Posts Tagged ‘Quentin Letts’

The Social Hierarchy that Makes Prejudice towards Some Minorities More Acceptable Than Others

May 9, 2018

Way back on April 23rd, Mike also wrote an article commenting on the near complete media silence over islamophobia in the Tory party, contrasting this with the furore over the supposed anti-Semitism in Labour. Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi had appeared on Robert Peston’s programme to state that islamophobic incidents and rhetoric were almost weekly occurrences in the Tory party. The only news outlet that reported Warsi’s statement, which not even Peston himself commented on, was RT. Which shows just how much we need the Russian-owned broadcaster and supposed ‘propaganda outlet’ to correct the massive bias in our own media.

Aleesha, a Muslim female blogger and political activist, who talked about the massive increase she’d seen in Tory islamophobia, but which went unnoticed and unremarked by the media, and which no one was condemning or acting against. She discussed the vehemently islamophobic comments of the Tory MP, Bob Blackman, Zac Goldsmith’s campaign for the post of mayor of London against Sadiq Khan, and the official EU Leave campaign, which said that Europe has an ‘exploding Muslim population’.

Aleesha further asked

“Why is nobody acting? I have been blocked by Tory councillors and Tory MPs when I call islamophobia out. Why are these MPs and councillors supporting islamophobes? It makes me think that the Tory party has an actual problem with islamophobia, not to mention the dozens of times I’ve been religiously abused by Tories.

“Are we just going to ignore it? When will we give these cases the rightful outrage? Islamophobia is absolutely normalised in British politics and nobody is really doing anything about it. The silence from our politicians shows their inability to act and their legitimation/endorsement of these views. Are we going to act, or are we going to do nothing and let MPs like Bob Blackman host more extremists in Parliament?”

Mike ended his article by referring back to Baroness Warsi’s comments, and concluding that the real reason islamophobia is being ignored is because the Tories love it.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/04/23/sick-of-labour-anti-semitism-lets-talk-about-tory-islamophobia-instead/

As Mike has pointed out repeatedly, racism of all types, including islamophobia, is far more prevalent amongst the Right, including the Tories, than the Left and the Labour party. But the media aren’t commenting on it, and are playing up the supposed anti-Semitism in Labour for purely political reasons. They fear Corbyn’s Labour and its programme of ending neoliberalism, renationalising the NHS, part of the electricity grid and the railways, and restoring the welfare state. The Blairites in the Labour party and their allies in the Israel lobby also despise him, not because he is an enemy of Israel, but because he demands dignity and justice for the Palestinians. This also attacks traditional geopolitics in the region, where the West has supported Israel and Saudi Arabia against Russia and the surrounding Arab nations. As a result, the Tories, the media, the Israel lobby and the Thatcherite Labour Right, the Blairites, have all seized on the spurious allegations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and his supporters as a way of trying to unseat the Labour leader and marginalise and expel his supporters.

There are also a number of reasons why islamophobia is far also far more acceptable than other forms of racial prejudice. Colour prejudice is one factor. Most Muslims in this country are Black or Asian, and Muslims may also be seen as more foreign than other ethnic groups because historically they lay outside and beyond the European Christian mainstream. While there have been Muslim communities in parts of Europe, like Spain, the Balkans and Russia and the Baltic states since the Middle Ages, they were always marginal communities outside the European mainstream. Europe in the Middle Ages was Christendom. Muslim Spain was part of the Islamic world, as were the Muslim communities in the Balkans which were established after the region was conquered by the Muslim Turks. The Ottoman Turks were an aggressive, expansionary threat to the European Christian states up until the late 17th century. The massacres of Christians carried out by the Ottomans at the end of the 19th century, when the Greeks and Serbs fought their wars of independence, became notorious, and so contributed to this stereotype of Islam as an innately hostile threat. At the same time, the massacres carried by Christians against Muslims was little reported and did not provoke the same outrage.

There is also the legacy of British imperialism, and its conquest of part of the Dar al-Islam in the creation of negative views of Islam and its peoples, followed by the continued instability of the region after independence. The result has been that Islam and Muslims have continued to be seen as a threat completely opposed to Europe and the West. The stereotype has been reinforced by the rise of militant Islam following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Islamist terrorism and highly emotive campaigns by some Muslims in Britain, such as the Iranian fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the controversy over the Satanic verses, and the marches and demands for Pope Benedict’s death after he quoted a medieval Byzantine emperor’s negative comments about Mohammed.

And added to all this is Huntingdon’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis, which stated that after the collapse of Communism, there would be an inevitable conflict between the West and Islam. Huntingdon’s idea has been taken up by very many on the right, from the Republicans in America to UKIP, the Fascist and Nazi right in Britain and Europe, and now, it seems, a very large part of our own Conservative party.

But a few years ago, one right-wing writer also offered his own views on why prejudice against some minorities was more acceptable than others. He wrote

‘Is there, in effect, an unofficial pack of equality Top Trumps cards? In egalitarian Britain, who has the best minority credentials? They could go something like this:’

He then laid his scheme of how these cards would look as follows:

LESBIANS AND GAYS
Media Connections 9
Victim Status 4
Rarity Value 3
Fear Factor 6
Political/financial clout 8

MUSLIMS
Media Connections 4
Victim Status 6
Rarity Value 4
Fear Factor 9
Political/financial clout 4

JEWS
Media Connections 9
Victim Status 8
Rarity Value 6
Fear Factor 5
Political/financial clout 10

DISABLED
Media Connections 2
Victim Status 9
Rarity Value 8
Fear Factor 1
Political/financial clout 2

GURKHAS
Media Connections 7
Victim Status 5
Rarity Value 6
Fear Factor 9
Political/financial clout 4

TRANSSEXUALS
Media connections 1
Victim Status 3
Rarity Value 10
Fear Factor 2
Political/financial clout 3.

So who was the terrible person, who compiled this league table of marginalised groups? Well, actually it was Daily Mail sketch writer Quentin Letts, in his book Bog Standard Britain: How Mediocrity Ruined This Great Nation (London: Constable 2009), pages 115 to 117. They’re in the chapter ‘Bum Rap’, where he comments on the way the vile homophobia of some Caribbean rap lyrics are apparently considered acceptable, when Lynette Burrows was reported to the cops for homophobia when she questioned on the BBC the right of male gay couples to adopt baby girls. He concluded on this issue that

… it is hard to escape the conclusion that the police leave rap music alone because it has more minority value than the gay people it so charmlessly attacks. Lynette Burrows was collared because she was an easy target and because she was one of the majority. The rappers are more frightening and they have the political Scotchguard of victimhood.

But you could use his grading of the comparative power and victim status of various minority groups to argue that anti-Semitism is far more unacceptable than other forms of racial prejudice, because Jews have a greater victim status and political and financial power. If this came from someone on the left now, they would almost certainly be libelled as an anti-Semite. But there has been no such outcry against Letts. And I hope there isn’t, because I don’t believe he has written anything anti-Semitic.

There is some truth in what he writes, as the majority of Westerners are acutely aware of the long history of persecution the Jews have suffered in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust. Jews are also generally more integrated than some other groups, and Brits have a more positive attitude towards them. Only 7 per cent of Brits in polls say they are anti-Semitic. Many leading businessmen and media figures are Jewish, though this certainly does not mean that the vile conspiracy theories that claims Jews control business and the media are anything but murderous lies. And the anti-Semitic smears of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and the Jewish Leadership Council carry weight, because they are part of the Tory establishment.

Against this, there are still anti-Semitic attacks and harassment. Nazi groups, like the banned National Action in England and the Alternative Fuer Deutschland in Germany have made terrifying speeches calling for the murder and extermination of Jews. And many of those libelled by the Blairites, the Tories and the Israel lobby as anti-Semites are self-respecting Jews, whose only crime is that, like their gentile anti-racist friends and comrades, they support Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left.

Real, murderous anti-Semitism, like other forms of racism, still exists, and Jews have given their support to other marginalised groups suffering racial abuse in the West. The ADL, the American Jewish organisation dedicated to tackling anti-Semitism, for example, also came out in support of Muslims against Donald Trump’s immigration ban.

Thus, for a variety of historical, social and economic reasons, prejudice against some minorities, such as Jews, is far less acceptable than others, such as Muslims. But racial prejudice generally is far more common in the Tory party, and the current attacks on anti-Semitism in the Labour party has far more to do with politics than real anti-Semitism, as shown by the fact that so many of those smeared are genuinely anti-racist and Jewish.

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UKI Left on Possible Collusion between Dimbleby and Anna Soubry against John McDonnell on Question Time

September 20, 2016

Mike last week posted up a piece stating that John McDonnell, Corbyn’s second-in-command, did an excellent job of defending both himself and the Labour party leader on last Thursday’s Question Time, when all the panelists, including Alistair Campbell, Anna Soubry for the Tories, and someone from the SNP, decided to pile into criticise the Labour leadership. Strangely, the quietest of the panel was Quentin Letts, the parliamentary sketch writer for the Heil, who usually has much to say for himself. Amongst those piling in was Dimbleby himself.

Michelle, one of the great commenters here, posted this observation

The actual clip of Mcdonell on BBCQT is shown in this blog which also points out that there seemed to be a collusion between David Dimbley and Soubry re the Marxist accusation: https://ukileft.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/evidence-of-collusion-in-plain-site-between-bbc-and-anna-soubry/

The above blog came to my attention via the comments on The Canary’s post about the same programme ‘Last nights meltdown on BBC Question Time has provoked abdolute outrage.’

The piece linked to is at UK & International Left, which blogs on issues about a variety of left-wing organisations across the spectrum, from the Labour party to the Greens, to various forms of anarchism. The piece is a detailed analysis, with the relevant clip from the show, of the point where Soubry calls him a Marxist and insults him as ‘a nasty piece of work’ or some such. But she does so reading from a slip of paper, and after Dimbleby has commented on McDonnell being a Marxist. McDonnell states instead he’s a Socialist, but Dimbleby keeps on. And then Soubry joins in.

The piece argues that Dimbleby and Soubry had some kind of meeting beforehand, at which Dimbleby told Soubry he was going to raise the issue of McDonnell’s ‘Marxism’, and Soubry wrote it down, to use later.

Unfortunately, this is all too plausible. The Tory bias at the Beeb is becoming increasingly obvious, despite the bluster and denial by the corporation. Laura Kuenssberg, BBC news’ political editor, is the most blatant regular offender, but Nick Robinson and Andrew Neil have also been responsible for twisted reporting that would have delighted Goebbels. Way back in the debate over the Scottish referendum, for example, the Beeb cut the footage of Robinson asking a question of the former SNP leader, Alex Salmond. Salmond answered the question, but this was gradually cut in subsequent reports, until it vanished completely with Robinson stating that Salmond hadn’t answered his question. As for Andrew Neil, the former editor of the Economist and Sunday Times, Mike has put up a piece commenting on how the spectacular resignation of one of the Labour rebels from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet occurred on his Sunday Politics show, after Brillo had secretly prompted him beforehand.

I’ve already commented on how one Beeb journo wrote a piece in the Radio Times pondering whether the Corporation should try to keep its ratings by copying Fox News, the very blatantly right-wing news network in America. It looks like this is becoming very much their business model, despite their protestations of impartiality. As for Dimbleby, he comes from a line of newspaper proprietors, who, according to Lobster, did not allow unions at their papers. So you can’t really expect impartiality there, then.

Whatever the facts behind this episode of Question Time, the BBC is showing itself increasingly biased, as shown by the documentaries which have appeared, and no doubt are yet to appear, attacking the Labour leader and Momentum. If they think it will let them retain their viewers, they’re wrong. The majority of the audience of Fox News are late 60s +. Younger viewers are increasingly switching off and turning to the net. Just as they are and will with the corporation.

Vox Political on the Part-Privatisation of Channel 4

May 10, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a piece today about the government’s proposed partial privatisation of Channel 4 under John Whittingdale. The Torygraph has reported that the government has climbed down from privatising it fully, and instead are just looking for a ‘strategic partner’, like BT. They would also like the network to sell its offices in Westminster and move to somewhere like Birmingham. Its account should also be checked by the NAO, responsible for examining government expenditure, and they would like to change its non-profit status and see it pay a dividend to the Treasury. Mike points out that the network chiefs have taken this as stepping stone towards Channel 4’s full privatisation, and are deciding to reject it. Meanwhile, the Tories don’t want to privatise it fully, because they’ll get the same backlash from their proposals to sell off the Beeb. See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/10/only-part-privatisation-for-channel-4-as-tories-fear-another-bbc-style-backlash/

This is another barbarous government attack on public broadcasting in the UK. Channel 4 was set up in the 1980s to be a kind of alternative to the alternative BBC 2, and to cater for tastes and audiences that weren’t being met by the established channels. According to Quentin Letts in one of his books, Denis Thatcher thought this mean putting yachting on the sports’ coverage instead of footie, which shows the limited idea of ‘alternative’ held by Thatcher and her consort. Jeremy Isaacs, its controller, was proud of his outsider status as a Jew in the network, a status he shared with Melvin Bragg, a Northerner. He said that he wanted to put on the new, fledgling channel programmes on miner’s oral history, and performances of the great classics of Britain’s minority cultures, like the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. He also believed that people had ‘latent needs’ – there were things they wanted to see, which they didn’t yet know they did. He was widely ridiculed for his views. Private Eye gave a sneering review of the book, in which he laid out his plans and opinions, stating that all this guff about people’s ‘latent needs’ showed that he thought he knew more than they did about what people actually wanted. As for being an outsider, the Eye observed rather tartly that they were all outsiders like that now in broadcasting, swimming around endlessly repeating the same views to each other.

In fact, Isaacs was largely right. Quite often people discover that they actually enjoy different subjects and pursuits that they’re not used to, simply because they’ve never encountered them. The Daily Heil columnist, Quentin Letts, comments about the way the network has been dumbed down in one of his books, pointing out how good the networks cultural broadcasting was when it was first set up. The network was particularly good at covering the opera. I can remember they broadcast one such classical music event, which was broadcast throughout Europe, rather like the Eurovision song contest but with dinner suits, ball gowns, lutes and violins rather than pop spangle, Gothic chic, drums and electric guitars. The audiences for its opera broadcasts were below a million, but actually very good, and compared well with the other broadcasters.

As for its programmes aimed at the different ethnic minorities, I knew White lads, who used to watch the films on ‘All-India Goldies’ and the above TV adaptation of the Mahabharata. This last was also given approval by Clive James, one of the great TV critics. James noted it was slow-moving, but still considered it quality television.

The network has, like much of the rest of British broadcasting, been dumbed-down considerably since then. American imports have increased, and much of the content now looks very similar to what’s on the other terrestrial channels. The networks’ ratings have risen, but at the expense of its distinctive character and the obligation to broadcast material of cultural value, which may not be popular. Like opera, foreign language films and epics, art cinema and theatre.

Even with these changes, there’s still very much good television being produced by the network. From the beginning, Channel 4 aimed to have very good news coverage, and this has largely been fulfilled. There have been a number of times when I’ve felt that it’s actually been better than the Beeb’s. In the 1990s the Channel was the first, I believe, to screen a gay soap, Queer as Folk, created by Russell T. Davis, who went on to revive Dr Who. This has carried on with the series Banana, Cucumber, and Tofu. It also helped to bring archaeology to something like a mass audience with Time Team, now defunct. And if you look at what remains of the British film industry, you’ll find that quite often what little of it there is, is the product of either the Beeb or Channel 4 films.

And from the beginning the Right hated it with a passion. Well, it was bound to, if Denis Thatcher’s idea of alternative TV was golf and yachting, and Thatcher really wouldn’t have wanted to watch anything that validated the miners. And it was notorious for putting on explicitly sexual material late at night, as well as shows for sexual minorities, such as discussing lesbianism, when these weren’t anywhere near as acceptable as they are today. As a result, the Heil regularly used to fulminate against all this filth, and branded its controller, Michael Grade, Britain’s ‘pornographer in chief’.

And over the years, the various governments have been trying to privatise it. I think Maggie first tried it sometime in the 1980s. Then they did it again, a few years later, possibly under John Major. This surprised me, as after they privatised it the first time, I thought that was the end of it. Channel 4 had been sold off completely. It seems I was wrong. It seems these were just part privatisations. Now they want to do it again.

It struck me with the second privatisation of Channel 4 that this was an election tactic by the Tory party. Maggie had tried to create a popular, share-owning, capitalist democracy through encouraging the working class to buy shares in the privatised utilities. And for all her faults and the immense hatred she rightly engendered, Maggie was popular with certain sections of the working class. By the time the Tories wanted to privatise the Channel the second time, it struck me that they were floundering around, trying to find a popular policy. The magic had worn of the Thatcherite Revolution, Major was in trouble, and so they were trying to bring back some of the old triumphs of Thatcher’s reign, as they saw it. They needed something big and glamorous they could sell back to the voters. And so they decided to privatise Channel 4. Again.

They want to do the same now. But the fact that they’re looking for ‘a strategic partner’ tells you a lot about how things have changed in the intervening years. This is most definitely not about popular capitalism. Most of the shares held by working people were bought up long ago by the fat cats. In this area, the Thatcherite Revolution has failed, utterly, just as it has in so many others. This is all about selling more of Britain’s broadcasting industry to the Tory’s corporate backers. Much of ITV is owned by the Americans, if not all of it, and Channel 5 certainly is. What’s the odds that Channel 4 will stay British, if it too is privatised?

And so we can look forward to a further decline in public broadcasting in this country, as it more of it is bought by private, and probably foreign, media giants. Quality broadcasting, and the duty of public broadcasters to try and expand their audiences’ horizons by producing the new, the ground-breaking, alternative and unpopular, will suffer. All for the profit of the Tory party and their big business paymasters.

TYT on Trump Supporters Vicious Tweets against Megyn Kelly

February 2, 2016

This shows not just how vile the man’s supporters are, but it also reflects badly on their leader’s own appalling attitude to women. In this piece from The Young Turks, anchor Cenk Uygur talks about the genuinely hateful tweets Megyn Kelly’s received from Trump’s supporters. They’ve called her everything from ‘Bimbo’ to ‘bitch’, ‘slut’ and end with a word so foul I can’t repeat it here.

And all this is because she dared to ask Trump about his own disparaging comments about women. The Turks’ show this here, and although Trump tries to laugh it off, it is a reasonable question. Moreover, as the Turks themselves have repeatedly said, Kelly was actually on his side. When she asked the question, she follows it up with another question about how he would react to the Democrats using it against him. Which is a fair point.

But it’s too much for Trump, who can’t stand criticism, fair or otherwise, no matter how sugar-coated and sympathetic. And so there was the petulance and foot-stamping of his refusal to appear on the Fox News debate, because it was to be moderated by Kelly, and then the sheer venom of his supporters.

There are a number of different aspects to this. The first is the misogynist hatred that comes out of certain corners of the Web, designed to silence women. Mary Beard, the classical historian, was subjected to all kinds of misogynist abuse after her comments denying that immigrants were flooding and destroying various towns in the north of England. In response she made a programme on BBC 2, Shut Up, Dear, about the attempts to silence women’s voices down the centuries.

And it’s not just women, who suffer horrendous abuse at the hands of anonymous posters on the Net. Quentin Letts, the parliamentary sketch writer for the Daily Mail, includes ‘Webonymous’, in his book, 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain. The anonymous tweeters and emailers of the Net are included, because there’s a level of vitriol and abuse in their messages which goes far beyond even those written by the cranks in green ink. No matter how insulting and poisonous they get, wrote Letts, they will at least end their missive with ‘Yours faithfully, X’. No such grace comes from the keyboards of the angry hordes on the Web.

And the Republican Party in particular has a problem with strong women, despite the fact that it’s produced some of the strongest and most powerful. It is the party of traditional masculine values, where men are rugged and tough, and women dutifully subordinate to their husbands. And some of the men in the Republican party are really intimidated by strong, independent women. Remember back in the 1990s when one Republican Party delegate, who I believe was a deranged pastor of some kind, said of Hillary Clinton that she was ‘the kind of woman who leaves her husband, turns to lesbianism, practices witchcraft and sacrifices her children’.

What?

From what I’ve seen of her, she seems just a dull, corporate politico. She’s undoubtedly efficient and highly intelligent, but she always struck me as being very measured in what she says. She’s very definitely not a crazed mouth on legs seething with hate and bile like Ann Coulter, and definitely not as outspokenly airheaded as Sarah Palin, all superpatriotism and booster clichés. I sincerely doubt that she’s got a Satanic temple in her basement, or is part of Wiccan coven in Salem or anywhere else. And the last time I looked, Chelsea was very much alive and well.

Joe Queenan back in the 1990s in his Radio 4 show, Postcard from Gotham, opined that most of the abuse Hillary Clinton got for being a tough, successful woman, came from men, who married to women like her. And since then, the attitude to women and women’s rights appears to have hardened, just as it has against Blacks and the disadvantaged generally. The Republican party have deliberately targeted ‘angry White men’, guys, who feel threatened by the social changes around them, which have seen them and their position in society come under competition from women, Blacks and other, traditionally marginalised groups. Hence the hostility to affirmative action programmes, the rising xenophobia, and the raving antifeminism coming from the Republicans and their supporters. And Trump reflects this poisonous mix of prejudices. He’s supposed to be a grade-A, super Alpha Male, ready to put women, Mexicans and Muslims in their place, for a better, traditional America of pure Republican Party values. And the result is a wave of pure hate from his supporters. Whatever they’re real socio-economic group and their place in the social hierarchy, they increasingly sound like angry trailer trash, ranting about the threat to society from Cultural Marxism, Hispanics, Blacks and Arabs. Sitting in soiled vests in dingy bars, sullenly nursing their pints and reminiscing about the good old days before all this political correctness and the girlie men now in charge, before staggering home to an evening of domestic violence.

Trump shares the same atavistic instincts of this crowd, but with all the smarm and polish of a slick politico and reality TV personality. He may wear a suit, but his followers see in him the same hatreds they have. And when he lets loose against a woman, they follow suit, with the same lack of restraint and all the poison, bile and spite the web can muster. We need statesmen, not ranting demagogues whipping up hate. And that’s why Trump should not be let anywhere near the White House.

Quentin Letts and the Tory Attack on Short Money

January 21, 2016

Last week or so Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece about the Tories wishing to abolish Short money. This is the funding given by the state to opposition parties. I’m not actually surprised the Tories want to get rid of it. They’re authoritarians anyway, who hate any kind of opposition. But I’m particularly not surprised they’ve decided to attack Short money, as it’s one of the issues criticised by Quentin Letts in his 2009 book, Bog Standard Britain (London: Constable and Robinson Ltd).

Letts is the parliamentary sketch writer for the Daily Heil. He’s been one of the panellists at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, and also on at least one edition of Have I Got News For You. Here’s what he has to say about it in his book:

Our political class has a horror of losing its perks. Nothing new. In 1970, soon after losing the general election, Harold Wilson was seen queuing for a taxi late one night outside the Members’ Entrance to the Commons. Friends of Wilson were distraught. A few days earlier he had been Prime Minister but there he now was, waiting for a cab like the rest of humanity. Instead of seeing this, as they should have done, as eloquent testimony to the ephemeral nature of elected office, Harold’s cronies secured him a state-paid limo and chauffeur.

We have been paying ever since for Leaders of the Opposition to be thus pampered. In 1974, having regained the premiership, Wilson returned the compliment by slipping the shadow cabinet a wad of public money. This ‘Short money’, named after Edward Short, the Labour minister who presented the proposal to Parliament, is now worth some £7 million a year to the Opposition parties. short money was given on the premise that an Opposition would be improved by having researchers who could prepare meaningful policies. It would result in better government. Nice one! In practice, Short money allows an Opposition to save its money for election campaigning. This creates an arms race of electoral fundraising which in turn results in dodgy donors being given undue pre-eminence over the political parties’ mass membership. Short money also allows Opposition spokesmen to keep large retinues which makes them feel important and saves them having to do so much thinking for themselves. Result: an overblow secretariat, lazy parliamentarians, hefty bills which have to be picked up by the taxpayer. Short money is an expensive con. All it has done is expand a professional political class. And all because socialist Harold’s friends thought it was improper that he should have to queue for a taxi. (pp. 219-20).

Letts’ party political bias is evident here. He despises ‘Socialist’ Harold Wilson, for having money given to him and his party after he left office. I’ve no idea whether the story about the limo and Wilson waiting at a taxi stand is true. I assume it is. But that’s not the reason the Tories want to get rid of it, nor is the explanation that it’s all about curtailing the bloated retinues and pomp of the political class. If that were the case, then Cameron would be happy to see greater clarity of the political process through the Freedom of Information Act, and by quite happy to see MPs’ expenses scrutinised by the press.

In fact, the opposite is the case. Cameron and his hand-picked cronies, including Jack Straw, are doing their best to rip the guts out of FOIA. They don’t like people challenging government decisions, and particularly not when it comes to MPs’ expenses. Hence the government got very huffy when the Independent asked for them under the Freedom of Information Act. Campaigners and journalists making such requests have been told that the Act is to allow people to understand how government decisions are made, not for them to challenge them. So shut up, run along, and do what we tell you. We’re back to the old slogan of Mussolini:

Believe.
Obey.
Fight.

As for forcing parties to rely on their grassroots’ members’ subscriptions, rather than contributions from wealthy donors, that’s a load of hogwash as well. The Tories are raking huge wads of cash from their backers in business, as well as corporate largesse from courtesy of lobbyists. And they have absolutely no interest in what their ordinary members have to say. The local, constituency parties have complains again and yet again that they are ignored at Westminster. The effect of corporate funding on the parties has been that they’ve all shrunk, both Labour and the Tories. The Tories are now under 100,000 members. That’s a massive fall for the party that was, not so long ago, Britain’s largest, with at least a quarter of million members.

They simple fact is that the Tories want to stifle the opposition anyway they can. And they’re trying to do it by starving them of funds. This explains the latest Tory attack on the union levy. And simply by their attack on the Freedom of Information Act, it seems to bear out that the Short money must actually be doing the task for which it was intended, namely, allow the Opposition to frame policies better. That’s clearly a danger as they’re trying to stop people using the Freedom of Information Act, not just by narrowing even further what may be released under it, but also by raising the fees charged.

This is clearly a very, very frightened government.

Well, if Cameron wants to play that game, then I suggest Labour also plays it too. Mike suggested that Labour should immediately cease any co-operation with the Tories, such as the pairing agreement, which states that if one Tory MP can’t make it to a debate, his Labour opposite number must be drop out as well. The Tories only have a majority of 16. Let’s make it impossible for them to govern.

Way back in the 1970s and ’80s, any government that consider cutting Short money could count on being told by the Mandarins in Whitehall that the policy was ‘very courageous’. Meaning, to those who used to watch Yes, Minister, that it was likely to lose them election. Let’s put that into practice, and make sure that it does.

Vox Political: Now Tories Want to Strip Benefits from Fat People

February 15, 2015

Fat Cameron

David Cameron, showing off the toned physique for which the Tory front bench is known.

Just when you thought the Tories couldn’t get any more mean-spirited, bullying and petty, they prove you wrong. Yesterday they announced that they would strip benefits from people they considered obese. Mike over at Vox Political has put up this story about it Tories say the obese should ‘lose weight or lose benefits’. Pot, kettle, black. It begins

The Conservative Party seems determined to sink itself into the deepest, blackest hole ever created by a political organisation for itself.

While other parties unveil attractive policies designed to bring voters onboard, the Tories have said they want to remove benefits from people they have decided are fat. Here’s the Independent story, and for good measure we’ll throw in the BBC‘s coverage too.

You might be thinking to yourself, why not? They’ve already attacked people on Jobseekers’ Allowance, ESA and DLA as scroungers; they’ve pushed pensionable ages back by years; and they’re about to attack people who are on pensions, already. Why not continue proving what a bunch of spoiled little schoolboys they are by picking on fatties as well (oh, along with druggies and alkies)?

Perhaps because, as ‘Neti’ pointed out on Twitter: “Medication can mean that people gain weight and not be overeating.”

He notes that the British Medical Association attacked the plans of Westminster Council to deny overweight people benefits on these grounds in 2013 as ‘draconian’.

He quotes David Cameron as saying of this new Tory strategy:

“It is not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept the support and treatment that could help them get back to a life of work,” he said.

The good folk of the Twitterverse are much less impressed. One of these is John Wight, who commented that it was ‘a wheeze designed to appeal to the smug middle classes’.

The Social Snobbery of the Slave Owners

It is. And it shows the arrogance, the preening sense of superiority of Cameron and his crew, as they sneer at those they consider to be physically as well as socially inferior. And lying even further underneath is the assumption of the feudal elite that we are chattels, and they should have absolute control of our bodies as well as our labour.

Private Eye published a revealing piece of gossip about the sneering mentality of the Tory grandees towards the plebs back in the 1990s. One of their contributors or spies had been at the special dining hall set up for the very rich at the Cheltenham Festival that year. This was lavishly laid out with the very finest cordon bleu cuisine. In the room at the time was one of the Tory bigwigs. I’ve got a feeling it was Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mud, but I can’t be sure. The Tory looked out of the window at the rest of the crowd below, eating the meals they’d bought from the burger stand. ‘Oh, look at all those people with their little bits of plastic,’ he sneered.

It’s the same mentality. “Oh, look at all those fat chavs! They clearly don’t eat their greens, and especially not those specially picked and cultivated by elite chefs somewhere in Tuscany or the Vale of Evesham. And they don’t know what balsamic vinegar is! How dreadful!”

butterball001_jpg

Hellraiser’s ‘Butterball’: Not known to be a relation of Eric Pickles

Now this is, of course, as Mike points out, deeply hypocritical considering the physiques of many of the Tory party. Like Nicholas ‘Fatty’ Soames, or Eric Pickles, who looks to me like nothing less than the ‘Butterball’ Cenobite from Hellraiser. And whatever it is about, it’s really not about getting the nation healthy or back to work.

The Alternatives: Changing British Shopping and Food Labelling

There are ways you could get people to eat healthier food by changing the way people shop and work. One suggestion was to label very clearly the fat content on foods, so that people were aware of just how many calories they were putting in their bodies. One other suggestion was to levy a ‘fat tax’ on fatty, unhealthy foods, like pizzas, fish and chips and so on.

You could also encourage people to eat better by bringing back local shops close to where they live, rather than supermarkets to which they have to drive. This was brought out in one of the series with Jamie Oliver, where he went to one of Britain’s fattest cities to encourage the townspeople there to lay off the chicken McNuggets and eat their greens and muesli instead. One of the mothers he enlisted in his campaign actually burst into tears about this. She bought her kids KFCs and McDonalds, not because she was lazy, but simply because that was all she could afford. She could not afford to travel outside her area to go to the supermarket to buy the super-healthy greens and foods Jamie was recommending.

The Poor, Depression and Diet

And there’s also another, emotional reason why the very poor and the unemployed eat fatty foods: they make you feel better after another depressing, dispiriting day. This was discussed again back in the ’90s by the American broadcaster and columnist, Joe Queenan, and his guests on the Radio 4 show, Postcard from Gotham. This was the time when the news had just broken that America had an obesity epidemic. They noted that, in contrast to Britain and Europe at the time, America really was the ‘land of plenty’, where the food portions were massively bigger. But they were aware that the poor ate badly because of the miserable condition of their lives.

Cutting Fatty Foods and Resistance from the Food Industry

Now the last thing the Tories actually want to do is start putting taxes on food, or have the fat content, or anything else in them clearly labelled. Many Tory MPs have very strong connections to the food and drinks industry. It’s why, for example, John Major’s government did precious little about dangerous alcohol consumption for so long, and consistently blocked legislation to limit consumption. That’s state interference, which is by nature Wrong and Oppressive. Worse, it may damage profits.

Similarly, blocking supermarkets and encouraging a new generation of Arkwrights to set up their own, s-s-small businesses, as greengrocers, family butchers, bakers and so on is another idea that definitely ain’t going to get anywhere with the Tories. Not when the supermarkets seem to be on the march everywhere, driving out their smaller competitors.

Levelling the Playing Fields

And this is before we get to the way successive administrations following Maggie have sold off public sports facilities, like school playing fields, public baths and sports centres. Private Eye has again been covering this scandal for some time in its ‘Levelling the Playing Fields’ column. This has been such as scandal that even the arch-Tory Quentin Letts has pilloried it and the Tory minister responsible in his book, 50 People who Buggered Up Britain.

All of this means challenging vested commercial interests, and reversing decades-old developments in the way people work, exercise and shop. It’s expensive, would require careful thought and planning, and could take years. Besides, it would attack the very industries that fund the Tories and provide their MPs with an income. It’s far easier for them to do absolutely nothing, and go back to doing what they do best: sneering and attacking the poorest.

Westminster Council and the Homes for Votes

It’s no surprise that this move also came two years ago from Westminster Council. The Tories there have been on a very long campaign to cleanse the area socially of the poor. In the 1990s there was the ‘Homes for Votes’ scandal, where the leader of the council, Tesco director Dame Shirley Porter, and her minions arranged for good Tory voters to be housed in good building, while the poor were removed to an asbestos-ridden tower block. This seems to be have been another ruse to drive the lower class and poor out of the area, so they could keep it as a low council tax, pristine area for the very rich.

Seasoning the Slaves

And ultimately, behind all this – the class snobbery about the bodies of the poor and the poor quality foods they consume, is an even more sinister, essentially feudal assumption: that the slave master should have absolute control over the bodies and physical fitness of his slaves. During the slave trade, the captains of the slave ships during the long journey across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and America would take their slaves up on deck and make them exercise. This was to keep them just fit enough so that some of them might survive, and fetch a good price. Once there, the slaves could be seasoned for a year so that they could recover and be fit enough to be a worthwhile commercial investment for their purchasers.

That statement by Cameron about it not being fair to ask ‘hard-working’ people to fund people who are too fat to be available for work shows something of the same mentality. It’s the attitude of the feudal lord complaining about the laziness of his peasants. John Locke, the founder of modern liberal political philosophy certainly was no opponent of slavery. He worked for the Board of Plantations when the English government was expanding their colonies in America and the Caribbean. The constitution he drew up for Carolina was strongly feudal in character. Nevertheless, he believed that free people should have absolute control over their bodies, to the point where military commanders could only ask troops to risk their lives, not command. This latest move by the Tories undermines this fundamental principle. It shows they still have the deep-seated feudal assumption that they have the absolute right to control the bodies of their serfs.

Acting Out Totalitarianism

I also wonder how far this new move is an attempt by the Tories to discredit the welfare state by being as totalitarian as possible in its name. For many Americans, the welfare state is just about synonymous with totalitarian Communism. A little while ago American Conservatives opposed to Obamacare were looking at the various campaigns of the Blair government to cut down on obesity in the name of saving the NHS money as examples of the totalitarian assumptions of the British welfare state. “Look! They actually tell you what to do at that level! That’s what Socialism is really like!” It looks to me that the Tories have taken over those arguments, and decided to act them out and push them as far as possible, in order to cut down on ‘welfare dependence’.

The Nanny State vs. Nanny Cameron

And finally, let’s call out this latest measure for another piece of hypocrisy. Quite apart from the fact that the Tories have their fair share of gutbuckets, remember how the Daily Mail and the other Tory rags screamed blue murder when Blair’s government started trying to get people to be more health aware.

Such as the various posters that were stuck up on hoardings up and down the country, telling you not to overdo the amount of salt you put in your food.

They immediately shouted that this was the ‘nanny state’, and that it showed the overbearing, micromanaging mentality of New Labour. The Tories were against all that. They stood for sturdy self-reliance against such petty meddling with people’s personal affairs.

Except now, they don’t. Not when it reinforces their middle and upper class prejudices. Not when it humiliates the lower orders even further. Not when they can deprive people of benefits, make the poor and sick starve, and force them out of house and home.

Well, here’s a musical response to this. It’s the mighty Motorhead’s ‘Eat the Rich’. Enjoy!

Secret Society: 1980s Documentary on British Culture of Political Secrecy

January 16, 2015

The government’s response to the terrible events in France last week, when gunmen murdered 12 people, including the staff of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, and then held people hostage in a Jewish supermarket, has been to pass further legislation attacking basic civil rights. This legislation not only gives the security services further powers to monitor telephone and internet communications, it also provides for suspected returning terrorists to be denied entry to Britain. Terrorists and those convicted of ‘terrorist-related activity’ may also be subject to a form of ‘internal exile’, under which they can be removed from their homes and placed anywhere up to 200 miles away from their family and friends.

Dangers of the Government’s Anti-Terror Laws

There are provisions within the new legislation to regulate and protect the public, such as the creation of a human rights committee to oversee the law’s application and prevent abuse. Critics of the laws have pointed out that it is unclear how the proposed committee would operate, and who would sit on it.

This should be a cause for serious concerns, considering the way the government has already tried to cut down on our basic democratic freedoms, all under the pretext of protecting us from terrorism. The Tories and their Lib Dem lackeys have tried to pass legislation creating secret courts. These would try cases relating to national security in secrecy, excluding the press and the public. The accused and their lawyers would denied access to sensitive evidence, and would not know who their accusers are. This is a Kafkaesque travesty of justice, of the type the great Czech writer described in his novels The Castle and The Trial. It is an attack on the basic foundation of British justice since Magna Carta, that you may know who your accuser is, and the crime for which you have been charged. It is telling on this point that Cameron, when asked what Magna Carta was when he appeared on American television, didn’t know.

Official Secrecy, Workfare and ATOS

And then there is the culture of official secrecy, which still continues despite the Blair government’s publication of the Freedom of Information Act after the American model. The government has passed further legislation to weaken it. It has refused to publish the precise figures of the numbers of people dying after they were found fit for work by ATOS after requests by bloggers and disability rights campaigners, including Mike over at Vox Political. Johnny Void and others have described how the government has also refused to release the names of the firms signed up to the workfare scheme. The government’s excuse for this is the frank confession that the measure is so unpopular that if they do, the firms using unpaid workers under the scheme would be placed under such stress that they would be forced to withdraw and the scheme collapse.

Highly Placed Paedophiles and Murderers

The most sinister, odious and pernicious aspect of this culture of official secrecy has been the protection it has given to highly placed paedophiles, such as the Lib Dem politician, Cyril Smith. A dossier of 22 paedophile politicos has now been passed on to the police. Horrifically, three people may have been murdered by a paedophile ring of politicians using the Elm Tree guest house in the 1980s. A male prostitute, who went to these orgies claimed that the ring had been responsible for murders of two boys, one White and one Asian. A worker for Lambeth Council, Bulic, was also found dead a week after stating that he felt his life was in danger due to his knowledge of the ring and its activities. Leon Brittain, Thatcher’s secretary of state, was handed a dossier on such highly placed child molesters by Geoffrey Dickinson in the 1980s. Brittain claims that he passed them on to MI5, who misplaced them.

The obsession with official secrecy, in which successive governments have withheld information from the public, is responsible for serious miscarriages of justice and threatens to undermine basic political and civil freedoms. It has also allowed the vicious, sadistic and exploitative abusers of the young and helpless, such as Thatcher’s friend, the monstrous Jimmy Savile, to escape justice.

Duncan Campbell’s Documentary, Secret Society

Government secrecy was also a major issue of national importance and interest in the 1980s. One of the small, single issue parties that appeared in the 1987 general election was the ‘Deep Throat’ party. This was a group of five men, who refused to make any statements, and refused to show their faces as a protest against ‘excessive government secrecy’. More seriously, that same year the BBC broadcast the documentary Secret Society by Duncan Campbell. In the words of the blurb put up for it on Youtube on Edgar Lobb’s channel, this covered

‘secret groups, committees and societies that operate silently within British government. The first episode about secret cabinet committees features author Peter Hennessy, Clive Ponting and MP Clement Freud amongst others. In this freedom of information tour de force Campbell exposes the secret decision to buy U.S. Trident nuclear submarines as well as laying bare the cabinet level dirty tricks campaign against CND and its general secretary Bruce Kent. Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan, the British Atlantic Committee, The ultra-right Coalition for Peace Through Security and the cabinet secretary come in for sharp criticism for keeping key decisions secret from MP’s. The series consists of the following 6 programmes: 1. The Secret Constitution: Secret Cabinet Committees; 2. We’re All Data Now: Secret Data Banks; 3. In Time Of Crisis: Government Emergency Powers; 4. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO): making up their own law and policy; 5. A Gap In Our Defences – about bungling defence manufacturers and incompetent military planners who have botched every new radar system that Britain has installed since World War II; 6. Zircon – about GCHQ with particular reference to a secret 500 million satellite. Missing are last two (5 and 6) programmes. His support for this series was one of the key reasons BBC Director General, Alasdair Milne (who was replaced by Michael Checkland, an accountant) was sacked. This Journalistic Coup d’Etat was conducted by Lord Victor Rothschild, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Marmaduke Hussey in 1986. The BBC’s independence has been under sustained assault ever since. Secret Society was suppressed from high above since it was simply too controversial as it openly exposed various secret groups operating invisibly inside British government. They made damn sure no one would ever discover them but they were very wrong. Find out who they are and what are they doing without your knowledge.’

The Situation Today

Maggie’s Politicisation of the State

It’s a very interesting series, and still deeply relevant today. It shows how deeply ingrained the culture of secrecy is in Westminster. Conservative hacks on the Spectator, Daily Mail and elsewhere, like Quentin Letts, lined up to criticise Blair’s administration for politicising the civil service with the immense numbers of SPADs – special advisors – they took in to supplement and replace that of the civil servants, whose job this traditionally was. Yet this programme shows that it really began with Thatcher and her campaign against CND. It also shows how the Maggie’s government was prepared to lie and spread what was basically propaganda in order to support a pro-nuclear stance, as well as spy on and disrupt CND members, meetings and protests, quite apart from the use of government resources and civil servants for her own political campaign.

Official Sale of Personal Data

The episode ‘We’re All Data Now’ also remains relevant. It shows how official bodies were intent on spying on us, and governmental bodies were keen to sell our personal information to private companies right at the beginning of that trend. It’s grown immensely in the nearly thirty years since that programme was first broadcast, and is now, more than ever, a danger to our privacy and personal freedom. Especially as the Coalition believes it has a right to sell our personal medical history to private health companies. All in the interest of promoting greater efficiency and competition, of course.

It’s important here also to note that the weak legislation that was put in place to protect our personal details from government acquisition did not come from British politicians, but was forced on them by the Council of Europe. The Conservatives and Farage’s UKIP would like to scrap the current human rights legislation, because it has, they feel, been imposed on us by the European Community. It hasn’t. As Mike and others have shown, it comes from the Council of Europe. This episode, nevertheless, shows what we can expect if the Tories and UKIP go ahead with their plans. The present protection for personal information was only grudgingly conceded after pressure from the Europeans. With that removed, we can expect the wholesale scrapping of the current human rights legislation, and the further development of an authoritarian surveillance society, which regards its citizens’ personal details as just another product to be acquired and sold.

Nuclear War and the Britain of V for Vendetta

As for the discussion of the secret preparations for the establishment of American military authority in Britain, and the more or less complete dismantlement of democracy and its replacement with a military dictatorship, this is very much the kind of Britain that Alan Moore and John Lloyd portrayed in V for Vendetta. In the original Warrior comic strip, the Fascist British state had arisen after a nuclear war between the West and the Warsaw pact over the Solidarity crisis in Poland. It was a projection of the worst elements of the Thatcher administration, and followed from a general concern in British comics at the time with the renewed anti-immigrant campaigns of the National Front and the Monday Club within the Tory party. The Britain portrayed in V for Vendetta was not under American control. However, the provisions in the secret treaty with America providing for the establishment of secret courts, the mass conscription of labour, the imprisonment and internment of pacifists and political dissidents, and the creation of a dictatorship are very much like that of the dystopian Britain in the strip.

Anderton, ACPO and the Underground Press

As for ACPO, James Anderton was notorious at the time as the right-wing policeman, with a bitter hatred of homosexuals and other social deviants and misfits. A biography of him that appeared a few years ago bore the title, God’s Cop, after his statement that he believed he was doing ‘God’s work’. Manchester’s Picadilly Press, which published, among other literature, the highly transgressive Lord Horror, which cast Hitler, the Nazis and Lord Haw Haw in the style of characters from the fiction of William S. Burroughs, were raided regularly by Anderton. They took their revenge by sending him up in their comics and fiction.

Duncan Campbell remains very much active today, campaigning against the growing encroachment on our civil liberties of state surveillance. There are a number of videos of him speaking on this topic on Youtube, and he also has his own site on the web.

See Part 2 of this article for a description of the contents of individual episodes.

Quentin Letts on the Special Advisors

March 19, 2014

Quentin Letts pic

Quentin Letts on what looks suspiciously like Have I Got News For You.

Mike in his piece over at Vox Political on Osborne’s budget reported on the Chancellor’s double standards regarding public sector pay. This was to be kept low, while at the same time the government’s Special Advisors were to be given a 40 per cent pay rise. The Daily Fail’s parliamentary sketch writer, Quentin Letts, has a few things to say about them in his book, 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain (London: Constable & Robinson 2009). And none of them are complimentary.

They’re in chapter 55 on Harold Wilson, who’s in there for the reason that he created them. Letts says

Wilson was disinclined to do much heavy policy thinking himself. He darkly suspected the civil service of being a Tory conspiracy. He therefore hired others to do his thinkin’ for him. Worse, he had their wages drawn from public funds. Harold Wilson was in some ways a good Prime Minister. He kept us out of the Vietnam War, not least. He was in at least one respect, however, a very bad premier: he created state-paid Special Advisors. (p. 271).

These he describes thus

The Special Advisor is an appointed stooge, an outsider brought into Whitehall by a minister or political party. He or she normally lasts only as long in that department as the minister. Special Advisors are, by their very nature, short-termists. They tend to take decisions which help a minister avoid blame or trouble, usually at the expense of another minister, sometimes merely because the extent of a problem has been temporarily concealed. Special Advisors are antipathetic to openness. Secrecy gives them power. (p. 272).

He notes that under Wilson, Heath and Margaret Thatcher their numbers were low. He states that Maggie

with her keen suspicion of civil service obstinacy, created something of a praetorian guard of policy-thinkers at No. 10 but was never particularly keen on Special Advisors sprouting uncontrolled throughout Whitehall. She preferred her junior ministers to use their brains. She was never quite sure if Special Advisors were ‘one of us’, either. So little time. So many colleagues to monitor for signs of disloyalty. What an exhausting life she must have led. (ibid)

It was under John Major, who gave Cabinet Ministers rather more departmental freedom to form governmental policy with a greater degree of success, that the ‘Spads’ came into their own. And one of them is the honourable gentleman (and I use the term loosely) now running the country.

140117democracy

David Cameron: a former government Special Advisor, of the type who were given a 40 per cent pay rise today. AS they aren’t actually Civil Servants, this is another example of the government paying massive subsidies to the government contracted private sector.

Special advisors became more self-confident. Arrogant youths, many of them, they would strut into newspaper offices a pace or two to the side of their bosses, dispensing business cards and massaging their own reputations. One of them, you will recall, was called David Cameron. Special Advisors started to become more prominent socially. They became better known as sources of press stories. They overtook backbenches MPs in the unspoken table of political importance. (pp. 272-3)

He then attacks the way the number of Special Advisors massively expanded under Tony Blair, so that by 2002 there were 81 of them. His ire is not so much about the money spent paying them, but on their corruption of the governmental system.

The many millions spent on their salaries may be irksome – a symbol of the waste and the stroking of the political cadre – but it was wee buns compared to the billions blown on other inessential parts of the public sector, often on the say of, yes, Special Advisors. And even more damaging was the way these Special Advisors corrupted our political system. Since the later years of the nineteenth century the British Civil Service had been a professional body. That is to say, it offered recruits a career of serious service. Entrance to the profession was possible only after rigorous examination and interview procedures. Civil servants were schooled to regard the nation as their employer. They worked for the long-term good of the country, the community, not for the good of whichever politician happened to be in power at any one time. G.M. Trevelyan, historian, wrote that the merit-baed entrance procedures to the civil service removed it ‘from the field of political jobbery’. Favouritism, nepotism and nudge-nudge-wink-winkism were trumped by measurable ability. These values slowly percolated to other parts of society. It wasn’t a bad way to run a country, you know. (p. 274).

He is particularly incensed at the way the were used by Tony Blair as part of his carefully stage-managed events, and that two of them, Jonathan Powell and Alistair Campbell, were given executive rights over permanent secretaries.

Letts has a particularly rosy view of the impartiality and efficiency of the British civil service. Sadly, experience has not always backed this up. Civil Servants are indeed required, under their terms of service, to provide ministers with impartial advice. I’ve no doubt that in many cases this is true. But not nearly in as many cases as we’d like. One of the reasons the railways are in the horrendous state they are in today, is because one particular senior civil servant, who was named in Private Eye, was a passionate enthusiast of free-market capitalism, with the result that they were privatised. The result is poor service, increasingly bloated subsidies for the rail companies, and the administrative chaos that led to several serious disasters like Potter’s Bar. These were particularly reprehensible because of the way the victims were denied justice and compensation for years afterwards as each company passed the buck from one to the other.

As a Daily Mail journo, Letts is, of course, a man of the Right, and has cause his fair share of offense writing for an offensive newspaper. He appeared a little while ago defending their attack on Ralph Milliband, Ed Milliband’s father, a Jewish refugee, who fought courageously for this country against Nazi Germany while Lord Rothermere wrote admiring pieces about how wonderful Adolf was. Still, Letts does have a point. The civil service is still required in theory to give impartial advice. The Special Advisors, with which the government has surrounded itself are under no obligation to do so. Indeed, quite the opposite. The government’s policy are all drawn from various loony right-wing think tanks, who tell the government exactly the type of Neoliberal rubbish they want to hear. The result is policies like today’s budget: cuts and privatisation for the poor, tax cuts for the rich. And 40 per cent pay rises for the Spads. Well, David Cameron was one of them, and so it really is a case of Osborne giving money to people exactly like himself. It demonstrates the very narrow class loyalties of the Coalition exactly.

In Case You Missed It: Mehdi Hassan Owning the Daily Mail on Youtube

October 5, 2013

Mehdi Hassan’s speech utterly demolishing the Daily Mail and its journalist, Quentin Letts, is on Youtube. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to embed it here. If you want to see it, however, it’s at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73ZCrDtAC7A. Enjoy!

Shock! Horror! Cadaverous Author of Macabre Novels Calls Slumlords What They Are! Channel 4 Newsreaders Amazed!

October 5, 2013

It’s been an interesting week for the Coalition and their supporters receiving a drubbing by journalists. Mike, over at Vox Political, has put up a good piece about the way Mehdi Hassan demolished Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail on Question Time. Hassan had rebutted Letts’ arguments by asking who the person, who really hated Britain was: Miliband senior, a Jewish immigrant, who fought for his country, or the Daily Mail. This is the newspaper, he reminded us, that insinuated that Stephen Gately’s death was somehow due to his homosexuality, attacked Danny Boyle for including a mixed race couple in the Olympic Games opening spectacle, called Olympic champion Mo Farah a ‘plastic Brit’, despises immigrants and Muslims, and seeks to undermine the NHS.

Last night, Have I Got News For You also laid into the Daily Heil. They covered the Mail’s slander of Ralph Milliband. Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye naturally showed the Mail’s hypocrisy by pointing out its pro-Nazi past, complete with its headlines screaming ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ and opinion piece praising Nazi Germany and dismissing the allegations of Nazi atrocities. Hislop also pointed out that Paul Dacre, the Mail’s editor, also showed a signal lack of patriotism, as he did not pay any tax to his country, avoiding it through a complex network of offshore companies based in the Bahamas. He also said that it was a bit rich for Dacre to accuse others of totalitarian sympathies, considering that Dacre’s own staff call him ‘Mugabe’ because he’s ancient, won’t retire and despises the opposition.

The day before this, on Thursday, Channel 4 covered the brilliant state of the housing market under the Coalition in an investigatory feature entitled ‘Generation Rent’. It showed that the present, younger generation have little chance of getting on the housing ladder due to the lack of properties being built. This was due to the recession. Mortgages on the properties that were available were exorbitantly high, so that most young people simply cannot afford them. They were thus forced to rent. This also was difficult and expensive, due to a lack of affordable properties. Many of the homes and flats were aimed at the affluent, not ordinary peeps wanting a roof over their head. The programme talked to a number of landlords, as well as tenants forced to rent due to property prices. Among the landlords interviewed was one, who bought properties simply to rent out to other landlords.

The programme’s guest commentator for this section of the programme was Will Self, the cadaverous novelist, whose grisly works include Great Apes and How The Dead Live, as well as other tales of mayhem, mutilation, perversion and horror. Self’s own private life has supplied much newspaper copy in its time. He was for years a drug addict, whose finals in philosophy while a student at Oxford were interrupted by his arrest for the chemicals. One newspaper also printed a long, spurious story in which it was alleged that the master of the modern macabre had found the company of John Major so insufferably dull while sat next to him on a plane trip, that he resorted to heroin to liven the journey up. Self’s clean of drugs now, and like that other master of the extreme and transgressive, his friend, J.G. Ballard, Self lives in bourgeois domesticity with his wife and child.

He’s probably not the best person to provide a sympathetic view of the housing market and industry. A year or so back the roof of Self’s own house collapsed, and he duly appeared on the News talking about the incident. When Snow asked him what he thought about the issue, Self described the landlord, who rents to other landlords as a ‘rackman’. Snow blanched at this. No doubt with the spectre of Outraged of Tunbridge Wells writing in to denounce yet more Channel 4 left-wing bias, he said that Self could say it, but they couldn’t. Self’s reply was short, ‘I don’t know – I don’t think it’s actionable.’

But Self’s description is accurate. It precisely describes the situation many young people now face, in which they cannot afford to buy, and the rents on those properties they can afford are raised so that they eat up a progressively larger proportion of their income.

What also was not remarked on the programme was that this situation had created a further potential for racial/ nationalist friction. One of the developers interviewed was Francis Liu, a Chinese businessman, who specialises in the construction of one-room apartments. These combine bathroom, living room and bedroom in the same space in a kind of even smaller bedsit. They look horrendous, like Bruce Willis’ cramped home in the Fifth Element, but without Moebius’ and Besson’s visual flair and style. Channel 4’s reporters interviewed some British people, who were forced to live in them now, because that’s all they could afford. Liu’s apartments weren’t particularly cheap at £70 a week. They were also aimed at foreign investors from the Far East. This looks to me like a recipe for danger.

Globalisation and Neo-Liberal economics has succeeded in creating a trans-national elite that have more in common with each other, than with the citizens of their countries of origin. Hence all over the world there’s a growing indifference to the plight of the poor by the super-rich. Mass immigration, as populations from the Developing World move to the developed West and North in search of jobs and better opportunities, is already a major political issue. It has led to the rise of far-Right movements across Europe, like the Golden Dawn in Greece, and increasingly harsh anti-immigrant measures in Italy and elsewhere. It is also not only Western culture that has racist elements. There is also racism in Chinese culture. I can remember finding in Waterstone’s in Bath nearly two decades ago a large, hardback academic book on Chinese Racism. One of the Chinese students I knew at university told me a few years ago that he was horrified at the level of anti-Western prejudice and hatred in his country. Some of this hatred is due to the immense feeling of humiliation felt by the Chinese at their defeat in the Opium Wars, and the division and virtual colonisation of their great nation by the European powers.

The racist and nationalist Right in Britain and the rest of the world is motivated by resentment at the way foreigners are, or are perceived to be, given preferential treatment to the indigenous, host population. The Daily Mail and other right-wing tabloids have frequently attacked the government’s immigration service for accommodating asylum-seekers in luxury housing. With Liu and developers like him building properties mainly or exclusively for rich foreigners from the Far East, then it’s easy to see how this might enrage the existing, poorer local population, excluded from this luxury market. Liu was building his properties in Leeds, which I think may also have suffered from the effects of poverty and unemployment resulting from Thatcher’s decimation of British industry. The local population likely to be priced out of properties like Liu’s is not only White, but also Black and Asian, including families of Chinese descent, who’ve been British since coming here in the 19th century. Years ago I read a book on Japan by a Times journalist. He noted the resentment and controversy that had erupted in Australia when Japanese developers began building luxury beach complexes, which were to be owned solely by the Japanese. The construction of luxury rented properties, aimed at the Far Eastern rich, threatens to create similar tension and conflict over here.

Regardless of their ethnic origins, the landlords taking advantage of the current housing market to raise rents to ludicrous levels are Rackmans, has Self described them. It’s another example of how the Coalition’s policies are increasing the gap between rich and poor in the name of liberalisation.