Category Archives: Murdoch press

The Undignifed Response To The Grenfell Tower Fire From Britain’s Right

The terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in Notting Dale last week in which scores, possibly hundreds, of people died, has prompted rather peculiar knee jerk reactions from Britain’s right-wing commentators and their followers. The most popular complaint among them is “the left has politicized this tragedy”. This is an interesting accusation, given the fact housing is a political issue, and for the fact the claim reveals a general ignorance of the word ‘politic(s)’. But the accusation is also indicative of a state of mind that blinds a person to empathy, compassion, sympathy and all the things that make us human; the very things that separate us from the machines. We do not ‘process’ feelings; we reflect, we meditate and we think about them; perhaps we act on them individually and collectively. That’s politics. Individual organs within our bodies (it’s not a ‘wonderful’ machine) may process nutrients but as organisms, we are more than the sum total of our physical processes. A point missed by those, like the Ayn Rand cultists, who would convince us that we are nothing more than robots made of flesh.

Catherine Itzin (1980), in her excellent book about British political theatre, Stages In The Revolution, argued “Everything is political; all life is political”. Second wave feminists always said “The personal is political”. We should also remind ourselves that word ‘politics’ is derived from ‘polis’ the Ancient Greek word for city; a place with a high concentration of citizens . In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle used the word politikos to describe the ‘affairs of the citizens’. In this form it can mean anything from an individual’s preferences and judgements, or the discourses that groups of people create or circulate among themselves.  Politics is not limited to the practices of professional politicians and their associates in the press.

Merriam Webster offers these definitions of the word ‘politics’.

  1. 1a :  the art or science of government b :  the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy c :  the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government

  2. 2:  political actions, practices, or policies

  3. 3a :  political affairs or business; especially :  competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government)b :  political life especially as a principal activity or profession c :  political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices

  4. 4:  the political opinions or sympathies of a person

  5. 5a :  the total complex of relations between people living in society b :  relations or conduct in a particular area of experience especially as seen or dealt with from a political point of view office politics ethnic politics

Like it or not, housing is a political issue and to accuse a group or a person of “politicizing the tragedy” misses this point – especially when the local authority’s response to the Grenfell blaze was so woeful. This was a preventable tragedy and to voice that fact is political and rightly so.

When Jeremy Corbyn told the media that empty homes in the borough should be requisitioned to temporarily house Glenfell survivors, the howls of outrage were as predictable as they were hysterical.  These self-appointed moral guardians would tell us they are educated, but their comprehension of written and spoken English was noticeably lacking in their discourses.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a requisition is a:

NOUN

  • An official order laying claim to the use of property or materials.

    ‘I had to make various requisitions for staff and accommodation’
    1. 1.1 A formal written demand that something should be performed or put into operation.
      ‘requisitions for an Extraordinary General Meeting must state the business to be transacted’
    2. 1.2 Law A demand to the vendor of a property for the official search relating to the title.
    3. 1.3 mass noun The appropriation of goods for military or public use.
      ‘requisition of grain at the point of a gun proved a novel experience for the peasantr

The word that many right-wingers reached for instead of requisition was confiscation: a completely different word, which is defined as:

NOUN

mass noun

  • The action of taking or seizing someone’s property with authority; seizure.

    ‘a court ordered the confiscation of her property’

There it is. It isn’t that they misheard the word. Oh no. They heard what they wanted to hear: “millionaires’ properties should be confiscated to house displaced [but filthy] working class people from our neighbourhood[that we’d rather not see]”.

According to Helmet Head, the oligarchs who have bought properties in Kensington and Chelsea and left them empty, are entitled to special privileges by dint of their bloated bank accounts and their greed (here, the billionaire is revered as a living god). Property ownership is apparently an inalienable ‘human right’ that trumps the right to life, freedom of expression and so on.

Hysteria and hyperbole. First, legislation would have to be introduced for this to occur and second, homes were requisitioned by the government order during the First and Second World Wars. Requisitioning properties in times of emergency is nothing new and the properties are always returned to their owners. This is an emergency.

The Lyin’ King, in his column for CapX, effectively dodges the question of possible corporate manslaughter or managerial incompetence by adopting a morally high, but ultimately questionable, position of disinterest. He opens in his typically dishonest fashion by linking Grenfell Tower to a hoax call. It’s pretty despicable.

Do you remember the tragic story of Jacintha Saldanha? You don’t? It was huge at the time. Jacintha was a nurse at the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to her first child. She got a hoax call from two Australian radio presenters pretending to be the Queen and the Prince of Wales, and put it through to the relevant ward nurse. When the news broke, Jacintha, who had had a history of depression, committed suicide by hanging, leaving two teenage children.

He then links the genuine concerns of the residents and neighbours and the glacially sluggish response from RB Kensington and Chelsea’s leadership to scapegoating  innocent parties. I draw your attention to the final sentence, because it is most revealing.

We are still at that stage in the aftermath of the Grenfell horror. Obviously, we need to find out what went wrong, and assess whether other places are at risk. If there is evidence of criminal negligence, of course that negligence should be punished. But the discussion over the past two days has gone well beyond these things. The country is bellowing for a scapegoat big enough and monstrous enough to bear responsibility for such an outrage. The idea of a tragic accident simply won’t do.

Yes, this is tragic. That’s stating the bleedin’ obvious but an accident? How does Dan, for all his moralizing and expensive education, know this was an “accident”? Moreover, by referring to Grenfell as a “tragic accident”, he is making his own political judgement of the disaster.

But what about the contributing factors?  Has Dan not read the Grenfell Action Group blog?  Does he think that residents shouldn’t have voiced their concerns at the  substandard quality of the £10 million refurbishment, or the mysterious power surges? Does he think that, given their circumstances as renters, they have no right to complain? Those who rent their homes as opposed to those who buy their, are often seen by the property-owning classes, as second class citizens. 

Like our pre-modern ancestors, we have an innate sense that, for such a horrifying event to have happened, there must have been great wickedness at work. Like them, we disagree as to who was responsible for the wickedness. Usually, though, just as they did, we blame whomever we already happened not to like. Glancing at this morning’s newspapers, I see that the Guardian blames inequality, the Mail blames eco-regulations, the Express blames EU rules and the Mirror blames the Tories. Simon Jenkins, that champion of harmonious and well-proportioned architecture, blames tower-blocks. Owen Jones, my favourite radical, blames racketeering landlords. For all I know, one or more of these villains may indeed be at fault; but, for now, it is mainly guesswork.

 A massive point has been missed.

Here, Hannan tells his readers to give money and to sympathize with the victims, while at the same he presumes to speak for the residents and their suffering. Just wow.

The media always follow the same course on these occasions. Having initially blamed their favourite bêtes noires, they will move on to the victims and survivors, asking them what should be done. Which brings me to a very hard thing that needs saying. The victims deserve our utmost sympathy as well as our practical help. Please do give, if you haven’t already, to one of the appeals. But bereaved relatives have no particular authority when it comes to finding the correct prescriptions. We should not expect policy ideas from people in shock, and demanding them is not just a form of journalistic grandstanding; it is also deeply unfair to the victims it purports to elevate.

Emotions are human, and grief and suffering are expressed in individual ways. Money is not the only answer; it is only a sticking plaster. Long term needs must be considered, namely the residents’ right to live in their neighbourhood in safety.

Hannan et al will always deny the central issue of housing provision and potential avoidability of this disaster is political issue, but this view is as absurd as it is dangerous. It smacks of  a wilful disinterest that is wholly based upon class privilege. Their underlying disgust for, not only council tenants, but the working class as a social formation, bobs up from behind the cover of their tiresome and empty platitudes, and is thus visible for all to see. Charity, for them is the answer, not a proposal to deal with the structural inequalities that have blighted this country for generations, but philanthropy and the guiding hand of paternalism is offered to head off any real demands for meaningful social, political, cultural and economic settlement. This is disgust in action.

Disgust figures prominently in the tweets of CapX’s  Iain Martin, who subjects last week’s protests outside Kensington Town Hall, to a volley of sneers, paranoia and misinterpretations. In this tweet, he slyly insinuates the residents – who should be meek; content in their social condition – are being led astray by members of the much depleted Socialist Workers’ Party.

But even if left-wing parties are marching in solidarity with the residents and a few SWP placards (which are on every fucking march and demo, by the way.  It doesn’t mean that everyone is a fucking member) are seen, does this necessarily prove anything? Is this necessarily the SWP in another bandwagon-jumping exercise? Not really.  Any human would have been appalled at what happened to those poor unfortunate people. Would this country’s right-wing have taken up the cause of those who lost their homes at Grenfell Tower by marching in solidarity with them? It’s highly unlikely.  Well, no, actually.  They only protest when their idea of freedom is challenged or when it’s otherwise not being met on their terms. Even then, such events are poorly-attended.

In this tweet to Owen Jones, Martin insists that the residents, whom he describes as a “mob”, aren’t capable of spontaneous collective agency but are being led astray by the darkest of forces. Yes, it’s the SWP again, cast here as “tin pot revolutionaries”.

Beneath Martin’s sneers burns a fierce class hatred that is bolstered by his sense of class entitlement, which is common to all free market cultists.  Indeed, it speaks volumes when I say that I have yet to meet a working class right-wing libertarian. I don’t think they exist. Anarchists, yes. Libertarians, no.

Brendan O’Neill claims to be a man of the left, a Marxist even, but this claim has always been empty. He’s a right-wing libertarian-contrarian, who spends his days shouting about the ‘middle class left’ and views the working class as a homogeneous mass that is ignorant, easily led and certainly not left-wing. In his article for Spiked Online, he demands that Labour, the left or whoever, stop “exploiting the dead of Grenfell Tower”. His article ploughs roughly the same furrow as the Lyin’ King’s effort but is no less wilfully ignorant in its tone and manner. We get to his ideological spin at the bottom of the piece:

‘But the Grenfell disaster is political’, the people exploiting it cry, somewhat defensively. And they’re right. It is. Social housing and gentrification and the eco-approved application of cladding to tower blocks are political issues, or at least public issues, and we should talk about them. But these people aren’t treating Grenfell as political; they’re treating it as party political. They’re using it to demean Toryism as evil, and big up Corbyn as the leader Britain needs right now. He cares, you see, unlike them. He is Good, they are Bad. This isn’t politics – this is a culture war, where the horrors experienced by the working classes of North Kensington are used to underpin the binary moralism of a Corbynista worldview of the right as wicked and the left as decent. They are building their political movement on the corpses of the poor, and no amount of radical-sounding lingo can cover up just how cynical, opportunistic and depraved that is.

O’Neill uses the Grenfell Disaster to attack Corbyn. It’s intellectually dishonest and it’s shabby. His screed reveals his rather slippery view of his politics: the right is “wicked” and the left is “decent” he moans. But this is no more than a warped perception of Corbyn’s very human response to the disaster. I don’t recall Bruvver Bren making any demands on behalf of the residents or, indeed, meeting them face-to-face. Can you? O’Neill takes Murdoch’s shilling, so his job is to produce unimaginative crap like this.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Brendan O’Neill.

For the likes of Toby Young, Dan Hannan, and Iain Martin, the working class should simply put up with their condition because, so the neoliberal argument goes, they made ‘poor life choices’. If they burn to death in a ‘tragic accident’ then one must remain calm and accept the fact that politics is something that is practised by, and reserved for, professionals like Hannan, a man who takes a salary from the European Union, but who has worked to destroy the very institution from which he has benefited enormously.

Since the days of Thatcher, right-leaning middle class types have always believed in the notion that the working class can simply ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ and be like them. The trouble is, the working class cannot be like them because, unlike them, they weren’t born into privilege. They literally cannot afford to be right-wing libertarians or Tories.

Reference/further reading

Bourdieu, P. (2003). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London: Routledge.

De Certeau, M (1988). The Practice of Everyday Life. London: University of California Press.

Fanon, F. (1986). Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Harvey, D. (2007). “Neoliberalism as creative destruction”. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 610(1), pp 21-44.

Itzin, C. (1980). Stages in the revolution: political theatre in Britain since 1968. London: Eyre Metheun.

Rowe, C. J., & Broadie, S. (2002). Nicomachean ethics. Oxford University Press.

 

 

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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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