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Shaun Bailey, Guido Fawkes And Faux Outrage: The Anatomy Of A Smear Story

Shaun Bailey: he isn’t what he seems

You can always tell when a narcissist is guilty of a crime or trying to hide something, because they’ll always resort to smears and character assassination in a desperate attempt to escape scrutiny or justice. And so it is with the Grenfell Tower fire and the Tories’ reaction to Emma Dent Coad’s report into the systematic neglect of council tenants by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. For her trouble, Dent Coad was accused of racism for describing Shaun Bailey, now Conservative AM (list) on the London Assembly, as David Cameron’s ‘token ghetto boy’ in a blog she’d written seven years ago (she’d actually quoted someone else who’d used it).  A non-story, you may think, but not as far as Paul ‘Piss’ Staines and his band of bottom feeders at Guido Fawkes were concerned. This was a ‘scoop’. I’ll return to Bailey later.

The BBC went with the story, which it sourced from the aforementioned scandal site (let’s face it, it isn’t a news site), while the other news outlets refused to touch it. Look, if anyone tells you that the BBC is ‘left-wing’ or ‘impartial’, just laugh at them and walk away. Okay? But sourcing a ‘news’ story from Guido Fawkes is a new low. Broadcasting House has become an embarrassment; it’s become a house of ill-repute.

On the face it, it would seem Guido Fawkes has undergone a Damascene conversion to the cause of anti-racism. Not a bit of it. Because if you trawl through their content, you’ll see very little, if any, desire to attack racism. In fact, it engages in sly racism itself, and if it isn’t doing that, it’s using anti-racism as a Trojan horse to attack the Tory Party’s enemies – like it did last week. The Tories have a lot to hide and they don’t like being exposed to scrutiny. By the way, what happened to the police investigation into Damian Green and Charlie Elphicke? How about Christopher Heaton-Harris? It’s gone a bit quiet.

Tories and their right-wing allies will usually get indignant when you call out their racism. Sometimes, their racism is couched in the language of racial pseudo-science to make it appear as ‘common sense’. Toby Young, for instance, will cite Charles Murray, one of the co-authors of The Bell Curve, which claims, among other things, that black people have lower IQs than either white or Asian people.  And you thought that kind of nonsense had been confined to the dustbin of history along with phrenology? If only. Such ideas are now enjoying an undeserved renaissance among right-wing thinkers (sic), who are desperate for any kind of academically plausible narrative to justify the socially-constructed concept of ‘race’, and to counter accusations of racism within their ranks. By the way, the IQ test is no indicator of intelligence or intellect.

During the London Mayoral election campaign of 2008, Bozza was forced to apologize for condoning an article written by notorious racist, Taki, while he was editor of The Spectator. No racism in the Tory Party? Don’t kid yourself.

Now the Tories may point to their four or five black MPs and tell you that they’re not racist. It’s worth pointing out that none of these MPs have been elevated to cabinet rank, and in The Cat’s view, using these black MPs to rebut criticism of Tory racism is nothing less than tokenism. That’s a cue to return to Shaun Bailey, a man so ambitious, he’ll even claim that the use of the word ‘tokenism’ is racist.

Bailey, who was named ‘Big Society ambassador’ by David Cameron, has featured on this blog twice. Both times in connection with his charity, My Generation, which was wound up in 2012. This occurred after Bailey failed to submit accounts for two years running. However, the reason given for the failure of My Generation was ‘funding‘. The Third Sector website says:

The charity, which was established in May 2006 to support young people in deprived communities and had an income of £292,000 in 2009/10, was removed from the register of charities on Monday.

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said in a statement: “The charity’s trustees cited funding problems as the reason for the charity’s dissolution”.

My Generation’s operations were then passed to Only Connect and the now defunct Kids Company, which was run by rather fragrant personality of Camila Batmanghelidjh. Third Sector again:

Bailey said a job club run by the charity, which had 420 members,  would close down but all of the charity’s other services would carry on. Some would be run by Only Connect, a charity running crime-prevention programmes, and others would be run by Kids Company, he said.

Kids Company was wound up in 2015 after it failed to secure funding and later became the subject of an investigation by the Metropolitan Police. Child abuse being among the charges.

In 2010, Bailey was chosen to be the Conservative candidate for Hammersmith in the General Election. Some would say that he was parachuted in. The Tories thought that by selecting Bailey, he would appeal to black working class voters.  In this Guardian article, which includes a now removed video, Dave Hill observed Bailey’s use of language:

“Keeping it real,” with “my boys”? Do such demonstrations of street lingo and savvy really help Bailey’s cause? Did that pronouncement about what black people want and the accusation that Labour thinks it “owns” them endear him to black voters who saw it? After all, there might just be a reason why black Londoners (and black Britons generally) have historically tended to vote Labour, such as a judgment that Labour has always shown more concern for them. Is Bailey suggesting that black voters are daft?

Fawkes’ and Bailey’s agitation over being called a “token ghetto boy” is a classic example of the kind of faux outrage that’s typical of a Tory smear. The Guido article bore the sensational headline “Hate-filled and Racist”. Yeah, whatever.

In the same article, Hill discusses the donations that poured in from wealthy Tory backers:

It is, after all, an unusual kind of social underdog who, at pushing 40, enjoys the financial and campaigning support Bailey’s received. I’ve already mentioned the £15,000 given to Hammersmith Conservatives last autumn by Caroline Nash, wife of the venture capitalist John Nash (himself a major contributor to Tory funds). A longer look at the Electoral Commission’s register of donations shows that Nash also provided the party with £10,000 in September 2008.

Other donors include the City headhunter Julian Sainty (£5,000, also in September 2008) and financier Edmund Lazarus, who had previously given £22,500 to Boris Johnson’s mayoral campaign and was awarded a seat on the board of the London Development Agency by Johnson soon after his election victory. Another interesting contributor to the Bailey cause is Hammersmith and Fulham councillor Greg Smith, who is also the borough’s cabinet member for Crime and Street Scene.

Bailey’s campaign literature is described at its foot as “promoted” by Smith, who defines himself in his register of interests as a “self employed political and marketing consultant.” In his entry Smith also discloses masonic lodge memberships and that he is Director of Campaigns for the Young Britons Foundation, the radical, “Conservative madrasa” whose training programmes for youthful Tory activists have been the subject of coverage by The Guardianrecently. The YBS lists Smith on its website as also being its co-founder.

That’s the same Greg Smith, who succeeded Stephen Greenhalgh as leader of the Conservative group on Hammersmith and Fulham Council. That’s the same Greg Smith, who was a member of the Young Britons’ Foundation. Smith was replaced by Joe Carlebach in June 2017. It was obvious that the Tories thought by selecting Bailey and pumping hundreds of thousands of pounds into his campaign, he could easily win the seat. In the end, he trailed behind Andy Slaughter by a little over 3,000 votes.

Back to Dave Hill’s article. He concludes:

Today’s story in The Times about “a discrepancy in the accounts” of his charity, My Generation, will not be helpful to him in this regard. Slaughter has jibed that Bailey’s cv looks rather thin and journalists have noticed that he’s declined to appear at two hustings that weren’t to his taste (although he’s agreed to attend one on Thursday). There is a perception, fair or otherwise, that he’s being a bit too closely protected. It may be that Bailey will have to tell Hammersmith a little more about himself than he has so far if he’s to do the job his “boy” Dave so urgently requires of him.

Interesting. No?

Here’s a link to a video that was passed to me on Twitter. Note how Bailey claims, in not too many words, that black voters will vote for him because he’s black.

Bailey’s attitude to poor voters was quoted by George Eaton in the New Statesman.

If you have a group of people that think that one government will advocate for them and one won’t, of course they’ll vote that way. And that’s the fight for the Conservatives ‘cos that’s why inner-city seats are so hard to win – because Labour has filled them with poor people.

Yeah, God damn those poor people. They always get in the way.

In this article by Fraser Nelson in The Dictator The Spectator, which cites Sir Norman Bettison, the disgraced former Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, he quotes Bailey at the 2008 Tory Party conference, offering up a common trope about young women getting pregnant to get a council flat:

 “Gals getting knocked up to get housing? It’s a cottage industry where I come from.”

Charming.

Shaun Bailey is little more than a political chancer. He’s taken the well-trodden route from being a charity worker (he claims ‘community activist’) to becoming a (failed) prospective parliamentary candidate to becoming a list Assembly Member for the Greater London Assembly. The latter has been used a stepping stone to the Commons by Tory and Labour politicians alike.

Bailey is more than happy to use his ethnicity for political purposes. Moreover, the Tories were, and still are, quite happy to promote skin (sic) tokens in an effort to deflect criticism of the racists within their party. Indeed, it would be reasonable to argue that the Tory commitment to anti-racism is only skin-deep. In fact, racist Tory politicians are given a quick slap on the wrists and are welcomed back.

When the Tories say they’re tackling racism, don’t believe them. It’s all an illusion.

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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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Grenfell Tower: A Question Of Management

The tragic, but avoidable fire at Grenfell Tower in Notting Dale, West London has raised a number of questions about the management of council properties, the quality of building materials and governmental oversight. We don’t know the actual cause of the fire as investigations have yet to be conducted. One thing is for certain, council tenants deserve a better deal and they’re not getting it.

Ask most council tenants who they want to manage their housing and they’ll almost always tell you “the council”. I used to work in housing and I spoke to many tenants, some of them were faced with having a Tenant (or Resident) Management Organisation (TMO/RMO) or ALMO (Arm’s Length Management Organisation) forced upon them. When I used to work for Lambeth, one estate, the Blenheim Gardens Estate was on the brink of being transferred. The tenants were being promised all sorts by the council and many of these promises came to nothing.  There are plans to transfer the estate to an Housing Association.

TMOs, RMOs and ALMOs tend to be a stepping stone to an eventual stock transfer to a housing association like Peabody, or a private property management company like Pinnacle. In either case, tenants get a raw deal. They may discover that the terms of their tenancies have changed or the quality of estate management declines.

Grenfell Tower is managed by Kensington and Chelsea TMO. Like the rest of Kensington and Chelsea’s housing stock it was transferred to the TMO in 1996.  The Grenfell Action Group have made numerous complaints to KCTMO about fire safety, which have all been ignored. The block itself has recently been refurbished at a cost of £8.7 million, but many believe that the quality of materials used for the building’s cladding are responsible for the blaze.

The Tory government  also failed to carry out a fire safety review of tower blocks. The minister responsible, Gavin Barwell, apparently “sat on the report”. The Independent reports:

Gavin Barwell failed to give the review the green light during his tenure as housing minister, despite it already having waited for years.

The fire expert behind a report calling for the desperately needed safety appraisal, said he had spoken to Mr Barwell earlier this year and the then-minister told him no decision on the review had been taken.

The bottom line is that councils will usually ignore the concerns of tenants in order to save money. Kensington & Chelsea Council is Tory-controlled, so it comes as no surprise that they transferred the management of their entire housing stock to KCTMO, who have been described as a ‘mini mafia’. Scum sucking parasites is what they are.

The Tories are no friends of council housing and Hammersmith and Fulham councillor, Harry Phibbs, sees tower blocks like Grenfell Tower as “vertical slums”.

During his time as mayor, Boris Johnson, closed fire stations. He was warned of the potential consequences.

The Tories must also take a large measure of the blame for failing to act when they had a chance, and for the cuts they’ve imposed on local authorities in the name of deficit reduction.

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