Posts Tagged ‘Lady Olga Maitland’

‘I’ Newspaper: Rail Franchise System Not Working and Needs to be Changed

February 27, 2019

I found this report in the I newspaper on our country’s failing rail network. The article states that a recent report has found that the current system of rail franchising doesn’t work and cannot continue as it is. The article, ‘Rail franchising ‘no longer delivers clear benefits’, on page 4 of today’s paper, 27th February 2019, by Neil Lancefield runs

Britain’s rail franchise system no longer delivers clear benefits and cannot continue in its current form, according to the man leading an official review of the network.

Keith Williams told industry leaders that operators were not adapting to changing consumer demands.

The contracting out of passenger services has drawn heavy criticism, with some contracts failing and customer complaints rising. The rail industry has said it accepts that the status quo cannot continue.

Mr Williams was appointed by the Government last year to lead its “root-and-branch” Rail Review. Speaking in London, he said: “I have heard a great deal about the franchising model… driving growth in passengers and benefits to services.

“But with this growth, the needs of passengers have changed, while many of the basic elements of our rail system have not kept pace. Put bluntly, franchising cannot continue the way it is today. It is no longer delivering clear benefits for either taxpayers or farepayers.”

Mr Williams said the current “one-size-fits-all” approach to franchising did not work for every part of the UK and every passenger. Delivering the annual Bradshaw Address, named in honour of George Bradshaw, the author of Victorian railway guides, he added: “I believe for the railway to be successful it needs to put passengers at its heart.”

His comments came as MPs warned that rail passengers faced “another difficult year”, with further timetable alterations and more engineering works.

Okay, this isn’t a condemnation of rail privatisation, but of the way the franchise system, in which they are given to private operators, is managed. The attitude seems to be that if this was fixed, then everything would work perfectly. As Williams says, he has heard a great deal about how franchising has driven growth in passengers and benefited service.

This is absolute rubbish. I’ve seen no evidence that privatisation has been behind the growth in passengers or brought any benefits whatsoever. You could speculate that any growth in passenger numbers may be due to a variety of factors, like the increasing cost of running a car, difficulties finding a parking space, traffic congestion and delays and other factors such as the ban on drink driving. As for the benefits of privatisation, the British taxpayer is now paying more in subsidies to the rail network than it did when it was all under state ownership as British Rail. And the service is actually worse. It was almost 20 years ago, when I remember talking about it to a rail engineer. It was bad then, and is now even poorer. We have seen one train company after another fail, and have to be taken back into public management. Unfortunately, this doesn’t last, and that section of the rail network is almost inevitably given to another wretched private rail company. Services are being axed, as in so much of the service industries, in order to boost shareholder dividends and executive pay.

It is not the franchise system that is failing, but privatisation. There is a growing movement to see the railways renationalised, and even Tories like the wretched Lady Olga Maitland have backed it at times. Labour have pledged to it, and this is one of the party’s policies that is immensely popular. But this is too much for the corporate establishment, which clearly wants to try and preserve this part of Thatcher’s grotty legacy – though the railway was actually privatised by John Major – as long as it can.

Rail privatisation, like the rest of Thatcherism, is a dismal, utter failure. Get rid of it, get rid of the Tories and renationalise them. And get Corbyn into No.10.

 

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Branson Denies Corbyn Forced to Sit in Corridor on His Train

August 25, 2016

Mike also put up a couple of posts this week about another controversy to hit Jeremy Corbyn. A few months ago the Labour leader released a video of him sitting in the corridor while travelling by Virgin Trains, Richard Branson’s rail franchise. Now Beardie Branson has released footage apparently showing Corbyn walking past empty seats. Of course the right-wing media has leapt on this, as Mike says, as it appears to show Corbyn is lying.

But Mike in his first article asks his readers who they’re prepared to believe – Branson, or Corbyn and the people he was travelling with? Since the video was released, other passengers have come forward confirming Corbyn’s story that the train was indeed ‘ram-packed’. Mike also points out that the video shows Corbyn walking past reserved seats, and that it is known that the train company upgraded other people to first class, after they realised he and his companions were on the floor.

He also makes the point that Branson has every reason to dispute the Labour leader’s account. Corbyn has said that he wants to renationalise the train network. Branson would lose out if this occurred, quite apart from the fact that his section of the rail network has not improved to the extent that is actually required. See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/23/who-do-you-believe-about-corbyns-train-trip-the-profit-making-rail-company-or-the-politician-set-on-re-nationalisation/

In a further article, Mike quotes Steve Walker, who knows this area of the law better than him, to point out that Beardie Branson and the Beeb may have broken the Data Protection Act by showing the footage. There is nothing in the law which allows such footage to be used by a company to defend its reputation, and by putting it on YouTube and then giving to the Beeb, both Branson and the Beeb may have broken the law, and specifically the provision against using footage that specifically shows one individual.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/23/did-virgin-trains-break-the-law-by-releasing-cctv-footage-of-jeremy-corbyn/

Yesterday the ‘I’ joined in the right-wing attack on Corbyn, running the headline ‘Corbyn’s Train Seat Campaign Derails’ on the front page, with a photo of Corbyn walking past apparently empty seats. Here’s the photo.

Corbyn Train Pic

If this is supposed to show that Corbyn was lying, it has not done so. All the seats in the picture are reserved, as can be seen from the paper tags fixed to them.

And regardless of whether Corbyn was right about this specific journey, he is right in calling for the trains to be renationalised. The train service is now more expensive in public subsidies, and more efficient than it was in the last days of British Rail. I’ve been on train journeys, where I’ve been forced, with others, to sit in the corridor because the train is literally jam-packed. And there are frequent delays. On the rail network stretching from the south-west of England up to Scotland, for example, there are a frequent delays of anything from a few minutes to well over an hour regularly. Privatisation hasn’t, and isn’t working. Even Olga Maitland, the very Tory peer, wrote a piece in the Mail a few years ago recommending that the trains should be renationalised.

Back to Censorship with the Tories

June 6, 2015

One of the reforms now being mooted by the Tories is the introduction of legislation to allow the Broadcasting Standards Authority to intervene in a possibly controversial or offensive programme before broadcast. This is, of course, censorship, and the Tories are well aware of what a hot potato this issue is. Mike’s already reported on his blog over at Vox Political the reaction of Sajid Javid, who has apparently raised some objections to it. It’s ‘apparent’, as Mike considers that Javid’s objections are merely cosmetic formalities. The decision has already been made, but the Tories are presenting a fa├žade of objections in order to stave off criticism that they are all in favour of it.

In fact, sections of the Tory party have for some time now bitterly objected to what they see as appallingly lax, permissive standards on television and the theatre. A few years ago, one of the High Tories with either the Daily Mail, the Spectator or possibly the Telegraph, wrote a piece declaring that British society had been wrecked by the evil Roy Jenkins. Why Roy Jenkins, of all people? After all, Woy was hardly some Marxist or other radical Left firebrand, determined to destroy capitalism. He was one of the founders of the SDP. Some idea of his character can be seen in Gerald Scarfe’s description of him as having ‘a good claret face’.

Nevertheless, the Tory right despises him as the personification of the very worst aspects of the Sixties. It was Woy Jenkins as home secretary in the 1960s, who ended censorship in the theatre, legalised homosexuality and removed the property qualification for jury service. This meant that all kinds of ‘orrible filth was allowed on stage, to the consternation of Mary Whitehouse and the other members of her Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association. The judiciary became soft of crime, because the great unwashed now allowed to judge whether defendants were guilty in the courtroom were not respectable householders, and so had no interest in defending property rights. And most heinous of all, gays were allowed the freedom to indulge their sexuality in the privacy of their own homes, instead of being arrested and properly punished for the threat they posed to society.

Looking back, the restrictions on what was considered suitable for performance, either broadcast, or on stage, was quite severe. Michael Bentin, one of the Goons, said in his one man show, From the Sublime to the Paranormal, way back in the 1990s that the Beeb’s regulations forbade them from making jokes about the following:

The monarchy

Disability

The colour question

‘Effeminacy’ in men

and they couldn’t blaspheme.

They remembered all this through the mnemonic ‘My God, said the Queen, I do believe that one-eyed N*gger’s a poof’. According to the regulations, this would be the single most unbroadcastable sentence possible.

Of course, this censorship became increasingly untenable as popular attitudes changed and traditional authority came under increasing questioning, not least during the satire boom. Ways could be found for entrepreneurs to get round the statutory requirement for theatres to submit their scripts to the Lord Chamberlain for approval before they were staged. And the restriction’s became increasingly anachronistic and absurd. Peter Cook in an interview with Clive James back in the 1990s gave an example of just how absurd and unworkable they were. One of the plays he staged at his club, The Establishment, began with the line ‘Enter three terrible old queens’. Obviously, this violated the prohibition against the portrayal of homosexuals. The script came back covered in blue pencil. They then changed the line to ‘Enter three aesthetic young men’. This, however, was deemed completely accepted and duly passed.

The lifting of those restrictions thus prepared the way for the portrayal of racism and discussions of racial issues in Til Death Us To Part, with Alf Garnett on TV and the extremely camp characters, Julian and Sandy, on the radio comedy series, Round the Horne. Their sexuality was never clearly stated in English, but they spoke in Parlary, the language of actors and the gay underground. And if you understood that, then it was. There were numerous lines about men being ‘omee palones’. ‘Omee’ is the Parlary word for man. ‘Palone’ meant woman, and ‘Omee palone’ was the term used to mean a gay. So, provided you knew the lingo, it was pretty much in front of you all the time, even if the BBC never dared to say it quite outright.

As for the increasingly questioning attitude towards authority, this appalled members of the older generation to the extent that twenty years after it was broadcast, the BBC’s foremost political journalist and broadcaster, Robin Day, still declared That Was The Week That Was ‘deplorable’ in his autobiography, Grand Inquisitor, when it was published in the 1980s. The Tories would dearly love to drag the country back to situation before 1968/9, when there was due to deference to the monarchy and established authority, and the airwaves were full of clean, wholesome family entertainment without the sex and violence that they feel is destroying the British family and sending crime figures shooting up.

It’s highly debatable how far the reactionary Right can turn the clock back to the 1950s. Homosexuality is still bitterly opposed and hated in some sections of British society, but it’s been so widely accepted elsewhere since the 1980s that the Tories have been forced to support gay marriage. Weirdly, even UKIP, which has viciously attacked gay rights, has now gone so far as to want to take part in a gay price march in London. Society generally has accepted premarital sex and the depiction of nudity and some sexual activity on TV – as long as it’s broadcast after the watershed, that it’s hard to see how an outright ban on this could ever be possible or be seen as anything other than ridiculous. Quite apart from the fact that viewers are able to see sexually explicit and violent movies on DVD or the internet in their own homes, and in films at the cinema.

This doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some standards, especially when dealing with sex and extremely controversial topics like race. It does mean that the standards have moved so far since the days of censorship that its return would be difficult, unpopular and probably so riddled with complications, contradictions and exceptions as to be unworkable. One example of the latter was the prohibition of the Thatcher government against directly broadcasting statements by terrorists in their own voices. It was introduced to prevent organisations like paramilitaries in Northern Ireland and their associated political parties, like Sinn Fein, from gaining ‘the oxygen of publicity.’ So the TV companies simply resorted to voice actors imitating their voices while quoting their statements. The policy then had to be abandoned, because some of the impressions of the terrorists and their politicians, like Gerry Adams, were so good that they were actually indistinguishable from the people themselves.

And even before the policy was finally abandoned, it was spoofed and something of a laughing stock. The Day Today, the BBC spoof news show, which was the precursor to Chris Morris’ classic and highly controversial comedy, Brass Eye, sent up the restrictions in one edition. This featured an interviewed with a supposed Irish Republican politician, who, ‘in accordance with government broadcasting requirements’, was required to breath helium to make him sound as ridiculous as possible when giving his statement to journalists.

Moreover, any mention of censorship by that very term is extremely controversial. Way back in the 1980s or ’90s the British Board of Film Censors decided to change its name to the British Board of Film Classification as something that sounded much better and far less authoritarian. It’s interesting that the new legislation to allow the Broadcasting Standards Authority to intervene before broadcast has not been described as such. Nevertheless, censorship is what it is.

There is, of course, a much more sinister aspect to the Tories’ planned reintroduction of censorship. They’d like to have complete control over the news before its broadcast, to manipulate its content and control public attitudes. News analysts and media watchers have already noted that the BBC in its reportage is biased towards the Tories, but this isn’t enough for them. Any criticism, not matter how mild, is always denounced as evidence of the Beeb’s liberal bias. This is particularly self-serving when one considers how many of those making the denunciations have connections to Murdoch, who would dearly love the BBC to be reduced, privatised or completely abolished so he could grab some of its broadcasting action.

Private Eye have also published pieces pointing out just how many journalists from the Right-wing press, and associated in particular with Cameron, have gone off to work for the Beeb, contradicting the claims of the Telegraph and Times that there is a revolving door between the Beeb and the Labour party. This is, apparently, shown by the appointment of Andrew Marr as one of the Corporation’s leading political journalists. He is a member of the ‘left-wing’ establishment, as he was editor of the Independent, before taking up his position at the Beeb way back in the 1980s.

Thatcher’s government in particular acted at least twice to try and prevent the broadcast of critical programmes, or destroy the broadcasting companies that did. These were the programmes, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’, an edition of the Beeb’s documentary and current affairs series, Panorama, and the ITV programme, Death on the Rock. ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’ annoyed the Tories because of its claim that they had been infiltrated by members of the extreme Right, such as the National Front, in order to radicalise it further, similar to the way the Labour Party had been infiltrated by the Marxist Militant Tendency. They therefore tried all they could to stop it being shown. Death on the Rock was about the shooting of a squad of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar as they were preparing to attack a British army base. The programme alarmed and angered Maggie as it showed that there was no need for the shooting of the terrorists. They had been under observation at almost every point in their journey to the Rock, and could have been picked up and arrested safely, with the minimum of violence, at a number of times before their final battle with the British army. This wasn’t a defensive battle, but a staged execution of the terror squad, intended to punish the IRA and send a clear message that future attempts at terrorism would be dealt with the same way. It also seems to support the allegation of Colin Wallace and others, published by Lobster, that special SAS squads had been embedded in the British army in Northern Ireland in order to carry out similar executions of Nationalists.

Thatcher, however, denied that the shooting of the IRA terrorists in Gibraltar was anything of the sort. She and her cabinet were so annoyed at the programme that the ITV broadcaster lost its licence, and was replaced instead by Carlton. The very name of that company recalls the Tories’ Carlton Club in London, and suggested their political allegiance, or at least compliance, with Maggie’s demands. Despite Maggie’s denials, Lady Olga Maitland later gave the game away in her biography of the Iron Lady published later, where she said that the terrorists were shot as a punishment, rather than killed from self-defence.

And if the Tories were upset and tried to ban hostile programmes, they also harbour long grudges about programmes supporting them which the Beeb didn’t broadcast. Every so often you can read one of the Tory journos griping in the Daily Heil or one of the other rags about the Beeb’s bias in not broadcasting a play about Maggie and the Falklands War. This had a pro-Thatcher perspective, and included a scene showing her crying about the squaddies, who had been killed by the Argentinians in the conflict. I find it hard to believe that Maggie shed any tears for anyone, except herself and her immediate family, but this might be right. Either way, it was not broadcast, and the Tories have bitterly resented this and used it regularly as a cudgel to beat the BBC for its supposed left-wing bias ever since.

If the Tories manage to get their way with the new broadcasting bill and its provisions, you can expect their control of the media to be more or less absolute. Mike and many of the other left-wing bloggers have pointed out how protests are not reported by the BBC, or given minimal, grudging coverage. This included a massive demonstration of tens, if not hundreds of thousands, outside the Beeb’s own doorstep. This will only get worse with the Tories’ plans for the Broadcasting Standards Authority to act before broadcast. There will be even less hostile or oppositional coverage of the Tories and their policies, and instead much more programming supporting them. Of course, this could ultimately damage the established broadcast media, as more people would turn to the internet, and foreign news channels to get an idea of what was going on here. It’s happened already, in that Russia Today and the Iranian Press TV have already given extensive coverage to protests and demonstrations against the Coalition and their cuts, which the Beeb and British broadcasters have done their best to ignore as far as possible.

The political dimensions to this new censorship won’t be introduced explicitly. Instead, it’ll be like Cameron’s proposed legislation trying to censor the internet. It’ll be promoted and set up under the pretext of protecting impressionable Brits from porn and other objectionable material. The Daily Mail will no doubt celebrate it as the return of proper protection for the vulnerable children watching TV. Nevertheless, it will come in. The Tories will do what they normally do, and lie and deny that it is censorship, but this will be exactly what it is. And another British freedom will have been destroyed to make the world safe and profitable for them and their corporate backers.

Bernard Ingham, the Press Office under Thatcher and Mussolini and the Fascist Spin City

August 11, 2013

All regimes to a greater or lesser extent have attempted to manipulate public opinion to their own ends. A curiously modern example from the Middle Ages is the use of political ballads against Henry VI’s wife, by his opponent, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the father of the infamous Richard III. Richard had been England’s Lord Protector, governing the country. reacting to the king’s incompetence and weak-mindedness, Richard launched a political campaign against him. Political ballads attacked the queen as a ruthless, foreign princess, intent on conquering and oppressing her husband’s lands while misleading him as to her intentions. He and the king’s supporters also launched campaigns against each other in parliament, culminating in a general election, as well as fighting each other on the battlefield. Although a medieval conflict, the Wars of the Roses also appears strikingly modern, almost like the founding archetype of the coups that have been staged since. Richard III at one point even made speeches from the balcony, like great 20th century dictators like Mussolini.

Informal Influence over the Press in Democracies

During the 20th century much of the control of the press in the democracies was informal. Presidents and prime ministers arranged press conferences and dinners with sympathetic press barons. There were censorship rules, that could be invoked in times of national crisis, such as laws against the dissemination of enemy propaganda during First and Second World Wars. Some of the restrictions on what was printed in the press was simply through the personal relationship between the editor and the family of leading politicians. At the Cheltenham Festival of Literature one year, the British caricaturist Gerald Scarfe told the story of how one of his early cartoons was spiked by the editor of the Times. It was of Winston Churchill in his final period as an MP in parliament during his declining years when the powers that had inspired the country to keep on fighting during the War were fading. Scarfe said that at the time Churchill was senile, and the cartoon showed him at the end of the green benches, asleep and drooling. The Time’s editor rejected it on the grounds that it would upset the great man’s wife, Clemmie, when she opened it at breakfast in the morning.

Bernard Ingham and Thatcher’s Press Office

This relationship with the press changed slightly when Mrs. Thatcher established a press office under Bernard Ingham. Now Ingham strongly rejects the description of himself as a spin doctor. Nevertheless, as Maggie’s press officer he institutionalised the government’s manipulation of the news and public opinion in a way previous administrations had not. This in turn prepared the way for its expansion under Peter Mandelson during Blair’s government, and the consequent use of spin and propaganda by the governments following them.

Rigid Control of Press in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy

Totalitarian regimes are notorious for their absolute control of the press and media to garner mass support. In Hitler’s Germany, they were placed under the control of Josef Goebbels, the ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment’. This prompted the satirical joke, said with one eye looking over the shoulder for the Gestapo, that the Goeb was the minimum amount of power required to turn off 100,000 radio sets. Despite the Nazis’ claim that they were enthusiastically supported by the great German public, you can gather from this what that public really thought of their leaders’ rantings.

Control of the press in Mussolini’s Italy was similarly strict. Under a law of 1924, an area’s prefect could warn any editor who ‘damaged the credit of the nation at home or abroad’, ‘aroused unjustified alarm in the public’, and published ‘false or tendentious news’. Editors were also at risk if they published material inciting class hatred or urged disobedience to the law. An editor that was warned twice could be dismissed from his post by the prefect. Another decree gave the prefects the right to sequestrate the issue of a particular paper that had broken the above rules. Originally this legislation was used only against the Socialist and Communist press and papers that had very small circulations. In 1925 it was expanded against the last remaining liberal newspapers. Mussolini tried to encourage the newspapers to adopt a friendly attitude towards to his regime. When this failed, official censorship increased, while the newspapers’ proprietors were threatened with forcible closure and the destruction of their equipment. Under Alfredo Rocco, the former leader of the Nationalists and Mussolini’s Minister for Justice, a corporative Order of Journalists was set up. This was under the control of the Commissione Superiore alla Stampa, composed of other journalists, rather than magistrates. Despite Rocco’s claim that the Commissione ‘realizes both the autonomy of the class and its link with the State’, he himself appointed its members and the Order as a whole was an instrument for controlling the journalists. No journalist, who was not on its rolls was allowed to practise his profession. Stalin used a similar organisation to control writers in the Soviet Union. This was the Writers’ Union, which had actually been founded to protect literature and the press from control by the old tyrant. From 1927 to 1928 there was a sustained campaign in Italy to purge the press of non-Fascist journalists and editors. By the end of the 1920s two-thirds of the newspapers outside the major cities were owned by the Fascist Party. At the same time, the magazines and newspapers published by the individual local Fascist groups, the federations or the Fasci, were reduced by Mussolini’s brother, Arnaldo, for greater economy and to make their control by the central Fascist organisations easier.

Censored Subjects in Fascist Press

In September 1928 the regime issued new guidelines detailing what newspapers were and weren’t allowed to print. All news was intended to be optimistic and present the regime in a positive light. Newspapers were ordered to give minimal coverage to rail disasters, bank failures and air crashes. Journalists were to treat natural disasters ‘with great sobriety’. Mussolini himself decreed that the crime column should be ‘demobilized’, especially stories of suicides, tragedies of passion, violence and child molestation. Editors were also banned from publishing photographs of nude or scantily clad women. I wonder how the Right-wing tabloids like the Sun, Star, Daily Mail and so on would cope under a Fascist dictatorship, considering that much of their content consists of photographs of nude or scantily clad women, and in the Sun, a hysterical campaign against paedophiles in which innocents were targeted and persecuted.

Informal Control of Press by Mussolini; Purchase of Newspapers by Industrialists for Fascist Regime

In other ways, however, the Fascists’ control and manipulation of the press was much more subtle. From 1922 to 1924 this was done informally. Il Duce’s Press Officer, Cesare Rossi, arranged deals in which private financiers sympathetic to the regime bought up opposition newspapers. The radical Milan newspaper, Il Secolo, was purchased for the regime by a group of industrialists headed by Borletti and Cesare Goldmann. Another newspaper, the Corriere Italiano, founded by the regime, was financed by consortium consisting of Fiat, Ilva, Terni, and the shipping magnate, Odero. This approach was discredited in the crisis following the regime’s assassination of the dissident philosopher, Matteotti, in exile Marseille. This revealed the sordid intrigue surrounding the Corriere Italiano and its companion Fascist paper, Nuovo Paese. In the unrest that followed, the headquarters of opposition newspapers were occupied by Fascist squads, and were only allowed to resume publication after submitting to the orders of the local Fascist ras.

In fact simple economic reasons meant that the party and the government could not afford to own and control all the Italian newspapers and magazines. The most important Italian papers thus remained in the hands of the private owners and industrialists, who held them long before the Fascist seizure of power. These proprietors continued to use them to influence the government’s economic policy and secure favours from the regime.

Pre-Fascist Staff Retained under Fascism

There was also some continuity with the pre-Fascist press, in that the regime permitted newspapers and magazines to retain their previous, non-Fascist staff, provided they did not produce material criticising the regime or its policies. Indeed, Mussolini appears to have intended to present some degree of political pluralism. He allowed the trade union newspaper, Il Lavoro, to resume publication in Genoa after it had been closed down. Il Lavoro was the paper of a group of CGL leaders that had capitulated to the regime, and continued to employ a number of well-known opponents of the regime. Mussolini appears to have kept it going in order to appeal, unsuccessfully, to the working class.

Press Office as Institution Common to Thatcher’s Britain and Fascist Italy

While the control of the press by the Italian Fascists was extreme, there is some comparison to the situation in today’s early 21st century Britain. Following Mrs. Thatcher and Bernard Ingham, subsequent British administrations have employed a Press Office like Mussolini and Cesare Rossi. Favourable coverage by the press has been seen as vitally important. From Blair onwards, the government has been sensitive to projecting a positive image through press barons such as Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre of the Mail. These industrialists have similarly been active, like the right-wing press baron Alfred Hugenberg in Weimar Germany, to build up massive media empires presenting their view of current events with an eye to influencing government policy. One former member of Blair’s cabinet said that Murdoch was a quiet presence at all the premier’s cabinet meetings, meaning that Blair was constantly concerned what Murdoch’s reaction to his policies would be.

Grant of Newspapers and Broadcasters by British Governments to their Supporters

Like Mussolini, Mrs Thatcher and subsequent prime ministers also have been active to ensure that particularly important newspapers were owned and acquired only by their supporters. Mrs. Thatcher made sure that the Times and other newspapers were bought by Rupert Murdoch, rather than the left-wing, and corrupt, Robert Maxwell. Blair and his cronies also waved through the acquisition and merger of various satellite firms by Murdoch despite concerns that this set up a dangerous monopoly, concerns that were also raised when Richard Desmond, the owner of the Express, purchased Channel 5. Mrs. Thatcher also acted to support the press barons in their destruction of the print unions, when the press finally moved out of Fleet Street after centuries of occupation.

‘Death on the Rock’ and Thatcher’s Closure of London Weekend Television

Equally significantly, Thatcher acted to close down a TV company that did not follow her line on the killing of a group of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar. According to Private Eye, the Prime Minister was angered by the World in Action documentary, Death on the Rock. The IRA squad in question had travelled to Gibraltar in preparation for an attack on the British army there. The documentary presented evidence that the security services had had the squad under surveillance the whole time they were preparing for their attack. It stated that there had been numerous occasions where the terrorists could have been stopped and arrested without, or with minimal bloodshed. This was not done, and the entire squad was shot dead in what appeared to be an extra-judicial killing. In short, rather than straightforwardly protecting the servicemen and women stationed on the Rock, the SAS had acted as a Death Squad. Lady Olga Maitland said as much a few years later in her biography of Thatcher, when she declared that the purpose of the exercise was to send a sharp message to the IRA.

This is a strong and highly contentious claim. Now the IRA and the other terrorist groups in Ulster were responsible for acts of horrific violence against innocent civilians and members of the security services that left hundreds killed or mutilated, and showed little remorse or compassion for their victims. Most Brits supported the armed services in their campaign against them. There is, however, a line in such military campaigns that cannot be crossed by a democratic regime governed by human rights. This is what prevents nations with a proud democratic tradition, like Britain, from descending into arbitrary government and gun law like the South American Right-wing dictatorships. World in Action argued that this line had been crossed. World in Action was produced by London Weekend Television, which as a result lost its broadcasting license. This was granted instead to their competitors, Carlton, whom Thatcher obviously felt could be relied on to produce more positive coverage.

Conclusion: Increased Government Control of Media and Decreasing Political and Social Freedom in Post-Thatcher Britain

The result is that the freedom of the press in contemporary Britain is far more fragile than it appears. Mussolini was unsuccessful in gaining absolute control of the press, but was also concerned to present the semblance of pluralism. Press diversity in contemporary Britain is also coming under increasing pressure. Newspapers and magazines are increasingly owned by a very few proprietors, who see to it that their monopolies are protected and expanded by the governments of the day. In return, they support a Right-wing agenda that demands further privatisation, the suppression of working class political organisations and the curtailment of welfare benefits and the eventual dismantlement of the welfare state. Finally, broadcasters that present evidence of flagrant government violations of human rights will be penalised and closed down. Perhaps the difference is that in Mussolini’s Italy, it was a case of private industrialists aiding an extreme Right-wing state. In post-Thatcher Britain, it’s an extreme Right-wing state aiding its industrialists. The gap between freedom and tyranny is increasingly a fine one.

Sources

‘Press’, in Philip V. Cannistraro, ed., Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport Connecticut, Greenwood Press 1o9i82) 437-40.

Adrian Lyttelton, The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929, 2nd Edition (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1987) 394-400.

Colin Richmond, ‘Propaganda in the Wars of the Rose’, History Today, July 1992, 42:12-18.

‘Toadying the Line’, reviews of Margaret Thatcher: The First Ten Years, Lady Olga Maitland (Sidgwick & Jackson); Margaret Thatcher: The Woman Within, Andrew Thomson (W.H. Allen), in Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994) 224-5.