Today seems to have been a bad day for politicians taking tragic and terrifying events and spinning them to their advantage. 2 days ago there was an outpouring of disgust at the Daily Mail’s vicious, manipulative and disingenuous ‘coverage’ on its front page of the Philpott case. The hate-mongering rag invited its readers to ponder the link between this horrifying crime and the fact that the chief perpetrator was claiming government benefits.
As far as I can tell, this fact had very little to do with Philpott’s actions. He was an abuser; a power-hungry misogynist obsessed with controlling the people in his life – in particular, but not limited to, women. The given reasoning for his actions was to win a custody battle, which would not be out of place as a plot line in a soap about beautiful rich people.
Anyway this was rightly vilified by non Mail Readers (although also rightly pointed out that this kind of nastiness would not be solved by Leveson inspired regulation in case anyone felt inclined to muddy the waters further.)
Disturbingly it seems that George Osborne is a Mail Reader. Or at least has decided that they speak for the majority of people who are likely to vote for Gideon et al. He has taken up their battle cry, by engaging with this offensive and stupid line of reasoning, and in so doing surely lending it more credence than it would otherwise have garnered.
In the liberal press, and indeed most of my social circle, much has been made of the revolting way that the most disadvantaged members of society have been targeted by the latest searing round of cuts. Apparently the best way to deflect such criticism is to point to a virtually unrelated crime and implicitly hold it up as the kind of the thing the cuts will prevent. Unless you have the slightest interest in having a reasoned debate based on actual facts and statistics and not hijacking an emotive tragedy as an ersatz straw man.
Sadly Osbourne isn’t the only one at it. His actions are mirrored by Cameron seizing on the looming North Korean crisis and brandishing it as a reason for renewing Trident. Looking like he had ejaculated with glee at a real-world crisis looming that he could use to terrify citizens into accepting the necessity of nuclear armament, Cameron insisted that as a country we still need “the ultimate weapon of defence.” Because that’s really going to help matters, and in no way leads to the destruction of all humanity. Well thought through Dave.
So both of these things have made me pretty grumpy today. There’s actual news about stuff that’s going on in the world, coverage of which may or may not be remotely accurate, impartial or up to date. There are the opinion-makers in the form of newspaper editors and columnists, increasingly blurring the line between delivery of factual information and editorialising. And then there’s politicians wading in saying whatever they think will get them the most black crosses on Thursday 2nd May. And when those politicians are sufficiently senior, the very fact that they have deigned to speak on a given subject becomes in itself newsworthy. So the coverage of the opinion comes back into the realm of objectively imparting the truth. And in so doing it’s picked up a legitimacy it didn’t have before. So whether or not there is the slightest link between the existence of a welfare state and the brutal killing of 6 children, this is now A Matter To Be Debated. I suspect this will be going on for a while, as grandstanding is rather easier than sifting through actual data to find actual correlations which may or may be causally related.
But on the other hand maybe we’ll all get so distracted by which class we fall into that we won’t pay attention.