openDemocracyUK

The Mail - irresponsible comment undermines everything of value

A relentless tide, year after year, of irresponsible comment from the Daily Mail especially is incompatible with the ideals of commonwealth within civil society.

Geoffrey Heptonstall
24 March 2015

Don’t you love the Daily Mail? There was a headline recently about ‘Red Ed’s threat to the NHS.’ The loony left is planning to destroy a revered British institution. For centuries the NHS has been there. Revered by Alfred the Great, enshrined in Magna Carta, the NHS has guaranteed care to countless generations saved from disability, beggary and early death. Its standard was raised at Agincourt and Trafalgar. It was there to succour the needy in the Depression and the War. And now it is under threat from the crypto-communist hate-mongers who lurk in the shadows.

Or, have I got that wrong? Wasn’t it Aneurin Bevan in the late Forties who saw it through against the bitter opposition of a powerful reactionary rump led by the flabby jowls of Dr Hill of the BMA?  Despite Hill and his ilk, wasn’t there a successful promise of care ‘from the cradle to the grave’? Wasn’t there something called the Welfare State? Wasn’t it the acknowledged inspiration of health and social care policies internationally, ranging from LBJ’S Great Society to Nyerere’s Arusha Declaration?

I grew up in the largest Tory constituency in England. It was prosperous enough to boast that it came through the Depression unscathed. I don’t recall anyone ever saying a word against the health and welfare policies. I was born in the shadow of a geriatric hospital in whose grounds in infancy we played among the well-cared-for elderly. From the beginning I learned the promise was that if things went wrong in life none of us would fall in the gutter.

The generosity of society enabled a generation to experiment with new ways of thinking and feeling. Not everyone approved, but on the whole there was a benevolence, a tolerance that seemed to be creating something truly progressive. A period roughly 1963 – 1975 was the time to grow up. Unless, of course, you were waiting for narrow-minded mediocrities to take their revenge.

Otherwise the NHS was the one aspect of socialism everyone could accept. Oh, and other welfare policies of course. And national parks. And British Rail. And the utilities. And race relations laws. And the Equal Pay Act. And a liberalising of divorce law. An end to capital punishment. Free education. And so much paid for with the timely withdrawal from empire. There was agreement on essentials, shared values barely questioned.

Of course people didn’t like scruffy students protesting about Viet-Nam, but they were grateful that Harold Wilson kept Britain out of that morass. In fact, people were grateful to Harold Wilson even if he was too left for the right and too right for the left. The electorate were grateful enough to Wilson to enable him to win four elections, a record unsurpassed by anyone and equalled only by Gladstone.

The Labour myth of 1945 does not compare with the actuality of Labour under Wilson. When he retired in 1976 most of British manufacturing was in public control. The wealth of the nation was owned by the nation. The health, welfare, education, transport and arts resources were within the public domain and publically owned. Liberty allowed people who had the means to withdraw. But as a general rule society was owned by society. The governing principle was collective responsibility tempered by civil liberty. It was a principle challenged only by reactionary fantasists.

The freedom to experiment extended to workers’ co-operatives, to community newspapers and street theatre. Labour wasn’t in the cultural vanguard, but it was benign in its encouragement. History is now re-written in media orthodoxy, but that’s how it really was.

A brief attempt in 1970 by Edward Heath [not the generous, jovial liberal of later years] to reverse the natural course of events failed disastrously. Public support for striking coalminers proved more powerful than the government. The remainder of the decade witnessed further socialization, with an official role for organized labour within the constitutional framework. Citizens who did not consider themselves socialist in principle favoured in practice many aspects of socialized culture, above all the NHS. How often you would hear people say, ‘I’m not a socialist, but I do agree with…’

We still have an organization by the name of the NHS. It is governed by managerial culture, and administered by philistine corporatists with Management ‘degrees’. The hierarchic structure is no longer one of merit but of power. Our public heath provision is ours no more. With the demonstrably false notion that commercial principles are more efficient and more accountable, health care is being sold to business. It is only a matter of time before care of any quality will no longer be available as a citizen’s right.

I do not see the Daily Mail complaining about this. I do not see its concern that principles of civic responsibility that date back to T.H. Green have all but vanished in a series of coup d’états masquerading as the democratic process. Thatcher had no mandate in 1979 for privatisation. This government had no mandate in 2010 to undermine the social fabric so that the collective principle subsides. New Labour was elected on principles of social justice and equality, even though the reality was a betrayal. Thatcher’s electoral appeal was to a minority, and in percentage terms unremarkable. The free market as a social principle has never commanded majority support in this country in living memory. But I do not see the Daily Mail saying so.

The press has a duty to tell the truth. It has a right to comment as it wishes, although the understanding is that the comment will be responsible and intelligent. The press has no right to present comment as objective truth. Claims to be ‘a free press in a free society’ mask the strategy of capital to manipulate prejudice and fear. In the name of freedom the elderly are dying in squalor, and the young are denied opportunities. But the headline is of the drug-crazed teenager who robs a pensioner. Better if the victim is a war hero and the robber is black. But pensioners and war heroes and teenagers are being robbed every day in every way. But I don’t see a story in the Daily Mail and its ilk about that.

Or, rather, if there is a story about deprivation it’s all the fault of the so-called experts and the interfering do-gooders controlled by left-wing intellectual parasites who hate Britain. Those of us who love Britain are especially proud of its ability to defend itself. Think of the roll-call of national heroes fighting whatever menaces our shores.

And of course there is the Enemy Within. The danger has not abated. It has gone underground. They intend to take away all you have earned, all you have laboured for and saved and hoped for over the years. You’re not one of the privileged. You’ve earned every penny you have. And they want to take it away from you in order to fund one of their madcap schemes that serve only to wreck a once-proud country. They, of course, will be immune because they come from rich, privileged backgrounds so they don’t know the hardships you’ve endured. While they were lounging about reading books you were slicing bacon or polishing someone else’s furniture. You may not be clever but you know what’s what.

And if it’s a fight they want then it’s a fight they’ll get. We can take on the idlers, the scroungers, the undesirables, and the riff-raff who come to our shores and take all we have and give nothing in return. Never mind, Cameron and Clegg pussyfooting. It is drastic action the situation needs. And if that means someone gets hurt, then so be it. I, for one, am prepared to give as good as I get. We’ve all taken enough. Never mind what all the wishy-washy liberals at Lambeth Palace say. We say Fight the Good Fight. Save our country from Red Ed before it’s too late. And if that means more drastic cuts, well so be it. The spirit of the Blitz will save us once again….

Postscript a generation later: Wandering among the ruins, the ragged children beg. Thank heavens for a free press in a free country.

 

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