By Stephen Derwent Partington
Saturday, July 09, 2011.
Where two stinking streams meet, the resulting swirl makes the new river even more unpleasant.
The recent and righteous furore in Britain following the revelations that the News of the World
tapped the phones of a murdered teenager and relatives of dead members
of the armed forces cannot be separated from the Conservative-led
coalition’s moves to reduce public sector pensions and raise the
retirement age. An obvious link between the Tories and Rupert
Murdoch’s News International might seem to be David Cameron’s woeful appointment of Andy Coulson – formerly of News of the World – as his communications chief, but I don’t merely mean to focus on individual personalities.
begin with the recent ‘shot across the bows’ strikes held by Britain’s
public sector workers, most noticeably the teaching unions. Following
these strikes and the accompanying demonstrations against the
government’s massive reductions in public sector spending, the right
wing predictably argued that public sector workers were ‘being greedy’
because their private sector colleagues were getting lower-value
pensions and fewer benefits. Think of the private sector worker, was
the implication, and not yourselves, and accept the little you’re being
course, such a Divide-and-Rule ploy to break the solidarity of the
poorly employed has always been a Conservative habit. The massive
privatisation of industry under Margaret Thatcher, continued under John
Major, was, amongst other things, a move to break the power of the
larger Unions, which resulted in the reduction of rights for those
employed in the private sector, who often had to accept work in these
newly-private industries or face unemployment. In fact, the British
right’s recent plea to the public sector worker to consider the
impoverishment of the private sector worker and so themselves endure
poverty is precisely a confession by this current Conservative regime
that their previously enacted policy of privatisation has caused real
poverty and suffering, exacerbating the notoriously wide rich-poor gap
News International’s response to the hacking scandal has been similarly disingenuous. While few of us will lament the passing of the News of the World,
it’s difficult to fully accept the weak liberal argument that ‘At least
Murdoch has tried to do the right thing by closing it down’. By
closing it down, Murdoch wishes us to believe that the rot has been
contained, the bad apple supposedly having been removed from his
Empire. Just as the Conservatives hived off sections of the working
public into often exploitative private sector employment in the 1980s
and after, hoping to contain the threat of worker solidarity, so too
Murdoch wishes us to believe that the demise of the News of the World has prevented the need for the public to worry about the rest of News International’s
tactics or, for that matter, those of other tabloid media. He has
effectively created Divide-and-Rule within his own Empire, so as to
divert us, the public, from scrutinising any further.
both cases, we should be vigilant. Just as the public sector worker
should not forget her exploited private sector colleague, remembering
that his suffering is very similar to her own, so too we should not
forget that the News of the World
is part and parcel of a wider Empire – indeed, a wider tabloid industry
– that is implicated by this one paper’s vile lack of social ethics.
The right’s tendency to isolate, to blame the individual (person or
paper) and then think that all has been solved is one that contrasts
very clearly with the honest leftist belief that if there is rot
anywhere, it may well be systemic, requiring more profound change than
mere rebranding of the sort we’re bound to see when, we suspect, News International presents us with a new Sunday tabloid some months down the line.
as this should lead us to believe that any investigations and inquiries
into the phone hacking scandal should go beyond a narrow focus on the News of the World and rather extend to the wider activities of News International
and other of Britain’s tabloids, so too we should as a population
reflect upon whether the public sector’s concerns are really only a
selfish cry for ‘more money for me’, or whether the recent strikes are
something we should support because they touch on matters concerning all of us.
I don’t think we should isolate the public sector workers as a
discrete, problematic rump. Instead, I believe very strongly, as
someone who doesn’t work
in the public sector, that they may well be articulating and protesting
issues that affect me, too. And I am grateful to them.
instance, although the recent strike action and any threatened future
strike action may appear to be exclusively against Con-Dem pension policies
in the public sector, I read it instead as a fight for the Welfare
State, which is something I cherish. You see, I presently work in a
postcolonial country, Kenya, where, despite many glorious strengths,
the following is often true: quality medical care is beyond most
people’s reach; education for the poor is in constant crisis; pensions
are inadequate, and even stolen; other basic needs are unaffordable.
Certainly, this points to the value of Britain’s National Health
Service, to the importance of State schools, to the need for
continuously decent State pensions, to the need for various State
benefits, made possible through taxation, for all, especially for those
who would otherwise suffer more greatly.
in the UK, we have popularly come to see the Welfare State as being
merely the excellent NHS, but indeed it’s so much more, for the benefit
of all of us. And all of its many provisions, from health to
education, for all of us,
are endangered when one of the most necessary parts of the system,
State pensions, are reduced in value and the bar for these reduced
pensions raised! The Con-Dem assault on pensions is in fact
potentially only the tip of the iceberg, the start of this government’s
shrinking of the Welfare State, which they as Conservatives began
under Thatcher and that, we should suspect, they may well continue,
using the ‘Global Economic Crisis’ as a convenient excuse to pursue
policies that they have always held while at the own time masking their
own complicity in the crisis.
We should not read the scandal involving the News of the World
as isolated. It is not isolated because it probably spreads,
systemically, to and from the wider rot in sections of our media. It
is also not isolated because, as we have seen, it doesn’t merely
involve ‘them’, those distant celebrities and politicians, as News International
and others once claimed, nor was it perpetrated by only one or two ‘bad
eggs’; rather, it involves us all as very human members of the general
public in all our political hues, employments and moments of suffering
and bravery, whether we’re innocent victims of crime or soldiers who
fight for our country. So too, the attack on public sector pensions
spreads further, to potentially affect us all as British citizens, as a
society, and this negatively. It spreads back to wider Con-Dem
policies of the recent past, and can not merely be blamed on any
immediate ‘Global Crisis’. Inevitably, there is also great hypocrisy:
just as the News of the World fakes patriotism for ‘our boys in Afghanistan and Iraq’, the present government claims that it’s cutting spending for our good.
situations smell badly of a right-wing lack of concern not only for
specific groups, but for the wider British public. Just as I would
feel betrayed if the disappearance of the News of the World
ended an important debate and investigations, so too I would feel
betrayed if we failed to raise our collective British voice against the
Con-Dem attack on the whole British population – the welfare of both
the poor and the middle-class.
two stinking streams meet, as they so recently have, the swirling of
the newly powerful river can be seen and smelt. And the current
becomes strong: strong enough to drown a great population, and this
without any sense of political morality at all. Rivers simply roll on,
caring for nothing their paths.
Stephen Derwent Partington is a teacher, poet and writer, based in Kenya. How to Euthanise a Cactus, Stephen's keenly-awaited new book of Kenyan poems, is now easily available and you can buy it online .
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