Posts Tagged ‘Spitting Image’

Newzoids Spoofs Nigel Farage

April 24, 2015

These are a couple of videos from ITV’s satirical puppet show, Newzoids. The show’s a mixture of puppetry and CGI animation. It was billed as the 21st century’s successor to the classic Spitting Image. They were seriously considering bringing that series back, but the idea was dropped because the series would simply have been too expensive given inflation, lower production expenditure and advertising revenue, and stricter health and safety legislation. For the latter, Fluck and Law, the creators of the puppets used in the series, expressed amazement at the relative disregard they had for proper safety standards when they were using highly toxic and flammable materials.

The puppets used in Newzoids are rather different to those in Spitting Image. They’re less complex, rubber hand puppets and more like solid, wooden figurines moved by sticks. Or at least, that’s the image the animation gives.

The satire, though, is still very sharp. In this sketch, Nigel Farage is shown as a Bernard Manning-style stand up club comedian, railing and sneering about immigrants. The crowd heckles him, reminding him of how false and hypocritical his claims are, and that he’s actually a millionaire banker with a foreign wife.

I found the second sketch below on the SlatUKIP page. It shows the Purple Duce again as an actor, though this time he’s a vaudeville comedian singing a song about how he’s really an ordinary British bloke. All the while, his alter ego is reminding him that he’s actually a millionaire, with a very expensive education, a German wife, and far from being British, he’s actually French Huguenot in ancestry.

Cameron to End DLA for Life for Wounded Servicepeople

March 23, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has just posted this piece, David Cameron betrays 80,000 disabled veterans about the Prime Minister’s plans to strip permanently disabled war veterans of their disability benefit for life. The article notes that DLA at its highest rate is the yardstick local councils use for providing home care for the disabled. When it goes, so does the local authority services.

The article begins

At any given opportunity when in front of TV cameras, David Cameron waxes lyrically about what this nation owes to British Military Forces, with special consideration given to disabled veterans, writes Mo Stewart.

But it seems that he means modern disabled veterans who, since 2005, have benefited from the more generous Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.

Until April 2005, members of the armed forces who suffered a permanent disablement due to service life were awarded a War Pension, with many awarded access to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), for life, to help to fund the additional costs of disability.

Without warning, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has sent letters to working-age War Pensioners advising that access to DLA is about to be stopped and that disabled veterans may, if they wish, apply for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – with no guarantee that it will be awarded.

DLA for care at the highest rate is the monitor used by local authorities to provide home care services that permit disabled people to enjoy independent living in the community. Without DLA, or its equivalent replacement, the care services will be removed.

The article notes that disabled service personnel over 65 will retain the DLA for life, while modern service personnel have access to the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme and the Armed Forces Independence Payment. However, this still leaves 80,000 ex-service men and women without DLA, and no guarantee that they will get the PIP brought into replace it.

Mike’s article considers this a betrayal of our boys and girls in the Forces. He’s right. Cameron and the Tories love posing with military equipment and the army. They have been brought up from public school to see themselves as great war leaders like Alexander the Great, Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Winston Churchill. Yet they still retain absolute contempt for the men and women, who actually go and fight their wars. They’re grunts, cannon fodder, and their derisory treatment by the Tories has shown this again and again. The Spitting Image book Thatcha! The Real Maggie memoirs contained a mock war comic strip showing a former soldier going mad with a gun after the government showed their gratitude for his service in the Falklands by making him, and others like him, unemployed.

After Gulf War I, John Major’s government did it. There was a national scandal of homeless and unemployed war veterans. Now Cameron is doing it again. And all the while posing with them as the protector of Britain and democracy around the world.

The Tories’ treatment of ex-servicemen and women bizarrely contrasts badly with that of Iran. The mullahs in charge the Islamic Republic gave former soldiers, who had bought against Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War, preferential treatment in a number of areas. One of these was university entrance. This obviously caused friction with the civilian population, who understandably chafed at the reduced opportunities for them.

If a brutal despotism like Iran can reward its servicepeople for the immense sacrifices they made for the homeland, then it more than behoves us to grant our war-wounded proper support and benefits for theirs.

Cameron is a disgrace, and his conduct in this shames Britain and our claim to promote democracy and equality.

Spitting Image on Rupert Murdoch’s Journalism

January 19, 2015

Long before the phone hacking scandal, Murdoch’s papers, like the Sun and News of the World, were notorious for the virulence of their invective and running highly dodgy stories about celebrities. In this Spitting Image sketch, Murdoch and two of his journalists, shown as vultures, concoct an ever-more sensational and completely unfounded story about cricketer Ian Botham, in which they accuse the great man of terrorism offences and incest.

Unfortunately, precious little has changed in the over a quarter of a century since the sketch was shown, so that it still remains highly topical.

Spitting Image on the Tories and Rent Boys

January 19, 2015

Thatcher’s government was racked by a series of scandals involving rent boys, the best known and most notorious being Harvey Proctor. In this sketch from 1987, Spitting Image send it up as a Tory job creation scheme.

Horrifically, the recent paedophile scandals surrounding MPs, a dossier of 22 of whom has been handed over to police, including possible murders of two young boys and a Lambeth council worker, has meant that the culture of sexual abuse and exploitation at Westminster has gone far beyond any kind of a joke.

Grove, Blackadder and Comedy and Satire in the Great War

November 10, 2014

The idea that we were brought up on, that Europe is the home of civilization in general – nonsense! It’s a periodical slaughter-pen, with all the vices this implies. I’d as lief live in the Chicago stockyards.

Walter Hines Page, American Ambassador to Great Britain, quoted in Peter Vansittart, Voices: 1870-1914 (New York: Franklin Watts 1985) 258.

The Knee

A knee is roaming, through the world,
No more; it’s just a knee.
It’s not a tent; it’s not a tree;
It is a knee; no more.

There was a man once in a war
Got killed and killed and killed.
Alone, unhurt, remained the knee
Like a saint’s relics, pure.

Since then, it roams the whole world, lonely;
It is a knee, now, only;
It’s not a tent; it’s not a tree;
Only a knee, no more.

Christian Morgenstern, op. cit, 218.

Last week I posted a piece on the article on Mike’s site, Vox Political, reporting that Ben Elton was writing a satire based on Michael Gove’s denunciation of the last series of Blackadder. Way back at the beginning of this year, Gove had attacked Blackadder Goes Forth for what he considered to be its unpatriotic portrayal of the soldiers, who fought in World War 1. He criticised the series’ left-wing bias, and declared that it insulted the memory of those who fought and died in the mud and horror of Flanders by portraying them as cowards. To support his view, he then cited a number of history books presenting the alternative view of the War, which had his approval. Gove’s opinions aren’t simply those of a Tory politician, impatient and intolerant with any view that dares to contradict their own. His views were also based on by a number of historical studies of the Great War, that have attempted to overturn the traditional view that it was a bloody, brutal debacle, in which millions of men were sent to their deaths by out-of-touch and incompetent generals. These historians have argued instead that officers and the men, who served under them, got on well and that accounts of the class friction between them have been exaggerated. They concede that there were severe mistakes made during the first part of the War, but that the conduct of the War improved greatly from 1917 onwards, so that phase of the War was actually well fought with a high standard of leadership. A friend of mine a few years ago attended a military history symposium to mark the War. One of the speakers there presented a paper arguing that General Haig was actually a good general, or at least, not as incompetent as previously believed. My friend remained unconvinced.

Gove Missing Point of Blackadder Comedy

Along with Mike and many other bloggers, I also put up a few pieces on this blog arguing that Gove was wrong. At one level, Gove simply missed the point. Blackadder Goes Forth was a comedy, not a work of serious drama or historical investigation. Comedies entertain by poking fun. Their subjects and targets are the vain, the stupid, the pompous, the greedy, and the inept. The character of Blackadder throughout his four series and incarnations is that of a picaresque anti-hero. He is cynical, devious, and callous and manipulative towards his friends, particularly Baldric, but saved because of his cynical comments on the folly, greed or savagery of his social superiors. The audience likes him, without actually approving of his corruption and lack of morals.

And whatever the reality of the War, it left many across Europe feeling betrayed by a political and economic system that given rise to such colossal, horrific carnage. This bitterness and horror was portrayed in verse by poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. It also inspired satirists and comic writers and artists across Europe to add their comments to the horror and absurdity of the situation.

Grimmelshausen’s Comedies of 17th Century German War

Writers have written comedies and comic novels about wars and their combatants since Hans Jakob Christoph von Grimmelshausen wrote his Simplicissimus Deutsch in the 17th century. This narrated the strange adventures of a group of naïve innocents, who managed somehow to blunder their way through the Thirty Years’ War. This was the continent-wide war between Roman Catholics and Protestants during which a fifth of the population of the German Empire died from starvation. Apart from being a classic in its own right, Grimmelshausen’s work has also been important in 20th century literature. It was on Grimmelshausen’s Description of the Life of the Archdeceiver and Vagrant Courasche that Bertolt Brecht based his play, Mother Courage. The cartoons and satires on the War could range from the gentle and mild, to the bitter and savage. Captain Bruce Bairnsfather (1888-1959) cartoon ‘It’s the Little Things that Worry’, with its caption from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner “It is an ancient campaigner and he stoppeth one of three’, below, shows a serviceman, ‘Old Bill’, trying to hunt down the fleas that pester them in the dugouts.

First War Cartoon

Black Comedy of Christian Morgenstern

Others were far more vicious. The German poet, Christian Morgenstern, was also inspired to write poetry by his experiences in the First World War. His poems are black comedies, which express his sense of how absurdly humorous the killing and death around him was. Morgenstern himself described how he and a friend were on patrol through no-man’s land when a shell exploded nearby. His friend was killed instantly, literally torn apart from the blast, and his head and entrails thrown into a nearby tree. Morgenstern said that far from being terrified, or repulsed by the grotesque sight, he actually found it funny. This is truly black humour, far darker than anything Elton showed in Blackadder.

The Wipers Times

Although Blackadder Goes Forth was fiction, written nearly seven decades after the events it describes, it does accurately reflect the type of humour and the views of the servicemen themselves, who did fight in the War. A few years ago Private Eye’s Ian Hislop presented a programme, with an accompanying book, on the Wipers Times. This was a newspaper written by and for the troops. Hislop commented on how savagely funny and dark the Times’s humour was, stating that it was exactly like Blackadder. I’ve got a feeling it was also viewed suspiciously by the authorities, like Ben Elton’s comic creation and his view of the War.

The Good Soldier Svejk

One of the greatest satirical works of the Great War was Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk. Hasek was a Czech, and the book satirises the absurdity and incompetence of the War and the multinational army of the Habsburg Empire, of which the Czech republic, then Bohemia, was a part. Hasek portrays the German-speaking generals in charge of the Austro-Hungarian forces as brutal and callous. Svejk’s own motives and character are also ambiguous. He’s incompetent, but staunchly loyal to the empire. It’s unclear whether Svejk is feigning stupidity in order to divert attention from his attempts to get out of the War, or whether he is actually that stupid. The Good Soldier Svejk has become a classic of Czech literature, and been translated into a number of languages, including English. It has been filmed several times, including in German, and a few decades ago Radio 4 broadcast a play based on the book.

Post-WW II Satires on War

Satirical treatment of wars and their brutal, terrifying absurdity, did not stop with the First World War, of course. Joseph Heller famously based Catch-22 on the Korean War. The Second World War and its horrors were the subject of a number of satires in its turn. Jonathan Miller, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett satirised the war films of the period in their show, Beyond the Fringe, which launched their careers as satirists and performers. The War also inspired and influenced the SF writers Kurt Vonnegut and Harry Harrison. Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 was partly based on his experiences as a POW during the bombing of Dresden. Vonnegut and the other captured American soldiers with him only managed to survive the bombing as they had been imprisoned in an abattoir called Slaughterhouse 5. If nothing else, it shows that the Fates have a very dark sense of humour. Harry Harrison has also served in the Second World War. He began his career as a writer through the education courses the American army laid on in order to prepare their squaddies for civilian life. His experiences of the army and war clearly influence his book, Bill the Galactic Hero. This tells the story of a recruit to the human forces waging a galaxy-wide war against a race of alien lizards. Far from being the murderous savages of propaganda, the aliens are actually highly cultured and civilised. It is the humans, who are the aggressors. His view of the absurdity of war is shown in incidents, such as one in which Bill has an arm blown off during a space battle. He receives a replacement, which to his horror is that of his Black best friend. Furthermore, it’s another left arm, like his remaining limb, as there’s a shortage of right arms. The book also contains Harrison’s comment on the violence and belligerence in human nature. When asked by an alien opponent why humans are always fighting war, Bill replies ‘I think we just enjoy it’. Bill is also given advice on surviving as a soldier by Cain, the first murderer, here presented as the first soldier.

George Grosz

Some of the most viciously satirical cartoons depicting post-War life were those of George Grosz in Germany. Grosz had enlisted in the infantry when war broke out, but became bitterly disillusioned with the conflict and its carnage. He was hospitalised, and managed to hang on to his sanity by pouring out his rage and hatred into his drawings. He was determined to hit back at the ruling order responsible for the horror, travelling to the USSR after the War. He returned to Germany even more cynical and disgusted in 1922. His cartoons, which appeared in the brief satirical magazines, Die Pleite and Der Blutige Ernst (The Bloody Earnest) depicted a corrupt and decadent society, in which rich profiteers enjoyed vast luxury on the backs of an underclass, eking out a living in slums and flophouses. The cartoon below, ‘Des Volkes Dank ist Euch gewiss’ (The People’s Gratitude is certainly yours’ shows the rich passing a beggar and a maimed ex-serviceman, forced onto the streets.

Grosz Cartoon

War Comics Spoof and Maggie’s Cuts to the Armed Forces

In the cuts that followed the Falklands and Gulf Wars, thousands of soldiers were laid off. Many of these ex-servicemen, particularly those traumatised by their experiences of conflict, ended up homeless and on the streets. Spitting Image satirised this callous discarding of courageous soldiers, who had risked their lives for their country in a spoof comic strip in their send-up of Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography, Thatcha: The Real Maggie Memoirs. Drawn in the style of the British war comics of the 1970s, like Battle, the strip told the story of a British soldier coming back from the Falklands. Made redundant from the army, the former squaddie takes out his rage and frustration by gunning a crowd of innocent people waiting on a bus stop.

How Long till Scenes from Grosz in Cameron’s Britain?

The Tories have introduced a series of cuts in military expenditure, laying off thousands of professional soldiers while attempting fill the ranks with recruits from the Territorials. Despite the high profile and work of charities caring for ex-servicemen, such as Help for Heroes and the Invictus games this summer, I wonder how long it will be before we see scenes like the above drawing by Grosz in Britain, as the vicious and decadent British upper class profit from the misery and horror caused by the war in Iraq.

Twitter’s Censorship and the Totalitarianism of the DWP’s ‘Brand’

February 7, 2014

jon-woodcock

Jon Woodcock, Brand Manager of the Department of Work and Pensions

I’ve reblogged Tom Pride’s article this morning on his site, Pride’s Purge, about Twitter’s censorship of a parody account satirising the DWP, @UKJCP. This was done at the request of Jon Woodcock, ‘Brand Manager’ at the Department of Work and Pensions. Woodcock wanted the account closed down because

‘it had been set up with the deliberate and malicious intent to devalue and criticise the work of Jobcentre Plus. In addition, there are a number of rude and potentially libellous tweets aimed at UK government, elected politicians and the heads of large private sector organisations who are committed to working with government on reducing unemployment.’

Woodcock appears to be somewhat confused about recent developments in freedom of the press, such as those that have occurred within the last 200 years or so. His pompous statements about the malicious criticism of Jobcentre Plus, and the potential libelling of their collaborators in the private sector recalls nothing so much as the way dissenting journalists in the 18th and 19th centuries were prosecuted for ‘seditious libel’ when satirising or criticising the government of the day and its ministers. Robin Day similarly hated the government being sent up. He described the satirical sixties TV show, That Was the Week That Was, which blazed the path now followed by the Not the Nine O’clock News, The News Quiz, Have I Got News For You, Spitting Image and Mock the Week as ‘deplorable’. Woodcock seems to share the same attitude. Presumably he winces every time Michael Portillo shows him his collection of early political cartoons. As his comments show, he does seem to be the type of man who’d like to censor Hogarth, Cruikshank, Gillray et al.

Then there’s the problem of why a government department should require a ‘brand manager’ at all. This is another idea that seems to have come in from general industry management culture. Many companies are extremely jealous about their brand imagery, to the point where they become extremely possessive and intolerant of anybody sending it up, or using the same kind of image as it’s part of general culture. In the 1990s Hollywood produced a film about the Loch Ness Monster. This was all well and good, but the film’s producers then tried to shut down a website about ‘Nessie’, because, as the producer’s of a film about the Loch Ness Monster, they decided that they owned copyright to the creature. Woodcock seems to come from this part of commercial culture.

goebbels

Josef Goebbels: Minister for Public Enlightenment and Brand Manager of the Nazi Party

It is also very like the commercial branding used by Josef Goebbels and the Nazi party. Also back in the 1990s, the SF author William Gibson wrote a novel, in which the central character has such a gift for branding and marketing that they feel physical pain when exposed to products or material, which have a very strong, brand identity. There was some controversy over the book because of a passage, in which the character talks about the Nazis having a very strong brand image. Talking about the book on BBC Radio 4’s arts show, Front Row, Gibson said that the passage was inspired by his own experiences in Vienna. He had been wandering down one of the Austrian capital’s side streets, and came upon a shop selling Nazi memorabilia left over from the Anschluss and the Third Reich. Gibson noted how branded it all was, with every article carrying Nazi insignia, including the notepaper. Unfortunately, Gibson was right. The Third Reich was very careful in the construction of its corporate image and that of its numerous subsections.

From 1930-33 the propaganda section of the Nazi issued detailed instruction regarding the slogans, images and themes that should appear in their posters, leaflets and party papers. The following directions, signed by Goebbels, were issued in preparation for Presidential elections of March-April 1932

‘(a) Reich Propaganda Department to all Gaue and all Gau Propaganda Departments.
… a striking slogan:
Those who want everything to stay as it is vote for Hindenburg. Those who want everything changed vote for Hitler.

(b) Reich Propaganda Department to all Gaue and Gau Propaganda Departments
… Hitler Poster. The Hitler poster depicts a fascinating Hitler head on a completely black background. Subtitle: white on black – ‘Hitler’. In accordance with the Fuhrer’s wish this poster is to be put up only during the final days [of the campaign]. Since experience shows that during the final days there is a variety of coloured posters, this poster with it completely black background will contrast with all the others and will produce a tremendous effect on the masses … .

(c) Reich Propaganda Department
Instructions for the National Socialist Press for the election of the Reich President
1. From Easter Tuesday 29 March until Sunday 10 April inclusive, all National Socialist papers, both daily and weekly, must appear in an enlarged edition with a tripled circulation. Two-thirds of this tripled circulation must be made available, without charge, to the Gau leadership responsible for its area of distribution for propaganda purposes… .
2. From East Tuesday 29 march until Sunday 3 April iniclusive, a special topic must be dealt with every day on the first page of all our papers in a big spread. Tuesday 29 March: Hitler as a man. Wednesday 30 March: hitler as a fighter (gigantic achievements through willpower, etc.). Friday 1 April. Hitler as a statesman-plenty of photos…
3. On Sunday 3 April at noon (end of an Easter truce), the great propaganda journey of the Fuehrer through Germany will start, through which about a million people are to be reached directly through our Fuehrer’s speeches… The press organisation is planned so that four press centres will be set up in Germany, which in turn will pass on immediately any telephone calls to the other papers of their area, whose names have been given them….’

From Nazism 1919-1945 – A Documentary Reader, 1: The Rise to Power 1919-1934, edited by J. Noakes and G. Pridham, (Exeter: University of Exeter 1983) 73-4.

And commercial companies were all too willing to exploit Hitler and the Nazis’ powerful brand. After Hitler seized power in 1933 under the Enabling Law, numerous German companies began marketing their products using the Fuehrer’s image. There was even a brand of sardines or smoked mackerel – I forget which – called ‘Gute Adolf’ – ‘Good Adolf’. The Italian Fascists were also no slouches in this direction. The manganello, the club Mussolini’s squadristi used for beating up their enemies, also appeared in advertising and other popular art, sometimes even as baby’s rattles.

These are simply the totalitarian expression of Jon Woodcock’s concern for his department’s brand image, taken to its most grotesque and extreme extent, and similarly used by regimes intolerant of dissent and desperate to compel the masses to give them their absolute and unthinking support.

Woodcock’s and Twitter’s censorship of @UKJCP should be a national scandal. It is, after all, another assault on free speech by a corrupt and intolerant regime that is seeking every opportunity to stifle it through legislation like the gagging laws. It also shows the way corporate branding in the hands of government departments is becoming totalitarian in its scope and basic attitudes.

Government Cuts: The BBC Defends their Bias

January 11, 2014

Who Needs Cuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resisting the Tories War on the Poor: Bring Back the Underground and Alternative Comics

December 24, 2013

As I’ve written in previous blog, one of the problems facing Left-wing opponents of the Coalition and its vile policies is how to get the message across, when the media are nearly all biased towards the Conservatives. One possibility may be to use comics and graphic novels, following the examples of the great underground and alternative comics that first appeared in the 1960s and ’70s, before expanding and changing, along with the rest of the comics world in the ’80s and ’90s. Two of the most famous examples of comics creators using the medium to make extremely serious political points were Brought to Light and Aargh in the 1980s. These were a response to atrocities committed by CIA-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua and the Thatcher government’s attempt to pass the now notorious Clause 28 respectively. This last piece of legislation was intended to prevent schools promoting homosexuality. Gays and libertarians were outraged by what they saw as the official promotion of homophobia, and feared that it would be followed by even more punitive legislation directed at gays themselves. Since Mrs Thatcher’s death, there has been some attempt to rehabilitate her regarding her attitude towards homosexuality. It’s been rightly observed that she did not personally hate gays, and that an attraction to one’s own sex was no obstacle to serving in her cabinet. Thatcher’s economic model was, however, Chile under the Fascist dictator General Pinochet, who was a personal friend of hers. At a time when homosexuality was far less tolerated than at present, there was a real fear that Thatcher would not only import Pinochet’s monetarism, but also follow him in destroying personal and political freedoms over here. Under the Right-wing totalitarianism Thatcher seemed ready to establish, gays would also be brutalised and persecuted, as well as other social and political groups the government deemed offensive or a threat. This was the background to the Fascist dystopia depicted in Moore’s and Lloyd’s comic strip and graphic novel, V for Vendetta.

Moore also contributed to Brought to Light, writing the strip ‘Shadowplay’, illustrated by the American comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz. ‘Shadowplay’ is a bitterly funny history of the way the CIA had backed Right-wing dictators and conspired to overthrow left-wing regimes, as well as engage in other, illegal and extremely unethical tactics across the world, as told in a sleazy bar by a cynical American eagle. It’s an example of the way comics, in the hands of good writers and artists, can be used to make deadly serious political points based on fact in a manner that it is entertaining as well as informative.

Shadowplay art

Art from ‘Shadowplay’ from Brought to Light, written by Alan Moore with art by Bill Sienkiewicz, showing the caricature-based artistic style used to make their point about the CIA infamous legacy of atrocity and human rights abuses.

Moore also contributed to Aargh!. This was a collection of strips, whose title was an acronym supposedly standing for ‘Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia’. Although it was a British response to Thatcher’s Clause 28, it followed a line of American underground gay comics from the 1970s, such as Harold Hedd, Barefootz and the lesbian comic, Dynamite Damsels, culminating in the anthology, Gay Comix, published by Kitchen Sink.

Aargh1

Page from Aargh!

The underground comics were largely a product of the 1960s Hippy counterculture, and much of their contents were based around drugs and sex. This is shown very much in the work of the best known of the underground comics creators, Robert Crumb, and Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a comic about the weird adventures of a group of hippy drug freaks. In the 1970s a number of explicitly political underground comics appeared, including Slow Death Funnies, Edu-Comics and Anarchy Comics. Slow Death produced a number of issues, each devoted to a particular topic, such as the medical-industrial complex, nuclear power, the campaign against the Vietnam War and Greenpeace. As well as satirical strips, they also included facts and figures. Edu-Comics also produced a number of individual comics devoted to particular issues, such as All-Atomic Comics (1976) and Energy Comics (1980), which attacked the nuclear power industry.

Atomic Comics

Pages from All-Atomic Comics showing the mixture of satirical strip and factual contents.

Britain also had a number of political underground comics, such as the Optimist and Committed Comics. The Optimist appeared in 1976, and featured strips that discussed squatting, the dole, abortion and hypothermia amongst British pensioners.

Optimist

Cover from The Optimist.

Committed Comix, for its part, had strips discussing Northern Ireland, gay rights and the rise of the National Front.

Back to the Thirties

Back to the Thirties strip from Committed Comix, warning of the rise of the extreme Right-wing National Front.

These underground comics helped create a tradition of highly political comics that continued well into the 1990s, with titles such as Downside. This was a soap opera set in Thatcher’s Britain, which strongly criticised her government and its policies, and which ironically used quotes from her for each issue’s titles.

Downside Thatcher

Other comics in the 1980s devoted to particular contemporary issues include Strip AIDS, El Salvador: A House Divided and Palestine. Alan Moore also produced another political comic in consultation with an American conscientious objectors’ group, Real War Stories. This was intended to promote its anti-War message through presenting the reality of armed conflict, based on the experiences of real soldiers.

Apart from these Underground and alternative comics, mainstream comics also became far more adult with an increasing demand from their readers for them to include more mature themes and issues. One issue of Daredevil attempted to show the horrific effects of drugs on American schoolchildren, while another superhero comic, The Vigilante, dealt with child abuse. In Britain a range of comics were produced by Fleetway, aimed at readers over the age of 16. These included Crisis, and its strip, ‘Third World War’. This was about a pair of teenagers drafted in to serve the multinational food corporations as they exploited the Developing World.

Crisis Cover

Cover of Crisis.

Most of these new, adult strips didn’t last very long. The new emphasis on gritty realism and politics did not attract the younger readers, on whom the industry traditionally depended, and the comics industry in general suffered a massive collapse after the initial boom of the 1990s. Nevertheless, despite this decline, 2000 AD has survived. Many of its strips, including Judge Dredd, were sharply satirical. As the millennium approached, for example, the comic decided to celebrate the approaching year of its title with a satirical strip harking back to Mach 1, one of the very strips in the new comic. Mach 1 was based very much on the Six Million Dollar Man. Instead of bionics, however, Mach 1 owed his massively increased strength and speed to ‘compu-puncture hyperpower’. To help him control it, Mach 1 had a special computer implanted in his head which gave him advice. 2000 AD took this early strip, and reworked it into a strip satirising Tony Blair, the then current prime minister. He appeared as Blair 1, with his inbuilt computer advisor, Dr Spin. Two of the problems facing the fictional PM was how to support single mothers, as well as what should be done about the abandoned mines left through the closure of the mining industry by Major’s regime. Dr Spin’s advice is to solve these problems by combining them, so that the single mothers are then sent down the mines. A long line of them appear in characteristic miner’s gear, singing ‘Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go! We work all day for rubbish pay, thank you, Tonio!’ Other politicians skewered by the strip also included Chris Patten and Anne Widdicombe.

The 1980s also saw the appearance of Diceman, a comic in which the individual strips were adventure games that could be played by the reader, and whose narrative and ending depended on the choice they made as they progressed through the game. It was the graphic successor not only to similar, text-based games like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but also to the various ‘Have Your Own … Adventure’ books aimed at younger readers, which used comic strips as the format for similar adventure games. Diceman was a spin-off from 2000 AD, and many of the games were based on its strips and characters, including Slaine and Nemesis the Warlock. It also shared the satirical slant of its parent, and several of its games attacked the leaders of the British and American governments. Thus, Diceman ran the strips Thatcher: A Dole-Playing Game, and one in which the reader played Ronald Reagan. This was illustrated by that veteran of underground comics and political subversion, Hunt Emerson. These were humorous in tone. One of the problems presented to the reader in the Reagan strip is that, as the present, your popularity is falling. The way to regain popularity is to launch an investigation into your own family tree, in the hope that a suitably popular and glamorous ancestral link can be found. The reader thus spun the dice to decide, who the investigation would say Reagan was related to. The highest numbers produced the most popular relatives, who duly boosted your score as Ronald Reagan. The most popular of these was the Queen, followed by ‘a lot of Irishmen’. The lowest score, however, made you related to Bonzo, Reagan’s chimpanzee fellow star from his film, Bedtime for Bonzo. The strip also made extremely serious and alarming factual points, such as when it discussed some of the occasions in which mistakes and malfunctions had left the world a millimetre away from nuclear war. One of these, for example, was when a technician accidentally dropped a spanner down the shaft of a nuclear silo.

A number of alternative comics have also appeared in Britain, which also include a strongly political element. These include Pete Loveday’s Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man, whose hero is a hippy going from one weird experience to another. Like the Underground comics before it, much of the humour in this centres around the alternative culture and the various festivals that had appeared by the ’90s, and drugs. It also showed and satirised the demoralising experience of job hunting, government cuts to unemployment benefit at the Job Centre, and the callous attitude of hospital administrators, eager to get people out of their hospital beds as quickly as possible in order to accommodate the next person in the queue.

Russel Job Hunting

The reality of looking for a job, as depicted in Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man.

Russel DofE

Russell finds that Unemployment Benefits are being replaced by payment in kind. From Russell: Part 2.

Russel Hospital Admin

Apart from the political comics themselves, many contemporary British comics artists and writers entered the field through the Underground comics, including Brian Bolland, Angus McKie, Dave Gibbons, Bryan Talbot, Hunt Emerson and Steve Bell, known for his political cartoons in the Guardian and the Indepedent, like Maggie’s Farm. There are also a large number of younger comics artists and writers out there in the wider fan culture, many of whom have got around problems of finding a commercial publisher by publishing their work themselves. Comics are also no longer confined to print and hardcopy. A few artists have taken to the web to publish their work. There is thus a large pool of talent available to create such comics, and the developments in comics publishing over the last couple of decades means that a political comic attacking the governments’ welfare policies could be published independently, or on-line and so get around the problem of finding a commercial publisher that way. Graphic novels have established comics as a medium in which serious issues can be discussed, and the growth of comics and their readership has meant that Waterstone’s now has a section devoted to comics and graphic novels. I also believe that Forbidden Planet would also be willing to stock such a comic. As well as conventional, mainstream comics like Batman, Superman, Spiderman and so on, Forbidden Planet has also stocked the independent, alternative and underground comics, including some of the very political work published by Knockabout. It might even be worth some of the comics companies republishing some of the old satirical strips. Margaret Thatcher has passed away, but her shadow still looms large over the British political landscape, with politicians on both the Right and the Left presenting themselves as her political heir and successor. It would thus be a timely reminder of how much suffering she caused in her day. And some of the issues discussed in the British undergrounds are still all too relevant. The references in The Optimist to pensioners suffering from hypothermia is, tragically, one of these. There was shock a few months ago when it was revealed just how many tens of thousands of senior citizens had died of the cold the previous winter.

Rather than a comic, published in serial instalments, I think the best way of using the comic strip to satirise and attack the government would be a graphic novel, or anthology, dedicated to the issue of poverty and the Coalition’s war on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, like Brought to Light, Aargh! and the others in the 1980s and 1990s. The harshness of the government’s policies and the immense suffering they have created, such as the very many disabled people, who have committed suicide after being found fit for work by ATOS, surely warrant a similar treatment to the issues graphic novels explored and publicised in those decades. I am not saying that such a graphic novel or comic would be sufficiently influential to persuade the public to vote Cameron, Clegg and the others out. Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye and one of the creators of British satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, was once asked on Radio 4 whether he thought satire could change anything. He answered, ‘No’, and pointing out that no matter how viciously Spitting Image caricatured and attacked Mrs Thatcher and her government, people still kept voting for her. Nevertheless, if told with wit and style, such a graphic novel or comic might still reach and affect some people, who would otherwise find politics boring and help change the minds of those, who would otherwise quietly accept the Right-wing media’s misleading reporting and views of these issues. If even some people change their mind as a result, or are encouraged to vote against the government or become politically active against their policies, then such a graphic novel or comic will have succeeded.

A political comic attacking the government and its welfare policies would doubtless be extremely controversial. This is nothing new. The underground comics were notoriously controversial, and in the 1970s were the subjects of a series of obscenity cases in America that decimated the underground scene. Their counterparts over this side of the pond were similarly attacked. I remember that back in the ’70s and ’80s Knockabout always seemed to be raided by the police. Martin Barker in his book, Comics: Ideology, Power & the Critics, has also pointed out how mainstream children’s comics have also been the frequent target of official disapproval. Many of these were on the grounds that they were cheap rubbish that kept children away from reading proper literature, or that they indoctrinated their younger readers with the wrong values, either from the subversive Left or capitalist right. Barker wrote the book while Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister, and popular literature, particularly comics, was coming under increasing attack. In the postscript to the book Barker makes a passionate defence of comics in the face of growing demands for censorship. Although comics and graphic novels are now better accepted than they were in the 1980s, his comments are still relevant today.

‘In this book I have worked hard at being the analyst. Assessing and weighing, investigating and evaluating. Not above a bit of anger when I find bad theory and empirical misrepresentation, but basically cool. Perhaps every now and then a bit of laughter or passion when something I really love comes up before my eyes, but most of the time outside it all. This is, of course, not true at all. I live in this damned country at this damned time and comics are part of my and my children’s lives. And I now say passionately: let us have as many of the things as we possibly can. In the face of the capital-calculating machine called Thatcherism which used morality like murderers use shotguns, all the little things like comics matter. Little by little, the cohorts of the ‘competitive-minded’ seek to shut down, enclose, militarise our imaginations. Comics prise open the bars just a little. Dreaming, eh? Give that chap a ‘short, sharp shock’! I am quite willing to say passionately: all those in whom humanity remains prized about the ‘laws of the market’ have no business (you own none, you have none) helping to block the dreaming that people manage to do. Imagination, fantasy, call it what-you-will, is not some fixed drum which, filled with the wrong stuff, will then be unavailable for other purposes. For heaven’s sake, let us have dreamers; or we will have hell. My defence of the comics is, to me, in the end a defence of the right to imagine.’ (p. 301). He then proceeds to attack comics’ left-wing critics for their censorship, which they share with Thatcher.

Comics and graphic novels have a long tradition of highlighting social and political problems, and satirising and attacking repressive governments and exploitative organisations and corporations. This tradition provides a fertile ground for attacking the present, repressive, exploitative government, and I’m sure there are plenty of talented and enthusiastic young comics writers and artists willing to do this. Such a graphic novel may not be successful, but it would be worth trying, and might, just might, help change a few minds.

On the subject of the way comics in the 1980s began to tackle serious, adult issues, here is an edition of the 1980s documentary series, Signals from 1989, I found on youtube. Entitled ‘The Day Comics Grew Up’, it features interviews with Alan Moore, Archie Goodwin, John Byrne, Tom Veitch and Jim Baikie, amongst other writers and artists, talking about their work and the demand for comics to include such mature, serious subjects.

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Sources

Martin Barker, Comics: Ideology, Power & the Critics (Manchester: Manchester University Press 1989).

Pete Loveday, Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man (London: John Brown Publishing 1991).

Pete Loveday, Russell: The Saga of a Peaceful Man, Part 2 (London: John Brown Publishing 1993).

Roger Sabin, Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art (London: Phaidon 1996).

A View into the Phone Hacking Scandal, and the Dark, Ugly Heart of Murdoch Journalism

October 4, 2013

News of the World? Fake Sheiks and Royal Trappings, Peter Burden (London: Eye Books 2008).

Fake Sheikhs

The author is the father of a girl, whose boyfriend genuinely knows Princes Wills and Harry. As such, the girl and lad were – unsuccessfully – targeted by the ‘Fake Sheikh’ Mahmood Mazher. This is Burden’s account not only of the incident, but of the history of the infamous ‘phone hacking scandal’, Murdoch tabloid journalism and the News of the World. He charts the history of such journalism right back as far as the 18th century and the Monitor newspaper. This Georgian rag was a predecessor of the News of the World in that it adopted an attitude of pious distaste, while retailing news of sexual scandal amongst the great and not very good. George Crabbe summed up this early incarnation of tabloid prurience in the poem:

‘Then lo, the sainted Monitor is born,
Whose pious face some scared texts adorn
As artful sinners cloak the secret sin,
To veil with seeming grace the guile within
So moral essays on his front appear
But all is carnal business in the rear.’

Burden goes on to trace the rise of the News of the World itself, and how it kept itself afloat with similar stories of scandal. So firmly was the News of the World associated with this kind of yellow journalism, that it’s nickname in Private Eye was ‘News of the Screws’. In the 1960s, however, sales of the News of the World began to fall and its proprietors considered partnerships with other media moguls. One of these was a young Rupert Murdoch. The News’ owner in this period comes out actually as being rather a naïve, gentlemanly soul, in contrast to the contents of his scandal sheet. He was told repeatedly by his colleagues that if he went into business with Murdoch, the Dirty Digger would stab him in the back and he’d be ousted from his own newspaper. The proprietor refused to listen, went ahead with a deal that signed over part of the newspaper to Murdoch, and within half a year he was out. His wife, however, didn’t like the Digger. When they met over lunch, she found him humourless, amongst other things.

The book has on its frontispiece a quotation from a former news editor on the News of the Screws: ‘… that is what we do – we go out and destroy other people’s lives.’ Burden discusses some of the truly low points in the rags miserable history of the invasion and destruction of people’s lives. One of these was in the 1970s, when one of the journalists covered the activities of a man running a walking society. In fact, he was swinger, who used the society as a cover for his own interest in group sex. When asked why his own wife wasn’t part of the shenanigans, the man said that he’d like her to, but she simply wasn’t interested in it and so he kept his double life secret from her. The Screws went ahead with the story. The man running the ‘walking society’ was so devastated by it that, tragically, he took his own life. This led to a scandal about the way the Screws ran its stories, and reforms were put in place to stop it all occurring in the future. Nevertheless, it shows the immense harm that such stories do to otherwise blameless individuals. Sure, the man in question was an adulterer. The people involved in it were all consenting adults, however, so no harm was done to anyone. In today’s more liberal moral climate, it could be argued very strongly that what they got up to in the privacy of their own homes was no business of anyone else. It certainly doesn’t warrant driving someone, who may otherwise have been a perfectly decent person, to suicide.

Other low points in the News’ race to the journalistic pit include their persecution of Russell Harty. Remember him? Harty was the much-loved, rather camp host of a week day chat show in the 1980s. He is perhaps most famous for being beaten up live on TV by Grace Jones, the singer and female muscle freak. The design of the set met that Harty couldn’t face more than one guest at the same time. After talking to Jones, he turned to talk to his other guest. Jones thought he was ignoring her, and so gave him a clip on the top of the head. It was a bizarre, funny moment, and added yet more evidence to prove that Grace Jones was deeply scary. There was a car advert in which her mechanical head suddenly emerged from the desert. Her mouth opened like a set of mechanical garage doors, and the car shot out. After driving around a bit, it returned back into Jones’ gaping maw. This was the decade when Arnie’s Terminator first appeared, so this may have been Jones’ turn to represent female cyborg muscle.

It was not, however, the fearsome chanteuse that persecuted Harty during his terminal illness. Harty tragically died of AIDS. During his treatment, however, he, his friends and family were repeatedly pestered by the Screws’ journalists covering the story. After breaking into his private room in hospital, the Screws’ then rented a room in the house opposite so they could take long lens shot of the sick broadcaster in his bed. it was another demonstration of how low the Screws and its journalists would go. One of them had such a reputation for indulging in stories of indiscreet sexual shenanigans that he acquired the soubriquet ‘Onan the Barbarian’.

The there’s the ‘Fake Sheikh’ Mahmood Mazher. Mazher’s stock-in-trade is to dress up as an Arab sheikh, and arrange a meeting with various members of the aristocracy or celebrities on the pretext of going into business with them. he then inveigles them into doing or saying something embarrassing or criminal. In the case of the aristocracy, this consists in indiscreet comments about the royal family. With celebrities like the Radio 1 DJ, Johnny Walker, this consists of pestering them to get drugs. When they do, Mazher takes it away for testing, and the Screws runs the story revealing that they are a drug fiend. Mazher has even gone so low as to stitch up members of his own family. His brother, Waseem, was employed in the BBC’s Asian unit at Pebble Mill. Waseem Mazher noticed that, contrary to Beeb regulations, a number of directors and producers at the Mill were using the Beeb’s equipment to edit films they were making for rival companies. At that time both Waseem and Mazher were living at home. Waseem mentioned this over family dinner. Mazher immediately recognised the story and ran it. For breaking the broadcasters’ code of omerta, Waseem was ostracised to the point where he could not work in British broadcasting. He now operates a radio station in Afghanistan. Friends and family clearly mean nothing to this man.

One person, who was not deceived by Mazher was George Galloway. Mazher contacted Galloway for a meeting in his guise as the sheikh. On his way to the meeting, Galloway recognised Mazher’s accomplice and bodyguard, a seven-foot tall man mountain with gold teeth, nicknamed ‘Jaws’ because of his similarity to the Bond villain. This alerted him to what was to come. Now I’m not a fan of Galloway. He has publicly supported some of the nastiest regimes in the Middle East, such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the current government in Damascus. Mind you, not that he’s alone in that. As I’ve pointed out, Maggie, Bush and Reagan were selling arms to Saddam’s regime in the 1980s. In the 1950s the CIA was running him as a hitman to whack out members of the Iraqi government after a revolution toppled Britain’s puppet. Arguably, his opinions on the Middle East are no worse than that of the British establishment. He’s just more consistent about them and open. Galloway is a supporter of the Palestinians and against Israel. He states, however, that he is anti-Zionist, but not an anti-Semite. During their conversation, Mazher tried to trap him into saying something vilely anti-Semitic and in favour of the Holocaust. Galloway was not tricked, and refused to take the bait. He replied that the Holocaust was a crime against humanity. Defeated, Mazher withdrew.

When Mazher was pulling these stunts in the 1990s, Private Eye ran a story in their ‘Street of Shame’ column. One of his victims finally caught up with him and asked him, over the phone, why he was involved in such despicable journalism. His reply? ‘But I’ve got a mortgage’. Burden notes that Mazher was originally quite a courageous, genuinely investigative journalist. He was beaten up during an investigation into the availability and use of guns amongst Manchester’s street gangs. Understandably, he gave up this type of journalism, to concentrate on weaker, less violent targets.

As for Burden’s daughter,she and her beau were flown to America by the ‘Fake Sheikh’ pretending to be interested in making a business deal with them. Mazher took them to a nightclub, and then tried to get them to say something unpleasant about the Princes, the Queen Mother and Prince Philip. The lad, who has set up nightclubs with one of the Princes, remained discreet about it all and said he really couldn’t comment, as he genuinely had no opinion. On their return to Britain, the couple slowly realised that they may have been duped and the person they encountered was Mazher in his habitual guise. Burden checked with the Screws, who replied that they had indeed tried to deceive them, and that it had been a complete waste of several thousand pounds.

Most of the book is, of course, about the phone hacking scandal, the journalists, editors and private investigators involved, how they were discovered hacking into the Princes’ private email and mobile phone messages. They were discovered after running as genuine a phone call one of the Prince’s had made to the other pretending to be his girlfriend. Burden goes further, and talks about the Murdoch’s personal management of his empire, his appointment of Rebbekah Brooks as editor of the Screws, and the weird legal economics that informs how Murdoch runs him empire. Murdoch’s chief legal advisor was one Crone. Crone used to guide his master on how much their newspapers would lose in fines and damages if they lost a libel case on a particular story. He used to raise up the fingers on his hands to show how many thousands it would cost them. Murdoch and his editors then did a few brief calculations. If the number of copies sold outweighed the amount they’d have to pay in damages, then they printed the story. Burden also criticises Murdoch and his empire for the way he has generally lowered journalistic standards through his prurient sensationalism.

Burden also considers the debate surrounding what is in the people’s interest, versus what is of interest to the people. This means whether the content of a piece of journalism is worth printing because of its importance to British society and economy. As against whether people want to read it simply out of desire to get some kind of thrill from reading about others’ private lives and peccadilloes. Burden himself seems to favour a law like that of the French legislation guaranteeing the individual’s right to a private life. This effectively puts peering into the private lives of MPs, celebs and others out of bounds. You can see his point, but I don’t think the argument is at all solid, especially after the accusations of rape directed a few years ago against a senior French politician.

This book, however, gives valuable personal and historical insight into the News of the World, and the background to the phone-hacking scandal still enveloping News International. It also shows the moral paucity at the heart of Murdoch’s media empire.

Meanwhile, here’s a clip of the formidable Ms Jones laying into Russell Harty.

It’s on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpWo15Jc2JQ.

And here’s Spitting Image’s take on Murdoch’s true journalistic values:

This is on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVIkmJcodFM.

Banned from TV Under Thatcher: Maggie’s MIlitant Tendency

October 2, 2013

The Conservative party is always keen to watch for and denounced supposed left-wing bias in the BBC. There is an entire website, Biased BBC, which is full of such accusations. The Conservatives have, however, used their influence when in power to censor and suppress any material of which they didn’t approve. I’ve already blogged about how Thames TV lost its broadcasting licence because of Thatcher’s disapproval of the World in Action documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’. Another documentary that incurred Thatcher’s displeasure was the Panorama edition, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’. Mainstream political parties and organisations, such as Labour, are frequently targeted for infiltration by extremists, such as the various Communist sects. Called ‘revolutionary entryism’ by the extreme Left, the process is designed to allow the smaller, more extreme party to be able to take over its larger, more mainstream host. The extremists are thus able get into power, which they could not do on their own behalf. The nascent Communist party tried these tactics in Weimar Germany when the SPD split following the Council Revolution of 1919. The Communists tried to infiltrate the more extreme, break-away faction, the USPD, with the intention of breaking it up. This would remove the party as an alternative to the Communists. At the same time they hoped to radicalise the more extreme members of the USPD, and so get them to join the Communist party. It didn’t work, and the USPD eventually reunited with the parent party, the SPD, the German equivalent of the Labour party.

Similar tactics were tried in the ’70s and ’80s by other Marxist groups, which tried to get into the British Labour party. Harry Conroy records in his biography of Jim Callaghan (London: Haus Publishing Ltd 2006) hearing a conversation between a Maoist and another extremist about how they intended to infiltrate the Labour party. In the 1980s there was the controversy over the activities within Labour of the Militant Tendency, a radical group, which seemed intent on rigging elections and other activities in order to seize power within the party. Eventually they were expelled by the then leader, Neil Kinnock. This was, however, used by the Conservatives to show that Labour was full of splits, with a weak leadership, and that it had been infiltrated by ‘Reds’. Once Labour got in, these infiltrators would use their power to set up a Communist dictatorship. It was the classic ‘Red Scare’, and was run by the Sun. It also supplied the basis for one of Frederick Forsythe’s novels, in which MI% agents have to stop a Labour party infiltrated by Communists from gaining power and turning the country into a puppet of the Soviet Union. The plot appears to represent genuine fears on the part of the CIA and MI5. James Angleton, the head of the CIA, believed that Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent, a belief shared by his colleagues in MI5 and in the Conservative party. One of those who bought this rubbish was one Margaret Thatcher. Sadly, the Red scaremongering didn’t end with the suspicions about Wilson. In the 1990s the Times libelled Michael Foot by claiming that he was a Soviet agent codenamed ‘Agent Boot’. So much for the Times as a centre of journalistic excellence.

What was not widely known at the time was that the Conservatives were also afraid that they had similarly been infiltrated by the National Front and other Far-Right organisations. A 1983 report by the Young Conservatives concluded that ‘organised infiltration is a reality’. They identified the Fascist groups that had infiltrated the Party as WISE, Tory Action and the London Swinton Circle, as well as David Irving’s Focus Policy Group. A number of Conservative MPs, which belonged to some of these groups were also suspected of NF membership or sympathies. These included Harvey Proctor, Ronald Bell and Gerard Howarth, as well as George Kennedy Young, a former deputy head of MI6, who had almost taken over the Monday Club in the 1970s, and who was particularly active in Tory Action.

The Tory party was also faced with a series of public scandals where members of the party publicly declared their support for Racial Nationalism and the Far Right. I distinctly remember a report on the Six O’clock News about the leader of either one of the Young Conservative groups or Union of Conservative Students in Northern Ireland, Tinnies, who had publicly embraced the Front’s racism. Tinnies declared of himself and his followers that ‘we are not Fascists. We are Thatcherite achievers. But if Mrs Thatcher does not want us, we will go to the Far Right.’ I’ve heard since that it was because of Fascist infiltration and sympathies amongst the membership that the Tories wound up the Union of Conservative Students, and replaced it with Conservative Future.

Larry O’Hara, a historian of Fascist politics in this period and a staunch anti-Fascist, has argued that there was no organised infiltration of the Tory party in the 1980s. The NF members, who joined the Tories, according to O’Hara, did so due to disillusionment with the NF after its catastrophic performance in the 1979 bye-election. Moreover, according to O’Hara, the actual core membership of the BNP is small, perhaps only about 200 members. Most of its members leave after about two years as they are simply anti-White immigration and have no interest in Fascist ideology. Andrew Brons, then the chairman of the NF, and the leader of the ‘Strasserite’ faction in 1984 vehemently denied that the NF had any such policy. He stated ‘the idea that we, a radical, Racial Nationalist party, should seek to infiltrate the unsavoury corpse of the Conservative party is so ludicrous that is should not need to be denied.’ Nevertheless, at the time the idea that the Fascist fringe had infiltrated the Conservative party was all too credible. Mrs Thatcher’s model of a monetarist state was General Pinochet’s Chile, and she herself was friends with the Chilean dictator. The Fascist future depicted in Moore’s ‘V for Vendetta’ strip seemed all too likely to come true. The BBC’s long-running documentary series, Panorama, investigated the allegations that the Tories had indeed been infiltrated. The resulting programme, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency, was not, however, broadcast as Thatcher had it suppressed.

In fact long before the Thatcher administration the membership of the Conservative Party and various Fascist organisations had overlapped. In the immediate period after the First World War Right-wing Tories had formed militantly anti-Socialist, anti-Semitic groups such as the British Fascisti. The first editor of the BNP after it was formed from the merger of the White Defence League and National Labour Party in 1960 was Andrew Fountaine. Fountaine was a Norfolk landowner, who had fought for the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Fountaine had been adopted by the Tories in 1949 as their candidate for Chorley. He was later thrown out of the party after he made a speech at the Conservative Party Conference criticising it for allowing Jews to gain important public offices. he then stood as an Independent Conservative in the 1950 election, only losing it by 341 votes. In 1958 he formed his own National Front, which was dissolved at the foundation of the BNP. In the 1970s and 1980s the National Front had a deliberate policy of trying to recruit members of the Conservative party, as well as alienated Whites in inner city areas. David Irving’s Focus Policy Group had made repeated attempts to purchase the mailing list of Conservative activists.

Other links between the Conservatives and the Far Right was through the various anti-immigration groups, such as the Race Preservation Society. These brought together Fascist organisations such as the BNP and Northern League as well as members of the Tory party. They were backed by wealthy private individuals, which allowed them to publish a series of magazines and pamphlets. These included Sussex News, Midland News, the British Independent, New Nation and RPS News. It has been said, however, that the RPS was not a Fascist organisation, but a federation of racial populist, anti-immigrant groups. WISE, whose initials stood for Welsh, Irish, Scots, English, was another racist, anti-immigrant group also maintained contact with the both the Conservative Party and the Fascist fringe. In the 1970s following the immigration to Britain of Asian refugees from Idi Amin’s Uganda, a number of former Conservatives joined the NF, such as John Kingsley Read and Roy Painter. These embarked on a struggle for power within the NF, which culminated in Read replacing Tyndall as chairman in 1975. The Monday Club was another society in which the Conservatives mixed with members of the NF. At an anti-immigration rally in September 1972 held by the Monday Club, the NF provided the stewards and 400 members of the audience. After George Kennedy Young was defeated in his bid to become chairman, the NF was gradually excluded from the Club. The Club ultimately presented their books for examination by Lesley Wooler, of the Jewish 62 group, to make sure there were no more anti-Semites within it. Despite this, the Monday Club still retained a reputation for racism, especially after various anti-immigration rants by Norman Tebbit, one of the Club’s members and member of Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet. So embarrassing is the Club’s reputation that about a decade ago David Cameron officially announced that he was severing the link between the Tory party and the Club.

The Tory party has nevertheless had links and shared members with the extreme Right over the years. This eventually became so embarrassing for Thatcher that she had the Beeb’s investigation into it pulled from the airwaves. This demonstrates the Tory party’s own willingness to use censorship and manipulate the news when th threatens their hold in power. In this respect, they may act precisely like the Fascist organisations from which they are so keen to distance themselves.

Meanwhile, here’s Spitting Image’s satirical suggestion of where Maggie that the idea for her policies.
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It’s on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2DnW5uC1_A.

Sources

Larry O’Hara, ‘Notes from the Underground: British Fascism 1974-92 – Part 1, 1974-83, in Lobster 23: 15-20 (June 1992).

Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918-1985 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1987).