Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Mainstream Media’s Relationship With The Far-Right

The Right often accuses the BBC of having a “left-wing bias”. Yet when pressed to provide salient examples of this bias, they produce some truly absurd examples. One person on Telegraph blogs claimed that CBBC and CBeebies was biased to the Left because one programme mentioned climate change. Others will splutter “the comedy is left-wing”. Really? All of it? How about My Family? The real discourse being expressed here is this: for all their talk about ‘freedom’, the Right wants to control all discourse and set the terms of debate. Their economic experts pop up all the time on BBC News spouting the same line about the necessity for cuts and are never challenged by an opposing economic point of view. Instead, the economist in question is presented as ‘neutral’ expert.  It’s no wonder that when some BBC reporter conducts vox-pop interviews about the economy, the people on the street tend to repeat the official discourse with lines like “the country is broke”, “we have to make cuts somewhere” and “people on benefits are lazy”.

As many of you are already aware, UKIP and Nigel Farage are frequent guests to the BBC’s studios. Their message is carried on the broadcaster’s airwaves without much opposition. Timid and lazy journalists refuse to put Farage to the question and are sucked in by his oily charm. If you think this is a new phenomenon, think again. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the BBC interviewed John Tyndall and other prominent members of the National Front.

This clip shows the timidity of the BBC’s handling of the far-right.

Tyndall dismisses the allegation that the NF was extremist and the interviewer fails to drill into his façade. Tyndall also claims that he was involved in an extremist group but it was nothing more than youthful hi-jinks. Again, the interviewer fails to ask follow up questions and instead treats Tyndall with the greatest degree of respect.

Here’s an interesting clip of the late Prof Stuart Hall talking about racism in the media in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s almost surprising to learn how little has changed.

In the recent French municipal elections, the BBC told viewers and listeners that Marine Le Pen’s Front National had performed well. They gave the impression that the FN was now in a position to win the next Presidential election. Unfortunately, the BBC didn’t bother to conduct proper checks and failed to report on the successes of the Front de Gauche and as this graphic illustrates, the FdG out-performed the FN and is poised to win around 600 seats on local councils in the second round of votes.

FdG v FN graphic

 

Instead of reporting the facts, the BBC gives the impression that the FN is poised for some kind of landslide victory. Last night’s edition of Newsnight, carried a weird little item about the FN and their mayoral  candidate for Avignon, which was  sandwiched between a story about Malaysian Airways flight MH370 and an item about gaming. Significantly, Kirsty Wark didn’t mention the story in her introduction. The reporter, Hugh Schofield, claimed that the FN had changed its image and was now more “acceptable”, adding she’s (Le Pen) “cleaned up the brand”. Schofield dismissed student demonstrations against the FN and didn’t mention the Front de Gauche at all. According to him, the FN is the only game in town.  He also went further and claimed that many “immigrants” were going to vote for the FN and interviewed Phillipe Lottiaux, the FN candidate, and accepted every word he said without a challenge. Here’s a link to Newsnight, the story starts at 10.42. You have another 6 days to watch it.

The BBC also fails to question Farage and his cronies about their party’s links to far-right parties in the European Parliament. As I mentioned in this blog, UKIP is a member of the far-right European Party for Freedom (EAP). It has cordial relations with parties like Jobbik and Geert Wilders’ PVV. Indeed, this is not guilt by association, UKIP actually shares many of these parties’  ideologies. When members of Jobbik arrived here a couple of months ago to spread their poison, the BBC failed to report the story.

Next Monday, Channel 4 will move their main news programme from 1900 to 1800 to accommodate Martin Durkin’s affectionate portrait of Farage. Yes, you read that correctly. Channel 4 are moving Channel 4 News from its usual slot to 6pm. Durkin is already known to this blog as are his colleagues in the LM Network. Durkin’s film will contribute nothing to any debate and will serve to reinforce UKIP’s feeble claim that Farage is a ‘man of the people’.

Here’s Farage being ‘interviewed’ by Andrew Marr. Compare this interview to the one with John Tyndall.

Not so much an interview as a chat between two old friends. Wouldn’t you agree? At no point does Marr challenge Farage or talk down to him. Instead, Marr allows Farage to produce loads of evidence-free assertions and even joins in with a laugh or two.

The media’s response to the far-right is, quite frankly, too deferential. The Left, on the other hand, are rarely invited into the studio. If they are, they are shouted down or patronized by the interviewer and other guests. By contrast, right-wing politicians are accommodated and their views are given credence. The media’s attitude towards men like Farage effectively legitimizes the far-right and their repugnant views on ethnicity and national identity. Objectivity is like a fabulous creature: it exists only in the imagination.

If the far-right make any gains in this country, it will be with the connivance of the mainstream media channels, which seem to prefer fascism to democracy. Of course, they would claim otherwise and tell you that they want to examine all political views and place party leaders like Farage under greater scrutiny. Nothing seems further from the truth.

CORRECTION

I said that C4 News had been moved back an hour. It remains in its usual time slot but has been shortened by 30 minutes.

 

 

 

 

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Tony Benn’s Funeral in Pictures

The BBC barely bothered to cover the funeral of Tony Benn, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. They were more than happy to fawn over Thatcher when she died and allowed Tory commentators to repeat their altered version of history unchallenged. Therefore, it’s up to us at Nowhere Towers to provide some photographs of the occasion.

Here’s the hearse nearing the end of its short journey from the Palace of Westminster to St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey.

Arrival and banners

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Some pictures of banners.

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Some mourners at outside Westminster Abbey

Blurry shot of Westminster Abbey

An LBC hack finds a suitable spot to put a Tory spin on the funeral story.

LBC hack

Meanwhile Old Etonian James Landale of the BBC looks lost after conducting a couple of vox pop interviews. He’d shoved past me earlier.

Landale (Benn funeral)

The final procession.

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This is a slightly better shot.

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Here we have Peter Hain MP and John Bercow MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and his wife Sally *innocent face*. John Bercow is chatting to a woman in a wheelchair.

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Admittedly I didn’t take the best position to get the best images but today wasn’t about that. Today was about remembering the man who should have been Labour leader and Prime Minister. RIP Tony Benn, a man who was an inspiration to many and a fighter for democracy.

 

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Nightmare On King Street (Part 18)

Eric Pickles referred to it as “propaganda on the rates” and in the two years that have passed since councils were banned from reproducing their lies in print form (remember H&F News?), the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has decided to ignore everyone and produce this glossy magazine.

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This dropped through my letter box last week. I’ve also noticed that The Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle is continuing to publish council propaganda in spite of this new arrival. The Tories’ arrogance seeps through every letter on every page of this magazine.

The big story is that Council is pushing its idea to replace the crumbling Hammersmith Flyover with what it refers to as a “flyunder”, or a tunnel by anyone else’s definition. The front page of the magazine tells us that comedian and local resident, Bill Bailey, supports the council’s plan. Bailey apparently told the select committee, “I’ve lived in Hammersmith for 30 years and the traffic needs to be addressed. A flyunder would have enormous benefits for not just traffic but also for a much-improved town centre environment”. By using a name like Bailey’s to add gravitas to their idea, the Council gives the impression that the comedian is a solid supporter of the Tory administration. The tunnel – for that’s what it is -will be built by contractors who have close links to the Tory Party and Tory councillors will be wined, dined and treated to golfing holidays for helping these companies to gain another massive contract. Building a tunnel will create years of disruption and lead to road closures. None of this has been considered by this gung-ho council that puts its own interests before those of the residents it claims to support.

The magazine’s other big story is the apparent 3% “cut” in Council Tax. This cut is being paid for by stealth taxes and a whole series of charges for such things as training in local parks. For a council that likes to tell all and sundry how fiscally responsible it is, it wastes a lot of money on hare-brained schemes and propaganda. Elsewhere in the magazine is a feature on so-called ‘Brackenbury Village’ where the only Hammersmith residents that matter in the Tories’ eyes tend to live.

The law brought in by The Sontaran was initially enacted in response to Tower Hamlets council’s in-house propaganda sheet but makes no mention of Hammersmith and Fulham. Why? Because Hammersmith and Fulham is Pickles’ favourite council.

Here’s what the government website says:

In the broadcast media, regulator Ofcom recently concluded that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets had breached ‘The Communications Act 2003’, the ‘UK Code of Broadcast Advertising’ and the ‘Code on local authority publicity’. However there are no such restrictions which stop political advertising in print.

The consultation, launched today, is seeking views on how best to frame the new legislation to stop politically contentious advertising campaigns, municipal newspapers and the hiring of lobbyists by councils.

Although Tower Hamlets is mentioned by name, by far the worst offender is Hammersmith and Fulham, which until recently, had a cabinet member with responsibility for propaganda resident engagement.

With the local elections just over a month away, it comes as no surprise the Tories want to push their message. The question for me is: how much is this actually costing local residents? I think we should be told.

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Boris Johnson’s crime chief says he’s ‘pleased’ rape is on the rise in London

This really should be filed under “Greenhalgh Watch”. The former Dear Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council puts his foot in it again.

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson!)

Boris Johnson’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, Stephen Greenhalgh, said yesterday that he was ‘pleased’ rape is on the rise in London:

Crime chief ‘pleased’ rape on the rise in Camden

Of course, he meant he was pleased reporting of rape cases is going up – although that’s hardly a matter for celebration either. But his careless use of words is indicative of the casual way politicians in general regard crimes of this nature.

Also indicative of this careless attitude is the fact Greenhalgh is asking for water cannon to be given to police in London, arguing the Met needs these ‘tools for the job’ of fighting crime.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know there has not been one recorded case of the police preventing rape or catching a rapist with a water cannon.

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There’s Only One Tony Benn

Tony Benn: the greatest Prime Minister we never had.

After the sudden death of Bob Crow earlier in the week, I never thought that I would be writing two tributes to two fine men in the space of five days. Tony Benn, the veteran Labour politician died yesterday at the age of 88. I once shared a stage with Tony Benn at a gala on Newcastle’s Town Moor in 1989, at which I was compèring. I can remember introducing him to the crowd but I also remember being too much in awe to actually say anything to him. To this day, I wish I had. Tony Benn was a very approachable man, who was always willing to chat and have his photo taken with people. He was a fine orator and a first-rate parliamentarian. The like of which we may never see again. These days many Westminster politicians are too concerned with managerialism and public relations to deal with real life issues that affect ordinary people. You see, these people are not interested in ideas unless they’re bad ideas. They have no plan for the future. It’s all about smashing and grabbing what they can for themselves and their corporate pals. Tony Benn wasn’t like them.

I first became aware of Tony Benn in the early 1970s when he was still called “Anthony Wedgwood Benn”. In those days, I knew very little about British politics but I remember the unpopularity of the Heath government and its arrogance. The Miners Strikes of 1972 and 1973-4 had seriously damaged the government’s authority over the increasingly restive unions. Heath responded to the strike of 1974 and the power outages that were caused by dwindling coal stocks, by limiting the working week to three days to put a brake on energy consumption. Talks between the government and the unions broke down and in a last-ditch effort to assert his authority, a reluctant and petulant Heath was forced to call a general election for 28 February, 1974 on the question of “Who governs Britain”.

Once the votes were counted, the Conservatives attained a higher percentage of votes (37.9%) but because of the vagaries of Britain’s voting system, they won fewer seats than their Labour rivals who polled slightly less (37.2%) but had won a larger number of seats. The result was a hung parliament. Nonetheless, Heath was invited to form a government and he proposed a coalition with the Liberal Party, but this was rejected by leader Jeremy Thorpe because of the former’s refusal to accommodate the Liberals’ demands for proportional representation. Harold Wilson’s Labour Party formed a minority government and immediately entered into negotiations with the unions to end the strikes. With the strikes over, Wilson called a general election for October 1974, which the party won with a tiny majority of three seats. This precarious situation would return to haunt the Labour government which would be forced to enter into an uneasy supply and confidence arrangement with the Liberals in what was referred to as the ‘Lib-Lab Pact’ in 1976.

Under Wilson, Benn was handed the Industry portfolio but was then moved to Department for Energy in 1975, presumably in an effort to placate critics of Benn and the policy of nationalization. When Wilson suddenly resigned in 1976, Benn stood for the leadership and came fourth in the first round and withdrew from the second ballot.  James ‘Sunny Jim’ Callaghan was elected leader and became Prime Minister and stepped straight into a sterling crisis (which had been caused by a massive balance of trade deficit left by the Heath government). To deal with this problem, Denis Healey, the right-wing Chancellor of the Exchequer, applied for a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the conditions of which stipulated that the government was obliged to adopt monetarist policies. Among other things, this meant swingeing cuts to public services. If anything, this episode in Labour’s history was partly responsible for the later splits in the party.

Benn kept his job as Energy Secretary and established the British National Oil Company (BNOC) in 1975. Although its chief role was to ensure adequate oil supply levels, its other less-discussed role included the creation of a sovereign wealth fund using the royalties made from the production of North Sea Oil to fund social programmes and have some money saved for a ‘rainy day’.  When the Tories won the 1979 General Election, Thatcher privatised BNOC and renamed it Britoil in 1982. It was later bought by BP in 1988. Under Thatcher, most of the country’s oil money was squandered on tax cuts for the rich, with the rest going to pay for the Tories’ devastation of Britain’s traditional heavy industries. At this time, Benn had already moved to the Left and when Labour were out of power, he became something of a standard-bearer. He spoke of the need to continue the nationalisation programme that the Tories were now dismantling. He spoke of the need to leave NATO and the EEC. The former because of its constant and unslakeable thirst for war and the latter because he saw it as fundamentally undemocratic.

When Callaghan resigned as leader in 1981, Benn stood against Denis Healey in the deputy leadership contest and lost by a mere 1%. The party had more or less fixed the election. Michael Foot became the party leader but was faced with internal difficulties, which led to the split from the party of the so-called ‘Gang of Four’. To this day, the former members of the SDP blame Benn for splitting the Labour Party but this was already happening in 1974 with MPs like Dick Taverne  and Eddie Milne leaving the party and standing as  “Independent Labour” or “Democratic Labour” candidates. Both men were defeated in the October 1974 election. Taverne later joined the SDP, while Milne vanished into obscurity and died in 1983 after another unsuccessful attempt to regain his seat. Then there was the infamous Reg Prentice affair in 1976, when Tory Julian Lewis – with the financial support of The Freedom Association – posed as a  Labour Party moderate and managed to briefly gain control of the Newham North East constituency in an attempt to have Prentice reselected. Prentice later joined the Tories.

In 1983, Benn lost his seat when the Bristol South East constituency was abolished due to boundary changes and he lost the contest to be selected for the new seat of Bristol South to Michael Cocks. He immediately stood in the newly created seat of Bristol East but lost the the Tory candidate, Jonathan Sayeed. Less than a year later Benn was selected as candidate for the Chesterfield constituency when the sitting MP, Eric Varley resigned to become the head of Coalite. During the campaign, The Sun ran a series of articles titled “Benn On The Couch”, purportedly written by an American psychiatrist, which concluded that Benn was insane.  Other papers produced their own Benn scare stories. Indeed the media construction of the ‘Loony Left’  phenotype has its origins in this period. To this day, the Right continues with this line of attack precisely because it has no ideas and because it realises that Left ideas are more popular with most voters than the secondhand Thatcherism offered by the present government or, indeed, the last Labour government.

Like many people in Britain, The Cat believes that Benn was the greatest Prime Minister this country never had. His detractors may claim that he was a “relic from the past” and his politics were “out of date”. Yet there is nothing modern or ‘up-to-date’ about wanting to drag this country back to the 1950s or the days of the British Empire. Nu Labourites blame Benn for Labour’s wilderness years during the 80s but this ignores the fact that Labour  under Kinnock offered no real alternative to Thatcher’s policies. Kinnock lacked the guts and the spirit to make a decent leader and feared the wrath of the Tory press if he dared move leftward. Furthermore, the lack of support shown by the leadership of the party with regards to the Miners’ Strike showed that the party no longer had any time for its core voters and preferred, instead, to chase the so-called floating voter and appeal to the media-constructed ‘Essex Man’. Labour in the mid-1980s was already dead to me.  As far as I was concerned I had no party to vote for. By the time of Blair’s victory in 1997, it had migrated so far to the Right that it actually began to resemble the SDP.

Yet Benn continued to be a member of the Labour Party even after he left the Commons in 2001 to “devote more time to politics”. Remember this is the party that more or less stitched up the deputy  leadership election in 1981 to favour Healy. This is the same party that cast him out of the inner circle because, like the Tory press and the SDP splitters, they believed he was ‘dangerous’. But the dangers posed to this country by the Thatcher government weren’t even noticed by the Labour Party’s top brass, who moved rightward in an attempt to out-Tory the Tories. This is what happens when you fail to develop ideas and policies of your own: you end up copying your enemy. True to his word, Benn did spend more time on politics and continued to write and speak.  Among other things, he became President of the Stop the War Campaign on 2001. He travelled to Baghdad to meet Saddam Hussein in 2003 before the disastrous invasion and occupation by the Coalition of the Toadies. He appeared at the Leftfield at the Glastonbury Festival several times and inspired a new generation of young people.

The last time I saw Tony Benn was last September at the Stop the War rally at Trafalgar Square before the Commons vote on possible British intervention in Syria. He looked frail but he still made a good speech. I may not have always agreed with his brand of socialism but I admired his fighting spirit and his oratory skills. Who knows what might have happened in 1981 if Benn had stood for the leadership of the party instead of the deputy leadership?

So farewell Tony Benn, but we have little time to mourn you.  The best thing we can do to honour your memory is to fight back and fight hard.

I’ll leave you with this video of Tony Benn giving both barrels to Thatcherism.

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There’s Only One Bob Crow

Like many people on the Left, The Cat was shocked and saddened to hear about the sudden death this morning of Bob Crow at the relatively young age of 52. When I first heard the news, I refused to believe it and thought it was another Tory wind-up. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

Bob Crow was loved and respected by the members of his union, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (the RMT) and was admired by many outside the RMT. Many of us wished he could have been our union leader instead. If you look at Unison, for example, you have to ask yourself “What good is Dave Prentis”? How does he fight on behalf of his members”? The answer is, he doesn’t. He sells them short all the time.

The Right were fond of describing Mr Crow as a “dinosaur” and frequently claimed that he belonged to a past era. The Right’s use of this kind of terminology is deliberate: the Tories and their friends want to consign trade unions to the past and with them, workers’ rights. This suits them perfectly, because  the neoliberal world that we are currently forced to inhabit has no need for such fripperies as civil liberties and human rights. Such things get in the way of profits.

What this country needs are more Bob Crows, not less of them. But then, there was only one Bob Crow. He will be a hard act to follow.

Here he is in action a few weeks ago on The Sunday Politics.  Andrew Neil wasn’t prepared for this.

Farewell, Comrade Bob.

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Why is Tristram Hunt in the Labour Party?

In this excellent blog, Mike Sivier asks “Why is Tristram Hunt in the Labour Party”. More to the point: what’s the point of Labour if they merely copy the Tories’ policies or keep them? Tristram Hunt, recently crossed a picket line at Queen Mary’s University. His excuse? He wasn’t in UCU.

Vox Political

'U' for effort: Why should parents vote 'Labour' if Tristram Hunt won't repair the disastrous harm that Michael Gove has been inflicting on our school system - and our children's future? ‘U’ for effort: Why should parents vote ‘Labour’ if Tristram Hunt won’t repair the disastrous harm that Michael Gove has been inflicting on our school system – and our children’s future?

According to shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, Labour will not repeal Michael Gove’s major – useless – changes to the British school system if it wins the next election. In that case: Why vote Labour?

Gove has proved to be the stupidest education secretary of recent history. His divisive ‘Free Schools’ vanity project is a disaster that has increased costs for children who must get their education miles away when there is a school next door to them, while standards of teaching have plummetted at the new establishments – with unqualified teachers and calamitous Ofsted inspection reports.

Not only has he created appalling imbalances in the school system, but Gove has also de-stabilised his own department, bringing in unqualified ‘advisors’…

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