2007 - 2021

Dog Whistle Politics Serve No-one

Labour have this morning announced that the shadow Home Secretary will temporarily step away from her role due to a health issue. She will be replaced by Lyn Brown, the Labour candidate for West Ham. It’s no surprise given the relentless attacks on the beleaguered MP. The woman has had the routine onslaught of online threats smears and misogyny, led by the likes of Boris Johnston, Nadine Dorries and Guido Fawkes, the hate-filled attack-blog of the far-right run by the barely intellectually continent Paul Staines.

As Zoë Beaty writes in The Pool yesterday: “When does criticism turn into abuse? A tweet by Guido Fawkes yesterday appears to have crossed that line – and they are not the only ones. Depicting a man in bed next to a pillow printed with Diane Abbott’s face, the caption of the tweet read, “It is OK, I have finally managed to console Diane. Sweet dreams everyone.” When the first comment underneath called out the sexist nature of the tweet (“Legitimate criticism of an interview is fine, this just has a nasty sexist edge to it”), Guido Fawkes replied, “She begged me.”

See Left Foot Forward here.

No-one covering his story is pretending for a second that Abbott’s performances haven’t been woeful at times, what they are pointing out is that there may well be a relationship between this relentless abuse and her shambolic media presence.

The abuse has been constant for years and is escalating but it’s not a new phenomenon. Beaty recalls:

“Writing for The Guardian, she gave examples of the type of abuse hurled at her – “Pathetic useless fat black piece of shit Abbott,” read one reference. “Just a piece of pig shit pond slime who should be fucking hung (if they could find a tree big enough to take the fat bitch’s weight”. Abbott said she had received death threats and rape threats, and is “referred to routinely as bitch and/or n*gger”. In February, news broke of misogynistic text messages sent about her by a cabinet minister”.

There’s a spectrum of abuse and this is being normalised. Only a few months ago David Davis engaged in behaviour that in most workplaces would have resulted in a sexual harassment charge (“Row erupts over David Davis’ ‘sexist’ texts about Labour MP Diane Abbott”).

Politics and media is tough, even vicious in an election campaign, and Gaby Hinsliff remembers the last period of Iain Duncan Smith in his last hunted days as Tory leader, “or a mortified Gordon Brown, near the end of his time in Downing Street, being asked live on television if he was secretly on medication” but this is of a completely different order, she notes:

“Abbott is becoming the bogeyman of the 2017 campaign, deployed just as systematically as the idea of Nicola Sturgeon sneaking in through Ed Miliband’s back door was in 2015, after Lynton Crosby discovered what a visceral response it provoked among wavering Tories. The question is why campaign messages attacking Abbott seem to go quite so viral, quite so easily; why it’s Abbott’s name that is booed most enthusiastically at rallies of the Tory faithful.”

The attack blogs are matched by their friends in the tabloid press, with The Sun and the Daily Mail leading the charge.

There is of course a relationship between these blogs, posturing as ‘edgy’ libertarian or anti-authoritarian and the press barons and hacks who pump out their bile in the red-tops.

As the Zelo Street blog explains today: “Sun Corbyn Terror Smear BUSTED”:

The problem for the inmates of the Baby Shard bunker is that their lead story is yet another pack of lies. “Sun Investigates Corbyn … JEZZA’S JIHADI COMRADES … Fiery speech to fanatics who inspired terror attacks” reads the headline, with the first lie coming in the first three words. So what’s the fact of this particular matter? The Sun is not investigating anyone. This “story”, such as it is, has been lifted from the Guido Fawkes blog, the original being posted yesterday. It was written by Fawkes teaboy Alex Wickham…”. The Sun story was written by another proven liar. The name on the byline is that of the odious flannelled fool Master Harry Cole, formerly the tame gofer to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at … yes, the Guido Fawkes blog. Master Cole’s first Sun front page splash, which claimed Jeremy Corbyn would have to kneel before the Queen in order for Labour to secure its allocation of “Short Money”, was another pack of lies.”

Still, as the Reverend Stuart Campbell claims “There’s nothing toxic about The Sun”.

The level of abuse heaped on politicians is a toxic mess. The anti-politics of attack blogs isn’t an antidote to a failed broken politics, it’s just a new dimension to it. There’s nothing critical or interesting about Guido Fawkes or blogs whose sole purpose is to smear attack and denigrate people running for office. There’s a difference between holding people to account and dragging people into the gutter. As critical investigative journalism founders, and trust in broadcast media falters, this may be an important distinction to remember.

The collective harassment of Diane Abbott – the country’s first black woman MP – has been utterly disgusting. The effect of social and anti-social media on a person’s mental health cannot be underestimated. The fusion of racism and misogyny isn’t a coincidence, it’s the desperate voice of a group in society who feel desperately threatened by women in politics and feel emboldened by the new Brexit culture that’s normalised racism and validated their abhorrent views of the world.

The Tories are terrified they have thrown this election. They are smearing Labour politicians in England the way they have smeared Scottish politicians for years. Corbyn and Abbott are being smeared just as Salmond and Sturgeon were, it’s the personal attacks that replace policy when you have failed the political argument. The echoes of the last days of the indy referendum are unmistakeable in the desperation of the media pouring out propaganda to get out is vote and send fear into a confused electorate.

Other things have changed fundamentally too. The narrative of the Labour right that “you only win elections from the centre” has collapsed. The real threat now is that a Corbyn victory will not just mean a sea-change in British politics but open up a new front in constitutional politics. As Kevin McKenna writes “If the previously unthinkable (and now merely unlikely) happens and Corbyn becomes Prime Minister he will,immediately look around for his allies and begin the task of rooting out his enemies. His ascension to Number 10 will have been achieved in no small part thanks to the efforts of the SNP in standing in the gap where Labour in Scotland used to be before it fell am,ing thieves and was adducted.”

This will not be good news for Kezia Dugdale and Ian Murray.

What we are witnessing is the hardening of the media grasp around the throat of our democratic process. Change doesn’t happen on an level playing field. Real change has to be fought for and has to over-come the obstacles of institutional power, whether that be the right-wing press, the economic and class interests that are reeling under the prospect of a real Labour government, the threat posed by self-determination, or the inconceivable challenge of a black woman in a senior position of politics.

Theresa May today announces she’ll take away your human rights to protect our way of life. Don’t let her do it.

Kick the Tories out and build a better politics.


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Comments (17)

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  1. Malcolm Kerr says:

    Great article, and all the important Issues well exposed. The Stuart Campbell quote “There is nothing toxic about the Sun” would benefit from some context, however.

    1. Well it’s in the context of him defending Nicola Sturgeon being photographed with the Sun newspaper and arguing that that was/is the pragmatic thing to do and arguing that the Sun is widely read and therefore ‘okay’. The wider context is him holding to his abhorrent views on the Hillsborough disaster even in the wake of the legal ruling. I think to have a ‘media monitor’ that defends The Sun – given the politics laid out in this article and over many many years is completely bizarre.

      1. Malcolm Kerr says:

        Having a dig at Wings is OK, and constructive criticism is healthy. Lyndon Johnson (perhaps) said: “They may be bastards but at least they’re OUR bastards”. In the Indy movement we need to tolerate people we don’t agree with, or we might as well pack up now. Although the Campbell abrasive Twitter persona is (I think) at odds with his main work, I wouldn’t bracket him with the Sun, for many reasons. I subscribe to both platforms and find their outputs complementary.

        1. I didn’t bracket him with The Sun – I quoted him supporting it. That’s his doing not mine.

          I tolerate LOTS of people I don’t agree with but I can’t stomach a pro-Sun media monitor. Doesn’t make any sense.

          1. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Campbell was not being “pro Sun”. He was merely of the opinion that Sturgeon appearing on the front page of the Sun was not detrimental to the SNP cause. Chiefly because many hundreds of thousands of “working class” Scots read (though not all of them actually “buy”) the Sun every day. Quoting out of context to discredit an Indy blogger is something I expect of Unionists, not other Indy bloggers.

          2. This is brilliant. Scots read the Sun but don’t buy it. Superb stuff.


          3. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Thanks for the patronising reply.

            Many people read a newspaper without actually buying it. They get left in trains, stations, tearooms, waiting rooms etc, etc. I only buy The National but I still read several others that get left on the table in our workplace tearoom … as do my colleagues. It is my understanding that each “bought” copy of a newspaper is read by several people who contributed not one penny to the purchase.

            Try not to alienate those who would support you by making ill considered and insulting comments.

          4. So to summarise your argument is:

            1. People in Scotland dont really buy the Sun they just find it lying around
            2. The Sun’s not toxic and if it is you shouldn’t say it is because, er, it’s ‘working class’
            3. You should never disagree with anyone who is pro-indy even if their views are abhorrent and damage the movement because, er, sorry you lost me there

          5. Me Bungo Pony says:

            You just made all that up as anyone who reads the previous posts can easily see. I neither said nor implied any of that.

            I’m really disappointed.

          6. You clearly did. Do I have to quote you back to yourself?

            I’m really disappointed.

          7. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Yes. Quote me back. It would be interesting to see the tortured logic laid bare.

  2. bringiton says:

    The Tories will take away human life in order to protect their “rights”.

    1. joe gibson says:

      Rabid dogs come to mind.

  3. Roland Laycock says:

    The Tories are showing there evil side from Pedophiles to to murder all backed up by the media

  4. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    With regard to Ms Abbott, you express my feelings on this matter exactly. This has been racist, misogynistic, inhuman nastiness.

    Mrs May and all other politicians should deplore it in the strongest and most unequivocal terms.

    Similarly, people like Andrew Neil and Michael Portillo, who were colleagues of hers on TV should stand up and be counted.

  5. Anton says:

    I do think that there’s an extent to which Diane Abbott invites criticism, though not of course abuse. This is mainly because of her willingness to engage with the media on any pretext and on any subject, regardless of whether she knows what she’s talking about.

    During her car crash interview with Dermot Murnaghan, for example, it was obvious that she didn’t know the key recommendations of the Harris Enquiry Report, either because she hadn’t read it or because she couldn’t remember them (which in my view is fair enough – no-one can remember everything).

    But instead of saying that she couldn’t recall the Report’s bullet points and could Murnaghan repeat them, she pretended she did know them, with disastrous consequences.

    I watched the interview on transmission, and in her defence she certainly seemed unwell. But too often in my view she rushes into interviews (vanity?) when caution or indeed silence might have been a better option.

  6. Big Jock says:

    Someone at work said to me:” it’s all about opinions and I thought May’s speech after the London bombing was fantastic”.

    I tried not to lose it and said:” The three attacks all happened under her watch, and she was the home Secretary. She cut police numbers…blah blah”.

    What worries me is that generally ill or misinformed people fall for empty platitudes and miss the truth.

    She wants to tackle terrorism by spying on people more than they do already. Not interested in looking at police numbers, foreign policy and social isolation.

    I am afraid a large majority of Scots understand nothing about what is really going on. There is a hate campaign against Nicola Sturgeon. When it should be against Rape Clause Ruth. The 55% tow the line and begin to hate the SNP cause that’s what the media tell them. Ask them why and you draw a blank. I just don’t trust her is often the reply.

    Sometimes I wonder of Scotland deserves someone who cares for them. It’s like angry teenagers lashing out at their parents who try and care for them.

    I feel like I am not living in the same nation as them. Mark Twain said:” When I start agreeing with the majority, it’s time to change my opinion”.

    They want the 45 to fall into line. We won’t because we believe in something better. We won’t shut up and eat our cereal. We will never give up even if our countrymen and women don’t care about their fellowman and women.

    I am not selfish. It’s not about me. It’s about living in a better nation for all of us. Greed is evil.

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