The Power of Hope, Part 2: Campaign

In part 1: Context, I set the scene for our current politics, post-2008 crash, with hung parliaments, Brexit and Trump signalling that more and more people were voting for change – for the hope that by challenging the establishment they could better their lives. Part 2 looks at how this groundswell of feeling played out in the recent snap election.

Given the premise I have set up, it hardly needs pointing out that May’s campaign was the exact opposite to those run by Leave and Trump. Much like the previous Conservative campaign run to elect Cameron’s slim majority (and indeed, the Remain campaign run by Cameron et al), May’s campaign was based on the fear of what would happen if you didn’t vote to maintain the Conservative status quo. Whilst the Remain campaign’s ‘project fear’ at least tried to base itself in facts and figures and a genuine concern for the economic impact of Brexit, May’s ‘project fear’ decided to abandon any sense of justification and resorted to the worst kind of Conservative sneering.

The ‘Maybot’ repeatedly feeds the same audience the same cues to sneer at Corbyn et al; May and the Conservative team had no way of knowing how this would play with the electorate as there were none there to hear it. Such was the astonishing arrogance of the Tory campaign that they confidently created their own touring echo chamber and awaited feedback from the ballot box – certain that it would be a resounding majority for May.

May’s robotic performances, delivered in the same way, to the same Tory crowds, waving the same placards, in interchangeable soulless locations served only to emphasis the complete lack of change and hope offered by the Tories. It was supposed, no doubt, to symbolise and solidify the stability and strength of Theresa May, that she was an unchanging force that would weather any storms offered up by Brexit. It was supposed to be an election where the bovine masses would be utterly enthralled by the ‘strong and stable leadership’ only a domineering Thatcher-like (or rather, ‘Thatcher-lite’) PM could deliver.

The lesson the Conservative party didn’t learn from Brexit and Trump is that people didn’t vote for either to achieve stability and maintain the status quo, they voted for them because they are desperate for change. They wanted to shake up the political establishment and give it a kicking for neglecting them for so long. Brexit was – and remains – a tremendous gamble, but it is clearly one that 52% of the population are willing to take. So when May paused, in the video above, after each name to allow the Tory faithful to make the planned pantomime noises of fear, she was actually giving the voting audience a chance to actually imagine what it would be like to have Jeremy Corbyn et al in office. Given that Corbyn was clearly terrifying the establishment, was promising to fund the NHS, would employ 20,000 new police officers and tackle the social care funding crisis, a lot of people clearly liked what they imagined during those faux-dramatic pauses.

What is interesting is that this election should have been the one that cemented the Conservative right’s dominance in British politics. The accepted view was that Farage, Trump, Le Pen and fascism in general were supposed to be the main beneficiaries of this surge of anti-establishment feeling. The world looked on in horror at Trump’s election and wondered if Europe would – in the elections following – lurch back to Facism as it had done during the great depression of the 1930s.

But it hasn’t worked out that way – yet. Le Pen failed and May – who had moved the Conservatives firmly to the right in an attempt to mop up the disintegrating UKIP vote – didn’t get a thumping majority that had seemed so inevitable just days before the election. As we all know, May didn’t even get a majority, let alone a landslide. Instead Jeremy Corbyn – the most disastrous Labour leader in history, according to a lot of his own MPs, and utterly unelectable to most (probably because that’s what they kept being told by almost everyone, including most of the Labour party) – instead ended up with just 2% less vote share than Theresa May.

How Jeremy Corbyn did this is simple – and based on my premise, fairly obvious: he was anti-establishment, offered real change and campaigned on a basis of hope.

Brexit and Trump demonstrated that you don’t have to have a complex message to get people engaged and voting for you, you just have to sell – convincingly – the idea that you will do something to better their lives. For Trump it was putting America first, draining the swamp, banning Muslims and building walls – all to help the average American have a good job, take back control from Washington and be safe from crime. For Brexit it was taking back control – over borders, law and trade – again, to make you prosperous and safe.

Base instincts, simple messages and the clarity of the promise that the result would be something not offered by the current political system that would improve your life. Brexit and the recent election also saw an increased turn out, which is to be expected if change is offered. You don’t tackle voter apathy by offering the same thing, you also don’t inspire people by offering the same thing in a different colour rosette (take note Ed Miliband, you can’t beat the Tories by trying to be them with your anti-immigration mugs etc).

Whilst May was embodying the unchanging, uncaring establishment, Corbyn had a basic message: it doesn’t have to be this way, we can have a political party that represents the many, not the few; we can change the priorities of government so that investment in public services is at the heart of it. It gave people hope, it gave them a real choice – in the same way that Brexit got the voters out because the choice was so simple and binary – leave or remain. Corbyn framed this election in the same way: the end of the welfare state and ever-increasing austerity for the poor and tax giveaways to the rich, or taxing the rich a little more and properly funding our public services. For once voters had a real choice between left and right and this was reflected not just in British politics returning more closely to a two-party state, but also in increased turnout.

A lot was made of UKIP’s collapse and the inevitable Conservative surge this would generate. But in truth this view was always simplistic and wrong when you look at why people voted UKIP in the first place. It is a mistake to think that people voted UKIP or voted leave solely because they wanted to leave the EU and that what happened afterwards was an irrelevance. Actually, for many UKIP and leave voters, leaving the EU was a means to an end. In their eyes their poverty and life chances were being limited by being in the EU, therefore leaving the EU would lead to the changes that bettered their lives. Would all UKIP or Leave voters really care about the ideals of sovereignty or ‘unelected’ bureaucrats who may or may not be discussing the shape of bananas in Brussels if they had a good job, money and a sense that life was treating them fairly?

UKIP’s manifestos – once you got past the xenophobia – have always contained lots of left-wing, socialist details because they understood a lot of the issues that the disenfranchised voters care about. Working class votes were their bread and butter. It therefore shouldn’t be a surprise that an anti-establishment figure like Corbyn offering real change, real hope and a manifesto that clearly addressed the concerns of a lot of working class UKIP voters pulled in a significant share of the UKIP vote. This is even more logical given that Article 50 has already been triggered and that Corbyn’s approach to Brexit is ‘jobs first’ and accepting the will of the 52%.

There is another aspect that may have proved equally as important in the final vote share: the different approaches to the party leaders. May’s campaign has been criticised for trying to run a personality cult campaign based on someone with no personality. This is a fair criticism, but it also neglects that when May did speak she had nothing to offer – when you come face to face with a Nurse who hasn’t had a pay rise for years and your response is to shrug your shoulders and exclaim ‘there’s no magic money tree’ you’re probably not going to win any voters. Trump, on the other hand, didn’t just build a campaign around his personality, but also on making outlandish promises – building a wall and making Mexico pay, knowing more about ISIS than anyone, having all the best words and so on. May didn’t have the personality to draw a crowd or the promises to keep them.

Corbyn, on the other hand, could draw a crowd and had the manifesto of promises to keep them enthralled. That it was fully costed demonstrated that they weren’t just a list of fantasy policies – although this was the line pushed by the Tories and their friends in the media. But, ironically – given the huge crowds he drew and the success of his speeches – the Labour Party worked hard on the ground to not mention him if possible. That so many Labour MPs thought he was a huge handicap meant that they conducted very local campaigns, addressing local issues; selling themselves as excellent local MPs, distant from Westminster. This, in effect, created two separate campaigns, the national campaign led by Corbyn that was selling a manifesto and a vision for the country as a whole, and the local campaign that really targeted each constituency and selling each individual candidate.

Seeing Corbyn as a massive handicap seems to have energised the Corbyn sceptics to really work hard to knock doors and canvas for their local Labour candidate – because they couldn’t take for granted that the national campaign would drive local support. Meanwhile, Labour candidates – thanks to Corbyn – had access to huge number of members, often really quite devoted to Corbyn – who were working on behalf of both local and national campaigns to drum up support for Labour.

What this meant is that whilst Conservative candidates were hobbled by an abysmal manifesto and gagged by a Conservative campaign that put Theresa May front and centre (my local candidate sent me a leaflet telling me she ‘was standing with Theresa May’, listed the main ‘Maybot’ slogans and told me nothing about her at all). They had nothing to offer apart from slogans – and those slogans explicitly promised that nothing would change. It staggers me that a party that has been in power for 7 years in which wages have fallen, the NHS and social care are in crisis, education is heading that way, the police are down by 20,000 and all these austerity cuts have achieved is to double the national debt, can possibly think promising explicitly that they’ll only be offering ‘more of the same!’ is the kind of idea to build a campaign around.

Astonishingly, with an uncosted, back of the fag packet manifesto only remembered for the ‘dementia tax’, bringing back fox-hunting and threatening a no-deal Brexit they actually went a step further and promised to make things worse. It was at best, utterly incompetent, at worst, one of the most arrogant moves from a governing party in electoral history.

It remains to be said that the Conservative party still managed to receive the largest share of the vote, and to remain the largest party – even if it was the most remarkably incompetent campaign in history. But, given where Corbyn started, the nature of the snap election and the massively pro-May and viciously anti-Corbyn press, it is almost impossible to not see the overall result as a victory for Labour – and, more importantly, Corbyn.

It was, like Brexit and Trump, an upredictable success for the anti-establishment promise of hope and change.

It is also a campaign with a fascinating aftermath, which I’ll cover in part 3.

The Power of Hope, Part 1: Context

Introduction

For me the recent general election result – a largely unpredicted hung parliament in which Jeremy Corbyn got within 2% of the Conservative vote, despite being over 20 points behind just weeks before – is part of a wider trend of people choosing hope over fear, the chance of change over the continuance of the status quo. This post is the first in a 3 part series – Context, Campaign and Aftermath – that attempts to put forward a coherent argument as to why political voting has changed so much since the financial crash in 2008 – and what this means for future elections and the direction of politics in general.

The Power of Hope, Part 1: Context

It seems like a long time ago that the UK economy was rising happily and steadily, with New Labour so confident in the stability of the bubble lifting it that they declared an ‘end to boom and bust’. That all came crashing down in 2008, and looking back it seemed an act of breathtaking collective denial that so few people saw it coming. We live in a world in which there is almost inconceivable inequality, not just between the rich and the poor of developed and underdeveloped nations, but within developed nations as well.

This inequality has meant it has become increasingly difficult for the middle and lower classes not just to cling onto the consumerist lifestyles that they are encouraged to, but just to exist at all. It’s important to recognise that rising inequality isn’t just about CEOs taking increased salaries or corporations increased profits out of an economy, it is also the fall in real incomes for almost anyone below this top 5% of earners.

In the beginning it was easier for the 95% to cope with lower wages because families largely relied on one wage earner, the solution was to send both parents out to work. This kept the illusion that growing inequality was sustainable. When even two-parent-wage families still couldn’t meet their commitments, another solution was offered: cheap credit. That meant normalising credit cards, loans, equity release from property values or anything else that encouraged the ‘we can all have the things we want / we can all take part in this boom’ culture. It sustained the illusion that free market liberalism was enriching us all.

But the truth was it wasn’t, it was creating obscene wealth for the few and putting the majority into unsustainable, unaffordable and often unpayable debt. The reality is that under free market liberalism we can’t all afford a house, even if the banks are willing to give us a mortgage. We cannot all afford big TVs, luxury clothes, posh cars or any of the other things that are sold to us from birth as being a vital part of creating our sense of worth and self-esteem – even if loans and credit are offered to us so we can have them. Cheap credit allowed a lot of people to be fooled into thinking that they were part of the boom, that they were enjoying the rewards of a growing economy.

But they weren’t. They were, in reality, poorer than their parents – working longer, harder and in less secure jobs for lower wages and poorer pensions. They faced property prices that were completely out of sync with real earnings and a rental market dominated by private landlords and extremely limited access to social housing. The reality is that all loans, credit cards and mortgages – no matter how cheap they may at first appear – need to be repaid. In 2008 a crisis in sub-prime mortgages spiralled into the realisation that a significant part of the global economy was built on credit given to people who had no capacity to repay it. The bubble collapsed and people realised a new truth: they were being hit with the bill – austerity, cuts, debt to pay down; whilst almost universally the banks were bailed out in an act completely out of kilter with the free-market economics that had led to their de-regulation in the first place.

And so we live in a slightly altered reality, one defined by hung parliaments, Brexit and Trump. The crash in 2008 created a groundswell of anger and disillusion, but this anger was never legitimately directed at those who had caused the bubble and the crash, or the wider system that creates the conditions for a boom and bust economy. Governments that had been so enthralled by the free-market economics of Milton Freedman bailed out their banks in an act that demonstrated that socialism could be applied to the rich, whilst the rest of us were left impoverished by unchecked capitalism.

The long-term consequences of the 2008 crash were unclear. In the UK it spelled the end of New Labour and the start of hung parliaments or barely squeaked majorities. The media narrative sold by right-wing newspapers were that New Labour had maxed-out the credit card and we’d all need to repay it via austerity (whilst ‘bankers’ received a few half-hearted attacks, the newspapers largely let them walk away with the obscene wealth they had siphoned off from the credit bubble). Politics became increasingly right-wing as the ‘centre ground’ moved further and further away from any kind of expectation that the state was able to invest in public services or the economy – and indeed whether they should even attempt to, with the idea of ‘small government’ more traditionally associated with the American right becoming increasingly popular.

David Cameron tried to sell us a sanitised version of this with ‘the big society’ in 2010, where – in its most positive sense – power was given back to the people, thereby shrinking the role, influence and power of government over the people. However, the darker reality was the big society was a rather vague exhortation that people should support themselves and their communities, rather than rely on support and investment from the government. Cameron certainly provided the financial austerity underpinning the vision and eventually gave one decision back to the people in the form of the EU Referendum. Here the Leave campaign utilised this anti-establishment, anti-government feeling, arguing explicitly that leaving the EU was about ‘taking back control’ from distant and unaccountable politicians. Trump would later echo this during his presidential campaign, explicitly telling the American people during his inaugural speech that “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people”.

But what defines the politics of hung parliaments, Brexit and Trump isn’t actually the drive to transfer power from the few to the many, but rather the message of hope and the promise of change that is sold alongside it. Brexit came down to a simple choice, remaining in the EU and maintaining the status quo – the reality of which for many, many people is poverty in every sense; of opportunity, health, education and even hope itself – or leaving the EU, ‘taking back control’ and creating new opportunities of trade and progress as a free nation again.

The ‘remain’ campaign focused on staying in the UK primarily because it – almost undoubtedly – made economic sense to do so – that our growth and prosperity depended on it. Just imagine – you may not even need to – being one of the millions of people living in abject poverty in the UK, watching the current economically strong and secure system make cuts to social services, education, the NHS, local councils, community centres, libraries and so on. To them the reality of the status quo is one that serves only to impoverish them, ‘project fear’ – about the disastrous outcomes of leaving the EU – wasn’t just a negative campaign, it was one utterly powerless to strike fear into people who already felt as if they had nothing to lose. Indeed, telling poor people that staying in the EU was the best way of keeping them economically prosperous seems closer to a sick joke than an effective campaign.

The Leave campaign was able to win, even if only by a slither, because it offered hope. If the known quantity has led to poverty, austerity and division, then it is far more tempting to risk the unknown, because at least that holds the chance of a better future. The choice was simple: change and hope offered by Leave, or the status quo and fear offered by Remain.

Trump framed his election in the same way, Hillary Clinton represented the continuance of politics as usual – which has left millions in abject poverty in the richest nation on earth, Trump represented change and hope. It’s ironic that Obama perhaps created the politics of hope as the foundation for a political campaign, only to see it put a Republican President in the White House after he served his final term. That this President was Trump added significant insult to the injury.

This was the context in which Theresa May decided to call a snap election, one that seemed to guarantee her a crushing majority and might even end Labour as an electoral force. I’ll look at her campaign in Part 2 of this Power of Hope series.

Time passes, things get worse

It has been nearly two years since I last blogged and yet the post I want to sit down and write is essentially an update to that last post – which was, in itself, merely an evolution of earlier blogposts. All of those blogposts were discussing why I – and many others – blogged about dishonest newspapers and the narratives they sell so successfully to the public.

I know that blogging against established, monied, powerful and sadly extremely mainstream cultural institutions is, in many ways, pointless. Even when this blog had a fairly decent readership, it was almost always preaching to the converted and despite some very limited mainstream coverage of a couple of issues, it had no real impact.

I didn’t expect it to, but what I did try to do as much as possible was make the argument that whilst this blog – and the many like it – had no real importance, their exploration of how our press distorts reality does matter – and I am writing this now, because now I think we’re all really waking up to that fact.

One of my key frustrations when writing this blog was the argument that I would lead a happier, healthier and more productive life if I just stopped reading such media outlets. There is certainly some truth in that, my personal happiness has been greatly improved by not reading the Daily Mail or Mail Online, but that is missing the point. My counter-argument was always that this ‘ignorance-is-bliss’ approach would only be successful in the long run if the Daily Mail et al couldn’t have any other impact on my life.

But they do.

My analogy was always that you don’t have to smoke a cigarette to inhale the toxic fumes, but merely share the same atmosphere as a smoker and you’d get those fumes second-hand – passively, but just as deadly. This is true of media narratives, I don’t have to read newspapers to be profoundly impacted by the poisonous lies they craft. Those narratives shape our politics, distort our referendums and support the hatred and bigotry that we all encounter in our lives – either as victims or witnesses.

Perhaps if we had a political class prepared to base policy on sound evidence and not the editorials of our always outraged, reactive and regressive newspapers, we would not now be facing Brexit. Perhaps if newspapers had not spent decades deriding the European Union with lie after lie, or blaming it for problems firmly made in the UK and only fixable by our own government people might have voted differently.

But here we are, two years on, and the only thing that has changed is that newspapers are now more confidently racist, more openly hateful and more smilingly contemptuous of the public. The UK is a darker place, socially, politically and culturally than it has been for a very long time. We can no longer pretend that it is enough to simply not pick up a newspaper and we’ll be OK. That doesn’t work when those who are happy to believe the narratives are the majority and they have changed our society so dramatically.

The only real option left is to fight against the idea that we now live in a post-factual society, where opinion is all that matters and we’re sick of experts, figures and the truth.

The only real question is how?

Dishonest journalism matters

I know I don’t blog much these days and I rarely read the Daily Mail, but I used to do both of these things. A lot. During this period I experienced a lot of eye-rolling if I attempted to talk to people about what the Mail (or other terrible newspapers) had written, and why it was a lie and what it was trying to do. Most people just didn’t care or they implied that they did care, but that in the great scheme of things it didn’t really matter because most people take what they read with a pinch of salt anyway.

This is the great paradox of a lot of people in Britain, and perhaps worldwide: we often profess to not trust journalists or newspapers, yet we seem to be entirely convinced by the media narratives that they create. We don’t trust newspapers, but we do blame all of our woes on the welfare state, benefit scroungers and immigrants. We don’t trust newspapers, but we do believe that obscene inequality is only right and natural and that the immensely wealthy are innately better people than us and they not only deserve to be that wealthy, but they have also earned the right to dodge as much tax as they can as well.

We don’t trust newspapers, but we’re pretty sure that climate change is a scam dreamed up by hippies and governments to tax us more. We don’t trust newspapers, but we do know that having human rights is definitely a bad thing. We don’t trust newspapers, but we do know that Christianity is under attack by the PC brigade and that they’re banning Christmas because it ‘offends Muslims’.

For a people distrustful of the mainstream media, we sure do take on board a lot of their narratives. This brings me to this year’s Christmas card sent out by the BNP. Naturally, the card unsubtly wishes the receiver a ‘white Christmas’. Equally as expected, the BNP have edited the stock photo of the girl on the front – changing her eyes from hazel (brown) to blue (Aryan). Also par for the course is a short and cheery Enoch Powell quotation on the back (“It’s never too late to save your country!”), who is introduced as ‘The legendary Enoch Powell’.

I can live with all of those things, after all, what else would you expect to get from the BNP? What annoys me – in my position of being the world’s foremost expert on the Winterval myth – is that they only go and bloody repeat it! Under the banner ‘Protecting our Christmas’ they warn the reader:

Our Christian values underpin our British Identity. It’s why they’re under attack, not just from Islamification, but also from the Politically Correct authorities who put immigrants before us, the British people.

Christmas is being stealthily and ruthlessly dismantled and replaced. We’ve all heard of Winterval, it’s the Politically Correct replacement of our traditional Christmas – an engineered replacement complete with polar bears, penguins, and snowflakes to eradicate our traditional nativity scenes, with baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and the Three Wise Kings all to be airbrushed out.

Firstly, it does seem ironic that the xenophobic BNP miss the traditional ‘British’ Christmas – the celebration of a virgin birth in Jerusalem, which is a bit, well, foreign, is it not? Secondly, could it not be argued that we’re increasingly a less Christian country because people are finding it hard to believe that a white couple, with Western names, gave birth in the Middle East to a baby conceived as a result of angelic intervention? It might be less the result of ‘Politically Correct authorities’ and more a case of ‘it is quite clearly bollocks, and I object my child being subjected to it’.

Secondly, the idea that Neo-Nazi skinheads marching drunkenly through a city centre are motivated by the marginalisation of baby Jesus seems somewhat incongruous. After all, if they were good Christians they’d surely either turn the other cheek, forgive them or love thy new neighbours. I don’t think Jesus’ teachings would quite gel with the BNP worldview.

And finally, I love the idea that Christmas is being ‘stealthily’ replaced. Presumably, it’s stealthy in the sense that you cannot perceive it happening… because it is not happening. Those stealthy PC authorities, they might be putting up Christmas trees and sending out cards, but they’re ‘ruthlessly dismantling’ Christmas behind the scenes.

Which brings me, in a rambling, verbose way (I am out of practise), to my main point: when newspapers lie to pursue a media narrative it does matter, it does have consequences. Here we are, 16 years after the Winterval myth was initially spread by tabloid and broadsheet alike and it is still acting as an enabler for extremist right-wing views. As I demonstrated in my ebook, the longevity and popularity of the Winterval myth was largely because of its power as the seed from which other myths of Christian marginalisation could grow. Increasingly it formed the cornerstone of a rampant media narrative that authorities – out of fear – were actively pandering to the sensitivities of Muslims.

It is easy to ignore the direct output of the Daily Mail – and all newspapers which pursue a similar worldview and agenda – but it is impossible to ignore the consequences. When the upcoming election is dominated by the ‘problem’ of immigration or the ‘reality’ of austerity and continued cuts to the welfare state, remember: this is because a lot of people buy into these media narratives. Politicians spend huge amounts of time and energy responding to the media agenda, irrespective of whether that agenda has any basis in reality or whether it best represents the interests of the majority.

We will never have be able to improve our society for as long as our media is owned by vested interests. They have sold us the lie that there is no alternative to inequality, injustice and unfairness – and, like Winterval, enough of us have fallen for it to make their lie, our truth.

You can buy my ebook from Amazon or Kobo.

Winterval: still continuing to fool lazy journalists

I had a message from a Twitter user a couple of days ago that Winterval had been trotted out again by yet another lazy journalist, this time Mary Kenny in a column for the Belfast Mercury. In her column she recounts how:

A few years ago, Birmingham city council sought to replace ‘Christmas’ with ‘Winterval’, alleging that it was “offensive” to Muslims and other non-Christians that a holiday based on ‘Christ’s Mass’ should be on the calendar.

Like so many later repetitions the Muslims are to blame, scaring Birmingham council with the very thought that such a holiday should even be on the calendar!

Of course, as I’ve repeated here and elsewhere many times: Birmingham council did no such thing, and the events they did hold (of which Christmas – called Christmas – was the focal point) were a marketing ploy to drive business into the city centre and had absolutely nothing to do with the religious sensitivities of anyone. Winterval took place in 1997 and 1998, as a media myth it has been debunked again and again, yet here we are, 17 years later still having it repeated by people paid to write for a living.

Now seems a good a time as any to plug my e-book on the subject, available via Amazon and Kobo for a very small price. In a year in which the press avoided regulation (again) it makes for pretty painful reading about how journalists are happy to repeatedly lie to push their media narratives – and how these media narratives become more extreme over time.

The reports of Angry Mob’s demise have been greatly exaggerated…

As you may or may not have noticed Angry Mob has been defunct for a little while now. This was due to me using a very old custom blog template that I made myself based on an old WordPress blank template which was being attacked and the site had to be shut down, wiped clean and now has to be made anew.

I have backed-up (hopefully successfully) the content of the old website, which will be restored when I get the new template finished.

I may even grace the restored blog with the occasional post. I don’t look at the Daily Mail much these days, but it still festers away in the background and hasn’t got any better in my absence.

Anyway, for the occasional visitor who might come across this website: rejoice, for it will return.

I am still available on Twitter.

Winterval: Still alive and kicking

Remember the dim and distant days of November 2011 when the Daily Mail published a correction to a Melanie Phillips article in which they finally acknowledged that Winterval had never renamed Christmas:

We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

As I wrote recently in my E-Book about Winterval (which this blog post will repeatedly plug) this correction from the Daily Mail did more to kill the myth than any debunking had managed before, and apart from the occasional mention the myth had pretty much died.

However, the Daily Mail has – 3 days ago – published another article on the myth: ‘She may as well have wished us Happy Winterval!’ MP who sent out Happy Holidays card faces backlash for ‘marginalising’ Christmas’. The article suggests – in one of the Mail Online’s various bullet-point sub-headings – that such a card ‘Draws comparisons to the 1990s Winterval furore in Birmingham’. The Mail also makes room for the following handy reminder to readers:

winterval

This little box is crammed full of lies. Winterval was never about ‘reflect[ing] the diverse nature of the city’s population’, nor did the council ever say anything about making the city a more welcoming place for ethnic groups. These are lies, I have read every single piece of news coverage, in both local and national newspapers, since 1997 on this subject and I have never, ever seen anything that could possibly justify these assertions. I know this will not come as a shock, but the Daily Mail is making this up, they are lying to their readers.

As for the then Bishop of Birmingham’s comments, they were made a year after the initial Winterval celebrations in 1997 (of which he seems to have been completely oblivious) and they were reported by a newspaper that up until that point had not criticised Winterval at all – indeed, newspaper reports after the 1997 event talked about what a success it had been and how Winterval 1998 was going to be bigger and better.

If you care about the state of journalism, or you want others to realise just how happy newspapers are to make stuff up to incite hatred towards target groups, then please buy and read my E-book on the Winterval myth. It will – I think – open the eyes of any reader as to how one little myth can fuel a media narrative (atheists / Muslims / PC brigade are banning Christmas) for over 15 years, and how in each passing year the original myth becomes more and more embellished to suit the political needs of the newspaper at the time.

In other news, Ann Widdecombe recently crammed as many media myths into a few hundred words as I’ve ever seen, including Winterval and a Dr Chris Allen has completely ripped-off all of my research into Winterval in a blog post in which he basically rejigs my writing on the topic – adding nothing new.

The only way anyone can make me feel better is to buy my E-book:

winterval-book

Winterval E-Book published

I’ve spent the last few weeks fully updating, proofreading and finalising my first E-book and am pleased to announce that it has now been published via Amazon. I hope to publish the book with Kobo store in the next couple of days.

It should make a nice digital stocking filler for anyone interested in a good tale of bad journalism. Should it go well I hope to publish a few more books on the media next year.

Thanks, and Merry Christmas.

Due prominence

The Leveson inquiry examining the culture, practices and ethics of the press concluded with a printed report on the 29th November 2012. It recommended that the press – having failed to effectively regulate itself, despite being given more than one chance to do so – be regulated by a truly independent regulator with some form of statutory underpinning. What this meant in simple terms: because the press so clearly cannot be trusted to a, behave appropriately and b, punish any misdemeanors through the PCC, some formal system is needed to ensure that appropriate sanctions would actually be applied.

The press took this as the ‘end of press freedom’ and has been fighting against any form of regulation (again) ever since. What is interesting, though, is that whilst this fight has been ongoing the press has still been completely ignoring the PCC code of practice – which, as I have commented before, is actually not bad. What the PCC code of practice (both the shortened quick bullet points, and the longer, more detailed examination of how a modern press should behave) demonstrates is that newspaper editors understand the kind of behaviour that a decent, moral press would engage in, and what is unacceptable. It clearly isn’t ignorance of what a good press should be that is holding editors back, it is rather that they understand that they can completely ignore such a code as there are no sanctions for doing so.

Think of the PCC code of practice as being exactly the same as the New Year’s Resolutions you might set yourself: sure, you understand that eating healthy is a good thing to do and you could even right a perfectly logical rationale in support of it; this doesn’t mean you have any intention of sticking to the resolution and nor is there any external reason why you should. Most New Year’s Resolutions end in abject failure; just like the PCC and press self-regulation.

In terms of the Leveson report and the ongoing press struggle against any form of regulation you’d think it would be in the interests of the press to abide, strictly by the code to demonstrate to everyone that they are capable of self-regulation without statutory underpinning.

Yet they haven’t changed their practices at all.

One of the clearest examples is the PCC code of practice stating that:

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

This, to my knowledge, has never happened – either before or after the Leveson report was published. The latest example is provided by the Sun:

I’m pretty sure that this story (having done the rounds on the Internet very effectively) wasn’t published in a tiny corner on page 2 (the page which is the least read in the newspaper format according to what I’ve read in the past).


The image was taken by Giles Goodall, you can follow him on Twitter if you’d like.


PS: Clicking on the Angry Mob TV videos earns me money, so feel free to have a click on them before you leave the site to help pay for web hosting.

Stop buying the Daily Mail: it is not out to help you

It’s been a while since I last posted anything on this blog, or indeed have written anything about anything. Yet every now and again the Daily Mail does something that stirs up Twitter and occasionally it makes me want to make some sort of comment, but I don’t get round to it or I feel as if everything has already been said. But as it has been such a long time since I blogged about just what a terrible newspaper the Daily Mail is, I thought it worth going over again.

The Daily Mail is a cowardly newspaper. Attacking Ed Miliband through his dead father is just the latest in the long line of comment published solely in an attempt to discredit someone (without ever wanting to actually debate the points made). The argument of the press that it exists as a check and balance to the rich and powerful has long been a sick joke (too often repeated by spineless politicians of all bland and samey flavours who are too scared to court the vitriol of the industry) and the state of our society today is evidence enough that they have not provided any kind of check to the power of big business or giddy politicians.

The Daily Mail is part of a press that is largely part of the system of control, the noisy attack dog of big business and politicians bent on giving the last remnants of the state over to private firms to run into the ground for the benefit of a few shareholders – who increasingly hoover up the wealth of the planet into the hands of a few thousands of people (money does not ‘trickle down’ in the form of capitalism the world has been forced to adopt, it steadily – and increasingly rapidly – flows up; evidenced by the fact that the rich keep getting richer and the rest of us squabble around for ever smaller bites of the capitalist apple).

The Daily Mail is not a newspaper, it never has been. It is a wonderfully successful vehicle to ensure that enough people largely fear and despise one another whilst not really noticing that the people around them are, in fact, just like them; only different in some inconsequential way. The Daily Mail is brilliantly evil because it doesn’t do this by carpet bombing the nation with free newspaper drops, it actually sells this hatred to a willing public. One of the things that society enjoys repeating is the sorry cycle of electing politicians who wear different colour ties, but enact policies that are largely the same. We boot out the Tories, only to then boot out Labour for being just as bad… just to return the Tories; who are terrible, so we vote in Labour and so on.

We exist in a permanent state of limbo in which politicians only focus on short-term populism which ultimately results in bad choices and long-term decline. Politicians only attempt to make changes that they can push through in their short time in office, each competing vainly to make the biggest impact during their time on stage – a stage which they are normally ill-equipped on which to stand (Michael Gove possibly being the worst of the current very sorry bunch). Thus politicians dabble in education, bringing in sweeping changes on nothing more than a whim and a misty-eyed view of their own schooling, reorganize the NHS, safe in the knowledge that the next incumbent will only serve to twist it into a different shape anyway.

Meanwhile the country drifts towards blackout because a long-term energy strategy is expensive, unpopular and doesn’t give the politician the chance to make a noticeable mark in the same way that blaming teachers for the state of education does (hint: teachers are not the reason why education is increasingly becoming the antithesis of the word). Part of our inability to take action, to understand the problems that we face, is the constant disinformation spread by the Daily Mail and it’s sorry cohort of newspapers determined to maintain the status quo and indeed tighten the grip of the rich around the throats of just about everyone (they allow us just enough breath to watch TV and buy more shit we don’t need to distract ourselves from the misery of existing in a world in which millions die of starvation, whilst millions shovel money into the hands of false saviours to try and halt their descent into morbid obesity).

We can’t get out of this cycle unless we organise ourselves and change politics to actually work for the majority. We need a long-term energy goal, we need worthwhile jobs and decent housing for all. I sometimes feel that we look back through history at the rigid class system and extremes in wealth and poverty as if those days are gone, when clearly little has changed. It’s not enough to point to Alan Sugar and argue that the class system is dead, its just that most people born on housing estates clearly aren’t working hard enough (although the media seems intent on trying to make this case).

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: we will not move forward as a society or planet if we keep buying newspapers, or indeed willingly believe most forms of media with which we are bombarded. These organisations are not looking out for us, they are there to silence us, to bully us into submission with the their power, or cower us into inaction because we fear the fellow citizens without which we are incapable of enacting change.

Buying most newspapers is an antisocial act, reading the Daily Mail and disseminating the hate within is akin to smoking and blowing smoke into the faces of the people around you. You can’t avoid the health hazards of smoking if people smoke around you, anymore than you can avoid the poison breathed by the readership of the Daily Mail. Turning your back is not an option, the Daily Mail will not be defeated with a blind eye, it needs to be stared down.

Buying the Daily Mail should be as socially unacceptable as drink driving – we don’t care if you die from your own stupidity, but it’s the danger you cause to others that we will not tolerate.

P.S. it would also help if millions of people slapped themselves firmly around the face and realised that the lives of celebrities are a pointless distraction and stopped making the Daily Mail website one of the busiest on earth.

Just imagine a world in which people spent time informing themselves about the things that matter instead of reading celebrity drivel. The things we might achieve.