Archive | April, 2016

Culture Wars – Review

26 Apr

Culture Wars The Media and the British Left Curran,Gaber and Petley

In the 1980s British print media went crazy about the “Looney Left “. The GLC and some London Boroughs took the brunt of this. Newspapers ran story after story which created fear and loathing amongst its readers. were it not enough that the judiciary went after the elected Council and the Government abolished them, the media turned them into hate figures. Livingstone and figures like Bernie Grant were turned into chief loonies.Livingstone was painted as a radical Marxist pro terrorism and anti-police. Grant as a race baiting pro-violence mob leader. Grant is has to be said , a democratically elected council leader warned of the breakdown in relations between the Police and the community for months and that Broadwater Farm was becoming an inhabitable criminal ghetto. Yet somehow he was the villain. Livingstone went on to sell cheese rather than become Trotsky.

The authors use a series of wonderful case studies to articulate how the media created false fear after false fear, fake threat after fake threat all to demonise the left. They banned black bags (no they didn’t), they banned baa baa black sheep( no they didn’t), they forced kids to speak Jamaican( no they didn’t), they banned manhole covers in favour of person hole covers(no they didn’t), they employed race spies, gender spies, (no,and no again)

Some of this may seem harmless tabloid fun, like the idea that all Haringey Council coffee was now Nicaraguan marxist coffee and it had a high diarrhoea effect. Most however are really fearful and laughing at others. Pointing at those groups who are generally in a less significant position to defend themselves- ethnic minorities and LGBT being two prime examples.

This all lead to a chipping away. The main loser in all this seemed the Parliamentary Labour Party who were stuck between supporting natural allies and looking like a credible mainstream Government. Support for the GLC and others was not forthcoming.

How does the media get away with it ? In some ways because it plays to a constituency that lwill react to fear. The parallel between this and Hall’s Policing the crises is made several times. Create a fear and drive it home until a policy reaction is made or re-inforced. The policy of abolition of the GLC was ill thought out, anti-democratic and painful. It undermined groups and voluntary organisations as well as a political opponent. It was bludgeoned through. To make Express readers feel safer about the IRA and Womens Groups.

Fast forward 30 years and some things have changed, some haven’t. The book covers the hysteria raised around Livingstone’s congestion charge on his return to leading London. The presumed chaos, collapse and disaster didn’t happen. Many of the issues the GLC advocated for have become mainstream. Yet the media are still lagging behind. The same print media played some similar tactics to Red-Ed Milliband and are ecstatic about Jeremy Corbyn. Theres much to learn from this book and much to understand about how the print media continues to wage war against the British Left.

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The Indian Election of 2014

20 Apr

Chai Wallah – that’s an insult right , well yes but it was turned into a great political advantage by the recipient. Suddenly you could have a cup of tea and a chat with the Man himself. Tea that symbol of the great British need to sell things, rather like the FPP electoral system bequeathed to India.

The 2014 Indian election was something else. Virtual

in 3d. Here, there, everywhere.

yet at the same time as running one of the most tech savvy targeted campaigns of all time the BJP also ran the most basic stereotypical cricket ads. The character look like pre World Series cricketers. The messages are anti-congress but using the World T20 cricket buzz to make some points a captain that doesn’t turn up , bribing officials etc. You get the message. The voters certainly did.

But here’s some interesting things. The BJP trounced everyone and everything. This was a landslide. I don’t mind telling you that I fear Modi and the BJP. Theres an undercurrent there, its confusing but also clear. e-government and price controls? An anti-immigration, anti gay Pro Hindu party. If ever an Indian Government were to invade Pakistan one fancies it would have BJP written across it. In a country where access to cooking gas cylinders was an issue, Modi lead the charge for satellite technology.

A party leader was found to have suggested Nurses were ugly,while a BJP candidate was filmed handing out money. One model posed semi-nude to support Modi whilst another completely nude for Gandhi. A nation of 800 million voters wondered why. It lead to the wonderful statement ” The BJP has decided to take legal action against models who try to make a name by defaming the party”.

A fifth of the candidates were facing some form of legal action. 186 of the 541 elected were facing charges 9 of murder and 17 of attempted murder.

The campaign though may change international politics a huge concentrated set of micro campaigns, yet at the same time Trumps roller brush seems to have made everyone think again. A strong Government among dodgy politicians, who laugh at not with you, Don’t be gay or nude…but have cup of tea.

Benn and the Referendum

13 Apr

I have written before about Tony Benns Diaries, which are a wonderful read. He was of course a key player in the 1975 EU Referendum.

In November 1970, Benn wrote to his constituents suggesting the idea of a Common Market ( remember that ) referendum. Harold Wilson told him he couldn’t do it( suggest it ), but when it came to shadow cabinet Callaghan famously calls it ” a little rubber liferaft which we will all be glad of in a years time”. By January 1971 he is trying to convince Roy Jenkins of the merits of a referendum, but Roy fears it will split the party ( argh what foresight ). On the 29th of March 1972, the shadow cabinet votes 8 to 6 to support the idea of a referendum. A week later Benn”phoned Rupert Murdoch about the referendum, thinking it was about time I got some press support.”On the 7th of April he meets Murdoch, who is opposed to the idea “because he is in favour of entering Europe”. Oh how times changed.

Then Roy Jenkins resigns and blames the referendum idea.By 1975 back in Government Harold Wilson announces the referendum and the idea that Ministers will be able to speak and vote as they choose fit. Cabinet on the 18 March though voted to accept the renegotiate terms by 16 to 7.Two days later Wilson is furious at those anti-marketeers. He had assumed they would have a spokesman but instead they have used the ability to speak to , well , speak.

The referendum itself was held on the 5th of June. Benn sends the morning shouting “No to the Common Market” through a loudspeaker, being driven around Bristol. The following Monday Wilson offers Benn the role of energy ( from Industry) a demotion at best. Unsure of whether to accept Benn tries to contact his wife who is in a meeting, her”first thought was that I had been assassinated, which in a way I had”. The next day he accepts but the anti-marketeers are routed in the reshuffle. “Wilson gives Benn’s head to the City” runs the Guardian.

That Option No Longer Exists – Review

10 Apr

Theres a lazy narrative that lives amongst us and will no doubt be cast around by many over the coming weeks as the UK gets ready for its Referendum on being in the European Union. Its something more than nostalgia for the 70’s, it’s that we in essence own, or are sold, a very narrow view of the 70’s. The European Union referendum will become nothing more than a rerun of an event that happened to Harold Wilson. A Prime Minister with a whiff of scandal, whose got limited time left in office, a slender majority, presenting a negotiation that is really pretty weak, it’s a short-term distraction for the underlying issues, which go on to rip the party apart, repeat to fade.

Last years UK Election threw up similar patterns. There was going to be chaos and uncertainty, it was all going to be 1974 again. Despite legislative changes we were certainly going to see another election in months, Milliband was Wilson or Heath The SNP were the SNP, it’s all chaos , no one wanted to be Jeremy Thorpe but ah well. Then the result came in and we quickly had to get al 1992 again. It was of course just like 2015, but we love to own the definition of our recent past.

The established 70’s narrative runs as Heath as Mr Punch, Wilson as Judy ( Then Callaghan ), Thatcher’s the policeman, the Unions are crocodiles, flash up some pictures of striking bin men and Punks then we can get onto the 80s when we were all saved.

Medhurst addresses some of this gloss in his excellent short book on 1974-76. Socialism was still a viable vehicle for the Labour party, Unions and a myriad of other groups and people as well. What stands out isn’t that thousands of workers stopped work to demand a shipbuilder¬†remain open, but that the Government ploughed on, missing the vision that was contained in some of the alternative economic strategies and the workers carried on. These weren’t groups trying to sustain lame ducks but trying to sustain industry. This all gets airbrushed out with pictures of Tony Benn as a swivel eyed loon( whatever one of those is). Jimmy Reid comes across more of a Gandhi than Lenin figure, but you’d never get that from most accounts.

Like other European countries, Italy in particular, the secret¬†state was trying to establish itself. MI5 were acting as lone agents during Britain’s own years of lead. Civil society comes under immense pressure from a sinister right-wing cabal. As in many other times Northern Ireland showed how the British secret state chose to operate with subversion, terror, complicity and underhand behaviour.

The attempts to establish alternative ownership and industrial models were a key challenge not only between the Government and the Civil service/Industrialist/the media but also within the Labour movement and party. The power of the Treasury was aimed to achieve one thing – right-wing economic liberalism. Benn and Foot were tarnished by the right wing media through this process, by claims they wanted to establish something like Allende’s Chile in Britain. Allende it is often forgotten was democratically elected. While the Conservative party supported and continue(d) to support Pinochet whose Coup was clearly an affront to Democracy, seemed to be unremarkably controversial to the media( and remains so to this day ). Even more confusing the story quoted by Medhurst was written in the Daily Express by Walter Terry who was the lover of Harold Wilsons political secretary Marcia Williams.

Of course this about much more than the Alternative Economic Strategy. Medhurst provides excellent context to the period but not by quoting old episodes of the good life. Many of the socio-political ideas that were developing then did find some form of survival, even if it was in a different form.

Medhurst shows the juxtaposition between 2016 and 1975 on the Referendum, one missing from contemporary narrative. The pro EEC campaign was favoured by all corporate interests, funded by the banks and gushed over by the media. You can do your own compare and contrast. The EEC referendum did provide Wilson with one last wind in his sails, he in effect sacked Benn and let Healey carry monetarism forward. When the IMF crises came, his wonky Treasury numbers brought us Austerity and things have been cyclical around austerity and sugar ever since.

What can contemporary left leaders learn from this , perhaps its the need for hegemonic revolution, perhaps not. I personally still have a desire to write my own book on the 70s though this book has made my task a little harder !