Tag: Framing

The problem with Jeremy Corbyn? The ranting incoherence of the mass media

Corbyn

 

My son Jake asked me yesterday:”What is it with the Guardian’s existential insecurity and deep political cognitive dissonance? (Yep, he’s a philosophy student). He said “they’re all over the place. What’s that about?” He said that he expected the unintelligible mob-mouthing from the headlines of the right wing rags such as the Express and Sun, but felt the disease has spread to what he had previously considered the “reasonably reasonable media.”  

He commented that even the Guardian and Independent have now succumbed to bouts of “febrile tutting, compulsive McCarthyist curtain twitching, spasmodic sneering and barnyard braying” at HM’s leader of the opposition The “mass hysteria, he says, has become a “shape-shifting reactionist wreck of contradiction, screeching mob mentality headlines, demanding ever- impossible, unreasonable  standards  of just one politician: Jeremy Corbyn.”

He thought I should gather together evidence of contradictions to highlight his point, but found someone had already done an outstanding job of that.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Colin Millar’s extraordinary gallery of empirical evidence.

And yes, Jake’s observations are absolutely right.

9,406 views 

There is a possibility Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister of the UK by the end of next week. There is no better time to highlight how, no matter what Corbyn does or whatever position he takes, his critics will attack him – even if they totally contradict themselves (thread). 

Corbyn opposes the exploitation of foreign sweatshop-workers – Labour MPs compare him to Nigel Farage:

John Rentoul

@JohnRentoul

Astonishing. McDonald’s a decent co making good food that most voters enjoy, & Labour says no http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/7081614/Jeremy-Corbyn-and-cronies-snub-McDonalds-from-Labour-conference.html 

Latest News headlines, exclusives and opinion | The Sun

thesun.co.uk

149 people are talking about this

Corbyn is not like Trump, says James O’Brien:

James O’Brien

@mrjamesob

I’m no fan but it’s really, really not. Trump attacks the ones telling the truth; Corbyn attacks the ones peddling racist lies. https://twitter.com/montie/status/1044916199761616896 

Tim Montgomerie

@montie

Hard to tell the difference between Trump and Corbyn in their constant attacks on the free press

1,567 people are talking about this

Corbyn is even worse than Trump, says James O’Brien:

 

Anti-Semitism row is allowing Corbyn to hide from the media’ Anti-Semitism is to Corbynites what fake news is to Trump, says guest columnist James O’Brien

Jeremy Corbyn is simply too principled:

spiked@spikedonline

“This week we have had a chilling insight into Corbyn’s authoritarianism. For a politician to make open threats against the press is deeply disturbing. He cares nothing for free speech or press freedom.”

Brendan O’Neill on the Corbynista threat to liberty

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218 people are talking about this

Corbyn is no threat whatsoever to life as we know it (Brendan O’Neill):

spiked@spikedonline

“There’s a great irony to the Czech spy story: Corbyn insists he wasn’t involved with the Stalinists and yet he has responded in a quite Stalinist way to this story.”

Brendan O’Neill on Sky

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167 people are talking about this

Jeremy Corbyn has no interest in power (Nick Cohen):

But conversely, Nick Cohen also believes Corbyn isn’t radically left-wing enough:

 

What Labour needs now is a takeover by real left-wing radicals | The Spectator

To say that the Labour party is in crisis because it is ‘too left-wing’ is to miss the point spectacularly. With eyes wide open, and all democratic…

Dan Hodges now, saying Corbyn is too keen for Brexit:

(((Dan Hodges)))

@DPJHodges

The reason Corbyn is adopting a more aggressively pro-Brexit stance is the same reason he’s aggressively rejecting the IHRA definition. He’s calculated he can take Labour Remainer votes for granted. They’ll sulk a bit, then say “but the food-banks”, and vote for him.

607 people are talking about this

Before Hodges criticises Corbyn for not wanting Brexit at all:

 

Mitch Benn: Corbyn isn’t brave enough to change his mind on Brexit:

Mitch Benn🇬🇧🇪🇺

@MitchBenn

Corbyn doesn’t have the guts to allow his position on Brexit to be challenged and the membership don’t have the guts to make him.

261 people are talking about this

Mitch Benn: Ok, Corbyn has changed his mind on Brexit – what a coward! 

 

 

Mitch Benn: Has the penny finally dropped for Jeremy?

Ok, this is intriguing…

Corbyn was wrong not to oppose Theresa May’s Brexit plan (Philip Collins):

Corbyn was wrong not to support Theresa May’s Brexit Plan (Philip Collins):

Labour must stop trying to frustrate Brexit It will take a speechwriter of iron discipline to resist the metaphor of renaissance. When the prime minister describes the British position on the European ..

Peter Mandleson: By not opposing Tory Brexit, Corbyn is betraying the national interest:

 

Colin adds: I don’t have soundcloud, but you can buy my book – detailing the best football rivalry you have never fully appreciated:amazon.co.uk/Frying-Pan-Spa…

Oh yeah, and you can vote Labour on 12 December to help fix this country. 

 

 


 

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The BBC’s disgraceful attempt at a McCarthyist-style shaping of public perceptions and flouting impartiality rule

jc newsnight krem.jpg

Many of us have criticised the BBC over the past 7 years of bias, and of reflecting broadly establishment opinion. However, the broadcasting corporation has persistently defended itself against legitimate charges of ideological favouritism, claiming a reputation for fair coverage.  Given the BBC’s reach, and the trust placed in it, any biases could potentially have a much more significant impact on altering public understanding of an issue than biases arising on other media platforms. 

A key reason why BBC bias is important is that, unlike its broadcast competitors and newspapers, the BBC is guaranteed its funds through a compulsory licence fee. Consumers are not able to punish the institution financially for perceived coverage bias. This puts it in a highly privileged position, one in which TV viewers are made to pay for the content, irrespective of their views on it.

In addition, the method through which the BBC is funded means that the organisation itself has a vested interest in the political process. It uses a chunk of its guaranteed revenues to lobby for the maintenance of the licence fee. If a government had a manifesto commitment to radically slash or abolish the BBC licence fee, the BBC’s coverage of that issue could be vitally important in framing that debate. This is not a mere theoretical point –  in 2015, Andrew Marr interviewed BBC Director General, Lord (Tony) Hall on just this issue.  

On Thursday night, the BBC’s Newsnight programme featured a large backdrop showing Jeremy Corbyn apparently standing outside of the Kremlin wearing a Russian-styled hat. Of course the photograph of the opposition leader was superimposed over the background. Jeremy Corbyn’s face had also been treated to a rather blatant red makeover by the BBC.

This is a blatant attempt at shaping public perception and disgraceful breach of the BBC’s impartiality obligations.  This was also most certainly a deviation in coverage from objective truth. It was a reference to the frequent, false and libelous accusations of Jeremy Corbyn being a  “Commie spy” and so on. Rather than highlighting the fact that these are false allegations, the BBC chose to highlight them using a picture that had been doctored to create a backdrop, giving viewers the impression that the lies and hysterical, long standing right wing smears are facts. 

The BBC set is the kind of nasty tactic that we ordinarily expect from the right wing rags. Like the photograph of the previous Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, eating a bacon sandwich, which became the source of sustained commentary in 2014 and 2015. Taken for the Evening Standard while Miliband was campaigning for local elections in May 2014, it was purposely shared to make him look awkward, error prone or incapable of performing simple tasks, as if eating  is somehow related to political performance. The photo was used in a deeply mocking front page of The Sun on the day before the 2015 general election.

Media bias in the UK

Last year, the Conservatives were accused of “criminalising public interest journalism” as it plans to increase the number of years for the “leaking of state secrets” from 2 years to 14, in the first “overhaul” of the Official Secrets Act for over 100 years.

Under the proposals, which were published last February, officials who leak “sensitive information” about the British economy that damages national security could also be jailed. Currently, official secrets legislation is limited to breaches which jeopardise security, intelligence defence, confidential information and international relations.

The government released the proposals citing the “new reality” of the 21st-century internet and national security dangers as justification for a more “robust” system of prosecution.

The recommendations centre around the Official Secrets Act (1989) which governs how public servants in government and the military must keep government information secret and out of publication.

Journalists and civil liberties groups warned that the threshold for the increased sentence has been lowered and that journalists and whistleblowers acting in the public interest will be effectively gagged. (See The erosion of democracy and the repression of mainstream media in the UK. ) 

However, the Conservatives’ direction of travel regarding media freedoms was clear well before last year. As far back as 2012, the government were ‘monitoring’ the BBC in particular for ‘left wing bias’. The government’s fury at what they call the liberal, left-wing leaning of the state broadcaster was laid bare after Iain Duncan Smith accused the BBC’s economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, of ‘peeing all over British business’. (See also Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late ). 

Let’s not forget government officials smashing up hard drives containing the Snowden leaks at the Guardian office, too, and the intimidation involving the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner under the ‘terrorism’ act. As part of the global surveillance disclosure, the first of Snowden’s documents were published on June 5, 2013, in The Guardian in an article by Greenwald.

Journalists are regarded as “democracy’s watchdogs” and the protection of their sources is the “cornerstone of freedom of the press.” And freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy. Although enshrined in such terms by the European Court of Human Rights, these democratic safeguarding principles are being attacked in an increasingly open manner all over the world, including in the democratic countries that first proclaimed them. 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are a collective of journalists who study freedom of the press at a comparative and international level. The UK has been consistently in low position (the higher the score, the lower the ranking) for the last five years, last year it dropped lower still, highlighting an increasing intrusion of the government on and restriction of the freedom of the press. RSF ranks the UK 40th in the index; a fall from 38th place in 2016. 

We have a media with a very heavy weighted right wing bias, yet any criticism of government policy reduces our government to shrieking hysterically that the communists have been infiltrating the establishment. It’s a curious fact that authoritarians project their rigidity, insecurities and micro-controlling tendencies onto everyone else.

Types of bias

One source of media bias is a failure to include a perspective, viewpoint or information within a news story that might be objectively regarded as being important. This is important because exclusion of a particular viewpoint or opinion on a subject might be expected to shift the ‘Overton Window’, defining what it is politically acceptable to say. This can happen in such a way that a viewpoint becomes entirely eliminated or marginalised from political discourse. Within academic media theory, there is a line of reasoning that media influence on audiences is not immediate but occurs more through a continual process of repeated arguments – the ‘steady drip’ effect. 

A second potential source of bias is ‘bias by selection’. This might entail particular issues or viewpoints being more frequently covered, or certain guests or organisations being more likely to be selected. There are several others, for some of which the BBC has regularly been criticised. 

Herman and Chomsky (1988) proposed a propaganda model hypothesising systematic biases of media from structural economic causes. Their proposition is that media ownership by corporations, (and in other media, funding from advertising), the use of official sources, efforts to discredit independent media (“flak”), and “anti-communist ideology as the filters that bias news in favour of corporate and partisan political interests.

Politically biased messages may be conveyed via visual cues from the sets as a kind of underhanded reference-dependent framing.  A frame defines the packaging of an element of rhetoric in such a way as to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others. It entails the selection of some aspects of a perceived reality and makes them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation and so on. 

On Friday’s night’s programme, author Owen Jones quite properly took Newsnight’s Evan Davis to task about the “disgraceful framing” of the narrative around the nerve-agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal. Davis actually had the brazen cheek to laugh about Jones’s observations, and to deny them.

As other independent journalists have reported, Jones also referred to the observation of sharp-eyed Twitter user @duckspeech that Newsnight had not merely added Corbyn’s image to the backdrop – but had also photoshopped his hat to make it more closely resemble a Russian hat. This was of course referencing the long running and debunked “Russian stooge” and “appeasement” narrative of the Conservatives, which started with the fake Zinoviev letter, when the very first Labour government was in power.

The government have reduced politics to crude ad hominem attacks, aggressive posturing, overly simplistic sound bites and negative, divisive and emotive appeals. The media have reflected a corresponding lack of sophistication in their delivery of ‘news’.

The details and rationality matters 

Corbyn condemned the nerve agent attack on the Skripals in no uncertain terms. However, he responded rationally and stressed that any response to Russia must be based on clear evidence. Of course the right wing rags ran a smear campaign, despicably calling Corbyn a “Kremlin stooge”, and some of  the Labour party’s centrists started sniping.

Yet Corbyn has been rational and reasonable. He said: “The attack in Salisbury was an appalling act of violence. Nerve agents are abominable if used in any war. It is utterly reckless to use them in a civilian environment.

Our response as a country must be guided by the rule of law, support for international agreements and respect for human rights .Our response must be decisive, proportionate and based on clear evidence.” ​He is absolutely right. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have responded with a politics of petulance, with defence minister Gavin Williamson disgracefully saying that Russia should “go away and shut up” when asked how the Kremlin should respond to the expulsion of 23 of its diplomats.

Corbyn was derided when presented a series of simple and reasonable questions to the prime minister, asking what steps the government has taken to collect evidence for its claims, he was loudly heckled by puerile, braying McCarthist members of the House of Commons.

He said: “If the government believe that it is still a possibility that Russia negligently lost control of a military-grade nerve agent, what action is being taken through the OPCW with our allies? I welcome the fact that the police are working with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Has the prime minister taken the necessary steps under the chemical weapons convention to make a formal request for evidence from the Russian government under Article IX(2)?

“How has she responded to the Russian government’s request for a sample of the agent used in the Salisbury attack to run their own tests? Has high-resolution trace analysis been run on a sample of the nerve agent, and has that revealed any evidence as to the location of its production or the identity of its perpetrators?”

Perhaps Corbyn’s carping neoliberal opponents inside the Labour party should remember why party membership has significantly grown since Corbyn became the elected leader (twice) and precisely why the party’s popularity surged during last year’s snap election.

One particularly cowardly backbencher, wishing to remain anonymous, shamefully told the Guardian: “Putin’s constant and shameful apologist might just as well stand aside and let the Russian ambassador write the speeches and brief the media himself.” Despicable.

Yet on Wednesday Benjamin Griveaux, a spokesperson for the French government, said it was too early to decide on retaliatory measures against Russia, as its involvement was yet to be proven. Griveaux said France was waiting for “definitive conclusions,” and evidence that the “facts were completely true,” before taking a position. 

 As Walter Lipman once noted, the news media are a primary source of those “pictures in our heads” about the larger world of public affairs, a world that for most citizens is “out of reach, out of sight, out of mind.”  What people know about the world is largely based on what the media decide to show them. More specifically, the result of this mediated view of the world is that the priorities of the media strongly influence the priorities of the public. Elements prominent on the media agenda become prominent in the public mind.

Given the reduction in sophistication and rationality in government rhetoric, media news and current affairs presentation, (and reduction in democratic accountability, for that matter) we don’t currently have a climate that particularly encourages citizens to think critically and for themselves.

Read Jeremy Corbyn’s  article in the Guardian: The Salisbury attack was appalling. But we must avoid a drift to conflict


 

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Reframing frames – ideology, George Lakoff and a call for your views

Wall Street Protestors Rally Against Police Brutality

An excellent example of using a slogan to reframe debate about neoliberalism and inequality from the Occupy movement

 

Left wing progressives hope that we can win elections by citing facts, rational debate and by offering policy programmes that serve the majority of voters’ interests. When we lose, we either conclude that we need to move farther to the right, where the voters are; where the Overton window opens, or that we need to move further to the left, to present a genuine alternative to the status quo. That dilemma has rigidly polarised the Labour party, undermining our unity and turning what was once a “broad church” appeal into an either/or basic dichotomy of alliances and reflected interests. The problem is how do we know which of these responses to the dilemmas of being a party in opposition will engage the public? And what if it is neither?

Yet, how can the left possibly lose a debate about the economy and social policy, when our current steeply hierarchical socioeconomic organisation serves the interests of so very few citizens? In fact those policies are seriously harming some social groups, especially those traditionally afforded social protections by previous Labour policies. 

Margaret Thatcher once made the absurd claim that the “problem” with socialism is that it “runs out of other people’s money to spend.” However, the New Right became experts on spending our public funds on extending the wealth of a few privileged millionaires, taking money from those who have the very least and handing it out to those who have the very most.

That really is “spending other peoples’ money.” As a consequence, the UK is now the most unequal country in the world, and that includes the US, where the Chicago boys – the founding fathers of neoliberalism – operationalised their experiment in hierarchical and authoritarian modes of neoliberal socioeconomic organisation.

Things ain’t what they ought to be

I’ve pointed out before that it’s easy to mistake the patterns and social circumstances of our era for “natural laws”. We really do need to revisit the is/ought distinction  (the naturalistic fallacy: we cannot use descriptive statements – what “is” – to make or justify prescriptive ones – what “ought” to be). So many people assume the Conservative world view of competition, mysterious “market forces” and the “invisible hand”, survival of the wealthiest, and Randian self interest is simply how things are: that these qualities are all fundamental to our “human nature”. They are not.

They are the qualities required of us – what “ought” to be the case – in order to prop up a hierarchical society, preserving a privileged elite and the material inequality and power relations of neoliberalism. Social Darwinism, which is like a comic strip version of Darwinism, was debunked last century, but here we are with policies that are directed by an ideology founded on social Darwinist principles once again. It’s become  a “common sense” assumption that we are naturally inclined to be competitive, and as a society, hierarchically ranked, on the basis of power and worth. Yet the matter of what “human nature” actually is has never been resolved over the centuries, let alone accounts of how that “nature” translates into the kind of society we have. Or ought to have, for that matter.

How can the Tories be right in their cynical miserablism, regarding our competitive social Darwinist tendencies?  If we are so fundamentally selfish and self-interested, with a generally Hobbesian temperament, moulded a little more by Burke’s profound anti-intellectualism, how, then, did we end up with a trade union and labour movement, working class enfranchisement, the welfare state, the NHS, legal aid, social housing, human rights and to generally progress to develop an altruistic, collectivist, cooperative approach for our post war settlement?  

“Human nature” is far more complex and much less static and defined than the Conservatives would have us believe. The kind of society that we live in, with its prevailing beliefs, attitudes and organisation, also contributes significantly to the kind of people we are, and importantly, to how we see ourselves and others.

Façade democracy

George Lakoff, a linguist and cognitive scientist, says that Conservatives exalt “obedience to authority,” insulate leaders from accountability, oppose checks and balances against leaders and rely on fear. All of this is true.

Lakoff says the right wins and keeps power by framing issues and “controlling minds”. This explains why Conservatives win elections. They manipulate us more effectively than the Progressives. They’ve been “preparing the seedbed of our brains with their high-level general principles” so that when the “low tax/low welfare society” idea, for example,  was planted in its various guises, repeatedly, “their framing could take root and sprout.” And “as a result, progressive messages don’t take root.”

Tories successfully reframe social issues, re-set defaults and normalise their prejudices and values. They become “common sense.” As dominant narratives do. In doing so, the Conservatives shape how the public see themselves and others.

Lakoff proposes that the left present frames instead of raw facts, in order to “train” the public to think less about neoliberal competition and self-interest and more about serving others. It’s not the platform that needs to be changed. It’s the voters. 

Lakoff says that we need to beat Conservatives at their own game. “Democracy is too important to leave the shaping of the brains of the public to authoritarians.” 

I like a lot of Lakoff’s work, but cannot get behind the idea of using techniques of persuasion to win support and (re)grow a movement. But then, the use of such techniques has been effective for the Conservatives, and that level of manipulation creates a problem for democracy. Lakoff is proposing we address the problem of a managed democracy by attempting to manage it too.

Is it possible to propose we manipulate voters and then still claim to be a democrat? 

He is right in that the rational approach doesn’t always work, but perhaps it’s more a question of how we present our alternative. I can get behind a shorthand and punchier general messages, just as long as it isn’t a strung together lexicon of glittering generalities with nothing meaningful referenced below the surface level. Integrity matters. The new world order is maintained partly by a precarious new word order. But it rests only on the very surface of our mind. It exists, not because it is rational or serves our best interests, but because it appears to be “normal.”

It’s probably true that many voters don’t pay much attention to the details and implications of policies. We have a tendency towards cognitive miserliness – the Principle of Least Effort; we frequently rely on simple and time efficient strategies when evaluating information and making decisions. But this can lead to prejudices. We formulate stereotypes, for example, which are simplistic ways of categorising others. Heuristics are mental shortcuts we often use in order to lessen the cognitive load that decision making requires. We often rely on habitual, superficial explorations and generalisations because we are caught up in our lives, and so to some degree, its a strategy of necessity and efficiency. 

However, this tendency towards cognitive miserliness is also manipulated. We often assign new information to categories that are easy to process mentally. These categories arise from prior information, including schemas, scripts and other knowledge structures, that has been stored in memory and so storage of new information does not require much cognitive energy. Cognitive miserliness means we tend not to stray far from our established beliefs when considering new information. That’s partly why repetition and slogans work so well as propaganda techniques. 

My own view is that we should try multiple approaches to messaging the public, but none of it should be simply about changing a vote for the sake of it. We also need to engage citizens in active participation in democracy. That is something the authoritarian Conservatives will never do: they have a policy agenda informed by private companies and millionaires, not ordinary citizens, and that won’t change.

Public needs have been privatised and pushed into the “market place” of competition and invisible capitalist hands. Increasingly, private companies are operating our essential public services, as the Conservatives claim that this is “efficient.” It isn’t, because it’s costing us billions to support unaccountable private businesses whose only motivation is to make profit.(See for example: Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.” )

Meanwhile, the privatisation of public need means that individuals shoulder the responsibility for them, rather than the state, who are still taking money from the public to fund those public “services.” Making individuals responsible for the consequences of political decision-making and arising socioeconomic problems like unemployment and poverty then justifies an authoritarian state intrusion in the form of “therapy.” For example, the rise of nudging, which is about the political directives to “change behaviours” because people make “the wrong choices” and so it turns democracy on its head.

This is because nudge is used without public consent, and it is solely aimed at “changing behaviours” of citizens to meet the states’ idealised and narrow neoliberal outcomes, rather than it being about actually recognising and meeting social needs and democratic inclusion.

The left tend to have a rather more optimistic, expansive and generous view of human nature. We believe in the human potential for learning, development and progress. However, that optimism is also tempered with an acknowledgement of our darker side, too. Policies which protect social groups that are prone to being exploited, scapegoated and other socially constructed vulnerabilities have largely been Labour party ones.

However, the problem is that the Conservatives hold up a darkly distorting looking-glass to the public, showing only what they want people to see of themselves. In that mirror, we are rendered ugly – always prone to being stupid, selfish, greedy, impulsive savages that need to to be ruled and controlled. Our self perceptions are shaped by significant others. There arises a subsequent social self-fulfilling prophecy. We project and scapegoat: it is always others that are savage and selfish, not us. This is facilitated by the Conservative tendency to marginalise poor people, creating folk devil stereotypes and social outgroups. 

We’re capable of changing minds. But we have good SOCIAL reasons to do so. That, for me is the key – there’s a difference between propaganda and reasoning; public interest and simply maintaining the public’s interest. The answer probably lies somewhere in a compromise – using both a rational and evidenced approach and the reductive pop politics soundbites to capture public interests AND public interest.

Tory cuts cost lives was a soundbite of mine from 2015. I wanted to reference war, and highlight the enemy in a longstanding and ongoing class conflict. It’s got integrity as a slogan because I’ve spent a few years writing about and presenting evidence of how  Conservative austerity is harming and sometimes killing people. 

But I don’t have all the answers. To come up with effective solutions requires our willingness for collaboration and cooperation.   

I’m particularly interested in what others think about this issue. If you have any thoughts on this, please leave me a comment, and I will revisit them in due course. We can do what the left always do very well: hold a democratic discussion and problem-solve collectively.

 

th


I don’t make any money from my work. At this moment in time, I am struggling to live. But you can help by making a donation so I can continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Through the looking glass darkly: the Conservatives are colonising progressive rhetoric

Vocabulary+word+cloud.jpg

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Semantic thrifts: being Conservative with the truth

Much communication in the media is geared towards establishing a dominant paradigm and maintaining an illusion of a consensus. This excludes pluralism and ultimately serves to reduce democratic choices. Such an approach is ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions and maintaining a profoundly unbalanced, pathological status quo.

Presenting an alternative narrative is difficult because the Conservatives have not only framed all of the issues to be given public priority – they set and stage-manage the media agenda – they have also dominated the narrative; they constructed and manage the political lexicon and now treat words associated with the Left, such as welfare, like semantic landmines, generating explosions of right-wing scorn, derision and ridicule – words like cooperation, inclusion, mutual aid, reciprocity, equality, nationalisation, redistribution and the like are simply dismissed as mere anachronisms that need to be stricken from public conversation and exiled from our collective consciousness, whilst all the time enforcing a bland language of an anti-democratic political doxa.

However, the Conservatives have also raided from the progressive lexicon, and I’m far from alone in noticing the Conservative colonisation of traditionally progressive rhetoric in recent years, using in abundance terms such as “fair”, “support”, “protection”, “freedom” , “opportunity”, “reform” and even “social justice” to pepper their speeches.

Last October, even Dan Hodges noticed the linguistic imports. He said: “Prison reform. Ethnic minority rights. Gay rights. A national housing “crusade”. An “all out assault on poverty”. An attack on “the lowest social mobility in the developed world”. These were the main themes of the Conservative Party leader’s – I’ll repeat that, the Conservative Party leader’s – address to his annual conference. I expected David Cameron to attempt to park his tank on Labour’s lawn.

… It wasn’t just what David Cameron said, but how his party reacted to it. The section of his speech where he said “I want us, the Conservatives, to end discrimination and finish the fight for real equality in Britain today,” was met with a standing ovation.”

The Conservatives have plundered from left wing discourse purely to broaden their superficial appeal and to neutralise opposition to controversial and contentious policy. The legislative context in which such language is being used is completely at odds with how it is being described by purposefully stolen terms and phrases. It’s disorientating and cognitive dissonance inducing to see the language of social justice, democracy, inclusion and equality being used to justify and describe policies which extend social injustice, authoritarianism, exclusion and inequality.

There is a growing chasm between Conservative discourse, and policy intents and outcomes. There isn’t a bridge between rhetoric and reality. Last week I wrote about the chancellor’s budget, and said:

Only a Conservative minister would claim that taking money from sick and disabled people is somehow “fair,” or about “helping”, “supporting” or insultingly, “incentivising” sick and disabled people who have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors and the state via the work capability assessment to work.

The Tories all too frequently employ such semantic shifts and euphemism – linguistic strategies – as an integral part of a wider range of techniques of neutralisation that are used, for example, to provide linguistic relief from conscience and to suspend moral constraint – to silence both “inner protest” and public objections – to the political violation of social and moral norms; to justify acts that cause harm to others whilst also denying there is any subsequent harm being inflicted; to deny the target’s and casualties’ accounts and experiences of political acts of harm, and to neutralise remorse felt by themselves or other witnesses.

Media discourse has often preempted the Conservative austerity cuts, resulting in the identification, stereotyping and scapegoating of the groups in advance of the targeted, discriminatory policies. Media discourse is being used as a vehicle for the government to push their ideological agenda forward without meeting legitimate criticism, public scrutiny and without due regard for essential democratic processes and safeguards.

The five neutralisation techniques identified by Gresham Sykes and David Matza are: denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victims, appeal to higher loyalties, and condemnation of condemners.

The really critical part of Sykes and Matza’s argument is that rationalisations precede immoral, cruel or controversial acts and are a key factor in making deviant behaviour possible (amongst delinquents, the mafia or Conservative ministers). As such, the rationalisations betray intent.

The cuts of £120 a month to the disability benefit Employment Support Allowance  are also claimed to be “fair.” and “supportive.” Though I have yet to hear a coherent and rational  explanation of how this can possibly be the case. Ministers claimed that people subjected to the ESA Work Related Activity Group cuts could claim PIP if they required support with extra living costs, but now we are told that PIP is to be cut, too.

Osborne ludicrously claimed that the Conservative government was “increasing spending on disabled people”, he said: “Controlling welfare bills is part of what you need to do if you’re a secure country confronting the problems in the world.”

But as Andrew Marr amongst others pointed out, the cuts to ESA and PIP show an intended substantial reduction on government spending to essential support for disabled people.

PIP was introduced by the Conservatives to “target those most in need” and to save money. Despite David Cameron promising before the general election that there would be no further cuts to disability support, ministers nonetheless have claimed that the proposed cuts to PIP are once again to “target those most in need”, which would leave many of those disabled people originally defined as being most in need on an ever-shrinking island.

Linguistic stealth and slick trickery

The Conservatives have co-opted a progressive language to disguise extremely regressive policies, and to blur and manipulate traditional ideological boundaries. It’s purely strategy rather than ideological direction. They have quite cunningly [re-]framed a partisan narrative, dressing it up as common sense. For example, policies are framed using the phrases like “social justice”, “fighting poverty”, Conservatives present themselves as the “party for working people” and claim concern for ensuring people “fulfil their potential”. These are phrases ordinarily associated with discourses of the Left.

This framing makes it much more difficult for the Left to focus public debate on the issues central to social democracy. Equality of opportunity, linked with open social mobility, merit and freedom, is another central value and objective for progressives. However, equality appears to be increasingly couched in negative terms, as opposed to merit, and often associated with social injustice, inefficiency and unfairness by the Conservatives.

Under the Equality Act, provision was made by the Labour government to ensure that legislations didn’t discriminate against protected social groups, which included disabled people. However, the need for public bodies in England to undertake or publish an equality impact assessment of government policies, practices and decisions was quietly removed by David Cameron in April 2011. The legal requirement in the Equality Act that ensured public bodies attempt to reduce inequalities caused by socio-economic factors was also scrapped by Theresa May in November 2010, who said that she favoured a greater focus on “fairness” rather than “equality”, claiming that many people felt “alienated” by the equality agenda.

The Conservatives have paid a lot of money to advisors to develop ways of expressing their world-view and the use of misleading discourse, almost invariably contradicted by policy, practice and outcomes, is intentional.

The Tories use euphemism a lot to neutralise criticism and to present a facade of judicious, equitable rationale for draconian policies founded on ideology and traditional Tory prejudices. The redefinition of the financial crisis as a state – specifically, “irresponsible government” – rather than a market failure, and a narrative of “enhanced efficiency and responsibility in public administration” translates into policy practice as cuts to the public sector, drastic cuts to the post-war settlement social safety net budgets and a steady erosion of workers´ rights, “excellence and free choice in education or health service provision” means widespread privatisation – and a deterioration of public services, leaving  citizen’s with considerably less choice and increasingly unmet needs.

The Conservative’s progressive rhetoric conceals a partisan determination to impose neoliberal policies that shrink the size of the state, while defending traditional Conservative vested interests among the financial sector and the wealthy.

Yet Cameron and his chancellor have successfully placed the blame for the deficit on Labour’s trumped up charge of “profligacy” in government, despite the fact that we were out of recession caused by the global financial crisis, by the last quarter of 2009. Despite the fact that the Conservatives created a recession in 2011, and we lost our Fitch and Moody triple A credit ratings, despite Osborne’s promises and assurances that we wouldn’t. The Conservatives have a historically verified tendency to create recessions, too. The Thatcher administration did, and so did John Major’s. How did the public forget these events? Black Wednesday is estimated to have cost us £3.4 billion. The constant repetition of the profligacy lie, ad nauseam, supplanted the public’s accurate perception of the underlying events.

Tory ideology is about handouts to the wealthy funded by the poor

“David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money.’

‘But they also seem to believe that the only way to make you (ordinary people) work harder is to take money away.” Ed Miliband, 2012.

Taxation of the wealthy is framed as an unfair burden – an affliction or punishment, propped up by constant implicit references to debunked notions such as trickle-down wealth and job creation. Policies extending social injustice are being reframed as social justice.

Framing takes a long time to develop, and this particular frame was developed by the New Right on both sides of the Atlantic. It does leave progressives with a fight to articulate the moral basis for progressive taxation, obstructed by the outrageous Conservative myth that wealthy people have somehow amassed their wealth all by themselves and therefore deserve it and more. The truth is that it is ordinary UK taxpayers who support the infrastructure of wealth accumulation. It is only fair that those who benefit most from this should also pay their equal share.

Without the veneer of democratic engagement and respectability that the Conservatives raided from discourses of the Left, Conservative policies would appear as they really are: driven by a narrow ideology, based on traditional Tory prejudices and completely indefensible.

 

wc30allbrightedit1.jpg
This image contains 24 word clouds, representing the 24 categories into which a sample of roughly 130,000 statements from UK House of Commons parliamentarians, all made between 2006 and the present day, were partitioned by the clustering algorithm. Each cloud contains ten words; the larger the word, the more representative it is of the cluster. The colouring is also meaningful: red words have meanings more closely aligned with remarks by Labour politicians; blue words, with those of Conservatives; and yellow words, with the sentiments of Liberal Democrats.See source: Clustering debates from UK politicians.

 

Recommended

How the Tories Use the Language of Social Justice to Sell Us Social Injustice

How to Respond to Conservatives –  George Lakoff

 

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