Tag Archive: BBC

I wake up to Radio 4’s Today program every morning during the week.  I’ve found that far from making me turn the radio off or feel roused from sleep rudely by someone else’s idea of what constitutes music the news and debate engages me to enough of an extent that I do not slip back to unconsciousness.  The Today program may not be well known outside Britain but it is BBC radio’s flagship news program and has many items in more depth than they are given anywhere else.  It is a highbrow program 3 hours long and generally the hosts of the show are some of the heavyweights of the corporations broadcast journalists, such as John Humphrys, and in truth if I want to know for sure whether or not a politician is talking bullshit Humphrys would be my go-to man.  It tends also to attract senior figures in politics and the world beyond for interviews and comment except a certain number of times a year when they feel got at for being asked questions they don’t want to answer.

Last month I started the week hearing the last three items and these together formed an interesting trinity juxtaposed as they were to one another and the current world at large.  It was like a microcosm of what is wrong and the contradictory nature of those that have made it so on a far wider scale.

The first item referred to the Squeezed Britain report, according to which 5.8 million households struggle to keep up with bills every month.  An inability caused by earnings growth being well below inflation.  Matthew Whitaker from the Resolution Foundation who were responsible for the report was chosen to comment on it.  Whittaker stated that in addition to the wage:inflation ratio  that many of these households cannot spare money to save and therefore perpetuate their lack of any safety net to cope with changes in circumstances or the financial climate.  Whittaker’s answer was that government should be looking at tax credits, benefits, education and some redistribution.  When asked about whether the tax system now was fit for purpose Whittaker responded that over last 30 years the gains from GDP growth have been concentrated at very top 10% of the population.  All this seemed a pretty fair summation of the state of affairs for the poorest 10% of the population in contrast with the richest 10% highlighting the vast differential between their daily lives.
The second item on the program related to an organisation called Magic Breakfast which helps schools in the running of breakfast clubs to ensure children have a sufficient and nutritional breakfast before lessons start.  According to the organisation they have a waiting list of schools looking for their help.  Carmel O’Connell the head of Magic Breakfast was interviewed alongside Jill Kirkby, formerly of the Centre For Policy Studies, now writing for the Conservative Home blog.  What Ms Kirkby’s credentials were for giving vent to her opinion on the topic was not clear and it was not pressed by interviewer Justin Webb.  [Indeed Justin Webb’s participation in this interview did him no credit and resulted in my sending a complaint to the BBC that the interviews were not even-handed.  You would have been forgiven for thinking this was a different person to the one who had caused controversy suggesting that people who supported the Conservative Party should not be allowed on the BBC and calling Tracey Emin a ‘Tory stooge’.]

Carmel O’Connel’s argument was that hunger and malnourishment were a barrier to education and that the financial position and time constraints of parents should not put the children at a disadvantage.  Their service has proven popular enough that more schools wish to take part.  Jill Kirkby’s counter argument was that were breakfast clubs to become the norm they would take over the duties that parents should be fulfilling.  She went on to question whether it was really about pressure on families as a decent breakfast such as porridge and an apple was not expensive.  She went on to claim that if parents were not providing this sort of breakfast then they should be fetched into schools in order that they can be given a lesson on spending priorities and what they should really be spending their money on.  Justin Webb here was not constructive is suggesting that this was all more a matter of convenience than necessity.

In truth if a family were to have enough money to feed their children and were choosing not doing so and making no alternative arrangements this would not be a matter for a quiet chat about spending priorities this would be something for a Social Services investigation about child abuse, and such abuse would I doubt be at all confined to the poorest sections of society. Would it not be worth firstly ensuring that those children who are given the opportunity to have a good breakfast are given it and subsequently the reasons why they have not been before are investigated?   To dismiss with a haughty slight of hand the first hand information Carmel O’Connel gave that upon visiting certain houses the cupboards are bear was not only to illustrate the problem of poverty and social exclusion but in addition the ambivalence felt by the comfortable that has caused it.

The final news item was one dealing with the government’s planned cap on benefits, one that they have still not managed to railroad through parliament yet.  Stephen Timms Labour’s shadow employment minister said that Labour were broadly in favour of the cuts but that they should stop short of applying if it would make families homeless thereby potentially costing more than it saved due to the necessary rehousing of said families by local authorities.  Timms said that rather than opposing the bill Labour would be concentrating on their amendment to the motion as outlined to prevent this sort of homelessness.   This at a time when already the Conservatives have been calling for anyone associated with last Summers riots to have their benefits stopped and to be evicted from their council housing.  Leaving aside the disgusting snobbery this shows in the assumption that those rioting were all from a background of welfare and council contributions it fails to address what would happen to those who are not.  Would they have their wages stopped, or be evicted from their parents houses or private rented accommodation?  Is rioting  as well as breakfast now like saving an entirely middle class preserve?

Song Of The Day ~ New Order – Blue Monday

Death Of A Good Man

The death of any person at the age of 42 is something of a tragedy, when they leave families behind it is even more so.  It happens, and all too frequently figures in 2008 showed 5,377 deaths attributed to suicide, for men the figure is 17.7 per 100,000 population (it is 5.4/100k in women).  The 2008 figures were said to have risen due to the economic crisis and the effect this was having on people but I believe this is grossly over-simplistic and brushing the issue under the carpet where it has been for many years.  We will see when figures for Greece are revealed that show whether or not the rates have risen from the (M5.2/F0.9 in 2009) The trouble with figures is that they are flat, they have no person attached to them but when one of those deaths is high profile it is at least more likely to come to the attention of a wider spectrum of people and may, possibly, throw a spotlight on the matter of suicide and its causes, for a while.

Certainly the case of Gary Speed’s suicide seems to have caught everyone in the public eye by surprise, at least those who are saying anything.  What is interesting is that the world of sport including people that have been quick to class themselves as friends (and I have no reason to doubt their sincerity) have expressed their shock and concentrated on how much of a nice guy Gary Speed was.  This is pretty much the norm when someone dies, naturally they will not be interviewing people who either did not know or did not get on with the deceased.  Speed was described by more than one person as “the nicest man in football.”  Some hours before his death he had appeared on BBC’s Football Focus, which appears to have made his death shortly thereafter even more of a head-scratcher, the inference being who could have known, he seemed to have so much to live for.  This tends to be the stock response from people when dealing with a case of suicide.  It is true for them it is usually a bolt from the blue.  Should it be?  There is often the belief that there will have been cries for help that could have been heeded, “if only I’d done… this/that …perhaps I could have stopped it, perhaps I should have helped.”  But people who are actually going to commit suicide do not let others know in advance, they do not warn those around them because they do not wish to be stopped, there is rarely any cry for help at the time.

The fallout is one of loss and guilt, it makes those left behind feel bereft and powerless, those a little closer to the person in question do often have anger and the feeling of being let down by all the shit that has been left behind, it is seen by many as an ultimately selfish act.  This is not how the person will have seen it, of that I am almost certain, in fact usually it is the diametric opposite.  I do not know what was going on in Gary Speed’s mind that would have caused him on this occasion to have taken his own life,  I do not know if he might have considered it before or how long he may have been struggling.  I do not know if his situation is the feeling of hopelessness and the sense of being a burden to those he loved around him which can often be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Did he see his removal as the only option to stop the hurt caused to those he cared about.  This may seem strange in the case of someone with a good job, a nice house, family, prospects, all the things most people aspire to, but aspirations rarely include what mental health condition you may have when you grow up.

If we look at the number of people we see in high profile jobs and tally it with the known 1 in 4 statistic then it would be no surprise that a large number of them may have mental health conditions.  If Match Of The Day has three pundits and a presenter then one of them statistically is likely to have or have had a mental health condition.  The lack of this being addressed shows that whilst progress has been made it is still taking a long time due in no small part to the stigma that still accompanies mental health conditions and hidden disabilities.  High profile figures are wary of declaring such conditions for fear that it may harm their image and thus their careers.  Given the ignorance and intolerance in wider society they have grounds for such concern.

To hear some of the comments about Gary Speed’s case shed some light on it.  For example On Match of the Day 2 today Mark Lawrenson stated that “he was such a normal person a normal family man… to achieve what he’s done and be normal…”  I’m sure that Lawrenson does not mean ill with his tribute, he thinks he is being sensitive and preventing Gary Speed being thought of as a weirdo.

There is never really any good that comes from a death but one can only hope that these deaths are not entirely in vain, perhaps they might prevent others from taking the same path, or assist those left behind in such cases deal with it better.  I do not know if Gary Speed ever sought, or got, help, but perhaps his death might allow some people a brief period where they are not quite so ostracised and misunderstood, as a long time captain of most of the teams he played for it might be seen as setting a fitting example.

Song Of The Day ~ Thomas Tantrum – Hot Hot Summer

You might have thought that in many respects the News Corp. story had largely run its course and that I had missed the boat in terms of jumping up and down on the dying embers of the paper and of Murdoch’s fortunes in general.  In some ways indeed the big news has already happened, the News Of The World has been closed, an act showing the utter contempt Murdoch has for his workforce, as if that were ever in doubt, additionally the bid for BSkyB has been withdrawn, and the government are talking up their new-found opposition to things that limit free speech and enterprise.  You might be forgiven for thinking that a job has been done and we are all the better for it.

I confess the closing of the News Of The World was a little bit of an initial surprise and in spite of the hatred very many of us may feel towards News Corporation and all of its publications most if not all the people who have lost their jobs have had nothing to do with the scandals and contemptible activity of the paper’s senior staff.  One must also not forget that News Of The World’s proportion of News International’s business is small, it’s £160 million turnover is far less than Sky’s £6bn so the company at large can absorb this in a blink of an eye and there has been talk for some time that News International’s intentions were to use The Sun’s branding over a 7 day period, so this could well be part of a sack all staff and get them to reapply for their old jobs on diminished pay and conditions, or am I just seeing grounds for cynicism where none exist?!

The removal of the bid for BSkyB was perhaps more of a surprise, the powers that be had done everything possible to smooth the passage of the hostile takeover bid including the removal of difficult ministers that had shown any signs of potential hostility to the deal such as Vince Cable, not usually known for his vehement opposition to this government.  They had sought every loophole to avoid OFCOM the regulator getting involved and had resisted any efforts for the case to be submitted to the Competitions Commission.  It looked for intents and purposes to be, what in fact it was, a stitch up.  The government have now done what governments do which is to quickly switch support from the side that has just lost to that which has just won and claim this was always their intention all along and how wonderful the world is with people standing up for their rights and freedoms.  These same politicians lest we forget have been the ones ceding our freedoms and control over the media at every turn for as long as I can now remember.  That the Labour Party should now be sabre rattling is only slightly less odious than the Liberal Democrats doing so, Ed Milliband has nothing to lose at the moment as he faces a minimum of several years in opposition as he looks to gloss over the past where his own party were the ones lauded by the very papers they now claim to despise.  Nick Clegg has even less shame as he is part of the current government and cannot even claim his silence was on someone else’s watch.  He is intent on making out that they have favoured for years reform to the media ownership laws, I cannot quite remember this as being at the forefront of their manifesto to be honest but then the Lib-Dems have campaigned for years for the abolition of tuition fees and the increasing of income tax to the highest earners and these seem to have been shelved mighty quickly with the merest sniff of power so one can’t really be surprised to see them as reeds blowing in the wind.  They as coalition whipping boys partners now do what they are told by work in conjunction with their Tory overlords colleagues, or perhaps you may be able to give me an example where this has not been the case?

What one must bear in mind at this point is that it is being claimed that it is the public outcry which has had the effect on News Corp and this is perhaps the most surprising of all the facts in this case.  That 150,000 voices through Avaaz and 38 Degrees should pique the conscience of the Conservative government and stymie the megalomaniacal tendencies of Rupert Murdoch is utterly astonishing and something just doesn’t sit quite right.  What also worries me is that if you look at many of the BBC pages about the scandal such as Robert Peston’s report the comments left are vitriolic, inaccurate and largely in favour of Murdoch.  Now one can never assume that such a straw poll in any way represents wider public opinion or that the voices that shout loudest are any more valid than others but it is interesting that there appears to be such a blanket whitewashing at a time when I would have expected a wholesale contempt for corporations and politicians alike and for this to be on the BBC of all places that stood to lose most is also a little unexpected.  Of course I cannot assert whether or not Peston’s report may have been subject to a reactionary viral campaign

Do not presume that there is any genuine contrition in the News International organisation, merely an awareness that something has to be seen to be done.  An example of the mopping up campaign is being done via Fox “News” in the US already, this not only seeks to portray this story very much as last year, or even last decade’s news, which it is not, but also alludes to News Corp almost as one of the victims in the hacking case rather than the actual perpetrator of it.  This is pretty low vacuous stuff but to those not at all in the know about the case and British politics in general it may fill the vacuum of their knowledge and this is precisely the insidious danger of the Murdoch empire.

Blanket media coverage remains as rife as ever, we presume we have access to much media whilst actually we have what appear to be a number of outlets that are mostly controlled by the same people and the diversity and depth of news is perhaps scanter than ever.  Sure you can find independent news if you choose to go and look at sources such as Indymedia, you can reference information from sources other than the Press Agencies such as Wikileaks, and there is a movement agains the global corporate empire that puts profit before people such as Anonymous, there are uprisings agains the oppression of governments, and here one can clearly contrast our access to genuine information.  Take that which we receive from Egypt or Tunisia or Syria where the governments are not always helpful to the West and we receive much information about the protests and condemnation of the governments now look at Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain where protesters are in some cases even more brutally repressed and the silence from the media is indeed almost deafening.  Take what you hear of the Castro regime and the actions of Hugo Chavez and compare with how much you are told about the government of Uribe in Colombia.  These actions over time suffocate the truth and force people to make up their minds and opinions based on a fraction of the facts.  Such opinions cannot be so forcefully held but are very useful to keep acquiescence, or as Chomsky put it years ago to “manufacture consent.”  Governments have been perpetrating atrocities on this consent for generations and only on the few occasions people say enough and take to the streets will they occasionally climb down before continuing the policies in less covert ways.

The same is largely true of News Corp which peddles its brand of ill-informed populist drivel wrapped in the promise of this being the news.  It’s methods of telephone hacking and deceit have led to stories that have quenched the thirst for gossip the market of which they have helped to create.  To obtain such sordid stories the methods must usually be equally contemptible, we should not be surprised it should merely highlight the wider point that the population is more often than not content with tittle tattle rather than factual information and this must be regarded as an anathema in a civilised society.  At best the Murdoch empire is wounded by recent actions but it is by no means mortally and it will like as not come back more canny, more angry and more powerful than before because people will allow it to do so.

I will leave you with this conversation from the 1890s that illustrates, at least in terms of consistency of quality, that the News Of The World managed to maintain a position of scraping the barrel for an almost admirable amount of time.  I trust it may be regarded as a fitting epitaph.

Frederick Greenwood, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, met in his club one day Lord Riddell, who died a few years ago, and in the course of conversation Riddell said to him, `You know, I own a paper.’ `Oh, do you?’ said Greenwood, ‘what is it?’ `It’s called the News of the World—I’ll send you a copy,’ replied Riddell, and in due course did so. Next time they met Riddell said, ‘Well Greenwood, what do you think of my paper?’ ‘I looked at it,’ replied Greenwood, ‘and then I put it in the waste-paper basket. And then I thought, “If I leave it there the cook may read it” —so I burned it!’

Song Of The Day ~ The Jam – News Of The World

I saw the youtube footage of Jody McIntyre at the London protests.  There was a little shock, only because Jody was wheelchair-bound, the sight of able-bodied protesters being beaten in this country does not surprise me.  I saw the subsequent interview with Ben Brown on the BBC.  There was a little shock,  only because this was a direct interview, I have seen Ben Brown give his report at Westminster bridge and it was clear then that he is “establishment-embedded” to hear a mass media correspondent in this country get the facts wrong and have no intention of asking genuine questions does not surprise me.  In fact what little came out of the interview of any succour was the fact that Jody McIntyre far from being a cowed debilitated witness came across as strong and committed and made Brown look dogmatic and petulant.

At this point I have to stop and think though.  Why does it not surprise me?  It does not surprise me because it is now so commonplace, I have become anaesthetised to such behaviour, to such injustice.  Yet, this does not make each of these incidents any less wrong than when I saw such things for the first time, just that I am no longer seeing it with the same naivety-crumbling shock but through the eyes of a middle-aged man who has seen this and sadly far worse many times before.  We must be very careful here for when we start to accept such attacks we are already down the road to complete ambivalence and dare I say it, toleration, if we lose our outrage there is little to stop atrocity.  To become used to the violence, to the infringement of civil liberties and human rights is to presume that “this is the way things are” as if therefore it cannot be changed.  Were that to be the case a great many repressive regimes would still remain in power.  These regimes function by the very normalisation of the violence coupled with the presumption that if you behave yourself, if you do not represent a threat then you will be ok.  The police attack on Jody McIntyre is a rare slip-up that reveals the more sinister underbelly and under that fleece of “new conservatism” there lurks a beast we are all too familiar with.

What Jody McIntyre’s case illustrates is the complacency and arrogance of the establishment over recent times, they believe they have won, they believe the spirit is broken and that it is now time to mop up a few dirty stragglers and because of this they are making mistakes.  They have attempted to portray the demonstrators as thugs, as organised hooligans, they have tried to focus upon the damage to property and the demonstration meeting with the royal car in order to obfuscate the issues and yet still people protest and still people are not prepared to put up with it.  They are not going to rest here, the ‘powers that be,’ water cannons may come, the cherry-picking of “ringleaders” certainly will and the stigmatisation of those who take part throughout the rest of their lives has long since been a feature of this country’s way of doing things.  If you attend then you should be aware that they know you have attended.  If you join up with organisations against the system do not expect the system to let you back in later.

Do not presume they hold all the cards.  The reason they want to sort the students out now is because they expect public sector workers to take to the streets in protest against the massive cuts in the NHS, the information about which is seeping out of the dam of disaster capitalism, to risk an active united front of union workers, students and the general public is something they are very afraid of indeed, hence the desire to compartmentalise each individual section of the cuts to be dealt with in turn.  The vote should have seen this off people should have returned home embittered but defeated, this is the English working classes, the MPs aren’t supposed to be scared of them, after all they’ve beaten them before and “we’re not going to have another miner’s strike again.”  This much is true, centralised, mobilised trades union movements are not what they used to be but the loss of central co-ordination also brings with it the loss of central power, the movement now is of people in much smaller groups, more difficult to control but also for the establishment to infiltrate, the weapons of this struggle on their side will be the same, police brutality, zero tolerance in the courts, repression on a grand scale, but we have seen this before this does not defeat people it makes them come stronger and this time we have more modern weapons, ones that if used properly will hit them genuinely where it hurts.  People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people as Alan Moore wrote in V for Vendetta.  It is time to remind them why they should be afraid, very afraid.

Song Of The Day ~ The Smiths – Panic

I am not an apologist for the current Russian regime any more than I am for the previous Soviet regime, nor am I a holocaust denier or a anti-semite.  It is a pity that I should even have to preface any of my writing with that rather than people judge on content itself but there we go that’s the world and perhaps by me doing so I serve only to perpetuate it.

I saw John Sweeney’s ‘exposé’ on the BBC about the changes in Russian education that are softening the historical message on the Stalin era in schools.  I am not altogether a fan of the Putin regime, at the very least the ideology on which the Soviet Union was founded was theoretically sound, if never properly put into practice.  Putin’s agenda is a great deal shadier though he lacks none of the qualities his Soviet and KGB education and training would have prepared him for.  By the same token though in a Russia that is having to contend with a great many economic problems at a time when its economy is neither really state-nationalised nor free-market driven it is unsurprising that a Putin figure should be seen as necessary by a Russia that has always welcomed strong inwardly nationalistic leadership.  It is the very reason many still have secret admiration for Stalin, just as in other countries Hitler, Mussolini, Franco etc. are seen as having at least brought order to the chaos even if their methods might have been questionable.

Sweeney first approached the historian Igor Dolutsky whose book has been dropped from the syllabus, making him a subjective witness on one side of the story, and then bullied and berated Aleksandr Filippov, the historian responsible for the more revisionist view of history that seeks to downplay the attrocities of Stalin’s tenure and herald him more as a great leader from Russia’s past.  Filippov explains “It is wrong to write a textbook that will fill the children who learn from it with horror and disgust about their past and their people. A generally positive tone for the teaching of history will build optimism and self-assurance in the growing young generation and make them feel as if they are part of their country’s bright future. A history in which there is good and bad, things to be proud of and things that are regrettable. But the general tone for a school textbook should still be positive.” which will make a great many ears prick up as being an area that needed to be handled very carefully indeed, but would I have no doubt raise far fewer eyebrows were it either to be taken as applying to a book in the West about colonialism, slavery or a book about Christianity.

When looking at the Great Famine of 1933 where effectively the direct policies of Stalin led to deaths that are still unquantifiable but run without doubt into multiple millions, Sweeney describes how  the 2009 “positive history” textbook dedicates 83 pages to Stalin’s industrialisation whilst only one paragraph details the famine.  I wonder if Sweeney has read many general English history books since his schooldays where the Irish famine, also very much the result of central government policy, receives little more than a footnote within pages and pages of irrelevant English royalist pomp and ceremony.  This is not to excuse the lack of detail of the Soviet famine, the young must be educated in how something happened so as to see the dangers of things in the present and future but it is also quite easy to see how it might be argued that Stalin’s industrialisation and collectivisation has much more relevance now because it continues to exercise an influence on Russian infrastructure, especially agriculture where an event that happened over seventy years ago is more detached.  I wonder also whether Sweeney applied the same critical eye over Russian Tsarist history and the revisionism that has taken place there in the post-Soviet world.  If one takes the example of famines for direct comparison how much attention is paid to the 1899 famine in which over half a million died, at the same time as which Tsar Nicolas II was commissioning Fabergé eggs in a display of opulence emblematic of the Marie Antoinette school of regal diplomacy.

One must be careful not to criticise Sweeney’s documentary solely on the basis that he lacks the charisma of many hard-nosed investigative journalists.  Sweeney has built himself something of a reputation by virtue of his irascible temper as shown by the many links to his interviews with the Scientologists in which he is seen getting very angry indeed.  Whilst making for good television this does not necessarily constitute a style conducive to finding out things that people do not want to tell you.  He is highly adversarial in style and comes across, at least in this program and the clips I have seen of him as dogmatic.  This is not a crime, nor at times even a bad thing as a presenter, but it is something that needs to be labelled very carefully as comment and not necessarily as objective news.

Sweeney offers a number of what are supposed to be ‘startling facts’ for example that Stalin was voted 3rd in an all-time list of greatest Russians in a recent poll, but one has to consider that Churchill remains top of a corresponding British list and whilst I would not like to draw direct parallels between the two there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Churchill was capable of a number of seriously questionable decisions, such as his home office white paper in 1911 calling for the sterilisation of the mentally ill.  Let us not forget also that Isambard Kingdom Brunel came second on the British all-time list in no small part to Jeremy Clarkson’s erudite and amusing portrayal of the engineer.  Such polls are frequently about entertainment, and often choose the cuddly or popular image of a person rather than the less palatable things that might have been going on behind the facade.

The trouble is that each country sees its leaders differently from those countries where this leader may have exercised malign influence, the internal association will often be for mundane daily things that people may seen as having been better than the present whilst externally that person is synonymous only with the most headline-grabbing events.  You cannot choose who you decide to hold responsible for war crimes, Stalin committed a great many, as many as Hitler and the Nazi regime and was in many ways personally responsible for more even than the Nazi machine due to his own paranoia and cult of personality.  However after the Second World War the allies chose the sides they were on and after the major known Nazis were put on trial at Nuremburg a huge number of war criminals simply faded into the background, as they were not seen as the enemy any more.  Since then Augusto Pinochet, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Francisco Franco, Tacho Somoza, Kim Jong-Il, the Interhamwe, George W Bush amongst a great many others have all carried out operations that should answer the charges of war crimes and/or genocide and all have had no censure and no trial, despite many attempts to bring them to justice.  Some, such as Robert Mugabe have been reprimanded as if treating them like an eight year old pupil might have an effect on a small-time megalomaniac, others such as Saddam Hussein have just pissed off the wrong people and ironically been handed over for trial by war criminals far worse than themselves.  Victor’s justice is everywhere in the present and the past, if one looks at the Bosnian War as an example, it cannot be denied that genocide took place however if one were to look through the standard media sources you would be hard pressed to see anyone other than the Serbs as responsible and this is by no means the whole story.  That is not to absolve the blame from the Serbs or any party in any way merely to point out that a justice system that functions on this premise makes it not about a prosecution for the actual crimes committed but a prosecution based on whose side you happened to be on at any given time.

Had this been a broad-reaching survey of many countries and condemnation of the Orwellian practice of changing history to shape the future it would have had a great deal more legitimacy, as it was it become an individual tirade against one country for a practice that has been widespread across the world for generations, that of airbrushing the less palatable actions of the past from the history books so as to give an undue preponderance to the events portraying the nation as a great, munificent and benign one.  Of course that may be because Sweeney himself has been educated in a nation that has become something of the master of this practice, how else could one explain swathes of people still hankering after the days of the “We rule it map of the world” of the ‘civilising British Empire’?

Song Of The Day ~ The Beatles – Back In The USSR

I was one of those not happy about the notion of seeing BNP leader Nick Griffin on the BBC’s flagship Question Time but knowing that it was something that had to be done in order to face up to a growing trend towards the extreme-right in this country.  My principle concern was that Griffin would be given a soft option, an apathetic audience with relatively soft questions and toothless politicians. Whilst I do not believe my worst fears were realised I have nonetheless some serious concerns regarding how the debate and Griffin himself were handled.

During the first question on whether the BNP should be allowed to adopt Churchill as one of their own, Jack Straw was afforded nearly five minutes, unheard of certainly in my experience of the program.  Straw used the time to give the usual speech about tolerance and fighting the war against fascism etc etc.  it came across, at least to me as pretty easy pickings really, there was little of genuine interest or personal stamp on it.  It was the same sort of asinine bollocks that condensed down to its minimal is the “I’m not a racist but…”

Griffin himself declared that Churchill would have found the BNP his natural home as fighting against its own foreign invasion.  Bonnie Greer pointed out that of course having an American mother with Mowhawk ethnicity meant that Churchill might not even have been allowed in the party but Griffin was undeterred.  Churchill he said spent much of his early political career fighting mass immigration and warning of the dangers of Islam.  Churchill has very much enjoyed the same sort of approach to criticism as immigration does now, I found it interesting that none of the panel mentioned that Churchill in his early political life was an ardent eugenicist and advocated the sterilisation of the mentally ill in a Home Office paper he tabled in 1911.

According to the 2001 census the population of Britain still consists of 92% of people who classify themselves as white, according to the CIA factbook 77% of the United Kingdom as a whole are English with a further 15% made up by Scottish, Welsh and Irish.  Griffin’s stated view to return to a Britain that is 99% White British is therefore clearly incitement to ethnic cleansing.  Bearing in mind London accounts for a huge amount of the modern immigrant population with, according to The Guardian an estimated 30% or 2.2 million claiming in 2005 to have been born outside the UK that leaves very little to spread around the rest of the country.

However according to Griffin 84% of the total population support the BNP’s policy on immigration.  Hang on, run that by me again – 84%, which represents 50 million people in the United Kingdom as a whole, or if you like, the entire White English population and then some.  Griffin further asserts that two thirds of the immigrant population support the policy too.  Is this an example of them pulling the rope up behind them?  We will never know for when asked where this statistic had come from Griffin could not come up with an answer.  Which is code for, I made it up and hoped I could just float it out there without justification.

Griffin’s true colours do occasionally show, he is simply not slick enough to keep himself entirely behind the mask.  Interesting though that whilst he chooses to identify the “indigenous” Britons as those who arrived 17000 years ago he chooses to say that “Britain must remain a fundamentally British and Christian country.”  Interesting because for nearly 16000 of those years Britain was not a Christian country at all.  Clearly Griffin is happy to pick and choose what he likes and offer a very subjective revisionist view of history.  This was shown up by Bonnie Greer again who criticised the lack of mention of the Romans in the BNP’s take on British history, not merely for the fact that they were foreign invaders (not that the Celts or the tribes who came before them were really any different since much of Britain had only become inhabitable after the end of the Ice Age.  People did not suddenly come out of cryogenic suspension on the land they had to come from abroad.

It was also quite evident that Griffin is not a lover of homosexual men, he claims to be speaking for many people when he says the sight of two men kissing makes him feel deeply uncomfortable.  I wonder if he finds two women kissing equally unpleasant.  None of the politicians on the panel made a particularly big play against this point either.

The program, in general, was in a way reminiscent of George Galloway in Big Brother, a man who claimed to be in it for the ideals and yet shown to be quite clearly out of their depth due to the arrogance of their own self-belief.  Griffin wrought his hands and tried to smarm and obfuscate the direct questions wherever he could.  It was compere David Dimbleby though who brought up many of the cogent points that showed Griffin up for the rank amateur he really is.  “If you look at the things I’m quoted to have said…” Griffin protested, to which Dimbleby asked immediately which quotes had been attributed to him that were not true.  “Too many to mention” Griffin replied.  This was not however a BNP broadcast, or a short radio interview, or standing outside court being questioned by journalists, this was a serious political program compared by a presenter of considerable experience.  Dimbleby did not let Griffin off the hook and queried if Griffin had therefore never denied the holocaust.  Griffin’s answer spoke volumes for its lack of substance.  “I’ve not got a conviction for holocaust denial.”

I think all but the most rabid fascist party supporters knew quite clearly what this meant.

Suffice to say I believe the only two people who came out of the affair with any dignity were Bonnie Greer and David Dimbleby.  What worries me very much about such an event is that there still seems to be this naive consensus amongst the neo-liberals and neo-conservatives that no-one really supports the BNP they’re just doing it out of protest.  As such they drastically underestimate the lack of education about serious issues of our time and by refusing to engage on proper policy debates and publicly shoot down the odious characters of the far-right they allow a continued perception that these people are somehow swashbuckling political mavericks who say what everyone is thinking but no mainstream politician dares say.  This has happened before on numerous occasions and is generally a clear road to fuel fascism in society at large and at the very least an acquiescence of policies that one might expect educated people to be appalled by.  The three politicians on the QT panel were considered to be relative heavyweights at yet their arguments were sufficiently dilute as to almost be tacit acquiescence.  They have for too long hidden behind the notion that there is no place for extremism whilst the political hegemony has become more and more right-wing, such that some things considered mainstream now would in days gone by have been seen as very much on the path to fundamentalism.

In truth Griffin came across for what he was, an arrogant man with fascist-leanings who is not especially erudite but has been ostracised and vilified to the point of having become practically a living martyr and regarded as a dangerous intellectual only amongst his party cronies, themselves perhaps the lowest common denominator of cerebral evolution.  I expect to hear him come out and say Enoch Powell was right in his “rivers of blood” speech but I do not expect to hear people allow him to get away with that unchallenged.  When are the rivers of blood coming?  There are now enough immigrants in Britain that would have made Powell’s eyes pop out but there is still no rivers of blood.  Tension, yes, there is plenty of that, caused in no small part by the polarisation of communities into immigrant and non-immigrant by the right-wing anti-immigration agenda.

What Griffin is not is out of touch, and herein lies the chilling postscript of the piece for he has, like the failed Austrian painter he would so dearly love to imitate, managed to exploit public malaise and disenfranchisement and stir up division and hatred against easy target sections of the populations.  Those even more disenfranchised than the “indigenous.”  He has used the classic tactics of inaccurate hyperbole and erroneous statistics and the mainstream politicians have consistently allowed him and his party to dictate the agenda due to their own failure, or inability, to address the central issues on the table.  Make no mistake this is not the end of the story and if we are to avoid the examples of Germany and Italy of the 1930s a great deal of work is to be done.

Song Of The Day ~ Fleetwood Mac – Dragonfly

I am quite aware that such a use of inflammatory words in my title will like as not mean people will not even bother to read anything I write subsequently.  I feel that this is their problem and not mine.  Whilst I appreciate that the word holocaust is generally used to denote genocide on a massive scale such as in Nazi Germany, Rwanda or Bosnia the definition of the word is “any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life” and therefore I feel its use is apposite.

I find it deeply and troublingly ironic that on the weekend of Holocaust Memorial day the BBC and Sky chose to uphold their decision not to broadcast an appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee for aid to Gaza in view of the humanitarian crisis that has happened and continues to happen there.  The DEC itself is a group made up of major British charities which generally issues appeals for the severest of catastrophies.  It is usual when the DEC asks the major broadcasters to air an appeal that they do so.  However they reserve the right not to should they consider such broadcast to be against certain guidelines and criteria.

The Director-General of the BBC Mark Thompson issued a statement justifying the BBC’s decision citing concerns “whether aid raised by the appeal could actually be delivered on the ground.”  Since the BBC had similar concerns over the Burmese cyclone appeal but chose after consideration to air the appeal this seems something of a red herring, after all there will always be such concerns after a disaster, the greater the disaster the greater the likelihood of problems and yet of course the greater the need.  That the BBC should have in the end agreed to the Burmese appeal showed this is precedent even when one does not agree with the regime.   The main reason used however was a more cloak and dagger one, that the BBC did not wish to have its “impartiality called into question” as this was an “ongoing news story”.  Again there is precedent of the BBC broadcasting appeals in similar conflict situations as it did in the case of Darfur where there were warring factions, of course there was little support in the UK for either of the particular factions at war in this conflict and therefore this was a non-issue in the political sense.  Likewise the Burmese government would I’m sure have a very different view of the BBC’s impartiality than the editors and Director-General and in fact in the case of Zimbabwe the BBC has been banned for allegedly broadcasting on very partisan lines, would the BBC refuse an appeal on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe on the grounds of the possible impact on impartiality, I think it highly unlikely, but  as has been shown before in a country without political or economic capital there is little prospect of international pressure.

In such cases the BBC will always be accused of bias, after all were it to have broadcasted the appeal there is no doubt that the right-wing lobby and that of the pro-Zionists would attack it for in some ways bolstering Hamas, however the appeal is not for the Palestinian state or its elected representatives it is for humanitarian aid for those within Gaza and few if any are questioning the appalling state of the infrastructure there now.  What seems clear is that faced with a decision to offend the pro-Gaza lobby or the pro-Israel lobby the BBC chose to buckle under the pressure that was likely to come from the latter.  It should not come as a surprise, the pro-Israel lobby is extremely politically and financially powerful, it is also extremely reactionary and frequently uses threats and legal action to prevent any deviation from a Zionist bias.  I have shown how this has impacted on academic freedom before.

The BBC underestimates the very nature of the problem, firstly looking at itself the BBC has set itself open to criticism once again from those who feel the BBC is not representative of the public at large and therefore see no justification in its method of funding through the licence fee.  I have always been a strong advocate of the licence fee in order to preserve at least the structure to be impartial and autonomous even if the incumbent board choose not to use it, in this instance the BBC has weakened my position and that of all those that have previously given it support along these lines.  Secondly and incomparably more important is the failure of Israel and the Zionists to look at the more long term implications of a poverty-stricken infrastructure-starved Palestine.  If this is not the breeding ground for extremism then I am at a loss to explain what is.  How could one possibly expect any young Palestinian now growing up not to see Israel as his/her mortal enemy without a strong and independent education system to help them out of the poverty trap in which they will as things stand inevitably fall?

Poverty breeds anger and anger that is not dealt with or channelled breeds hatred, lack of education breeds ignorance and these two combined breed fascism whether you choose to call it by its name or use a more watered down term like fundamentalism be it political, religious or social.  If you wish to look at an example look no further than the Western world itself where due to the poverty of the working class during the recession-filled 1990s far-right wing parties have seen a resurgence that rivals their catchment in the 1930s.  People choose not to see it that way because the fascists now wear suits not swastikas, they talk about jobs for workers not killing foreigners but underneath the rhetoric the ideals are the same, intolerance, mistrust and anger because they are fuelled by at best ignorance and at worst hatred.  British workers are now standing up against their Italian counterparts rather than standing against a system that would allow the company the ability and the desire to undercut its workforce.

One cannot expect the Israelis to learn the lessons of history as they choose to see themselves only as the victims of it, this is a bad mistake.  The Irish question shows all too well that no matter how much you claim to be refusing to cede to the demands of terrorists if you rule by force you will face armed insurrection.  Had the Irish not chosen to take up arms the British would certainly not have seen the error of their ways and left and unpalatable though it may be had the IRA not waged its campaign on the British mainland in the 1970s and 1980s it is unlikely that the nationalist community in Ulster would have been able to gain a proper voice in the democratic process.  The more you suppress people the more people you will push past breaking point.

Part of the problem is outlined by Henry Siegman in an article published by the London Review Of Books in which he describes the fact that Israel’s version of events is simply not questioned.  Siegman is certainly no anti-semite being a former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America, so for him to level this attack in an article entitled Israel’s lies should really make those who acquiesce to the Zionists sit up and take notice.  One need only look to the recent reports concerning Israel’s justification of the bombing of the UN building in Gaza with its spurious claims of having been fired on from the compound.  Whether or not this had been the case there is no question whatsoever that in firing so heavily on the building the Israelis were fully cognisant of the impact this would have on the civilian population.  Personally I would liken the bombing to that of Dublin by the Germans in May 1941, a clear signal sent to ensure that the occupants knew only too well of the consequences of incurring the wrath of the aggressor.

The Israeli response is disproportionate the death toll of Palestinians to Israelis since December stands at more than 10:1 and it is immoral as they are not even bothering to seek military targets as well as firing white phosphorus into civilian areas.  Israel will find itself paying for the atrocities as more Palestinians are drawn to the notion of jihad, and people across the world see Israel as coming ever closer to representing the systematic ethnic cleansing policies of the state of Nazi Germany in whose aftermath it was established.  The settlements already represent the very embodiment of Lebensraum as described by Hitler in Mein Kampf.  The use of more aggressive and inhumane military hardware to massacre the population is not something we have not seen before, indeed phosphorus was itself used in Dresden by the Allies in WWII (because the atom bomb was not yet ready) but at the very time of year we are supposed to be remembering the most significant example of systematic killing in world history and perpetrated by the very people who had suffered this example in the first place I cannot remember the victims of the holocaust without a sense of knowing that we have learnt nothing from the barbarism of our own recent history.

*[I have referred mostly to the BBC thus far in this article to draw a distinction with Sky which one would, with any sense, expect to be wholly biased towards the right-wing agendas of its parent company in much the same way Fox News functions in the United States. It is rather ironic that Sky is suddenly concerned with maintaining a position of political objectivity now when you consider how its parent company has acted over the last twenty-five years.  One cannot call such channels news programmes, they are useful only in so far as they offer the opinions of the neo-conservatives and tolerate little or no dissent of that position, their goal is to indoctrinate not to educate and the “news” they appear to provide is skewed almost exclusively to provide a supporting of the message they want you to hear.]

Further reading – Quotes and reactions to the BBC position; Mainstream Media Headlines surrounding the reaction.

Song Of The Day ~ Julian Lennon – Salt Water