Why I’ve switched from the Guardian to the Telegraph

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One thing that’s characterised this website throughout its nearly a year! of existence is a puppy-like loyalty to the newspaper The Guardian. I do read other news sources (including the BBC, the WaPo and various outlets in Italian, Spanish and, you know, Welsh), but my mainstay has always been the favoured journal of pinko bleeding heart libtard scum. Having read Nick Davies’ book on churnalism, I’m not an unquestioning reader of the Guardian’s coverage, but I do have a strong emotional attachment to it, to the extent that in our house we have not one but two subscriber-only Guardian-branded shopping bags. Within my world the phrase ‘I read it in the paper’ is always understood to refer to one publication, and it’s definitely not the Daily f*cking Telegraph.

However, I’m increasingly aware, in this age of filter bubbles, that I should seek to broaden my ideological horizons by varying my media diet, to push through the algorithmic fences that limit and direct our online movements*. News coverage biases aside, there’s obviously a risk of being exposed to the party line if I only read whatever George Monbiot, Aditya Chakrabortty, Suzanne Moore, and Owen Jones think of the world. James Ball, in his book ‘Post Truth’, lists reading a wider range of news sites as one means of resisting the tide of bullshit news. He also argues that newspapers themselves should seek to represent a range of political viewpoints. To be fair, The Guardian has made some efforts in this direction, employing columnists such as Matthew Norman, Simon Jenkins, Max Hastings, and for one brief period in the mid-2000s, Nick Griffin**. It’s important to challenge readers’ preconceptions from time to time. Maybe, since he’s no longer at the Guardian, Seamus Milne now writes a weekly column for the Daily Express. I wouldn’t bet my Guardian shopping bags on it though.

The obvious counterpart to the Guardian is the Daily Mail. If you can get past the almost always hateful front page it does have some stories which are both entertaining and reassuring if you happen to share its splenetic worldview. However, even though I live in Rome I simply cannot take the risk of being seen by a compatriot looking at the Daily Mail website on my phone. Maybe it’s merely my own projection, but I would actively sneer at such a person. Then there’s The Times, which does have lots of quality journalism and thoughtful columnists such as Caitlin Moran and Matthew Parris. The problem there is the paywall:  I’m not paying Rupert Murdoch a fucking penny***. So, further to the right, without dropping down a level to the Dailies Express or Star, we have the Torygraph. Although I don’t have any Telegraph-reading friends, in my family history there was one: Duncan, my favourite uncle, who was extremely affable, fittingly avuncular and profoundly Conservative. He would not have been seen dead with a copy of the Guardian – indeed, he still hasn’t been in the five or so years since he passed on. While he was alive his relationship with the Telegraph mirrored mine with the Guardian. This letter gives a flavour not just of his character, but also that of a lot of Telegraph readers: slightly blimpish but jocular with it. The perfect audience for Boris Johnson’s ultimately ruinous shtick, essentially.

My uncle lived all his life in the provinces; you very rarely see people in London reading The Telegraph (and even fewer in Rome, oddly enough****). It’s the favoured newspaper of Tims-nice-but-dims and white-haired colonels living in Surrey. When I picture the archetypal reader it’s Jim Bergerac’s friend Charlie Hungerford that springs to mind: an image of blustering pomposity unmatched by intellectual brilliance. I once knew a journalist who told me that during her training she’d learnt that regardless of its range of vocabulary, the level of argumentative sophistication of Telegraph articles is equivalent to that of The Sun. But these are ultimately prejudices, ones I want to, if not overcome, subject to rigorous reexamination.

However, there’s an immediate problem, viz: if I even think about that c*ntrarian Toby Young my blood starts to simmer. Plus, whenever there’s a Telegraph journalist on ‘Question Time’ you can pretty much guarantee that he or she will agree with at least 80% of whatever verbal effluence Farage comes out with. The Telegraph provides a platform for people who it’s very, very hard not to regard as mere trolls. Its chief political commentator is Charles Moore, whose climate denial makes it very hard to take seriously anything he writes on other topics. In addition, the Brexit vote almost certainly wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column spreading outright lies about the EU. Then there’s episodes like this, not to mention the tone of snobbery endemic to the whole enterprise. Nevertheless, the Telegraph does also employ proper journalists, experienced fact-finders who assiduously follow professional guidelines to render the truth with accuracy and fairness, even though it’s presented in the form of articles whose editorial bias occasionally makes people who care about others want to vomit with rage :-P.

Another reason for becoming a Telegraph reader***** is that in contrast to the Guardian’s Comment is Free pages, pretty much all of whose content I’m primed to agree with, it would surely be more useful for me to engage with those with opposing views (insofar as I have to discuss newspaper articles online. Obviously I don’t.) However, as it happens there’s no shortage of right-winger commenters on CIF, in particular following articles written by women or those that dare to mention racism and/or climate change. Ideally, online debates on newspaper articles would be a meeting of minds and a serious engagement across the lines of political affiliation which would put our ideas and assumptions to the test; in reality, the internet doesn’t work like that, regardless of the masthead. At this point, anyone commenting below the line can be regarded as a troll unless they specifically prove otherwise.

It’s time to don the surgical gloves and get a forensic feel for the innards of this exotic creature, the Daily Telegraph website. As it happens, I’ve just received a handy email drawing my attention to the publication’s star columnists. When I click through to the site, however, I’m faced with an obstacle: much of what they write is only available to ‘Premium’ subscribers. I don’t have a problem with paying for online content – the Guardian will be forced to introduce something similar one day – but that particular word I find off-putting, designed to appeal to elitist values that I don’t subscribe to. There’s an echo of ‘How to spend it’, as though quality reporting and incisive commentary is a luxury. It turns out that unless I’m a paid-up subscriber I also can’t comment. But this is a club in whose leather-bound armchairs I don’t think I’d be very welcome to recline.

On the front page, however, I immediately feel more comfortable. There’s some bad news about Brexit, which is as it should be, and a report on George Sanders’ Booker Prize win. I really should get round to reading that novel, I think. I’m already starting to relax and feel that I’m simply reading a newspaper, rather than creeping through a rat-filled gas-reeking enemy trench. The Sanders article does have a particular angle which if I was feeling vexatious I could choose to regard as Typically Telegraph, the idea being that the Booker’s opening up to non-British and Commonwealth writers was misjudged. I could choose to get annoyed about this but on reflection its a fair point, and one I’ve come across elsewhere. There’s far more promising trigger material in an article by someone called Zoe Strimpel: an attack on the #MeToo meme, whereby women who’ve suffered sexual harrassment out themselves on social media. With its dismissive tone, references to “dated” 70s-style feminism, I soon find that the finger is starting to tighten. The whole piece seems like exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to find in The Daily Telegraph website, or maybe it would, except I can’t read the whole piece because I’m not a subscriber. Oh well. I click instead on (part of ) an article by Michael Deacon, who I’ve come across on Twitter, where he’s constently thoughtful and smart. On the Telegraph site he’s literally smart, with an colourful oversized tie and a sardonic expression which is also present in his writing – it has the wry tone of a parliamentary sketch writer. The piece is enjoyable (he’s having a go at David Davis), but it’s also Premium, so it also stops halfway through. I can take out a trial subscription, easily cancellable if I decide that the Barclay Brothers are to be trusted. At this point I think about all the things I could be doing in life rather than signing up for the Daily Telegraph website, but then remind myself that (at the risk of sounding as pompous as a Telegraph leader writer) understanding what other people think is probably one of the top three most important things in life. I decide that I will give it a week: no Guardian for seven days, just a steady diet of p̶o̶m̶p̶o̶u̶s̶,̶ ̶b̶i̶g̶o̶t̶e̶d̶ ̶h̶o̶r̶s̶e̶s̶h̶i̶t̶  news and commentary from an unfamiliar source. Hopefully the experiment will serve to both broaden and refine my view of the world; if, on the other hand, I suddenly start sporting a bow tie, declare Brexit to be the best thing since the slave trade and proclaim Jacob Rees-Mogg to be the saviour of Western civilisation, you’ll know something’s gone horribly wrong.

*A clear example of, in the words of Thomas Pynchon, ‘unshaped freedom being rationalized into movement only in straight lines and at right angles and a progressive reduction of choices, until the final turn through the final gate that leads to the killing floor’ (Against the Day, 2006, p11).


**A clear example of fake history.

***Why are there far fewer pubs in the UK than there used to be? The reasons are manifold and well-understood: housing market pressures; the smoking ban; changing demographics; cheap supermarket booze; and, perhaps most importantly, the greed of Rupert Murdoch. Recently, in a conversation about Cardiff’s disappearing drinking establishments, a taxi driver told me about a pub he used to pick the staff up from. It was on the verge of shutting down, according to the duty manager, because the owners couldn’t keep up the payments on the Sky Sports package. They were paying, I shit you absolutely not, £600 a week. In case you’re too shocked to think, I’ve done the maths for you: that’s more than £30,000 a year. The effects of Murdoch’s social impoverishment of British society are akin to the damage that his Zimbabwean counterpart has done to his country’s economy.

****You may be able to buy a paper copy of the Telegraph from Roman newspaper kiosks, it’s never occurred to me to enquire. There’s always ‘Il Giornale’.


*****Apart, that is, from the cricket coverage.

Read the sequel here.

Zac Goldsmith: “I honestly don’t see what’s offensive about the word”

 

Numerous Conservative MPs have rallied round their colleague, Anne Marie Morris, who is reported to have uttered the highly offensive phrase ‘n***** in the woodpile’ in a speech at a public event about Brexit.

The first to rush to her defence was recently reelected Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith, who commented: “It’s quite simply a word I use all the time. We have an open fire in the main living room, and round the back of my mansion there’s a pile of firewood. When it’s cold, I have some of the servants fetch some wood and build a fire. It’s not an offensive term”.

When pressed as to whether he thought it was appropriate for politicians to use the other word in the phrase, commonly referred to as the N-word to avoid offence, Mr Goldsmith was nonplussed.

“I don’t even see why it’s called the N-word”, he responded. “It begins with ‘i’, for a start. It’s merely a prepo…”

At this point our reporter was obliged to clarify. When the nature of the word was explained to Mr Goldsmith, he was silent for almost two minutes. Eventually an aide (subsequently identified as his brother Ben) intervened and whispered something in his ear. Mr Goldsmith looked perplexed. A hushed conversation then took place, during which the MP seemed to grow agitated. He appeared to be seeking some sort of clarification from the aide, but further explanations only seemed to puzzle him even more. Upon moving closer to the conversation, our reporter was able to distinguish words such as ‘darkies’ and ‘coloureds’. After several minutes one of Mr Goldsmith’s butlers politely asked us to depart the premises. He explained that Mr Goldsmith was suddenly indisposed as he had been “working like a n*****” all week” and had to urgently prepare a speech for a Bring Back Slavery event at the Commonwealth Club the following Thursday.

In a subsequent email the MP for Richmond apologised for having cut short his interview. In relation to the question of his colleague’s remarks, he stressed that he saw “nothing racialist about the word ‘the'”, and said he hoped the whole issue would soon disappear, “like a n….. in a blackout”.

When asked for a response to Goldsmith’s own potentially inflammatory use of language, Prime Minister Theresa May said it would not derail her plans to appoint him Secretary of State for Race Relations in The Colonies in the upcoming reshuffle. As for Mrs Morris, she said, the prime minister herself would, in her capacity as leader of the Conservative, Unionist and Obviously Racist Party, soon be making a formal apology on the MP’s behalf to any woodpiles who “may have taken offence” at the use of the term.

Tory MPs call for pretend rethink in response to Corbyn threat

Theresa May is facing a chorus of Tory demands for the appearance of a radical overhaul of state funding for public services as cabinet ministers and senior Conservative MPs back the simulation of a commitment to higher pay for millions of NHS workers, more purported cash for schools and the feigning of a “national debate” on student debt.

The prime minister’s waning authority was highlighted as her health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and education secretary Justine Greening lobbied for an “easing” of austerity and senior Conservative MPs insisted that the fact that public services have clearly been in growing peril for several years as a direct and deliberate result of Government policy could have political consequences without the pretence of urgent loosening of the purse strings.

Separately, Damian Green, the de facto deputy prime minister and a May loyalist, hinted at a PR initiative aimed at giving the impression of a wider rethink when he said there might need to be talk of a national debate about the level of student fees, in order to appeal to younger voters. He stressed that the outcome of such a debate would be a “foregone conclusion, naturally”, given that all current Conservative MPs, and particularly those in the Cabinet, continue to believe that poor people should “pay through the teeth” to obtain even secondary education.

The level of internal pressure for a series of gestures indicating a purely notional abandonment of austerity puts chancellor Philip Hammond under huge pressure to consider seeming to raise taxes to fund any extra public spending. It comes as the official body that regulates nurses and midwives – the Nursing and Midwifery Council – prepares to reveal new evidence on Monday of a growing crisis in the recruitment of nurses, something about which top Conservatives are said to be “entirely sanguine”, given that they believe such a state of affairs to be politically desirable.

Government sources made it clear that Hunt was prepared to publicly “take on” Hammond and call for the lifting of the maximum 1% pay cap for nurses and other NHS workers, citing as evidence a hard-hitting report by the government’s own NHS pay review body published in March this year which reveals no new information whatsoever, “it’s just that in the General Election Labour did much better than expected, so we have to say we’re going to change things, even though we’re not”. The sources stressed that Hunt’s “change of heart” would not go beyond a series of concocted headlines in sympathetic newspapers and said that “articles like the one you’re writing will hopefully help give people the right, that is to say the wrong, impression”.

In the NHS pay report, the government’s advisers warned that the cap “will not be electorally sustainable for much longer” and said the cost (in parliamentary seats) of plugging gaps caused by staff shortages could soon be greater than the “savings”. It also highlighted the effects of Brexit, saying “changes in the UK’s relationship with the EU may reduce the ability to fill shortfalls in staff numbers from overseas”, and that this is important “only because it could lead to the replacement of a Conservative Government by a Labour one, which we’re all desperate to avoid. I mean, Brexit is going to be an absolute farce, but at least it’ll be a profitable one for those in the know”. The report concludes that if the Government “plays its cards right” the chaos resulting from EU withdrawal will allow it to impose “the ultimate shock doctrine”, with “not a brick” of the post-war Welfare State” left standing, but stresses that for such a goal to be reached the Conservatives will have to “cling to power as if to the edge of a cliff”.

Meanwhile, there are growing worries about the possible loss of political power occasioned by the otherwise unproblematic lack of nurses and other NHS staff in areas of the country where the cost of living is highest, notably London.

The Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, a former GP who is seeking to extend her term as chair of the Commons health select committee and who profits directly from NHS privatisation at the expense of both her constituents and her erstwhile patients, said: “We have got to address this and work out at the same time how to seem to pay for a better settlement for public sector workers. Is that the sort of thing they want? Can I go? I’ve got a meeting with a private healthcare company that pays me £70,000 a year for five hours’ work and a couple of judiciously-placed parliamentary questions.” Another Tory MP, Dr Dan Poulter, who works without any apparent moral qualms as an NHS psychiatrist with patients whose mental health has been exponentially worsened by Government policies specifically designed to do as much damage to the public health system as quickly as possible, said that while difficult choices had been made to improve public finances, “the time has come to lift the pay cap and reward nurses, midwives, doctors and other health care professionals. Will that do? It makes me physically sick to say such things even though I know it doesn’t really mean anything in policy terms. I’m sure if we just throw the plebs the odd crumb of hope we’ll be through this by Christmas”.

A poll for the Observer by Opinium shows the extraordinary extent to which May has lost the trust of voters since the height of her popularity in April, and equally strikingly, since the June general election.

Over the same period, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has called for an end to austerity and the public sector pay cap, has soared in public esteem. On 19 April, May’s net approval was +21% (when the number who disapprove is subtracted from those who approve) while Corbyn’s was -35%. Now May is on -20% and Corbyn on +4%. Since the general election 61% of voters say their opinion of May has become more negative. Labour (45%) is now six points ahead of the Tories, who are on 39%, enough to give Labour a clear win if another election is called.

Last week Tory MPs were ordered to vote down a Labour amendment to the Queen’s speech calling for an end to the public sector pay cap. Hunt accused Labour of using the NHS as a “political football” in the vote and said that the selling off of the health service should be a “non-partisan” issue, even a source of national pride. Aspiring Tory leader Andrea Leadsom accused the Labour leader of a “blatant lack of patriotism” for suggesting that Britain’s “lazy, overpaid, good-for-nothing” emergency services personnel should receive a pay rise for the “frankly quite pointless” work they do.

But while the Conservatives do not want to be seen to be responding to Labour pressure, behind the scenes there is a growing view that May and Hammond will have to give a clear signal that the government will change direction before parliament breaks for the summer on 20 July. There is a widespread belief in the party that the public will have “forgotten” such a pledge by the time the autumn session opens, by which point influential pro-Conservative media figures such as Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre and George Osborne will have successfully identified a plausible new scapegoat to distract “rabid” voters.  Many Tories say the £1bn deal to secure the support of the DUP has made the case for the public sector pay cap impossible to defend, so feigning a change in policy “will have to do” until new targets for public opprobrium are successfully established.

Zac Goldsmith, the racist Tory MP for Richmond Park and racist former London mayoral candidate, said much progress had been made in privatising education. “But the financial pressures are mounting fast and the government cannot avoid providing a better funding deal,” he said. “I can’t believe I actually got reelected”, he added, and said it was now his political priority to draw the Goveenment’s attention to a series of “surprisingly sophisticated” policy proposals outlined in a selection of BNP leaflets from the early 1990s. Asked about whether he would also pressure the Government to take action on Climate Change, he laughed heartily and slapped our reporter on the back, repeating the phrase “top hole”.

Green, the first secretary of state and an outspoken critic of people “sitting at home living on benefits” while he works hard representing the interests of private water companies in parliament, said yesterday that the level of tuition fees may need to appear to be reconsidered in order to reach out to younger metropolitan voters. He said he was confident that the “kinds of hopelessly naive, dope-addled scum” who voted Labour in such droves “could easily be bought off by a couple of vague gestures from Number 10”. While £9,000-a-year fees allowed high quality courses and teaching, student debt had become a “huge issue”, but said it would “of course, in reality” remain Conservative policy to privatise all aspects of higher education “thoroughly, entirely, absolutely”.

Answering questions after a speech at the Bright Blue think tank before he left to attend “another of these educational finance knees-ups”, Green said the only way to cut fees and retain standards would be to put up taxes. “Governments would have to take money from everyone at work and companies that provide jobs to provide those essential services. And while we have no intention whatsoever of doing that, it may well be that this is a national debate that we need to appear to have in order to stay in power.”

Additional reporting courtesy of The Guardian.

I’ve put money on it: Rees-Mogg will be the Tories’ answer to Corbyn

No one would ever have dreamt that Jeremy Corbyn could become Labour leader. For his entire career he’s been a reliable Private Eye parody of an intransigent and irrelevant backbencher, a walking pastiche of what the party as a whole was once proud to stand for: Clause 4, The Red Flag sung at party conferences, nationalisation of major industries, an end to the monarchy, Britain out of the EU, solidarity with Cuba, etc. His becoming Prime Minister would be the realisation of The Tories’ very worst fears. The notion that it could actually happen was so traumatic to them that they couldn’t even begin to take it seriously until it was far too late. Hence they are, as Paul Mason argues, panicking.

Actually, I tell a lie. There’s something that scares the Tories even more, which is that Corbyn might become PM because the electorate want him to. This is truly the worst nightmare of the Tory right: the country turning left. The very thought would destroy them. This terror is starting to combine with their evident lack of preparation for Brexit negotiations to produce paralysis, and their failure to form a government evinces an inability to function in the face of imminent humiliation. Daniel Hannan-aligned oddballs on the hard right of the party are starting to suggest they simply occupy the throne and have five years of governing without legislation, essentially leaving the UK without a government just to stop Corbyn. However, they know that if the UK electorate has seen through their lack of a strategic programme beyond the profitable chaos of Brexit, if it decides it was conned and actually prefers the benefits of EU membership, then it certainly won’t vote for Michael Gove or Boris Johnson or any of the old faces. Then there’s the fact that the very best efforts of their attack dog newspapers to put Corbyn out of action by openly calling him a terrorist failed. All this adds up to outright desperation, and for all their political and cultural arrogance over the last seven years, we and they are starting to remember that between Major and Cameron they chose all of their leaders in a blind panic.

Now, this online poll is almost certainly entirely misleading, the mere result of trolling. But if enough of the Tories’ currently very frightened membership decided that the party needs, like Labour, a representative of its core values, and if Dacre and Murdoch were to meet and be charmed by him, to be persuaded that the electorate could be made to warm to his chinless, blimpish, unashamedly elitist schtik, the notion of Jacob Rees-Mogg as party leader would begin to make a lot of sense. After all, this is the age of the troll. Rees-Mogg could be the atavistic throwback, the tribute act that May can’t carry off, the Boris Johnson who’s even more of a joke and doesn’t come with that particular clown’s baggage or the snarl that his moptop doesn’t always manage to keep under wraps.

In policy terms Tories have now swallowed up Ukip (although terrifyingly for them, Farage’s working class voters went for Corbyn). Thus it may be that the pro-Brexit wing get to select the new leader. If so, there’ll be no more pretence of ‘modernisation’, no huskies and no nonsense about inclusivity, workers’ rights or the ‘greenest government ever’. There are many influential Tories whose priority is to sabotage any attempt to get out of Brexit, who will happily hurl the country, indeed the entire continent off a cliff by staging a walk-out from the talks. They might go for Rees-Mogg. Johnson doesn’t convince them or anyone else much any more. Trump would love him, and if the US could choose Trump, and Labour could choose Corbyn (their reasoning might go) then the country as a whole might go for this comedy Etonian, an affable monster who represents their core values.

Right now, with almost the entire country aghast at the ruins of their bonfire of regulations, they’re on the ropes. Nobody thinks they have the public or even national interest at heart. In this context Rees-Mogg, with his much-shared and (in the current context) staggeringly obnoxious insistence on the opportunities an even bigger bonfire presents, has stood out. He carries the flame, standing for a doubling-down on everything that currently makes the Tories unpopular: deregulation, unashamed denial of Climate Change, a pretence that the empire is still with us, undisguised hostility to the very notion of human rights. He would (God forbid) be a 1930s PM for the final stages of a slow motion repeat of that decade, redeeming his grandparents’ generation for their failure to stand up to those who insisted on standing up to Hitler, a historic betrayal which ultimately led to the horrors of the Welfare State, the end of empire and the advent of a multicultural society.

Given that the UK is very quickly turning into the sick joke of Europe, making a living embodiment of the butt of the joke national leader will make automatic sense to a party whose core values lie in contrariness and an obstinate denial of modern realities. The polls (the real ones) don’t at present take Rees-Mogg remotely seriously, but I think it would be a mistake to join and vote for him. Such a move could, as the Turdmeister Toby Young knows very well, easily backfire :-)*.

Jacob Rees-Mogg could become the British equivalent of Donald Trump.

 

P.s. As part of this piece I fully intended to go to a betting site and put my money where my mouth is, but fortunately/unfortunately I can’t access UK gambling sites from Italy. Oh well, I’ll just spend it on some more gelati and overpriced deck chairs instead.

*Of course if the Tories were to decide for some reason that Rees-Mogg was too serious a candidate for party leader and wanted to choose someone who’s even more of a joke, then Toby Young would be an obvious contender. Mind you, it’s also possible they could also go completely fucking insane and choose Boris “Who on earth still uses fire stations in 2015?!” Johnson.

BTW: It appears that despite the intellectual credentials of their hero, fans of Rees-Mogg can’t (or at least don’t) read:

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The number of likes, that heart emoji and the fact that someone’s shared it are a bit worrying. I really hope I haven’t ‘done a John Oliver‘.

If you work for the Daily Mail or the Daily Express, you are going straight to hell

Sawsan Choucair doesn’t know if her family are alive or dead. The Guardian reports:

She stood at the tribute wall at Latymer community church, talking to as many reporters as she can. Choucair said she is “devastated” and is desperate for information from the authorities, which she said has been lacking to non-existent.

She is missing her mother Sirria; her sister Nadir; her brother-in-law Bassem; her 14-year-old niece Mirena; her 11-year-old niece Fatima and her three-year-old niece Zienab.

You might think that in a free and democratic society she could turn to the press to help her find out the truth. There are, of course, reporters of integrity trying to do exactly that. However, the editors and so-called journalists at two leading British newspapers (The Daily Mail and The Daily Express) don’t care about whether her family are alive or dead. If they died in the fire then so be it. The role of those newspapers is not to investigate and publicise facts in the public interest. It is to promote a political agenda based on self-interest by scapegoating the victims of political corruption.

The owners and editors of the Express and the Mail have an intimate relationship with the Conservative Party. They (to use the phrase of the day) ‘rub shoulders’ with those same ministers who refused to countenance the notion that people in the UK should live in houses fit for human habitation. The Prime Minister even met with Paul Dacre, the spectacularly vituperative and staggeringly snobbish editor of the Daily Mail, during the election campaign to receive her instructions directly. His newspaper is a mouthpiece and an attack dog for Conservative Party interests.

The facts as they stand suggest that the fire happened because of cost-cutting in a variety of areas, some of which was not just encouraged but actually mandated by government policy decided by ministers and voted for by MPs who themselves profit directly (as landlords and shareholders) from the atrocious lack of regulation in private and public housing. But as I say, the newspapers, both of which employ hundreds of people who tell themselves and their friends and families that their profession is ‘journalist’, are not remotely interested in facts. What they produce instead is pure propaganda.

The political agenda of this Conservative Party is anti-‘red tape’, pro-Climate Change (as in, against anything that might mitigate it) and anti-EU. If they are given half a chance they will walk away from the Brexit negotiations, plunging not just the country but the entire continent into absolute chaos. They will then use their newspapers to point a burning finger at whoever the most convenient scapegoat may happen to be. Both newspapers also habitually lie to their readers about the most basic facts regarding the climate, repeating verbatim absolute lies and smearing anyone who professes to care about such matters which whatever shit they can muster.

They’ve used today’s front pages to ‘speculate‘ that EU environmental regulations were responsible for the fire. The editors who commissioned the stories and the journalists who wrote it know that it’s not true. They know that it’s an absolute lie told to deflect the huge and absolutely legitimate anger at the causes of the disaster, which (taking as true what has been published and broadcast by serious news outlets) can almost certainly be traced to British Government policy.

I’ve met a few people who worked for the Daily Mail. They were generally genial people who (understandably) enjoyed a drink and felt that what they did for a living didn’t define them as individuals. Like most people in their profession, their personal opinions were to the left of the stance of their employers (how could they not be?). They saw their job as an unfortunate compromise on the path to doing something more worthy (some of them had got stuck along the path. Maybe they had a blister or something). To compare them to concentration camp guards might be a tad unfair. But given the suffering occasioned by their highly-paid work, and the fact that they are not driven by fear for their own lives but by professional ambition, if there is any sort of divine justice at the end of the rainbow, they full deserve to suffer all of its wrath. In the meantime, the frankly satanic political organisation on whose behalf they practise their trade but be kicked as far away from power as soon and as firmly as possible.

“Austerity is over” – so what exactly did Daniel Blake die for?

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Conservative Party billboards, 2010

Theresa May has said that austerity is finished. What she didn’t mention – but knows full well – is that it was never necessary in the first place.

After the financial crisis of 2007-8, which was largely caused by deregulation of the financial system on the ideological basis that the market always knows best, the Conservative press started telling a story which wasn’t true. The narrative they came up with was that Labour overspending had caused the country to become mired in unsustainable levels of public debt. The solution was to do what they had always wanted: shrink the British state, selling off the profitable parts of the NHS and reducing the post-war Welfare State to a bare mimimum. It was a clear case of what Naomi Klein had described the previous year as the shock doctrine: the taking advantage of a crisis in order to implement an extreme ideological agenda which in normal circumstances would be roundly rejected. As the neoliberal guru Milton Friedman had said:

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.

On the basis of the story the Conservatives won two general elections. As a direct result of the ‘savage’ cuts (to quote Nick Clegg’s ill-advised boasts) millions turned to food banks and thousands were killed by benefit sanctions and the removal of their disability benefits. The NHS is now on its last legs, both of which are due to be ripped off at any moment and sold off to speculators, as detailed in the Naylor Review.

How were they able to get away with it? Because the Labour Party never challenged the narrative. They never pointed out with sufficient conviction that it wasn’t government overspending that had caused the crisis. Whenever they tried to articulate their own version of events it was done so unconvincingly that the right-wing press shouted them down and they were cowed.

Now the Labour Party is telling its own story and it happens to be one that coincides with the truth. Austerity was a con, a scam, and a coup and the damage that’s been done to public services and to social cohesion was a result of maliciousness and greed. Now, at long last, after seven bitter and frustrating years, it is finally arguing its case with such conviction that the whole tenor of debates about society and the economy have changed more or less overnight.

The Tories think they can get away with pretending to drop austerity and moving swiftly on. They must not be allowed to do so. The cuts agenda has been the entire basis of government policy at every moment of the last seven years and they knew that it was based on lies. They knew that the economic crisis was nothing to do with government overspending. The scale of the scam that has been pulled is so great that it would take a truth and reconciliation commission to get at the truth. It was not based on a regrettable misunderstanding that has now been resolved. It was based on an immense campaign of lies so that public wealth in all its different forms, both tangible and intangible but all absolutely invaluable, could be monetised, financialised and ultimately stolen. It hasn’t been a marginal aspect of the last two governments’ political programmes but their absolute centrepiece. We have been ruled by a regime of austerity and in order to move on from it in any meaningful way HEADS MUST FUCKING ROLL starting with that of Theresa May, who just a few weeks ago thought she could crush all political opposition for good. If austerity is dead, then so are the careers of all those who, with staggering dishonesty and massive corruption, supported it in the first place. They have ruined millions of lives – and, given that without austerity, Brexit would be inconceivable, set in chain a series of consequences which may end up destroying peace between European nations – on the basis of an absolute lie.

People Theresa May is now in hock to

Things haven’t gone to plan for the PM. According to the script drawn up by her rather hapless advisors back in April, by this point any remaining dissidents were supposed to have been lying at the bottom of the Irish Sea and she herself was due to be anointed with the Royal Wax of the Imperial Beehive. Instead she’s spending 24 hours a day on the phone to crackpot Ulsterfolk with accents so densely-packed you could use them to blow up a betting shop, while any courtiers who haven’t had their heads chopped off were last heard of making up some absolute f*cking nonsense about goat’s skin. Plus Mr Murdoch’s not at all happy, and he’s not the only one. Here’s a short list of the people she has to appease if she wants to stay in power beyond Tuesday teatime.

1. Rupert Murdoch

When Murdoch summoned May immediately after the election announcement in order to hand her her instructions, he told her in a very loud, grouchy, sort-how-you’d-imagine-an-aging-pedo-to-sound voice GET MICHAEL BLOODY GOVE IN THE BLOODY CABINET. Luckily for her she then screwed up the election, so at this point she can appoint whoever she wants. She might as well make Gerry Adams Minister for Sport or dig up Jimmy Savile and make him Secretary of State for Media and Children’s Hospitals. Whatever she does, she no longer risks attracting opprobrium, simply because there is simply no more opprobrium to be had in the entire country. In fact, given the levels of opprobrium that the British Government is currently attracting from Europe and around the world, global supplies look like running out. Luckily they can be enhanced by another mineral resource, which appears to be infinite: ridicule.

2. Paul Dacre

Imagine the scene. Theresa May, with all her liberal values arraigned alongside her, visits the Labour stronghold of Kensington. She insists that the UK must remain in Single Market and that there must be some measure of free movement, especially for those EU citizens who are settled in the UK. Well, she says that to herself, silently, while nervously sipping her coffee from King Edward VIII chinztware cups. Then the Editor of the Daily Mail turns up, calls her a stupid f*cking c*nt eight times in the first two minutes and orders her to go back to Number 10 and wait for a f*cking email with her f*cking instructions in it.

3. The Saudis

She can’t afford to offend the Saudis, even if they will keep sending their suicide bombers to blow up London. That’s why she continues to (literally) sit on a report which details their plans to do basically just that. In the meantime, as Amber Rudd argues, selling death equipment into the Middle East remains the best guarantee of prosperity and stability for the post-Brexit UK*. Or, you know, not. At least on the next trade mission they’ll be able to send over the DUP as official representatives, and they’re sure to have a huge amount in common with their hosts.

4. The DUP

A lot of commentary on the DUP over the last few days has focussed on how bigoted they are, which is actually in a way unfortunate, because they’re actually more corrupt than they are bigoted. Although, to be fair, they’re also more bigoted than they are corrupt. And vice versa. The initial negotiations over the not-allowed-to-call-it-a-coalition-because-of-the-stupid-bloody-peace-process took precisely as long as it took to say we’llgiveyouwhateveryouwant. There was then a slight delay as everything Arlene Foster said had to be translated from pure hatespeak into something resembling BBC Tory English so that Laura Kuenssberg could try to sell the whole thing to the British public while besmirching, defaming and maligning the opposition, as her contract clearly specifies. They’ve now got as far as establishing that the DUP wants to ban Catholics from public and private office (and transport), hold Orange Marches on Downing Street every Thursday and burn down St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is obviously all fine and dandy. Did you know that Jeremy Corbyn once went to a pub in Belfast where members of Sinn Fein had played darts just three weeks earlier? Oh, you did.

5. The Brexit negotiating teams

“The…what?! Oh, f*ck, I’d forgotten all about that…”

*It’s even more lucrative when you factor in the, er, training that goes into these ‘defence contracts’.

A three-month-old baby assesses the propects for the MAY-DUP coalition

So, you’re three months old…

Four and a half months, actually. Nineteen weeks on Monday.

It says…

Yes, I know. My male parent thought it made for a more eye-catching headline. It’s not the first time he’s used me to promote his political opinions. A bit ‘clickbaity’ I suppose, but whatcha gonna do.

I see. Well, as some are saying this election was largely decided by the youth vote, I wondered how you, as someone…relatively youthful, saw what has happened, and particularly the subsequent events.

Well, although I’m as yet barely able to grasp a baby’s rattle, let alone the ins and outs of political horsetrading, I find the whole DUP thing interesting for three main reasons. Firstly, it puts paid to any notion of the Conservatives as anything other than deeply socially reactionary and driven by the will to power. It’s now ten years since David Cameron went around pretending he could talk to huskies. Even at the time, even though I wouldn’t be born for another nine years and eight months, I could see that it was all a charade, but the image did stick, and when he resigned there were people praising him for his social progressiveness on (for example) gay marriage. That sort of notion of the Tory Party is now absolutely dead. For all the talk of ‘modernisers’, it’s an atavistic, pre-modern assemblage. Secondly, something that’s not been discussed much is anti-catholicism. I think it’s paid very little attention to in England – commentary on the DUP has mostly focussed, rightly I think, on their homophobia, climate denial and misogyny – but it’s still a theme in English life. We sort of outsource that part of our history to the fringes and pretend it no longer exists, but I’d be very interested to know how catholic Tories view this agreement. Finally, there’s the lack of strategic thinking. This deal won’t last. The alacrity with which it was announced suggests strongly to me that May just agreed to give the DUP whatever they want, and that will obviously lead to problems in the medium term if not before. I think people did use to think of May as someone who possessed a modicum of political intelligence, but in strategic terms she’s not much more sophisticated than her new best friend, that outright dickhead in the United States. Maybe, as some wag put it on Twitter, she has a thing for orangemen…

Yes, indeed. Er, you seem to have a keen interest in events, did you stay up for the results?

After a fashion. I initially fell asleep at around nine thirty, and then woke up for a scream and a snack about two. Then it was back to sleep for two hours until I woke up again for, as the parental people would doubtlessly put it, “some bloody reason”. So no, I didn’t follow events too closely.

Right. Now, in the context of Brexit…

Can I just say something? Sorry to interrupt, my conversational instincts are still a little unrefined. Burp. Look, I have to say that I find the whole Brexit thing understandable. If not actually laudable. I mean, let me make an analogy. A few weeks ago they took me to stay in a hotel. I’m not sure why we went, to me it’s all just random colours and sounds wherever we go and it was a totally unfamiliar environment so I was bound to play up. Anyway, they tried to get me to sleep in this travel cot which was quite frankly far too close to the ground for comfort, I mean I would have basically been sleeping on the floor like one of those woof woof creatures they always go on about. So I kicked off. Every time they lowered me into the bloody thing I started screaming like a, you know. After they’d tried about fifty times they were going mental and in the end they let me sleep on the bed like a normal person. They barely got any sleep (I had my arms stretched out on the bed so there was basically no space and the male one ended up crashed out in an armchair), but I was fine (although I think I soiled myself at least three times), and the whole mini-break thing ended up being cut short! Now, how does that relate to Brexit? Well, I think I’ll let you, as it were, ‘do the math’.

Right, er…now, in terms of…

Sorry to interrupt again, but that’s rather a nice shirt you’re wearing. Could I possibly have a taste? I haven’t had any ‘milky-wilky’ for…

Well, I’d rather you didn’t. I have a social engagement to attend after this…

Suit yourself, bub.

Thank you. Now, given your depth of understanding of the issues, I wondered if you had any suggestions for our readers in terms of authors who have a particular insight into these issues.

Well, it’s not directly related to these events, but by far the most interesting book I’ve encountered of late is this crackly one made of some sort of cloth. It mostly consists of pictures of something called ‘animals’, apparently. I find it compelling for two reasons: 1) it’s colourful and 2) it’s tasty. I’ve barely got past sucking on the first few pages but I have to say I’m finding it riveting. I fully intend to eat it all one day. And I have to say, when it comes to eating printed material, I carry out my promises. Not like that Ukip arsehole!

Right. Now, just one more…

Excuse me, I’m going to have to cut you short. I’m afraid I appear to have ‘done a Theresa’. Could you possibly alert one of the parental people?

Er…sure! 

What to say to British people to stop them voting Conservative

Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May delivers her keynote address on the second day of the Conservative party annual conference in Manchester

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece which offended, or at least annoyed, a number of people. It was called What to say to French people to stop them voting fascist and it proferred a number of phrases that could be used by anyone visiting France or meeting French people abroad to persuade them not to vote for Le Pen. Some felt strongly that it was patronising and could even be counterproductive. Well, they were wrong, because I myself decided that it wasn’t patronising and the French themselves confirmed that it had been the right thing to do by voting massively for my new hero Emmanuele Macron, who has gone on in the space of a month to stand bravely up to both Trump and Putin and has also put a team of crack neoliberals in place who will once and for all solve the problems of gallic underproductivity and the woeful lack of competitivity in the French economy, hidebound as it is by a bloated public sector which stifles innovation, etc*.

For the purposes of balance, however, and given that there is about to be a general election in my ‘own’ country, I’ve decided to try to repeat the remarkable success of the previous article. I anticipate that this post will be of special interest to any of my US audience visiting the UK or my many Portuguese and Italian followers** chatting to my compatriots on the beach or in Irish bars. Now, when using the following phrases it needs to be borne in mind that the British (particularly the English) are a prickly group of people so it is best to do as they do and lace whatever you say with enormous amounts of irony, that way you can just claim that you were ‘joking’ and will avoid getting glassed/hit in the face with a croquet mallet/etc.

Phrases to say to British people to stop them voting Tory

  1. Hey, geezer, Theresa May is a threat to national security! She sacked 20,000 bobbies!
  2. It’ll be the final solution for the NHS, mate, the full monty. No more Elf Service for us ordinary blokes.
  3. Look, old chap, you do know that she doesn’t have a plan for Brexit? She’s just going to walk away, it’ll be a total cock-up.
  4. It’s the post-Brexit shock doctrine, me ol’ china. Read Naomi Klein, she’s ace.
  5. She won’t stand up to Trump, fella mi lad. Even held his hand on her visit to the White House. Won’t defend Sadiq Khan or even criticise him over the Paris thing. Plus, those yanks, they don’t know how to make a decent bleedin’ cuppa tea.
  6. (When talking to anyone under the age of 30) Listen, bruv, she don’t even believe in Brexit, she was against it from the start. Dem Tories is bare deng, innit. Got any skinz? #grime4corbyn.
  7. (When talking to anyone who looks like they might not be racist) The Tories have taken over the rhetoric of Farage, chum. They might as well change their name to BluKip.
  8. (When talking to anyone who looks or sounds a bit snooty) How d’you do? Do you really think you can trust that ghastly woman? What about the dementia tax u-turn? I say, fancy a fag?
  9. (If speaking to a Londoner) Cor blimey, that Corbyn’s unexpectedly grown in stature during the course of the bleedin’ campaign, ain’t ‘e guv? Blimey, what a pea souper, and no mistake, apples and pears, etc. At least the EU looked after our air quality, luvaduck.
  10. (If speaking to a Northerner) Fookin ‘ell. Fookin’ Tories. BASTards. Ey up, lad/lass, wha’ der folk call a cob in tha parts, yer bastard? UTB!

*Anyone who is interested in irony will appreciate this sentence, which was surprisingly easy and fun to write.
**Strangely enough I don’t have very many French followers.

You know what sells really well online? False hope.

This site’s most popular post (‘Donald Trump is going to snap, and here is how I know‘) was twenty times more popular than any other*. It was so widely shared and liked because it offered comfort at a particularly desperate moment. It was also published in various other more august locations and, bizarrely, led to several people googling “is Infinite Concidence reliable?”.

Well, the fact that I wrote it in less than an hour in my pyjamas might cast some doubt on its veracity. I think people found it so convincing because I used a number of powerful quotes from the fancypants psychoanalytical theorist Jacques Lacan and also because the title expressed such conviction.

It stood out in the frenzied and permanently overheated market for positive or at least reassuring headlines. Some outlets cater specifically to such a demand. In this trenchant takedown of the pro-Corbyn website The Canary, Richard Seymour identifies what’s so worrying about this tendency for demand-driven news which sells itself to our emotions. Even when the writers and editors are on our side such sites’ purposeful misrepresentation of events should concern everyone.

My site (this one) doesn’t pretend to be a news site but some things I post here can be mistaken for news articles, particularly when I bang out a bad-mooded hot take satire. One recent piece that wasn’t satirical but was based around very recent events was this one. It originally had a poor choice of headline (‘Could the Tories throw the election to escape responsibility for Brexit?’, to which the obvious answer is, er, no), and once a couple of readers had drawn my attention to the fact that the title didn’t represent the content I changed it. However, it remains posted in various Facebook groups with the same irresponsible headline, and as such has proved consistently popular. The (risible) notion that the Tories might throw an election they’re almost bound to win gives people false hope.

So many headlines these days promise to provide false hope or assuage rational fears. The ‘content’ that they advertise may not qualify as ‘false news’ but they do present hearsay as fact in a way that any professional journalist would immediately recognise as wilfully misleading and irresponsible. Motivated entirely by commercial considerations in the frenetic attention-impulse economy of the internet, they play on feelings rather than any rational assessment of the facts, with no or very little empirical basis. They are Barnum-style headlines, confirming the truth of whatever you choose to believe. A journalist friend of mine is very entertaining on the subject of blogs like mine, with their (our) assemblage of guesswork presenting constant insult to basic journalistic standards and conventions.

Dealing with news media nowadays demands much more careful and critical reading. As I argued at length here in another piece of guesswork, we need news outlets we can broadly trust. For this reason I blanch whenever I see the term ‘MSM’ (‘mainstream media’). Clearly media literacy involves awareness of such issues as misrepresentation, bias and framing. But bracketing together the Mail and Sun with The Guardian and the NYT is not an example of media literacy, but rather an instance of credulity**. In trying to make sense of British society it’s essential to recognise Murdoch and Dacre are not dissimilar to Mugabe in their attempts to control the political agenda. However, to pretend that the Guardian – for all its growing submission to commercial constraints and its occasional perpetuation of churnalism – is engaged in the same task is puerile and self-defeating. Progressives have to have a much more sophisticated and critical understanding of the media and the role of journalists, ownership and so on than Donald Trump does. His attacks on the free press take advantage of a mood of cynicism which is partly inspired by a lazy misapplication of Chomsky’s work. There’s nothing sophisticated about avoiding news headlines. Anyone doubting the truth of this should consider when the last time they confronted recent facts relating to the earth’s climate. It is an increasingly scary world but hiding from the consequences of our actions is not an adult response and it particularly behoves those of us with children to at least inform ourselves as to what is going on.

In relation to the impending election (in the debate around which our overheating planet has once again barely been mentioned), there is a miniscule chance, were the apparent momentum to continue, that Labour could sneak a victory. It would nonetheless require monumental effort. They have won the campaign but from such a low base of both support and expectation that they are still extremely unlikely to win a majority of seats. Having just spent a week in the UK, I haven’t noticed anyone getting excited in a way that would suggest the tide has actually turned with sufficient force.

Facebook posts like the one above (from a pro-Corbyn group) make me think it isn’t going to happen. They suggest to me that the most excitable are also the least likely to be active offline talking to potential voters. Actual reports from actual doorsteps suggest that, like it or not, resistance to Corbyn himself is palpable. Then there are pieces like this from responsible commentators, acknowledging the shift in mood but recognising that it almosr certainly won’t be sufficient. Most responses to the above post expressed hope that it was the case, but actually what they were not hope but optimism, not on what is true but what should be. But crossed fingers and closed eyes do not win elections.

What online Labour groups should be doing right now is not encouraging unfounded optimism but sharing tales from the doorstep and tips for how to argue with racists and those who don’t trust men with beards. They should also – and this does happen, just not nearly enough in my view – be organising groups of people to go campaigning, with those who live in safe seats offering to go to nearby constituencies that could do with a hand. It seems depressing and significant that few mention where in the country they are. 

Of course in many cases those desperate for any sign of hope are experiencing profound anxiety about the result and looking for reasons to get through another day. We are all vulnerable, but disabled people and pretty much all immigrants are right to be terrified. If the Tories win it is going to be absolutely horrible.

Voting in ten days’ time will not enough to stave off the most reactionary government of our lifetimes. Everyone who wants and needs Labour to win needs to get together with their local party and go canvassing. I myself am a partial hypocrite, in that I live in Italy so my involvement is by definition very limited. Knocking on the doors of my neighbours feels a bit moot. My Italian’s ok but wherever you live there is absolutely no point talking to anyone who doesn’t have a vote.

In any case, if I were in London I wouldn’t campaign for Labour in my constituency (Hackney South & Shoreditch). The result is always a foregone conclusion. I would find a constituency where they need help, volunteer, ask about local issues and then go banging on doors. Due to the iniquitous nature of the British Electoral System it may be the case that the candidate I’d be canvassing for wouldn’t be a Labour one, although given that the failure of the attempt to change that system can be laid squarely at the door of the former leader of the Liberal Democrats I’d be less likely to campaign for them than I would the Greens, Plaid or the SNP.

I suspect that a lot of recent Labour converts have little experience or knowledge of election campaigning. Some need to seek guidance. Sadly the current leadership doesn’t seem to be very adept at working the party machine, which does after all contain the odd Blairite gremlin. I’ve canvassed in several elections and I know that it requires humility and patience, things that do not abound in online politics. Engaging with often grumpy electors is painstaking and sometimes gruelling, but it does mean you’re actually participating in the election rather than just commenting from the digital fringes, where the only reason anyone might pay attention is if they already agree. Nevertheless, if Labour is to stand a chance of forming the next Government, lots of people who currently have no intention of voting will have to be persuaded to do so. That’s your job.

*That second post being a follow-up to the first one, and in turn twenty times more popular than the third most read article. Thankfully at that point the ‘rule of twenties’ breaks down.

** Certain individual BBC journalists, on the other hand, do see it as their responsibility to destroy the Labour Party’s chances of success. Emma Barnett in particular is a shining example of total unprofessionalism.