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I have a piece in today’s Scottish Review on the civil unrest in England.
It was prompted by an interview on the “Today” programme with Boris Johnson, a man born with a silver spoon in his mouth, a man who seems to walk into any job he wants regardless of his apparent lack of qualifications to do the job, and a man who, along with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, is a former member of the Bullingdon Club, famed for acts of anti-social behaviour and criminal damage.
When Johnson, without a trace of irony, accused kids from backgrounds blighted by inner city deprivation and who have little chance of anything but the most menial employment of having an “endless sense of entitlement”, I just about choked on my cornflakes.
Thanks to the Scottish Review for publishing my thoughts on the matter.
I apologise for clogging up the blogosphere with what is apparently the only story on the planet, but have you ever seen the wonderful film “The Lives of Others”? In it, the lives of ordinary people are surreptitiously invaded by a shadowy bureaucracy, intent on gathering information, however trivial, simply to hold in case it might, at some time, become important.
And have you ever seen “The Private Lives of J. Edgar Hoover”, a man obsessed with information, on gathering anything and everything, regardless of whether or not it might be useful for his own ends?
Well, it seems that News International are our very own Stasi and J. Edgar. The extent of their illegal information-gathering activities – bribing police officers, tapping phones, hacking e-mails – is so widespread it can only be indicative of the mindset of an autonomous agency which considers itself able to operate outside the law. Look at who they hacked and what they obtained: Milly Dowler, one of the Soham parents, the families of 7/7 victims and dead soldiers. What is screamingly obvious is that there was no chance of them ever being able to use any of that in any possible story. It was information that was so personal and of absolutely no value because anything that came from it would have been so clearly obtained illegally, it could never, ever be made public.
So the mindset of the News of the World was not that of an investigative news outlet, but that of a bureaucracy which sees itself as having the right to gather and store information of whatever nature simply because information might just give power, might just be of value. That is the mindset of a secret police who are absolutely sure of their position being above the law.
Rebekah Brooks clearly indicated that this is the way she sees herself when she gave evidence to a Commons committee as long ago as 2003. Given that she admits to knowing that police officers were routinely bribed by her newspaper and gives no indication that she has reported such illegal payments to the police, you would have expected her to be arrested for at least withholding evidence from the police. Eight years later – still no arrest. Therefore, don’t blame Brooks (entirely); it seems she has absolutely no reason to doubt that she is above the law, and that she is protected by the relationship between her boss, the police and politicians both in the Labour and Conservative parties.
This sense of entitlement – “we are not judged by the rules of the little people” – is clearly shown by NotW editor Colin Myler’s outrageous tweet that “The Guardian were out to get us, and they got us.” In other words, the fall of NotW does not originate in their illegal activities, but in the commercial rivalry with a fellow news organisation. Of course, he fails to acknowledge that the Guardian was simply following a (very newsworthy) story, a story The Times and The Sun have done their best to play down and avoid.
But in one sense, The News of the World (and News International and other news gathering organisations in general) are much, much worse than the Stasi or J. Edgar Hoover, and are much more like The Thought Police of Orwell’s 1984, in that they have two-way access to the people they spy on. For the viewscreen that pumps out propaganda to Winston day and night, read those red-tops on the coffee table or the 24-hour news culture yacking from the TV. In an ideal world, organisations with that sort of responsibility would tread carefully, but in our imperfect world the currency of the news media is ratings, cash and power. That is why the BBC – for all its imperfections – is so valuable for its independence and its influence, and for the fact that it is free from the stranglehold of billionaire megalomaniacs who understand where real power lies today.
After my recent post about competition in the health service and the way in which privatisation of public resources perpetuates a low-wage economy in which the working poor are systematically exploited, along comes Conservative MP Philip Davies to show that the depth of the Right wing’s nutjob economics knows no bounds. He’s obviously competing with Francis Maude and John Glen for the title of the Conservative Party’s most obviously out of touch representative.
I won’t go over the story in detail – he’s far too famous now to waste the space – but I love the concept that the disabled and people with mental health problems shouldn’t be “forced” to work for sweatshop wages, but they should be offered the “choice” if they want to.
Choice? What choice is it between starvation and the coppers on offer from the fat cats who would jump at the chance of a pool of even cheaper labour? What choice do the poor ever, ever have in the face of the self-serving machinations of the rich and powerful?
And of course, it comes at a time of vicious attacks on that other vulnerable sector of society, the retired. Public sector pensions, they bleat, are far more generous than those in the private sector. No one seems to be posing the corollary: why are pensions in the private sector – and again, only for low and middle wage earners – so stingy? Why has the financial services sector reneged on so many promises to those investing in their pensions while continuing to pay mammoth bonuses and – yes – obscene pension pots to the executive classes?
It seems that the exploitation of the weakest in society will, indeed, carry on apace: and hell, the country voted for it. We need our own “Arab Dawn”, methinks.
Update: I found some blogs supporting Davies’ approach, including this: http://nhs999.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/philip-davies-and-the-mob/
In reply, it seems to me that if the argument is that accepting lower wages would make the disabled more “employable”, that suggests they are “unemployable” in the first place. However, that is to accept a simplistic right-wing economic definition of employment, when it is actually so much more. Employment is a social contract between employee, employer and society in general. In terms of what anyone can offer to society by being employed, no-one is less “employable” than another. Therefore, as a society, we must make the commitment – and make employers make the commitment – to being “disabled blind” when it comes to employment.