Allison Pearson's poisoned pizza parlour: The British media sheds crocodile tears over the Channel and repeats the goverment's dehumanising lines...
It's easy to dismiss desperate human beings as a "problem" to be solved when you insist on calling them "migrants" and blaming them for a "crisis".
Previously: I looked at how immigration statistics and international law are distorted in Cross purposes: The press is cynically conspiring with Priti Patel to turn the Liverpool bombing into an attack on all asylum seekers...
On the morning before at least 30 people died in the Channel, Allison Pearson’s column in The Daily Telegraph was headlined Brits are the Stuffed Crust as the Government makes a meal of asylum and featured an introduction which read:
Record numbers of migrants are arriving on our shores and being rewarded with free pizza – it’s clear that the rules are far too soft…
Rewards. With. Free. Pizza. You’d have to assume that the branch of Domino’s in Pearson’s neck of the woods is a cut above the usual product. There’s no other reasonable explanation for why she appears to believe that people risk the lives of themselves and their children to cross the Channel in flimsy boats — “boat” being used here in its loosest sense — in freezing weather.
In the long history of poisonous, columnist cruelty, Katie Hopkins’ “cockroaches” column of April, 2015 (“Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants”) holds a particularly ignoble place. According to the UNHCR, over 1 million people came to Europe in 2015 with 75% of them having fled conflict and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. That was the background against which Hopkins wrote:
No, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.
… Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.
Hopkins, hired by The Sun in 2013 and promoted by it as “Britain’s most controversial columnist” — which is like being dubbed the clinic’s most transmissable venereal disease — was not fired for the “cockroaches” column or even censured for it1. She left The Sun four months later for a job at MailOnline.2
Other commentators and columnists — including Piers Morgan, soon to be back at The Sun — roused themselves into performative outrage at Hopkins’ column because she didn’t wrap her racist vitriol in the required euphemisms or refer to “the legitimate concerns” of equally racist voters. The British media requires that you pretend to care even while advocating for deadly policies that stem from exactly the kind of callous thinking Hopkins was articulating plainly.
Ensconsced at The Daily Telegraph — Britain’s premier daily fanzine for tweedy fascists — Pearson understands how to deliver vitriol in a manner acceptable to the tight-lipped, barely-suppressed anger of the ‘polite’ majority.
Pearson uses the word “people” 11 times in her column; on not one of those occasions is she referring to people who have crossed or attempted to cross the channel. That’s because she and her paper frame the story as British people vs. “migrants”, who are something else entirely. Drawing on indignant reports published in October and repeated last week about hungry arrivals being bought pizza, Pearson says:
Sometimes, it’s the small details that reveal the scale of the problem. Last week, it was revealed that a Dover branch of Domino’s was forced to close after Border Force officers ordered 700 pizzas to feed migrants who had crossed the Channel. On November 10, some 703 migrants landed on the Kent coast. The next day, there were a record 1,185 arrivals. Total cost of pizza: £7,000. That was on top of 3,000 chicken shish kebabs ordered from takeaway places across the county. Then, oh joy, up trundled two burger vans, apparently ordered by Border Force after migrants complained that the kebabs had been “cold”. Will you scream or shall I? I know, let’s do a group scream at the ingratitude and iniquity of it all.
The burger vans ‘fact’ comes from a Times report (“Home Office spent thousands on pizzas for hungry Channel migrants”, 16 November 2021) in which the paper’s Home Affairs Editor, Matt Dathan, wrote:
Sources also revealed that two burger vans had to be ordered in from 65 miles away in Thurrock, Essex, to feed migrants hot food after they complained that £19.50 kebabs provided by a local takeaway shop had arrived cold.
This sort of claim, carefully calibrated to produce tabloid anger, is commonly pumped out by Home Office and Border Force sources — on whom Dathan regularly relies — under the cover of anonymity. Two facts that are less likely to be whispered to hacks are…
…the purchase of food from local restaurants is required because the Tug Haven reception centre, which was described as “resembling a building site” and “fundamentally unsuitable for stays in excess of a few hours” by inspectors, has no facilities for producing food
… once people reach the UK as asylum seekers they receive, on average, £5.66 per day and receive meagre, poor-quality food supplied by Serco when resident in cold, badly-mainted hotels where they are sent to stay.
But Pearson rages not at a government which sources food for hungry people on an ad hoc basis but those hungry people themselves. She encourages her readers to “scream at the ingratitude and iniquity” on the basis of a quote from an anonymous source in another newspaper.
In a Telegraph report from 8 October 2021 (Home Office spends £6,000 slice of immigration budget on Domino’s pizzas for Channel migrants) — also linked to by Pearson — a £6,757 Domino’s bill is joined by a £3,960 invoice for “sun hats requested by unions for staff and migrants” at Tug Haven.
Again, this ignores entirely that much of Tug Haven is a car park filled with gazebos and that people standing outside in hot sun earlier in the year will have needed hats. But in the Pearson/Telegraph imagination it is unthinkable that a penny be spent on feeding or protecting people. She goes on:
When news of the pizza purchase was leaked, a source said that, in future, Border Force would be making payments for migrants’ food in amounts of £500 and under. Because those would not have to be disclosed. Presumably, it has occurred to the Clandestine Channel Threat Commander that the public would not be amused to learn how much of their money is being lavished on fast food while veterans who sleep on our streets have to rely on soup kitchens for sustenance and, every day now, anxious people are calling their energy provider to check that their horrendous gas bill is correct. (It is.) There will be no Domino’s this winter for those families. They can’t afford it because they’re not asylum seekers; they just live here.
“Think of the veterans” is from the same family of columnist outbursts as “think of the children” and equally as disingenuous. Pearson is pretending that pizzas, doled out cold and congealing, are “lavish” because she wants her readers to be as angry as her about the ungrateful “migrants”. In this fantasy world, Domino’s are not a voucher-happy mid-market takeaway chain but purveyors of truffle and gold-leaf enhanced super-slices.
Eventually, about two-thirds of the way through Pearson’s column, it becomes clear why she’s so peculiarly preoccupied with pizzas this week; she has a bad analogy cooked up and she’s taking it out of the oven no matter how half-baked it turns out:
With the asylum process in meltdown and migrants being schooled to game the system, I think it’s becoming pretty clear that it is the British people who are, in a very real sense, the Stuffed Crust.
Pearson’s latest outburst won’t get the attention that Hopkins did back in 2015 because she’s writing for the Telegraph — an even more minority interest outlet than The Sun these days — and because she buries her grimmest thoughts way past the prick barrier paywall fade out.
Only the truly committed who pick up the paper or pay to be assailed by the Telegraph’s culture war ravings online3 will discover her saying the following, after implying that every asylum seeker is a potential terrorist:
The Government may be all at sea (sadly not in a gunboat), but at least its stated aim is to deter economic migrants…
… If the UK flew people who come ashore in Kent to the Falkland Islands, there would be no free pizza and you can bet we would soon see a drop in young men claiming they were refugees.
... I believe that Ms Patel gets this. But the Home Secretary is hamstrung by politically correct civil servants and by a kind-hearted Prime Minister who lacks the stomach for a clash with a left-leaning media and a human-rights industry which will accuse him of “scapegoating” people seeking refuge from violence.
Funny how little interest the human-rights industry has in the rights of humans here in the UK to not be bombed or stabbed by failed asylum seekers who should have been deported long ago. It is the very kindness and generosity of our system which makes us so vulnerable.
… Act now to protect your own people, Prime Minister. What do you say to those who think the Clandestine Operational Response Team should go on handing out pizza at public expense? Dough balls.
I presume the ever-astringent Allison thinks flying people seeking asylum to the Falklands would be less expensive than buying Domino’s in Dover. My father, who went there the long way round in 1982, would, I suspect, disagree.
Pearson’s column is full of lies, distortions and selective statistics. She wants her readers to feel the same hatred, fear, and paranoia as her, and she’s handsomely remunerated for this rhetoric. Her ability to be so callous is due, in part, to the fact that like most people employed in the British media, she cannot imagine ever having to flee in fear for your life or to deal with an inhumane system that sees you as nothing but a problem, one ‘migrant’ in a ‘crisis’ where columnists are demanding gunboats.
For most hacks, especially those in the comfortable sinecures of the columnist class, the idea of being a “migrant” is unimaginable. It allows them to think of anyone who can be labelled that as distinctly other. “Migrant” has moved from its dictionary definition to become a way of distancing and dehumanising. It also has the benefit for ideologically-motivated media organisations and politicians of being free of the legal obligation to help that comes with the term “refugee”.
People crossing the Channel — a route that has grown hugely because of the concious restriction of other methods by the government — are dismissed as “migrants” even when they die. And what crocodile tears are shed for them in the news and comment pages, in Parliament, and on TV news programmes are squeezed out in service of arguing for “tougher measures”. Other words like “tragedy” and “disaster” are put to work in deflecting responsibility.
Along with Pearson’s column, I want to look at three tweets from three men working in the British media to show how captured it is by Tory talking points:
Firstly, James Ball, Editor-in-Chief of The Bureau of Investigative Journalists and a columnist for The New European, wrote, in response to the Financial Times’ front page (More than 30 migrants drown in worst disaster of Channel surge):
This ends in us making a deal with France to accept more refugees from safe routes and to help France fund processing for that. It is the only way it ends. It’s the only way it was ever going to end. How many more people will die until that’s acknowledged?
As both TKisPeter and Dr Matt Loder noted on Twitter, people don’t attempt to reach Britain because it is “nicer” or “more welcoming” than France but because of social ties and because, as a consequence of British imperialism, many more people in the world speak English than French or German.
And while Ball’s tweet appears on the surface to be a ‘rational’ and realpolitik response to the ‘crisis’, it is, in fact, a more convulted way of buying into the tabloid framing of the story as about the recalcitrant French.
The second tweet comes from Politico London Playbook editor and former Harry Cole understudy/side-kick to drink driving enthusiast Paul ‘Guido’ Staines, who stroked his chin and opined:
Hopefully an end to the unbelievably crass and out of touch Twitter hot take that the small boats crisis is a non issue being exaggerated for political reasons.
This is a variant of the classic “inventing a guy to get mad with strategy” and a disingenuous framing of an actual argument which is that the vast increase in people relying on small boats to cross the Channel is down to a deliberate effort on successive governments’ parts to remove other routes to asylum4.
It’s not that it’s a “non-issue being exaggerated for political reasons” but a situation created by political decisions and ideology that has resulted in the real world consequence of enriching smugglers and causing needless deaths.
Our final disgusting dish from the buffet of bad takes come from the reliably wrong Dan Hodges who, limbering up for his column this weekend, wrote:
Every time the government proposes anything — anything at all — to try and stop the trafficking of people across the Channel, the liberal Left rushes to oppose. And then a tragedy like this occurs, and suddenly they’re gripped with horror and outrage.
Hodges, who constructs more strawmen that the residents of Summer Isle confronted with an army of Edward Woodward clones, has never met an issue that he can’t ‘solve’ by raging at “the Left”. Pointing his rage in that direction rather than at the Home Secretary who claims her “thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who died” while presiding over an ever more hostile environment and proposing endless Bond villain-style plans to make it more hazardous, shows exactly his role in the press.
It’s notable that Hodges didn’t take the time to list the “anything at all” that Priti Patel has proposed to solve “the crisis” in recent years, including putting people on oil rigs, housing them on old ferries, flying them not only to the Falklands but to Ascension Island, doing a deal with Albania to off-shore them, and using jet skis to push them back as well as “some sort of underwater barrier” and “a giant wave machine”. If only the Left was willing to allow Priti Patel to turn the Channel into an (even more) evil Centre Parcs.
The papers are not alone in fuelling the impression of crisis. For the BBC, Simon Jones has long acted as its special Channel correspondent, shouting inanely at people in small boats, and those boating holidays in someone else’s misery have been matched by segments from Good Morning Britain’s Jonathan Swain and Sky News’ Ali Fortescue among others.
For all the distractions about pizza, the twisting of figures, the crocodile tears about deaths from people clamouring to see “gunboats” in the Channel as well as the chinstroking ‘rationalism’ of liberal commentators, the truth is that the “crisis” is one created and enabled by successive British governments’ policies and particularly ratched up by this one. It’s as if the Romans threw people into the Colliseum to die and then started worrying about what to do about the growing lion problem.
But still, who needs reality when Allison Pearson is livid that someone, somewhere might be getting a free Mighty Meaty? After all, as a Sun picture caption raged, they can cost as much as £17.99…
The toothless press regulator IPSO argued that it had not breached its code and was merely in “bad taste”.
She lasted two years there before her contract was not renewed “by mutual consent”.
As I do for purely and painfully professional reasons.
In May, the UNHCR warned that the government’s “overhaul” of the UK’s asylum system would “if implemented as it stands… undermine the 1951 [Refugee] Convention and international protection system, not just in the UK, but globally. If states, like the UK, that receive a comparatively small fraction of the world’s asylum seekers and refugees appear poised to renege on their commitments, the system is weakened globally.”