Category Archives: Ideologies

The S*n And Labour MPs

 

Wes Streeting: his first allegiance is to himself.

So The S*n has suspended their top hack and former editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, after he wrote an article comparing Everton’s Ross Barkley to a gorilla. But he didn’t stop there: a day before the anniversary of Hillsborough, MacKenzie, a man so full of loathing that he hates his Scottish heritage, rehashed his old anti-Scouse tirades.  A backlash followed. Everton FC followed the earlier example of Liverpool FC and duly banned S*n journalists from the club. The paper is already subject to a mass boycott on Merseyside.

The reason for this blog isn’t to discuss MacKenzie or his disgusting rag but to ask questions of Labour MPs who continue to write for The S*n despite knowing the paper’s history and its attacks on working class and minority groups. One such MP is the nominally Labour MP, Wes Streeting, whose allegiance to his political ambition eclipses allegiance to his party and his constituents.

So why is Streeting so eager to write for The S*n? Is it because he holds a misguided view that the paper itself is working class? No. Is it because the paper offers an excellent platform to address burning social issues? No. Like all those Labour MPs who oppose Jeremy Corbyn, he saw an ally in Murdoch, who himself believes he is some kind of kingmaker.  It’s also likely that he saw the big fat pay cheque on offer and thought “I’ll have some of that”.

I found Streeting’s excuses for writing for The S*n rather peculiar. In this Tweet, he offers weasel words in defence.

Three things emerge from this Tweet. The first is Murdoch’s news empire enjoys huge tax breaks here and in the United States, where he is a citizen.  In this, the Cambridge-educated Streeting comes across as a bit dim. The second is that The S*n came to the tax avoidance story rather late in the day, and the third is the weasel words offered to Scousers. Not once does Streeting make an effort to understand the reason for Merseyside’s mass boycott of The S*n.  It’s simply axiomatic and takes place independently of the Hillsborough Disaster, the subsequent cover-ups and the Murdoch press’s continued attacks on Liverpool and its people.

This Twitter thread is most enlightening. When asked why he accepted Murdoch’s dirty money, Streeting’s reply couldn’t be more evasive.

Streeting doesn’t seem terribly bothered about The S*n’s history of antagonism towards the Labour Party, nor does he consider the negative impact of the paper and its stablemates on British democracy.  Instead, the misguided MP seems to think that the lost legions of Labour voters have taken refuge in The S*n. But where does he get this view from?  Nowhere. It’s false consciousness.

Last May, Streeting spoke to The S*n to complain about his party’s refusal to accept McDonald’s sponsorship money for the party conference. The article painted Corbyn as a “veggie snob”, who was more comfortable at “trendy falafel bars”. What the article and Streeting ignored in order to score cheap political points, is that falafels are quite popular in the Ilford North constituency that he represents. Many of his constituents will also be vegetarian.  It would seem he has a problem representing them too.

Yet, two months before Streeting whined to The S*n about Corbyn’s vegetarianism, he called for a investigation into the papers “Queen backs Brexit article”. Of course, he wasn’t the only MP to do so and Nowhere Towers suspects that his opposition to the article is tokenistic and was intended to divert attention away from his willingness to write for and to to speak to, The S*n.

Fast forward to November 2016 and we see Streeting complaining about the attacks on the judiciary mounted by The S*n and other right-wing newspapers.

But you wrote articles for one of those papers!

The Cat believes Streeting is in politics for one reason and one reason only: he craves the attention. The very idea of public service is that last thought on his mind. When he took his seat in 2010, Streeting was still a councillor for the London Borough of Redbridge.  He’s a careerist and like all careerists, Streeting is shallow, vain and concerned only with furthering his ambitions.

John Mann, the thuggish Labour MP for Bassetlaw has also written articles for The S*n.  In this article, he tells the paper’s idiot readers that “It’s time to break free from the EU and take back control of our lives”.  Unlike Streeting, however, Mann doesn’t bother to offer excuses for why he wrote an article for a paper that so despises his party.  If he thinks he’ll get an easy ride from the paper if things go pear-shaped, then he needs to look at the example of Simon Danczuk, who happily wrote many articles for the paper, which then turned on him once the story of his ‘sexting’ a 15 year old emerged.  The S*n also covered Danczuk’s forthcoming third marriage in the House of Commons Crypt (appropriate). The Cat thinks Danczuk is too thick and too much of a narcissist to understand when he’s being used.

Danczuk has had the whip withdrawn and currently sits as an Independent.

When Michael Dugher resigned from the Labour frontbench, many people asked “who is Michael Dugher?” and rightly so. Dugher has also written for The S*n. This article appeared in January 2016 and dovetails into the now familiar anti-Corbyn narrative propagated by the rest of the right-wing press. Dugher writes:

Most people don’t think it is sensible to give up our nuclear deterrent on our
own, especially when you’ve got places like North Korea menacingly
developing their own nuclear programme.

But there are some who still haven’t learnt the lessons of history.

When Labour last wanted to “ban the bomb”, the public rejected us and the
Tories won landslide election victories.

The other thing we’ve learnt this week is Labour risks becoming more isolated
from traditional working-class supporters.

Labour has seen working-class support decline over the years. Many voters have
switched to Ukip, falsely believing the ex-Tory, ex-stockbroker Farage is
somehow the champion of the workers.

In Scotland, voters went to the SNP in their droves. Many now simply stay at
home and don’t bother voting.

Where to begin? Let’s just say, like many of his fellow anti-Corbyn MPs, Dugher appears ignorant of his party’s history.  Labour lost elections in the 1980s, not because of its opposition to nuclear weapons, but for two simple reasons: the SDP split the vote and Neil Kinnock, as party leader, failed to offer any tangible opposition to Thatcher. As for the disappearance of the working class support and Dugher’s lamentations, Nu Labour, under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, abandoned working class communities to suck up to corporations, bankers and, yes, Rupert Murdoch.  Furthermore, Labour’s vote collapsed in Scotland, not for the reason that Dugher suggests, but because Nu Labour took those voters for granted as it had done in England’s former mining areas. Dugher, ever the slackwitted, pins the blame solely on the SNP instead.  This plays well to the fools who take their news from The S*n, who are as unlikely to ask serious questions about political events as Dugher himself.  Thus Dugher clearly “hasn’t learnt the lessons of history” by writing for a paper that treats history in a selectively cavalier fashion.

Last autumn, Tom Watson appointed Dugher to head an inquiry into ‘fake news’. That’s the same Tom Watson who co-wrote Dial M For Murdoch, a book that was critical of the Murdoch press and the phone-hacking scandal. Confused? So is he.

Labour MPs who write for The S*n do so because they see in Murdoch an ally that is sympathetic to their ambitions. Murdoch, on the other hand, sees them as tools to use in the continuing smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and those who support him. By writing for The S*n, they also spit in the faces of Hillsborough’s victims and their families. Streeting, Mann et al are playing a very dangerous game by writing articles for The S*n, for their actions risk destroying the very party that they tell us they’re keen to defend.

UPDATE 17/4/17 @ 1840

The Cat has learned that Neil Coyle, the nominally Labour member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, has been speaking to The S*n about facing disciplinary action for “harassment” (sic). The S*n is quick to give the impression that Jeremy Corbyn himself “ordered” the investigation.  He didn’t; it was a member of his staff who made the complaint to the Whips’ Office.  What about the complaint? Well, apparently Coyle “questioned” (sic) Corbyn’s leadership and the party’s performance. There’s something The S*n and The Daily Mail, which is also carrying the story, aren’t telling us.  Can you see what it is yet?

Coyle is a prominent Progressite and like Streeting, he continues to sit as a local councillor.

 

 

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Filed under Free Press Myth, Ideologies, Labour Party, Media, Murdoch press

The Class Disgust Of The Blairites

The Blairites only tolerate the working class, but only just. Like Victorian children, they should be seen and not heard. In the past, the working class performed an important function by supplying Labour with votes in the 1997, 2000 and 2005 General Elections. But over the course of 20 years, Labour has been losing working class support in its so-called heartlands. The Blairites’ answer to this is to claim that the party was “too left-wing” and must attract Tory voters to win elections. It’s nonsense. In the entire 13 years they were in power, Nu Labour refused to repeal the most pernicious of Thatcher’s legislation – especially the anti-trade union laws, which directly affect workers.

It’s no secret that the Blairites through their think-tank, Progress, are more interested in chasing billionaires and their money than appealing to working class voters; the same voters the party was founded to represent. If they do speak of the working class, it’s to claim that they’re ignorant, illiterate and racist, while they use them as a justification to out-UKIP UKIP by mimicking their immigration policies. As far as the Blairites are concerned, the working class is more interested in keeping foreigners out than decent homes, jobs, healthcare and educational opportunities.

Now to the point of this blog. I was alerted to this article on the Progress website by this Tweet on their official Twitter account. It speculates on who among Jeremy Corbyn’s close allies will ‘seize the crown’ – so to speak.

It not only repeats the by now familiar line that Corbyn and his supporters are “hard left” and “Trotskyists”, it also adopts a sneering tone towards prominent working class members of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.

The article’s author, Paul Richards (who’s he?) opens with this paragraph:

One thing you can guarantee, like rain on a bank holiday, is splits on the hard-left. The old Monty Python joke is funny because it is true. For the all the calls for workers’ unity, disunity is the stock-in-trade. The Trotskyist parties are all fragments of one another. The vanity parties such as Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour party, George Galloway’s Respect or Ken Loach’s Left Unity are all the products of splits, which have themselves split.

This, from a party-within-a-party that is so far to the right that it’s perfectly aligned with the socially liberal fractions of the Tory Party and the Lib Dems, who were themselves formed from a merger of the Labour splitters, the SDP and the Liberal Party. This from a faction that’s done more to undermine the party leadership than any left-wingers have done in Labour’s history.  Just to correct Richards, Left Unity wasn’t the product of a split; it was created in response to the lack of a left-wing alternative as well as Labour’s inertia under Ed Miliband. As for “vanity”, Nu Labour could be seen as Blair’s vanity project. He hijacked the party for his own ends and used it as a platform for personal greed once he left Parliament. The party lost thousands of members and 5 million voters but there’s not a peep from the Blairites or Progress about this. Instead, they live in a bubble, isolated from reality with only their delusions and nostaglia for company.

Here Richards  indulges himself in a little intellectual masturbation.

You might think the widening schisms amongst Corbynites are linked to his dismal personal ratings as the most unpopular leader ever, net loss of council seats, inability to appoint a functioning frontbench or the growing Tory lead in the opinion polls.

For Richards and his ilk, the polls are sacrosanct. Yet, as many of us already know, the Blairites brief their pals in the Murdoch press, a negative story is written by someone like Blair’s former speechwriter, Philip Collins, which is then followed by a poll to confirm their biases. Oddly enough, the bookies disagree with the pollsters. How did that happen?

Here, Richards demonstrates a glaring lack of self-awareness:

Remember those posh kids who discover socialism and sell papers outside Tesco? Think Rik Mayall as Rick in the Young Ones. Richard Burgon is that kid. Educated in the leafy suburbs of Harrogate, followed by St John’s College Cambridge, where he studied English Literature, he went on to become a solicitor. Burgon adopted a leftwing persona as a teen, and has never grown out of it.

The not-so-subtle discourse here is that left-wing politics is for teenagers. Grown ups apparently adopt more ‘sensible’ positions: like sneering at working class people and demanding the government step in to crush the guards’  strike on Southern Rail.

The Blairite disdain for protest, which is derided as a student pastime, is itself a notion that swerves around the fact that people of all ages protest. Moreover, protest is a legitimate form of political expression. The Blairites and the Tories seem to believe that the public’s engagement with politics should begin and end at the ballot box.  It’s as if to say “You’ve voted, what more do you want”? Protest for them should be either crushed or ignored – so much for the will of the people, eh? Remember the millions that marched against the Iraq War? That’s how much Blairites regard protests. Making war against weaker nations on the basis of non-existent evidence is supposedly more ‘adult’ than protest.

Once elected in 2015 (following a helpful phonecall from uncle Colin to Ed Miliband ahead of the selection process, denying Leeds a second all-women shortlist), the T-shirt wearing, placard waving student protestor has become a T-shirt wearing, placard waving MP. Feel the Burgon

Richards’s claim that Burgon only became an MP because of his uncle ignores the fact that, in 2015, the so-called ‘red princes’  Euan Blair and Will Straw were being lined up for safe seats.  Only Neil Kinnock’s son, Stephen, was successful in getting  selected and won a nice safe seat. No nepotism there. As you were.

Of Angela Rayner, Richards writes:

Rayner was a direct beneficiary of the Tony Blair-led Labour government, especially sure start, and understands more than most why we need a Labour government. Her thirst for power is political not personal. Oh, and she likes Star Wars.

The subtext of this paragraph is that because Rayner apparently benefited from Sure Start, she should get down on her knees and kiss Blair’s purple buskins. The Star Wars quip is throwaway.

Rebecca Long-Bailey comes in for this sideways sneer.

Her frontbench career was unimpaired by a series of uncertain early performances on television, notably being duffed up by Andrew Neil over Brexit. She learned economics on the job, as shadow chief secretary to the treasury, with the same diligence that earned her her sociology degree from Manchester Polytechnic.

First, Manchester Polytechnic hasn’t existed since 1992 when it became Manchester Metropolitan University. Second, Sociology is a real subject that deals with the politics of everyday life. Richards seems to think that only those educated at Oxbridge and in possession of PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) degrees should be in the shadow cabinet. But Miliband’s shadow cabinet was full of PPE types: Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper and Miliband himself were all Oxford PPE graduates, who had also served as special advisers and researchers. The lack of imagination among them was palpable and the absence of meaningful policies was glaring. Miliband’s Labour was a Cowardly Lion of a party: too afraid to challenge the Tories’ empty claims that “Labour crashed the economy” and “bankrupted the nation”, and too feeble to raise a fist in anger. Instead, it adopted what Miliband called “constructive opposition”.

According to Richards, Clive Lewis has

… a rich back story. Not rich as in wealthy, like Corbyn, but rich as in fascinating. He grew up on a council estate as the son of a single father. As a student unionist he stood against the Labour candidate for National Union of Students president in 1996.

The claim that Corbyn is fabulously wealthy is repeated here. Indeed, the section on Lewis is used as cover to attack Corbyn and repeat the same lies printed in the Tory press. The only word Richards left out when writing about Lewis was ‘exotic’.

Richards saves all his bile for John McDonnell, who is described in the caricature as “The Trotfather”. It’s juvenile stuff from an allegedly adult Blairite.

Even in a roomful of Corbynistas, McDonnell is the most leftwing person in the room. He was sacked by Ken Livingstone as deputy of the Greater London Council in 1985 for wanting London to copy the glorious resistance of Militant-led Liverpool; even Livingstone thought it a bit extreme. In 2003 he praised the ‘bravery’ of the IRA. He then apologised ‘if he had caused offence’.

Notice how Richards recycles the old “McDonnell appeases the IRA” smear. What’s perhaps worse is his repetition of the mainstream media claim that Militant was evil and hellbent on destroying Liverpool. The idea behind this is that the Militant-run council should have submitted fully to the will of Thatcher and her henchmen. Militant improved the lives of thousands of Scousers. It built much-needed homes and fought against a government that was intent on the city’s destruction. The Cat doubts Richards is old enough to remember the 1980s, such is the juvenile tone of this article and its cavalier approach to history.

Labour right-wingers are granted immunity when it comes to smearing members of their own party. They are permitted to indulge in their class disgust. Yet Labour left-wingers are suspended on trumped up charges of anti-Semitism and CLPs are suspended on the basis of lies and baseless allegations of intimidation. Will Iain McNicol take action against Progress? Don’t hold your breath. Not even the mainstream media has reported this story.

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He Killed His Own People!

The Cat has always been bemused by the claim that so-and-so “has killed his own people”. This line of argument is usually deployed in advance of an invasion, air campaign or the implementation of a ‘no fly zone’. When one unpacks this argument, it is always found wanting and reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of the establishment’s rationale for military adventurism.  Sometimes the phrase “he’s another Hitler” will be added for dramatic effect.

In the run up to Gulf War I, we were told Saddam Hussein had “killed his own people”.  When Gulf War II rolled around, he also become “another Hitler”.  By his “own people”, the warmongers and the news media were referring specifically to the Kurds.  But Saddam Hussein didn’t see the Kurds as “his own people” and he wasn’t alone in this: it is a view that had been consistent in Baghdad throughout the history of Iraq, since it became nominally independent from Britain in 1932.

The Kurds (led by the powerful and corrupt Barzani clan) had constantly been in conflict with Baghdad since independence and had been waging a guerilla war in Northern Iraq for decades.  A full blown war between the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi government took place in 1961.  But this isn’t to say that Kurds didn’t participate in Iraqi politics or in government.  They did.  General Bakr Sidqi, for example, was the head of Iraq’s army.  He led the forces that participated in the Simele Massacre of 1933, which saw thousands of Assyrians slaughtered as they fled towards the Syrian border. Sidqi, King Ghazi and the Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, didn’t see the Assyrians as “their people” either.  Al-Gaylani would return as Prime Minister in a coup in 1941 and enter into a short-lived pact with Nazi Germany until he was overthrown by the British in the same year.

Western news media – especially British and American news media – have repeated ad infinitum the claim that Bashar al-Assad has “killed his own people” to rally public support for official military intervention and the eventual toppling of the Syrian president.  That Assad has killed his own people isn’t in doubt, but his forces have also killed people that the West ironically sees as its allies. Fighters from the al-Nusra Front, for example.

Britain and the United States have historically offered much support to national leaders that have “killed their own people”. Many of these leaders were military strongmen that were entertained by British and American governments because of their impeccable anti-communist credentials.  Below is a partial list.

  1. Nursultan Nazarbayev (current president of Kazakhstan)
  2. Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan, 1989 – 2016). His successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, is just as if not more violently repressive.
  3. Suharto (Indonesia, 1967 – 1998)
  4. Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire, 1965 – 1997)
  5. General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte (Chile, 1973 – 1989)
  6. Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde (Spain, 1936 – 1975)
  7. The Greek Colonels (1967 – 1974)
  8. Air Chief Marshal Hosni Mubarak (Egypt, 1981 – 2011)
  9. Colonel Anwar Sadat (Egypt, 1970 – 1981)
  10. General Zia al-Haq (Pakistan, 1978 – 1988)
  11. Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic, 1942-1952)
  12. Jose Efrain Rios Montt (Guatemala, 1982 – 1983)
  13. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Iran, 1941 – 1979)

The conflict in Syria, like that in Iraq has been subject to the most deceitful, one-sided coverage with the siege and aerial bombardment of Aleppo becoming the focus of some pretty blatant propaganda. In short, we’re getting a raw deal from our news providers. Patrick Cockburn in today’s Independent writes:

The dominance of propaganda over news in coverage of the war in Syria has many negative consequences. It is a genuine civil war and the exclusive focus of on the atrocities committed by the Syrian armed forces on an unarmed civilian population gives a skewed picture of what is happening. These atrocities are often true and the UN says that 82 civilians may have been summarily executed in east Aleppo last month. But, bad though this is, it is a gross exaggeration to compare what has happened in Aleppo to genocide in Rwanda in 1994 or the massacre in Srebrenica the following year.

In the same paper Robert Fisk writes:

But it’s time to tell the other truth: that many of the “rebels” whom we in the West have been supporting – and which our preposterous Prime Minister Theresa May indirectly blessed when she grovelled to the Gulf head-choppers last week – are among the cruellest and most ruthless of fighters in the Middle East. And while we have been tut-tutting at the frightfulness of Isis during the siege of Mosul (an event all too similar to Aleppo, although you wouldn’t think so from reading our narrative of the story), we have been willfully ignoring the behaviour of the rebels of Aleppo.

Our leaders, though they may claim otherwise, have also “killed their own people” and we don’t need to cast our minds back that far.  The brutal regime of cuts to social security by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition (2010-15) drove people to commit suicide, and although these people died by their own hand, it was the government’s policies that were ultimately responsible for their deaths.   Why?  Because this is a feature of what Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant called “symbolic violence”, which gets the victim to carry out acts of violence against themselves, thus obviating the need for actual physical violence from the state.  It’s a pretty clever trick.  No?

Governments are more than happy to kill their own people, even in so-called ‘democracies’. It isn’t confined solely to certain Middle Eastern countries.

Reference

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

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Filed under Free Press Myth, Ideologies, Iraq, Journalism, Media, Middle East, propaganda, Syria, Yellow journalism

Corbyn And The Media (Part 3)

Yesterday, the mass media was agog at the spectacle of Peter Tatchell disrupting Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to mark the occasion of the United Nations general assembly signing the declaration on human rights in 1948. Tatchell, a man whose career since 1983 has been characterized by its use of stunts, claims he was highlighting Corbyn’s silence on Russian bombing of Aleppo. Leaving aside the lack of objectivity in news coverage of the Syrian conflict, Tatchell’s choice of moment for his latest stunt could not have been better timed.  He knew that this would provide excuse for the mainstream media to launch another round of attacks on the beleaguered Labour leader.  And attack him they did.  The Guardian even took the time to remind us that St Tony had “condemned” Corbyn over the bombing of Syria. This is the man whose eagerness to bomb Iraq has led directly to the current conflicts in the Middle East. This is the man whose supporters in the Commons voted to bomb Syria.  One of those MPs was Hilary Benn, who was applauded by the Tories for his “barnstorming speech” and grandstanding ignorance of the historical actualité.

It is no surprise that news providers covered the Tatchell stunt but not the actual event at which Corbyn was speaking.  The media created its narrative through the magic of digital video editing, in which only those moments of Tatchell’s stunt were broadcast. However, The Cat has seen additional footage that tells a rather different story:  it is one in which Corybn, though under attack, gives a clam and measured response to Tatchell.  He wasn’t manhandled or harangued.  The Tory press would have loved that.  Can you imagine what would have happened if he’d pitched up to a UKIP meeting and had done the same thing? Can you imagine what would have happened if he’d done that when Blair was leader?

So what about Tatchell’s point?  Has Corbyn done enough to condemn Russian bombing?  As always, it depends on who’s asking the question.   If the BBC, ITV, Sky or Tatchell himself is asking the question, then it comes with the added demand that if Corbyn is ‘guilty’ in their eyes, then he should do the decent thing by donning sackcloth and sleeping with a stone for a pillow.  Nothing less will do.  This is, at least, the subtext of Andrew Neil’s Twitter exchange with former Labour MP, Chris Williamson.  Click on the images to access the conversation.

Neil is joined by what The Cat assumes are a number of Labour right-wingers (the names are real giveaways) and Tories,  all of whom are flatulent with their own sense of self-importance and entitlement.

For his part, Tatchell is continuing to churn out his excuses.

That’s great, Peter, but you’ve chosen the wrong politician to attack.  That reminds me, for a gay man, you don’t seem that bothered by Daesh, who continue to throw gay men from tall buildings.  These are the people whom the mass media refers to as “the rebels”, while next door in Iraq, they’re called ‘Daesh’.  Funny that.

What about Corbyn’s “silence” over Russian bombing?  Well, Corbyn has condemned all sides in the conflict.  I mean, aren’t all sides guilty of atrocities?  Yet this is not enough for Andrew Neil, Peter Tatchell or our notionally free press. The hidden discourse to their claims is that Corbyn quietly supports ISIS/IS/ISIL/Daesh.  But there is nothing on record to even remotely suggest that he does.  This statement issued in the aftermath of the Paris attacks earlier this year attacks all parties involved in the conflict.

This article from Left Foot Forward published in October, repeats the demand that Corbyn “must break his silence on Assad and Russian bombings”.  These things are gifts to the Tory press, the Tory Party and the Labour Right.  But whatever Corbyn does or doesn’t say, you can be assured that a story will be assembled from a lot hearsay, speculation and lobby tittle-tattle.

Remember, the ‘news’ is just a collection of stories that have a beginning, middle and end.  In stories, simplistic themes of good versus evil are crucial in driving the narrative’s plot.  If you’re looking for impartiality or objectivity in the news, forget it.  Go and read some critical theory instead.

 

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The Matrix, The Media And Postmodern Politics

I often use the film,  The Matrix (Wachowski Bros., 1999), as a way to introduce students to postmodernist ideas and how they dominate contemporary political thinking, and also to illustrate the hyper-reality that permeates the social space. The Wachowskis, who directed The Matrix claimed to have been inspired in part by Jean Baudrillard’s book Simulacra and Simulation (2008).  Baudrillard, for his part, scoffed at their claims.

Baudrillard himself was influenced by the Situationist International and, in particular, Guy Debord’s seminal Society of the Spectacle (2005) and we can see trace elements of his work in the book’s first chapter ‘The Precession of Simulacra’. This is Baudrillard’s starting point on a bewildering journey of that takes in counterfeits, illusions,  superficiality and the collapse of meaning. As Debord (2005) himself said:

The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choice already made in production and its corollary consumption. The spectacle’s form and content are identically the total justification of the existing system’s conditions and goals. The spectacle is also the permanent presence of this justification, since it occupies the main part of the time lived outside of modern production.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, The Matrix is about a computer-generated world that resembles a computer game in which the rules can be bent, subverted or ignored. In gaming parlance, these are ‘cheats’ that can be unlocked through a combination of gaming knowledge and shrewd game play. Such things as ‘invulnerability’ and ‘extra body armour’ aren’t available to those going about their everyday lives. Instead, we can only challenge the falsehoods and deceptions by using critical thinking and gaining as much insight as we possibly can through reading critical theory.

However, many of those who inhabit the hyper-real space of The Matrix are so distracted by what they see, they are either incapable of seeing through it or choose not to question it. They are, as Morpheus tells Neo “so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it”.  The postmodern problem with politics can be illustrated in the way in which Westminster’s establishment politicians will speak only in slogans and soundbites but it can also be seen in the way they have constructed an alternative universe from tropes, myths, lies and fragments of memories. Many people will accept these things as faits accomplis and will refuse to question the alternate reality that’s been constructed by postmodern politicians with the collusion of a supine media.

An example of this alternate universe can be seen in the recent Labour leadership election, in which the media believed it had more of a say than the members themselves. In one corner, we had Jeremy Corbyn, the incumbent leader. In the other corner, was Owen Smith and behind him were ranged most of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the media and those supporters who subscribed to the secondhand, moth-eaten TINA philosophy of New Labour. Their notion of being on the political left went no further than supporting a woman’s right to choose and equal marriage. Beyond that, their views intersected with the socially liberal sections of the Conservative Party. They were, for all intents and purposes, counterfeit Labour MPs. Beneath the slogans and PR gimmicks lay the dark heart of nothingness.

And so it is with those who can see no other kind of Labour Party but a right-wing one that offers nothing but watered down Tory policies.  Even those who claim to be on the Left fail to see how far to the right the PLP has shifted over the course of 30 years.  Their approach to their members and the electorate-at-large is both contemptuous and patronising. This shift was is best illustrated in the figure of Rachel Reeves, who casually announced last year that Labour “wasn’t the party of benefit claimants”. In this statement, she inadvertently revealed what many of us knew already: that the Labour Party under successive right-wing leaders has been more interested in cultivating relationships with people with 6, 7 and 8 figure incomes than the poorest in society – the ones who have pinned their hopes on Labour to ameliorate their dire circumstances. But aren’t benefit claimants, many of whom are in work, voters too? Not in Reeves’s alternate universe.

Yet Reeves recently topped that by channelling of Powellite language to make the claim that continued immigration would ultimately lead to violence on our streets. In this, her rhetoric is little different to that coming from the mouths of UKIP politicians. Instead of challenging the right-wing populism of UKIP, politicians like Reeves pander to it. Moreover, Reeves and her fellow right-wing Labour MPs can only view the working class – the very people her party was created to represent – through the lens of a Punch caricature. For her and her fellow travellers the working class are universally ignorant and xenophobic. In this, she and they are little different to the Tories, but tell them that and they’ll get offended.

Instead, Labour has abandoned people like these to the clutches of the UKIP and the rest of the far-right rabble. Indeed, the current upsurge in racist attacks is partly the fault of the Blairite-Brownite-Milibandian Labour Party that was more concerned chasing Tory votes by announcing it was “getting tough” on immigration during the 2015 General Election than facing racism head on. Instead, we have Labour politicians telling us that they “got it wrong” on immigration and speaking in such a way as to reinforce the beliefs of the xenophobes and racists, all of whom have  been emboldened by Brexit. The mass media joins the chorus by claiming “immigration is the single biggest issue in the minds of voters”. Yet for many people, the housing crisis, the continuing privatization of the NHS and wage stagnation are much bigger issues.

Let’s return to the Labour leadership contest and, in particular, the claim that Corbyn’s supporters were “thugs” and “bullies”. This was constructed almost entirely from the notion that popular movements are, by themselves, dangerous and this led to the propagation of ahistorical narratives that were based on little more than loosely connected fragments of memories of the 1980s and 1930s. Thus frequent and rather slippery comparisons were made between Momentum, The Militant Tendency and the Nazi Party. None of these comparisons were in any way valid and yet the press accepted these claims as truths. Take this article in The Daily Mail written by Michael Foster, a Nu Labour donor and former failed candidate.  He opens by telling readers:

Saturday of last week in my home town of Camborne, the Corbyn Circus rolled into town. A crowd of 2,000 disciples came from all over Cornwall to cheer and clap and worship. One after another, Momentum speakers praised ‘Jeremy’ and spoke of the hope he gave them, the socialism he would bring to Britain.

I’ve emboldened the keywords in this extract because they set the tone for the rest of the article, which claims the Corbyn and his supporters in Momentum are cultists and as dangerous as the Sturmabteilung or Brownshirts. This ignores the fact that Tony Blair has attracted a near cult-like devotion among his followers, who sing his praises and ignore his many failings.

In this extract, Foster makes a lazy connection between his Jewishness, Blairism and anti-Semitism.

If you are like me, a Jewish donor to Labour, you are smeared as a Blairite conspirator, plotting to falsely use the accusation of anti-Semitism to damage the Left.

He segues this into the brick that was allegedly thrown through Angela Eagle’s constituency office window (sic).

It matters not whether you are Angela Eagle with a brick through a window, Stella Creasy with a mob outside her constituency office, or Labour general secretary Iain McNicol with a letter threatening court action unless he secured victory for Corbyn at an NEC vote.

Again, my bold. The brick incident was one of the biggest anti-Corbyn stories in the press during the leadership election, and was used to construct the narrative that Momentum were in fact Nazis in disguise, rather than people who wanted to see a move away from the managerialist politics of Nu Labour and the perpetuation of austerity economics. This was alternated with the claim that Momentum was a throwback to the 1980s and Militant, who have been wrongly maligned by the media as a some cancerous force that ate the right-wing Kinnock-led Labour Party from within. Historical materialism was cast aside to produce this ridiculous narrative, which was repeated ad infinitum and ad nauseum on television and in the press.  The simple facts that Kinnock refused to support the miners’ strike and told people to pay the much-hated Poll Tax were simply ignored.  So much for facts or anything like them. So much for history.

Perhaps the worst part of  Foster’s article is the fact that he chose to write it for The Daily Mail, a paper with a long history of anti-Semitism and unqualified support for Hitler. As for the brick through the window, it landed in a communal stairwell. Moreover, it couldn’t be proven that the brick had been thrown by a Corbyn supporter. Yet the mass media, the Tories, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Labour Right repeated the narrative uncritically as though it was an open and shut case of Nazi-style political thuggery.

The penultimate paragraph in the Foster article makes this historically ignorant claim:

Britain is not a land of extreme politics. From the Reform Acts of 1832, 1868 and 1884 and even the Attlee Government of 1945, Britain’s people have always rejected extremism.

None of the things he mentions were a rejection of “extremism”. The Reform Act of 1832, for example, extended the franchise to all men and abolished the rotten and pocket boroughs. How he manages to squeeze the Attlee Government into this is beyond me.  The Tories saw many of the Attlee’s reforms as extreme, especially the creation of the National Health Service, which they bitterly opposed.

Manufactured stunts such as the on-air resignation of obscure Labour right-winger, Stephen Doughty or the political theatrics of John Mann ambushing Ken Livingstone outside The Daily Politics studio, contributed to a tapestry of lies that the Labour Party was crawling with anti-Semites. The fact that a Tory parliamentary candidate had been suspended from his party this year for anti-Semitic remarks was never mentioned, or that various members of UKIP have frequently uttered racist, sexist and anti-Semitic comments were conveniently swept under the carpet to promote a narrative of Labour being the country’s most anti-Semitic political party.

David Cameron’s Tory government was run along the lines of a slick public relations outfit.  One example of this can be seen in Jeremy Hunt’s insistence on wearing an NHS lapel badge in spite of his continuing evisceration of the health service.

The claim being made by this sartorial choice is “I believe in the NHS”. This contradicts the position he took on the NHS before he became Health Secretary.

So-called ‘health tourism’ and its companion ‘benefits tourism’ are repeated constantly by the Conservatives and UKIP alike to support the narrative that the country is “full up” and people come here to claim our “generous benefits”. Such narratives are constructed to further bolster the Tory, UKIP and Labour Right claim that “we” need to limit immigration. Yet without EU immigrants, the NHS would most likely collapse.

The splits in the Conservative Party over Brexit are routinely covered up while splits in the Labour Party are highlighted. As I write this, Tory MP, Claire Perry, is in the Daily Politics studio denying the splits in her party and instead shifts the focus onto the Labour Party. She isn’t challenged by Jo Coburn, who simply nods in agreement.

In the weeks leading up to the EU referendum, television news programmes continually broadcast vox pops interviews, many of which repeated internalised national myths and politicians’ soundbites. Some of the most common claims were “We stood alone during the Battle of Britain we can do it again” and “We can stand on our own two feet because I believe in the inventiveness of the British people”. Neither of these statements are based on facts or truths.  The first claim is based partly on myths and mostly on lies: during the Battle of Britain, airmen from Poland, The United States, Canada and the Caribbean came to this country to fight the Nazis. Such historical facts have been wiped from the memories of many British people and replaced by myths imparted to them by the tabloid press. The second claim is based on nothing more that wishful thinking and wild-eyed romanticism.  Yet these myths persist in the public domain because the media refuses to challenge them.  I was watching BBC News yesterday, when they conducted vox pops interviews in Berlin on the subject of Angela Merkel’s announcement that she would stand as her party’s (CSU/CDU) candidate for Chancellor in the forthcoming elections. Each person offered a view that was well-informed and which contained some degree of analysis. In this country, vox pops interviews will often contain no analysis and a great deal of ill-informed opinion.

Opinion has been substituted for hard news and informed analysis. Once respected news programmes like Newsnight have become little more than an outlet for state, and by extension, Tory propaganda.  According to a poll conducted by Ipsos-MORI, Labour had closed the gap with the Tories by nine percentage points. This was a cue for Newsnight to run this bizarre and somewhat short interview with Yair Lapid, the chairman of Israel’s Yesh Atid party.

What’s so odd about this interview is the fact that it wasn’t actually mentioned at the top of the programme.

Last night’s edition of Newsnight claimed that “most Labour voters want to see Blair return to lead the party”. This contradicts a poll conducted by YouGov in early October, which claims that the party would haemorrhage support to The Greens and even the Liberal Democrats.

Truth? Facts? Reality? Who needs them? Keep drinking the Kool-Aid.

References

Baudrillard, J. (2008). Simulacra and Simulation. University of Michigan Press

Debord, G. (2005). Society of the Spectacle, Detroit: Black and Red.

The Matrix (Wachowski Bros., 1999)

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Filed under Free Press Myth, Ideologies, Media, News/Current Affairs

Corbyn And The Media (Part 1)

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn announced he was standing as a candidate in last year’s leadership election, the smear stories have been relentless and increasingly shrill in their tone.  This week has seen the absurd ‘List’, which was leaked to The Times and the ratcheting up of a dodgy story about Ian Lavery pocketing loads of union money.  All of this happened, coincidentally, on the back of a good showing in the polls for the Labour Party.

Yet, some of these anti-Corbyn stories are downright hilarious, and others are just plain sloppy. A few days ago, I came across this article in The Independent in which someone called Caitlin Doherty, who says she’s a student, claims to have left the Labour Party because of “Jeremy Corbyn”. Well, that’s what the headline says and who am I to argue? Sod it, I’m going to argue. I’m going to argue that this article is little more than clickbait. Howzat?

I’m a student Labour supporter – but I just quit the party over Jeremy Corbyn

Last summer Young Labour blanketed itself in a sense of euphoria. Yes, our party may have lost the election; our optimism, encouraged by pollsters and the unexpected popularity of the Milifandom, may have been initially destroyed. But it wasn’t the end; it was just the start of a new beginning.

There was a new guy on the Labour scene: a guy who looked oddly like your granddad, wore tweed suits and rode a pushbike through Islington. Jeremy Corbyn was set to change the face of the tired and irrelevant Labour Party, and that hot bed of lefties – the student population of Britain – was understandably excited.

So far, so clichéd.

That euphoria, however, is slowly bringing about the end of the Labour party. According to figures released this week, the tidal wave of support that pushed Corbyn to the opposition front bench is coming to an end. For the first time since the general election of May 2015, more people are leaving the Labour Party than joining. And I am among them.

Caitlin links to this misleading article by Andrew Grice in the same paper (sic) that was published the day before, which makes the bold claim that party membership is “falling”. Predictably, Grice offers no sources for his claim.

The majority of these Labour “deserters” are thought, like me, to be the students that drove him to success: the idealists who were swept up in the hashtags and headlines became quickly bored and have moved on elsewhere, it is said. This sweeping assumption does Labour students a great disservice.

“The majority”? Some numbers would be nice or maybe a link? No chance. “Hashtags and headlines”… don’t you just love alliterations? They’re almost as good as tropes and there’s loads of them in this article.

Students aren’t leaving Labour because it isn’t trendy anymore. Students are leaving Labour because they are fed up. Fed up with the ecstatic reception Corbyn still receives – particularly in UK universities where Labour Societies have become increasingly elite and exclusive to ardent Corbynites, with no room for questioning Our Great Leader – despite very little demonstration of any opposition to the increasingly strident Conservative Government.

Was being a member of the Labour Party ever “trendy”? Notice how she slips in the word “Corbynites” and “Our Great Leader”, the latter of which I often see being used on comments threads beneath pro and anti-Corbyn articles.

Caitlin’s previous effort for The Indy was this article on how to survive ‘A’ Levels.

I traced her to the Huffington Post, which tells us:

Caitlin is a second year English Literature student at the University of East Anglia, the Global Editor of UEA’s ‘Concrete and a writer for several other local and national publications. A passionate writer, committed politics follower, and occasional book reader she can often be found getting very angry about something.

She’s written three articles for them.

However, with a little digging, I discovered that Caitlin also writes for the University of East Anglia’s student rag.  Last September, she wrote this article in which she says:

In a so-called “unity statement” on his campaign website he argues that: “There is no place for personal animosity, negative campaigning, and saying or doing anything now that will damage our ability to work together as one party”. and he urges supporters to add their signatures to this statement of intent. Campaign proclamations aside, whoever finds themselves elected leader in a few weeks’ time will likely have Jeremy Corbyn to thank for an increasingly disunited and fractured Labour Party.

I don’t think she joined Labour because of Corbyn.

I reckon our Caitlin would make a great Progress intern or a Murdoch hack. How about you?

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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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Filed under allegations of bias, BBC, censorship, Ideologies, Media