Theresa May’s Littlejohn moment

So Theresa May repeated the 2009 myth that an immigrant was allowed to stay in the UK because they owned a cat. Worryingly, her speech had – according to Left Foot Forward – been checked by no less than David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne and Danny Alexander. Oh dear. For the record (in case you somehow missed this)  this is what she claimed in her speech:

“We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act. The violent drug dealer who cannot be sent home because his daughter – for whom he pays no maintenance – lives here. The robber who cannot be removed because he has a girlfriend. The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat.”

To be fair to her, she wasn’t making this story up – that is the job of our wonderful press which can do so safe in the knowledge that it faces no sanctions for doing so. The story originated in the Sunday Telegraph and, even though it was clearly rubbish, it was copied by the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Star.

As I’ve written so many times before: dishonest journalism has consequences.

It has only been a few days since David Cameron attacked the Human Rights Act based on nothing more than an incident he read about in the Daily Mail. Needless to say, that Daily Mail article was utterly dishonest and was discredited here long before Cameron repeated it. It seems to me that the main problem with democracy in the UK is that all politicians can ever focus on is the next election and therefore they feel they are always at the mercy of public opinion. They therefore discuss what they think the country cares about, which largely means that they (having no knowledge of the country as a whole) simply look at what the newspapers are writing about and base political discourse around the same few tired narratives – most of which are extremely distorted.

Thus every time a politician wants to appeal to the electorate they feel as if they must go for the short-term topic of the day and that they can only connect with the public by repeating some crap they read in the newspaper – as if newspapers are some magical conduit to our souls. This is why in a time of a world financial crisis politicians think our main concerns are the 100 or so illegal immigrants who we fail to legally deport each year due to the Human Rights Act, or weekly bin collections, or immigration or council tax or people on benefits or whatever else is easy to attack, say or promise. We are treated as if we were selfish children, unable to see past our own immediate wants.

I don’t think we are, and I think – increasingly – we are becoming more and more conscious of just how poisoned political discourse has become in this country thanks to the distorted media narratives created by a largely amoral and unregulated press. It might at first seem pretty funny that the home secretary should make such an obvious gaffe during a big speech. But it isn’t funny, at all, because it happens far too often and on most occasions it is rarely challenged.


In case you are wondering, yes, Richard Littlejohn did cover this story.

4 Comments

  • hannanibal says:

    The fact that May was instantly pulled up on this nonsense was a refreshing surprise.

  • Peter Lorenzo says:

    The increasing level of nonsense and vitriol that the Tories are aiming at the HRA is designed simply (Daily Mail style) to ignore facts in favour of whipping up a foaming at the mouth opposition.

    It really feels as if what is needed is a strong fight back for those who believe that the HRA is indeed a good thing. Cut through the myths and start showing how it benefits society as a whole and what would be required to change the law as they keep proposing.

    This is a ghastly case of how tabloid crap becomes mainstream fact to the detriment of all.

  • Right on the money. Some nutjob was on the Jeremy Vine show earlier and just kept repeating a line “Foreigners Out” and wholeheartedly agreed with May. Like you said, the consequences of this are clear and it gives people, who we would call morons, another argument to repeat ad nauseum and which reverberates.

  • Chris says:

    Related. http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/politics/politics-headlines/government-must-not-get-bogged-down-by-facts%2c-says-may-201110054383/

    This is on a satire site, but sadly it’s more truthful than most of the papers.