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The Philpott case and the Right’s warped benefits narrative

In the aftermath of the Mick and Mairead Philpott trial, the Right blamed the murders of 6 children on the Philpott’s “addiction” to benefits.  First, the Daily Mail produced its sensational front page (above), then the Telegraph chipped in with its ‘analysis’. Both articles use a tragedy to push the abolition of the benefits system by making use of narrativizations. In other words, this terrible event has been magically transformed into a particular kind of story that fits the neoliberal’s small state discourses .

Let me take you back to 2008 and a mansion fire in Shropshire that caused the death of a family. The perpetrator was Christopher Foster, a wealthy businessman, who had allegedly accumulated massive debts and was staring financial ruin in the face. Foster died in the fire that was intended to mask the shootings of his wife and his 15 year old daughter.

The Guardian says

Police believe Mr Foster killed his 49-year-old wife and 15-year-old daughter at their £1.2m home in the village of Maesbrook, Shropshire, before setting fire to the property. Their burned bodies were found at Osbaston House days after the blaze in August last year.

The hearing at Shrewsbury magistrates court heard that in December 2005, Mr Foster told police his former accountant was blackmailing him over a joint property deal in Cyprus. Two defendants were prosecuted and found not guilty at Shrewsbury crown court in November 2006.

The inquest, attended by Mr Foster’s mother Enid and his younger brother Andrew, was shown photographs of the luxury five-bedroom house before and after the blaze in the early hours of 26 August.

Images of the dining room showed containers of heating oil on the floor. The inquest was told an oil tank used to heat the property was sited in outbuildings and would have been full at the time of the fire.

The body of Christopher Foster was found lying on top of his wife on the floor beneath what would have been their bedroom.

Home Office pathologist Dr Alexander Kolar said Jill Foster died as a result of a gunshot wound to the back of the head, which appeared to have been carried out by another person. There was no indication she was alive during the fire, he said.

Their 15-year-old daughter had a wound to the left side of her head, caused by a high velocity impact. It was likely she died as a result of a gunshot wound, Dr Kolar said, but he could not rule out the possibility that her injury was caused by falling debris.

The court was told alcohol was found in Mr Foster’s urine, indicating he may have been drinking on the night of the fire.

Yet, the Right wouldn’t dare to lazily join the dots between these tragic deaths and Foster’s wealth. Why not? I think we know why not.

On the same day that The Guardian produced its story, the Mail coughed up this sensationalist cack:

But Foster knew a great deal about fires. According to his brother Andrew, he was always fascinated by them. He even set fire to Andrew accidentally when they were boys.

The Mail had its angle but it didn’t blame the deaths on Foster’s wealth.

Now the argument that the Right would put forward would go something like this: “At least Foster used his own money to kill his family”. That’s a rationalization and it’s this same lazy thinking that allows them to view the Philpott case as one where “my (sic) money was involved” in “subsidizing” a lifestyle. The truth is this: it is not your money that pays people’s benefits.  Furthermore, if one adopts that kind of attitude to benefits claimants, then why don’t they adopt the same position when it comes to MPs ever-increasing salaries and their swollen expense accounts?

The real tragedy is that many British people are unable to think for themselves and allow the press to produce their opinions for them. Pumped with stories of benefit cheats and plied with grog from the trashy, voyeuristic mess that is The Jeremy Kyle Show, these people connect dots and see anyone who is struggling to make ends meet as “subhuman”.

But it wasn’t just The Mail that was guilty of apportioning blame to the benefits system. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Honourable Gideon Osborne, heir to the baronetcy of Ballintaylor and Ballylemon, says in this video that the Philpott case “raises questions” about the welfare state “subsidizing lifestyles like that”.

Even an expensive education has failed to teach Osborne critical thinking skills. The rationale goes something like this: one benefits claimant is bad, therefore all benefits claimants are bad.

In today’s Daily Mail, Tim Shipman, uses his article to take a swipe at the Labour party, which he believes, doesn’t want a “debate” on the welfare state. But it is not a debate that he or the Right wants; they want to control the discourse on benefits: this means lying and smearing those who oppose their warped narratives.

Within hours of his remarks about Philpott, he faced a backlash from Left-wingers who accused him of ‘cynically’ exploiting the tragedy to push the Government’s case for cuts to handouts.

Senior Tories said the reaction of the Opposition is proof that it still fails to grasp the depth of public fury at the way some have abused the benefits system.

If you ever believed that this country had a “free press”,  then now is the time to cast your naive beliefs aside. This country’s “free press” operates, mainly,  as an unofficial Ministry of Information. The manufacture of consent for further cuts and dismantling of the welfare state begins on the pages of the Tory press and the mainstream television channels.

In connecting this tragedy to a poisoned ‘debate’ on welfare, the Conservative know that they can further control discourses on the very existence of the welfare state and, by doing so, pull the so-called “hardworking families” and so-called floating voters into their orbit.  Make no mistake, if the Tories win an outright majority at the next General Election, they will abolish what’s left of the welfare state. They cannot be allowed to do this.

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Leveson and the Tory press’s myth of free expression

Lies are what passes for the truth in Tory media land.

The Tories and their pals in the media are fond of telling us that we have, in this country, something called a “free press”. This is a lie and those who believe that Leveson will magically remove this “free press” have been tricked into believing that by the spectacle.

No Tory newspaper proprietor or its hacks wanted Leveson in the first place. The journalists who write for these papers have mediated the notion of a universal free press in Britain to the public, many of whom have been taken in by the hacks’ complaint that it will spell an end to a free press that didn’t exist in the first place.

The other fear is that the Leveson Report will suddenly prompt a rash of repressive legislation that will affect bloggers but that’s emotional blackmail on their part and they know it. But I ask you this: under the current system, do you think it is right that British newspapers can lie to the public under the aegis of a free press? Furthermore, do you think it’s responsible for a newspaper to print articles they know to be entirely false?

Under the current self-regulatory system, if a newspaper prints a false allegation about a member of the public, what do you think happens? I’ll tell you, not much. The newspaper in question is required to print a retraction. That is all. The wronged party is not compensated and the paper is free to print more lies. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is run by the newspaper industry and even then, some papers don’t participate. Northern & Shell withdrew their subscription last year, which effectively means the Daily Express and OK! can print any old shit it likes. Furthermore, the PCC has also been chaired by former Tory ministers or sympathizers. Do you really think that’s right?

Political Scrapbook tells us that David “Shoot the bastards” Blunkett (who’s also a member of Labour Friends of Israel) and the YBF’s Conor Burns had a letter drafted for them by a Daily Mail executive. There’s your free fucking press.

If freedom of the press means telling lies for the sake of keeping one political party in power over another, then that isn’t a free press. That’s no better than the press in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. In fact, it’s worse because they lie about the press being free when it clearly isn’t.

According to Reporters Without Borders’ Freedom Index, the UK is number 28. That’s 3 places behind Mali. Even Namibia has a freer press than the UK.

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Life on Gilligan’s Island (Part 23)

Today Gilly takes a break from Muslim-bashing and returns to his other favourite hate topic: Ken Livingstone.  Gilligan is on familiar ground here. He spent most of Livingstone’s mayoralty writing a series of smear stories for the Evening Standard. Today, he tells us that “Ken Livingstone loses a few thousand more votes”. Why? Well, Gilly says,

…I couldn’t have been more thrilled to read Ken’s piece in today’s Standard, blaming last week’s student riots on – you guessed it – the mop-headed Mayor Of Evil. Did I miss something on Thursday? Was it a group led by Boris who broke away from the route agreed with the police? Was it Boris who came along to the march armed with fireworks, snooker balls and clearly intent on a ruck? Was it Boris who issued that group of “peaceful students” with identical green hard-hats and metal poles for hitting the police?

Gilligoon has missed something here. His idol, Boris Johnson actually called for the police to kettle protesters. Kettling or “containment” as the police euphemism goes, contravenes human rights. Gilligan isn’t concerned about this. Human rights are for those who have earned them.

Today’s blog, while the headline screams Ken, is a strange hotchpotch of things. A couple of paragraphs later he has a dig at Julian Assange and Wikileaks, opining,

What else are we to make of the demand by Women Against Rape, no less, that the rape allegations against Mr Assange must not be investigated and the great hero immediately freed? And what else are we to make of the quite hopeless argument that the students were only violent because the police were nasty to them?

Er, does the name Scott Ritter mean anything to you, Gilly? Probably not, Gilly is too busy slinging mud and sexing things up to pay any attention to the facts.

He turns his attention back to those horrible protesters,

At the first big London student demo, the Met in fact played it very softly-softly – and was rewarded with having Tory HQ smashed up. Last week, the kettling did not start until after the students started throwing things. I’ve no doubt innocent people got caught up in it – and some police behaved disgracefully. Indeed, a friend of mine, an entirely peaceful and inoffensive journalist, was beaten up by the Met.

Here he takes the Met’s version of events as gospel. Was he at the demo? No, he wasn’t. I was and I can tell him that the police tactics were designed to wind up the protesters. The screens that had been placed along Parliament Square provided both a tempting target and were used to make the space as tight and as uncomfortable as possible.. The kettling actually began as soon as we had arrived in the square. Nothing had been thrown.

Gilly parrots a by now familiar line here,

Last Thursday, the students didn’t just lose the vote in the Commons. They lost the sympathy of a lot of middle-of-the-road people – and most importantly, they lost control of the agenda. We should be talking about the injustice of some of the cuts, and the hopeless mess the Lib Dems found themselves in. Instead, we’re talking about the violence of the students.

Who are these “middle-of-the-road people” he talks about? The proprietors of The Daily Telegraph? The readership of the Rothermere Press? Rupert Murdoch?  We already know what they think.  I hate to rain on your parade, Gilly, but the students still have support from a lot of people.  He talks about the “violence of the students” but ignores the violence of the government’s spending cuts. He mentions the fact that a “journalist friend” was beaten by police then he produces this volte face in order to make a cheap point at Ken Livingstone’s expense.

Ken’s played a blinder. He’s got on side with the students, many of whom will now vote for him in the next mayoral election. Those students will rightly see Boris Johnson as an authoritarian and a pompous windbag. As for Gilligan, who cares what he thinks? He’s yellow journalist who writes for a Tory-supporting paper. With any luck, he’ll be out of a job by then.

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Exhuming kennite

First, I must offer an explanation. Although this blog is about Andrew Gilligan, the subject of this blog is not related to Life On Gilligan’s Island, which is a series that takes a look at what our dogged reporter serves up in his blogs for the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere. In this blog I want to explore three things: 1. the connection between Gilligan and kennite, 2. his denial that he is a propagandist and 3. how trolls and sockpuppets act as instruments of propaganda

With regard to the first point,  Gilligan has denied that he is “kennite”. However while performing periodic trawl of the internet for useful information, I stumbled upon this article by Decca Aitkenhead (the article is well worth a read by the way) of The Guardian on 30/4/08 in which she says,

We meet at his home in Greenwich, south London, where he lives alone…

On Dave Hill’s blog on 3/11/08, Gilligan, using his real identity, says,

Dave,

Kennite is my partner. Is that allowed? I’ve always been perfectly happy, as you acknowledge, to point out the shortcomings in your journalism under my own name. Even by the standards of the Ken Left, it strikes me as more than usually bizarre to accuse me of concealing my true views about our former mayor and his online fan club.

It’s also good to see such a sure sense of priorities. On the day of a major mayoral policy launch about a trivial subject like knife crime, you’re focusing on the issues that really matter.

Andrew

Call me old-fashioned but the word “partner” tends to imply two things: a partner is someone who is domicile with another (there is usually a sexual relationship involved)  or someone with whom one is engaged  in some form of enterprise. I am not certain whether the information of his domicile status that Aitkenhead has presented was volunteered to her or deduced by her.  At this point it may be useful to establish a time-line for kennite. His activity on The Guardian’s Comment is Free section can be found here.   Kennite’s first post is on 20/4/07 to this article, which is critical of Boris Johnson who was, at the time, a mayoral candidate.

Neal Lawson credits Ken with the Freedom Pass; in fact, he has nothing to do with this pass, which has been in existence since the early 1970s and has been provided and paid for by the London boroughs since 1986. The Mayor’s only involvement with the Freedom Pass is to set the charges which the boroughs must pay to reimburse TfL for the OAPs’ free travel. Like so many other charges levied by Ken, these have risen hugely in recent years, placing real financial pressure on the scheme.

“Free travel” for under-18s on the buses is a Ken initiative, but it is not, of course, free. It is simply paid for by other travellers, who were hit with an overnight 25% increase in the Oyster single bus fare in January 2007 in order to raise the money for the “free” child fares.

Anyone who actually uses the buses detests the “free” child concession, because it has led to a significant increase in anti-social behaviour on board, has caused massive overcrowding at schooltimes and has made many fare-paying travellers’ lives a misery. In an age of growing concern about child obesity, it also seems utterly perverse to subsidise children not to walk and cycle.

That comment was posted nearly a year before the Aitkenhead interview. On 20/4/08, a year to the date of the first comment, kennite replies to the editors blog

If you add up the pieces written on CiF, the charge of bias is irrefutable. Since Boris Johnson emerged in the Mayoral race in July 2007, CiF and the Guardian’s politics blog have published at least 63 pro-Ken or anti-Boris articles, including 13 by Ken Livingstone himself. Twenty-four CiF contributors have written broadly pro-Ken/ anti-Boris pieces.

The number of pro-Boris articles or anti-Ken articles (including those in support of Brian Paddick) totals 15, from a total of five contributors.

Nobody outside the ranks of Ken Livingstone supporters would accept your principal commentator, Dave Hill, as “independent”. He has repeatedly attacked Johnson, found endless inventive ways to repeat the “racist” slur about him, done his very best to downplay the importance of the LDA grants scandal and made clear his delight at polls showing Ken closing the gap.

The Guardian’s news coverage has also been obviously slanted against Johnson – as, for instance, when the paper devoted a entire page 3 to the fact that he had missed one of the dozens of hustings organised during the campaign. The Guardian first ignored, then dismissed, the most significant story of the campaign, the Lee Jasper affair.

There is nothing wrong with any of this – newspapers are allowed to be biased. What is wrong is to maintain a dishonest pretence that you are impartial.

Just a point about the comment first: it ignores the evident bias against Livingstone in the Tory press. The accusation of bias does not stand up to scrutiny. This is an example of blatant propagandization that on the one hand complains of “pro-Ken bias”  in The Guardian while pretending that there was no “pro-Boris campaign” being waged in the Tory press. Onward. Kennite commented on Dave Hill’s blog on 1/7/08 and was later identified as a possible sockpuppet.

The role of the sockpuppet or internet troll  is consistent with the modus operandi of a propagandist. In this way, albeit self-referentially,  Gilligan’s blogs and comments as “kennite” also conform to Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model. Chomsky and Herman posit that consent is manufactured in the public mind by the media in order to prepare it, in this case arguably, for a war with Iran. The production of scare stories about creeping Islamification, Sharia Law, Islamic extremism in local government, town hall coups des etats staged by politicians associated with Islamist groups, Islamist entryism and so forth are part of the ongoing process of demonization that is deemed necessary to convince the public of the need for war. These narratives are often framed in the neoliberal notions of freedom, liberty and choice which are depicted as  polar opposites to Islam in general.  Scare stories work wonders and Gilligan is producing these stories in line with his master’s wishes.  Indeed it could be argued that in a Lacanian sense, the master discourse is being articulated through Gilligan in the form of flak and scare stories which are couched in the presentational style of investigative journalism.  The Telegraph doubtlessly would like to see a war that crushes Iran and by extension the Islamism that is thought to have sprung from there.

Gilligan’s attacks on other journalists, notably Dave Hill and Mehdi Hasan should be regarded as forms of flak. This is quite unprecedented behaviour for a journalist –  especially one who has been given a British Journalist of the Year Award.  We can regard this as part of his duties as a propagandist, which he denies. He also claims to have successfully sued someone simply for suggesting he is a propagandist.

Mr Hasan also includes a number of other claims – that I am a “propagandist” for instance – which are untrue and for which I have successfully taken legal action against one of my other critics.

Critics are not tolerated and will either be smeared or threatened with legal action. So much for free speech.

It may be useful to remind ourselves what the propaganda model is and how Gilligan’s activities submit to this thesis. There are 5 filters,

1. Ownership

2. Funding

3. Sourcing

4. Flak

5. Anti-ideologies; substitutes for anti-communism

In the case of the last filter we can substitute “anti-communism” for “anti-Islam”. Like any religion, Islam is  ideological. That is not in question. Like other religions, Islam has its schools of thought, its sects, its various interpretations of scripture and its tensions. So do many other religions. In the hands of the propagandist, Islam becomes a single, homogenized religion where one sect is indistinguishable from another. For instance, in the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” furore, the Sufis who will occupy the cultural centre are presented by certain journalists, their trolls, sockpuppets and angry correspondents as the same as Shia and Sunni and share with them a desire to take over the planet. This is little different to the anti-communist rhetoric of the Cold War.

Working our way backwards up the list, we come to flak which is self-evident in Gilligan’s case. Then there’s sourcing much of which comes from press handouts from government departments and elsewhere. The funding is obvious, that comes from advertisers. Money from advertisers will quickly dry up if the paper takes a certain position on say, the arms trade, which may or may not be supported by some of the advertisers. In a global economy, the connections between diverse forms of trading activities often converge through mergers and acquisitions. EMI, the electrical manufacturer  and music company was, for instance, involved in the defence industry and was also involved with supply of  components for weapons systems to apartheid-era South Africa. The position of both the  Thatcher  government and the paper on sanctions against South Africa is well documented.

One of the Telegraph’s biggest advertisers is Cap Gemini who, among other things, are involved in the defence industry. Wars mean profits for companies associated with defence. A constant drip feed of Islamopbobic blogs and articles is a form of support for both the warmonger’s case and that of the defence industry. The Telegraph is owned by the Barclay Brothers who support the Conservative Party. The party is generally sympathetic to any form of action that is taken against what it sees as ‘enemies of freedom’, this includes Muslims many of whom Gilligan paints as “Islamists” or “Islamist sympathisers”. The latter reads like the Cold War term of abuse for civil rights activists and others as “useful idiots”, a phrase which has made an unwelcome return in the comments section of Gilligan’s blogs. Words like “dhimmitude” are bandied about to create a picture of a people cowed by an ‘alien’ religion. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The anti-Iranian propaganda campaign began sometime around 2005 or 2006. This article from Globalresearch is instructive,

Not only is the anti-Iranian propaganda based upon a brazen, historic lie but, if the western public were to know just what kind of military scenario is envisaged, would be seen as a terrifying imperial escalation in the kind of (nuclear) blitzkrieg tactics that the West and NATO are now prepared to use.

Of course I am not suggesting that Ahmadinejad or the rest of the Iranian state is not brutal and dogmatic. But how much of what is reported by the media with regards to Iran is factual and how much of it is made up? It is difficult to tell.

Gilligan’s latest blog is typical of the ongoing campaign of vilification of Muslims which it is hoped will form an image in the public mind that the only way to stop this ‘creeping Islamification of Europe’ is to wage war on Iran. While Gilligan doesn’t say this in his blogs, the underlying discourse is there.

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