After last week’s farcical attempt to attract knuckle-scraping nationalists by having flags hanging behind them wherever they go, Labour’s leaders have found another way to distract from the fact that they have no policies distinct from the Tories.
Keir Starmer was instantly denounced as a “flag-shagger” after details of a Labour Party briefing urging representatives to wear suits and be seen with the Union Flag were leaked to the public.
I don’t know the origin of the phrase. I wonder whether it has something to do with politicians who have their wives standing behind them when they make a speech (Donald Trump comes to mind).
Now consider this:
(I know, it’s from The Times, which is not considered a bastion of the left-wing press.)
“Labour tells MPs to woo stars and influencers ahead of local elections” the headline proclaims.
And the picture caption adds: “Labour has previously won endorsements from music and film stars such as the actor Martin Freeman, the singer Dua Lipa and the rapper Stormzy.”
I don’t know what you think, but This Writer can’t see any of the three stars named there being particularly keen for Starmer to shag them – even if only figuratively.
Facebook has been a goldmine of comments on this. For instance: “I’m wondering which celebrities will come forward to endorse Keir Starmer. All the celebs who endorsed Jeremy Corbyn will understandably still feel a bit sore after the PLP turned cannibal on its own members. Robert Webb and Hal Cruttenden (who he?) tore up their membership cards.”
This is true, and it means that Labour would probably have to offer something to any “name” before getting their endorsement.
In other words (and this is from another Facebook comment): “‘We want you to whore out and whore out hard! You saw what Miliband did with Russell Brand? Yeah. That!'”
No political party should ever put itself in a position where it is comparable with a prostitute – selling itself for short-term gain.
Think about it. What message does that send out to the public?
It says Labour is available for hire and will do what it is told. It doesn’t stand for anything and certainly won’t represent the best interests of anybody but Keir Starmer and his cronies.
Tone-deaf Toryism strikes again: Theodora Dickinson didn’t think there was anything wrong with telling Labour MP Naz Shah to go “back to Pakistan”, even at a time when racism is at the top of the news agenda.
This Writer doubts that it ever entered her head that she could lose her party membership – even for the two weeks that seems to be the maximum punishment for Conservatives accused of racism.
I doubt it would have occurred to her that she would get into trouble for belittling a person from a minority ethnic group. That’s white privilege.
She had responded to a post showing the Bradford West MP discussing her experience of poverty, saying that if “Naz Shah hates this country so much why doesn’t she go back to Pakistan?!”
Ms Shah is not only MP for Bradford West; she was born in that city. She has been to Pakistan, but the circumstances are unlikely to have endeared that country to her.
Perhaps Ms Dickinson thought she could get away with a racist tweet against Ms Shah because the Labour MP had previously been forced to admit anti-Semitic intent behind tweets that she had sent in 2014 (before she became an MP)? Sauce for the goose?
It’s not good enough.
And all at a time when celebrities are opening up about the racism they have been forced to endure – bringing the unacceptability of Ms Dickinson’s behaviour into sharp focus.
We hear former X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke talking about entertainment industry demands for her to bleach her skin, not wear braided hair and tailor her music to a white audience. She also says she was told to “be quiet” during attacks on her in the press during Strictly.
Skin bleaching is seen as a way of making a black person more acceptable. Blackness is seen as indicative of poverty and powerlessness – of undesirability. As Akala wrote in his book Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, “That even black people can seriously internalise anti-black sentiment can be seen in the massive trend for skin bleaching across black communities… As long as whiteness is a metaphor for power, blackness must of course function as a metaphor for powerlessness, and as long as money whitens, poverty must blacken.”
News presenter Clive Myrie said racist abuse he receives is at its worst now than at any time since he started his career in 1988. He toldThe Guardian: “What bothers me is the general sense that we live in a country where some people think racism is either imagined, or in people’s minds, and I think that is a notion that has to be fought.
“We’ve had God knows how many reports over the last 40 years detailing systemic racism and systemic lack of diversity across a range of institutions across British society, but nothing seems to get done,” he said.
“Without dealing in opinion, we’ve had numerous reports and we’ve had little action done on the recommendations. One wonders what is the point of reports if the recommendations are not going to be acted on.”
“You can’t just stop people on the street because they’re black, and that is what’s happening,” he said.
How about the “terrifying” racist abuse against Ian Wright – Wrighty – on social media? He shared some of it:
These aren't isolated incidents!!! It's daily!! This is what I received for posting and talking about #BlackLivesMatter yesterday. The abuse started a week earlier, the taunting is terrifying. Coming back and back again. pic.twitter.com/2un0ZbqOlV
According to (again) The Guardian: “Wright has now called on others who had been racially abused on social media to speak up. ‘Let’s show these social media companies how bad this has got, it’s ridiculous!!! So easy for them!!’ he wrote.
“’If you or a black friend has had online racist abuse then please post a tweet with the hashtags #NoConsequences and #BlackLivesMatter.'”
When the actor David Harewood saw a link to the article, he questioned whether he should talk about his own experiences. I doubt I’m the only person who encouraged him to do so:
Talk about it in public, David. Make people aware of what it is, what it does and what it means. @guardian
The message is right, too – we all need to do better. The problem is systemic, as Clive Myrie said – it is part of the society in which we live. It is long past time we all understood that and called for change, because it is holding us back.
Black people – and other ethnic minorities – are told they are of less value by incidents like police stopping and searching them because of their skin colour, or teachers marking them down and otherwise sabotaging their education, or employers finding reason not to take them on. Society pushes many of them towards crime – and then uses this to justify the way it treats them. Even those who achieve success suffer appalling abuse every day of their lives. Consider the examples above. Think of Diane Abbott, who still receives more than half of all racial abuse directed at BAME MPs.
Harming people in this way harms society. It diverts resources into both harming and punishing them that could be used for better purposes – and that includes the resources that are put into the detection (or should I say the pretence of it?) of racist abusers? And it holds society back because, instead of nurturing talents these people may have that would benefit us all, the system is actively creating problems for itself.
That situation will not magically change by itself. We have an actively racist government – look at the Windrush scandal and Boris Johnson’s many racist outbursts. He is the prime minister.
The UK needs a mass movement for change – that helps everyone, rather than victimising a vulnerable few.
We won’t get it while we have rulers who are openly racist while pretending to punish members of their gang who get caught out.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Speaking their mind: Rufus Hound and Kate Nash had the courage to voice their opinions about the NHS and education – but they don’t have enough influence to change government policy. What will it take to make that happen?
This could have been designed to follow my rant about politics being about perception: In response to a news report that NHS doctors’ surgeries have been found to be filthy, radio listeners were treated to a lengthy monologue on why the media are running down the health service to make it easier for the government to sell it out from under us.
This lesson was delivered, not by an eminent politician, but by the comedian Rufus Hound. He was speaking on Radio 4’s The News Quiz.
And he said: “Does this not scare anyone, though?
“There are a lot of stories coming out at the moment about all the ways that the NHS is failing. At the same time there is privatisation by stealth. Now, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, maybe those two things just resolve themselves. If you’re a normal person, you’ve got to become a conspiracy theorist, haven’t you?
“The number of contracts being put out to private companies has gone up through the roof. All of the pre-election promises of no privatisation of the NHS, and that the budget would be ring-fenced – it was ring-fenced but not in real terms, so it is a cut in the truest sense…
“The NHS is being sold out from under us, and yet all the stories that come out from the powerful oligarchs who run the media are either about how it’s failing and how much better off we’d be if it was privatised, or why privatisation can’t happen quickly enough for any one of a number of other reasons.
“The reason those surgeries are filthy is, there’s not enough investment to keep them clean and tidy. The argument isn’t ‘privatise’; the argument is ‘invest more’.
“In the Olympics, there was that big moment where they had ‘NHS’ and everybody stood up and applauded, and I think it was Norman Lamont who said, ‘The nearest thing the British people have to a religion is the NHS’ – and we’re just letting it go.
“People should be on the streets.
“And I realise that, for this to make the edit, it should have a punchline.”
He knew, you see. He knew that this great speech was in danger of being lost if it wasn’t sufficiently entertaining.
Thank goodness producer Sam Michell kept it in, but it should not be up to an entertainer like Rufus to tell us these things. Such matters are the province of politicians. The simple fact that our representatives aren’t “on the streets” with us about this says everything we need to know about them.
Here’s another example: Education. I was in the unfortunate position of having to sit through Andrew Neil’s This Week on Thursday evening. I’m not a fan of that show, but it meant I was lucky enough to see former pop starlet Kate Nash, there to talk about her film (The Powder Room) and modern manners, slip in a quick observation about education that undermines everything ever said by Michael ‘rote-learning-is-the-only-way’ Gove.
She said, “There are certain things we need to be addressing, that are being completely missed – and that’s to do with education being inspiring and interesting for young people, rather than just about purely passing tests and pressure.”
She hit the nail on the head without even looking; Gove couldn’t find it with a map and a guide.
Again, she is an entertainer; she should not be having to say these things, but we should be glad that she did. The moment was glossed over entirely in the BBC News website report of the debate. Perhaps we should be happy that they didn’t edit the comment out altogether (it starts around two minutes, 15 seconds into the video clip).
We are left with politicians who refuse to do their duty and defend our services from those who would destroy them, and celebrities who are left to pick up the slack – if, with a biased media, they can find a way to keep their words from ending up on the cutting-room floor.
What hope can we possibly have that anyone with any clout will defend our beloved, but beleaguered, taxpayer-funded services?
Worst of all is the fact that it falls to people like myself to even write about these matters, and we all have lives of our own. Rufus and Kate made their speeches on Thursday; it is now Sunday, and I could not have written this article any sooner.
We’ve all heard that a lie can travel around the world several times before the truth has got its boots on. This is because the liars own the media, and those of us who are interested in the truth have small voices, are easily ignored, or can be dismissed because “it’s only entertainment”.
At least high-profile figures have a better chance of being heard. There will be those telling Rufus and Kate and who knows who else to get back in their box and shut up, but I won’t be one of them. I think we should be “on the streets” with them.
I’m wondering if any more members of ‘The Great And The Good’ will have the bottle to speak their mind.
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If you’re thinking, “She doesn’t LOOK disabled,” you’re a fool. Many disabled people don’t LOOK disabled. They hide the pain and try to live lives that are as normal as possible. If you’ve looked at someone with a disabled badge, or who you know claims benefit for a disability, and decided they didn’t deserve it because they don’t LOOK disabled, you need to tell yourself, it’s time to grow up. (In fact, I chose the picture because it represents despair. I have no idea whether the person in it has disabilities or not. But the point deserved to be made).
With less than half a day left (deadline is 10.12am on November 1) it seems likely that it’s not going to make it.
I think those who have signed deserve a vote of thanks. If you are one of those people, then you stood up for what you believed in, and can count yourself one of an extremely select group comprising 0.1 per cent of the UK’s population. Well done. I sincerely wish there were more of you.
The trouble is, I sincerely think there are more of you. The message just didn’t get across – partly because it was choked off by a mass media that has been howling for the blood of the sick and disabled since the government first started suggesting it was going to cut their money.
We’ve all seen the articles about “those filthy benefit scroungers” in the tabloid press, and seen some of them get caught on certain television programmes, and yes – there are a few people like that. But they are a tiny minority and it is monstrous that the actions of 0.4 per cent of claimants – that’s right, less than one per cent – are being used to justify the victimisation of 87 per cent of disabled people – seven-eighths of the total number of claimants. Doesn’t that seem disproportionate to you?
This is the percentage of those who, after going through a so-called ‘work capability assessment’ that we know through – again – TV documentaries is rigged, either lose their benefits completely or are told they will lose them after a period of one year, in which they must find a way to recover from (in some cases) progressively degenerative conditions.
So, if you decided you wouldn’t sign the petition because you think everyone claiming disability benefit is a fraud, then you’re a fool. You’ve let yourself be spoonfed tripe because you were told it’s caviar. I bet you’ve got a bad taste in your mouth right now. You deserve to.
If you want to what is really happening, to people with serious conditions that simply will not get better – no matter how much an ESA assessor or Job Centre Plus desk-jockey says they should – read this.
After that, if you can bear it, you might like to find out what has happened to at least one disabled person who had the audacity to protest against the way she, and fellow people with disabilities, have been treated – by reading this.
But there you go. Protestors cannot rely on the mass media because television stations, newspapers and radio channels are almost exclusively owned by people with a vested interest in keeping the plight of these victims of prejudice well and truly out of the public gaze. Go to sleep, they say. Do what we tell you. You are free… as long as you do what we tell you.
And you suck it on down and swallow it whole, don’t you?
The people behind the petition had to find other ways to promote it – virally, by word of mouth (or by passage from one internet user to their friends) – but clearly the act of lifting a few fingers to put a name to the petition was too much effort for many. That’s all you had to do. Lift your fingers. Hit a keyboard a few times. You didn’t even have to get up out of your chair.
There was an effort to get celebrities to endorse the petition. I’ve tried a few – only those with more than a million followers because I knew the kind of numbers that count and the simple fact is that most people were never likely to sign the petition. But if only one in 10 did, then a person with a million followers would have delivered up enough to get the petition to the next stage. You can probably work out who some of these people are.
That didn’t happen. Maybe they never saw the messages asking for their support – it’s entirely likely, as a person with that many people sending messages to them and only a limited amount of time to respond can’t possibly see everything that they receive. Maybe they were advised against it, for the sake of their careers. Maybe they were as gullible as everyone else who was taken in by the mass media manipulation of the truth. They’re not necessarily bad people just because they did nothing.
But that’s the problem. Einstein put it best: “The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything.”
Look at this: Thanks to a Freedom of Information request – to the government – we know that an average of 73 people a week are dying because their disability benefits have been removed by the government. In your name.
Think about that. Another 73 – on average – will die next week. In your name. Because you did nothing.
Alternatively – prove me wrong. There are still 12 hours left, as I type this. Get your name on the petition. Get your friends to sign it – stand over them until they do, because there really isn’t any time for “I’ll do it later” nonsense. Broadcast to as many people as you can that it needs help and use whatever arguments you need – including the one I just employed about the next death being your fault – to twist their arm and bring them to sign it.
You may recall a while ago I was one of the many who took issue with Mr Eastwood for his bizarre interview with a chair during a Republican convention in the United States. I wrote an article asking why celebrities have to belittle themselves by declaring their support for political parties, and basically said that it can’t do their reputation any good at all.
Well, it seems I misjudged the great man.
Collared by an interviewer who demanded to know what possessed him, Eastwood’s response was the stuff of legends. “If they’re stupid enough to ask me to a political convention,” he said, “they have to take whatever they get.”
One person for whom I doubt this response would work is David Cameron, who was outed as a dunce on David Letterman’s US chat show last week.
It isn’t stupid to ask what “Magna Carta” means. After all, my next-door-neighbour’s four-year-old can work it out.
Perhaps Letterman could have started him off with something easier, though – like maybe, when his party didn’t win the election and never stated that it planned to do so, why has he sold off so much of the NHS in England to private companies, and why does he have plans to sell off so much more of it?
The old argument that it creates more choice is clearly nonsense because people were, reasonably, expecting the choice to be theirs. Instead, they have been presented with the company that has bought the contract and told, “This is your choice of NHS supplier. Don’t catch anything too serious or you’ll be paying it off for the rest of your life.”
Or, in the words of an iconic Eastwood character: “Do you feel lucky?”
Celebrity endorsement is always a bit “hit and miss”, isn’t it?
How many times have you seen a big name pimping themselves out in a sponsorship deal that has left you cringing with embarrassment for them? How many times have the deals gone sour because of events in the celeb’s personal life (think of Tiger Woods, or Kate Moss, for example).
The unpredictability of the endorsement effect is magnified in politics. Will you still respect a celeb if they are exhorting you to vote for a party you despise? What if it’s a person you don’t like, asking you to support your own choice? What if it’s someone you do actually rate, but they’re soliciting your vote in an unpalatable, tasteless way?
I remember my 13-year-old self turning his nose up at the late Kenny Everett when, supporting the Thatcher government in 1983, he said “We’re going to kick Michael Foot’s walking stick away!” (Mr Foot, also now deceased, was the leader of the Labour Party at the time).
On the other hand, when Sir Michael Caine supported the Conservatives in 2010, it didn’t bother me at all. I’m a fan of this prolific actor and will continue to enjoy his work, despite his unfortunate choice of allegiance. But then, I was never persuaded by Sir Michael to vote for the worst government in living memory. I wonder how many moviegoers were.
All of the above brings me to the announcement by Clint Eastwood that he is backing Mitt Romney’s US presidential election campaign.
Mr Romney’s plans involve tax cuts for the very rich, but he won’t offset their effect by closing other tax loopholes or creating other revenue streams. He’ll use the increased debt this creates as an excuse to strip social security and medicare down to nothing.
Put yourself in Mr Eastwood’s position. He’s a very rich man, and would probably benefit from Romney’s planned tax cuts. He has served as Republican mayor of the town of Carmel, in California. Also, he’s on record as saying that Barack Obama is a “greenhorn”, without the necessary experience to run the US government.
That’s fine for him. Now ask yourself: What effect will his endorsement of Romney have on an Eastwood fan of meagre means, whose life is enhanced by social security and medicare and who would suffer if these were dismantled?
They’d probably vote for Romney because their idol told them to do it – and then, if he gets in, repent at leisure.
Certain people seem to be forgetting that the Leveson Inquiry into the Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press was partly prompted by a newspaper’s interference in criminal investigations after a schoolgirl was murdered.
It is understood that reporters from the News of the World (I don’t know how many of them did it) hacked into Millie Dowler’s mobile phone, listened to voice messages left on it, and then deleted them, allowing new messages to be left and illicitly monitored, and leading her parents to believe that the teenager, who had been killed by Levi Bellfield, was still alive. This act also hindered the police investigation into what had happened.
Rebekah Brooks, a close friend of Conservative MP David Cameron – who later became leader of the Tories, and Prime Minister in 2010 – was editor of that newspaper at the time. The New York Times alleged that, if the allegations were true, then it was possible Mrs Brooks knew about the hacking and allowed it.
I am a newspaper reporter – and was editor of The Brecon and Radnor Express for a while before running my own online news business for a few years. I know the scale of our respective operations was vastly different, but I can promise that I always knew how my reporters were getting their stories. If I didn’t know, I asked.
Mrs Brooks was followed as editor of the News of the World by one Andy Coulson, who went on to become Conservative Party Communications Director and then Director of Communications for the Prime Minister (when David Cameron assumed that role in 2010). He had taken up the Conservative Party position after resigning from the newspaper over the phone hacking affair. He had been subjected to allegations that he was aware his reporters were hacking into the telephones of private individuals, including celebrities.
The Andy Coulson/David Cameron (or AC/DC, as I propose to call it from now on) relationship is the important issue here.
The main question behind the Leveson Inquiry has always been this: Did David Cameron allow a criminal, who used illegal methods to monitor the activities of others, into the heart of the British government?
This would have been a colossal error of judgement – possibly an unforgivable one.
The editor of The Independent seems to have forgotten that this is what it’s all about. Responding to a letter from the Inquiry, Chris Blackhurst claimed that Lord Justice Leveson was “loading a gun” that he was preparing to fire at the newspaper industry.
He told the BBC it was “a point by point demolition of the industry”, describing it as a “diatribe” raising criticisms that did not bear any relation to practices at his “end of the market”.
This is a man who badly needs to get over himself. Serious questions have been raised about the behaviour of our national newspapers, and if the Inquiry has found that they are justified, then they need to be addressed.
He does not know the full extent of the Inquiry’s findings. The letter he received is a standard part of inquiry procedures and gives notice of possible criticism, offering those concerned a chance to respond before a conclusion is reached. They are one-sided because positive findings do not necessitate a warning.
And we should not gloss over the fact that Mr Blackhurst has broken the rules by making the complaint. The letter he received was confidential and those who receive such correspondence are obliged to keep them that way and not discuss them openly.
By whining about it, Mr Blackhurst has made Leveson’s point for him.
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