Category Archives: UK Domestic Politics

Book review: The Media, the Public and the Great Financial Crisis by Mike Berry

Book review: The Media, the Public and the Great Financial Crisis by Mike Berry
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
18 November 2019

COMING out of the Glasgow Media Group tradition, Dr Mike Berry from the School of Journalism at Cardiff University has written a quietly devastating academic examination of the impact of the British print and broadcast media on public knowledge and understanding of the 2008 financial crisis.

Focusing on the October 2008 bank bailouts and debates about the national deficit and austerity circa 2009, Berry conducted content analysis, focus groups with the public and interviewed senior journalists producing the news.

With the public’s interest in economic and business news at unprecedented levels in 2008, he found the media “functioned to channel the very real public anger… into largely symbolic issues” while leaving the deep structural faults in Britain’s financial system “largely unexamined.” In particular he notes “City voices dominated core coverage of the [partial] bank nationalisations” on the BBC Today programme.

Similarly, he observed the media “constructed – to varying degrees – a narrative that the deficit represented a major economic threat which necessitated quick and sharp cuts to the welfare state.” Austerity was largely presented as inevitable, with his sample of BBC News at Ten’s output showing no space was given to economists, academics, unions or civil society actors “who might have advocated countercyclical or anti-austerity policies.”

Dismayingly, many of the participants in the focus groups said immigrants and asylum seekers were a primary reason for the rise in public debt caused by the recession created by the financial crisis – an outcome of decades-long misreporting of public spending, welfare and immigration by large sections of the media, Berry argues.

Contrary to the “dominant strand of thinking in both academic and lay circles that the media have relatively little influence” on public attitudes, Berry concludes the media had a “significant impact” on public opinion during the banking crisis and deficit debates. The repercussions of this manufactured ignorance have been immense, ultimately leading to a widespread acceptance of austerity that has devastated large swathes of the country, playing a key role in the 2010 and 2015 elections, the 2016 Brexit vote and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader.

Helpfully, Berry ends with a few tips for any Labour government interested in significantly increasing public spending, which will almost certainly incur the wrath of influential sections of the media: careful monitoring of public opinion combined with “a proactive and robust system of rebuttal” and utilisation of the mass membership to present the most effective arguments to the general public.

Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand post-crash Britain.

The Media, the Public and the Great Financial Crisis is published by Palgrave Macmillan, priced £22.99.

What you need to know about Jo Swinson’s voting record

What you need to know about Jo Swinson’s voting record
by Ian Sinclair

2 November 2019

Over the coming weeks of the general election campaign Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, will make many promises. Therefore, it is important to see what her voting record has been in parliament.

The key take away is Swinson, as part of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government between 2010 and 2015, played a central role in implementing austerity – a set of policies linked to 120,000 excess deaths in England, according to a studied published in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ in 2017, and 130,000 preventable deaths, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research in 2019. “In terms of her voting record, Swinson is no different on paper from the Conservative ministers of the time”, the New Statesman’s Anoosh Chakelian noted in July 2019.

  • Between 2009 and 2011 Swinson “generally voted for the privatisation of Royal Mail”
  • Instead of scrapping fees, as the Lib Dems promised in the 2010 general election campaign, in December 2010 Swinson voted in support of trebling of university costs to £9,000 a year.
  • In January 2011 Swinson voted in favour of scrapping the education maintenance allowance (EMA) in England.
  • In 2011 Swinson voted for UK military action in Libya, a NATO-led intervention, the result of which was “political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa”, according to a 2016 House of Commons report.
  • Swinson “almost always voted for academy schools”.
  • In 2011 Swinson “consistently voted for selling England’s state owned forests”.
  • Between 2011 and 2012 Swinson “consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability”.
  • Swinson supported the Coalition Government’s Workfare programme, the scheme in which people on Jobseekers Allowance are forced to carry out unpaid work in order to keep receiving their benefits.
  • In 2013 Swinson “consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices”.
  • Between 2012 and 2013 Swinson “consistently voted against slowing the rise in rail fares”.
  • In December 2014 Swinson voted in favour of housing benefit penalties for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (AKA the Bedroom Tax).
  • Between 2011 and 2014 Swinson “generally voted for restricting the scope of legal aid”.
  • Between 2010 and 2015 Swinson “almost always voted for reducing the rate of corporation tax”.
  • Between 2011 and 2015 Swinson “generally voted against a banker’s bonus tax”.
  • Between 2012 and 2015 Swinson “consistently voted against increasing the tax rate applied to income over £150,000”.
  • In 2015 Swinson “generally voted against greater regulation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract shale gas”.
  • Between 2011 and 2018 Swinson “generally voted against financial incentives for low carbon emission electricity generation methods”.
  • Between 2010 and 2019 “Swinson “generally voted for reducing central government funding of local government”.

‘Can you vote for Jo Swinson if you oppose austerity?’, was the title to Chakelian’s article. Surely this should read ‘Can you vote for Jo Swinson if you have an ounce of humanity?’

Book review. Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopal

Book review. Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopal
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
October-November 2019

Written by University of Cambridge Reader Priyamvada Gopal, Insurgent Empire confronts the now infamous 2014 YouGov poll which found 59 percent of Britons thought the British empire was “something to be proud of”.

Resistance to empire was frequent, she notes, with connections formed between critics of imperialism based in the UK and rebels in the colonies. Furthermore, she argues a form of “reverse tutelage” took place, with insurgents and the movements they led shaping the discussion back in the UK: “the resistance of the periphery helped radicalise sections of the metropole.”

Rather than a comprehensive narrative history of this opposition, the book focusses on specific, influential crises, with Gopal conducting close analytical readings of primary sources, including speeches, pamphlets, books and newspaper reports. The case studies range from the well-known (the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya) to largely forgotten conflicts – in Britain at least – such as the 1865 revolt in Morant Bay, Jamaica and the British invasion of Egypt in 1882. Overlaying this are fascinating portraits of dissidents like Chartist Ernest Jones, Wilfred Blunt, Communist MP Shapurji Saklatvala and anti-war activist Fenner Brockway.

With over 90 pages of references and a huge bibliography, Insurgent Empire is a tour de force likely to shape the debate on empire for years to come. However, its academic tone, especially in the introduction, means peace and anti-imperialism activists may not find it the most accessible or directly useful read.

Despite this, I think it’s an important activist resource for at least three reasons. First, by showcasing contemporary critics of British colonialism it demolishes the apologist argument that contemporary critics are judging the British empire by 21st century moral standards.

Second, the book highlights episodes which shows establishment propaganda today has a long historical pedigree. For example, Gopal highlights how prior to the British invasion, the British “press and official sources had taken a virulent pleasure in painting [leading Egyptian nationalist] Urabi, as a ‘military oppressor’ and ‘dictator’”. Elsewhere a 1907 article from Indian philosopher Aurobondo Ghose is cited, noting how the English are happy to hear tales of Russian tyranny but seem impervious to hearing “home truths about England’s dominion in Hindusthan.”

Most of all, as Gopal concludes, “these lines of resistance and genealogies of dissent” will “give heart and hope to those who look toward a more fully decolonised future for both Britain and the postcolonial world.”

Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopal is published by Verso, priced £25.

First we stop London City Airport, then Heathrow

First we stop London city Airport, then Heathrow
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
21 August 2019

On a muggy evening last month over 100 people attended a public meeting in a school hall in Wanstead, east London to hear about the proposed expansion of London City Airport (LCY).

Opened in 1987, the airport primarily services business travellers and the City, handling approximately 80,000 flights and 4.8 million passengers in 2018 (there is an annual cap of 111,000 flights).

The airport’s new masterplan proposes a maximum of 151,000 flights and 11 million passengers a year by 2035, and more flights early in the morning and late at night (night flights are not allowed). In addition the airport proposes dropping the weekend break that is currently in place for residents living under the airport’s flight paths – there are no flights from 12:30 on Saturdays to 12:30 on Sundays.

These would be “modest changes”, said Sean Bashforth, Director of Quod, LCY’s planning advisors since 2006. “We are committing to no noisier aircraft than fly at the moment.”

This attempt to placate opposition mirrors the airport’s slick public relations campaign, which is full of assurances about the expansion. “This is not going to be significant or uncontrolled growth”, Robert Sinclair, Chief Executive of LCY, told the BBC recently. “It will be done in a way that is very, very sustainable and responsible, and incremental.”

In contrast, John Stewart, Chair of HACAN East, a campaign group giving a voice to residents impacted by the airport, told the meeting “City Airport’s assurances in the past have not been good”.

“We were told it would be a small airport” when it was first built, he explained. “Then a series of planning applications went through and it got bigger and bigger, so the size of the airport now is a totally different beast to the one that was promised… I think that’s why there is mistrust and there is anxiety about the future”.

The proposed expansion would likely lead to nearly double the number of flights at the airport. “The density of the population around London City exceeds that of any other airport in the UK”, noted a briefing paper from HACAN East. Therefore, LCY “impacts more people than any UK airport bar Heathrow and Manchester”, with 74,000 people living within its “noise zone”, as defined by the EU.

“Major studies and reviews have concluded that aircraft noise is negatively affecting health and quality of life”, a 2016 report from the NGO Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) observed. “Exposure to aircraft noise can lead to short-term responses such as sleep disturbance, annoyance, and impairment of learning in children, and long-term exposure is associated with increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke and dementia.”

“There is evidence to suggest that aircraft noise may also lead to long-term mental health issues”, the AEF added.

Speaking at the meeting John Cryer, Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead, said he has written to the government asking for an inquiry into the effects of air and noise pollution on communities living close to airports: “There has never been a government inquiry into this and I think it’s about time that we had that.”

In addition to noise levels, climate change is increasingly a concern for many people. In April the Guardian noted “Worldwide, aviation is one of the fastest growing sectors for greenhouse gas emissions, which increased by 76.1% between 1990 and 2012, according to the UN’s climate body.” Paying lip-service to the ongoing shift in public opinion on climate change engendered by Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the student climate strikes, Liam McKay, the Director of Corporate Affairs at LCY, told the meeting “Carbon is very important… The airport is committed to being net-zero by 2050”.

A young woman in the audience wasn’t impressed. “I am a Mum. I’m going to have two little girls who are going to be living in this country and this world in 70, 80, 100 years’ time. And you are talking about continuing to expand the ruination of our environment.” To applause she directly asked the representatives from LCA “Do you have children? Do you care about what happens to their future?”

And LCY’s impressive-sounding commitment to be “net-zero by 2050”? Turns out this refers to the airport estate itself – not the hundreds of thousands of flights in and out of the airport, of course.

There are indications the government is waking up to aviation’s key role in exacerbating the climate crisis. In its report recommending the adoption of a net-zero carbon target by 2050, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) raises the possibility of constraining aviation demand, noting they plan to write to the government about “its approach to aviation” later this year.

Similarly in May 2019 the BBC News website reported that a senior civil servant from the Department of Transport had said it may be necessary to review the UK’s expected aviation growth in light of the CCC’s report.

Interviewed by the Morning Star earlier this month, Dr Declan Finney, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Leeds, and Dr Giulio Mattioli, a research associate at TU-Dortmund in Germany, were blunter in their analysis: “expanding airports is not a neutral technical measure, it’s a political choice with important consequences. And it flies in the face of the Climate Emergency declaration passed by the House of Commons.”

Stewart, as readers may be aware, has form when it comes to opposing airport expansion, having led the campaign which stopped the proposed Third Runway at Heathrow in 2010 – one of the biggest and most important wins for grassroots activism in post-war UK history.

In his inspiring pamphlet Victory Against All The Odds: The Story Of How The Campaign To Stop A Third Runway At Heathrow Was Won, Stewart highlights the central role played by direct action activists – Plane Stupid – in this victory. “As well as dramatizing the issue, it put real pressure on the Government and frightened the construction industry in a way that conventional campaigning on its [own] could not have done”, Stewart explains about the direct action undertaken in the 1990s opposing road building, and why he was so happy when Plane Stupid started campaigning on Heathrow.

On LCY’s proposed expansion, it is possible Stewart will, once again, be joined in his campaign by direct action activists. In a newly published memo discussing XR’s strategy and tactics moving forward, Rupert Read, a member of the group’s political strategy team, discusses focussing on aviation. “Target London City Airport, rather than Heathrow”, he suggests, arguing the fight to stop LCY expansion is “more easily winnable” than stopping Heathrow expansion.

“Because London City is overwhelmingly used by business people and the rich, and offers little benefit to the local community” Read believes “it would be a perfect opportunity to land the message that, while we all have a responsibility to prevent ecocide together, it is big business, the super-rich and the City that bears the heaviest responsibility.”

“If we stopped London City Airport expansion, we could then move onto Heathrow afterwards”, he concludes.

Let’s hope, for the sake of the young woman with two children, local residents and, indeed, the entire planet, that Extinction Rebellion turns its attention to aviation, including the expansion of London City Airport, very soon.

Visit http://www.hacaneast.org.uk for more information about the campaign. Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair

Knife crime: myth and reality

Knife crime: myth and reality
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
6 May 2019

Fuelled by the right-wing media, a number of myths have grown up around the topic of knife crime. With the number of knife offences (39,818) and homicides committed with a knife (285) reaching record highs in 2018, according to the Home Office, it’s worth interrogating these falsehoods, and considering interventions which might help.

Myth: Knife crime is committed “almost exclusively” by young Black men. Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain in March, co-host Piers Morgan stated “statistically, it looks like in London, right now… the perpetrators and the victims appear to be almost exclusively young Black men.”

Reality: Citing Freedom of Information requests made to police forces, in July 2018 Sky News noted that in London “Almost half of murder victims – as well as suspects – were black despite the ethnic group accounting for just 13% of London’s population.” However, Sky News also explained “Numbers for the rest of the country painted a different picture, with murder victim and suspect figures more or less proportionate to the makeup of the population.” For example, in February BBC News noted the worst place for fatal stabbings in the UK, in proportion to population, was Inverclyde in Scotland. A few miles to the east the 95 per cent white Glasgow was, until recently, dubbed – by the Daily Mail – “the knife crime capital of Britain”.

“There are likely to be important socio-economic factors in homicides that cannot be examined using” the basic data, a 2019 Office for National Statistics report conceded. Indeed, according to the Serious Violence Strategy published by the government last year “the evidence on links between serious violence and ethnicity is limited. Once other factors are controlled for, it is not clear from the evidence whether ethnicity is a predictor of offending or victimisation.” Taking a “wide range of factors into account”, including ethnicity, a 2003 study by the Youth Justice Board titled Young People & Street Crime echoed this conclusion. It found “two main factors explained differences in the levels of street crime between [London] boroughs… the level of deprivation… and the extent of population change” – the number of young people as a proportion of the total population.

“Crime is prevalent in poor areas, and since black people are disproportionality poor, they are disproportionately affected – as perpetrators and victims”, The Guardian’s Gary Younge noted in 2017, after extensive investigative work into knife crime. “It’s class – not race or culture – that is the defining issue.”

Myth: Stop and search is effective in reducing knife crime. “Police in England and Wales are being given greater stop and search powers to tackle rising knife crime”, BBC News reported at the end of March. “Home Secretary Sajid Javid is making it easier for officers to search people without reasonable suspicion in places where serious violence may occur.”

Reality: “There is a misconception that just doing loads more stop and search is the solution… that is simply not the case”, explained Nick Glynn, the former College of Policing lead on stop and search, on Channel 4 News last month. The news programme compared Metropolitan Police figures on Section 60 stop and search powers – which allow the police to introduce stop and search without suspicion in a designated area at a specific time – with knife crime offences from the Mayor of London’s office. In 2016 the Met used Section 60 442 times, and there was 11,132 knife crime offences. In 2018 the Met massively increased their use of section 60 to 7,326 times. However, there was also an increase in knife crime offences in the same year – to 14,714.

“The inconsistent nature and weakness” of the association between stop and search and crime levels, “provide only limited evidence of stop and search having acted as a deterrent at a borough level”, a 2017 College of Policing study concluded after analysing data from 2000-2014.

This is not news. Citing a study conducted by Marian Fitzgerald, a Visiting Professor of Criminology at the University of Kent, in 2010 the Guardian noted “there is little connection between the use of stop and search powers by the Metropolitan police and reductions in knife crime.”

Fitzgerald analysed the use of Section 60 in London. “The boroughs which have resisted politically driven pressures to take a gung-ho approach to using Section 60 have been as successful in reducing knife crime, and often more so, than the boroughs where the police have been happy to let Section 60 searches go through the roof”, she noted.

Myth: More and tougher prison sentences will reduce knife crime. “Despite the rhetoric you hear from politicians about being tough on those who carry knives two-thirds of people who are convicted don’t face prison”, John Apter, Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, noted on Good Morning Britain in March. “We have a Justice Secretary saying we need to scarp shorter sentences because the prisons are full. My argument – build more prisons.”

Reality: The evidence shows that compared to ten years ago those convicted for carrying a knife are more likely to be jailed, and if jailed they are more likely to spend longer inside. Quoting Ministry of Justice figures, in March BBC News explained that 37 per cent of offenders were jailed and a further 18 per cent given suspended prison sentences in 2018, compared to 20 per cent and 9 per cent respectively in 2008. The average prison term has increased from five months in 2008 to well over eight months in 2018, with 85 per cent serving at least three months in 2018, compared to 53 per cent in 2008.

More broadly, the UK has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe (141 prisoners per 100,000 people).

However, it is essential to understand “there is no link between the prison population and levels of crime”, as the Prison Reform Trust explained in its 2018 Bromley Briefing, directly quoting the National Audit Office. Robert Reiner, Professor of Criminology at the London School of Economics, confirmed this awkward fact in the Guardian in 2007: “A plethora of research shows that the criminal justice system can have little effect on crime overall, which flows from deeper social and cultural wellsprings”.

Tackling the real causes of knife crime

Speaking on Good Morning Britain in March Akala, a hip hop artist and author of Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, noted “the social indicators” of violent street crime have remained “consistent for 200 years: relative poverty, masculinity, exposure to domestic violence, lack of education.”

His take broadly echoes the thoughts of Patricia Gallan, who was Assistant Commissioner Specialist Crime and Operations in the Metropolitan Police. “If you start looking at where crime impacts, it happens in the poorest areas of society”, she told the Guardian in June 2018. “Those that end up in the criminal justice system tend to be the people who have less money and less opportunity in society.”

The austerity implemented since 2010 by the Tories (and Lib Dems until 2015) has created a perfect storm of harmful societal effects. Inequality and absolute poverty increased in 2017-18, according to Department for Work and Pensions data; over 100 youth centres have closed in London since the 2011 riots, according to figures obtained by the Green Party’s Sian Berry; the number of primary school children who have been excluded across the country has doubled since 2011, according to official government data. Most frightening is the recent warning from the Resolution Foundation’s Adam Corlett that the “bulk” of the effects of the government’s planned £12 billion benefit cuts will be felt over the next few years, with poverty rates likely to increase to a record high.

Poverty, inequality and deprivation – these are the factors that need to be addressed if we want to significantly reduce knife crime. However, beyond these big shifts, it seems positive change is also possible within the current political and economic system.

In Glasgow, until recently the so-called “murder capital of Europe” with acute levels of knife crime, a Violence Reduction Unit was set up in 2005. Taking an arms-length relationship with the police, the unit has adopted a holistic, public health approach to the issue, working with the health, education and social work sectors, shifting away from seeing the problem as a purely criminal issue. The result? A substantial reduction in the number of children and teenagers killed by knives.

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.

Praising Alistair Burt and forgetting the bloodbath in Yemen

Praising Alistair Burt and forgetting the bloodbath in Yemen
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
8 April 2019

“I’ve never encountered any group more driven by group-think and rank-closing cohesion than British journalists”, US writer Glenn Greenwald tweeted in September 2015.

In addition to the media, the recent response to Alistair Burt MP resigning from his position as Minister of State for the Middle East over the government’s handling of Brexit shows this herd-like behaviour also infects sections of civil society and apparently progressive politicians.

“Many disagree with UK policy in the Middle East but he has a reputation for even handedness”, tweeted the Guardian’s Diplomatic Editor Patrick Wintour. “Big blow to FCO [Foreign & Commonwealth Office].” Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s Political Editor echoed these thoughts, noting Burt was a “well respected foreign office minister.” Minutes later Scottish National Party MP Alison Thewliss tweeted her own tribute: “Alistair Burt attended pretty well every debate on Yemen and helped as much as he could.” Tom Copley, Labour Party London Assembly member chipped in: “I’ve heard nothing but good things about Alistair Burt.” A Communications staffer in the Labour Party, Tom Hinchcliffe, tweeted that though he disagreed with their politics “ministers like Alistair Burt are genuinely decent people. They believe what they say and they’re in it for the right reasons.”

“Sad to hear that @AlistairBurtUK has resigned… a loss to Middle East diplomacy”, tweeted James Denselow, the Head of Conflict Team at Save The Children UK.

As Morning Star readers will know, Burt, as the Middle East Minister from 2017-2019, has played a central and very public role in British policy on Yemen, a nation engulfed in war after the Saudi-led coalition started bombing the country in March 2015 in support of deposed President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Two years later, in March 2017, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs announced Yemen was “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”.

Out of a population of 29.3 million, nearly 17.8 million people were food insecure and 8.4 million were on the brink of famine, according to a September 2018 report by the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR): “Since April 2017, a cholera epidemic has swept through Yemen at an unprecedented scale.”

The crisis is fundamentally man-made, with the Saudi-led coalition implementing a brutal blockade of Yemen, stopping vital goods entering the country. “These delays are killing children”, Grant Pritchard, interim country director for Save the Children in Yemen, said in March 2017. “Our teams are dealing with outbreaks of cholera, and children suffering from diarrhoea, measles, malaria and malnutrition. With the right medicines these are all completely treatable – but the Saudi-led coalition is stopping them getting in. They are turning aid and commercial supplies into weapons of war.”

Indeed, in November 2018 Save the Children estimated approximately 85,000 children under five may have died from extreme hunger or disease in Yemen since March 2015.

According to the OHCHR report the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes “have been and continue to be the leading direct cause of civilian deaths and destruction of civilian infrastructure in the conflict.” This fits with the 2016 findings of the Yemen Data Project – that one third of Saudi-led air raids had hit civilian sites such as school buildings, hospitals, markets and mosques. By October 2018 the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project was estimating 56,000 people had been killed between January 2016 and October 2018.

What has been the UK’s role in this mass slaughter?

“We’ll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat”, then UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in April 2015. “Political support, of course, logistical and technical support.”

Unusually in foreign affairs, the UK government has kept its word. Asked “What do you think the UK can do more in the realm of helping the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen?”, Burt told Majella magazine in 2018 “At the moment it’s difficult to see what more we can do.”

In terms of armaments, in February the House of Lords Select Committee on International Relations noted the UK has licensed £4.7 billion of arms exports to Saudi Arabia since March 2015. Britain’s seemingly bottomless support for the absolute monarchy even went as far as the UK Foreign Secretary recently lobbying Germany to resume their arms sales to the Kingdom following a ban after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Speaking to the House of Lords Select Committee Burt said he wanted to make it “very clear” that the UK was “not a party to the military conflict as part of the coalition.” However, last month The Mail on Sunday revealed British Special Forces had been wounded in combat fighting against Houthi rebels. The report notes “The SBS [Special Boat Service] mentoring teams inside Yemen include… Forward Air Controllers (FACs), whose job is to request air support from the Saudis.”

Britain’s rapacious role in Yemen is quite simply “the worst thing that the British government is doing today”, Dr David Wearing, a Teaching Fellow in International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London, argued in a 2017 Novara Media video. “Make no mistake: the British role here is not trivial. If the considerable assistance that our government is providing to the Saudis was to be removed it would seriously impede the Saudi war effort.”

Burt, then, as the UK’s Minister of State for the Middle East, was up to his neck in the blood of tens of thousands of Yemeni men, women and children. Not according to Laura Kuenssberg though, who called him a “well respected foreign office minister”, or Save The Children’s James Denselow, who shockingly called Burt’s resignation “a loss to Middle East diplomacy.” Never has Mark Curtis’s concept of “Unpeople” been so apt: “the modern equivalent of the ‘savages’ of colonial days, who could be mown down by British guns in virtual secrecy, or else in circumstances where the perpetrators were hailed as the upholders of civilisation.”

As the American historian Howard Zinn once noted “The truth is so often the reverse of what has been told us by our culture that we cannot turn our heads far enough around to see it.”

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.

‘Simply not very bright’: the latest Corbyn smear

‘Simply not very bright’: the latest Corbyn smear
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
20 March 2019

Fuelled by charges of anti-semitism, Brexit and the breakaway Independent Group of MPs, we are in the midst of another anti-Corbyn media feeding frenzy.

As with the British press coverage of Jeremy Corbyn analysed in the 2016 London School of Economics study, the current attacks are often highly personalised, such as the Daily Mail’s serialisation of Dangerous Hero, Tom Bower’s “exposé” of the Labour leader. The book includes such “bombshells” as Corbyn apparently liking to eat baked beans straight from the can, and that he was on the brink of retiring to Wiltshire to keep bees before he was persuaded to run for the leadership.

However, as media analysts Media Lens highlight in their new book Propaganda Blitz: How the Corporate Media Distort Reality, it is important to understand the liberal media have also played a central role in attacking Corbyn. For example, while she dismisses many of the accusations presented in Dangerous Hero, in her recent review of the book in the Guardian former Observer political editor Gaby Hinsliff argues some “charges… are harder to dismiss.”

“Perhaps the most telling criticism is that Corbyn is simply not very bright, or certainly not as bright as leaders are traditionally expected to be,” she notes, her words positively dripping with contempt and condescension.

“A teacher’s son, educated at a fee-paying grammar, he nonetheless scraped only two Es at A-level before dropping out of a course in trade union studies at North London Polytechnic because the academic work (at least in Bower’s telling) was beyond him.”

And here is the similarly disdainful Oxford-educated novelist Martin Amis speaking to the Guardian Weekend magazine in September 2017: “Two E grades at A-level. That’s it. He certainly has no autodidact streak. I mean, is he a reader?” (Answer: yes, Corbyn has publicly, repeatedly and extensively discussed his love of literature).

I really didn’t expect to ever write an article explaining how problematic it is to uncritically elevate “intelligence” and formal qualifications.

Mainly because I’ve always found most people with a pulse have a broad understanding that “intelligence” is difficult to pin down; that there are many different types of intelligence; that IQ and exams are a pretty bogus way of measuring anything; that some people who don’t seem intelligent may well be, and vice versa etc. Indeed, does anybody, other than A-level students in the halcyon days between getting their exams results and the first insecure weeks at university, actually give two shits about what grades someone got for their A-levels?

There are, of course, many other problems with Hinsliff’s argument. The importance she clearly gives to the head of a political party being “bright” assumes a very conservative, simplistic view of the world — that it is great leaders and their personality and intellect which make history. Very obviously, Corbyn, whether as leader of the Labour Party or the next prime minister, is not running the show on his own, but works with a close unit of advisers, a core group of supportive MPs, teams of press, campaigns, strategy and admin staff, and a broader movement keeping his back.

Luckily, what the vast majority of the 500,000-plus Labour Party members seem to realise is that Corbyn — intelligent or not — is pretty much the surfer on top of a gigantic wave, with all this implies.

What all this shows is whether Corbyn is the smartest guy in the room or not isn’t that important to whether Labour win power, or its ability to institute significant, progressive change if they do form a government.

And anyway, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron all went to Oxford, and therefore are presumably considered “bright” by Hinsliff. Need I bother saying anything more?

So how should we begin to understand this fetishisation of “intelligence” and formal education being propagated by elite university graduates?

Though their target is nominally Corbyn, I would contend their contempt — and fear — is actually directed at the mass, grassroots movement he heads. “You can do analysis of Corbyn and his ‘movement’ (I have done it) but the essence of the whole thing is that they are just thick as pigshit,” tweeted Financial Times political columnist Janan Ganesh (Warwick University and UCL) in 2016.

This elitist contempt for mass participation — democracy, really — has been amplified by the Brexit vote and Trump’s election in the US.

“That nobody could possibly do a better job than the professionals is a core belief of elite liberalism,” Abi Wilkinson wrote in Jacobinin 2017.

“Suspicious of mass democracy and emboldened by the fall of the Soviet Union, elite liberals came to assume that we’d reached the end of history — that every other social order had been tried and proven inferior. Capitalist democracy, stewarded by sharp, well-intentioned experts, had allegedly emerged from the scrum as the unquestioned victor.”

“For people like this, it’s been hard to understand the increasing rejection of the political and economic consensus as anything other than an outbreak of irrationality and self-sabotage,” she continues. “While there may be room to fine tune, why would anyone want to tear down or significantly alter something as good as what we’ve got?”

In 2017 a Sutton Trust report found 54 per cent of the country’s leading news journalists were educated in private schools, even though privately schooled individuals account for just 7 per cent of the school population.

Speaking to Andrew Marr (Cambridge University) in 1996 for the BBC’s The Big Idea programme, US dissident Noam Chomsky explained the significance of so many influential members of the media being educated at elite institutions.

“There’s a filtering system, that starts in kindergarten, and goes all the way through, and it’s not going to work 100 per cent but it’s pretty effective. It selects for obedience, and subordination,” he argued. He went on to highlight George Orwell’s suppressed introduction to his 1945 book Animal Farm as a good summary of why the mainstream media tends to reflect the interests of elites.

“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban… not because the government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact,” Orwell wrote.

“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question.”

Like Chomsky, Jeff Schmidt, former editor of Physics Today magazine, believes the education and employment systems in capitalist democracies generate a conformist professional class trained to work within a very narrow political framework — Disciplined Minds he called them in his 2000 book of the same name.

How disciplined, you ask? Here are just a few examples of the power-friendly ideological blinkers a top education can provide. Commenting on the recent debate about Winston Churchill’s legacy, in January comedian and writer David Baddiel (Cambridge University) described the former British Prime Minister as “the man who saved Jews from complete destruction,” which is, er, certainly an interesting take on the second world war.

In a lengthy 2013 essay about democracy in the Guardian, David Runciman (Eton and Cambridge University, where he is now Professor of Politics) repeatedly referred to the UK as a “democracy” during World War One — news, I’m sure, to the women and millions of poor men who didn’t have the vote at the time.

And Hinsliff (Cambridge University)? A few months after admitting she got Corbyn’s electoral viability completely wrong, in January 2018 she tweeted the following canard about Syria: “I honestly don’t know if intervention would have made things better or worse. Not intervening has been pretty bloody dismal tho.”

In the real world, by 2018 the US and UK had carried out hundreds of air strikes against Isis in Syria, the US had 2,000 troops occupying parts of the country, and the US and UK had been working closely with Saudi Arabia and others to send massive amounts of support to the rebels fighting Assad, with the CIA having trained and armed 10,000 rebels, according to the Washington Post.

Further reminders — if any more were needed — that members of the liberal commentariat such as Hinsliff are the last people who should be questioning how “bright” the Labour leader is.

Follow Ian on Twitter at @IanJSinclair.