Ever since I was old enough to read, I always loved to look at the newspaper. Despite being too young at the time to fully understand what I was reading, I learned the names of political figures of the day, and how they featured in world events. General De Gaulle, Jomo Kenyatta, Archbishop Makarios, and Nikita Krushchev. Fidel Castro, John F. Kennedy, The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Berlin Wall. All those personalities and events marked my formative years, and I became a dedicated newshound very early in life.
Once the TV news started to report using longer bulletins, I was able to watch events unfold in Vietnam, Biafra, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel. By the time I left school, I was ‘world-aware’, and devouring any news content I could get my hands (or eyes) on. I took great pride in knowing what was going on, and using the news to help with my opinions. Serious Sunday newspapers provided in-depth reports, with photographers and journalists on the front lines of any serious situation, anywhere in the world. I bought most of them, and spent hours reading about what was happening in far-flung places.
But then there was a change. It was subtle at first, but then grew in intensity. The news media stopped just reporting on what had happened, and started to tell us why they thought it had. Talking head ‘experts’ arrived, giving their opinions dressed as ‘facts’, and even as long ago as my early thirties, I began to question the veracity and validity of news reporting. Then 24-Hour rolling news arrived. I was able to watch the events of 9/11 as they happened, from the first hint that something was wrong, to the aftermath of both towers falling. By that time, broadcast opinion had replaced objective reporting completely, and I could just as easily have watched it with the sound turned off, as the headlines scrolled along the bottom of the screen.
Seventeen years later, I now question everything reported as ‘news’, and find it hard to believe anything. Clever editing of film reports, careful selection of local ‘opinion’, and the use of propaganda footage supplied by factions has made it all but impossible to trust anything.
So now I watch the local news. Tractor thefts, farming issues, coastal erosion, and village celebrations. I’m still not sure I can trust even these reports.
But at least I don’t care either way.
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.