Monthly Archives: May 2017

The ‘Strong Economy’ Soundbite

For the best part of 20 years, soundbites have become the lingua franca of careerist and dishonest politicians. We can see this whenever the subject of the National Health Service or public services is raised in an interview with a Tory minister: they’ll trot out the familiar soundbite of “in order to have a properly funded NHS, we need to have a strong economy”. What this actually means when it’s translated is “we’ll keep running down the NHS, until we get it into such a position that we’ll have to sell it off”. When it’s unpacked, the ‘strong economy’ soundbite is actually an admission that the economy is actually weak and not as “strong” as the Tories suggest. The Tories will then contradict themselves by telling us that the economy is “strong”, even though many of us know this is not the case. Why? Because we can see the evidence of a weak national economy with our own eyes.

If the economy is so “strong”, then why are working people forced to go to foodbanks? If the economy is so strong, then why are public sector workers having their pay effectively cut year on year? If the economy is so “strong”, then why are people put into a position where the only jobs available to them are casual and short term jobs?

So, if  the Tories are to be believed and we have a weak economy, does that mean we can’t have an NHS? Nonsense. After the Second World War, Britain was broke and its economy was weak, yet we still managed to have an NHS.

The mass media – especially the BBC – is failing the public by refusing to challenge Tory politicians on their claims and their meaningless soundbites. They are helping to undermine, not just the democratic process (the election), but our flimsy democracy too.

We deserve better from our politicians and our mass media.

 

2 Comments

Filed under BBC, General Election 2017, Media, Yellow journalism

Predicting Election Results: A Mug’s Game

No one can predict the future, so let’s put the notion that people can predict future events to bed straight away . Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, I’ve had many people tell me that Labour will lose the [next] election badly and be consigned to electoral oblivion for a generation. I even had some Kipper tell me that Geert Wilders would become Dutch PM and Marine Le Pen would win the French Presidential Election. He added that he’d “been right in the past” because he “studied the polls”. Of course, neither Wilders nor Le Pen won their respective elections and as I told this Kipper, “If you’re so certain, then perhaps you can give me this week’s winning lottery numbers”. He declined. If I had the gift of second sight, I certainly wouldn’t be boring the pants off of people on comments threads with my tenuous claims of precognition. I’d be lounging about on my own Caribbean island and donating money to left-wing political parties.

When it comes to Labour’s chances of securing victory in next week’s General Election, the pundits have mostly been of one mind: it’s curtains for Labour. The Tories will win a landslide and that’s that.  Even the Tories themselves have said, in not so many words, that they’re on course to achieve a manifold increase in their tiny majority.  In City AM last September, QMU’s Professor Tim Bale offered us a slice of expert sagaciousness,

Unless everything we think we know about politics turns out to be wrong, the Tories are going to win the next election. They are way ahead of Labour on both economic competence and best Prime Minister. Just how big that win will be partly depends on when they go to the country. If Theresa May does what any normal politician would do in her position, she will engineer a contest in the spring or early summer of next year – before the compromises she’s going to have to make with Brussels become overly obvious, before the economy begins palpably to slow down, before the continuing squeeze on the NHS makes waiting lists and times even longer – and before Labour can dump Jeremy Corbyn. And even if she waits until 2020, she’ll still win. But if she goes sooner, she stands a chance of achieving the sort of majority that the Conservatives have only been able to dream about for 30 years. Carpe diem!

Bale obviously didn’t count on May’s less-than-engaging personality and her party’s weird mix of spite, control freakery and incompetence. Not to mention the cowardliness of May herself. Carpe Diem, indeed.

The supposedly Labour-supporting Daily Mirror claimed that Labour was “certain to lose the 2020 General Election. Their story was based on a Fabian Society report, which claimed the party will only hang on to around “140 seats”.

Last April, the Independent’s John Rentoul indulged himself in an extraordinary masturbatory fantasy in which Bozza is now PM and Heidi Alexander is now Labour leader (I know, I know),

Heidi Alexander, had fought the hopeless fight. Indeed, since she had defeated Jeremy Corbyn six months ago, in the fourth Labour leadership election in four years, she had showed great skill in neither fully renouncing nor standing by her predecessor’s programme.

Jesus, that’s terrible.

Even G*d-bothering Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, keeps telling us that the Tories will win a landslide. Dim Tim told The Guardian “The worst governments are the ones with the weakest oppositions. The Liberal Democrats are in a very strong position now to fill that space.” Are those are the same Liberal Democrats that slipped between the sheets with the Tories in 2010 and helped to implement some of the most savage cuts to public services for a generation? I’ll take no lessons from you, Tim. Thanks, but no thanks.

If the general election result is such an outright certainty, then why bother having an election in the first place? Why not just have a lavish coronation ceremony for Theresa May instead? I mean, what is the point in this supposedly pointless democratic exercise if the Tories are certain to win a landslide? Let’s just get the coup out of the way and then we can move on – if that’s what you Tories and media pundits want, of course. Because let’s face it, when the Tories and the Lib Dems talk about the need for a ‘strong opposition’ what they really mean by ‘strong’ is antonymous; it’s the authoritarian’s definition of a strong opposition. The last thing the Tories want is a Labour party that stands up to them, hence their resort to personalizations and smears. Does that sound like a party that’s confident of its impending electoral success?

So here’s an appeal to the media pundits and self-imagined political soothsayers, please don’t give up the day jobs. You don’t have magic powers that allow you to predict the future. You’re hacks, who just happen to be a little too close to political power to be truly objective.  Your special insight, such as it is, is limited to the tiny world you inhabit. You speak for no one but yourselves and your masters. If you want to predict the future, get yourselves a seaside stall, a pack of tarot cards, a crystal ball and a black obsidian mirror.  No one’s stopping you.

Nothing in life or politics is certain. But one thing is true: the Tories have run a terrible campaign and Labour has performed better than the media expected. On that basis, it seems reasonable to suggest that the Tories won’t do as well as the pundits have predicted.

2 Comments

Filed under General Election 2017

(S)He’d Send In The Army

Given the current situation, this seemed appropriate. Just change the pronoun’s gender.

2 Comments

Filed under General Election 2017

This Is Not Journalism (Or Anything Like It)

If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.
~Malcolm X

The British press is in a sorry state. Claimed by its defenders to be part of a mythical ‘free’ media, the press in Britain takes a cavalier attitude with regard to its role as news providers and opinion formers. Its proprietors and managing editors believe themselves to be immune from criticism and, at times, above the law of the land. Worse still,  when it traduces members of the public it receives little more than a slap on the wrist. It is, as Chomsky and Herman (1994) would say, an unofficial ministry of information,which works principally for the Conservative Party in and out of government.

Here at Nowhere Towers, we have always been aware of the many shortcomings of the British press and its tendency to sensationalize and engage in smear campaigns against political figures not belonging to the Tory party.  Yesterday, two titles that are sympathetic to the Tories have plumbed new depths of depravity and mendacity.  Unsurprisingly, those titles are The S*n  and The Daily Ma*l.

After Monday night’s terrorist bombing of the Manchester Arena, The S*n’s front page looked like this.

Here is a blatant attempt to use an unrelated story to make the suggestion that Jeremy Corbyn is responsible for Monday night’s atrocity. But there was something nastier lurking within the rag itself.  The S*n’s leader column, The S*n Says, made a gargantuan leap of logic by claiming that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were responsible for the bombing.

This isn’t journalism or anything like it. It’s a blatant smear; a character assassination that is based entirely upon a historical revisionism.  But The Cat has a question: who signed this off? This is evidently libellous and we know Murdoch has pockets that are as deep and as wide as the Pacific Ocean, but did The S*n’s editorial team think it could swerve around the law? Clearly it did and the paper has learned nothing from the Leveson Report.

I hasten to add that I did not buy The S*n, nor would I contemplate breaking my 30+ years boycott of the paper. The people of Manchester should do the same as the people of Liverpool have done and boycott The S*n.

Although, strictly speaking, a political cartoon isn’t journalism, it is carried by a newspaper that claims to employ journalists. Yesterday’s Mac cartoon in the Daily Mail followed The S*n by making the claim that Corbyn and McDonnell are active terrorists. Mac, or Stanley McMurty to give him his real name,  is known for his racism and homophobia.  This cartoon has two figures in paramilitary garb walking up a garden path carrying weapons.

The caption below it says “Oh dear. Will you answer the door? I think they’re canvassing for Jeremy Corbyn”. Mac can claim he’s being humorous, but it doesn’t wash: this is a blatant piece of propaganda dressed up as humour. In this, it is reminiscent of the cartoons found in Der Sturmer, the official newspaper of the Nazi Party (below).

number1page12x

What is quite absent from the claims about Corbyn’s non-existent sympathy with terrorists, is any acknowledgement on the part of the media’s interviewers and commentators of the role of the British state in Loyalist violence. Worse, perhaps is the morbid nostalgia that seems to accompany these claims. It’s as though the Good Friday Agreement never happened and the power-sharing government never existed. Instead, what we’re treated to are selected fragments of Tory memory larded with a narrative that’s been constructed from misrepresentations and outright lies. For the Tories and others, the Provisional IRA is still active and still bombing the country. Meanwhile, the Loyalist paramilitaries are treated, in not so many words, as heroes or simply not mentioned.

Conveniently for Theresa May, electioneering has been suspended. Her own campaign was floundering and now, after Monday night’s atrocity, she can look stateswoman-like in spite of her evident weakness and terminal indecision. For seven years, the Tories have cut the numbers of the police, military and firefighters. May was Home Secretary for six of those years. You do the maths.

Who’s the bigger threat to the country? I’d say it’s Theresa May and the British press.

Reference/further reading

Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. (2003). Symbolic violence. na. Available at: http://cges.umn.edu/docs/Bourdieu_and_Wacquant.Symbolic_Violence.pdf Accessed 29/2/16.

Gramsci, A. (ed.) (1971) Selections From The Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Herman, E. S. & Chomsky, N. (1994) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, London: Vintage Books.

4 Comments

Filed under General Election 2017

The Worst Election Campaign Ever?

When Theresa May announced her cabinet last July, I remember thinking how it seemed redolent of John Major’s cabinet: incompetent, crooked and potentially sleazy. Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary? You’re having a laugh! The disgraced former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox as Brexit Secretary? What have you been smoking?  Priti Patel as International Development Secretary after she said how she wanted to see the department abolished? Did I fall asleep and wake up in Bizarro World?

Last week, a friend and I were chatting about the election when he said to me “I think the Tories are trying to throw the election”. “Really?”, I asked. “I wouldn’t credit them with that much intelligence”. To be sure, May’s Tories are an arrogant bunch but brainy? I don’t think so.

When May called the election a few weeks back, it reminded me of Ted Heath’s petulant ‘Who Governs Britain’ snap election campaign in 1974. Heath, whose own government was pretty incompetent, went to the country confident of a massive victory. He lost. Like May, Heath’s campaign was run along narrow lines. For Heath, it was about his macho image and facing down the National Union of Mineworkers. For May, it’s apparently about getting a mandate for the Brexit negotiations. Something she already got when Article 50 was passed by the Commons. The Cat thinks the negotiations should be conducted by representatives from all the parliamentary parties and the party in government, but that’s a subject for another blog.

Few people can be in any doubt as to how shambolically the Tory election campaign has been run. From the day she called the election to the launch of the manifesto and now the sudden and apparent volte face over the what’s  been dubbed the Dementia Tax, the Tory campaign has been a disaster. Not even the exceptionally dull ‘Strong and Stable’ slogan can mask the evident ineptitude with which the campaign has been conducted.

Compare Corbyn’s campaign to that of May. Corbyn is happy pressing the flesh, having selfies taken with people and holding babies. When May’s been exposed to the public, she looks uncomfortable. She’s not a people person.  I mean, when did you last see her having a selfie taken with one of her followers? May’s appearances around the country have been highly stage-managed and local reporters have been locked away from the main event, while specially selected journalists are permitted to ask Chairman May vetted questions.

What about that manifesto? Oh, the manifesto. Didn’t that seem as though it was thrown together at the last minute? When Labour launched their manifesto last Tuesday it was met with the predictable sneers and swipes. All of our favourite clichés were summoned up: “it doesn’t add up”, “Labour is the party of high taxation”, that sort of thing. But Labour’s manifesto pledges of the renationalization of key infrastructure, the abolition of university tuition fees and general decency – all of them popular –  put the weak and unstable Tories into a spin. The day following Labour’s manifesto launch, the Tories arranged a hasty press conference where they ‘warned’ (sic) of the ‘dangers’ of electing Jeremy Corbyn (not the Labour Party).  It was panicky and, frankly, the whole spectacle was rather comical. The dismal May and her equally dismal sidekick, Philip Hammond, trotted out their stock of anti-Labour tropes. “There’s a black hole in Labour’s manifesto” claimed Hammond. Actually, Phil, the black hole is in your mind.

Yesterday’s campaign posters today!

There’s a vacuum at the heart of Tory thinking and, at times, it’s felt as though the Tories have recycled the 1992, 2010 and 2015 General Election campaigns and simply pressed them together in the hope that no one would notice. Themes from each of those campaigns have made an appearance in this campaign: the tax bombshell, the bold claims of being ‘economically competent’ and the ‘coalition of chaos’ have all been dusted down, patched up and sent out to fight the enemy once more. But this is a combatant that should be seeing out its last days in a retirement home  instead of being ordered to fight again.  Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor, the Tories’ apparent election masterminds, have clearly lost their touch.  Maybe they should employ someone like, say, John McTernan instead? He couldn’t do any worse, then again…

I can’t remember when a manifesto u-turn has happened in the middle of a General Election. Surely this is a first?

Leave a comment

Filed under General Election 2017

How Much Will It Cost? (Revisited)

The questions of “how much will it cost?” or “How will you pay for it?” are always posed by the media’s journalists to the planned spending proposals of Labour and all the other parties, bar the Tories. That the Tories have dominated the economic discourse since the 1980s cannot be denied.  Indeed, political journalists have accepted the economic orthodoxy uncritically in the decades that have followed and there are, in my mind, two reasons why they do this. First, they’re not economists and second, they’re lazy. Even the economics editors of the major news organizations tend to be drawn from the Thatcherite School of Household Management Economics, and will base their analyses and their questions on its flawed logic.

Now, I’m not an economist but my instincts regarding national finances are correct: household analogies are nonsense and journalists who repeat them are foolish. The reductivist economic dogma of the Tories and UKIP has dragged this country into recessions (there were three during the Thatcher years) and have forced people into ever greater poverty, while the rich have seen a manifold increase in their incomes.

In an article by Richard Murphy of Tax Research (two days after my piece), he puts to bed the myths that have passed for economic competence and credibility for over 30 years.  He opens by saying:

The most dangerous question in political debate in the UK is the one always rolled out by every journalist, on air or in other media, which is to ask a politician ‘How are you going to pay for it?’ where ‘it’ is whatever the politicians has just proposed to do.

He then provides three reasons why this question is a dangerous one and provides handy replies to the clueless hacks who insist on asking the question.

You can read the rest here.

All governments borrow and spend money. That’s how national finances work. In seven years, the Tories have racked up more debt than the previous Labour government did in 13 years. Moreover, Labour has a better record of paying off debt. In 1976, the Wilson government was forced to take out a loan from the International Monetary Fund to pay for the Sterling Crisis, which was caused by the Heath government’s economic mismanagement. It was paid off by 1979. Thatcher’s Tories continued to use the IMF loan as a stick to beat the Labour Party even though the loan had been repaid. Yet Kinnock refused to counter these lies. Finally, the Corbyn-led party has awakened to the need to counter the Tories’ myths and lies about the national economy and borrowing/spending. And about time too.

1 Comment

Filed under economic illiteracy, Economics, General Election 2017, neoliberalism

Tory Election Fraud: No Charges

Few people can be surprised that the CPS will not be prosecuting Tory MPs and agents for failing to correctly declare their elections expenses.  This is a serious blow for democracy in the United Kingdom, which continues to operate the archaic First Past The Post system to elect its legislators. It is well known that the Conservative Party is awash with money from shadowy donors, who are themselves drawn from the 1%.

The BBC only really started reporting the story in its television and radio news when it appeared certain that no charges were to be brought. Now, one could suggest that this was a non-story and that is the reason the BBC avoided it. However, The Cat would narrow his eyes and say “nonsense”.

The response from the Tories was predictable and shrill. Patrick McLoughlin, the Conservative Party chairman claimed  “false and malicious claims” were made about his candidates on the Internet and added:

“After a very thorough investigation, we are pleased that the legal authorities have confirmed what we believed was the case all along, that these Conservative candidates did nothing wrong.

“These were politically motivated and unfounded complaints that have wasted police time. We are glad that this matter is finally resolved.”

Make no mistake, if  Labour or Green candidates had been accused of falsely declaring their election expenses, the Tories would have made a lot of noise. Hypocrisy much?

Karl McCartney,  the Tory candidate for Lincoln, said:  “This whole saga amounts to no more than a politically-motivated witch-hunt.” You clearly don’t know what a witch hunt is, Karl.

Jeremy Corbyn told BBC: “I am interested and surprised by it. We will have to look at the details.”

One case, that of Craig McKinlay in Thanet South, remains in the hands of the CPS. There could still be prosecutions.

Democracy is for sale.

EDITED TO ADD; 10/5/17 @ 1612

Tory Party chairman, Patrick McLoughlin, has threatened to sue anyone on the Internet, who he claims have made:

“A number of false and malicious claims continue to be spread on the internet. People should be aware that making false claims about a candidate’s personal character and conduct is an electoral offence, as well as being defamatory.”

Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads was forthright:

The Tories are bullies (qv. Lucy Allan, Mark Clarke, Grant Shapps et al) and will threaten anyone that speaks up with the courts. Why? Because they have the money and money talks. The legal system doesn’t work for the majority; it works for those that have the money, power and influence.

To McLoughlin, I’ll say this: come and get me.

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Tory Election Expenses Scandal