Private bill to introduce further charges to patients for healthcare services is due for second reading today

Kitty S Jones on Christopher Chope’s Private Member’s Bill to introduce charges for healthcare. Whenever a bill is introduced to hammer the less well-off (in other words, those people who aren’t members of his social class), you’ll always find Chope and the usual suspects not too far behind.

Politics and Insights

NHS charges

Christopher Chope, a Barrister and the Conservative MP for Christchurch, has proposed a private bill that would make provision for co-funding, and to extend the use of ‘co-payment’ – charges – throughout the National Health Service (NHS); and for “connected purposes.”

Though there are already some charges for health services such dental treatments, eye tests and prescriptions already, experts have warned that if the bill gains assent, it would open the floodgates to charging for a range of other services including GPs appointments and minor operations.

The National Health Service (Co-Funding and CoPayment) Bill would “make provision for co-funding and for the extension of co-payment for NHS services in England” and this will be the second reading of the bill.

MPs are set to debate the proposed bill today.

Recent changes to NHS prescribing guidelines has shown that the co-payment system is far from perfect. Controversial limits to…

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A BBC Producer, Guido And Me

The antics of Britain’s news media in the last few weeks have been, to say the least, discomfiting and laughable in equal measure. From the production of anti-Corbyn smears to their fulsome and unquestioning support for the government’s vague position on the Skripal poisoning case, the media has shown itself incapable of critical analysis and devoid of professional curiosity. It has, instead, resorted to smearing the leader of the opposition, who advised a more cautious, even statesman-like approach. For his trouble, he was smeared by the government, the media and even some members of his own party, most notably the MP for BAe Systems, John Woodcock.

The BBC has been especially poor and has recently taken to sourcing news stories from the disreputable flak machine that’s Guido Fawkes. I wrote about the site in this article from 2012.

Last October, as I watching The Daily Politics, I’d noticed that the editorial team had sourced an item about Labour MP, Jared O’Mara, from Guido. I took to Twitter to express my disgust and disbelief.

On Monday, anticipating a smear story that was about to break, I took to Twitter again after it emerged that the BBC and other news organizations, had sourced a story from Guido.

This morning I noticed there had been a reply from someone claiming to work as a producer for Radio 4 ‘s You and Yours.

The arrogance here is astonishing.

I responded, first by telling him he was “projecting”, then I quoted his tweet, so that everyone could see what kind of people work for the BBC.

Mousley has yet to respond. But if this is how one BBC employee replies to viewers and listeners, then it’s a fair bet that this high-handed, smug attitude is consistent throughout the Corporation. If Mousley deletes the tweet, then I have a screen shot.

We expect better from our news providers, but when they produce blatant propaganda pieces and repeat smear stories sourced from sites like Guido, then they no longer deserve the trust and support of the public.

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Farewell, Hip Priest

By all accounts the leader and most consistent member of The Fall, Mark E Smith, was an irascible and puzzling figure; a contrarian and working class autodidact, whose lyrics were a mix of the absurd and the inscrutable. Smith died last week, aged 60 and given his intake of speed and alcohol, it’s a surprise he lasted this long. He was only outdone by Lemmy, whose own consumption for the same substances led many to believe his demise was imminent. Unlike MES, Lemmy managed to hold out longer till he died in 2015, aged 70.

I became a fan of the Fall (some might say I was obsessed) in 1979, when I was introduced to them by a friend, who also introduced me to Gang of Four. In fact, for the first part of the 1980s, I probably listened to The Fall more than any other band. I’m not going to offer a retread of the obituaries that you’ve no doubt read in the pages of the popular press. My tribute is to the music of The Fall, who are unlikely to continue as a band now that MES is dead. I mean, what would be the point? The Fall was MES.

This is ‘No Xmas For John Quays’ from the album Live At The Witch Trials. The title is a play on words, the John Quays being the junkies who still have to find a fix on Xmas Day.  There are a few things happening in this song. First, in the song’s introduction, MES explains “The ‘x’ in Xmas is a substitute crucifix for Christ”. Christian fundamentalists and hilarious right-wingers will often claim that the use of the abbreviation ‘Xmas’ is blasphemous. If only they did as much reading as MES, eh? Second, is the way he namechecks the tragic Frankie Lymon, who died of a heroin overdose in 1968 at the age of 25. He was shooting up in his teens. It’s the way MES sings/screams “Talking about Frankie Lymon. Tell me why is it so”? Then there’s the humour “Good King Wenceslas looked out. Silly bugger, he fell out”.

This is the first Fall single that I bought, which I played repeatedly on Hot Valves, my show on Radio Fiona, a land-based pirate station that broadcasted to North Hertfordshire and East Bedfordshire. It sort of reflected my foolish taste for speed, which I gave up for the last time in the Summer of 1983.

In 1981, The Fall only released one single, ‘The Lie Dream of a Casino Soul’. I like the single both for the music (obviously) and the typewritten sleeve notes on the back, which are as inscrutable as the lyrics. Is “Dyckoff = Deutsche Kendals” related to the lines “No nerves left Monday morning and I think I’ll cut my dick off. The trouble it got me in”? Maybe it is. It’s hard to tell.

Although only one single was released in 1981, the same year saw the release of the Slates EP, which was on 10 inch vinyl, meaning that it was too long to be a single and too short to be an album. For some unexplained reason, Slates reminds me a lot of the first and only time I went to the Stonehenge Free Festival.  This is ‘Fit and Working Again’, which is the first track on the second side.

This is the B-side to the 1982 single Look, Know, which contains the memorable lines “Do you know what you look like, before you go out” and “Happy memories leave a bitter taste”. Classic MES. It’s difficult to believe it now, but there was actually a CB (Citizens’ Band) craze in Britain that had been inspired by the 1978 Hollywood film, Convoy. I often found it weird to hear Brits going around saying things like “10-4, good buddy” and “Eyeball, eyeball”. My next door neighbour in Letchworth would spend all night on her CB radio and you could hear her talking to her insomniac pals through the thin walls.

Until Brix Smith joined The Fall after marrying MES in 1983, The Fall didn’t do cover versions of songs. That changed with the release of ‘Couldn’t Get Ahead’  in 1985, whose B-Side was ‘Rollin’ Dany’. This was followed by Bend Sinister in 1986, which included the single ‘Mr. Pharmacist’. I rather liked the B-side, ‘Lucifer Over Lancashire’.

In 1988, the band released the album I Am Kurious Oranj, whose title was a play on title of the 1967 Swedish film Jag är nyfiken – en film i gult  (I Am Curious (Yellow)). The film caused controversy for its use of simulated sexual intercourse and was banned in some American states.  I Am Kurious Oranj saw the band join forces with Michael Clarke’s contemporary dance company. MES was known to be a fan of reggae as well as Krautrock and 60s garage punk, and this track has an identifiable reggae backbeat to it.

Shortly after the release of I Am Kurious Oranj, I began to lose touch with The Fall, but every now and again, I’d hear a new song like this one, which I played before a gig to get me into the rhythm. This is the official video for the song ‘Free Range’.

This blog post could go on forever and there a loads of Fall songs that I could easily include, like ‘The Man Whose Head Expanded’, which uses a Casio PT-1 or ‘Couldn’t Get Ahead’, so I’ll just finish with this one.

Farewell, Hip Priest.

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Smears, Lies, Social Media And Brandon Lewis

Brandon Lewis. He don’t ‘alf like a good old smear.

Social media may have its problems but there’s one thing about it that cannot be denied: it has effectively democratized the production and dissemination of information. Until fairly recently, the production of information was tightly controlled by what is often laughingly referred to as the ‘free press’ or ‘free media’, which is mostly controlled and owned by Conservative-supporting proprietors. Cast your minds back to the General Election of 1992 and The S*n’s disgraceful front pages. Cast your minds back to 1996 when Tony Blair, then merely the leader of the Labour Party, had to get on his hands and knees and beg for Rupert Murdoch’s support. I don’t want a return to those days, but the Tories clearly do, and there’s a reason why they complain so bitterly about social media and whine about non-existent online abuse: they resent the fact that people can make their own judgements based on information that wouldn’t have been available to them 10 or 20 years ago. The Tories are also incapable of matching the social media campaigns of groups like Momentum and, by way of reply, end up producing the most laughable efforts, like Activate.

Smear at will, chaps! That ought to convince the voters that we’re the natural party of government!

Last week, Theresa May reshuffled her cabinet and brought in Brandon Lewis, the MP for Great Yarmouth, as chairman of the Conservative Party. His deputy is James (Not So) Cleverly, the MP for Braintree (there’s a joke in there), whose Twitter feed is full to bursting with smears and lies. When I heard about Lewis’s appointment, this is what I tweeted.

The role of the Tory Party chairman, as far as I can see it, is to co-ordinate smear attacks on their enemies. This is how it’s been since the 1920s, when national newspapers like the Daily Mail,  a ‘newspaper’ friendly to the interests of the Tories, could publish forgeries like the Zinoviev Letter to affect the outcome of a general election and, at the same time, undermine the democratic process safe in the knowledge that it enjoyed high level protection.

When Lewis  appeared on today’s Andrew Marr Show, he didn’t disappoint. Immediately afterwards, he tweeted:

My response was brief and to the point.

Later, this was tweeted from the Tories’s official Twitter account:

When Angela Rayner told her Twitter followers how she dealt with online abuse, Lewis saw this as an opportunity to make  dishonest political capital and smear the Labour frontbench at the same time.

Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads was having none of it and reminded Lewis that his “Respect Pledge” was little more than a gimmick.

That reminds me, what happened to the 40 or so Tory MPs that were recently outed as sex pests and worse? It’s all gone rather quiet.

CCHQ quoted Cleverly in the Sunday Express:

Here it is from the horse’s mouth so to speak.

Cleverly has very little room to complain about abuse, yet here he is assuming the moral high ground. When all else fails, pretend your shit doesn’t stink and smear it all over your opponents.

The Tories have been very fond of claiming that Labour and by extension, the Left, has been singularly responsible for online abuse. But this is a topsy-turvy version of reality, because it’s been demonstrated that the abuse comes mainly from the Right and is directed at Labour MPs like Emma Dent Coad, Laura Pidcock and Diane Abbott. The New Statesman tracked 25, 688 abusive tweets and noted that most of them were directed at Diane Abbott.  Tory MPs, by contrast, have been challenged on their lies, which they then wilfully misinterpret as “online abuse”. There’s a reason for this: social media has, for the first time, allowed many people to not only engage with their MPs, but to openly challenge the lies and misinformation produced by Tory MPs and the propagandists at CCHQ. This is anathema to Tories, who may talk a good talk about freedom and democracy, but work tirelessly to stifle those things.

I didn’t see Brandon Lewis on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning but I suspect that Marr didn’t once challenge or refute any of his accusations or smears. However, the Marr Show helpfully tweeted this, and what I’ve noticed from this clip is how Lewis, rather than face up to the fact that his party is now, most likely, the third largest party in Britain, smears his way out of an uncomfortable moment. But that’s not all: watch how he squirms when it’s revealed to viewers that the abolition of credit card charges, announced on Saturday, was a European Union directive, and not down to the government, as their Twitter meme mendaciously suggests.

What Lewis is really saying is “We’re are crap at social media and it’s not fair that Labour is better than us”. The logic behind this is that the Tories think that being good at social media means being abusive and making baseless allegations, but this is an obvious psychological projection.

One smear that’s been doing the tours of the radio and television studios is the claim that Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, told an audience that he wanted to “lynch” Esther McVey. McDonnell actually quoted what someone else had said and yet, the Tories, being Tories, attributed the words to him directly. Worse perhaps, the BBC always fails to challenge Tory MPs who reproduce these lies live on air, as Sarah Smith did when the lie was repeated to her by Immigration Minister, Caroline Noakes, on The Sunday Politics. She apologized towards the end of the show.

The Tories are comfortable with racists. That’s not a smear; that’s the truth. For when Boris Johnson makes another racist joke or calls black children “piccaninnies”, nothing happens.  It’s waved away. For example, when Scottish Tory councillors spouted sectarian and racist remarks, Ruth Davidson gave them a quick slap on the wrists and welcomed them back a few weeks later. The official media, for its part, said little if anything at all. Yet, the Tories and their pals on Fleet Street and elsewhere will seize on any opportunity to paint Labour as a uniquely anti-Semitic party, and when their own members are guilty of real anti-Semitism, what happens? Absolutely nothing. Not even the official media are interested.

When Toby Young was appointed to the board of the Office for Students, a quango set up by Bozza’s half-witted and less charismatic sibling, Jo Johnson, people took to social media in their droves to point out Young’s lack of suitability. Central to these claims were Young’s 40,000 or so tweets, many of which expressed crude sexism and homophobia, one even suggested anal rape. But that wasn’t the least of it, his advocacy for what he calls “progressive eugenics” (a bizarre and contradictory construction if ever there was one) was also cited as grounds for his unsuitability. Young was forced to stand down. Predictably, the Tories started complaining about “online lynching” and “trial by Twitter”. Not one of them mentioned eugenics or the important fact that it’s a long discredited pseudo-science, which was central to Hitler’s Final Solution. In their silence, they’ve clearly revealed themselves, not only to be Social Darwinists, but tacit supporters of eugenics.

Thanks to social media many of us are better informed than we once were.  Yes, there is online abuse but most of it comes from the Right and not the Left.  But ordinary citizens are now able to call out politicians on their lies and distortions, so when the Tories claimed they had abolished credit card charges all by themselves, they were immediately met by a barrage of corrections. The Tories hate that. For them, it’s tantamount to abuse and for people that declare themselves tough and in control, they betray themselves as rather thin-skinned and lacking in control. Worse still, the Tories are a party bereft of ideas and haemorrhaging members, and they see smears, lies and abuse as substitutes.

To borrow from the villain’s stock line at the end of an episode of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? “We would have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for you pesky kids and your social media”.

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The Top 7 Weakest Defences For Privatized Rail

The 3.6% hike in rail fares, announced last August, came into effect last Tuesday, and I have already seen the usual, rather weak, excuses offered in defence of rail privatization on the below the line comments threads on The Guardian and on Twitter. Have you noticed how their defences always seem to repeat the same canards? So, let’s have a look at them in no particular order:

  1. Passenger numbers have increased since privatization. This is probably the silliest of all the stock responses made in defence of privatized rail. It’s silly because it ignores the growth in population. One thing does not lead to the other. Indeed, populations in countries that have nationalized railways have also increased but you don’t see the same overcrowding, nor does one have to pay a king’s ransom to travel by rail in those countries. Sometimes this excuse is also used to smuggle in anti-immigration discourses.
  2. Why should I subsidize people who travel by rail? This one is usually offered by ‘me first’ types, who have internalized Thatcherite dogma and are incapable of seeing anything other than the self. Conversely, why should those people who never use pavements or the motorways subsidize the maintenance of those things? Another silly reply easily dismissed.
  3. Why should I care about commuters in London? This reply ignores the commuter rail networks in major conurbations like Glasgow, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands. It also dismisses, out of hand, the users of rural rail services, which not only remain expensive, but are patchy at best.
  4. Why should the taxpayer foot the bill? This question sidesteps the obvious: commuters and other rail users are taxpayers. If you are in any passenger group and are working, you effectively pay twice: once through vastly inflated fares and again through your taxes. The private train operators are subsidized, which means they make money from passengers but also benefit from the state’s corporate welfare scheme. The Virgin East Coast Mainline is in such dire financial straights that the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, has offered to bail them out to the tune of £2bn.
  5. Rail fares need to increase to fund improvements. This is the rail operators’ main line of defence but when it’s unpacked and the privatized model is held up against the nationalized railways on continental Europe, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Privatized train operators make profits for shareholders, who demand greater dividends. Therefore, the profits that are made, don’t go back into the business but are used to further enrich rentiers, many of whom don’t live in the United Kingdom. Indeed, some of the Train Operating Companies are actually owned by foreign nationalized railways themselves. Deutsche Bahn, the German state-owned rail company, runs the Northern Rail franchise, for example.
  6. Ah, but the rail network is nationalized; the rail tracks are owned by the state. So what? Passengers pay their fares to TOC’s and not the inanimate track, on which the trains run. The railway network is, for all intents and purposes, privately operated. Passengers can’t travel on the rail tracks without trains, because to do so would be to trespass on the permanent way. It’s also dangerous.
  7. We don’t want to go back to British Rail. Well, actually, yes we do. The problem with this line of defence is that it deliberately ignores the fact that BR was chronically underfunded and was as poorly managed as the rest of the British economy. This includes the private sector, in which British management has long been a problem – especially with regards to low productivity. I’m old enough to remember BR and it wasn’t as bad as many naysayers say it was.

So, if the privatized railway model is so good, then why hasn’t it been adopted in other countries? The answer to that question is obvious: because it’s flawed; the fragmented structure of rail tracks, TOC’s, train leasing companies, and various regulators make it a real dog’s dinner. Why would any country want to adopt such a tangled mess?

The response to last week’s fare increase was fairly predictable: protests were held at 40 railways stations and the usual gasps of disbelief could be heard up and down the country, but how does waving placards and handing out leaflets to passengers actually affect anything? What we really need is a mass fare strike coordinated with the rail unions. Fare strikes have been used in other countries, notably in Australia. But we’ve had fare strikes in Britain too. In 2007 and 2008, passengers on  First Great Western refused to pay fares.  The South Yorkshire Freedom Riders are a fairly recent example of how people power can force change.

Instead of complaining on social media and telling jokes, how about taking some real action for a change?

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Stella Creasy, An Indie Band And A Lazy Hack

I don’t often mention Stella Creasy, because I usually have no reason to do so. I’m aware, however, that she used to work in public relations, an industry that tells lies for money – and she’s lost none of the talents she employed in her previous occupation. Creasy has recently been the focus of the Twitter furore for attending a gig with Tory MP, Thérèse Coffey. Her complaint? She’s the victim of “sinister bullying”. By implication, she means the so-called “hard left” are the bullies in question.

Earlier today, I took a swipe at Creasy, whom I call ‘Greasy’ for fairly obvious reasons.

It is most revealing that many current MPs on both sides of the House of Commons have either worked for the PR industry or as lobbyists before entering Parliament. Worryingly, the fields of politics and PR have overlapped to such an extent that it is scarcely possible to separate the two. Perhaps this was always inevitable.

Edward Bernays is considered by many to be the ‘father’ of the PR industry, and this quote illuminates the close relationship between political power and the mass media.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

So there it is. Manipulation and mass deception are crucial functions of the PR industry, on which their paymasters in the political parties rely so heavily to achieve power for no other purpose than power itself. Therefore, the idealized notion of the “smoothly functioning society” that Bernays articulates is completely undermined by the objectives of PR companies and political leaders. Yet, it is also easy to see that the “small number of persons”; the political leaders, of whom he talks, do not, as he claims, necessarily “understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses”, for if they did, they would not need to herd them with dog-whistle racism and the production of empty signs in lieu of actual ideas. Such impulses are cynical in the extreme, and narcissistic political careerists, who have worked as PR consultants or lobbyists, know how to manipulate situations. But they don’t act alone: they have contacts within the official media to help them disseminate their lies, half-truths and smears.

Over the course of the last week, I have seen many complaints on my Twitter timeline about Creasy attending a gig of the band Shed Seven with Tory MP, Thérèse Coffey (more about her later) and Michael Dugher, former Labour MP, ex-corporate lobbyist and now Chief Executive of UK Music . The Skwawkbox asked her (Creasy) a perfectly straightforward question about her choice of gig companions. Creasy, being formerly associated with PR, took the opportunity to spin this into a somewhat spiteful tale of ‘hard left bullying’ and ‘misogyny’. Her tale of woe was then picked up by Chris York of the Huffington Post, who chose to side with Creasy and produced a piece of one-sided copy designed to appeal to the confirmation biases of the Labour Right and the Tories. York also used his piece to launch an unwise attack on Skwawkbox.

Skwawkbox Accused Of ‘Deeply Sinister Bullying’ Of Stella Creasy Over Shed Seven Gig

‘What a sad bastard Steve from ‘Skwawkbox’ is.’

“Deeply sinister bullying”? How about hyperbole and guff? Now York may claim that he doesn’t write the headlines, but the opening paragraph tells the same story.

A popular pro-Corbyn blog has been accused of the “deeply sinister bullying” of a female Labour MP after it criticised her for attending a gig with a Conservative counterpart.

Stella Creasy watched indie band Shed Seven at Brixton Academy earlier this month alongside Tory MP, Therese Coffey, and former-Labour MP turned music rep, Michael Dugher, who tweeted his excitement at the prospect.

Aw, isn’t that nice? However, Dugher, as I pointed out, is not a “music rep” but a Chief Executive.  A “rep” or representative is a person who acts on another’s behalf. It’s a totally different kind of job in terms of remuneration and responsibilities. But further down, he says:

Dugher is the Chief Executive of lobbying group UK Music.

Make up your mind, Chris.

York’s piece includes Twitter links to voices sympathetic to Creasy, none of which I will post here.

He then ends his article with the suggestion that Creasy has a majority of decent-thinking folk on her side.

But a small group of vocal Labour supporters and one Labour MP pounced on the story as evidence of something else.

York took exception to my tweet about him and HuffPo “working for the Tories, whether they want to admit it or not”.

Ouch! So I quoted him back.

He later replied:

You”ll notice that he chose to reply to my additional response rather than the quoted tweet. But “no bearing on the thrust of the article”? Au contraire, I’ve nailed it in the article you’re currently reading. So allow me to repeat and rephrase the point I made in my tweet: this article was produced to appeal to the confirmation biases of the Tories and Labour’s self-styled ‘moderates’, and therefore feeds into the continuing anti-Corbyn and, more specifically, anti-Left narrative that dominates the official media’s political reportage. York therefore is, by proxy, working on behalf of the Tories and the Labour Right.

Creasy has some previous form when it comes to manufacturing stories of bullying.  In December 2015, Creasy complained that she was being “intimidated by the hard left”. Creasy was later forced to row back on her claims.

Back to Creasy, Coffey,  Dugher and their pre-Xmas outing. The Cat has no problem with MPs going to see their favourite band, and it’s likely the ticket was complimentary having been provided by Dugher as one of the perks of his job. What the Cat has a problem with are hypocritical Labour MPs that fail to defend their fellow MPs from being monstered by the right-wing press and the Tory Party for refusing to fraternize with their opposite number. So it comes as no surprise that Creasy has refused to defend Laura Pidcock, who famously refuses to ‘hang out’ with Tories. Frankly, I don’t blame her. I wouldn’t either. Indeed, there is no compulsion for Labour MPs to socialize with Tories, even though the right-wing press and les certains in the Labour party deliberately conflate socialization with cross-party work in order to smear Pidcock for her forthright attacks against the socio-economic orthodoxy.

As for Thérèse Coffey, she’s not only a Tory, she’s also a member of the Free Enterprise Group, which was featured on this blog in November. So it’s no surprise that she’s consistently voted to reduce benefits, thereby forcing many people into financial hardship. Coffey’s ignominious voting record can be seen here.

Creasy, for her part, said of David Cameron in 2009, “You can judge Cameron by the company he keeps… and the nature of his party is resolutely right-wing”.  Thus, it is only fair that Creasy be judged by the company she keeps.

The first rule of journalism is to check your sources and then check them again. Just because someone is an MP, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they’re a reliable source of information. In his article, Chris York has failed in his duty to his readers. By leaving out key details and through his use of language, he gave readers the impression that Creasy was being bullied for simply having a good night out with friends… friends who vote against measures intended to ameliorate the dire circumstances of many of the constituents that Creasy represents. York’s article could either be written off as a classic case of journalistic laziness or active bias, maybe both. I’ll let you decide.

Further reading/viewing

Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and simulation. University of Michigan press.

Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power. Harvard University Press.

Curtis, A. (2002) The Century of the Self. Broadcast 17/3/2002. BBC2

Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2010). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. Random House.

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Filed under Language, Media, propaganda, Society & culture

Well, You Could Call It ‘Incompetence’, But…

Yesterday’s revelation that some key documents have either been ‘mislaid’ or have ‘gone missing’ from the National Archives would appear, at first glance, to have some plausibility. But the files, which pertain to important events in British political history, such as the notorious Zinoviev Letter, the Falklands War and the plot to undermine the Wilson governments, seem to have vanished at a most opportune moment for the Conservative government.

Ian Cobain writing in The Guardian says:

The disappearances highlight the ease with which government departments can commandeer official papers long after they have been declassified and made available to historians and the public at the archives at Kew, south-west London.

A Freedom of Information Act request in 2014 showed that 9,308 files were returned to government departments in this way in 2011. The following year 7,122 files were loaned out, and 7,468 in 2013. The National Archives says Whitehall departments are strongly encouraged to promptly return them, but they are not under any obligation to do so.

Worrying. Further down, he writes:

Some historians have been particularly distrustful of the Foreign Office since 2013, when the Guardian disclosed that the department had been unlawfully hoarding 1.2m historical files at a high-security compound near Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.

The hoard came to light during high court proceedings brought by a group of elderly Kenyans who were detained and abused during the Mau Mau insurgency in 1950s Kenya, when the Foreign Office admitted it had withheld thousands of colonial-era files.

A few years earlier, the Ministry of Defence refused to consider a number of files for release under the Freedom of Information Act on the grounds that they may have been exposed to asbestos.

The files concerned such matters as arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UK special forces operations against Indonesia and interrogation techniques. The MoD denied it was using the presence of asbestos in an old archive building as an excuse to suppress the documents.

When all else fails, blame it on asbestos… or foreigners, or gays or something.

Given the secrecy with which the British state operates, and the Conservative Party’s past record in undermining political parties and the democratic process, the Cat is inclined to suspect foul play. If government departments are allowed to take documents from the National Archives without being compelled to return them, then this leads one to conclude that items weren’t “misplaced”, they were taken for a reason and it’s fairly easy to work out what that reason was: to destroy them or keep them hidden from public view.

Remember that documents that are held in the National Archives are available to historians, academics and other members of the public on request. It is likely that the Tories, who have attempted to revise history for the seven years they’ve been in power, want to create a narrative that is, not only favourable to them, but one in which other legitimate political parties are cast in a negative light.

There must be a fully independent public inquiry into the disappearance of these documents. A failure to do so will only increase public suspicion of the Conservative Party and the state.

Ian Cobain’s book The History Thieves: Secrets, Lies and the Shaping of a Modern Nation is worth a read.

 

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