Tag Archives: Mehdi Hasan

Who’s ashamed of the big bad ‘B’ word?

Who should be more ashamed that Peter Lumb (left) has been summonsed because he is unemployed and does not have the cash to pay his council tax bill? Mr Lumb himself? Or George Osborne (right) for creating a system in which people like Mr Lumb are thrown away by indifferent employers?

Who should be more ashamed that Peter Lumb (left) has been summonsed because he is unemployed and does not have the cash to pay his council tax bill? Mr Lumb himself? Or George Osborne (right) for creating a system in which people like Mr Lumb are thrown away by indifferent employers?

“Why are you ashamed of being on benefits?”

One of our commenters asked this of another after they admitted that being on benefits made them feel ashamed. It took me completely by surprise as at first I thought it was aimed at me. Then it occurred that it might have been a general question aimed at anybody on benefits. Only then did I see that it was a response to someone else who had said as much.

In the period between reading the comment and realising what it was about, my mind went through several different thought processes which, in the spirit of Douglas Adams, we may call the Why, How and Who phases. The first could be characterised by the question, ‘Why should I feel ashamed?’; the second by the question, ‘How could shame be an appropriate response?’; and the third by the question, ‘Who should feel ashamed?’

Let’s look at the first. I’m on a benefit; I receive Carers’ Allowance. I feel no shame whatsoever for being in receipt of it. Here’s why:

I quit my last (full-time) news reporting job in mid-2007 to become a full-time carer for Mrs Mike. As everyone reading this probably knows by now, Mrs M has been in a great deal of pain for a great deal of time, and her condition has been worsening. In 2007 the government of the day acknowledged this by putting her on Disability Living Allowance (she was already on Incapacity Benefit), and this meant that I could get the allowance if I was looking after her for more than 35 hours a week. I jumped at the opportunity.

Yes – it was an opportunity. You see, conditions at work had been worsening of late. For the hours I was being asked to work, my pay packet had been decreasing, in real terms, year-on-year. Recently the company had decided to move the office where I worked to the far edge of the patch I covered, forcing me to drive 82 miles there and back, every day. I was tired, I felt misused, and I was starting to go into debt.  Swap this for benefits? For me, it wasn’t a decision at all.

Note carefully: My decision to go on benefits made me better-off (I’m not in debt any more) – not because benefits habitually pay more than wages, but because my (former) bosses had been pushing my wages down, in real terms, beyond the point at which I could make ends meet. It was their decision to do so that meant I could not balance my books; it was their decision to move the office that meant I was spending hours every day in transit when I could have been doing something else; it was the same decision that meant I knew I would not be able to cover the patch as well as I wanted to.

I could have made a case for constructive dismissal. This seemed a much more amicable way out.

I don’t think my situation is unusual. Across the UK, millions of employees are probably in the same situation now – or one that is worse. The problem does not lie with them but with their bosses. If any of them had to give up their job for similar reasons, there would be no cause for shame (in my opinion).

The other reason I don’t feel any shame about being on benefits is that I haven’t made that the sum total of my life. I carry out my caring duties diligently – and have gone head-to-head against the Department for Work and Pensions in the course of those duties, as has been reported here many times.

But I am allowed to do other things as well, provided that my earnings do not exceed a certain amount per week. That’s why I was able to work for an internet news service earlier this year (until their funding for me ran out). That’s why I’ve published one Vox Political book already*, with two more on the way.

These are all legitimate – and in fact if the books started bringing in a larger income – enough to support us – I would be overjoyed at the chance to get off-benefit and provide Mrs M with a better quality of life.

What I’m saying is that being on benefits should not put an end to anybody’s ambitions. You might be supported by the state’s (extremely threadbare and fragile, thanks to Lord Fraud’s and Iain Duncan Smith’s interference) safety net, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep working for what you want to do.

This leads me to the answer I found for the second question, ‘How could shame be an appropriate response?’ The only reason a person on benefits should be ashamed of it is if they are not doing everything they can to get back on track – getting into the career they want and earning a living wage from it.

A wiser man once said that the way forward is dedication. If you are able-bodied and you have an ambition to be… I don’t know… a writer, it’s not going to happen straight away – so get a job frying fish down at the local chip shop if that’s what it takes to pay the bills, or go on benefits if there aren’t even menial jobs around, but make sure you spend all your spare time putting in the effort to get that first writing gig, whether it’s journalism, scripting comics, writing gags for radio or TV comedy shows, scripting full-length shows, staging plays on an amateur level with a view to progressing into professional theatre – whatever. The possibilities are endless and anyone who wants to make a living from pounding keyboards will need to try the lot.

And there’s no shame in working for employers who have different beliefs – political, moral, whatever – than yourself. If their dollar is good, then it’s all good experience and (if you are a writer) possible grist for the mill one day. That’s one reason I saw nothing badly wrong with Mehdi Hasan’s application to work for the Daily Mail.

The shame would lie in giving up; turning away from your ambitions and accepting society’s current label for a benefit claimant – being a scrounger. Being a skiver. Being a burden on society. Or never bothering to try in the first place.

So, finally, ‘Who should feel ashamed?’ Not me. Not anybody who has been dropped by their employer because of the downturn, nor anybody who has been trying hard to climb back onto the employment ladder. Especially not those who have been trying so hard, and for so long, that they have suffered mental health problems as a result.

Some people claiming benefits do have a legitimate reason to be ashamed of it. They are the people who are ‘playing’ the system; the benefit fraudsters, the ones who could do better but can’t be bothered, the ones who pretend they are ill when they aren’t.

They total seven people in every thousand benefit claimants. They are a tiny, tiny minority. But they’re not the only ones who should be ashamed.

It seems to me that a far larger portion of shame lies with employers who deliberately push workforce wages downwards, in order to improve their own salaries (and in some cases, shareholder profits – look out, Royal Mail employees). It lies with employers who treat their people as disposable commodities, rather than assets to be nurtured.

And it also lies with governments, past and present, that allowed these practices to go on – and in fact failed to legislate against them; and with politicians who have worked for the advantage of Big Money, rather than that of the Little People who create it.

That’s where the real shame lies.

Not with folk like you and me who’ve got patches on every pair of trousers they own.

But with the people in the expensive suits.

* Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times may be bought here, here, here, here and here, costing £9.99 or £4 – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.

Let’s kill the myth that right-wingers merely think those on the left are ‘misguided’

Dominic Lawson: He thinks left-wingers are "driven by hate" while "most Tories... regard the Left as just misguided". He's wondering how else he can patronise you today.

Dominic Lawson: He thinks left-wingers are “driven by hate” while “most Tories… regard the Left as just misguided”. He’s wondering how else he can patronise you today. [Picture: BBC]

Dominic Lawson, writing in the Daily Mail (yes, we’re still having fun at the Rothermere Rag’s expense – any objections? I thought not), has told us: “The tribal left is driven by hate.”

Paraphrasing an article he wrote previously in the Sunday Times, he continued: “It is one of the factors tending to distinguish the left in politics from the right, that the former frequently regard the latter as actually wicked, if not evil; whereas most Tories tend to regard the Left as just misguided.”

That is not my experience.

I have found that right-wingers and Conservatives (who tend to claim the middle ground in politics, while still claiming to differentiate themselves from “you lefties”) tend to fall into insults, invective and profanity – hate speech, if you like, with extreme rapidity. It is they who are driven by hate – in my experience – and not those of us on the left who enjoy a reasoned debate. So nobody in the Conservative Party, the right-wing press, or even offering right-of-centre views on Facebook pages should claim any moral superiority over the rest of us on those grounds.

I have an example to illustrate my case. It developed from the earlier Vox Political post on the Mail‘s attacks against Ralph Miliband and Mehdi Hasan. Those of you who are familiar with it will know it quoted the fact that Mr Miliband Senior – who the Mail claimed was The man who hated Britain – served in the Royal Navy during World War II, while the proprietor of the Daily Mail, Viscount Rothermere, had been a supporter of Adolf Hitler, and the father of the Mail’s current editor, Peter Dacre, had been a fashion reporter at the age of 19, when he should have been doing National Service and fighting the Nazis.

I received the following, from a commenter called Raymond Northgreaves (quoted verbatim): “should he have served in any of HM Forces he would have been given a service number and then can be identified”.

Several possibilities were available as to who “he” might be. I wasn’t willing to make an inaccurate guess – nobody was disputing that Mr Miliband Senior had seen active service, so there was a presumption that it might be somebody else, but that’s all it was – so I asked: “To whom are you referring – Dacre Senior?”

In reply, I received the following, which I again quote verbatim:

“Mark Sivier, Hi! You know to whom I am referring to, so why play the cretin left wing anti human. many of us who are from working class family’s know what the value of labour and what it stood for. Now its taken away the voice from the many, and given it to the Marxist rich. Fact, which you and your left wing friends will never understand, you attend Uni and had to slum it in some dose house, which was beneath your middle class upbringing, and you all took on the “we the working class” are fighting to be??? something that you have never dreamed could happen to GB subjects(sovereignty is in the many and not the one), ‘yes’ subjects, before you jump through a window, screeching your left wing head off, British citizens are the one’s going around bombing and murdering people! My age group know all about DS, from the second world war; the mistake that Winston Churchill made was putting people like him in prison, when he should have executed them all. In my life time, I have never knowingly put my hand in shit, and I am not going to start writing to it The rest of us center of the road people know that the left and right are the one. When you all stand up and defend my homeland, then come back and communicate with me, until then, do what you left do, and renumber, it was Blair, Campbell, Prescott and Reed, that sold us all out to the USA, and made us all murderers to 1.5 million people; they also condoned the murder of 2514 British soldiers by the Roman Catholics, and some 30,000 civilians, of which many of their bodies have never found as yet? You and yours are no better then Hitler or your Icon Starling. pro patria!”

I was going to try to analyse this but, look at it; do I really have to?

Point made, I think.

‘You Hate Britain!’ – the satirists get their teeth into the Daily Mail

The debate about the Daily Mail and its attacks on Ed Miliband (via his father Ralph) and now Mehdi Hasan has been getting a bit serious, hasn’t it?

What a good thing we in Britain are fortunate enough to have a grand tradition of satirical comedy, practised by people for whom nobody is a ‘Sacred Cow’ and anything is a candidate to be turned into a spitroast and hung over a barbecue.

This clip is from The Now Show and features the songwriting skills of the ever-melodic Mitch Benn.

If anyone else finds material that’s worth a chuckle and thinks it should appear on this site, please send it in.

We could all do with a good laugh.

First Mail/Miliband, now Mail/Mehdi – don’t they know two wrongs won’t make them right?

131004mailmehdiIt was a virtuoso performance, and one that earned Mehdi Hasan congratulations from Vox Political, just as soon as I could get to a keyboard.

For those who missed it, the panel on BBC Question Time was discussing the Daily Mail‘s veiled attack on Ed Miliband, which cast suspicion on the Labour leader’s motives by questioning those of his late father. It’s about the lowest kind of attack a newspaper could possibly launch – the kind that one might have expected from the News of the World in its latter days.

The piece in question was headlined The man who hated Britain and referred to Ralph Miliband’s “evil legacy”.

Mehdi Hasan, political editor of the Huffington Post‘s UK edition, tussled with Quentin Letts, a political sketch-writer for the Mail – winning the argument (and thunderous applause) with the following:

“Let me ask you a question,” he said. “When you talk about ‘Who hates Britain’ or ‘Who has an evil legacy’, who do you think has an evil legacy? A man who sucked up to the Nazis, who made friends with Joseph Goebbels and praised Hitler in the run-up to World War II – the owner and founder of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere – or a man who served in the Royal Navy, risked his life for his adopted homeland – Ralph Miliband. Who do you think hated Britain more?

“And this isn’t just about Ralph Miliband actually, because this has actually opened up a whole debate about the Daily Mail – if you want to talk about who hates Britain.

“This is a paper that, in recent years, said that there was nothing natural about the death of the gay pop star Stephen Gately, who said that the French people should vote for Marine Le Pen and the National Front, who attacked Danny Boyle for having a mixed race couple in his Olympics opening ceremony, who called Mo Farah “a plastic Brit”.

“So let’s have the debate about ‘Who hates Britain more’, because it isn’t a dead Jewish refugee from Belgium who served in the Royal Navy, it’s the immigrant-bashing, woman-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining, gay-baiting Daily Mail.”

It did my heart a lot of good, typing that up – not just because of the Mail-bashing at its centre but because it was a speech that brings a few other groups together. Here was a Muslim praising the character of a Jew (for all those out there who think that adherents of Islam have nothing but hate to offer the rest of the world). He was also speaking up for homosexuals, mixed race couples, immigrants, women, the health service and anyone who opposes political extremism – especially of the right-wing variety.

Apart from the very last group, none of these include yr obdt srvt in their number, but I don’t think I’m alone in believing that anyone who agrees it is right to fight prejudice would support Mehdi’s opinion.

It seems the powers-that-be at the newspaper in question were listening carefully, and were keen to enter the next stage of the debate about the Daily Mail – by demonstrating just how much further they were prepared to debase themselves, just to smear the reputation of anybody who dared to stand up to them.

It seems clear that somebody in a high-ranking position at the Daily Mail went to their files and dug out a letter Mehdi had written in 2010, applying to become a writer for the newspaper. That letter then mysteriously made its way to those in charge of the Guido Fawkes blog, where it was published in full. It seems the intention was to prove that Mehdi was a hypocrite – how could this man apply for work at the Mail at one point, and then attack it so viciously only a few short years later?

Silly, silly mistake.

It seems that they didn’t read the letter very well at all.

“I am on the left of the political spectrum, and disagree with the Mail’s editorial line on a range of issues,” Mehdi2010 wrote.

“I could be a fresh and passionate, not to mention polemical and contrarian, voice on the comment and feature pages.”

In case the editors and proprietors of the Daily Mail are reading this: You seem to have mislaid your lexicons. A polemic is a passionate argument, against an established viewpoint (such as, perhaps, that put forward by yourselves) – and a contrarian is a person who always takes an opposing side.

Mehdi’s application letter was saying that he did not agree with the Daily Mail‘s opinions but he admired the forthright way it stood behind them and believed the paper would be strengthened by contributions from a writer with a different point of view to put forward.

This practice is not alien to the Daily Mail. One of the very earliest Vox Political articles praised the Mail for printing a piece by a columnist called Sonia Poulton, attacking the Coalition government’s treatment of the disabled in direct opposition to the paper’s established skivers/scroungers/shirkers rhetoric.

So it seems that, by ensuring that all journalists working in the UK now know that their confidential correspondence is likely to become public property the instant they upset the Mail‘s proprietors, by overreacting to fair, balanced and reasonable criticism of an extremely unreasonable article published in that newspaper, and by doing all this in defence of a piece intended to undermine support for one of Britain’s largest political parties – in line with its support for the most right-wing government in recent UK history, the Daily Mail has managed to destroy its own credibility (such as it was), render itself a no-go area for reputable journalists, and tarnish its readership by guilt-through-association.

Meanwhile, it has already boosted public support for Labour and the leader it hoped to harm and, if there is any justice, the current attack on Mehdi Hasan should bolster his career considerably as well.

That’s what happens when people who think a little too much of themselves overreact to criticism.

Daily Mail? It might as well be called the Daily Flail.