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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