name that’s changed it all is undoubtedly Sir Edward Heath’s. During my research, I found Heath’s name kept coming up, even if none of the accusations could be verified. So, was I surprised when it was announced this week that Heath was included in the ongoing police investigation into child sex abuse, an investigation which includes 76 politicians both living and dead? No.
Another Tube strike. Londoners crumble without our Tube, the publicly owned and operated backbone of our transport network, carrying 1.265 billion passengers a year with delays on track to be 58% lower than 2007 levels this year. Like the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. These strikes should serve to remind us what a valuable service the Tube is.
The news coverage is largely focused on the negativity of the strike, demonising the ‘overpaid’ drivers and comparing them to underpaid health workers or teachers. The truth is that all Underground staff are not unhappy with their pay, but with the new conditions being imposed on them in order to run 24-hour services from September. London Underground are acting in a malicious way, only offering credible compensation packages a couple of hours before the end of negotiations, leaving not nearly enough time for unions to consult their members.
We should support the strikes if we are to maintain workers’ rights in this country. But it’s still bad news for London, right? The cost to the economy has been pegged at £50-300m due to commuting delays and “minutes frittered away commiserating with colleagues over nightmare journeys”. While some businesses fret about employees venting frustration over the commute (instead of the usual water cooler talk), other businesses have avoided such catastrophic loss by allowing employees to work from home. Continue reading