The Philpott case and the Right’s warped benefits narrative

In the aftermath of the Mick and Mairead Philpott trial, the Right blamed the murders of 6 children on the Philpott’s “addiction” to benefits.  First, the Daily Mail produced its sensational front page (above), then the Telegraph chipped in with its ‘analysis’. Both articles use a tragedy to push the abolition of the benefits system by making use of narrativizations. In other words, this terrible event has been magically transformed into a particular kind of story that fits the neoliberal’s small state discourses .

Let me take you back to 2008 and a mansion fire in Shropshire that caused the death of a family. The perpetrator was Christopher Foster, a wealthy businessman, who had allegedly accumulated massive debts and was staring financial ruin in the face. Foster died in the fire that was intended to mask the shootings of his wife and his 15 year old daughter.

The Guardian says

Police believe Mr Foster killed his 49-year-old wife and 15-year-old daughter at their £1.2m home in the village of Maesbrook, Shropshire, before setting fire to the property. Their burned bodies were found at Osbaston House days after the blaze in August last year.

The hearing at Shrewsbury magistrates court heard that in December 2005, Mr Foster told police his former accountant was blackmailing him over a joint property deal in Cyprus. Two defendants were prosecuted and found not guilty at Shrewsbury crown court in November 2006.

The inquest, attended by Mr Foster’s mother Enid and his younger brother Andrew, was shown photographs of the luxury five-bedroom house before and after the blaze in the early hours of 26 August.

Images of the dining room showed containers of heating oil on the floor. The inquest was told an oil tank used to heat the property was sited in outbuildings and would have been full at the time of the fire.

The body of Christopher Foster was found lying on top of his wife on the floor beneath what would have been their bedroom.

Home Office pathologist Dr Alexander Kolar said Jill Foster died as a result of a gunshot wound to the back of the head, which appeared to have been carried out by another person. There was no indication she was alive during the fire, he said.

Their 15-year-old daughter had a wound to the left side of her head, caused by a high velocity impact. It was likely she died as a result of a gunshot wound, Dr Kolar said, but he could not rule out the possibility that her injury was caused by falling debris.

The court was told alcohol was found in Mr Foster’s urine, indicating he may have been drinking on the night of the fire.

Yet, the Right wouldn’t dare to lazily join the dots between these tragic deaths and Foster’s wealth. Why not? I think we know why not.

On the same day that The Guardian produced its story, the Mail coughed up this sensationalist cack:

But Foster knew a great deal about fires. According to his brother Andrew, he was always fascinated by them. He even set fire to Andrew accidentally when they were boys.

The Mail had its angle but it didn’t blame the deaths on Foster’s wealth.

Now the argument that the Right would put forward would go something like this: “At least Foster used his own money to kill his family”. That’s a rationalization and it’s this same lazy thinking that allows them to view the Philpott case as one where “my (sic) money was involved” in “subsidizing” a lifestyle. The truth is this: it is not your money that pays people’s benefits.  Furthermore, if one adopts that kind of attitude to benefits claimants, then why don’t they adopt the same position when it comes to MPs ever-increasing salaries and their swollen expense accounts?

The real tragedy is that many British people are unable to think for themselves and allow the press to produce their opinions for them. Pumped with stories of benefit cheats and plied with grog from the trashy, voyeuristic mess that is The Jeremy Kyle Show, these people connect dots and see anyone who is struggling to make ends meet as “subhuman”.

But it wasn’t just The Mail that was guilty of apportioning blame to the benefits system. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Honourable Gideon Osborne, heir to the baronetcy of Ballintaylor and Ballylemon, says in this video that the Philpott case “raises questions” about the welfare state “subsidizing lifestyles like that”.

Even an expensive education has failed to teach Osborne critical thinking skills. The rationale goes something like this: one benefits claimant is bad, therefore all benefits claimants are bad.

In today’s Daily Mail, Tim Shipman, uses his article to take a swipe at the Labour party, which he believes, doesn’t want a “debate” on the welfare state. But it is not a debate that he or the Right wants; they want to control the discourse on benefits: this means lying and smearing those who oppose their warped narratives.

Within hours of his remarks about Philpott, he faced a backlash from Left-wingers who accused him of ‘cynically’ exploiting the tragedy to push the Government’s case for cuts to handouts.

Senior Tories said the reaction of the Opposition is proof that it still fails to grasp the depth of public fury at the way some have abused the benefits system.

If you ever believed that this country had a “free press”,  then now is the time to cast your naive beliefs aside. This country’s “free press” operates, mainly,  as an unofficial Ministry of Information. The manufacture of consent for further cuts and dismantling of the welfare state begins on the pages of the Tory press and the mainstream television channels.

In connecting this tragedy to a poisoned ‘debate’ on welfare, the Conservative know that they can further control discourses on the very existence of the welfare state and, by doing so, pull the so-called “hardworking families” and so-called floating voters into their orbit.  Make no mistake, if the Tories win an outright majority at the next General Election, they will abolish what’s left of the welfare state. They cannot be allowed to do this.

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Filed under Ideologies, Journalism, Media, Neoliberalism, News/Current Affairs, propaganda, Tory press, Yellow journalism

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