Tag Archives: benefits

This is not journalism

Reporting what you are told by one person without any research or critical questioning  just because you like what they are saying is not journalism.  Yet it is happening more and more frequently in the Daily Mail who are now demonstrating that they will print anything – no matter how incredulous – as long as it supports their core narratives. Take this story currently enjoying a lot of exposure – and a great deal of outraged comments on the Daily Mail website: ‘‘£500-a-week? I can earn more on benefits!’, unemployed driver tells stunned haulage boss‘.

The whole article is based entirely on the account of one man – Graham Poole, managing director of a small haulage firm – who claims that:

[he] was left stunned after an unemployed driver rejected the offer of a job paying more than £500 a week so he could remain on benefits…

Furious Mr Poole said: ‘What is wrong with this country. I was offering him more than £500 a week before tax.

‘It is no wonder that so many people are out of work when others are allowed to blatantly refuse to work because their benefits are higher’

Reporting Graham Poole’s assertions as if they are absolute fact is not journalism. We have no evidence that this interview ever took place or that this person – if they exist – is better off on benefits. Yet the Daily Mail is happy to use this account – which is essentially gossip – as evidence for their general narrative that benefits are so generous that they are worth more than £500 a week.

Obviously they get some help from a couple of rentaquotes. First up is the Small Business Federation, who rather than act as a serious organisation and refuse to comment on one man’s story, they actually have grave concerns:

‘With unemployment so high and full-time jobs so hard to come by, there is clearly too much dependency on the benefits system if people can turn down well paid, full-time work.

‘The FSB welcomes coalition government proposals to extend the time that benefits can be cut for people who turn down a full-time position from six months to three years.’

Then there is the obvious quotations from the Taxpayers Alliance, who are naturally outraged:

‘This case shows how desperately the welfare system in this country needs to be reformed as there are currently people trapped on benefits.

‘Taxpayers will be angry that they are going out to work, while others are getting just as much money without taking a job.

‘The government needs to make it pay for people to go out and work.

‘People should be better off if they have a job than if they stay at home on benefits.’

Writing this blog for well over a year now and I’ve seen some horrifically poor journalism – manipulated statistics, pure inventions about Muslims, health and safety, political correctness, swine flu and of course the huge amount of pure unverified churnalism that makes up the bulk of the content – but this just feels as low as it can get for Daily Mail journalism. This is just taking someone’s word for it, purely because they are saying the right thing.

I know this is not the first story of its kind – we all know the invented story about the tale of a mum who had claimed her son was ordered off a bus, apparently by a ‘Polish or East European’ driver, because he was wearing an ‘offensive’ England shirt. But it does seem to be a bit of an evolution of the way this journalism is carried out, the lesson from the Polish bus driver story was in order for this kind of story to be effective it must not involve an organisation that can check facts and defend itself – which led to the debunking of the Polish bus driver story. Instead it must only involve the word of someone who cannot be fact-checked – like, for example the managing director of a small haulage firm who just happens to get his company name and truck into the paper for moaning about benefits scroungers.

I’m not saying this story is not true, I’m just saying that there is no possible way to verify that it is or isn’t; in which case it should not be printed. I know I’m repeating myself, but it is worth saying over and over again: this is not journalism. Not even close.

Floods and Waves

As a change of pace I thought I’d peruse some other tabloid websites for a while to see what they were offering their readers. I haven’t been on the Sun website for quite some time, and suddenly remembered why I rarely visit the site for stories: because the site is just so terrible. I’ll give the Daily Mail credit for one thing: its website is light years ahead of other tabloid news sites. The Express website is slightly better, which makes things slightly worse because it makes it easier to find stories that make you shake your head. Stories like: ‘NEW WAVE OF MIGRANTS WIN RIGHT TO FLOOD UK‘.

The Express don’t do subtle, which is why the headline clearly suggests that somewhere a group of foreigners has battled to win the right to settle in the UK. The introduction goes even further:

BRITAIN was last night warned to expect a new wave of immigration from Eastern Europe after almost half a million Ukrainians and Serbians were given the right to live, work and claim benefits in the UK.

Of course, this isn’t really what has happened which is in fact that around 450,000 Ukrainians and Serbians can apply for Hungarian citizenship should they ‘speak the nation’s language or prove they have Hungarian ancestry’. It doesn’t mean any of them will actually want to or be allowed to become Hungarian citizens, nor does it follow that they will all then want to the UK; although with all this tabloid talk of what a ‘generous’ welfare system we have, I can’t blame them for being fooled into wanting to move here. However, as ever the Express ignores any uncertainty:

This means they will be granted full employment rights in the UK and access to British benefits.

Now it is feared that tens of thousands of the “new citizens” will flee the dire economic situation in Eastern Europe for the UK’s lucrative job market and generous welfare system.

Last night there was anger that Britain’s borders were being opened to yet more migrants from Eastern Europe.

The ‘anger’ comes from UKIP, Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatchUK and the TaxPayers’ Alliance. All of them wholly unreliable sources of anything other than a suitably angry quote on demand. In particular Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, assertion that ‘The possibility of yet more people travelling to the UK to escape the recession in their own countries is particularly worrying, and we simply cannot afford it with our finances being in such a poor state’, seems somewhat silly, given that immigrants are a net contributer to the UK and have a ‘positive and growing impact on the public finances’.

Still, the Express will not let facts stand in the way of ramping up the fear of another ‘wave’ of ‘flooding’ migrants that already has people ‘fearing’ for the public finances.

The BNP: Another Consequence of the Tabloid Press

I received a BNP leaflet through the door the other day from Kay Thomas, my local BNP candidate and meant to post on it straight away, but got distracted by Gillian Duffy and the whole ‘You can’t talk about immigration‘ issue. However, picking apart a BNP leaflet is too easy a task to ignore, and because the BNP are almost entirely created by a dishonest and ill-regulated press, then they are also an issue too important to ignore.

bnp_leaflet_front bnp_leaflet_back

It is easy to get distracted from the real poison of BNP ‘literature’ on account of just how laughably terrible it is. What you have to remember is that nobody with a shred of intelligence or creativity could possibly be a BNP member, so when you get Nick Griffen’s chubby confused face overlapping the black and white face of Winston Churchill you have to remember that this is meant to create the notion that somehow they’re a bit similar. It isn’t supposed to just make Nick Griffen look very stupid. Likewise the phrases used are supposed to get you worked up and voting for the BNP, rather than just making you laugh out loud: ‘We’re NOT Second Class Citizens!’ screams the front of the leaflet. Then why do you keep saying we are? But the leaflet deserves more serious criticism as do the press which have created the mythical narratives that allows the BNP to create an entire manifesto on getting ‘even’ with immigrants and asylum seekers.

For example, take the two main pledges on the front page: ‘Put a stop to Immigration’ and ‘Raise the Weekly Pension to £150′; along with the claim of a BNP ‘voter’ on the back:

I’m voting BNP because I’m sick of seeing asylum seekers coming here and being given a better deal than our own pensioners! Charity begins at home and it’s time we looked after our elderly.

So, do asylum seekers ‘get a better deal’ than pensioners? And would ending immigration be a good thing? Interestingly, the two points are intimately linked, and not in the way that the BNP would like to imagine.

The current Basic State Retirement Pension for a single person is £95.25 per week and £152.30 for a couple. This is the full basic pension, requiring you to have worked and contributed full National Insurance payments for 30 years – an improvement under New Labour as previously you had to clock up 49 years for a man and 44 woman (a total that assumes work starts at 16 which is no longer the case for the majority of people). The basic pension is lower than the income support threshold, meaning that if a pensioner has no other income then they can top-up their pension with income support. This is a means-tested Pension Credit that brings up the weekly amount to £130 for a single person and £198.45 for a couple.

These sums are not massive, but a range of other benefits are available to pensioners. The main problem is a large percentage of pensioners do not claim all of the benefits that they are entitled to; one estimate suggests unclaimed benefits for pensioners can amount to as much as £5 billion annually.

Pensioners are an age group that a lot of political parties are keen to offer extra support to, and a group that are seen as being badly let down by the current government. They are also a group that tends to vote, so they are a key election demographic. However, they are also a problematic group because providing a basic state pension has become more and more expensive – irrespective of whether the weekly payments have increased or not. In 1949 there were approximately 4 million pensioners in the UK. There are now 10.5 million and this number is expected to rise to £14 million by 2050. This is largely because people are living longer than ever before, meaning that pensions are paid for longer periods to more people, making the basic state pension an increasingly expensive proposition.

This increase is compounded by the fact that population growth is slowing, meaning that there are fewer younger people entering employment. Currently there are 4.5 working people to contribute taxes towards each pensioner, by 2025 there will only be 3.5. One of the economic arguments being made for increased immigration is that we need to increase our working population in order to support our retired population. Immigrants offer a quick boost to the economy because they are not immediately entitled to benefits, they have not required state education in the UK and are therefore a ‘free’ source of tax revenue – because they do come here to work. However, the BNP is pledging to end immigration and increase the basic state pension, seems like they just haven’t thought this through and just want to keep foreigners out – almost as if they were just a racist party and nothing else. You will not see this point mentioned often – if at all – in the mainstream right-wing press either, but if you sit down and look at it then the positive economic contribution that immigrants make  (£2.5 billion) is helping to fund the current state pension.

The reality is that if we want a more secure retirement we need a much larger working population and as this is not expected to be achieved through population growth then increased immigration is the only solution.

The real point that needs to repeatedly reiterated is that Asylum seekers are only a small group, and that they do not receive anywhere near the basic benefits of a pensioner. The reality is that asylum seekers receive a weekly living allowance set at just 70% of income support – the weekly payment for an asylum seeker over 25 is just £35.13, £95 (or 70%) less every week than a pensioner claiming income support; and just over half of what the government says a person needs to live on. Furthermore the vast majority of asylum seekers are not entitled to claim any of the following:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Job Seekers Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Council Tax Benefit
  • Social Fund
  • Disability Living Allowance
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Invalid Care Allowance
  • Severe Disablement Allowance
  • Non-contributory incapacity benefit
  • Working Families’ Tax Credit
  • Disabled Person’s Tax Credit
  • Child Benefit

The UK asylum system is strictly controlled and this is reflected in the numbers of people seeking asylum in the UK. There were only 25,670 asylum applications to the UK in 2008. Applications have fallen by almost half over the last five years. The home office detains roughly 2,000 asylum-seeking children with their families each year. The treatment of asylum seekers is a national disgrace.

You will not read about any of the above in the vast majority of tabloid newspapers. Those newspapers instead prefer headlines like: ‘Asylum seekers are lured to the UK by its ‘enormous’ benefits, says Calais mayor in blistering attack on Britain‘ (The Daily Mail), ‘Former asylum seekers on benefits live in £1.8 million home‘ (The Daily Telegraph) and ‘Asylum seekers wrongly paid £10m in benefits‘ (London Evening Standard). These headlines are on the first 2 pages of Google results for ‘asylum seekers benefits’.

In a recent article on immigration I argued that tabloid newspapers are as poisonous as cigarettes in that you don’t have to directly read a tabloid newspaper to suffer, you are poisoned merely by existing in the same atmosphere as one. Just as the passive smoker inhales the carcinogens of the cigarette, so the passive tabloid reader inhales the toxic messages of the tabloid press. You cannot ignore tabloid newspapers anymore than you can dodge inhaling the smoke of a lit cigarette in your proximity. When a BNP leaflet lands on your doorstep urging you to vote BNP in order to stop putting asylum seekers above pensioners you are inhaling the toxins of a un-regulated tabloid press. When hatred and bigotry is typed onto glossy paper and posted through your door as a supposedly creditable political option then you should look not just towards the ignorant racists that put the message onto the leaflet, but also towards the tabloid newspapers who carefully created the message for them in the first place.

The next time you hear someone complaining about asylum seekers ‘getting it all’ or playing any part in the current economic crisis ask them how many people seek asylum in the UK each year. I doubt they would have a clue. Then ask them just how much an asylum seeker is entitled to each week, and what benefits they can claim. Again, I doubt that they have a clue. Yet they are happy to blame around 25,000 people living on just over half the amount that the government says a person needs to live on – 70% less than pensioners claiming income support – for ‘broken Britain’. Whenever someone exhales a tabloid lie about immigration or asylum seekers in your face, be as offended as you would be if a smoker exhaled cigarette smoke in your face. Say something, challenge them, let them know that parroting tabloid lies is not big and not clever. If you can make just one person see the reality the tabloids try so hard to obscure, then you’ve done something amazingly positive for humanity.

A Talk About Immigration

Yesterday I tried to point out that the whole notion that immigration was something that we were not as a society allowed to discuss was beyond ludicrious. I updated that post with today’s front page of the Daily Mail to demonstrate that the right-wing press are as keen as ever to portray immigration as the great unmentionable topic during this election. Here I am going to look at it in more detail, as well as looking at just what the truth is in respect to immigration in this country.

Firstly, the Daily Mail headline is absolutely laughable: ‘Politicians’ censorship of any debate on mass immigration explodes…’ and easily swept aside by the fact that immigration has been discussed at length by all three parties in something actually called ‘a debate’. Considering that these two live debates have been managed by ITV on one occasion and Sky on the other the idea that politicians have been ‘censoring’ the debate is a complete joke. The main reason people watch the TV debates I imagine is the fact that anything can happen on live TV, that they have a rare opportunity to view politicians without the stage-managed theatrics.

Moving on to the main headline it actually manages to be worse: ‘Demonised: The granny who dared to utter the I-word’. No point in going over old ground in dismissing the stupidity of the ‘you can’t talk about immigration’ claim, but look at the word ‘Demonised’. Who has really been demonised here? Gillian Duffy for being labelled a bigot in a personal, off-the-record remark by Gordon Brown who in public politely nodded and changed the subject as Gillian started rambling gibberish about foreigners like we are all supposed to (why is it socially unacceptable to challenge such remarks?). Or is it Gordon Brown who is being crucified by the press and has felt the need to offer a grovelling apology to Gillian Duffy despite the fact that her ramblings did seem to be bigoted? I think on the balance of evidence I’m going to suggest the only demonisation taking place here is the demonisation of anybody who tries to step outside the accepted right-wing narrative about immigration – which is: immigration is evil.

Consider Quentin Lett’s bizzare defence of Gillain Duffy which is headlined: ‘She was magnificent, she was eloquent. And she spoke, I suspect, for millions’. Am I alone in thinking that he must have read a completely different transcript, if the following is ‘magnificent’ and ‘eloquent’ then I really need to pick up a dictionary and check a couple of definitions:

…There are too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can’t get claim… You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying you’re – but all these eastern Europeans coming in, where are they flocking from?

Why then, is it so important for the Daily Mail to portray Gillian Duffy as ‘magnificent’ and ‘eloquent’? I suspect it is because here is a voter that just happens to be completely on message with the media narrative on immigration: vulnerable people are being screwed over because immigrants get all the benefits, but of course you can’t say anything about immigrants even though they’re all ‘flocking’ over here. Perfect. She is therefore the ideal proponent of the tabloid view of immigration and therefore if the Daily Mail gave the impression that she actually seemed confused, fearful and ignorant, it wouldn’t say a huge amount about the kind of person who understands, believes and repeats the tabloid narrative.

I understand that it is not productive to blame Gillian Duffy for having these views, she may well be a passive victim of consistent dishonesty from a poorly regulated press rather than the sort of bigot that buys a tabloid newspaper because it reinforces their view of immigration. It also isn’t her fault that she is being made into a faux martyr by the same dishonest newspapers. The only thing I can really do with regards to Gillian Duffy is shake my head in dissapointment that she has been fooled by the press into feeling the need to tackle Gordon Brown about foreigners coming over here.

The reason I am disappointed is that these inane mutterings have consequences for us all. I sometimes get smug comments on this site along the lines of: ‘Hey, you moan about people reading the Daily Mail to be angry, yet you do exactly the same! If you don’t like it, don’t read it, simple.’ However, it isn’t that simple because whether you read a tabloid newspaper or not, you cannot avoid being exposed to the poisenous narratives that they create.

Think of a tabloid reader as if they were a smoker and the tabloid newspaper is a cigerette. A lit cigerrete is hard to ignore, is has a fiery tip and billows smoke, the smoker inhales the poisenous smoke and then exhales it, often in the vicinity of others. You don’t have to be a smoker to inhale this second-hand smoke, nor do you have to be a smoker to see and smell the lit ciggerette. The tabloid press acts in the same way: the headlines scream at you from newstands, whilst any tabloid reader who inhales the message exhales it – frequently – in your company. We are all passive tabloid newspaper readers. The posenous stench is unavoidable.

Everytime you hear someone fearfully talk about the population hitting ’70million'; everytime you hear that immigrants / illegal immigrants / asylum seekers are ‘showered in benefits’ whilst ‘hard working taxpayers / pensioners’ are left without; everytime people say that there aren’t enough jobs because of immigrants; everytime you hear that local schools / hospitals are ‘full / stretched / overrun'; everytime you hear people moan about ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ or the ‘PC brigade’ or ‘political correctness gone mad'; everytime you hear someone talk about ‘open borders / no border controls / unlimited immigration’.

Everytime you hear these things you are the passive victim of a tabloid newspaper.

You may have never read a tabloid newspaper yet you and the rest of the country will have to sit through a third election debate this evening where the three candidates will compete to see who can be toughest on immigration. Once again, you are the passive victim of tabloid smoke being pumped out on immigration. You may not agree with Quentin Letts or Gillian Duffy yet whenever someone claims to speak for the ‘silent majority / average man on the street/ on behalf of the hard-working taxpayer’ the tabloid press attempts to steal your right to your own individual opinion. Your right to a proper democratic debate has been hijacked by the tabloid press, whether you read it or not, whether you even acknowledge its very existence is completely irrelevant.

It is difficult to change someone’s mind about an issue. I had an argument on Twitter today about whether I was being ‘dismissive’ of the opinions of people like Gillian Duffy, and whether I was wrong to give up trying to engage with such people to change their viewpoint. Firstly, in Gillian’s case I really don’t think this is her opinion, and secondly in my experience trying to argue against tabloid narratives is extremely difficult – hence why politics, religion and I imagine immigration are topics to be avoided at any dinner party because it’ll just turn into a row.

Shifting the existing culture of tabloid narratives is going to be tough, and clearly we have to focus on education the young in media literacy (I teach some sessions on this for the FE college I work in) so that they have a greater awareness that the majority of tabloid newspaper stories are extemely dishonest and designed to further an agenda that has nothing to do with news. One thing I have noticed teaching in areas with virtually no immigration is just how much hostility young people have to immigrants, even though they live in an area in which it just isn’t an issue.

Consider the following points taken from research into various immigration issues in the UK:

The main result of the empirical analysis is that there is no strong evidence of large adverse effects of immigration on employment or wages of existing workers. In this respect our findings are consistent with empirical results from international research. There is some weak evidence of negative effects on employment but these are small and for most groups of the population it is impossible to reject the absence of any effect with the data used here. Insofar as there is evidence of any effect on wages, it suggests that immigration enhances wage growth1.

These figures report the total number of international migrants – that is, without any separation by country of birth. In accordance with the United Nations defi nition, these figures also include British nationals returning after ayear or more abroad2.

A Home Office research study found that, in 1999/2000, first generation migrants in the UK contributed £31.2 billion in taxes and consumed £28.8 billion in benefits and public services – a net fiscal contribution of £2.5 billion3.

Work by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggests that around 17 per cent of economic growth in 2004 and 2005 is attributable to immigration4

The Treasury estimates that between Q3 2001 and mid-2006 migration added 0.5 per cent per annum to the working age population and therefore supported growth in economic output. On this basis, migration contributed around £6 billion to output growth in 20065.

More recent work by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found that migration has a positive and growing impact on the public finances. By 2003-04 it was estimated that migrants contributed 10 percent of government receipts and accounted for 9.1 per cent of government expenditure10.

There is no theoretical reason why immigration need either depress native wages or increase native unemployment. Given that there is a strong long-run correlation between the size of the labour force and employment, there is no “lump of labour”; it is not true to say that there are only a fixed number of jobs to go round6.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has performed an extensive and thorough statistical analysis of claimant count data, the Annual Labour Force Survey and the Workers Registration Scheme (WRS). This analysis found no discernible statistical evidence that A8 migration has resulted in an increase in the claimant count rate since May 20047.

we have found no discernible statistical evidence to suggest that A8 migration has been a contributor to the rise in claimant unemployment in the UK9.

Vacancies, including those in sectors where migrants are concentrated have been and remain historically high. The magnitude of vacancies in the UK in a given month is far greater than the inflow of A8 migrants8.

Most new migrants have no entitlement to social housing… Foreign-born populations who have arrived in the UK during the last five years are overwhelmingly housed in the private rental sector, and not in social housing. New migrants to the UK over the last five years make up less than two per cent of the total of those in social housing; some 90 per cent of those who live in social housing are UK born12.

Our findings suggest that areas that have higher levels of recent immigration than others are not more likely to vote for the BNP. In fact, the more immigration an area has experienced, the lower its support for the far right. Rather, the evidence points to political and socio-economic exclusion as drivers of BNP support11.

Think back to these points when each party leader talks about the importance of ‘reducing’ or ‘controlling’ or ‘capping’ immigration and consider whether these pledges are being in the best interest of the country. Or, whether they are being made to mollify a huge electoral swathe of people addicted to tabloid smoke. Not to mention whether the politicians are keen to appease the creators of this smoke: the right-wing tabloid press whose dishonest, hateful and shameful reporting has led to this ‘issue’ taking center stage in the first place.

We all know that any politician or political party brave enough to have a real debate about immigration would be absolutely crucifed by the right-wing press. Yet, we must also realise that whether we inhale it first-hand, or passively inhale it from others, we are all being subjected to the same poisenous message and if we don’t want to be poisened we all have to fight for change. A passive smoker no longer enters a pub for a few drinks and comes out stinking of smoke. Imagine a world in which we could enter a pub and not inhale the stench of tabloid lies either. As I said on Twitter earlier: we cannot have a real debate on immigration as long as the tabloid press exists in its current form. It is that simple.


For more on this topic also see the excellent Tabloid Watch.

References

1, Dustmann, C. Fabbri, F. Preston, I. and Wadsworth, J. (2003) The local labour market effects of immigration in the UK. Home Office Online Report 06/03 [pdf]. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/14331/1/14331.pdf

2, A Cross-Departmental Submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs (2007) The Economic and Fiscal Impact of Immigration. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm72/7237/7237.pdf

3, IBID

4, IBID

5, IBID

6, Blanchflower, D. Saleheen, J. and Shadforth, C. (2007) The Impact of the Recent Migration from Eastern Europe on the UK Economy. Bank of England. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/speeches/2007/speech297.pdf

7, A Cross-Departmental Submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs (2007) The Economic and Fiscal Impact of Immigration. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm72/7237/7237.pdf

8, IBID

9, Gilpin, N. Henty M. Lemos, S. Portes, J. and Bullen, C. (2006) The impact of free movement of workers from Central and Eastern Europe on the UK labour market. Department for Work and Pensions, Working Paper No. 29. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/wp29.pdf

10, Reed, H. and Latorre, M. (2009) The Economic Impacts of Migration on the UK Labour Market. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.ippr.org.uk/publicationsandreports/publication.asp?id=649

11, IPPR (2010) Exploring the Roots of BNP Support. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.ippr.org.uk/publicationsandreports/publication.asp?id=743

12, Rutter, J. and Latorre, M. (2009) Social housing allocation and immigrant communities. Accessed 29 April 2009: http://www.ippr.org.uk/publicationsandreports/publication.asp?id=689

‘You Can’t Talk About Immigration’

‘You can’t talk about immigration’. I seem to be hearing this phrase all the damn time lately.

Isn’t the world a strange place sometimes. I could have sworn that a huge amount of time this election has been spent talking about immigration. I was absolutely certain that both TV debates featured all three leaders arguing about who had the toughest approach to immigration. I was even pretty sure one of the debates was supposed to be about international affairs, not domestic affairs like immigration. I was pretty certain that the BNP and UKIP centre their entire political ideology around immigration, whilst the Conservative Party are planning to introduce a cap on immigrants, Labour are creating a Australian-style points-based system and the Liberal Democrats are creating an amnesty for illegal immigrants whilst peppering new arrivals to emptier parts of the country.

I was pretty certain that the Daily Mail runs huge amounts of stories about immigration, as does the Express, the Sun and other tabloid newspapers. These tabloids and some of the broadsheets also point out that if we reach a population of 70million because of immigration bad things will happen and life in Britain may well end. Immigration, immigration, immigration. One of the key issues of this election. Everyone is talking about it. When prospective and current PMs go on Radio 1 it is the main issue that young voters want to bring up. As far as I can perceive: everyone wants to know what is going to be done about immigration, and they are not shy to talk about it.

Yet it turns out I am badly mistaken, because of course ‘You can’t talk about immigration.’ As Gillian Duffy so eloquently put it:

You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying that you’re … but all these eastern European what are coming in, where are they flocking from?

It is easy to simply mock Gillian Duffy for answering her own question, but if you look at it more carefully the more bigoted the question comes. For she isn’t using ‘Eastern European’ to refer specifically to people from that part of Europe, rather she is using it as a catch-all term for foreigners of no distinct country, hence why she asks ‘where are they flocking from?’.

Think of the way that ‘Paki’ and ‘Pakistani’ became used as a derogatory term to describe anyone Asian. I think ‘Eastern European’ is being used in the same way here, with the same argument to defend it: it isn’t racist to refer to national groups. I get the feeling that ‘fucking Eastern Europeans’ is fast becoming the new ‘fucking Pakis’. Both phrases are borne out of ignorance: ‘I do not care where you came from, I only care and am upset by the fact that you are here, please kindly fuck off’.

The ineloquence of Gillian Duffy seems to stem from what tabloid newspapers have tried so hard to create; a kind of unthinking acceptance that the country is overrun with immigrants. What happens is that people like Gillian pick up the general narrative but can’t quite remember the details, largely – I like to think – because their brain subconciously rejects them as bollocks. Look at the way she talks about claiming benefits for example:

But there’s too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can’t get claim, can’t get it.

You can see she is trying to regurgitate the narrative that she has been fed, but it doesn’t come out quite right. You can see she is trying to say that immigrants get all the benefits whilst people in need get nothing, yet something prevented her. Maybe when people write about what a genius Littlejohn is, and how he can put into words what the rest of us cannot, perhaps there is some truth in this. Perhaps if Littlejohn had been responding to this statement he would have been able to quickly draw agreement from Gillian: ‘You mean that we’re showering immigrants with benefits whilst British taxpayers, pensioners and vulnerable people suffer?’ Littlejohn might reply. ‘Yes, that is exactly it’ Gillian would presumably exclaim, marvelling at Littlejohn’s mastery of basic narratives.

This seems to be supported by her next point that ‘you can’t say anything about the immigrants…’ is just classic tabloid rubbish, as above: we don’t seem to be talking about any other ‘issue’ in this election and the topic is front page material almost every week for most tabloids. The rise of the BNP is blamed on the fact that we ‘don’t have proper debates about immigration’ or that immigration is a ‘taboo subject’. Yet it isn’t, it is a subject that can be discussed by people like Gillian Duffy on national TV, using the exact language above and Gordon Brown is the one being dragged over hot coals for having the decency and honesty to call her a bigot.

If anything shows how skewered this issue has become is that newspapers are now running with the ‘Political Correctness gone mad’ angle: ‘look, you can’t even make barely literate slurs against foreigners anymore, It’s PC gone mad’. Newspapers use it as evidence that any attempt at open debate is crushed by the PC brigade, rather than Gordon Brown being compassionate and walking away before Gillian went on to say something really offensive.

It is not racist to discuss immigration, however, when someone knows nothing about the subject and resorts to attempting to repeat shit they have read in a newspaper, then I’m going out on a limb and saying: they are a bigot. They might not be an overt racist voting BNP and secretly admiring Hitler, they might simply be what I think Gillian is: just not that smart, another simple person being sold a big steaming tabloid narrative that immigrants get it all whilst those really in need – British people – are bumped to the back of the queue.

But irrespective of how bigoted Gillian Duffy is or isn’t can we all just agree on one thing: not only can you talk freely about immigration in the UK, you can also freely talk absolute shite about it. In fact I would go even further than that: in the UK you can sell thousands of newspapers and earn thousands of pounds as a writer simply by constantly talking shit about immigration.


UPDATE:

The Daily Mail has predictably and depressingly completely proved my point with their headline today:

gillian duffy

You see, even when you mention the ‘I-word’ on the front page of a national newspaper with a criculation of over 2 million people, you still cannot talk about immigration.

Head, meet desk.

Ignoring the evidence on immigration, part 2

A while back I wrote about the destitute Gurkhas who moved to the UK expecting help and support but actually found out that they were not entitled to benefits, housing and so forth. I argued that as the story was in the Daily Mail it should demonstrate to Mail readers that the idea that immigrants get force-fed money, gifted free cars and a lovely 6 bedroom house is a complete myth. If even Gurkhas don’t get anything, then what are the chances of unpopular migrants getting more than them? However, Mail readers of course just whinged on in the comments about how unfair that other immigrants and asylum seekers got all this free stuff and the Gurkhas didn’t.

Without any suggestion that they even considered the possibility that they had swallowed a tabloid myth whole, and that Gurkhas were just receiving exactly the same benefits and other migrants receive when they enter the UK: bugger all.

Today the Daily Mail has printed another story about people coming to the UK and not receiving benefits, only this time it is a returning British citizen:

A British grandmother who returned home destitute after living in Spain for 23 years has complained after being barred from claiming benefits.

Lorraine Marsland, 52, says officials are classing her alongside asylum seekers even though she was born here and holds a British passport.

Since arriving in Britain in January with her grandson Dylan, she has been denied housing benefit, child benefit, and Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Naturally, rather than see this as yet further evidence that Britain is not a soft touch when it comes to dishing out benefits, Mail readers see it as yet further evidence that is she only was a proper asylum seeker she’d be getting it all:

But if she was Eastern European or any other EU national apart from British, she would be getting benefits.

– Karen, London, 23/4/2010 16:35 Click to rate Rating 2257

She should have said she came from Timbuctoo and didn’t speak any English, they would have been falling over backwards to help her.

– Pat Sweeney, Lanark, Scotland, 23/4/2010 16:35 Click to rate Rating 2159

Those are currently the two highest rated comments, but all is not lost as other highly-rated comments include:

You haven’t lived here for twenty three years so why should we the tax payers have to support you?

– M.A., B’ham, England, 23/4/2010 16:37 Click to rate Rating 1793

‘I looked up the law they quoted and it included asylum seekers. I was just stunned. I’m a British citizen, I’ve got a British passport, I’ve paid taxes.

So, you moved from the UK to Spain and have lived there for most of your life. All was well until you lost your job and money. Then you decided to come back to the UK and let the taxpayers pay for the rent on your council/housing association home, council tax, and benefits on top. OF COURSE YOU SHOULD BE TREATED LIKE AN ASYLUM SEEKER, YOU HAVENT PAID ANYTHING INTO THE SYSTEM OVER HERE, MAYBE YOU SHOULD HAVE STAYED IN SPAIN!

– Rudi Mentry, Right here – Right now!!, 23/4/2010 16:34 Click to rate Rating 1544

And even more encouraging is the comment with the highest negative rating:

I find this story absolutely unbelievable! This woman holds a British passport and is british born and bred.

Lorraine…My advise to you is to claim asylum and they will give you anything you want….Home, car, furniture and money, just like they do with all the other asylum seekers that land in the UK. If you can’t beat them then join them!

I wish you the best of British!

– Trish, Sydney, Australia, 23/4/2010 16:16 Click to rate Rating 88

This is interesting because of course this is exactly what the Daily Mail is implying with this article; they spend a huge amount of their time feeding the myth that all asylum seekers and immigrants are getting everything they desire, but look who isn’t: British People. It’s all the fault of the PC-Brigade and the human rights brigade that only guarantee the rights of filthy foreigners and is set up to ATTACK DECENT TAXPAYING WHITE PEOPLE.

Yet here, the person swallowing this giant turd whole is negatively rated. I take just a smidgen of hope from that. Perhaps the constant attacks on the Liberal Democrats have made people sit up and take notice of the fact that the Daily Mail has an agenda and will print any old rubbish to push that agenda.

Leo McKinstry: A Challenge

Leo McKinstry today makes the following assertions:

The great myth of the pro-immigration lobby is to pretend that newcomers have been the engine of economic prosperity. True, many have made a wonderful contribution to this country.

But the fact is that any economic gains have been outweighed by the colossal costs to the public sector in housing, education, healthcare and social security. As a host of authoritative studies shows, migrants are more likely to be in receipt of benefits than the British-born population.

It is one of the reasons why our public finances have sunk into massive deficits during a period of unprecedented immigration…

He provides no evidence for any of these assertions. No link or naming of his ‘authorative studies’, no reports demonstrating that migrants take more from the state than they pay in taxes. No evidence, just lazy racist stereotyping ready to be lapped up by other lazy racists. Expect the BNP to be using this article as yet more ‘evidence’ of the terrible ‘truth’ about immigration.

A cursory Google search leads you to evidence that suggests the reason Leo McKinstry hasn’t provided any evidence (apart from the obvious excuse that as a tabloid hack, he simply never has to) is because he is just making it up. For example, Camden council’s immigrant myths and fact section contains the following:

Migrants contribute 10 per cent more in taxes than they consume in benefits and public services. Migrants contributed £2.5 billion more to the state than they received in benefits and state services, according to the Home Office’s own figures.

Quite how this net contribution has helped ‘sink’ the public finances is beyond me.

Leo McKinstry will in all likelihood never read this blog post. But if he does, I challenge him to provide any credible evidence to back up his claims.

That such an utterly baseless, untrue article can be published solely to incite racial hatred, intolerance and the rise of fascism in the UK says everyone you need to know about the effectiveness of the Press Complaints Commission.

That immigration has become one of the key battlegrounds over which the election is being fought should be to the eternal shame of the tabloid media. But we all know, they have no shame.

Ignoring the Evidence about Immigration

Sometimes you think a story in the Daily Mail might make its readers think, just a little bit, about an issue. For example, the average Daily Mail reader firmly believes that every immigrant – illegal or otherwise – gets given lavish benefits, a house and everything they want. This is to be contrasted with the ‘indigenous’ Briton who gets none of these things.

However, Daily Mail readers are not very good at thinking – which is why they buy a newspaper to do it for them. They cannot see that immigrants cannot possibly be both stealing all of our jobs and leaching off the taxpayer on benefits. Likewise, if a story appears that shows immigrants not living the life of luxury that they assume they’re all living, they don’t think that perhaps they’ve been mistaken. Instead, they get angry that immigrants who do seem deserving are getting a rough ride, whilst immigrants who do not deserve anything (illegal is used widely) get everything. It doesn’t change their viewpoint, it just makes them angrier about their original viewpoint.

It’s all rather depressing that certain sections of humanity cannot help a fellow man without first crying in despair with arms aloft: ‘But what have they done for US?’. This brings us to the story in today’s Mail about a set of immigrants that have earned compassion: the Gurkhas. ‘Picture of despair: 24 Gurkhas living in desperate poverty in country they fought for (so why won’t Joanna Lumley speak out now?)‘. Quite why Joanna Lumley is the only person that should speak out for them is beyond me, and the attack seems more than a little hypocritical and distasteful given the Daily Mail campaign to dehumanise immigrants.

But, I accept that the Daily Mail exists purely to attack people, regardless of whether they’re throwing stones from within an extremely delicate glass house. What frustrates me is the unfailing inability of Mail readers to think when they read an article. Whatever article they read I get the impression that they walk away with exactly the same opinion that they started with. I know that most of the Daily Mail’s output is designed to actively ensure this, but often they run contradictory articles like this and still Mail readers are none-the-wiser.

The article makes it clear that:

Astonishingly in the current financial climate, they were advised they would get jobs paying £1,000 a month.

Yet the reality is so cruelly different. Most of the veterans have never received a penny…

The majority insisted that they had received promises from the Gurkha’s veterans association Gaeso and by the English lawyers at Howe & Co about getting work, houses, and benefits in the UK – yet hardly any have received a penny.

The reality is that the Gurkhas have received the same treatment that any immigrant receives when arriving in the UK. We do not lavish benefits on immigrants, even those that have served us. Rather than questioning whether this is in fact the case, Mail readers simply stick their head in the hands and insist that someone, somewhere, is getting all of these handouts and that they are less deserving than the Gurkhas:

Genuine cases like these get nothing while every Tom Dick and Abdul from Somalia to Iraq get everything they could possibly require. Makes me so angry.

– jake, reading, 18/3/2010 6:00 Click to rate Rating 76

If I understand correctly, these gentelmen are LEGAL immigrants.

Maybe that was their mistake.

It seems to me that the disgrace belongs not to Joanna Lumley, but to the British Government. From this distance, I receive the impression that the minions of government, both local and national, are too busy with preserving the human rights of illegal immigrants, fining people for taking photos of their grandchildren in public parks or for blowing their noses behind the wheel at a red light. I wonder if a change of government might help?

– Barduchas, Dubai, 18/3/2010 5:57 Click to rate Rating 58

Some people do not even see the obvious contradictions in their own arguments:

As it has been said before and as i will say it again now. These men fought for this country. Were willing to put their lives on the line for US. Now we are forsaking them and for WHAT exactly??

I would be proud for them to come and live in this country and be a part of our society. They, more than any other immigrant who comes to this country to take advantage of our LAX benefits culture truelly deserve far far more both in support and gratitude than what they are not receiving at the moment.

I’m frankly disgusted at their treatment.

– Rick, Toytown, 18/3/2010 10:12 Click to rate Rating 56

Just what is Rick thinking? How can he actually write down that argument? Does he seriously think that an already deeply unpopular government is withholding benefits from the popular Gurkhas that every other immigrant (legal or otherwise) gets? Is he suggesting that everyone is able to ‘take advantage of our LAX benefits culture’… apart from Gurkhas? Has the government put in special measures to ensure that no benefits are issued to just about the only immigrant group that the public generally supports? Do Gurkhas join the benefit queue only to be turned away: ‘Sorry Sir, turns out you’re a Gurkha. You’re not entitled to anything, can you please step to one side so I can throw money at the illegal Somalian behind you.’

Do Mail readers never see how utterly ridiculous their arguments are? Do they not realise that this treatment isn’t abnormal, it’s the reality of moving to the UK. If anything, they should be pleased, after all, given how much they hate their taxes going to those less fortunate than themselves in the form of benefits. If you generally have no compassion for those these fortunate than you, do not be upset when a group less fortunate than you that you just happen to like gets shafted just like the rest of them.

Either have compassion for other human beings, or don’t. Do not pick and choose based on which groups might have done something for you first, that just makes you a selfish arsehole.

We’re not supporting the BNP, honest

I’m sure most people are aware that Nick Griffin is set to appear on BBC’s Question Time tomorrow night and I’m sure it is far to say that opinion has been somewhat divided over the BBC allowing him to appear. From my point of view I have no real argument to make against him appearing and I only hope that the others attending are up the job of pointing out the hatred and holes in his rhetoric. However, it is interesting to see a series of journalists scrabbling to distance themselves from the BNP, as if they wouldn’t be seen dead talking to them and definitely are not responsible for creating popular support for a fascist party. Step forward two principle Daily Mail writers: Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn.

It has been pointed out in the past that Melanie Phillips seems to be officially endorsed by the BNP and that her incessant rambling about the ‘Islamification’ of every aspect of Britain is there for everyone to see on her blog and on the Daily Mail website. Yet this week she has been trying to make out that the BNP are racist, but some of the things that they stand for – and she calls for – are not, such as standing up against ‘mass immigration, Islamisation and the loss of sovereignty to the EU’. However, one could easily argue that having such viewpoints demonstrates at least an ignorance of reality and at most demonstrate that the person raising those points is racist. Melanie Phillips constantly flogs the ‘open-border, uncontrolled immigration’ myth which the BNP feeds on, so it is no wonder that now that Nick Griffin – the demon child partly raised by the tabloid press – is about to go very public certain writers who peddle such myths are worried that Nick Griffin being shot down rightly is a blow to their credibility to.

Richard Littlejohn has written a similar article this week arguing that he wouldn’t want to debate with Nick Griffin because ‘Once you’ve said he’s a racist, where else is there to go?’ and makes some valid points in his article about why the BNP are unsavoury and racist. However, Richard Littlejohn is being extremely hypocritical when criticising the BNP because he is one of journalists most responsible for repeating myths about immigrants and other minority groups. Nick Griffin once said that Littlejohn was his favourite writer and judging by the comments underneath his column today an awful lot of BNP supporters are very upset that Littlejohn of all people should be sticking the boot into the organisation that he is usually so reliably providing ammunition for.

As if to prove just how Littlejohn’s inherent racism supports the BNP agenda he finds himself inserting an anti-immigrant story right next to his piece on the nasty BNP, is he really that thick? Yes, he is, in a column when Littlejohn is trying to distance himself from the BNP he supplies them with some more made-up fodder. The title of the piece quickly dismisses the notion that Littlejohn is not racist: ‘Hey diddle diddle, they are all on the fiddle’. The ‘they’ that Littlejohn refers to is of course immigrants, he is stating, in an article that tries to argue against the overt racism of the BNP that all immigrants are on the fiddle. Just who is Littlejohn trying to kid when he claims not to support what the BNP stand for? This is exactly the kind of shit that the BNP and Nick Griffin love him for.

Naturally the content of the article is completely ficiticious and Tabloid Watch had taken it apart the day before Littlejohn regurgitated it – and he predicted that Littlejohn wouldn’t be able to resist sticking it in his column. Littlejohn isn’t just a racist, he’s a predictable racist that is incapable of doing even the most basic piece of research. As Johann Hari pointed out during an TV encounter with Littlejohn and a BNP member a few years back:

For him to present himself as a neutral arbiter between the BNP and non-fascists was so absurd (and typical of Rupert Murdoch’s empire) that I thought I could have a chance to expose that too. After all, BNP leader Nick Griffin has described Littlejohn as his favourite writer… The BNP fool was very easily dispensed with… So I asked Richard how much a single asylum seeker is given in benefits each week. You’d think that a journalist who writes about asylum twice a week would, of course, know something so incredibly basic. His response was clear. He snapped: “I have no idea”.

No idea. I pointed out that he refers constantly to asylum-seekers being “hosed down” with benefits… He began to howl: “It’s people like you who help the BNP!” He declined to talk me through the mysterious process by which people who peddle urban myths, exaggerations and prejudice about asylum-seekers are really stopping the BNP, and people who correct those distortions are helping them… Littlejohn’s response was to accuse me of staging “a student prank”.

Likewise, Littlejohn offering criticism today of the BNP is utterly absurd when his ‘journalism’ does so much to champion their cause. As No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands argues:

Let me make myself clear; the BNP are much worse than Phillips and Littlejohn, and I’m not trying to suggest their views are identical. But when Mail columnists like them constantly bang on about political correctness stifling debate, and depict accusations of racism as underhand tricks to create ‘thought crimes’, when you repeatedly say, as Phillips does, that “The hallmark of a liberal society is the toleration of offensive views”, can they then realistically simply dismiss the BNP as racists? As Five Chinese Crackers wrote, these extremist groups seem to be at least partly fuelled by the relentlessly negative stories about Muslims and immigration and overbearing political correctness that the Mail churns out. I can’t help but feel that when Mail writers lash out at the BNP, maybe somewhere in there should be a little twinge of guilt. There won’t be, of course, they simply blame it on the left.

I’m inclined to be less generous to Littlejohn here, I think as a very highly-paid journalist we should expect more from him, we should expect him to engage with facts and stop publishing unfounded hate stories against minority groups. I’d like him to stop saying that every immigrant arriving in the UK is ‘on the fiddle’ and only here to milk a generous benefits system that ‘indigenous whites’ don’t have access to. I’d like him to stop referring to the absurd notion that the UK has ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and ‘no border controls’. I’d like him to stop mocking gays and other minority groups that the BNP hate simply because he thinks it is so hilarious to pander to the prejudices of his moronic readership. I’m not overly inclined to criticise Melanie Phillips because I genuinely believe her to be mentally ill – and I do not say this flippantly or lightly, I have just simply come to that conclusion because her articles are so detached from reality.

I’d also point out that often people try to argue that members of the BNP learn their hatred and maintain through a lack of education and ignorance. The tabloid press is responsible for creating and repeating myths about minority groups, so are they as guilty or even more guilty than those who believe such myths? It is far too easy to trust the content of a newspaper and to really believe that Littlejohn ‘couldn’t make it up’, which lays more guilt at the hands of Littlejohn than the morons that follow the BNP. This isn’t to lessen the burden of responsibility that should be felt by those who follow the BNP, because at some point they have chosen the path of hatred and paranoia and they must take ownership of this choice.

Nonetheless I cannot help but feel that the tabloid press is behaving incredibly hypocritically when it runs any criticism of the BNP when it publishes vile racism every single day. Take today’s article by Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express, it is every bit as abhorrent as Jan Moir’s article on Stephen Gately yet it passes by with hardy a ripple. Racism is the staple diet of the tabloid press and outside of certain blogs it is very rarely commented on, until this changes and the tabloids banish their own inherently racist tendencies they should play no part in criticising the emergence of the BNP as a faintly credible political party – especially you Littlejohn.