Posts Tagged ‘Simon Hoggart’

Establishment Media Bias and the Cheltenham Literary Festival

September 23, 2019

Someone really ought to do a study of the way the big literary festivals – Haye-on-Wye, Cheltenham and the others – select the books and media celebs they want to push and the way they try to manipulate public opinion towards the establishment consensus. Because, believe me, it is there.

In a couple of weeks’ time, right at the beginning of October, it’ll be the Cheltenham Literary Festival. As it’s booklet of coming events tells you, it’s been proudly going for 70 years. I think it was set up, or given a great deal of assistance when it was set up, by Alan Hancock, who owned a secondhand bookshop on Cheltenham’s Promenade. It was a fascinating place, where you could acquire some really fascinating, valuable academic books cheaply. But it had the same internal layout as the fictional setting of the 1990’s Channel 4 comedy, Black Books, but without Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey or Tamsin Grieg.

The festival’s overall literary stance is, very roughly, broadsheet papers + BBC, especially Radio 4. It pretty much shows what’s captured the attention of the newspaper literary pages and the BBC news team, several of whom naturally have books coming out, and who are appearing. In past years I’ve seen John Simpson, Simon Hoggart, Quentin Letts, Giles Brandreth and John Humphreys talk or appear on panels. This year they’ve got, amongst others, Emily Maitlis and Humphrey’s again.

Much of the Festival’s content is innocuous enough, even praiseworthy from a left-wing perspective. For example, there are a number of authors talking about their books about empowering women and ethnic minorities. These include Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinene talking about their book, Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible, which is what it says: a guide for Black girls. Other topics and books discussed are on how empowered Black men are, and various feminist works about how gynaecological problems should be discussed openly, and the changing nature of the female muse. Rather than being passive creatures, modern muses are active, liberated women conquering business, sports, the arts and science. There’s also a piece on the future of masculinity, titled ‘Will Boys Still Be Boys’, which asks what will happen to boys now that the idea that there is a natural realm of masculinity, such as superiority and aggression, has been disproved. The concern with ethnic minority authors has always been there, or at least since the 1990s. Then, and in the early part of this century, a frequent theme of the Festival was ‘crossing continents’, which gave a platform to prominent literary authors from outside Europe and the West. It also gave space to Black and Asian literature from the UK. I can remember too, how one of the events staged at the Festival was a celebration of Black British poetry, much of it in Caribbean Patois.

The Festival also caters for more popular tastes. In the past it had speaking the Fantasy author, Terry Pratchett, along with the approved, heavyweight literary types. It has events for children’s books, and this year features such media celebrities as Francis Rossi from Status Quo and Paul Merton. So, something for everyone, or so it seems.

But nevertheless, the Establishment bias is there, especially as so many of the speakers, like Maitlis and Humphreys, are drawn from the mainstream media. Back in the 1990s the Festival was sponsored by the Independent. Now it’s sponsored by the Times, the Murdoch rag whose sister paper, the Sunset Times, has spent so much time smearing Corbyn and his supporters as Communist infiltrators or vicious anti-Semites.┬áMaitlis and Humphreys are BBC news team, and so, almost by definition, they’re Conservative propagandists. Especially as Humphreys is retiring, and has given interviews and written pieces for the Heil. Any chance of hearing something from the Cheltenham Festival about the current political situation that doesn’t conform to what the Establishment wants you to hear, or is prepared to tolerate? Answers on a postcard, please. Here’s a couple of examples. One of the topics under discussion is ‘Populism’. I don’t know what they’re planning to include in it, but from previous discussions of this in the media, I’m prepared to bet that they’ll talk about Trump, possibly Boris Johnson, the rise of extreme right-wing movements in Europe and elsewhere in the world, like Marine Le Pen former Front National in France, the AfD in Germany, Orban and so on in Hungary, Bolsonaro in Brazil and the Five Star Movement in Italy. All of whom are definitely populists. But they’ll also probably include Corbyn and Momentum, because Corbyn is genuinely left-wing, challenges the Thatcherite neoliberal consensus and will empower the masses. All of which threatens the Establishment. There are also individual politicians speaking this year, but the only one I found from the Left was Jess Philips. Who isn’t remotely left-wing in the traditional sense, though she is an outspoken feminist.

The other topic is about what should be done with Putin. Now let’s not delude ourselves, Putin is a corrupt thug, and under him Russia has become once again a very autocratic state. Political and religious dissidents, including journalists, are being attacked, jailed and in some cases murdered. Among the religious groups he’s decided are a threat to Mother Russia are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m not a member of the denomination, and find their doorstep campaigning as irritating as everyone else. But they are certainly not a dangerous cult or terrorist organisation. And they have stood up to tyrants. They were persecuted by the Nazis during the Third Reich, with their members imprisoned in the concentration camps, including a 17 year old boy, because they wouldn’t accept Hitler as a secular messiah. For which I respect for them. The Arkhiplut has enriched himself, and rewarded his cronies with company directorships, while assassinating the oligarchs, who haven’t toed his line. And I still remember the genocidal butchery he unleashed in Chechnya nearly two decades ago, because they had the temerity to break away.

But geopolitically, I don’t regard Putin as a military threat. In terms of foreign policy it seems that Putin is interested solely in preserving the safety of his country from western encirclement. Hence the invasion of the Ukraine to protect the Russian minority there. If he really wanted to conquer the country, rather than the Donbass, his tanks would be in Kiev by now. I’ve blogged before about how Gorbachev was promised by the West that in return for allowing the former eastern European satellites to break away from the USSR, they would remain neutral and not become members of NATO. That’s been violated. They’ve all become members, and there are NATO military bases now on Russia’s doorstep. The Maidan Revolution of 2012 which overthrew the previous, pro-Russian president of Ukraine was stage managed by the American state department and the National Endowment for Democracy under Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland. There’s evidence that the antagonism against Putin’s regime comes from western multinationals, who feel aggrieved at not being able to seize Russian companies as promised by Putin’s predecessor, the corrupt, drunken buffoon Boris Yeltsin. Putin also seems to be quite genuine in his belief in a multipolar world, in which his country, as well as others like China, are also superpowers. But the Americans are interested only in maintaining their position as the world’s only superpower through ‘full spectrum dominance’: that is, absolute military superiority. The US’ military budget supersedes both the Russian and that of the four other major global countries combined. Arguably, Russia ain’t the global threat. America and NATO are.

Festivals like that of Cheltenham are important. They’re business arrangements, of course. They exist to sell books. But they also encourage literacy, and allow the public to come face to face with the people, who inform and entertain them through the written word. Although here the books’ pages of Private Eye complained years ago that the Festival and others like it gave more space to celebrities from television, sport, music and other areas, rather than people, whose primary living was from writing. But the information we are given is shaped by the media – by the papers and broadcasters, who give the public the news, and the publishers, who decide which books on which subjects to publish. And then there’s the bias of the individual festivals themselves. And in the case of Cheltenham, it is very establishment. It’s liberal in terms of feminism and multiculturalism, but other conservative, and increasing Conservative, in others. It’s through events like Cheltenham that the media tries to create and support the establishment consensus.

But that consensus is rightly breaking down, as increasingly more people become aware that it is only creating mass poverty. The Establishment’s refusal to tolerate other, competing opinions – their demonisation of Corbyn and his supporters as Communists, Trotskyites and Nazis, for example – is leading to further alienation and disaffection. Working people don’t find their voices and concerns reflected in the media. Which is why they’re turning to the online alternatives. But Festivals like Cheltenham carry on promoting the same establishment agenda, with the odd voice from the opposition, just like the Beeb’s Question Time. And this is going to change any time soon, not with lyingt rags like the Times sponsoring it.

Owen Jones on the Chilcot Report, the Iraq War and Tony Blair

July 6, 2016

The news today has been dominated by the Chilcot report, and its findings about the launch of the Iraq War by Tony Blair. In this video from Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, gives his view on the moral and possible legal culpable of Blair for starting a war that has killed hundreds of thousands, destroyed an entire nation, and caused the entire Middle East to descend further into chaos and carnage.

He states that the report’s publication and its conclusions gives him no satisfaction, but it does vindicate what opponents of the war had said. He quotes a Labour MP, Simpson, who used to be his boss, who stated that Blair was desperate to join Bush in a war regardless of the cause; that the country was being pushed to war. He notes that Chilcot has also confirmed that the intelligence reports, which formed the basis for Blair’s decision to go to war, were ‘flawed’. He quotes Christian Aid, a charity, not a political organisation, who also opposed the war because they believed it would lead to further internal violence in Iraq, and that Iran would seek its own advantages. Jones notes that at the time the anti-War protesters were attacked and vilified by a press determined to promote the war. He also urges his viewers not to be taken in by Blair, when the man the Italians dubbed ‘The Scrounger’ (but in Italian, obviously) says that it’s all obvious in hindsight, but couldn’t be known at the time. Jones makes it very clear from all the above that it was very clearly understood by the war’s opponents at the time how dreadful it would be and the terrible consequences.

Jones states that the report doesn’t conclude whether there is a legal base for prosecuting Blair. He hopes that is the case, and that there will now be moves to see if such a trial is possible. But even if he isn’t legally liable, he is morally culpable. He, and the media that enabled and promoted the war, have to live with that. And the consequences of this conflict will be with us for decades to come.

Jones is correct, and his video is cut with shots of anti-war protests and demonstrators. It’s refreshing to see on this video quotations from the Labour and Left-wing protesters against the war, like Jones’ old boss, Simpson, and the late Robin Cook. Cook resigned because of the war, and was arguable the man, who should have led the Labour party. I can remember seeing Simon Hoggart, the journalist and compere of the News Quiz on Radio 4, Giles Brandreth, a former Tory cabinet minister, before he became one of the faces on The One Show, and Brandreth’s Labour opposite number, talking about political diaries at the Cheltenham Literary Festival one year. Brandreth said that Cook was the man the Tories were dreading would lead Labour, because of his incisive, forensic intelligence. At the time, here in my part of the West Country, most of the voices raised in protest were Tories. On the local news this evening the Bridgwater MP, Tom King, and two other Tories have appeared commenting on the Report and how they were against the war at the time. This is true. Peter Hitchens, the former Marxist, now right-wing journo, has always made it very clear that he despises Blair for starting wars that have sent good men and women to deaths for absolutely no good reason. And while I don’t like Hitchen’s views on the return of the death penalty, or his tough stance on law ‘n’ order, I respect him for his views on Blair. I am much more suspicious about other members of the Tory party, because of the way they threw their weight behind Maggie’s and Major’s wars – the Falklands and then Gulf War I. I wondered at the time how much of their opposition was due principle, and how much was simply because Blair had stolen their mantle as the ‘war party’, just like he stole so much of Conservatism. Their opposition to the war did have some effect. One of my friends, who’s actually very left-wing, started reading the Spectator for a time, because it ran articles by a leading Tory – possibly Matthew Parris, but I couldn’t swear to it – attacking the war. It’s good to be reminded that there were those on the Left as well, who marched and protested against it. And not just the supporters of George Galloway.

As for the intelligence that Blair used to take us to war, Chilcot is too kind, or perhaps just understandably cautious, when he refers to it as ‘flawed’. It wasn’t. It was deliberately doctored. And from what I understand from Lobster – which is a vociferous opponent of British intelligence services – the pressure to inflate and distort the evidence came, not from the intelligence services, but from Blair and his cabinet.

Jeremy Corbyn has made it very clear that he wishes to prosecute Bliar for war crimes. I don’t know if that will ever happen, as I can imagine the political and media class closing ranks very quickly to shut down that possibility. But the Chilcot report does show that Bliar is morally, if not legally culpable, as Jones points out. The rhyme was right:

Blair lied:
People died.

And the tragedy and injustice is that people have gone on and will go on dying, long after Blair has receded from public life.