In 1925, the newly installed Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill, linked the pound the gold standard in a vain attempt to boost a dying empire. This led to an economic catastrophe and the now famous General Strike of 1926. Always one for war war as opposed to jaw jaw, Churchill advocated troops firing on strikers. So to stop him from inflicting such harm, he was assigned the editorship of the British Gazette, the government’s propaganda machine during the strike. The paper ridiculed the strikers and claimed they were a direct threat to the country’s democracy.
The media has continued with this tradition of ridiculing and demonising the working classes. During the Miner’s Strike of the 1980s, Thatcher wanted to take a very similar approach to Churchill, with a secret plot to use 4,500 troops to crush the miners and she had the backing of the right wing tabloids of the day. The Sun tried to run a front page of a straight-armed Arthur Scargill (he was mid-wave) under the heading, “Mine Furher”, but the print union (who knew if the miners lost they’d be next) refused to run it so the paper had to back down and run the alternative (see right).
However, the focus of today’s media demonization is the out-of-workers; those on benefits, who we are told have too many children, are promiscuous, criminal, and feckless. These types are paraded on the screens from Jerry Springer to Jeremy Kyle, with characters like Vicky Pollard and Frank Gallagher, and are regularly on the front pages of the tabloids. It feeds into politicians’ minds and speeches; in the UK election the focus is very much on hard working families, who can only be helped through cuts – cuts which implicitly will affect those on benefits. So if you are unemployed, disabled or unwell, elderly, you are seen as a drain on the state. All this, despite the fact that many “hard working people” are in poverty and rely on benefits and food banks. It is a classic divide and rule strategy.
How does one deal with this? One obvious way is with frustration, anger, protest, and voting against those propagating a perception that disadvantaged people are the problem. The other way, which Steve Pottinger has done with great wit in his poem Birmingham to London by Coach, is to write about it in a satirical way; turn our perceptions around, make us think differently about the current demonization of a class of people, who somehow hold little power and little money, and yet seem to dictate the policy of the main political parties. I know, it’s fucking bizarre! (more…)