When I broke my shoulder skiing in Italy last Christmas, I received excellent care at the local hospital, including a speedy x-ray and an overnight stay for observation (in case of head trauma) in my own room.
It wasn’t until after I was discharged and flying home that I realised my EHIC card, which had authorised my ‘free’ treatment, had expired. I was worried that this would mean I’d be liable for all the costs of my treatment – including the long ambulance ride from the top of a mountain.
I quickly renewed my card and hoped the hospital in Italy wouldn’t notice my treatment had occurred during the period when I wasn’t covered or wouldn’t bother to chase me up. But they did. ?As soon as they realised I didn’t have a valid EHIC card, they came after me, wanting me to pay for my treatment.
Luckily, a call to the EHIC office in Newcastle established that an out of date EHIC card didn’t actually matter, as long as I was a bona fide British national. Crisis – and huge bill – averted.
The point though is that the Italian hospital clearly deemed it worthwhile chasing me for payment when they thought I, rather than the UK government, was liable. Is the same happening in this country? How much money is the UK government claiming back from EU countries for treating EU nationals in our NHS , and how many UK hospitals or GPs go chasing after individuals who aren’t entitled to ‘free’ treatment? We need to see the figures.
There’s nothing wrong with our government trying to claw back money from other governments or individuals, but not if the costs of doing so exceed the amount of money clawed back. And nor if the time taken up by hospitals or doctors is diverted from patient care.
But there is everything wrong with our government trying to claim that ‘health tourists’ are costing the NHS £2 billion when researchers have admitted uncovering only “anecdotal” evidence of health tourism and “no statistically valid samples to generate estimates”.
Even the very term ‘health tourism’ is misleading. It is conveniently used to lump together all legal AND illegal visitors and migrants who happen to need the NHS while in the UK, as well as the actually tiny but hugely publicised proportion who come to this country with the intentional purpose of using our NHS.
Until we have concrete evidence of the scale of each of these different ?categories, as well as our success rate in getting reimbursed for NHS treatment, it’s hard to assess the scale of the problem or take effective action.
But one thing is certain: the government is being highly effective in pinning the blame on migrants and will continue to hype the catch-all ‘health tourism’ issue so it can impress UKIP voters with its tough stance.
?It also suits the government to divert attention away from its own chronic underfunding and creeping privatisation of our NHS. It’s time to give this government’s distasteful blame-game the cold shoulder.
A couple of weeks ago, 200 activists protested outside the Daily Mail’s offices, in response to the paper’s ongoing campaign of hatred against anyone that isn’t white, male, straight and middle-class.
There were guest speakers, placards, banners, chanting and fun. There were press photographers there too, which gave us some good media coverage. I say that – The Guardian covered it. The Daily Mail? Not so much.
Isn’t that strange? We practically gave them the story on a plate. Perhaps there wasn’t enough room in the paper. I expect they suddenly discovered an important 15 year old in a bikini they had to cover instead. And then they’d have to make room for the columns about how the bikini has affected house prices, which as we all know causes cancer…
I had a drink in the pub afterwards with a prominent left-wing blogger. It’s no big deal, I’m just a very popular guy, and I need you to be comfortable with that. As we were talking, he leans in and says ”Chris, are you busy this afternoon? It’s just, I’ve got an idea for a little ruse. You know Paul Dacre? Editor of the Daily Mail? Well, the thing is… I know where he lives.”
How do you know where he lives? “Oh, I just know people” he boasted, hoping the director of his life was going to shoot today in the style of an East End gangster film. Vinnie Jones stars in “Paul Dacre: The Slappening.”
“I’ve got his address, and a video camera. Fancy an adventure?” It took me about 0.1 seconds to decide yes.
He lives a short bus ride from the Daily Mail’s offices, in Knightsbridge which, as British readers know, is where bastards come from. Turns out he also lives near a lot of sweet shops, which made me happy because it meant I could do some activism, and reward myself with some chocolate truffles. I’m not a champagne socialist, I’m a champagne truffle socialist.
We didn’t really have a plan. We were fuelled by excitement, not by consideration. All we had was a circular placard that read “Hated by the Daily Mail.” Could we use it? Could we, using our biggest and most preposterous shoehorn, give Paul Dacre an award for being the man most hated by the Daily Mail?
It’s conceivable. After all, Paul Dacre edits a newspaper that dodges tax (unlike the hard-working middle-classes), and the language Dacre allegedly uses in the newsroom is sickeningly vulgar – utterly at odds with their family values!
We turned the placard into a cone, and put three flowers inside, which we proudly stole from the window-box of a millionaire. We then made a quick video explaining that we were giving him the award on behalf of the League of Justice (look, we were working under pressure). Then we buzz on his intercom, and knocked on his door, for five minutes… before we realised it was Sunday, so he’d be editing Monday’s newspaper, and that we’d utterly wasted our time. When the revolution comes, let’s hope it isn’t me organising it. I’d probably do it on a Bank Holiday by mistake.
We decided to leave him the reward on his doorstep as a present. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect, and as you can see from the photo, leaving a wrap of dead flowers on someone’s doorstep with no explanation looks less like an award, and more like a death threat.
It’s a bit mafia, isn’t it? Like we’ll return a week later and leave a horse’s head.
Still, I’m glad we tried. After all, if your neighbour was being noisy, you’d knock and complain. And when someone is polluting the country with toxic lies and hate, and you know where they live, I have no moral issue with knocking on their door to complain.
Now of course, I couldn’t print his address. That would be thoroughly inappropriate. However, you might be interested in my new idea for a business: Mogul Tours™. I’ll take you on a jaunt around London, stopping at the homes of the most powerful media magnates. If you then choose to pay them a visit, well, that’s up to you. It’ll be a bit like those Jack The Ripper tours, but somehow even more creepy.
by Anita Hurrell
The government’s new Immigration Bill is about two things: making it easier for the Home Office to forcibly remove and deport people, and creating a ‘really hostile environment’ in the belief that people will leave the UK if their existence here is made impossible.
If the Bill goes through, legal rights to appeal wrong decisions for all migrants, including the sought-after Brightest and Best, will be severely restricted. This is happening at the same time as the government is cutting off access to the courts through changes to legal aid and judicial review.
Will there be any opposition? The Lib Dems broadly support the Bill, claiming ‘the worst of the Tory excesses have been stripped out’.
And what about Labour? There are some predictable lines: the Tories are still failing on immigration; government is missing its own target; the Bill won’t tackle biggest problems; ‘illegal immigration’ is up and deportation numbers down; The Bill does nothing about exploitation in the labour market. And Yvette Cooper said ‘checks on driving licences and bank accounts sound sensible and build on changes Labour made before the election’ and ‘landlord checks are sensible in principle’.
But this Bill shouldn’t be allowed to pass unopposed for many reasons – here are a few.
1. Stripping people of appeal rights will lead to more bureaucratic chaos
People will no longer be able to appeal on the basis that the Home Office got its decision wrong. Independent scrutiny of many of the decisions that determine people’s lives will go. A person will only have an internal administrative review, which will be ineffective and is a recipe for even more backlogs and delays.
2. Cutting appeal rights will shift costs
Cutting down the decisions which give rise to a right of appeal will lead to more judicial reviews, displacing what were simple fact-finding hearings in the First-Tier Tribunal to the more expensive and time-consuming JR jurisdiction of the Upper Tribunal.
3. The Bill will hit highly skilled migrants
A Tier 1 entrepreneur wrongly denied an extension of her/his visa won’t get the chance to have the decision examined by the independent Tribunal. Yet there is no evidence that appeals are currently meritless: in 2012/13 49% of Managed Migration appeals were allowed.
4. The government’s approach to Article 8 and children’s rights is wrong
The government had a go in the Immigration Rules at dictating to the courts how to interpret Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the qualified right to respect for private and family life. It is now trying to do it in statute. But its approach does not reflect the law on Article 8 or on children’s best interests, and its attempt should concern those who want to defend the Human Rights Act and the UK’s membership of the European Convention on Human Rights.
5. Immigration enforcement must not come at the expense of children’s welfare
Labour should be proud of lifting the reservation on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that said foreign children didn’t count. The proposals in the Bill totally undermine that progress and fly in the face of case law on children’s best interests.
6. Casual with civil liberties.
Can anyone who wants to be able to talk about civil liberties really allow further restrictions on bail applications in a country where the government can detain people indefinitely with no automatic judicial oversight? HM Inspectorate of Prisons last year found someone in who had been in immigration detention for nine years.
7. Landlord checks cannot work.
Landlord checks are illiberal, authoritarian and likely to lead to discrimination for anyone whom a letting agent thinks looks a bit foreign. They will place a massive regulatory burden on individual landlords (most of whom only let one property), push vulnerable people further underground and manufacture homelessness, which will increase costs on local government due to statutory homelessness and community care duties.
8. Neither will cutting off access to healthcare
The evidence of health tourism isn’t there. The British Medical Association said: ‘The reality is people don’t come to the UK to use the NHS, they’re more likely to come to work in the NHS.’ And there are public health risks: the proposals are ‘as disastrous for community health as they are financially moronic’.
9. Identity checks for all.
The system being proposed is one of identity checks for all. We will all have to prove our status to access services, and for some this will be easier than others.
This Bill is the nastiest piece of legislation in a long time, even compared to the depths to which New Labour sank in the early-2000s anti-asylum hysteria. It’s Lynton Crosby politics. What have we come to if this kind of legislation passes unopposed?
An apparently trivial incident at the gates of Downing Street over a year ago, which claimed the career of a Cabinet minister, would not still be front page news or discussed at PMQs had it not been for two important factors: the timing and the instant response of Andrew Mitchell.
The day before The Curious Incident of the Gate in the Night-Time, the news agenda was dominated by the brutal murder of two unarmed female police officers in Manchester. This was described at the time by the BBC’s home affairs correspondent as “arguably the blackest day in the history of the police service of England and Wales since three police officers were shot dead in west London in 1966″.
This dreadful and emotionally-charged story also crucially came just a week after another equally huge police story: that South Yorkshire police had lied and operated a cover-up of unimaginably distasteful proportions during and after the Hillsborough disaster.
Had plebgate happened a week earlier, with the Hillsborough disgrace uppermost in people’s minds, I have no doubt that the police version of events, with its “fucking plebs” remark, would not have been so quickly and gleefully jumped on by politicians and the media as the truth.
And without the fuel of the class-war loaded remark, the incident would not have turned into an explosive story. The fact that it is called plebgate says it all.
But it wasn’t just the timing of plebgate that was crucial. Before anyone starts feeling too sorry for Andrew Mitchell, the finger of blame is also pointing at his own immediate response to the accusation.
It is now clear that his words were, at best, misheard, or at worst, twisted. Why then did Mr Mitchell play silly semantic games with the press, repeatedly stating “I did not use the words that have been attributed to me” rather than explicitly stating what he did say? He could so easily have snuffed out the story – or at least speedily discredited the police version – by coming clean with: “What I actually said was: ‘I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us’ and I sincerely apologise for swearing”.
But it wasn’t until December that Mr Mitchell publicly gave his own account of exactly what was said at the gates of Downing Street.
Without that immediate, and highly plausible, rebuttal, plebgate snowballed into a full scale scandal spawning a resignation, the revelation of a fake eyewitness account, arrests, inquiries, a Channel 4 documentary, a Scotland Yard investigation and demonstrations at the Tory Party conference, and involved the DPP, the CPS, the IPCC, the Diplomatic Protection Group, ACPO and the Police Federation, as well as drawing in all the party leaders, the home secretary and countless MPs. Has anyone worked out the cost of all this? And it’s not over yet.
Had Mr Mitchell not been so enigmatic at the time, it would not still be dominating the news agenda.
But neither would we have uncovered the very disturbing and grave flaws of individual police officers and members of the Police Federation that were triggered by the initial incident, which now raise important questions about the integrity of our police force. And for that, we have to be grateful to Mr Mitchell and to the timing of the tragic slaughter of two police officers in Manchester.
by Stewart Lansley
Later this week, the government’s social mobility and child poverty commission will report that middle-class children from families with above average incomes are set to become materially less well off in adulthood than their parents.
For a growing number this is old news – it has been reality for a small but rising proportion of the working population for years. Growing numbers of the young have already had to face much bleaker life chances than their parents: a more treacherous job market, lower pay and fewer chances of advancement. On top of this they also face shrinking housing opportunities, a weakening safety net and a more punitive benefit system.
Across Britain, adverts to work in cinemas or in coffee shops attract thousands of applications, despite the jobs on offer being low paid and often temporary. Even short-term Christmas jobs in warehouses are hugely oversubscribed. With sometimes up to 200 chasing every job, the search for work in Britain has become increasingly futile.
Such trends are imposing profound social and economic costs. They are capping opportunities and trapping more of the workforce into poverty. On top of this, they are weakening the incentive to work and putting a growing strain on the benefit system.
While the global crisis has exacerbated these trends, they have much deeper roots. The last thirty years have seen a shrinking earnings pool, a doubling of the numbers on low pay, the decline of labour’s bargaining power, deindustrialization, a much more individualised social and economic culture and a housing market that benefits the already well-housed.
Three decades ago, the UK was one of the most equal countries in the world. Today it is one of the most unequal, with the proceeds of growth increasingly colonised by a small corporate and financial elite, leaving most of the rest with a shrinking share of the cake, greatly polarising life chances in the process.
Those who have suffered most are those with parents on low and middle incomes, the very groups who prospered most in the immediate post-war era.
Before the war, the social shape of Britain looked like a pyramid, with a small top and a large group at the bottom. By the 1970s it had turned into a diamond shape with a much larger and more prosperous middle. Today the ‘diamond` has gone, replaced by a contorted ‘hourglass’ with a small bulge at the top, a long thin stem in the middle, and a fat bulge at the bottom.
The impact of these trends can be seen most forcefully in the US, where the reversal of opportunities began in the mid-1970s. With incomes stagnating, the size of the middle has shrunk by more than a tenth since 1980. With large numbers of the current generation now facing lower living standards than their parents, more and more US citizens express a ‘fear of falling`, exposing as a myth one of the country’s once most widely shared values – the much vaunted ‘American Dream’.
Britain is not far behind. Here the ‘fear of falling’ has been mostly confined to those in the lower half of the income ladder. Middle class professionals – a group that sits somewhat above the ‘squeezed middle` – have largely been protected. That may be about to change.
With a third of graduates now in permanent non-graduate jobs – many from middle class backgrounds – the tightening cap on aspirations may already be spreading upwards.
Stewart Lansley is a visiting fellow at Bristol University and the author of The Cost of Inequality
by Matt Whittley
Operation divide and rule has been in full swing since the Tories came to power in 2010. Working hard but struggling to get by on a low income? Blame your unemployed neighbour, or the immigrant down the street, or those fat-cat public sector workers with their bloated salaries and pensions.
In his conference speech, Cameron added young people to his list of scapegoats when he implied that they are in their droves leaving school, getting knocked up and opting for a life on benefits, as he outlined his plan to remove housing benefit for those under 25s not in employment, education or training.
Consider the case of a 24 year old that started working aged 16 or 17, and so has contributed for 7 or 8 years but has just lost their job. Is this person not worthy of temporary support to help them get back on their feet? Are they really, after years of independence, expected to return to their childhood bedroom? And are their parents really expected to welcome them (and their grandchildren, if their child has had kids of their own) back with open arms?
What about the 20,000 young people who, 12 months after graduating, are still out of work? These young people spent three years working hard to better themselves. Many then took (often unpaid) internships – ‘doing the right thing’ as Cameron calls it. Have these people opted for a life on benefits?
What about those living in areas of high unemployment who are contemplating ‘getting on their bike’ to go where the work is? The logical conclusion for them to draw is that they would be better off staying in the family home and out of work. The Tories say they are on the side of hard-working people, but their support doesn’t seem to extend to those who have the audacity to have been born after 1988.
Cameron is also assuming that all young people have a loving, stable home to return to, and from his ivory tower of privilege this is probably an easy assumption to make. But what about those fleeing violent or abusive homes, or those kicked out by their parents? What about the 6,000 young people leaving care every year, many of whom rely on housing benefit as they attempt to make a life for themselves?
This policy clearly hasn’t been thought through, and Cameron may well have made a rod for his own back with this. Either he guarantees a job, training place or apprenticeship for all of the 1.09 million young people not in employment, education or training (a mammoth task), or he is seen to punish young people for refusing to take jobs, training places and apprenticeships that simply don’t exist.
Young people, who had no role to play in causing the financial crisis, won’t have been surprised by Cameron’s announcement to strip them of their social security. This from a government that has trebled university tuition fees, abolished the Educational Maintenance Allowance and presided over an economy in which 21% of young people are now out of work.
Of course we need to support those young people who have become cut adrift from society and help them into work or education. But with five people chasing every job, this government is failing miserably to create the opportunities they deserve. And demonising the young and threatening to remove their benefits won’t change that.
by Colin Ethelson
Some anti-fascists have claimed that we should be ‘cautiously optimistic’ about EDL leader Tommy Robinson’s and Co-leader Kevin Carroll’s leaving the organisation today. Some have greeted this as the defeat of the EDL. Forget Tommy’s whining about this being the most “most difficult day” of his life. It might just be his greatest victory.
For all their chants of ‘no surrender’ Nazis tend not to be particularly steadfast. It was recently reported that Europe’s most hard-line far-right leader, Nikos Michaloliakos of Golden Dawn, was in the past extremely quick to betray his fellow Nazis to police and prosecutors.
In 2010/2011 the EDL were a successful violent fascist street gang which terrorized non-whites and wreaked havoc on our streets. But they are no longer that political force .The last few EDL events hardly drew enough goons to fill even a smaller pub. The hopes of some of the EDL’s grief vultures to turn outrage Lee Rigby’s terrorist murder into a long term resurgence of violent street fascism have not materialised.
Even the tiny number of EDL supporters who remain are riven by infighting and ideological differences. Law enforcement too is starting to close in on the EDL: Robinson and Carol themselves are due to stand trial soon and one his their top EDL-colleagues is to hand himself to the police after a violent robbery.
Thus, by leaving the EDL Robinson is not really losing anything. In admitting that he can no longer restrain ‘extremist elements’ of the EDL, he is effectively conceding that he no longer held any real power as leader anyway. As he too seems to have realised, the EDL is finished as a political force; He stated “though street demonstrations have brought us to this point, they are no longer productive”.
On the other hand Robinson’s gains through todays manoeuvre are massive.
He effectively rewrites his own political history and that of the EDL before his exit. He can portray himself as a hero of conscience; A man who risked his political future to oppose outrageous politically Islamist extremists like Anjem Choudhury. A man who was unjustly misunderstood and maligned as far-right only because of the actions of small number of extremists in the EDL.
The empathy circus has already begun. Robinson whined to the media about how he was unjustly demonised. He and Kevin Carroll even told a press conference his heroic fairy tale; “We had fought for three and a half years to keep racists out of the EDL”.
Since when is a bunch of racists getting drunk and shouting “whose streets, our streets “ a critique of Islamism. Since when is addressing a known terrorist, racist and mafia group an act of keeping racism out? Or what about the speaker at that prominent 2010 EDL demo who said “We’re still waiting for the Muslims to make peace with each other? They eat each other alive, like the dogs that they are”.
A real exit from the far-right feels and looks different. Andreas Molau, Germany’s top far-right ideologue and the most significant ‘exiter’ in past years gradually progressed from the overtly Nazi NPD to slightly more moderate far-right organizations before eventually quitting the far-right, rather than staging a glamorous one day shock maneuver. In interviews Molau makes clear that he is ‘no victim’, that his hateful views were “wrong at heart” and he has serious questions to answer over his lack of empathy for victims of the Nazi regime. He does not hide behind far-fetched self-justifications.
So what did Viscount Rothermere really believe in? The answer should disturb everyone who loves this country
by David Hodd
On a cold winter’s day, an old man made his way to meet a lifetime admirer. He had exchanged correspondence several times before, but now at last he would meet this “superhuman” in person.
It had been quite an effort to get to this point – he had needed to secure the services of an Austrian Princess, Stephanie Hohenlohe to gain the influence that would allow them to meet, and now here he was, shoulder to shoulder with Adolf Hitler
The year was 1936. The man was Harold Harmsworth a.k.a. 1st Viscount Rothermere. A barrister’s son, he had success with several newspapers, and was now one of the most influential people in the land. He was very active against what he regarded as the pernicious threats of communism and international Jewry. Harmsworth was very critical of those who used “every means financial, social, political and personal to influence British Government Departments” – but only if they were Jewish.
He penned the most notorious articles in British journalism, in support of the British Union of Fascists: “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” he wrote in the Mail, and “Give the Blackshirts a Helping Hand” in the Mirror (which he also owned). He even ran a competition, awarding a prize for the reader who gave the best response to “Why I love the Blackshirts”.
His own view was clear:
“Because Fascism comes from Italy, short-sighted people in this country think they show sturdy national spirit by deriding it.” He went on to criticise those that “have started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call “Nazi atrocities” which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence”
After congratulating Hitler for invading Czechoslovakia – and urging him on to Romania, Harmsworth continued to exchange telegrams with him at least to July 1939. Meanwhile his newspapers campaigned to prevent large numbers of Jews (like Ralph Milliband for example) from gaining sanctuary.
His son and grandson carried on Harmsworth’s evil legacy – they used the Daily Mail to exert influence as they saw fit, lived colourful lifestyles, and did whatever they could to avoid paying tax. His father once said “Today, the whole idea is that morality is a matter of opinion.”
To what extent the current owner of the Daily Mail Jonathan Harmsworth, inherited the controversial views of his dad, or his antecedents is not fully clear. But he has been happy to live off the inheritance of his media empire, and through that inheritance he enjoys easy access to ministers. His tale is not one of the self-made man favoured by free market thinkers, but one who’s start in life was a silver spoon worth over a billion pounds. He is now thought to be worth less than that.
Despite his British passport, Eton education and his Wiltshire home, he is a Tax Non-Dom. Investigations into his tax status were dropped by none other than David Hartnett himself. This Non-Dom status reveals his hatred for Britons – he has done all he can to avoid contributing towards the upkeep of the armed forces his paper writes so proudly about. He has avoided supporting the education of British children, and likewise support for the the sick and needy has been minimal.
These little acts against our sturdy national spirit reveal a disregard for the nation, and a belief that personal interest trumps all. He is still living with the financial gains of a fascist supporter, and living its poisonous creed. It is in his power to change this, but he does not.
Whilst Jonathan Harmsworth – who lives in a ‘modest’ £40million Mock-Georgian home – publishes articles that talk of ‘socialism’ being the key word for the next Labour government, perhaps ground is indeed now being prepared, to undermine any public support a next Labour government might have.
To be clear, this article is a parody of the original Daily Mail piece attacking Ralph Miliband
by Luke Martell
Sussex Uni’s 13,000 students started back last week. So did the campus’ formidable anti-outsourcing campaign.
Private company Chartwells have taken over the university’s catering. Sussex management said this was for a better consumer experience. But campus consumers have complained of a reduced service. That’s putting it mildly. And international consumer feedback for Chartwells, owned by Compass, looks very negative.
It’s rumoured that Interserve may take over Sussex’s estates and facilities. The company were fined £11.6m by the Office of Fair Trading for illegal bid-rigging. They had to cough up £50,000 for exposing MoD workers to asbestos.
The company’s chairman Lord Blackwell spoke in the House of Lords for the outsourcing of NHS services. The bill was passed. Guess who got a contract. Whether Interserve get the Sussex job or not; this is the kind of company that public bodies are outsourcing to.
It won’t end here. At Sussex, IT services, sports and the library could be opened up to for-profit companies. The university plans distance learning where profiteers will be sought to provide IT and student services.
The reason – it will be cheaper. How? Low wages and poorer pensions and conditions for the employees. The university is forging ahead despite widespread staff and student opposition, and no consultation with them about whether to outsource.
Outsourcing to for-profits is expanding to academic areas. The government are allowing in controversial for-profit universities. Last year we had none in Britain. Now we have two, and companies like Pearson finding a platform to gain access, not because of their educational values, but for a cut of the money to be made.
In the USA, for-profit colleges spend 24% of their revenue on marketing. That could be devoted to students and staff, but marketisation means it isn’t. At the University of Phoenix, the priority is to get fee-payers enrolled. What happens next is less well resourced. 16% of students graduate. 95% of its tutors are part-time, with little time to research on what they teach.
It’s what happens when higher education is outsourced.
The companies that usually take over, pay poverty wages. They’re accused of corruption and fraud, and a shocking record with consumers and students. The Sussex anti-outsourcing campaign is back. This is the reason why.
Luke Martell is Professor and Head of Sociology at Sussex University
When you take part in a special event you can be forgiven for being so wrapped up in that you think it’s the most important thing happening at that moment and everyone should be aware of it.
When that event involves 50,000 people from across the country protesting about an issue that concerns every person in the country and causes massive disruption to one of the country’s major cities, you would certainly be forgiven for assuming everyone should be aware of it. You would be wrong.
Sunday’s massive anti-austerity rally through the centre of Manchester, which coincided with the start of the Tory Party conference, received shockingly scant coverage. I’m not one for conspiracy theories but you’ve got to wonder why the main BBC news that night gave the event just 20 seconds of airtime, contained no clips of organisers or participants, and had us believe it was just a load of protesters shouting “Tory scum”. This certainly was neither the tone nor the objective of the rally I attended.
Greater Manchester Police went out of their way to praise the “peaceful and lawful” crowd, which also makes you wonder why Sky News focused much of its fleeting report on a single arrest – which represented half of the total number of two arrests. ie. 0.004% of the crowd.
Good TV pictures no doubt but not reflecting the actual story. And, as in the BBC’s news report, the colourful pictures of demonstrators were used merely as wallpaper for a political correspondent to talk over and provide yet further details about the Tory conference. ITV News at Ten’s coverage isn’t even worth mentioning.
Despite the depressingly poor national TV coverage, I expected to wake up the following morning to front page photos like this:
A quick flick through the newspapers brought nothing of the kind. With the exception of the Daily Mirror (which carried photos, an article and a leader comment), I spotted not a single word in the Mail, Express or Sun, just a photo in the Times, describing protesters as “health workers”, and a paltry few, easy-to-miss words in the Telegraph.
Worryingly even the Guardian had merely a minuscule article, ironically preferring to give far greater prominence to a far smaller protest against health care reforms – on the other side of the Atlantic, in Washington. The Independent, FT and others opted for the image of a single fusilier heckling the Tories inside the conference hall rather than the fifty thousand people heckling outside.
I am seriously at a loss to explain the total media disinterest.
A demonstration by 2,500 cyclists over the summer in London received far greater coverage. And imagine the column inches and TV exposure that would be given if fifty thousand bankers marched through the City of London protesting against a cap on their bonuses?
As a former BBC Radio 4 news producer, I can only wonder if news values have changed over the past decade. Are we jaded by old-fashioned, anti-government demonstrations? Were there not enough protesters? Were they the wrong type of protesters? Is there a media conspiracy, as many have been suggesting on twitter? Of course we all know where the political allegiances of the press lie, but this media silence went beyond the normal party lines.
I genuinely don’t have the answers and would really like someone to answer the question – who and why decided that journalists shouldn’t properly report news of national importance on their own doorstep on Sunday?
Giselle Green is Head of Press for the National Health Action Party and a former BBC Radio news producer
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