Journalists Shocked To Discover Tories Aren’t Nice
The condemnation of the government’s treatment of the poor by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston seems to have been a wake-up call to quite a large section of the corporate / establishment media.
Slating the government treatment of our poorest and most vulnerable people as “mean-spirited” and “callous”, Alston draws on situations that most of us are all too familiar with – the explosion in homelessness, families reliant on food banks and charities for their next meal, the people prostituting themselves to survive…
This is austerity Britain and it’s ugly as sin.
But victims are often seen more like material for occasional hand-wringing on shows like Panorama, or in short new bulletin items. Then there’s the more down-market “poverty porn” shows and general perpetuating of the “deserving/ undeserving” poor narrative.
Too often, even liberal and left inclined commentary has presented the growing misery as some kind of accident… If only we could convince those in power that this is all a horrible mistake… surely they’d listen and change things.
But those with power have spent the best part of a decade having stark evidence put under their noses.
Could it be that the policies are actually careful and deliberate, too often underscored by an ideology of Social Darwinism that dare not speak its own name?
In the early years of austerity, George Osborne created a “workers versus shirkers” meme that the media happily punted around. There were PR strategies to justify what was to come, including the idea that disabled people were often just lying or swinging the lead.
When David Cameron talked of “The Big Society”, it was a ruse to make it sounds wholesome that charity and volunteers would now be cleaning up the mess after the government abandoned much of what we pay for it to do.
This era was the high point of Richard Desmond using Channel 5 to attack the poor with programs like “Benefits Street.” Under a guise of plausible deniability about “engaging human stories” – they actually propagated nasty stereotypes for social media to ceaselessly berate.
A central plank of policy has been Universal Credit. Almost from the moment, it was announced in 2010, campaign groups, regular citizens, independent media and some of the liberal press were pointing out the obvious coming problems, even assuming the technology was going to work (which it obviously wasn’t).
A sterling example of great work on this is Charlotte Hughes, who writes for The Morning Star.
Initially, Greater Manchester was to be a trial area for Universal Credit. This was shrunk and delayed to the laughable point where it became trialled in just one Job Centre in Ashton Under Lyme, Tameside. Charlotte and a few other activists would frequently stand outside the building for hours, getting feedback about how things were going on the ground. This was 5 years ago, but many in the mainstream have only started giving substantial coverage fairly recently.
In his UN report, Philip Alston described “a state of denial” among Ministers, but it stretches credulity to think that they don’t know what’s going on after so many horror stories and warnings.
It may be less politically problematic to look ignorant or to point at the geeks and blame IT problems, but two repulsive truths are starting to stare us in the face:
Firstly, the government know what they are doing and why.
Try it as a thought experiment and things might start to make more sense: maybe some people just think smashing the poor is worthwhile, necessary or good.
When government cyphers are called on to justify Universal Credit they always start with the flannel about rolling 6 benefits into one, before emphasising that they’re seeking to “make work pay.” This is a tacit admittance that they are cutting benefit income as policy. They are pretending the stick is a carrot.
Esther McVey was soon found a safe seat in Parliament after being voted out, not least because she was so despised for her record at the DWP.
Amber Rudd replaced McVey recently, having long ago resigned as Home Secretary for lying about the Windrush scandal.
Even government critics will tend to say that McVey and Rudd were quickly back in the game “despite” their actions. Those critics will fume that it doesn’t make sense. It’s hard to deny things are clearer if we swap “despite” with “because of.”
The second truth is that media has utterly failed to hold the government to account for their conscious cruelty. They may get caught up in making a rubber-neck spectacle of individual heartbreak cases but rarely look under the rock at systems and motivations.
That’s why it takes an international body to properly blow the whistle. We’ve had similar reports before, Save The Children got viciously attacked when they highlighted the penury caused by policy.
For all the talk of Universal Credit and other policies being “in chaos” and “a failure,” they are really quite successful when looked at from the other end of the telescope. The government wanted to attack the poor, the poor have been attacked. Labelling policy as “failed” can thus be highly misleading, missing the point entirely and setting the stage for discourse being a charade.
So now the establishment has had their wake-up call, what’s likely to happen next? They’ll probably hit the snooze button of course.
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