Posts Tagged ‘John Humphries’

Kenneth Surin on Media Bias, and the Tories Feasting while Millions Starve

April 21, 2017

Kenneth Surin, one of the contributors to Counterpunch, has written a piece giving his analysis of the obstacles facing Jeremy Corbyn in his battle with the right-wing media, the Blairites, and the Tories. He points out that the tabloids, with the exception of the Mirror, are solidly right-wing, or owned by the very rich, who will naturally be biased towards the Tories. The Groaniad is centre, or centre-left, but its hacks are largely Blairites, who will attack Corbyn. He suggests that some of this vilification comes from the fact that Corbyn is not a ‘media-age’ politicians, but speaks as ordinary people do, rather than in soundbites. He makes the point that the Tories have copied Blair in trying to promote a Thatcherism without Thatcher’s scowls and sneers, and so Labour has no chance electorally if it decides to promote the capitalist status quo. He notes that Labour lost Scotland to the SNP, partly because the SNP placed itself as rather more Social Democratic than Labour. As for Labour ‘rust-belt’ heartlands in the Midlands and North of England, he thinks their dejected electorates now find UKIP and its White nationalism more palatable. He also states that the less educated working class, abandoned by Labour’s careerist politicians, also find UKIP more acceptable.

He suggests that if Labour wants to win, it should have the courage to abandon Thatcherism, and also attack the millionaires that invaded the party during Blair’s and Miliband’s periods as leader. These, like the Cameron’s Chipping Norton set, are obscenely rich when 8 million people in this country live in ‘food-insecure households’. And he goes into detail describing just what luxurious they’re eating and drinking too, far beyond anyone else’s ability to afford. Artisanal gin, anyone?

He also recommends that Labour should embrace Brexit, as this would allow the country to get rid of the massive hold a corrupt financial sector has on the country.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/20/the-uk-general-election-corbyns-vilification-and-labours-possible-fight/

I agree with many of his points, but profoundly disagree on others. Promoting Brexit won’t break the dead hand of the financial sector over this country. Quite the opposite. It’s being promoted by the financial sector because it will allow them to consolidate their stranglehold on the British economy by making the country an offshore tax haven for plutocratic crims.

I also think he overestimates the electoral strength of UKIP. Since Brexit, they’ve been on their way down and out. Many of the people, who’ve voted Leave have since been aghast that they won. They only wanted to give the establishment a nasty shock. They did not really want to leave Europe. Also, UKIP at heart was a single-issue party. Alan Sked founded them to oppose European federalism. Now that the Leave campaign succeeded – sort of – they’re struggling to get votes, and have been going through leaders as though it was going out of fashion. They have tried to pick up votes through some very unpleasant racist and Islamophobic policies and statements by their leading members. This has contributed to a disgusting rise in racist incidents. However, UKIP’s electoral base tend to be those aged 50 and over. The younger generations are much less racist and prejudiced against gays. Please note: I realise that this is a generalisation, and that you can find racist youngsters, and anti-racist senior citizens. Indeed, it was the older generation that did much to change attitudes to race and sexuality in this country. So the demographics are against UKIP. Racism and White nationalism also won’t save them from defeat, at least, I hope. The blatantly racist parties – the BNP, NF, British Movement and the rest of the scum – failed to attract anything like the number of votes or members to be anything other than fringe parties, often with trivial numbers of members. One of the contributors to Lobster, who did his doctorate on the British Far Right after the 1979 election, suggested that the NF only had about 2000 members, of whom only 200 were permanent. Most of the people, who joined them were only interested in cracking down on immigration, not in the intricacies of Fascist ideology. Also, many right-wingers, who would otherwise have supported them, were put off by their violence and thuggery. One of the Tories, who briefly flirted with them in the early ’70s quickly returned to the Tory party, appalled at their violence. Since then, the numbers of people in the extreme right have continued to decline. As for UKIP, even in their heyday, their strength was greatly – and probably deliberately – exaggerated. Mike and others have shown that at the time the Beeb and the rest of the media were falling over themselves to go on about how wonderful UKIP were, they were actually polling less than the Greens.

But I agree with Surin totally when it comes to throwing out once and for all Thatcherism and its vile legacy of poverty and humiliation. He’s right about the bias of the media, and the massive self-indulgence of the Chipping Norton set.

Surin writes

The context for analyzing this election must first acknowledge that the UK’s media is overwhelmingly rightwing.

Only one tabloid, The Daily Mirror, avoids hewing to rightwingery.

Of the others, The Sun is owned by the foreigner Rupert Murdoch, known in the UK for good reasons as the “Dirty Digger”.

The Nazi-supporting and tax-dodging Rothermere family have long owned The Daily Mail.

Richard “Dirty Des” Desmond (the former head of a soft porn empire) owns The Daily Express.

A Russian oligarch owns The Evening Standard.

Of the so-called “quality” newspapers, only The Guardian is remotely centrist or centre-left.

All the other “quality” papers are owned by the right-wingers or those on the centre-right.

Murdoch owns The Times, basically gifted to him by Thatcher, who bypassed the usual regulatory process regarding media monopolies to bestow this gift. The Times, which used to be known in bygone days as “The Old Thunderer”, is now just a slightly upmarket tabloid.

The tax-dodging Barclay brothers own The Daily Telegraph.

Another Russian oligarch owns The Independent.

The BBC, terrified by the not so subtle Tory threats to sell it off to Murdoch, and undermined editorially by these threats, is now basically a mouthpiece of the Tories.

This situation has, in the main, existed for a long time.

The last left-wing leader of the Labour party, Michael Foot, was ruthlessly pilloried by the right-wing media in the early 1980s for all sorts of reasons (including the somewhat less formal, but very presentable, jacket he wore at the Cenotaph ceremony on Remembrance Sunday).

Every Labour leader since then, with exception of Tony Blair, has been undermined by the UK’s media. Blair’s predecessor, Neil Kinnock, was derided endlessly by the media (“the Welsh windbag”, etc), even though he took Labour towards the right and effectively prepared the ground for Blair and Brown’s neoliberal “New Labour”.

***
Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, has been vilified ever since he was elected as party leader by a percentage higher than that achieved by Blair when he was elected leader (59.5% versus Blair’s 57% in 1994).

The disparagement and backbiting of Corbyn has, alas, come from the Blairite remnant in his party as much as it has come from the Conservatives and their megaphones in the media.

But while this is to be expected, a powerful source of anti-Corbyn vituperation has been The Guardian, supposedly the most liberal UK newspaper. Its journalists– most notably Polly Toynbee, Jonathan Freedland, Suzanne Moore, Anne Perkins, and Owen Jones– have done as much as Murdoch to undermine Corbyn.

To some extent this viciousness on the part of the Blairite faction, and its media acolytes, is understandable. Corbyn, who voted against the war in Iraq, believes Blair should be in the dock of the international court at The Hague for war crimes. The Conservatives, always a war-loving party, want no such thing for Blair, even though he defeated them in 3 general elections. Blair however is a closet Conservative.
***
Labour needs to go on the attack, on two fronts especially.

The first is Thatcher’s baleful legacy, entrenched by her successors, which has been minimal economic growth, widespread wage stagnation, widening inequality as income has been transferred upwards from lower-tiered earners, mounting household debt, and the extensive deindustrialization of formerly prosperous areas.

At the same time, the wealthy have prospered mightily. Contrast the above-mentioned aspect of Thatcher’s legacy with the world of Dodgy Dave Cameron’s “Chipping Norton” social set, as described by Michael Ashcroft (a former Cameron adviser who fell out with Dodgy Dave) in his hatchet-job biography of Cameron. The following is quoted in Ian Jack’s review of Call Me Dave: “Theirs is a world of helicopters, domestic staff, summers in St Tropez and fine food from Daylesford, the organic farm shop owned by Lady Carole Bamford”.

The Tories and their supporters are partying away as a class war is being waged, and Labour has been too timid in bringing this contrast to the attention of the electorate: the Chipping Norton set feasts on Lady Carole’s organic smoked venison and artisanal gin (available to the online shopper at https://daylesford.com/), while UN data (in 2014) indicates that more than 8 million British people live in food-insecure households.

“New” Labour did have a credibility problem when it came to doing this– Ed Miliband had at least 7 millionaires in his shadow cabinet, and another 13 in his group of advisers. So, a fair number of Labour supporters are likely to be connoisseurs of Lady Carole’s luxury food items in addition to the usual bunch of Tory toffs.

The austere Corbyn (he is a vegetarian and prefers his bicycle and public transport to limousines) is less enamoured of the high life, in which case the credibility problem might not be such a big issue.

Organic, artisanal food, holidays in St. Tropez, helicopters, smoked venison – all this consumed at the same time as Dave and his chums were claiming that ‘we’re all in it together’. We weren’t. We never were.

And remember – many members of the media, including people like Jeremy Clarkson, were part of the Chipping Norton set. And some of the BBC presenters are paid very well indeed. Like John Humphries, who tweeted about how he was afraid Labour was ‘going to punish the rich.’

As he is benefitting from a massive shift in the tax burden from the rich to the poor, it’s fair to say that he, and the wealthy class of which he is a part, are literally feasting at the poor’s expense. Furthermore, the affluent middle and upper classes actually use more of the state’s resources than the poor. So Labour would not be ‘punishing the rich’ if they increased their share of the tax burden. They’d only be requiring them to pay their whack.

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Vox Political: Owen Smith Insults Voters with Mental Health Problems

August 24, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a couple of stories today on the outrage Smudger has caused with a tweet sneering at the mentally ill. Smiff tweeted that with him ‘you won’t have some lunatic in charge of the Labour party’. Mike states that as someone, who has known many people with mental health problems and has blogged about the considerable obstacles they face, he cannot find words to describe his opinion of Smudger.

Many others weren’t shy of showing their feelings towards Smiff for this insult. Mike gives a few of their comments in his article. They state that such comments about the mentally ill should be unacceptable. Several of them are by people, who suffer from mental illness, and who therefore feel personally insulted by Smith.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/23/owen-smith-has-just-banged-the-final-nail-in-his-campaigns-coffin/

Smudger has realised the offence he’s caused, and tried to explain it away. He appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme, where John Humphries asked him if that made him unsuitable for the Labour leadership. Smudger told Humphries that he was talking about himself, not Jeremy Corbyn, and that it did not make him any the less suited for the leadership of the Labour party. He was sorry for any offence, and would have to be a bit less colourful about his language in future.

Mike comments drily that it’s too late.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/24/owen-smith-says-he-was-the-lunatic-does-that-make-it-any-better/

I think it’s very clear that Smudger wasn’t talking about himself when he used the term ‘lunatic’. The tweet was ‘With me, you won’t get a lunatic as head of the Labour party’. He is stating very clearly that he isn’t a ‘lunatic’, so the epithet must refer to someone else. It could, of course, refer to no-one in particular, but considering the insults heaped about Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as ‘Trots’, ‘rabble’, ‘dogs’ and so on by the Blairites, it’s reasonable to assume he was referring to Jeremy Corbyn, or someone from the Left like him.

As for the outrage it’s generated, I’m not surprised. Depression and anxiety are on the rise, caused by austerity. The situation has become much worse for those with mental health issues through the stress of the Work Capability Test introduced by Tony Blair. The professional body representing medical health professionals – doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, have stated that the stress of taking the tests has made their condition worse for 290,000 mentally unwell people, sometimes seriously so. Mental health services are being cut as the NHS services are rationed as part of the government’s privatisation of the NHS. There are extremely long waiting times for those with depression to see a psychiatrist. Students are also at risk of developing mental health problems. It’s been estimated that about 1 in 4 of them will suffer from depression at some point. Again, I can’t say I’m surprised, given the increased pressure to get a good degree, and faced with a mountain of student debt. Again, partly caused by Blair and Mandelson, when they decided to introduce tuition fees.

Faced with a government and Blairite faction in the Labour party that is at best indifferent to the needs of the mentally ill, those with such problems and their carers are bound to be outraged by Smudger’s apparent contempt.

Government Cuts: The BBC Defends their Bias

January 11, 2014

Who Needs Cuts

I’ve just started reading Who Needs the Cuts, by Barry and Saville Kushner, published last year by Hesperus Press. It’s a fascinating book, written in straightforward, uncomplicated language by two professionals in the political sphere. According to the blurb, Barry Kushner is a regeneration consultant supporting organisations working in the third sector, and now a city councillor in his home town of Liverpool. Saville Kushner is professor of Public Evaluation at the University of Auckland, who has written widely on democracy and public knowledge and worked for a short while for UNICEF in Latin America.

In the first chapter, Barry Kushner describes what moved him to begin researching the issue of the government cuts, and led to the two brother actively campaigning against them. It came from him attending a meeting of a ‘Children with Disabilities’ planning group in a town in the north-west of England, which he had been brought in to support. The group had been set up to bring together the parents of disabled children, and government officials and care providers as part of Labour’s Aiming High for Disabled Children. The group had hoped to build a respite centre to allow parents and carers a break from the strains of looking after their children. At the last minute, Kushner was informed that the project had been cancelled thanks to Gideon George Osborne’s cuts, and Kushner was given the unenviable job of telling the parents this. Not only was Kushner upset by the sudden cancellation of this much-needed facility, he was profoundly dismayed by the way the parents themselves, who had put so much into getting the project going in the first place, where left crushed and defenceless against the politicians’ story that there was simply no alternative to the cuts. He remarks on how easy it was for all the hard work that had been put in giving parents the confidence to come together to work for improving things for disabled children and their carers to be destroyed in a matter of moments.

Also driving Kushner in his campaign was his experiences at Croxteth Comprehensive school in Liverpool, where he had been a teacher during Maggie Thatcher’s infamous reign in the 1980s. Croxteth had been one of the most deprived areas in the country, and the school was scheduled for closure. The parents and teachers responded to the news by occupying the school and taking it over. Three years later they won their campaign, and the school was saved. In 2009 Kushner attended a reunion of everyone, who had been involved in the occupation. One of those he met was ‘Sean’, who had been ‘a cute, mischievous’ boy of 11 when it all happened. Sean was now forty, and had just come of the drugs he’d been on for the past 22 years. He went through one of the photographs showing the other kids, who were at school during the occupation. At least seven of these children were now dead.

The Kushner’s state that the story that the cuts are necessary is extremely flimsy indeed, and compare it to Joe McCarthy’s tactics during the Communist witch-hunts in the US. McCarthy’s evidence of Communist infiltration was just as a extremely flimsy. At meetings he claimed to have a list of Communists, waving a bunch of papers that were supposed to have their names. In fact, he had no such list and in many cases those papers were completely blank. This tactic nevertheless cowed the press and much of officialdom into blandly accepting his specious claims. The Coalition, and Labour politicians like Alistair Darling, who also took on board the supposed necessity for the cuts, similarly have little real evidence to back up their claims, and are resorting instead to scare tactics. This, unfortunately, has been remarkably effective, with the even the victims of the cuts, like the parents in the above meeting, unable to rebut the arguments. It has left the nation defenceless against an austerity programme several times more severe than previous retrenchment programmes. The book is their response to these specious claims, and has arisen from their own campaign against it, which has led them to speak up and down the country, including in my own home town of Bristol.

It’s an excellent book, and I hope to post a full review, giving some of their arguments against the cuts in due course.

What strikes me now, having posted about the BBC’s right-wing bias, is the Kushner’s description of the way the BBC has promoted the line that the cuts are necessary. They note that there are numerous economists, who have stated that the cuts are not necessary, and that growth, when it occurs, will wipe out the debt. These other voices are either totally ignored by the mainstream media, or else relegated to a footnote. The Kushner’s wrote to some of the journalists and programme managers pushing this line, like the BBC’s economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, and Evan Davies. In her report for 9th of September 2011, Flanders claimed that the poor economic growth from which the country was suffering was due to good weather, the Japanese tsunami and the royal wedding. When she was asked why she didn’t mention that the slump in retail sales and manufacturing along with the redundancies caused by the cuts were also having an effect, and that consumer confidence was at an all-time low, Flanders gave the following reply:

‘We were providing the explanation provided by the ONS, the independent statistical body. If this was not emphasised yesterday, that was simply because there were other things to focus on in a 2.5 minute package, and the broad political and economic arguments about austerity are now so well understood by our viewers’. As Private Eye responds, when given similar brush-offs, ‘So that’s alright, then’. The Kushners note that her role in the BBC was news analysis, not reporting. Her actions in simply regurgitating the ONS’ view was more in line with her previous job as advisor and speechwriter to Larry Summers. They also note that she had also worked with the US treasury secretary as he led the deregulation of the banks, that ‘unleashed the whirlwind of mortgage-backed securities, credit default swaps, sub-prime mortgages and over-leveraged banks that sit behind the whole debt issue’.

Barry Kushner also states that they attempted to make their points known by writing into the BBC and the Guardian, sending a series of emails and taking part on phone-ins on the radio. They stated repeatedly in their correspondence and telephone calls that ‘although the BBC’s coverage reflected the political consensus it did not reflect the broader economic analysis represented by numerous economists and people on both sides of the political spectrum… We begged the question, doesn’t the BBC have duty to do this?’ They received the following reply from a senior executive at BBC News:

‘The Editorial Guidelines state that we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented. However, reflecting a broad range of views is not the same as giving equal weight to all shades of opinion and nor are we required to give totally comprehensive coverage.’

They state that this attitude appears to be shared by journalists, even when they know that their analysis is incomplete. They wrote a letter to Evan Davies after he interviewed Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey. This, they state, was far more severe than anything he had dished out to Danny Alexander, George Osborne or the other government ministers. They wanted to know why this was so, and why Davies had prevented McCluskey from elaborating on his argument and why he had not subjected government ministers to a similarly intensive grilling. As an example, the Kushners state they wanted to know why ministers were not required to explain the significance of the low level of national debt and borrowing on their planning for the cuts? The Kushners have already made the point that despite the hysterical claims of the politicos, the national debt is at its lowest for 200 out of 250 years. The argument that somehow these cuts are necessary to pay of this massive national debt is nonsensical.

Davies replied: ‘I personally think there are arguments to be made for not dealing with the deficit at the moment. Indeed there are arguments for monetising it too. But these need to be set out by those who assert them, not by me.’

To which they comment: ‘So Evan knows the answers, but won’t tell us what they are? Aren’t journalists supposed to use their knowledge and experience to ask more intelligent, searching questions?’ From the book’s description about the way Davies prevented McCluskey from developing his arguments further, it’s actually worse than that. Davies clearly knows the opposing arguments, but not only does he not feel it is his job to present them, he is actively obstructing those who do.

Commenting on my last post about BBC right-wing bias, Anna listed a number of BBC journalists with right-wing connections, like Nick Robinson, who used to be part of the Union of Conservative Students. It’s clear from reading Who Needs the Cuts that the BBC, like much of the rest of the media, is actively promoting the Coalition’s flimsy message that the cuts are somehow necessary almost unquestioned. The book notes that both Andrew Marr and John Humphries have started interviews with politicians stating that the cuts are necessary, ‘but..’, and that this political message is so prevalent that it has turned Question Time into a ‘cutsfest’. The executives at the BBC and their Tory allies won’t suffer from the cuts, however, although the Tories are dangling the prospect of freezing the license fee and privatisation in front of the Beeb to make it come to heel whenever it appears to get a bit uppity. The people who really suffer are us, including disabled children and their families, and the deprived kids being denied a proper education, and left to die of drugs and squalor like those Barry Kushner taught in Croxteth. They’re the real casualties. And the Beeb won’t be reporting on them any time soon.

The Kushners lament that we are going back to Maggie Thatcher and her policy of cuts in the 1980s, though without the massive opposition she faced – they were also active on marching against her – or even Spitting Image. It was in the 1980s that I remember the issue of the Conservative bias of the news media was raised with a vengeance. One of the best comments on it was ‘News of the World’, by the Clash, now used as the theme music for the Beeb’s satirical news quiz, Mock the Week. If we’re going back to the ’80s, we may as well enjoy some classic rock. Enjoy!