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Taking a broader perspective…

Political lies, media manipulation and the ‘shock doctrine’…

By Jay Baker

Jay is a British media activist who has almost ten years of experience as a professional documentarian, writer, youth worker, social justice campaigner, and social entrepreneur.

It’s true that lies are often perpetuated. In fact, if they’re repeated enough, these lies can be regarded as truths, and rarely even questioned at all.

An example of this is the great lie perpetuated on the people of Britain concerning the economy.

In the build-up to the general election this year, New Labour finally realized that their right-wing re-positioning and re-branding was – as expected by many – its greatest weakness. Without its heart, “the people’s party” created by the labour workforce to represent the working class mass majority now had no alternative argument to counter the Conservatives, due in part to its commitment to its doomed brand.

As a result, shocking Tory claims – on immigration, on taxes, and most of all, on the economy – went largely unchallenged. And by the time the Liberal Democrats had “sold out” (as many of its own supporters would say) in forming a coalition with the Tories, the only challenges of facts and logic in the public eye were from the likes of Caroline Lucas or Salma Yaqoob on forums such as BBC’s Question Time; lone voices in a fog of misconceptions.

So: what is the truth? First, we have to look at the lies, key lies that are perpetuated by the mainstream media:

  • Lie #1: The latest economic crisis was a freak act of nature we had to endure, a “Credit Crunch,” like a breakfast cereal we must swallow before going about our day, business as usual.
  • Lie #2: If the Credit Crunch was anyone’s fault, it was the fault of New Labour for failing to regulate the banks properly.
  • Lie #3: The only way to cope with the recession is to cut government spending and sell off public services to private interests, even if this means higher unemployment.

These are all essentially preconceived notions perpetuated by the press. Linguistics professor and political activist Noam Chomsky talks about this often: whether it be using slogans like “Support our troops” or asking the question “Can we win in Iraq?” those in positions of power and influence must use propaganda to create presuppositions and stifle or restrict and marginalize debate.

For example, Chomsky explains, a mantra such as “Support our troops” is vacuous, because it doesn’t mean anything more than asking if we, say, support the people of Iowa; there’s no counter to it – asking if we support the war policy would draw a plethora of offence, but to ask if we support the brave men and women of the armed forces offers no such room for argument. Likewise, Chomsky also suggests that asking “Can we win in Iraq?” completely ignores the greater question of whether we have any right to be there in the first place. And so, a “questioning” media indeed questions, but the questions it asks are chosen carefully to frame the debate inside a certain context, giving an illusion of media investigative journalism and “fair and balanced” coverage while propelling the debate in a particular direction.

Another example I’d offer is when firebrand politician George Galloway, love him or loathe him, showed intestinal fortitude by appearing on US airwaves via “fair and balanced” (yet pro-Republican) Fox News to talk about Afghanistan, and was repeatedly asked the question, “Is Afghanistan better without the Taliban in charge?” – meaning that Galloway the Great Orator, on a rare occasion, was defeated by having to reply conceding Afghanistan was indeed better without the Taliban, ending the interview again within that carefully conceived framework. No discussion was to be had on the fact that US taxpayers’ money went on creating the Taliban in the first place, or that the reasons for ousting them was for the next phase of what is often described as US imperialism. Fox News was faux news – merely maintaining the status quo.

This is exactly what the media has also done with the economy.

The fact of the matter – which is rarely, if ever, addressed by the press – is that the cleverly-spun “Credit Crunch” was, in fact, caused by a range of capitalism-induced conditions from removal of workers’ rights, shipping of jobs overseas, and increasing debt dependency, to US economic conditions, to, yes, Tory deregulation of the financial sector under Margaret Thatcher that started it all. Thatcherism was only saved by the success of North Sea oil, having ideologically attacked the unions by destroying key territories, from coalmining to steelworks; removing jobs, bringing unions to their knees, and decimating entire communities, sickeningly declaring “There’s no such thing as society.” It was every man (and woman) for themselves, she suggested: sink or swim.

This kind of Social Darwinism is what the Tories love: the dangerous act of applying Darwinist theories onto sociology and politics as a whole that historically gave rise to such other right-wing ideologies as Nazism. By no means an irresponsible, sweeping generalization of categorizing all right-wingers such as Thatcher as on the same page as Hitler, this is actually a very serious threat, when politicians start using Social Darwinism as a justification – that might makes right, and it’s survival of the fittest. Alarm bells must go off, because today’s Thatcher (a friend and admirer of Chilean dictator Pinochet) could be tomorrow’s Hitler.

The Tories were the ones who embraced Social Darwinism in the 80s, and financial deregulation – letting the bankers run amok, in accordance with Milton Friedman’s now-discredited economic theories – was part of it.

Yes, the Tories criticized New Labour for failure to regulate the banks, but New Labour had no response besides an immature one: “You started it.” Might doesn’t make right, and neither do two wrongs. New Labour were unable to attack the Tories because they’d come too close to attacking themselves.

But the Tories didn’t just get away with exploiting New Labour to cover up their contribution to the crisis; they were able to capitalize on it by shifting the debate – essentially aided and abetted by New Labour – towards the realms of necessary and unavoidable cuts. The fact that investment creates jobs and benefits the economy, while a deficit can be reduced through fairer taxation, was completely ignored. No, we weren’t supposed to have that discussion, and the corporate media did their job as enforcers.

While reeling from a recession, worried about their jobs, the Tories were able to apply what Naomi Klein calls the Shock Doctrine in her book of the same name: while a people are in shock, it’s possible for the Friedmanesque “Market Bolsheviks” to push through sweeping, radical reforms and policies that benefit elite interests. Eventually, the shock wears off, Klein suggests, but it’s often only after the damage has already been done.

This is what is happening to Britain today. The Tories – after criticizing New Labour for failing the NHS or universities, in addition to pointing the finger over financial deregulation – are now passing policies that reflect their ideology, and able to do it in the name of crisis (what Klein calls “disaster capitalism” exemplified by the profits made in post-Gorbachev Russia, in post-invasion Iraq, and even in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina).

The Tories have come to power at the perfect moment for them: just as 9/11 was America’s shock, allowing Bush to get away with illegal invasions and surveillance of his own people before the shock wore off there, David Cameron, supported by Nick Clegg, can use the economic crisis as an excuse for almost anything: from discussions on “innovative” universities (read: privatization) to “modernizing” the NHS (read: privatization), to cutting public services (again, privatization), these are the same old public school elitists with nothing in common with the working class people who suffer the most from the recession yet have their jobs under threat, and welfare cheques, too. Those with plenty in common with the coalition, of course, are Big Business. Their recent budget was, top to bottom, an ideological one, straight and simple – applied to a people still in shock.

Perhaps the most unfortunate fact, though, was that New Labour had little in common with the people either. Its election-winning machine had no heart, and only through its electoral destruction can it be resurrected, the new becoming old. Their choice of leader of the Labour Party has never been so important in all its history. The best choice could mean a landslide victory in 2015 – when the shock has worn off and the people destroy a likely already-imploded coalition.

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Filed under: Conservatives, Economy, Media, , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. […] diminished, though – especially under Conservative governments. It is those Tories who today use the economy as an excuse to cut public services, privatise many, and threaten to actually outlaw strikes by those who dare […]

  2. […] inner circle, presentation as a John Wayne-like antihero, and – as I’ve noted before – his utilisation of vacuous slogans like “Support our troops” to overwhelm […]

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