Category: austerity

Creative Editing

This seems a small detail to have fuelled my sense of burning impotence, but the more I consider it alongside all the other small details that together form the steady, incessant drip-feed that gurgles just below the surface of what we are presented for news, the more incandescent it made me.

On 8th April 2013, Margaret Thatcher died. It was Monday and I’d been out of work for seven weeks. Not, I hasten to add, because of any hard-luck story or dastardly deed by an employer. No, it was my own stupid fault and the only reason I mention it is that I had time on my hands and was able, for the first time in a long time, to watch a big news story unfold in this age of 24-hour rolling news. I flicked around the news channels, mainly between sky, BBC and Al Jazeera, interested in how differently they would examine and present the story. As I watched that day I simmered, then effervesced and finally, boiled with anger and indignation.

From the outset, I must be brutally honest in stating my intense dislike of Margaret Thatcher. I despised her because of her methods and policies and I’m not about to revise that viewpoint now that she’s dead. However, neither am I about to launch into a vitriolic attack on her. What made me boil over that day was nothing to do with my politics, or indeed the politics of any of the contributors to the programming. Something more subtle was going on and I slowly realised that many of the participants, including some of the presenters, were parties to it unintentionally.

The first thing to hit me was the immediate, obvious difference between how the two English channels went for blanket, full-on tabloid, whilst the more international Al Jazeera merely inserted it periodically (as an important item nonetheless) into its output. Al Jazeera’s coverage was therefore less frenetic and, usually, by the time they revisited the item there had been some fresh development or interview, which made their analysis less repetitive. Whilst I appreciated this style more, I couldn’t help becoming drawn to a comparison exercise between the other two. Over the years, in a similar fashion to the two main political parties, the BBC and Sky News have become frighteningly alike. While the Tories and labour have been involved, first in a serious head-on pile up in the centre ground, then a sickening lurch towards UKIP on the right, the two broadcasters’ styles and formats have become increasingly familiar.

Frankly, the tabloidesque style is hardly surprising in Sky’s case, given its ownership and its eccentric American cousin, Fox News. Interestingly, the BBC has gradually come to the same conclusion as the Tories and Labour that, if the punter can’t tell the difference between you then they won’t particularly care which they’re watching and just vegetate and stop switching from one to the other. So, like the tabloids with their red tops and cover pictures of meaningless ‘celebrities’ being sick in the backs of taxis while the plane disaster is on page 23, they have grown indistinguishable. If you flick the television over nowadays, the picture doesn’t alter. The same thick, brightly coloured band is across the screen with the same teleprinter style legend: ‘Breaking News’. The same ticker-tape message is scrolling underneath it. The same Ikea furniture is arranged feng-shui. The same strange whooshing noises accompany those disembodied heads in the corner of the screen. And the same pair of idio sorry, presenters – are staring at you. I mean staring at the autocue.

The similarities that day didn’t end there. On both channels, the clear presumption was there from the start that any person in possession of their full faculties was going to “recognise” the “towering figure” that had cast a “long shadow” and would surely “acknowledge” her “great achievements”. I use the quotation marks because these terms simply littered the content of both programmes and were used by contributors and presenters in equal abundance. What was also disturbing was the even clearer presumption that anyone who wanted to say, “Hey you know, I didn’t really like this woman and I think her policies were discriminating and vindictive” was a freak who should really keep quiet on a day like this.

These presumptions were never actually laid out or stated, but they were there all right. They were evident in the language and behaviour of presenters and admirers whenever one of these ‘ne’er-do-wells’ had spoken and they were patently obvious in the allocation of airtime. People who thought that Mrs Thatcher had actually not been good for the country were bizarrely asked if they identified with the tiny minority of gormless yobbos who celebrated on the streets of a few cities, which they clearly didn’t.

The important thing to remember here is that when your old aunt Mabel whom you dislike dies, you can either simply not go to the wake, or go along for your mum’s sake and just smile when everyone says how nice she was. However, when the person who dies has been the most controversial and divisive Prime Minister in generations, to let only those who come with praise do any of the important speaking and pooh-pooh any who dissent as small-minded irritants is an act of political and historical vandalism. The canonisation of Mrs Thatcher on both channels went on apace, with the gushing admirers demanding that anyone who held unsympathetic views about her be silent “out of respect”, whilst they themselves held forth with gusto, airbrushing away – with no respect themselves for the victims of her vindictive policies – the more distasteful actions from her term of office to all who would listen. Then something very curious happened.

No account of the Thatcher years would be complete, without some reference to her long-running battle with the city council in Liverpool, in particular the members of Militant. It was no surprise therefore, that the BBC contacted the former deputy leader of that council, Derek Hatton – who had many bitter clashes with her government – for a statement. If they were hoping he would appear on screen swigging champagne and singing hallelujah, they were to be disappointed. Mr Hatton answered the (by now) de rigueur question of whether he’d joined a street party by saying he would not celebrate the death of a human being (What a pity Thatcher failed to observe this maxim as she encouraged Britons to “rejoice” over the deaths of over 300 human beings on ship outside and sailing away from the Britain’s “total exclusion zone” around the Falklands). He did go on, however, to say that didn’t stop him from stating how profoundly wicked and cruel he found her policies to be, ruining lives and destroying communities. Nothing surprising there then. That’s exactly what one would expect him to say. He added that she had instigated more change than anyone who preceded her but qualified that by saying that was all well and good if we agree change was actually required, particularly change that made ordinary people worse off. The change implemented by Mrs Thatcher, in his opinion, was vindictive. That was where it got curious.

All morning, the admiring honourable members had been queuing up to pay their tributes and, almost to a man, each one told how she had instigated “more change” in her term than any other leader for a century. It was the one great thread, the ongoing theme from guest to guest: ‘more change than anyone’. Only Derek Hatton had qualified that statement by criticising this change.

As pointed out earlier, the presentation by both channels was more-or-less, a continuous loop, resulting in the same items and interviews recurring with annoying frequency. Each item was edited and/or shortened slightly after the first, live interview and inserted into the loop. The curious thing about Mr Hatton’s interview lies in this editing. I obviously can’t state that whoever edited this piece acted deliberately, but if you edit something, surely you must make sure its inherent sentiment remains intact and, ergo, proof-run it.

Within an hour of Derek Hatton’s interview, this edited version (which was to be replayed throughout the day, whilst the full interview was only aired the once – live), had become a fixture in the loop. In the edit, Mr Hatton says that Mrs Thatcher instigated an unbelievable amount of change, with the item ending on that word. No qualifying statement. No criticism. The result, when shown repeatedly all day alongside all the other items in the loop, gave the impression that Mr Hatton was repeating Mrs Thatcher’s many admirers; that he held her in the same respectful awe as they did. This editing, whether deliberate or not, totally altered the complexion of the interview and distorted Mr Hatton’s contribution for later viewers, the majority of whom would not have seen the original, live interview. One could be tempted to say this was an early example of BBC ‘creative editing’, were it not for their report on the miners’ strike at Orgreave 29 years previously, when they showed footage of the miners defending themselves, before showing the initial police mounted charge, thus fostering the indelible impression the miners had initiated the violence, not, as was the case, the police.

It seems some things never change . . . . . .

Congratulations Losers–You Won!

IMG_20170105_131133

Here we are then.  We’ve all sobered up, rubbed our eyes and taken stock.  Everyone still hates the Tories, the party that cut everything from aid for the disabled to the taxes of the rich.  But they won.  Eighteen months ago I wrote that the government, without a hint of irony, would come to us in 2015 and ask to let them “finish the job”; the job of decimating our public services, welfare safety net, health service, care for the elderly and disabled and working conditions.  I also said the scary bit was that with our track record as an electorate, we probably would.  Guess what?  They did – and we did.

The capacity of the British people to vote in large numbers against their own interests is mind-boggling.  If we thought zero hours contracts were bad, just give it eighteen months and we’ll be begging to get on one of them for some job security!  The jugular is about to be gone for, by a party that had to pinch itself to see if it was awake after the election result.  Despite struggling to keep a straight face, they’ve started their mission to deliver “A brighter, more secure future” (their 2015 election slogan).

To this end, the queen will today sit on a golden throne to announce:

  • Vicious cuts in support for some of the poorest members of society.
  • The abolition of the Human Rights act.
  • Draconian Legislation curbing the ability of trade unions to protect their members’ pay & conditions.
  • Tax cuts for rich people.

She will be wearing a hat made entirely of precious jewels.

The Thatcher Museum

Recently, it was again mooted that a museum be established to honour former PM.


Daughter

The measure of any society, it is said, lies in how it looks after its poorest and most vulnerable members.  John Locke opined that when we decided that we wished to organise and call ourselves civilised, we had to abandon the rights we had against each other in our state of nature in order to live together without fear or destitution.  In effect, we subscribed to a form of  social contract, a usually implicit agreement among the members of an organised society or between the governed and the government, defining and limiting the rights, duties and responsibilities of each.  This is how we secure mutual protection and welfare, ensuring that those who fall ill or become unemployed can be helped, keeping some semblance of their dignity intact.  Quite simply, we all pay into the system when we are able through our taxes, and make ‘withdrawals’ in the form of services and pensions or welfare when we need them.  These ‘withdrawals’ are ours by right, but are these days referred to as ‘benefits’.  Of course, with the rights come the duties and responsibilities, such as respect for each other and the law, the education of our children, the well being of our elderly and so on.

Over the years, certain people have been chipping away at our perception of this ‘social contract’.  Most of it has been very gradual and very subtle.  The Tories have always been set against the principle of the state providing for the less fortunate and, more recently the Labour party, in a bid to be seen as ‘electable’ in the eyes of the rich owners of the press, has been shedding several of its core principles.  This gradual shift became an outright onslaught with the election of Margaret Thatcher, remained unaddressed under New Labour (to its eternal shame), and is now being viciously completed by the present rotten, corrupt coalition government.

The scale of Mrs Thatcher’s assault should not be underestimated.  In her determination not just to emasculate the trade union movement, but to completely stamp it out, she also attacked the heartland where they were at their strongest: the manufacturing industry.  The result, as we can see, was the complete laying to waste of this sector, along with a rapid decline in the living standards of the millions of decent, working people employed therein.  Where we once built ships and manufactured steel, machines and electrical appliances with tradesmen and women on proper wages paying proper taxes, we now sell each other mobile phones (manufactured elsewhere) or make coffee and burgers on minimum wages paying little, if any tax.  Mrs Thatcher and her friends in the elite-owned press convinced people by drip-feeding that the unions, which had achieved the decent pay and conditions that were now being stolen from them, were actually the villains, and that we should look after ourselves individually and not each other.

 

The Thatcher administration then proceeded to sell swathes of state controlled industries.  The eminently viable names (which could have been still delivering billions in income and duty to the exchequer) to be hawked off for private companies to trouser the profits included:

    • British Aerospace
    • Cable & Wireless
    • Britoil
    • Jaguar
    • British Telecom
    • British Gas
    • British Steel
    • British Petroleum
    • Rolls Royce
    • British Airways
    • British Coal
    • British Rail
    • Associated British Ports
    • Enterprise Oil
    • British Shipbuilders
    • BAA
    • The Water Board
    • Electricity

These all belonged to the nation, but are now in the hands of (largely foreign) private companies.  People are suggesting that we have a museum or a monument – to this?

The NHS is being prepared for total privatisation, care for the elderly is decimated, the ambulance service is collapsing, our children are being charged £27,000 to educate themselves – a birth right in my day, fire stations are closing, coastguard stations are closing, libraries are closing, police numbers are being slashed, the terminally ill are being told to find a job, people will be forced to work ’til they’re 70 and young people will be forced to work for nothing as interns.  Nixon bugged one office and was impeached; our government is spying on all of us and laughs in our faces.  To the people considering the Margaret Thatcher Museum I have a simple message:  Take a look around you. . . . .YOU’RE LIVING IN IT ! ! !

Keep a Straight Face, and You’re Laughing


enhanced-20348-1423549767-2

It would be funny if it wasn’t so bloody awful.  Last week (9th Feb) the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair (where else?) played host to the Tory Party fundraiser entitled the ‘Black & White Ball’.  It’s an apt title, as there, for all to see in black & white, was the very reason we’re not “all in this together”: a gathering of as many money-grabbing, benefits-sanctioning, hedge-fund-managing, tax-dodging bastards as you’ll ever see in one place this side of Davos.

You know the sort.  The type who will see you sanctioned or imprisoned for claiming benefit incorrectly, then say, “oh, I made a mistake, I’ll just pay it back” when they’re found to have embezzled £20,000 from us to pay for their castle portcullis to be polished.  The sort who, after lecturing us about the ‘feckless, idle layabouts’ falsely claiming a few million over the top, will then shovel billions out of the country without paying tax on it, into the accounts of their wives’ companies registered in the Cayman Islands.  The ones who wanted to tax pasties, for Christ’s sake!  They all arrived in their limos, having paid up to £15,000 for a table at the ‘do’, to bid for lots at an auction to raise funds for the Tories.

It would be in bad taste for me to list the items for which they were bidding (you can see them here); suffice it to say that one of them was your own private jet to Santorini and five nights at ‘The Villa’, a luxury suite with it’s own private spa at the 5 star Grace Hotel.  Now I don’t know about you, but I would have to work overtime for the next 500 years or so to even contemplate bidding for that!  The sheer arrogance of holding such an ostentatious cash-fest whilst simultaneously hectoring us to tighten our belts and be glad of our zero-hours contract jobs, proves that they’ve given up even trying to keep a straight face about inequality.  The only thing missing was George Osborne lighting his cigar with a £50 note.

Whilst we all strive to strive to get on with our lives and cope with the loss of our public services as a result of austerity, it is worth remembering that if the majority of party donors, attendees and bidders at this noble event simply paid the tax that they should, there would be no need for a single cut.  Not one.

Of Course I’m British! I’m Wearing a Poppy!

sunset sun horizon priroda
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On Remembrance Day, I was listening to a local affairs phone-in programme on BBC local radio.  A debate evolved about the wearing of the poppy, arising from a news report about Sunderland’s Northern Irish footballer James McLean wearing a shirt without an embroidered poppy in contrast to the rest of his teammates.  The general mood was one of condemnation.  During the debate, a gentleman caller related the fact that, whilst he was waiting on a railway platform this week, most of the people on the platform were not wearing poppies.  His tone of disbelief implied that it was despicable of them to be in a public place without one.  Another gentleman (ex forces) said he wears one “out of respect”.  Where then, is the respect for the position of people who don’t wish to wear a poppy, for whatever personal reason they may have?

Personally, I don’t wear a poppy, even though my father and grandfather were servicemen (one in each war).  This is for my own reasons, which I don’t wish to force upon others.  I do, however, observe the silence, which is a personal thing, allowing the individual to honour privately, whomever they choose, without having to make a public declaration of blanket loyalty without question.  I don’t try to influence people to this point of view, and I would be grateful if they, in turn, would stop treating people like me as if we were low life for not sharing their blind beliefs and loyalties. Anyone who prefers not to wear a poppy is considered anti-British and subjected to a form of poppy bullying by jingoistic poppy-wearing nationalists.

I have no religious beliefs, but it often amuses me that these little Englanders are often the same people who witter on about immigration and that it’s an attack on Britain’s “Christian” values.  They should stop and think that the present xenophobic rush to defend these “Christian” values, by the press and the political parties competing to have the most austere and nationalistic policies, would see Jesus Christ not even allowed into this “Christian” country.