Tag Archives: intellectual deficit

Right-wing clichés (#3): The ‘loony left’

The phrase “loony left” is one that is much beloved of the British Right. It made its first appearance in the 1980s and has remained a staple of the Tory-supporting press to the present-day.

The Tory press has a long history of ridiculing the British Left, often portraying its policies as deranged and psychopathic. If you want to denigrate your political opponent without engaging with their arguments, what better way is there than to question their mental health? But the use of such language betrays the speakers’ fundamental ignorance of mental health concerns and is the mark of a bully. The ad hominem also reveals a lack of intellect on the part of the person using the phrase “loony left”.  They are incapable of discussion. But the use of this phrase was not confined to the Tory-supporting press, the liberal Guardian used it on occasion too. Even Right-wing Labour party members used it against their fellow members, thereby further damaging the party’s electoral prospects back in the 1980s. As this article from The Times (22 December 1986) tells us,

A senior member of Labour’s shadow cabinet is to urge Mr Neil Kinnock to purge the ‘loony left’ London councillors who, he believes, are bringing the Labour Party into disrepute.

The former minister is to write ‘a sharp note’ to the Labour leader calling on him to make plain that their actions were not ‘in the name of the Labour Party’.

He is also enclosing material handed out to school-children in Labour-controlled boroughs such as Haringey. These documents allegedly actively promote homosexuality, giving explicit details.

The move will embarrass the Labour leader still further when he is under pressure to divorce the party from the actions of extreme left-wing councils which he knows will lose votes.

Mr Kinnock has started the procedures which could expel Mr Tony Byrne, the new Liverpool Labour group leader, and Mr Tony Hood, the secretary, from the party.

He has attacked the ‘zealotry’ of some left-wing council leaders but could not afford to face a further party-splitting round of expulsions. Such a purge would inevitably centre on Mr Bernie Grant, the hard left leader of Haringey council, who has pursued the controversial policies on racism, sexism and the rights of homosexuals.

Mr Grant is to contest a safe Labour seat at the general election.

The former minister said his intervention came after a meeting with parents from Haringey who had complained about ‘what the Labour Party was doing in their schools’.

The above article is fairly typical and shows us how the phrase filtered its way into mainstream discourse. It is also interesting how the “senior member of the Labour party” is not named, which – given the the Tory press’s penchant for distortion – raises a few questions about the veracity of this article.

Examples of how this phrase “loony left” was deployed include the production of apocrypha like the clichéd “Baa Baa Black Sheep” story. This also tells us something about the quality of the Tory press: if it routinely fabricates stories and spreads falsehoods and lies, then it is not fit for purpose. It comes as no surprise that we find the most vociferous critics of the Leveson Inquiry are those so-called journalists who write for the Right-wing press (in other words, most British newspapers). It is they who have the most to lose from any regulation.  Indeed, proper journalists have nothing to fear. The desperate cries from Right-wing hacks that Britain will “no longer enjoy a free press” ring hollow. This country does not and  has never enjoyed a truly free press. Spreading lies and distortions is the business of propaganda ministries. Our newspaper industry would deny that it acts, as Chomsky would argue, as an unofficial ministry of information but this is exactly what it does.

The use of this phrase to describe certain Labour members and councils had the effect of dividing the party. The so-called ‘soft-Left’ was pitted against the so-called ‘hard-Left’. The culmination of this division and internecine strife resulted in the infamous anti-Militant witch-hunts and expulsions. Kinnock willingly jumped through hoops to please the Tory press and the Thatcher government. But I ask you this: what is so “loony” about striving for equality and social justice? I can’t see anything crazy about it.

Since the Tories were returned to power (without a mandate), they have returned to the phrase “loony left”. This tells us that the Conservatives are incapable of dealing with the present and unable to face the future; they have a constant need to relive the past – even if that past doesn’t exist in the popular memory. Referring to the Labour party as “left-wing”, which the Right often does, ignores the party’s slide to the Right under Blair. Take this article written by Bozza in February. Moonlighting as a journalist in the Daily Telegraph, he wrote,

Well isn’t that just great. Isn’t that just abso-flipping-lutely fan-blooming-tastic. Just when you thought the loony Left had reached rock bottom – with their sagacious proposals to “hang the bankers” and put taxes up to 80 per cent – they have come up with something even worse. There are so-called socialists in London who are now taking active steps to scupper young people’s chances of finding employment.

Here we are with an economy still taking ages to recover. We have more and more young people out of work, and who find themselves caught in a catch-22. They are told they can’t get a job unless they have some work experience; and they can’t get any work experience unless someone is willing to give them a job.

Unsurprisingly, such hatchet-jobs are appearing more frequently in the Tory press. The clueless Bozza can only hurl abuse at his ideological foes and repeat the spurious claim that unpaid work will set the young free. He closes with this,

The man who transformed modern Tesco didn’t arrive as an Oxbridge graduate trainee. Sir Terry Leahy began by sweeping floors.

And I’m willing to bet that Leahy was paid to sweep those floors. Today’s youngsters are expected to work for nothing.

Recently I blocked a follower on Twitter, who is a UKIP supporter. He would often retweet me using the hashtag “#loonyleft”. Debate me by all means, but don’t resort to ad hominems, it makes you look like a moron-  a rabid Right-wing moron.

References:

Gunn, S. (1986) “Kinnock is urged to expel ‘loony left'” in The Times, (22 December, 1986)

Johnson, B. (2012). “The loony left, out to destroy youngster’s hopes of a job” in The Daily Telegraph, (27 February, 2012)

Further reading:

Ivor Gaber (2005). “Slaying the Dragon”. In James Curran, Julian Petley, and Ivor Gaber. Culture wars: the media and the British left. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 197, 208–210

7 Comments

Filed under Ideologies, Journalism, Media, propaganda, Tory press, Yellow journalism

Give up your workplace rights and we’ll give you (worthless) shares in return

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, workers have fought and died for the workplace rights that we enjoy today. Since the 1980s, there has been a concerted effort on the part of the Tories to erode those rights. For them, the 19th century was a golden age of industrial progress and oh, how they want to return to those times! But today’s announcement by Gid is odd. He proposes that workers give up their rights in the workplace in exchange for a handful of worthless shares, which he tells us will be worth between £2,000 and £3,000. That won’t even buy you a kilo of decent coke or a classy hooker for the night. Gid knows about both of those things and his idea, if that’s what it can be called, sounds for all the world as though it was written in the midsts of a lengthy coke binge. Cocaine, you see, is an ego drug and those who habitually use it talk a lot of shit. Gideon is an expert at talking shit.

In his weediest of weedy voices, Gid said,

“Workers: replace your old rights of unfair dismissal and redundancy with new rights of ownership. And what will the government do? We’ll charge no capital gains tax at all on the profit you make on your shares. Zero percent capital gains tax for these new employee-owners. Get shares and become owners of the company you work for.”

“Owners”? Is he serious? It seems that he is, but then we should remember that Osborne and the rest of the government are bereft of real ideas and the ideas they do possess are employed to further enrich their tax-evading chums in Belize and elsewhere. Make no mistake, the only true beneficiary in Osborne’s dreamworld is the boss. The underlying motivation behind his notion is to pay people less, trick them into handing over their rights for the illusion of power and influence and then sack them if they say the wrong thing.

Elsewhere in his incredibly dull speech, was the announcement of further cuts to the welfare budget while the rich will be “taxed more” – allegedly. Once again, Osborne appealed to people to attack those on benefits, who he suggested, were responsible for the housing crisis.

Chancellor of the Exchequer? I wouldn’t put this man in charge of a Christmas Club.

1 Comment

Filed under Conservative Party Conference 2012, Government & politics

How Britain lets down its postgraduate students

As any postgraduate student knows, it’s tough trying to study and keep your life together in the face of economic hardship. While many of the UK’s postgraduate students struggle to make ends meet, the little funding that exists is being ruthlessly cut and some universities are using their postgraduates as little more than free labour. By contrast, postgraduates in other countries are well supported. Even in the US, the home of hyper-capitalism, there is generous support for postgraduates. The stereotypical image of the student that has been fixed in the public mind is based on a fictionalized representation of an undergraduate who is a binge-drinking, drug-taking, all-shagging, soap-dodging layabout who prefers to watch The Jeremy Kyle Show or Countdown in his/her semi-darkened hovel rather than go to lectures or seminars.

The attitude of the hacks at the Torygraph and the Daily Fail is one of, “Haven’t you had enough education” and”Why should my taxes pay for you to study? Why can’t you get a job and stop sponging off society”? These sentiments are often echoed by “the man on street” whose position has been at once mediated for him by the press and influenced by his lack of understanding as to what the pursuit of postgraduate study entails, as well as its long-term societal benefits. “Well, what good is a PhD in English Literature? Can you get a job with it”? With this, the vox-pop interviewee falls into the trap of believing that education, like training, should always end with a ‘proper’ job that is directly related to the field of study.  The production of knowledge is omitted from the reply because the speaker does not have an understanding of how knowledge is produced and may possibly believe that it appeared of its own accord or that it has simply always ‘existed’.

But that is not all.

There is a worrying trend towards a kind of anti-intellectualism among the political mainstream.  The idea that academic study can exist for its own sake is despised and dismissed as whimsy.  Witness the lack of creative thinking that emanates from the small minds of the government and opposition frontbench with their preponderance of Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) graduates. Witness the contempt in which certain academic disciplines  like Media Studies and Sociology are held. The knowledge that is produced in these fields and others is deemed “worthless” by the Conservatives and their allies in the press. It is in these disciplines and others in the arts and humanities where we will find those postgraduates who are most likely to be self-funded. The sciences will always attract funding, much of it from central government schemes, wealthy benefactors and pharmaceutical companies. The Russell Group universities will also have no trouble attracting funding. Indeed, many of its students will have oodles of daddy’s money at their disposal. The same cannot be said of someone from a modest background, who is working on a PhD in Cultural Studies at a post-1992 university, which is not a member of any university grouping.  Does that mean that the knowledge that is produced in such an institution serves no use to society? That is absurd.

As a consequence of cuts in Higher Education, disciplines that involve critical thinking are being effectively limited to those who can afford to study them. Higher tuition fees and the rising cost of living combine to have the effect of excluding working class candidates, adults who are returning to study and the low-waged from certain forms of knowledge. For a Conservative Party that is preoccupied with a nostalgic vision of the Victorian Age,  this is ideal  because it allows them to control the flow of knowledge; to filter it, to stifle it and to keep the people in their place. Since the 1980s, the provisions contained in the 1944 Education Act have been effectively torn up before our very eyes. Nu Labour did nothing to stop it.

If the government continues on its present course with regards to education generally, we will slip back to the 14th century in terms of our knowledge base. We already have a massively de-skilled workforce as a result of the systematic shrinkage of our industrial base, now we risk a major knowledge deficit to go with our other deficits. Universities rely on postgraduate students; they attract funding and they produce new ideas.

Currently there is no serious form of support for postgraduates. Academic funding bodies like the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) have changed the way they distribute their funding. Now, money is placed into a pool between a group of universities, which then dole out the money to those applicants whom it deems to be worthy of funded study. The rest can pretty much go to hell.

This Guardian article from April paints a bleak picture. This one asks “Why is postgraduate study missing from the social mobility debate”?

Postgraduate students need access to the kind of funding that allows them to live without the threat of financial ruin if they should fall ill or lose their job through redundancy or injury. The work of postgraduates of all disciplines needs to be recognised as an investment rather than a ruse to avoid doing a ‘proper job’. Higher Education should also be returned to The Department of Education (Gove should be removed as Secretary of State but that’s another blog).

The Postgraduate Workers Association (PGWA) has been set up to fight for the rights of postgraduates who are working as hourly paid lecturers and researchers. It has the support of the University and College Union (UCU). The PGWA has a blog here and a Facebook page here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cuts, Education, Government & politics