Over the past weeks, anyone watching the TV news, or reading a newspaper, will have noticed two main stories. First and foremost, the fiasco in America concerning the appointment of a Supreme Court Judge, and the allegations of historical sexual assault that followed his nomination. This may well be very significant to people in America, and the story naturally picked up on the #metoo movement that began with the Harvey Weinstein case. I can see that it has a broader appeal, given that it allows abused women to finally speak up, and hopefully stop such things happening in the future.
But it was also the main feature on the BBC News here, every day for weeks. Not only that, but they relayed the entire hearings live, for hours on end during the afternoon. It got so that a newshound like me was wondering if anything else was happening, anywhere on Earth.
The second story that was pumped out by the media in the UK was the constant division in our political parties, caused by the Brexit arguments, alleged anti-semitism, and the circus that is the politics of Northern Ireland. Of course, we are interested in what happens with Brexit. We might also be interested in whether or not we can expect the awful Boris Johnson to become our next Prime Minister. But in the middle of Brexit squabbles, and the unforgivable actions of an unrepentant Judge in America, it seemed that little else was happening.
But it was.
The war continued in Syria. Soldiers and civilians were still dying there, and in Afghanistan. American interventions in Niger, Chad, Mali, and Somalia were all going unreported, and the Saudi/US war against rebels and civilians in Yemen continued to supply potentially horrific headlines. Things were getting no better for the Muslim minorities in Myanmar, and the flood of economic migrants to southern Europe continued unabated.
Supreme Court appointments and Brexit arguments may be worthy of the news, I don’t doubt that. But they should follow more serious world events, not lead them. If this doesn’t change, we will not only be in danger of being misinformed, as is often claimed, but uninformed, which I think is even worse.
The past week has seen a return to the issue of the Labour Party leadership on many News and Current Affairs features here. Most pundits are predicting that Jeremy Corbyn will be re-elected by the party members, and that he is set to defeat his nondescript opponent, the former pharmaceutical company lobbyist, Owen Smith. Corbyn’s enemies are lining up to bad mouth him, in advance of his probable win.
Many of his fellow Labour members in parliament appear on round table discussions or late-night news programmes, telling anyone who will listen that they will not serve in his cabinet, and are unlikely to support his policies.
The main argument against Corbyn, from both his spiteful colleagues, and the media commentators, is that a party with him in charge is not electable. They claim that the Labour Party will split into yet more factions, and by the time of the next election in 2020, will lose more seats, and cease to be an opposition in all but name. They also claim that the British public does not want further nationalisation of industry, higher taxes to pay for improvements in the NHS, or to see an end to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Those in his party who oppose Corbyn, many of them Blairites and crypto-Tories, are stalking the chat shows like harbingers of doom, foretelling the end of Labour as we know it.
Many of these individuals, and the political reporters they are so keen to talk to, are the same people who claimed that UKIP brought about the vote to leave the EU, and that the voters are so keen to embrace their policies, that they will no longer vote for the Labour Party, and change to UKIP instead. They blame Corbyn for anything they can think of, including the vote to leave. This argument seems desperate to my way of thinking. UKIP has only one MP in parliament, and less than 40,000 members in the party. The former leader, Nigel Farage, remains as an MEP in Europe for the time being, alongside twenty or so other UKIP MEPs who will all be out of a job after Britain leaves the EU. They have around 500 elected local council officers, out of a total of many thousands around the UK, and overall control of only one council in the entire country.
This does not tie in with the level of influence and power that Labour dissidents claim for this minor party of protest voters that will ruin their own party, and see them consigned to the political wilderness for ever. Yet these same people assert that Corbyn cannot galvanize support, or enthuse a nation with his policies, despite the vast power base and traditional working-class vote that the Labour Party seems to be slowly recovering.
Jeremy’s opponents want to have their cake, and eat it. On one hand, they claim that the public wants their pseudo-Tory and business-backed policies, and that socialism is not the way forward. To keep Corbyn as Labour leader will be the end of everything as we know it, they say. But on the other hand, they warn that UKIP, with one MP, can influence the whole nation by a click of its fingers, or a raised eyebrow from Mr Farage.
They can’t have it both ways, I’m afraid.
On an average day in the UK, approximately 2000 babies are born. I had to look that up, and it’s a lot more than I would have guessed. So yesterday, those 2000 babies entered this world unnoticed, except by their immediate family, and attendant medical staff. This is how it is every day, and how it should be. There was an exception though. A member of the Royal Family gave birth to her second child. A one-day old baby who is now currently fifth in line to the throne of Great Britain. If you watched any news at all, or read a newspaper, or perhaps an Internet news feed, you couldn’t have missed this event. The BBC, funded by the public with licence fee payment, sent a team of reporters and camera crews to report on the event, live from the pavement outside the hospital. They stood for hours, speculating on the child’s gender, what name it might be given, and how well the mother would recover. Then they repeated the coverage once again, as soon as the baby emerged with its parents.
They also interviewed the crowds outside, some of whom had been waiting there for fourteen days, camped on the pavement, using the toilet facilities and snack bars in the main hospital building. FOURTEEN DAYS! Their loyalty and devotion was suitably rewarded, when they were presented with cakes and pastries, courtesy of the proud parents. They gushed in interviews with reporters, gasped in wonder at the new arrival, and swooned with delight when the family group emerged. I don’t recognise these people as being from the same country as me. Living in the place where I live, and having experienced life in modern Britain, as I have. When the sole purpose of their lives is to wait outside a building for the birth of a member of the Royal Family, I start to think that there is a lot more wrong with this country than I ever believed possible.
Specialist Royal commentators were wheeled in by the media, to give their privileged insights into everything, from how much rest the mother will need, to how soon the grandparents will leave it before visiting. They made a great deal of how ‘ordinary’ this couple is. ‘Just like any other young couple, proud parents’, said one. Except that hardly any other couples have the protection of personal armed bodyguards around the clock. They don’t get to collect their baby in a car that costs £75,000 – and not get a parking ticket – before deciding whether to return to their luxury home on a private estate in Central London, or instead choose their other luxury home, on a private estate in Norfolk. The proud father will soon be flying a helicopter for the East of England Air Ambulance, so it made sense to go to Norfolk. Of course it did.
Just the kind of decision made by every ordinary Dad whose baby was born yesterday.
When I was younger, this appalling sycophancy and downright lying made me angry, and I was full of hate for these parasitic royals. People said it was not ‘their fault’, and that they ‘didn’t ask for the job’. So what stops them walking away, having some self-respect, and living that ‘normal life’ that all their supporters claim that they live? Let them sort out childcare when they are both at work, struggle to save the deposit on a two-bedroom house in the suburbs, and worry about job cuts, redundancies, and no-hours contracts, like so many of the parents of the other 1999 children born on Saturday. Now I am old, I don’t have the energy to hate anymore. I just feel drained by it all.
Perhaps adoration of the royals is an escape. A fantasy of belonging that allows you to forget the humdrum, and makes you feel a part of something that is a centuries-old sham. I don’t know, because I have never felt it. All I see is another snout in the trough, someone else for the public to finance; one more cuckoo in an ever-growing nest.
There has been an absence of posts on this blog for some time. It looks as if readers are also noticeable by their absence too, showing just how any blog has to be driven by new posts, and a constant flow of ideas, or debate. This was always intended to be an ‘occasional’ blog, somewhere to vent a spleen, or to publish something that might be considered unpalatable, on a mainstream blog. It will undoubtedly remain like this, with posts cropping up dependent on thoughts, or issues of the day. Not that there has been any shortage of such things of late. Gagging Laws, Ian Duncan Smith, and Welfare Reform, have all generated fierce opinions, and associated debate, on many, if not most political blogs. Given my obvious affiliations, and frequently expressed political views, it has seemed almost pointless to join in the tirade against them. It is all too clear where I stand.
I did notice a story recently, that has given me the impetus to post once more. A Metropolitan Police officer is to sue the former Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, for libel. This is as a result of the so-called ‘Plebgate’ affair, which I am sure needs no explanation, at least to UK readers. In short, this senior politician (allegedly) called a police officer a ‘fucking pleb’, when the officer refused to allow him to use the main gates of Downing Street, to exit on his cycle, following procedure by doing so. Soon after, in a furore of press attention, the same politician was demoted from his role as Chief Whip, and made a public apology to the officer concerned. That should have been the end of it. If only.
The story has continued to swing back and forth for many months. Mitchell has since denied saying anything like the reported comments. Other Police officers have been dismissed, some charged with offences. During an investigation by an outside force, it was found that officers from the investigating team colluded in their stories, and failed to be completely honest, to say the least. The officer at the centre of this fiasco has been hounded by the Press, and others have spent time on suspension. Now, with the backing of his professional association, The Police Federation, the officer has been advised to sue for libel. The affair has been re-kindled, and the forthcoming court case will be dissected in detail by the media.
If anyone out there is genuinely still interested in what actually happened, I have a slightly privileged insight into the whole thing, and I will offer this version, of what I believe took place. Before I retired in 2012, I worked for this very department of the Metropolitan Police, the one charged with the protection of Downing Street, as well as of Embassies all over London, and the residences of many high-profile individuals; The Diplomatic Protection Group. I was not a Police Officer, but a member of the Civilian Staff, working as part of an operational team. This is part of the Specialist Operations area of the ‘Met’, with the officers carrying firearms, and performing static patrols, as well as responding to incidents in cars, and on motorcycles. It is a very large command, spread over various bases, operating over a 24 hour period, every day of the year. All the officers who work there are suitably experienced, well-trained, and self-motivated individuals. They have all applied to be there, and competition to join the group is evident. There are no ‘rookies’, and nobody is posted there against their will. The majority are in the older age range for police officers, and have extensive experience in other areas of policing, whether in London, or elsewhere. I make these points to illustrate that they are not excitable by nature, and tend to be solid, reliable individuals; career police officers, with much at stake.
On the evening in question, immediately after the incident, one of the officers contacted the control room, to ensure that an electronic message was recorded, stating the facts of what had just happened. He did this, as he believed that the confrontation would result in a complaint from either Mr Mitchell, or one of his staff, and he wanted to be sure that his version of events was recorded as soon, and as accurately, as possible. Both he, and his female colleague, are both sensible, mature and steady individuals, who have never been involved in this type of thing before. To the best of my knowledge, they only want to do their jobs, and complete their careers, to the best of their ability. I know them both well, and have spent many hours working alongside both of them. They have absolutely no political agenda, and are not the sort of people to seek undue attention, or to wish to cause distress to their families, or to taint the reputation of the Metropolitan Police.
Of course, officers will close ranks, in difficult situations. Everyone does, whether police, military, politicians, or families. It is human nature, instinctive, and understandable. There are times when this is not always beneficial, and this is one of those. Another officer, hearing of the Number Ten incident, decided to get involved. Although he was not on duty at the time, and nowhere near Downing Street, he used someone’s computer, to send an e mail of complaint against Mitchell. He declared that he was a ‘passing member of the public’, and that he had heard the exchange. He may well have thought he was helping the officers concerned. Perhaps he did not believe their version was completely accurate, and sought to ‘back up’ their statement, I don’t know. As a result of this stupid act, he was discovered, dismissed, and disgraced. Channel Four took up the story, using CCTV footage to prove that he was not outside the gates, at the times he said. He did no service to the officers, to himself, or to the Met. I am sure he now regrets it, as he languishes jobless somewhere.
This escalation caused Andrew Mitchell to again deny the substance of the allegation, and an outside force was brought in, to conduct an inquiry. Once more, some of those officers foolishly decided to close ranks, and to concoct a version of their interview with Mr Mitchell, which they have subsequently withdrawn. They have now muddied the waters for all concerned, and brought their own force into disrepute. The media once again resurrected the story, with the sympathy angle changing, to swing considerably in favour of Mitchell, and with allegations flying thick and fast against police officers in two forces. The original Met police officer has now been left with no option but to sue Andrew Mitchell in open court, or face being branded a liar for the rest of his life.
I have no special axe to grind for the police anywhere. There are good and bad officers all over. Mistakes are made, bad things are done. Against this, is the unheard of catalogue of bravery, hard work, long hours, unsocial shifts, good deeds, satisfied people, and a city that is safer than almost any similar place in the world. I do have an issue with politicians, particularly Tory politicians. I wouldn’t believe one of them, if he or she told me the day of the week. More importantly, I do not think that any of them would readily apologise for saying something that they did not say. This is my main reason for believing the officers concerned on that night, as well as knowing them personally. I just cannot contemplate that smug man admitting he said something that he didn’t. Not only that, he then recanted it all, at a much later date, and tried to portray himself, and his family as victims of police collusion. Officers who are there every day, with every chance of being killed, or seriously injured, to protect him, and others like him.
You will have your opinions, and might have made your decision about who you believe. The court case will be avidly watched, and extensively reported on. Details will emerge, individuals will be vilified, and ‘exposed’. Truths may be bent, and stories changed. However, I know who I believe, and nothing will change that for me.
Today, the news programmes here have shown reports of significant falls in unemployment. Government figures ‘just released’ purport to show an improvement of up to eleven percent, depending which channel you watch. What consciousless liars these people are. Both the Government, for spreading these falsehoods, and the news media, for reporting them. What really makes me angry, is that they expect us to be so brainless, or thoughtless enough to just soak up these figures, and believe that the recession here is over, and things are beginning to look bright. The present administration shows so little regard for what they obviously see as a bovine underclass, they don’t even bother to present accurate proof, to back up their claims.
Anyone who has the remotest interest in what is actually happening in this country can see what is really going on. People are being removed from the registers of the unemployed, in a cynical ploy to make it appear that unemployment numbers are going down, and job seekers actually have some hope of a future. So, who are they not showing in their figures?
Anyone on a compulsory re-training programme. Not unemployed. Anyone struck off of benefits for any reason. Not unemployed. Youngsters on mock ‘apprenticeships’. Not unemployed. People with no jobs, forced to work in supermarkets and retail shops to receive benefit. Not unemployed. Those unable to work due to disability or medical problems, and lucky enough to have got through the new tough tests for same. Not unemployed. If someone tries to start a business, rather than claim benefits, but they do not actually earn any money from it. Not unemployed. And the worst of all, those on ‘No Hours’ contracts. They have no set work pattern, and can be offered some hours, or no hours. Technically, they are employees of a company that can use and abuse them at will. No holiday pay, no sick pay, and no redundancy. No pay for meal breaks, and insufficient hours to get past the employment laws, but sufficient hours to reduce any benefits claimed. Not unemployed.
What happened to shame in this land? Where is the shame of the Government, for colluding with big business to engineer this situation? Where is the shame of the so-called opposition parties, for not fighting the Government, and speaking out against these practices? Where is the shame of the news media, for reporting the lies, and not exposing the truth? And where is the shame of the greedy employers, taking advantage of young and old, at the lowest time in their lives?
Well, I still feel shame. I am ashamed to live in a country that tolerates this, and under an administration that seeks to continue to do more of the same. I am ashamed and sickened by our ever tamer press and TV, that plays the game, to avoid pressure; and most of all, I am ashamed of the coalition in power, that is trying to return this country to the darkest days of Victorian values.
It has been worrying me for some time now, and I feel that it is appropriate to ask the question. Is there any Left-Wing remaining in British politics? We used to have the ‘Loony Left’, the Labour Left, The Workers’ Revolutionary Party, Militant Tendency, The Socialist Workers’ Party, and The Communist Party, with all its various factions. There was the Young Communist League, The Morning Star Group, the Trotsky supporters, and the old-style Marxist-Leninist diehards. Some of these still exist. You can find websites on the Internet, see members selling newspapers and pamphlets, and notice their banners on TV news, waved by marchers, demonstrating against something or another. The Morning Star newspaper is still for sale, and has a modern website. There is even a Stalin Society. I was keen to join, but they didn’t reply to my e mailed request. It seems that it is too much trouble to be a revolutionary these days. Round up all the members and supporters of these various parties, and you would be pushed to fill the terraces of a second division football club with them. They have no impact, no influence, few policies, and no apparent agenda. Their leaders are anonymous, and constantly changing, and most of them have been eaten up by internal arguments, that have diluted them into oblivion. The days when the Establishment feared the wrath of the organised Proletariat, and their strong Trades Unions, are long gone.
There was a time, not so long ago, and certainly within my recent memory, when the Left had a fierce commitment, and a hunger for real change. They had radical ideas and beliefs, and swore to change the status quo, if and when in power. The rhetoric is now about wind farms, nuclear power stations, global warming, third world sweat shops, and the rights of farmers in countries most Britons couldn’t find on a map. What about the re-nationalisation of railways, utilities, banks, and industry? Never mentioned. Getting out of Europe, and abandoning NATO, has become a policy of the extreme Right, after it was discarded by the Left, and found lying around, waiting to be picked up, and re-packaged for general consumption. Wealth taxes on the rich and powerful, the abolition of the House of Lords and the Royal Family, getting American bases off our soil. Where are those policies? Gone; though sometimes partially embraced by powerless splinter groups, and more worryingly, the burgeoning Right.
In Britain, we are seeing a return of Right-Wing politics at a rate unseen since in Italy and Germany in the 1930’s, and driven by much the same fears and reasoning too. Fear of job losses, fear of foreign investment and ownership, and fear of things non-British. Add to this fear of different religions, against a background of ‘Crusader’ involvement in Muslim countries, and the firework has been well and truly lit. An economic slump has opened the back gate to the worst kind of sneaky rightists. UKIP, Old-School Toff Tories, Right-leaning Liberal Democrats, and even most of the (new) Labour Party, are all embracing the politics of the Right. Some are more outgoing and extreme, such as the League of St George, Column 88, and The English Defence League. Others, formerly considered extreme beyond the pale, like National Front supporters, are now merging into parties like UKIP, and The Conservative Party, and melting happily into the background.
The media has all but abandoned any support for the Left, in any form. Despite laughable accusations of Left-wing bias, the BBC continues to tread carefully, fearful of its licence money, and dreading being handed over to commercialisation. All other television provided for mainstream viewing is either cosily neutral, or blatantly conservative, albeit with a small C. The newspapers are virtually all speaking for the Right, and the worst ones are fuelling the fires of xenophobia, as well as religious hatred, and spewing out propaganda against the disadvantaged and poorly educated in our society. The possible exception, The Guardian, speaks for the well-heeled middle-class intelligentsia, salving their consciences during their morning commute. The Morning Star has such a small circulation, it would be pushed to compete with a regional newspaper in a small town. Even that supposed voice of the Left, seems more concerned with the internal struggles of Communist factions, and is preaching to the more-or-less converted anyway.
The Trades Unions are still here, but they are no longer a force to be reckoned with. Years of amalgamation have turned them into unrepresentative monoliths, that have lost sight of their members as individuals, and seem to have forgotten the essence of the trades and skills that they are supposed to defend and protect. Hamstrung by changes in the law, they have played along, having their industrial teeth pulled one by one. Their political affiliations have diminished, and the Labour Party, that they were most associated with, is trying to sever ties with them, fearful of continued association with an organised workforce; embarrassed to stand alongside them and fight for the rights of ordinary people. Their leaders have become powerful and wealthy in their roles, detached and distant from a membership they treat like sheep. The only real alternative to another Conservative government, which would surely move even further to the Right in politics, is, whether I like it or not, the Labour Party. Now far removed from its roots, and unrecognisable to the activists who moulded it during the 1970’s, it is no longer a party of the Left. Its leader is an ineffectual bureaucrat, and its cabinet have no real policies. They have even revealed that many of the policies of the present coalition would be unchanged under a Labour administration, and that some of the cruellest changes, in health provision, and welfare reform, would also be upheld. In that case, the Labour Party is no longer a worthwhile, or even desirable alternative.
It seems likely that the very definition Left, relating to political affiliations, will soon cease to be used, and not long after, cease to exist. Left-Wing, Leftist, and any similar descriptions, will be consigned to the history books, to be viewed with mild interest as a thing of the past, sometimes with a wry grin of amusement. I like to think of my own politics as those of the extreme Left. Old-school, hard-line Communism, like something that once existed, but no longer does, or ever will again. The only place for this now, is inside my head, as I conclude that there is no Left left.
I was disgusted with this type of coverage, and this from the BBC, an organisation I expect to have higher standards of reporting. I stopped watching it, and was left with a feeling of sadness for the death of this young man, in horrific circumstances, as well as a growing sense of annoyance with this gutter level of sensationalist news coverage.
Later that evening, it got a lot worse. Mobile phone footage, shot by bystanders, was ‘obtained’ by reporters. Not only was this referred to, it was then shown, with the dead body clearly visible nearby, and the blood-soaked murderer speech-making to the crowd, about his reasoning, and personal motives behind the killing. There had still been no identification of the victim, and his family had still not been informed. Not only was this tasteless in the extreme, it also gave the ‘terrorists’ the media platform they desired in the first place, and made their actions justifiable to others of the same extreme views. The footage of the blood-stained killer was shown over and over again, often in slow motion, pointlessly repeated Ad nauseum. ‘Witnesses’ were interviewed in the streets, with no confirmation of what they had actually seen, or proof of whether they had even been there. Any connection was seized upon, and numerous ‘experts’ rolled out for studio interviews. Ex-soldiers, former police officers, military strategists, all got their performance fee, for speculating on the reasons behind the murder, the response of the Police on the day, or the history of such attacks around the world.
Nobody was asking the questions that needed to be asked. What of the dignity of the victim, and the horror and trauma inflicted on his family by all this? Why show the ravings of an extremist murderer on mainstream British TV? What use did any of this serve, and was it all nothing more than gory and ghoulish headline grabbing? No public interest was served by any of it, that is certain. There were no outstanding suspects, no danger to anyone else that evening, in that area. Could this not have been left until later, when the family had been informed, and calmer heads perhaps decided not to show such distressing images?
This is supposed to be related to military action abroad, and involvement in the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa. Ironically, when reporting from those countries, the BBC and others normally choose not to show ‘graphic images’, on the grounds that they will upset viewers. They also decline to allow the extolling of ‘extremist views’ from participants in those foreign conflicts, so why abandon all this for an incident that happened in London? They also sought out local Muslims, and asked for their views on what had happened, then attempted to second guess public reaction, with the possibility of ‘revenge’ attacks on Muslim targets. By doing so, they added irresponsibility to bad taste, and completely abandoned all pretence of serious journalistic intentions.
I feel that we turned a corner this week, in the path of media reporting. It was a nasty corner, made worse by use of unpleasant mobile phone footage, and pandering to the ‘Facebook generation’. The next morning, with few exceptions, all the main newspapers carried a large front-page photo of the bloodstained murderer, with emotive and unnecessarily unpleasant use of the phrases ‘hacked to death’, and ‘beheaded’. Absolutely no consideration was given to the distraught family, friends, and colleagues of the victim, who was stripped of his dignity at the moment of his death.
The media threw away their own dignity at the same time. I am ashamed of all of them.