A counterstrike by His Majesty's 1st Battalion of Bastards (Volunteer Regiment)
Coverage of strikes is not journalism but propaganda.
Previously: Trapped in an exhibition match
This is the last edition before Christmas. Thank you for reading. There’ll be some more episodes before the end of the year including some special treats for paid subscribers.
The Sun styles itself “the people’s paper” but who are those people? They are not the people in unions. They are not nurses, beyond the Florence Nightmares of columnist imaginations, nor are they ambulance drivers, railways workers, or teachers. The Sun told its readers to clap for key workers at the height of the pandemic but it wants to jeer them now. The Sun exists to divide while pretending to unite a working class of its own patronising imagination, one that is whiter, tighter, and shiter than one that exists in reality. Whenever The Sun dissolves into raptures for the white van man, emphasis rests most on the first word.
On its front page yesterday, The Sun howled “unions cripple NHS” and its health correspondent — I’ll pause here for a hollow, brittle laugh — Sam Blanchard wrote of “strike-hit Brits” and “a union walkout”. The trick here is an old and obvious one but it still works on so many people: divide the members (Dr Jekyll) from the union (Mr Hyde), pretend that “the strikers” and “the public” have no crossover, that those experiencing real-terms pay cuts and increasingly bad conditions are alien and other, separate from “the nurses” who tabloids and ‘broadsheets’ write about in the abstract.
Inside The Sun, the story of a 93-year-old woman who was left in agony for 25 hours without an ambulance to take her to the hospital was featured as if it were caused by the strike. The headline Pray this is not your mum today as Sun journalists pretended to hold the moral high ground over ambulance crews.
Weeks ago, my seriously ailing 91-year-old grandfather had to wait 8 hours for an ambulance and then 15 hours in that ambulance to be admitted to hospital. The strikes are not the cause, the strikes are a symptom of a system broken by government incompetence over decades. The voices of the ambulance crews are absent from The Sun stories because they are not news reports but propaganda, something made even clearer by this transparent attempt to divide and conquer included in the same spread:
The Sun is backing calls for strike-cover troops to get extra pay. War hero Lincoln Jopp, 54, said it could come from strikers’ pay, adding:
“Calling in the Army should be a last resort but it is fast becoming the first resort of this government. This might make them think twice.”
The paper’s leader column yesterday took the same line, neglecting to mention that ambulance crews were still responding to emergency calls1, demanding even more restrictions on the right to strike and smarmily concluding:
Our troops are not well paid. Yet they have stepped up to help save Christmas.
On the same page as that editorial, the paper ran a comment piece by Spectator and Telegraph writer Ross Clark, which pushed the false dichotomy again:
Health workers must be first in line for a pay rise. But their politicised unions should not be putting lives at risk to achieve it.
On the front page of today’s Sun, Blanchard is bylined on a story headlined Patients hitch to beat strike, writing that “private cars and taxis became makeshift ambulances… as desperate patients struggled to get to hospitals amongst amid strike chaos.” What he doesn’t mention is that patients have been advised to make their own way to A&E often over recent years when there was absolutely no sign of a strike.
The same spread included a story about Unite the Union National Officer for Health, Colenzo Jarret-Thorpe, not attending “critical talks” with the Health Secretary, Steve Barclay. Jarret-Thorpe’s deputy, Onay Kasab, attended the meeting. The Sun dubs him “a hard-left activist” and— in concert with other right-wing papers — claims Jarret-Thorpe is on holiday. Unite told the paper — quite rightly — that:
This is an intrusion on the private lives of two full-time officers. It would be entirely inappropriate to comment.
For The Daily Telegraph, its associate editor, Gordon Rayner, contributed an even more pathetic attack on Kasab with a piece headlined Union official representing ambulance workers called Conservatives ‘nasty little Tories’. He writes:
A trade union official representing ambulance workers in talks with ministers is a far-Left activist who has previously described Conservatives as “nasty little Tories”.
Onay Kasab was the lead Unite negotiator in a meeting with Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, on Tuesday, which failed to avert Wednesday’s walk-out.
The only shocking thing there is that Kasab was so polite. I asked Rayner if he was embarrassed to have his name to such palpable loser behaviour but he hadn’t responded at the time of publication. He may not have been able to get a signal from the inside of someone else’s wheelie bin.
The Daily Mail, another newspaper that wetted its reptile eyes to tearfully praise key workers during the darkest days of the pandemic, used its front page yesterday to snarl at ambulance crews:
How will they live with themselves if people die today?
A leader column on that same front page said:
All those involved in this strike need to take a long hard look into their consciences and ask: can this ever really be justified?
Daily Mail leader writers giving advice on morality is like Satan giving tips on ice cream making. After that emotive headline, the Mail buried the detail that crews would respond to emergency calls deep into the story, while inside the paper it tried the same wedge tactics as The Sun, with a story headlined:
Could the concerted campaign of smears and disinformation around the rail strikes have anything to do with the shift in polling? We’ll never know. Well, not if we rely on ‘reporting’ from The Daily Mail, a paper which still rages about “union barons”. Curiously the robber barons of the FTSE100 are never given their full titles.
In its leader column yesterday, the Mail sneered:
Before walking out, individual workers should consider whether they are being manipulated by hard-Left union barons pursuing a political vendetta against a Tory government they detest.
If you’re talking to a relative over Christmas who is enraged by the strikes and even more enraged by the strikers, ask them to consider whether they are being manipulated by hard-right billionaire proprietors of national newspapers pursuing a political vendetta against working people who they detest.
When The Sun calls itself “the people’s paper”, it’s talking about a very small number of people, most of whom share the surname Murdoch. When The Daily Mail stokes its readers’ anger against “union barons”, what it’s really trying to do is further cripple the ability of workers to fight for better pay and conditions.
This is a “them and us” battle but despite what right-wing newspapers try to tell you, they don’t think you’re one of “them” and the strikers — the nurses, the paramedics, the rail workers, the posties, the academics, and the teachers — are “us”.
Thank you to Cathaoir and EBlair_Fan for reading today’s draft.
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Today’s Sun leader column deigns to mention it: “There are striking 999 crews who agreed to cover both Category 1 and 2 emergencies yesterday.”