Steve Bannon’s friendship circle.

Steve Bannon, leading American white supremacist, who describes himself as “a populist and economic nationalist”, and is neutrally described by The Guardian as a “former Trump adviser” (Rowena Mason & Heather Stewart, ‘Rees- Mogg met former Trump adviser to talk tactics’, The Guardian 02 12 2017) has visited the UK to talk to old friends, like UKIP’s Nigel Farage, and new friends, like Tory MP, Rees-Mogg, who astonishingly described him as “an interesting man to have met” (ibid.). A second, as yet unnamed Tory MP, was also in the mix. This is alarming news.

Breitbart London editor and former chief of staff to Farage, Raheem Kassam, brokered the meeting (ibid). These ambitious rich men have plans for us: Kassam declared that “Brexit and the election of President Trump were inextricably linked, so the discussions focused on how we move forward with winning for the conservative movements on both sides of the pond” (ibid.). The significant way in which these events were inextricably linked was that they were largely funded and data-driven by the same individuals and organisations (Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ), with the same extremist intent.

These men do not represent mere “conservative movements”, but fundamentalist Christian, white supremacist goals: Bannon’s self-declared ”brand of economic nationalism”, like Trump, purports to put the interests of ordinary people first” (ibid.). These men have the funds, determination and sense of entitlement to pursue their vanity projects. They will not sink without trace before causing further democratic upheaval and social damage. Those who oppose the white supremacist agenda must work to bury them and their malign purposes as best we can.

val walsh / 06 12 2017


The electoral funding of the UK ‘Brexit’ campaigns: a democratic scandal?

Aggregate IQ is described as ”a small Canadian firm, specializing in social media marketing, considered as instrumental in helping the Leave campaign win” (Jessica Elgot & David Pegg, ‘Electoral Commission documents reveal more details on Vote Leave donations’. The Guardian, 21 11 2017).

Sounds innocent enough: “small” (not corporate), Canadian (not Russian), but given the size of its actual donations (monetary and data), it could be considered a determining factor in the Leave campaign. The various Leave campaign groups (including the DUP campaign) admitted that Aggregate IQ initiated these donations: ‘they found us, we didn’t find them”. Who the donors were and what politics lay behind the donations was never questioned.

The Leave campaign groups may not have known who they were, why they wanted to be involved, or what their larger purpose was, but Aggregate IQ certainly did. Alongside Cambridge Analytica, Aggregate IQ is part of white supremacist, Robert Mercer’s secretive stable of influence (also active in the Trump campaign).

In addition to objections to the provenance of said donors and their political motives, and the extent to which these donations constituted illegal interference in UK democracy, there is also the question of the legality of these massive donations, if they tipped the Leave campaign over its legal electoral funding limit.

A third surely clinching factor is that “Donors from outside the UK and Gibraltar were impermissible donors for referendum campaigning” (Holly Watt, ‘Electoral Commission to investigate Arron Banks’ Brexit donations’. The Guardian, 11 11 2017). But the apparent lethargy of the Electoral Commission compounds the situation, as it begins to look like culpable negligence. Months down the line, evidence of impropriety, illegality, political manipulation and corruption are nowhere near being scrutinised appropriately. Looks like a cover up.

val walsh / 24 11 2017

‘Brexit’ and the UK Labour party.

The EU referendum, rather than being a democratic act, was a dishonest political manoeuvre by former Tory prime minister, David Cameron, ostensibly to resolve longstanding internal divisions within his party re the EU. There was no effort to provide relevant and adequate objective information about what exiting the EU would entail. In fact, it is now clear the ‘Brexit’ campaigners had, and still have, no idea. Evidence about what actually happens, about the role of the UK within the EU and vice versa, is irrelevant to Tory politicians embroiled in the internal power struggles within their party or white supremacists who see chaos as a political strategy. (See ‘Whose “cry of pain”? Whose rage? Whose agenda?’ in category Commentary 2017 at

The ‘Brexit’ campaigns were funded (and furnished with data) by Robert Mercer‘s Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ, part of a network of rich, white supremacists, which includes Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. It has since been acknowledged that the ‘Brexit’ campaign was fuelled by outright lies and misinformation, and was driven by a political desire to inflame distrust and hatred towards ‘foreigners’, refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and Muslims. The nature of the funding and data provision emerged after the referendum result. It raises questions not just about its impact on voters’ behaviour, but about its electoral legality.

Although there had been no electoral guidance as to what % vote should count as a ‘winning’ result for such a major constitutional, economic, political and cultural change (e.g. 60%?), the referendum result, at 48:52, was hailed by the MSM, the media and the Labour party as the ‘will of the people’, which had to be obeyed. However, Prime Minister May (mis)judged that she could secure a more solid mandate for her own role as PM (unelected as she was by either her party or the country), by calling a snap general election, when she expected to destroy the Labour party, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, as an electoral force. As a result of her impulsive act and the way in which she conducted her campaign, she lost what little mandate she had, and her party’s overall majority was slashed. This result can fairly be seen as reflecting the democratic will of the people, especially as we had all been warned off voting for Labour by both politicians and media.

As evidence unfurls from all corners of civil and professional society, business, industry, higher education, the NHS and the unions, it becomes clearer by the day, that there can be no such thing as a ‘good ‘Brexit’ (hard or soft): legally, economically or culturally. On the basis of the evidence so far, what we face are degrees of catastrophic self harm as a society, and even, as one EU politician put it recently, “mutually assured destruction” between the UK and the EU.

So, in the light of this new evidence, this emerging reality/horror show, isn’t it time for the UK Labour party to spell out the above, and take up the most recent mandate, which confirmed opposition to Tory Austerity politics and May’s strident ‘Brexit’ rhetoric? Time to be bold, rather than repeating, as Labour MP Emily Thornberry had to on Question Time (BBC1, 16 11 2017), that “we are a democratic party and must obey the referendum result and work to get the best possible deal for the country”.

This statement may obey the rules of grammar, but it flies in the face of sense and meaning and logic. As well as what we urgently need now from Labour politicians: the political will to do what is best for our country and all its peoples, without sacrificing any of those made vulnerable by Tory manoeuvres.

val walsh / 17 11 2011









Whose “cry of pain”? Whose anger? Whose agenda?

Jonathan Freedland highlights “the anger fuelling both” the election of Trump as POTUS, and the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK. While acknowledging the significance of bedrock support from affluent voters in both countries for the electoral outcomes, “for the sake of argument”, he writes, “let’s focus on the demographic regarded as decisive: the white voters of those small towns left behind by globalization, if not modernity itself” (Freedland, ’We’ll never stop Brexit and Trump till we address the anger fuelling both’, The Guardian, 11 11 2017). [Emphasis added.]

In addition to economic anxiety, he cites the importance of race and identity, “specifically the beleaguered sense of white identity” (ibid.) illuminated by Gary Younge’s C4 documentary (09 11 2017), Angry, White and American. In the UK:

“The big leave vote in so many traditionally Labour seats was also read as a cry of pain from industrial towns abandoned and left derelict, with few or bad jobs, stagnant wages and crumbling public services” (ibid.).

But, he adds: “identity, immigration, loss, nostalgia, a sense of reduced status, and alienation from the country taking shape around them – all these played their part as well” (ibid.). So “first we need to address the situation that led our fellow Britons to make that decision” (ibid.). [Emphasis added.] But the “bedrock support from affluent voters” for ‘Brexit’ is not raised as part of “this situation”, as an issue triggering disbelief or disapproval, or needing explanation. And it has not been “read as a cry of pain”. This implies that the behaviour of affluent voters was rational and sensible. . . and cannot be blamed on our political parties or the media.

Freedland ignores other significant contributing factors. Both the ‘Brexit’ campaign and the campaign to elect Trump were heavily financed: to understand the electoral results, we must follow the money, rather than ignore it. These votes were largely paid for (bought?) by Robert Mercer’s Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ data organisations. Every ‘Brexit’ campaign in the UK, including the DUP campaign, received substantial funds and/or data from his organisations, in order to target categories of voters with persuasive ‘information’. Mercer’s organisations have links to Nigel Farage, Liam Fox’s ‘Atlantic Bridge’ organisation, Steve Bannon (Trump’s former adviser) and Vladimir Putin, for example. This is an Alt Right network. (Alt Right is code for white supremacist and is meant to replace references to the KKK or to fascism.) The legality or otherwise of this external electoral funding in the UK, and how it influenced voters’ decisions, awaits investigation and legal redress. The delay with this will no doubt guarantee that these crimes against democracy fall foul of the time limits rule, and no action is taken.

The facts about the referendum funding in the UK are not peripheral to understanding the “situation” (Freedland’s term) and the electoral outcome. Indeed they undermine the neat idea of a responsible and decisive ”demographic” (Freedland’s term) as some ‘natural fact’. Similarly, the act of “reading” the outcome “as a cry of pain” (Freedland’s terms) locates its meaning securely within this (media-defined) demographic: characterising it as both a victim voice and as (angry) protest (against politics itself). The views, values and political ambitions of those very rich and powerful rightwing men funding the campaigns remain hidden from view and unexamined. This, I suggest, amounts to a distortion in our understanding of what was going on and why, and in turn, how these forces can be exposed and resisted.

For the MSM to ignore the way the campaigns were funded and how data was used to target voters, is lazy journalism, and depoliticizes what was a highly political process of manipulation activated (in relative secrecy) by the far right. It removes a key (determining?) feature of the prevailing political context from scrutiny, in our effort to understand “the situation that led our fellow Britons to make that decision” (ibid.).

Religious fanatics with funds: political extremists with apocalypse on their historical agenda.
In interview with Paul Laity, black American novelist and script writer, Attica Locke, describes how her new crime novel, Bluebird, Bluebird, was instantly affected by Trump’s election (‘”When Trump was elected, overnight my book changed. I didn’t alter a word”’. The Guardian, 16 09 2107). 

“The plot revolves around murders with a connection to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas: ‘Are   you talking about the Klan?’ her hero, Darren Matthews, is asked. ‘Worse,’ he replies: ‘It’s the Klan with money and semi-automatic weapons’” (cited Laity, ibid.).

Steve Bannon’s links with Robert Mercer and other white supremacists have been known for some time, as well as Mercer’s role in the funding of both ‘Brexit’ and Trump, and Bannon’s role running the far Right website, Breitbart. That the links encompass the KKK, the Alt Right, etc., became more obvious as Trump’s election acted to validate the views of the extreme Right, and public racism immediately started to soar in both countries in the wake of both ‘Brexit’ and Trump’s victory.

In the US, Attica Locke, born in Houston, Texas, saw Trump’s victory “through the lens of race”, as a “backlash” to Obama’ (cited Laity, ibid.). ‘“Everything about Trump has led to *Charlottesville”, she tweeted’ (ibid.). In the UK, a Muslim office worker, whose family has been in the UK for 60 years, writes anonymously of experiencing racism in the 1980s, and how “Things got better and were meant to carry on getting better. Sadly the abuse is back. . . . As a human, I’m horrified and disgusted. As a Muslim, I’m mostly frightened. How did we get here?” (‘What I’m really thinking. The Muslim office worker’, The Guardian Weekend, 11 11 2017). Well, one prominent factor has been a dominant (i.e. well funded) political narrative that set out to inflame and stage-manage people’s sense of difference and discontent. Nigel Farage, the UK’s most vociferous and prominent campaigner for getting the UK out of the EU, openly claims his 25 years doing this as “his life’s work”.

While his US friend Steve Bannon’s extremist views and influence on Trump, and his short-lived membership of Trump’s inner circle in government, are not secrets, Andrew Brown’s recent long essay, ‘The war against Pope Francis’ (The Guardian, 28 10 2017) provides a sharp reminder of the role of Bannon’s rightwing Catholicism for his politics, and just how dangerous a political player he could still be.

After an investigation commissioned by Pope Benedict in 2012, Pope Francis, “whose modesty and humility have made him a popular figure around the world’ (Brown, ibid.), took action and purged a Vatican group “accused of combining increasingly extreme rightwing politics with a devotion to the Latin Mass” (Brown, ibid.). The next year, Francis sacked Cardinal Burke from his powerful job in the Vatican’s internal court system (ibid.). “By doing so”, Brown notes, “he made an implacable enemy”. The relevance of these events for the concerns of this commentary, are glimpsed in Brown’s summary of Burke’s style and influence:

“Burke, a bulky American given to lace-embroidered robes and (on formal occasions) a   ceremonial scarlet cape so long it needs pageboys to carry its trailing end, was one of the most conspicuous reactionaries in the Vatican. In manner and doctrine, he represents a long tradition of heavyweight American power brokers of white ethnic Catholicism. . . . . Cardinal Burke’s combination of anti-communism, ethnic pride and hatred of feminism has nurtured a succession of prominent rightwing lay figures in the US, from Pat Buchanan through Bill O’Reilly and Steve Bannon, alongside lesser-known Catholic intellectuals such as Michael Novak, who have shilled untiringly for US wars in the Middle East and the Republican understanding of free markets “ (Brown, ibid.). [Emphasis added.]

Brown continues:

“It was Cardinal Burke who invited Bannon to address a conference in the Vatican, via video link, in 2014. Bannon’s speech was apocalyptic, incoherent and historically eccentric. But there was no mistaking the urgency of his summons to a holy war: the second world war, he said, had been “the Judeo-Christian west versus atheists’, and now civilization was ‘at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism. . . a very brutal and bloody conflict. . . . that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,5000 years. . . . if the people in the church, do not . . . fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting’”. [Emphasis added.]

Compare Bannon’s speech with the words of black American writer, novelist and civil rights activist, James Baldwin, cited by Pankaj Mishra (‘The war we don’t remember’, The Guardian, 11 11 2017).

“We can no longer discount the ‘terrible probability’ James Baldwin once described: that the winners of history, ‘struggling to hold on to what they have stolen from their captives, and unable to look into their mirror, will precipitate a chaos throughout the world which, if it does not bring life on this planet to an end, will bring about a racial war such as the world has never seen'”.

While the late, great Baldwin’s perceptive and chilling words were offered as a warning, Bannon’s apocalyptic rant in 2014 was meant as an incitement: i.e. ‘Bring it on’. There’s no lack of ambition behind these rich white men’s ferocious campaigns.

Religious fanatics with funds, political extremists with racism and purity on their obsessive minds, laced with misogyny and anti-feminism, suddenly feel free to take to the world stage, and exert their influence. This is the fascist package. Smiling, be-suited, unleashed, and busy about their historical mission, they promote chaos, the destruction of democracy as a political model, and the ‘return’ of white (male) supremacy. This is big, as Mishra notes:

“The white nationalists have junked the old rhetoric of liberal internationalism, the preferred language of the western political and media establishment for decades. Instead of claiming to make the world safe for democracy, they nakedly assert the cultural unity of the white race against an existential threat posed by swarthy foreigners, whether these are citizens, immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers or terrorists” (Mishra, ibid.).

Watch and listen to Alt Right’s Richard Spencer in smiling, incendiary mode in Gary Younge’s Angry, White and American (C4, 09 11 2017), as he attempts (as a [deluded] white American male) to explain and justify his white nationalism, his white supremacist views, and his own consequent superiority as a white male, to Younge, an outstanding, award-winning, black British journalist, who lived and worked as a journalist in the US for 12 years, and has an American wife and children.

End note.
Do you feel their pain? Do you feel their anger? Do you understand their methods and their agenda?

Their desire and power to influence minds and shape politics worldwide for their burning ideological and personal purposes?

Pope Francis, though elderly and frail, took up the challenge. Politicians and the MSM would do well to follow his example, and be brave: help expose, challenge, regulate and reduce the power of these demotic, anti democratic agencies and individuals, rather than concentrating their bewilderment, frustration and analysis exclusively on those Trump supporters in the US and ‘Brexit’ voters in the UK, living in de-industrialised areas.

val walsh / 13 11 2017

Journalists and writers cited:
James Baldwin
Andrew Brown
Jonathan Freedland
Paul Laity
Attica Locke
Pankaj Mishra
Gary Younge.





Understanding Anorexia: The politics of women’s mental health.

  • Louis Theroux: Talking to Anorexia (BBC2, 29 10 2107)
  • The ‘invisible’ and disappearing female body
  • Whose power?
  • The marginalization of feminist-inspired women-only practice and culture.

There is something both symbolic and literal about anorexia, a condition identified by its signs and symptoms only once these have gained visible momentum: loss of appetite (for food, life and living), rapid weight loss, a sense of powerlessness, physical frailty, often depression, and the highest death rate for any ‘mental illness’.

Louis Theroux: Talking to Anorexia (BBC2, 29 10 2017).
This is, like his other investigations of ‘difficult’ or disturbing human subjects, sensitive, thoughtful, probing and shocking. The camera shows the visible evidence of anorexia (the way it reduces and reshapes women’s bodies), and Theroux in its presence, in institutions providing mental health services, in the women’s familial environments and in personal interviews. Theroux doesn’t emote and is verbally gentle and non judgemental. At the same time, faced with these just-about-alive, emaciated bodies, Theroux’s eyes and face, ostensibly inscrutable, nonetheless convey his sense of disturbance and concern, and his own powerlessness, even as he and his crew witness and document the women’s experience of anorexia.

The ‘invisible’ and disappearing female body.
Anorexia is literally a visible shrinking and drying up: of body tissue and size, as well as social horizons. It is the reduction, even removal, of fat and muscle, for example curves and breasts, as well as organ function, such as menstruation. It is a hollowing out, physically, mentally and emotionally, and can be understood as an effort to become both less visible (increasingly skeletal) and the centre of attention/care (as a visibly undernourished, skeletal body that indisputably signals ‘distress’, crisis, lack, need).

The onset of anorexia is usually in the early/mid teens, a period of pivotal sexual and social transition from girl to woman. In Theroux’s report, the ‘accepted’ discourse applied to anorexia revolves around the concepts of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. These gender-neutral medical norms obliterate the reality of anorexia in girls and women. There is no such thing as ‘gender-neutral’ health for girls and women, especially when it is the visible body that is the terrain on which the girl or woman’s trauma is (dis)played.

Given these circumstances, how do we define ‘healthy’ for a woman? In terms of organ function, physical development, the absence of ‘disease’? In terms of conformity to social norms regarding gender and sexuality: an absence of ‘deviance’? But we know that conformity to sexist, racist and misogynist social norms can be very damaging for a girl or woman, in terms of her sense of self, her sexual and social confidence and wellbeing. Anorexia speaks to these pressures.

The shrinking and drying up that takes place during anorexia is of the female body: it is a de-sexing. It can be seen as a literal withdrawal/denial of ‘femininity’ (which is a social and heterosexual category); a refusal to become or be a woman: to be “attractive”, as one of the women interviewed put it (which is a social and heterosexual category). The oldest woman interviewed (63) explains it cheerfully as “not wanting to grow up, wanting to stay a child”. This avoidance suggests that the ‘threat’ of adult sexual intimacy is experienced as coercive and dangerous. And if you choose not to perform heterosexual femininity, by starving your female body, you can avoid both danger and ‘failure’. These are clearly not ‘medical’ conditions or problems.

A report by the then government’s Women’s Unit in 2000, found that “Inside, outside and beyond, young men and women are under continuing pressure to conform to traditional behaviour” (Will Woodward, ‘Gender stereotypes still hamper young’, The Guardian. 20 09 2000). 17 years later, in the age of the internet and expanding sexualisation in every corner of UK society, and widespread sexual harassment and violence against women and girls, this problem looks worse.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal in the US and the UK, which unleashed accusations of sexual harassment and rape that range over a period of 30 years or so, has been followed by the eruption of similar testimony about the ‘inappropriate’ (i.e. sexist, invasive, abusive, violent) behaviour of senior men in the UK parliament towards women, particularly young women. (See earlier commentaries, ‘Sexism and activism: What’s the problem?’ and ‘Thinking through “sexism”: Reflections on the challenge for the “Left” (and willing others)’, both written over a period of weeks in 2012 and posted in category Essays 2013 at

Hadley Freeman summarises a culture that has endured unimpeded for way too long:

“By the time harassment stories were emerging from journalism, politics, the arts, it          felt like maybe this wasn’t about a single industry, a few bad apples here and there.         This is about men. Men harassing women, men dismissing women who say they’ve      been harassed and now men bleating that they don’t know how to behave around             women today, because not inserting sexualised banter into every conversation they            have with women is apparently too difficult a concept for them to handle” (‘The       evidence is mounting – a man’s place is in the home’. The Guardian Weekend, 04 11     2017).

Darren Jones, the 30-year-old Labour MP for Bristol North West, suggested in parliament: “It shouldn’t be hard for MPs to moderate their behaviour” (cited Heather Stewart, ‘How the drip of allegations turned into a torrent inundating Westminster’, The Guardian, 04 11 2017). He advised:

“It’s very easy to find out if someone’s interested in you without assaulting them: you just ask them; you don’t need to send them creepy text messages or press your groin         against them” (ibid.).

What Jones misses in his succinct recommendation, is that this problematic behaviour is not about sex (mutual sexual attraction and the possibility of dating), but the routine abuse of power and male dominance by heterosexual men. Is girls’ and women’s anorexia a response to this pervasive culture of sexual harassment, abuse and violation?

Whose power?
Sometimes the girl or woman knows and is willing to name the trigger for her anorexia. There are glimpses in Theroux’s report: for example, the pressure on a girl/young woman of religious expectations of marriage and children as a duty; the prospect of a forced /arranged marriage; early relational/sexual rejection; bullying or abuse at school.

“A report published a year ago by MPs on the women and equalities committee             revealed shocking levels of sexual abuse and harassment of schoolgirls, who                complained it was a daily part of life but was often dismissed as ‘banter’ by staff”         (Sally Weale, ‘Greening faces legal challenge over pupil-on-pupil sex abuse’, The   Guardian, 04 11 2017).

Solicitor, Louise Whitfield, highlights the lack of political attention being paid to this serious problem:

“Repeated promises of new guidance over the last year have not been fulfilled, and    every day dozens of schoolgirls are sexually harassed and assaulted without their               schools knowing how to handle it” (cited Weale, ibid.).

The above examples provide some idea of the social and cultural contexts/pressures that present a challenge to the mental health of girls and women in our society, including those living with anorexia. However, these may not be considered as part of therapeutic process. Food, on the other hand, figures prominently in the anorexia discourse.

Our primary experience of food/eating is as a social activity, an aspect of intimacy that nourishes us: we start out being fed, as nurture, by our primary carer (usually the mother, at her breast or in her arms). But food is more than essential fuel or nutrition. Reviewing food memoirs, columnist and food writer, Ruby Tandoh quotes Emily Nunn approvingly from her book, The Comfort Food Diaries (2017): “Food has become my touchstone for understanding what real love is”. Tandoh takes up this theme:

“Food pierces to the heart of identity, forging the stuff that makes the bodies and  bones   of us. . . . The people may be different, the flavours unusual or the places far-off, but the message – that food informs who we are, and how we love – stays true”      (‘A table shared’, The Guardian, 04 11 2017).

In the context of anorexia, this is a poignant observation. Anorexia is defined as an eating disorder (not psychosis), a term that rather makes light of its seriousness as a life-changing and life-threatening condition. It disrupts the model of food as nurture and the cultural values it embodies: eating becomes private, solitary, secret, feared and shameful, instead of a sustaining, guilt-free, sensuous pleasure, engaged in as part of human intimacy. It can also become a means of exercising power and control within familial relations, as Theroux’s report glimpses, with perhaps notable consequences for the mother/daughter dyad.

Anorexic process can create a fault-line in the mother/daughter dyad that goes beyond food, because anorexia models difference, implied opposition: that the daughter will not follow the mother’s example regarding heterosexuality / femininity / reproduction. This can constitute (and be experienced as) a rejection of the birth mother, as both a nurturing figure and as a role model, i.e. the means by which the daughter is inducted into normative femininity and its expectations. The mother may be experienced as an agent of social control, and therefore part of the ‘problem’/a trigger.

Anorexia can be therefore be understood as more than ‘disorder’: as a refusal to conform to social norms that require a girl/woman to embody heterosexual identity and male fantasy. This fear of, and aversion to, normative heterosexual responsibility/appearance, result in a closing off of options. It’s as if there is no perceived alternative, and starvation becomes a consuming and defiant distraction: imagined/experienced as power and control.

On the evidence of Theroux’s report, the emphasis of treatment is on stopping the symptoms: disciplinary regimes designed around improving and monitoring food intake (not necessarily appetite), so that the patient can be returned to “normal life”, as the lead therapist breezily summarizes. But there is no evidence of “normal life” being examined, or acknowledged as the source of the problem. (This would presumably be seen as ‘politics’ not healthcare.)

Theroux focuses on residential anorexia services (greatly diminished by Austerity cuts) in medical environments, promptly described by a couple of the women interviewed as “prison”. Treatment is coercive and strictly monitored. This disciplinary model appears to be a process of infantilisation rather than empowerment: guiding (or forcing) the anorexic daughter to become the obedient child, the unreflective ‘good girl’, who can accept ‘femininity’ and its consequences without throwing up. The punitive, disciplinary regime of the medical model reinforces a childlike status. “Do you want to get well?” is asked. “I want to get well” is uttered with varying degrees of conviction. But what does each party to this narrative mean by “well”? What, if any (shared?) meanings are in play?

The medical model of women’s mental health treats anorexia as a medical problem, a technical challenge, as opposed to considering the social determinants of anorexia, its causes and triggers. This inevitably institutes a parent/child hierarchy of victim and authority figure. There is no invitation to understand self and society, nor to achieve self care as self actualization, creative agency and social competence. Crucially, this institutionalised model works to ignore the role of powerful men and patriarchal values in the unravelling of girls’ and women’s mental health in contemporary society. (See footnote at end of this essay.)

Every girl and woman in society has to make her own accommodation with the potential conflict between self-determination and social conformity, between a functioning level of self respect as opposed to self loathing (the lack inculcated by all those industries selling   products to ‘cure’ girls’ and women’s [industry-defined] ‘deficiencies’ and ‘sexual imperfections’). Anorexia is perhaps the most extreme and complex of those accommodations: ‘normality’ experienced as trauma, triggers self harm, which leads to life-threatening frailty and vulnerability, mental confusion, and in many cases, death.

In a turbo consumer society in which girls and women are the centre of attention as means and end (as consumed and consumers), being a girl or woman can be a lonely and disturbing place if you do not have good friendship networks with other girls or women, and upbringing and education do not equip you to understand the social forces at work, relentlessly coercing you to ‘participate’ uncritically as a ‘girl’/woman in a market society that drives gender stereotypes as a basis for selling and profit. Defined as a ‘disease’ (a notch up from ‘eating disorder’?), anorexia requires/generates profitable pharmaceutical ‘solutions’, which in turn become legitimised and authorised by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). So it’s big business.

The marginalisation of feminist-inspired, women-only therapeutic practices.
Self harm, such as anorexia, must be particularly disturbing for clinicians to deal with. It’s not like a rash or bruise or broken limb. More like protest, anger, rejection, revenge. Anorexia positions clinicians and therapists as gendered, sexual human beings, not just as professional practitioners and figures of authority. Practitioners may not be aware they are deploying gender-neutral concepts of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ to frame anorexia as a medical condition, but in 2017 this cannot be viewed as incidental or an oversight. This gender-neutral narrative has become an institutionalized policy: a disciplinary practice (in both senses) that amounts to personal and professional displacement activity, its main function presumably being to enable practitioners to ‘manage’ their role and their relationship with their challenging and bewildering anorexic clients, without being reminded of what they have in common, for example, in terms of society and the social and sexual scripts on offer.

The medical model of mental health thus functions as a distancing device towards those in distress; and the “medicalisation of distress encourages us to see them as having a context-less ‘illness’” (John Read & Jacqui Dillon, ‘Creating evidence-based, effective and humane mental health services’ in Read & Dillon [2013] Models of Madness: Psychological, Social and Biological Approaches to Psychosis: 394).

As a society, as clinicians and therapists, are we identifying this dis-ease we call anorexia as ‘personal’ failure? Do we blame the individual for ‘embarking on’ such a destructive trajectory? Do institutional practices in turn punish her as a culprit? Why is there so much reluctance to scrutinize and challenge the ‘traditional’ social norms that act as obstacles to girls’ and women’s safety, confidence, creativity and ‘health’? Managerialism rules.

“The moral complexity and ambiguity that is inherent in the enterprise of policing        human conduct is neatly reduced to the morally neutral and more predictable activity     of managing a bodily disease” (M. Rapley et al 2011, De-Medicalising Misery: 4, cited John Read & Jacqui Dillon [2013]: 394).

Why is there so little political and professional acknowledgement of the accumulated evidence of women’s experiential testimony, feminist research and scholarship that already exists? Why have these experiential, analytical and critical women’s voices been so disregarded? The novelist, Carol Shields, provides a clue. The following is excerpted from a letter written by the narrator (mother/wife/writer) to Dennis Ford-Helpern, in Carol Shields’ complex and life-affirming, final novel (1996), Unless:

Ford-Helpern has written a book about moral problems, in which ‘All the problem-solvers in your examples are men, all fourteen’ (Shields: 219).  The narrator writes to protest, in the nicest way possible:  ‘I don’t think you intend to be discouraging in your book.  I think you have merely overlooked those who are routinely overlooked, that is to say half the world’s population’ (ibid: 220).  Unless is a book of multiple strands and meanings, one of which is what it means to be ‘real, ‘good’, ‘moral’, ‘sane’; and the conditions for and obstacles against these states of consciousness and being.  Shields offers us the means to explore ourselves, our world, in all our vulnerability, frailty, and strength.  We accompany her characters to the edge and beyond.  See also the work of Algerian-born, French writer, Marie Cardinal (1991; 1993; 1996).  The Words to Say It (1993) has been described as ‘world-renowned as the most important book ever written on the personal experience of psychoanalysis and the journey through therapy to recovery’ (The Women’s Press, 1996).

The women-only spaces, services and organisations, such as women’s refuges, domestic abuse services, Liverpool’s RASA (Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre), VAWG ( Violence Against Women and Girls) organisations, such as IMKAAN, a UK-based black feminist organization dedicated to addressing violence against women and girls, and women’s studies courses in colleges and universities, were developed as a result of feminist activism, research and analysis since the 1970s, explicitly and critically rooted in women’s lived experience of disadvantage: misogyny, racism, homophobia, poverty, subjugation, violence and despair. They openly articulate the importance of anti sexist, anti racist, anti lesbophobic practices supportive of women in our diversity, for example regarding social class, ethnicity, age, neurodiversity and ability. Feminist methodology is fundamental to overcoming fear, healing psychic wounds and achieving empowerment. (See ‘”Into the sunlight”: Gender, narrative, (mental) health. Resources for a missing conversation’ in category Conference Presentations 2005 at

A women’s mental health group in Liverpool, located within the statutory provider, Merseycare, brought together women from a range of services and sectors, as both service users and providers. Significantly, it called itself WWW: What Women Want. Over several years, it researched and produced powerful reports on a range of issues, giving voice to women’s experiences, sharing best practice and making recommendations to service funders and providers. In 2017 it was one of the many casualties of Tory Austerity cuts.

A user-led group of women and men that meets in Liverpool, significantly called, ReVision, continues to facilitate the sharing of experience, strategies and ideas, explicitly challenging the medical model of mental health. In both these groups, intellectual engagement joins with experiential sharing to supersede a ‘parent/child’, ‘victim’/disciplinary model of mental ‘disease’. This is in line with the work of ISPS (The International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis), and INTAR (The International Network Towards Alternatives and Recovery). (See ‘A shared “somatic crisis”: enough common ground?’, presented at the INTAR conference, Power to Communities: Healing Through Social Justice [25-27 06 2014]; posted in category Conference Presentations 2014 at

There is no evident intellectual dimension to the medicalised approach to anorexia. Treating the ‘disappearing’ woman as a child, reinforces her lack, rather than igniting desire and appetite. Yet it is possible to substitute disciplinary constraints as therapeutic practice, with a model based more in feminist-aware educational, therapeutic and creative practice. For example, by contrast, talking, reading, writing, drawing, singing and dancing variously feature in an environment that addresses the whole woman and her understanding of her context. Nor does treating anorexia as a medical problem appear to be a successful strategy, judging by the high remission rates and the average time taken to ‘recover’ (given as 7 years).

“A 200,000 strong study found that young people in the UK have the poorest mental wellbeing in the world, with the exception of Japan” (cited Moya Sarnev, ‘Campus confidential: the counsellors on the frontline of the student mental health crisis’, The Guardian Weekend, 28 10 2017). “ONS figures show that in the last 10 years, the number of student deaths by suicide has risen more than 50%” (ibid.). But as usual, these statistics are not disaggregated to make visible the different experience of women and men. And “The 2016 Hepi (Higher Education Policy Institute) report notes that in some institutions the funding for counselling services is less than £200,000. [The average pay for university vice-chancellors now exceeds £275000]” (ibid.).

While demand has grown across the country for mental health provision, and Tory rhetoric acknowledges the problem, services have been slashed by Tory governments since 2010. While demand has grown for women-only services over the years, these services have struggled to stay afloat in a political climate that has hardly eased its suspicion of women-only spaces and feminist initiatives and campaigns that seek, for example, to mitigate and heal the wounds inflicted on girls and women by heterosexual men’s sexual harassment, misogyny and violence: their unregulated gender-based power.

Yet there are young women students today who, offered mental health sessions that are “practical, positive and solution-focused” . . . with no suggestion of delving below the surface and into the past to explore where these problems might stem from, are not interested in therapy that might ask these sorts of question (Sarnev, ibid.): “I’m just interested in finding ways to deal with it, seeing if I can try to resolve it, rather than looking at why it started” (cited Sarnev).

This is an instrumental, problem-solving approach to mental health issues, which implicitly defines mental health as a technical challenge. Perhaps because of the ubiquity and power of hetero-patriarchal dominance in contemporary society, this may seem the ‘safer’ (i.e. least demanding, disturbing, disruptive) option, for both service user and therapist. A mutually acceptable pact. But in a neoliberal society, in which individualism and autonomy rule a market economy, girls and women (perhaps especially students) will be wary of identifying themselves as ‘victims’ in need of help: experienced as stigma, rather than as a political act, this can be seen as adding to their gendered disadvantage, rather than empowering them.

But in the context of a society seemingly determined to avoid confronting and articulating the politics of women’s mental health (i.e. our collective position and experience in society), this behavioural approach gets close to submission: a polite deferral of girls’ and women’s full and equal citizenship, not just as individuals, but as a political constituency with clout.

I have suggested that there are two (longstanding) limitations to the evidence presented in Theroux’s otherwise sensitive report, which together have significant consequences for our understanding of anorexia and its ‘treatment’: the acceptance of the medical model of women’s mental health as applied to anorexia; and the evident lack of feminist analysis and understanding within mental health services, which denotes a lack of feminist institutional presence and professional power, resulting in what could reasonably be described as culpable negligence and avoidable ignorance.

As a consequence, by politely displaying the evidence of anorexia in women’s lives through the lens of its official medicalisation, Theroux takes the MSM route, and avoids critical engagement with the evidence, and by extension, the politics of women’s mental health. The bestselling author on “race, fitting in and giving a voice to those without power”, Celeste Ng, asks:

“whether progressives who politely follow the rules yet give up nothing that really       costs will ever achieve meaningful change. The surface may appear smooth but         lurking problems will eventually rise: disruption is required for truths to be revealed” (cited in interview with Paul Laity, ‘”When you’re in a marginalized group, your existence is politicised for you”’, The Guardian, 04 11 2017). Emphasis added.

The disturbance we are ‘allowed’ by Theroux is mainly at the level of being positioned as appalled spectators: bystanders to a ‘context-less illness’, rather than having our own identities and lives thrown into the mix, thereby removing the protection of the ‘them’ and ‘us’ binary. But the social, cultural and political context in which we now view this report has been overturned: as I mentioned earlier, in the week of its screening, and since, UK society has erupted, forcing the issue of men’s predatory heterosexual behaviour and abusive power to the fore as never before.

The medical model of women’s mental health makes no sense (nor is it meant to): it is an act of denial regarding the role of men’s predatory heterosexual behaviour and society’s acceptance of a masculinity that seems to depend on the submission, subjugation and control of girls and women for its own ‘health’. Girls and women as collateral damage in the ‘war zone’ we call society, attests to a squalid and brutal inequality that no decent society should tolerate, and no political culture in 2017 should simply emulate, feign confusion – and then apologise for.

See, for example, a selection of unpublished letters to The Guardian at (02 07 2010) Opening a dialogue on rape, violence and gender [posted 19 09 2013]; (06 07 2011) Rape, violence and gender: the new normal? (posted 19 09 2013]; (07 04 2013) The Philpott case and the media: sensationalism, denial, obfuscation, irresponsibility. [posted 19 09 2013]; (17 05 2013) Daniel Cohn-Bendit: children of the ‘revolution’ [posted 19 09 2013]; (02 06 2013) Gender, violence and the media: free speech or irresponsible speech [posted 19 09 2013]; Anachronistic conduct [posted 21 01 2014]; Gender-neutral language ‘disappears’ men and masculinity [posted 20 04 2014]; Murder in a UK classroom [posted 02 05 2014]). There are other related posts in other categories since 2014.

val walsh / 07 11 2017












Strategic and ethical adjustment: The emerging opportunity to dismantle neoliberal Austerity politics. Together.

This is an expanded version of member presentation for CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology) members’ conference, 100 Good Ideas: Sharing Solutions (06-08 10 2017), Machynlleth, Wales.

  • The persistence of inequality, the promise of ‘sustainability’.
  • Social degradation and environmental politics.
  • Digital technology: innovation or domination? Liberation or coercion?
  • Co-creativity and alliance.
  • BREXIT: A nail in our coffin? Or an opportunity?

I argued at last year’s members’ conference at CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology) that in view of the events of the previous 12 months, for environmentalists and progressives it could not be business as usual (see ‘Promoting fair and sustainable co-habitation: exploring grounds for progressive politics as the political landscape implodes’ [1-9 10 2016], in category Presentations 2016, A rupture had occurred: a daunting intensification of social, cultural, political and environmental upheaval and challenge, which could no longer be seen as just ‘backdrop’ to the ‘main event’ (lives, species, habitats, ecosystems, sustainability).

Here, I suggest that responding to the further social and political upheaval of the last 12 months requires a recalibration of ‘environmental’ politics, which combines critique with optimism. Recent evidence of intensifying inequality, accelerating climate breakdown, political turmoil and opportunity expose fault-lines in environmental politics and Zero Carbon discourse: the problem of reproducing privilege, disadvantage and social exclusion. But fault-lines can be productive, and in turn prompt a critical rethink beyond environmental politics, in what amounts to a vision of major social and political transformation: strategic and ethical.

Transformation begins in the imagination, but:

“Hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. . . .       Hope is an ax you beak down doors with in an emergency; because hope should       shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future     away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the            grinding down of the poor and marginal” (Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold           Histories, Wild Possibilities, 2004, reprint 2016: 4).

Writing in 2003, Solnit assumes the inextricable entwining of these three issues, which must remain our driving focus, and in 2017 we can agree that this is irrefutably an emergency. Historically, there have been distinct political ‘territories’ or movements: the politics of peace, environmentalism, and equality and social justice politics, such as socialism. Unprecedented social and political disturbance, surprise and violence high-jacked reality in 2017 and could have wiped out hope. The startling result of the UK general election in June 2017 proved otherwise, and suggests that previous demarcations and divisions are open to a political and strategic re-imagining.

The persistence of inequality, the promise of ‘sustainability’.
As long ago as 2010, economist Ha–Joon Chang warned about the acceptance of inequality, and how it rested on “assumptions that ‘free markets’ make us all richer in the end” (‘We lost sight of fairness in the false promise of wealth’, The Guardian, 30 08 2010). But “growth figures tell it differently” (ibid.) He argued that “we have to question an assumption that has dominated economic thinking over the last three decades – namely, the belief that maximizing market freedom is the best way to generate wealth” (ibid.). “After three decades of deregulation and tax cuts for the rich, growth has slowed down, rather than accelerated, in almost all countries” (ibid.).

For environmentalists and social progressives, it is not just a question of wealth creation. In fact, the economistic drive towards ‘growth’ and profit (defined in monetary terms) is seen as problematic, as in itself extractive, exploitative, irresponsible, and producing a power hierarchy of dominance, submission and subjugation, which generates, embodies and perpetuates inequality, injustice, indignity and suffering. Further, if sustainability as a paradigm includes the diminution of inequality and its injuries, such as poverty, malnutrition, ill health, racism, homophobia, misogyny, lack of access to decent housing, education and opportunity, and an overt drive towards their elimination as acceptable or inevitable byproducts of our economic system, this shifts environmental discourse towards social and redistributive justice, equity and human rights as core values.

Ha–Joon Chang concludes that, “if we cannot assume free-market policies to be the best at generating wealth, the British debate on equality needs a total rethink” (ibid.). See also Michael J. Sandel (2012), What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, which five years after publication, and post the EU referendum result (‘Brexit’) in the UK and post the election of Trump as president in the US, seems an even more powerful critique and warning. However, as late as the 1980s, environmental issues were focused on ‘nature’, rather than inequality. Social class issues, social justice, sexual politics and gender power relations, for example, were deemed ‘political’ intrusions, as were vocal feminists. This has changed somewhat.

Change happens. Experience comes first: poverty, hunger, homelessness, sexual abuse, floods, devastating storm damage, drought, for example. Over time, under pressure from citizens, activists and academic researchers, experiences can become issues: i.e. subjects for social and political consideration and action, rather than examples of personal failure, crisis, or ‘natural’ disaster. This social and political process may lead these experiences to be identified, on a spectrum of concern, as negligence, avoidable catastrophes, as violations, as social violence: as ‘crimes’.

The concept of public health, originally rooted in critical new awareness of poverty, hunger, squalid housing, insanitary water in the C19, by the first public health inspector, Dr Duncan of Liverpool, redefined previously disregarded, ‘natural’ facts of life, as no more natural than clean water or hate crimes. This process gave us the concept of the social determinants of health (and everything else), and so public health was born and burgeoned in Liverpool, the UK and then beyond. An example of this process of changing public awareness and politicisation, is provided by Professor Joanna Bourke’s recent statement describing her new five year Welcome Foundation project, ‘Sexual Violence, Medicine and Psychiatry’, which aims “to take sexual violence out of the little box called ‘crime’ and into the huge field of public health” (cited Zoe Williams, ‘Why did no one speak out about Harvey Weinstein?’ The Guardian, 10 10 2017). Award-winning historian, Bourke is well known for her work on rape, fear, pain, killing; and the history, science and ethics of weaponry (see Wounding the World: How military violence and war-play invade our lives [2014]).

On a more modest scale, at a very well attended workshop on ‘The Environmental Benefits of Housing Co-operatives’, at CAT members’ conference (06—08 10 2017), ably facilitated by Mim Davies and Rich Hawkins of the Machynlleth Housing Co-operative, it was instructive to witness the efforts of a group of environmentalists to disentangle, isolate and agree a definition of ‘environmental benefit’ as opposed to ‘social benefit’ in relation to a housing co-operative. I suspect this was a valuable consciousness-raising process for the group, as well as exemplifying the experiential and conceptual dilemma of the boundary between environmental values and socially progressive values for some environmentalists.

Environmentalists are more diverse than they were 40 years ago (when CAT was established), and what is understood as an environmental issue or value in 2017, and how it may be best promoted, will be impacted by fast-moving social, political and technological contexts, which position people differently, and about which people may disagree. The concept of ‘family’ (the label) was one such contested term in this workshop.

The initial trigger for my poster presentation at conference, and for this related essay, was reading the various case studies in recent issues of Clean Slate: The Practical Journal of Sustainable Living (2017). Originally trained as an artist and sociologist, and having carried out feminist research into women’s lives, I am fully aware that case studies make important contributions to research and understanding. However, unless they are properly contextualised and theorised, they can risk individualising a situation or issue, instead of illuminating the shadows: the unfamiliar, the ‘strange’, the disturbing, the ‘Other’. The challenge itself.

The Clean Slate case studies are informative stories by/about affluent people improving the environmental footprint of their homes (often situated within a fair amount of ground) variously via renovation and/or installing expensive and complicated gear, or as environmentally-conscious new build. The address is therefore exclusively to home owners or would-be home owners, and the (much) better off. These case studies document middle class aspiration and project management, as do long running TV programmes, such as architect Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs on C4, and architect George Clarke’s various renovation programmes and best sheds series, also on C4.

The latter’s new series (starting on 18 10 2017) is entitled Ugly House to Lovely House with George Clarke, immediately followed by Grand Designs, in which an ecologist and his partner, a communications manager, “start building their new family home in the Peak District”. In the current national context of poor housing, not enough housing, unaffordable housing, and alarming increases in homelessness and house prices, these entertaining (and usually dramatic) TV programmes, with plotlines as suspenseful as a crime thriller, display and celebrate affluence, not just architecture. Budgets involve eye-watering sums, and often overrun. Maintenance and sustainability are not really addressed: for example, how much these mostly very large houses cost to heat is rarely mentioned; and who will (be employed to) clean the extensive expanses of beautiful wooden floors never comes up for discussion.

As CAT conference, entitled 100 Good Ideas, approached, I started to reflect on what looked like a problem in the light of what was happening in UK society since my previous presentation at CAT in 2016. I noted CAT information officer, Mim Davies’ welcome caution:

“We need to work together as a society rather than split off into lots of individual off-grid households” (Mim Davies, ‘On grid or off grid? Which is greener?’ Clean Slate, The Practical Journal of Sustainable Living, No 105, Autumn 2017: 23).

This is not simply a technical assessment, but a political statement. Her words express the original CAT philosophy, not just regarding the practical importance of co-operation and collaboration, mutuality and reciprocity at a personal level, but the spirit that yearns for a fairer, more humane society. The Zero Carbon Britain report expands on this point:

“While changes in individual behaviour are essential, it is vital that they are supported by the broader policy changes that are required at social, industrial, political and international levels” (‘Zero Carbon Britain’ report, ibid.:14).

Social degradation and environmental politics in 2017.
Since 2010, UK society has been exposed to the full force of turbo capitalism: a neoliberal orthodoxy that, in the hands of Tory administrations, has relentlessly punished the most vulnerable and rewarded the already secure and powerful, as an explicit political strategy, described by film maker, Ken Loach, as “calculated cruelty” (see my comments on his recent interview with Jo Coburn in ‘Journalism as entertainment and entrapment’,, category Letters to the Guardian, 2017). The features and consequences of this onslaught have been gradually documented and analysed during these years, not so much by the MSM (mainstream media), as by individual activists, academics, artists, performers, writers and researchers. By contrast, the MSM have played a decisive role in promoting TINA (‘There is no alternative’) and the neoliberal mindset over the last 30+ years.

Liverpool-based activism, in the form of protest, concerted resistance, community creativity, academic research and artistic production is evidence of a rising, explicit power struggle between very different sets of values and priorities. Liverpool-based film makers, Hazuan Hashim and Phil Maxwell, provide a compelling overview in their documentary film, Austerity Fight, which is currently doing the round of UK and international film festivals, before being made available online. It provides powerful evidence of how active campaigners have been in challenging and exposing government policies and their consequences.

At its Liverpool premiere (15 09 2017) at the packed Plaza community cinema in Waterloo (after its London premiere), it was preceded by a book launch of The Violence of Austerity (05 2017), edited by Vickie Cooper, former LJMU academic, now Lecturer in Social Policy and Criminology at the OU, & Dave Whyte, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Liverpool. This edited collection exposes the many ways in which Austerity policies harm and precipitate breakdown and death of people in Britain. It brings together a wide range of case studies and analysis, and should be read by everyone, those with and without power and influence, including those who identify as environmentalists.

While Austerity politics has consequences for almost everyone, for example through its attack on essential public services, in their introduction the editors argue that:

“Austerity is a class project that disproportionately targets and affects working-class          households and communities and, in so doing, protects concentrations of elite                   wealth and power. The policies levelled at working-class households have barely                 touched the elite” (Cooper & Whyte, 2017: 11). Added emphasis.

The Violence of Austerity has the potential to cross that divide. The violence of its case studies stands in sharp contrast to the Clean Slate case studies mentioned, and the TV programmes on housing, which foreground innovation, ambition, agency, personal control and comfort. These buildings are identified as beautiful, secure, even ‘virtuous’ (low carbon) private homes. Such elite case studies badged as TV entertainment, serve to obliterate the inequalities and violence of contemporary UK society, for example the brutal reality of our ‘broken’ housing market. In the circumstances, this is entertainment that fetishises home ownership and property development (two key features of the neoliberal project which have become synonymous). This is thus entertainment as a covert political act.

Historically, the issue of social class was the elephant in the room for the early white, middle- class environmental movement in the UK, which identified it as ‘political’, i.e. belonging to Labour, trade union and socialist politics. Cooper & Whyte’s collection can help environmentalists reframe issues of concern (such as fracking and state violence, environmental degradation, homelessness and the production of hate) within the larger political and economic framework that is Austerity and neoliberal politics. The Violence of Austerity is thus an example of an academic project as an overt political act.

The society and politics pictured in Cooper & Whyte’s collection must surely be taken into account, not left to one side, as something outwith or beyond the social and political consideration of environmentalists. Indifference to what is a moral shift in how society is organized is in itself a political stance. As well as being morally repugnant, inequality and brutality as government orthodoxies (i.e. political choices and practices) are obstacles to social, economic and environmental ‘sustainability’, certainly; but also to survival, as the Grenfell Tower fire in London this year proved so horrifically.

Steven Poole’s review of Peter Fleming’s new book (2017), The Death of Homo Economicus, is entitled ‘Zero-hours contracts, debt and “crap jobs” – a sardonic polemic on C21 capitalism’ (Guardian, 30 09 2017). The book and Poole’s review are indicative of a rising rejection of neoliberal policies and Austerity politics. The Labour Manifesto, For The Many Not The Few, published in June 2017, as part of the general election campaign, is part of this shift. It may be a first draft, but it is substantial, and with its 12 clearly labeled chapters, it has already made a huge difference in helping set the political agenda, inside and outwith parliament.

Environmentalists can check out, for example, sections on ‘Infrastructure investment’, ‘sustainable energy’, ‘environment’, ‘a more equal society’, to see the extent to which sustainability values, zero carbon ambitions, renewable energy technologies and community energy projects are now at the heart of the Labour programme, entwined with its preoccupation with public health issues, such as air pollution, health and safety at work, mental health and social care; food production, job creation, employment rights and practices that do not destroy individuals, communities and our natural world.

“The next Labour government will reverse privatisation of our NHS and return our health service into expert public control” (For The Many Not The Few [June 2016]: 69), “restore the Education Maintenance Allowance (ibid: 40), ban fracking and is “committed to renewable energy projects, including tidal lagoons, which can help create manufacturing and energy jobs as well as contributing to climate-change commitments” (ibid:21).

“The EU has had a huge impact in securing workplace protections and               environmental safeguards. . . . A Labour government will never consider these rights        a burden or accept the weakening of workers’ rights, consumer rights or             environmental protections” (ibid: 26). [Emphasis added.]

As one trade union delegate declared as he finished speaking in support of environmental legislation at Labour party conference in Brighton (23-27 09 2017): “There are no jobs on a dead planet!” (I should have noted his name and his union.)

Also published in 2017, Just Transition and Energy Democracy is a 39 page civil service trade union perspective from PCS (the UK’s Public and Commercial Services Union). It draws on a wide range of research and evidence to make the case that “climate change is an issue for trade unionists and workers” (p4) and that they should be active participants in environmental debates and initiatives. It includes a UK energy plan for public ownership (p24, based on Prof. David Hall’s 2016 report, ‘Public ownership of UK energy system – benefits, costs and processes’. It highlights the problem of “conventional market-based solutions of climate agreements” (p13) and the problem of “the transnational corporations and financial elite who dominate the world” (p4). And it argues, with Naomi Klein, that:

“The real solutions to the climate crisis are also our best hope of building a much         more enlightened economic system – one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens           and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work and radically      reins in corporate power” (cited p13).

A further indication of the convergence of environmental activism and progressive politics has been evident in opposition to “the three radical trade agreements being promoted by political elites on both sides of the Atlantic, in an effort to preserve the current economic model (see Nick Dearden, Director of the world Development Movement, ‘The Transatlantic Trade Deal: a project of the 1%’, Clean Slate: The Practical Journal of Sustainable Living, No.93, Autumn 2014: 26-27). Dearden argues, in a statement that enjoins environmental values and progressive politics, that, “Taken together, these agreements represent a massive attack on democracy, public provision and the environment, in the name of transnational capital” (ibid.: 26). Environmentalists should note this triple whammy.

The PCS document argues that:

“Demanding a transition to a zero carbon economy based on energy democracy –         public ownership and democratic control of our energy system – is the only way to             ensure that the transition will be both just and transformative” (Just Transition and    Energy Democracy [2017]: 35).

The document concludes with “Our ten demands” (p36), including “A civil service for people not capital” (ibid.). The geographer, David Harvey, “has introduced the widely cited concept of ‘accumulation by dispossession’” (cited Cooper & Whyte: 17). He claims that “the transfer of state assets to private ownership always implies a process of dispossession and general loss of rights” (ibid.) and that “the accumulation by dispossession is the driving force of capitalism, and that this process of capital accumulation has become more predatory and violent under Austerity programmes” (ibid.: 18). In line with Harvey’s analysis, the PCS document emphasises “the need to remove capital from the driving seat of energy transition” (ibid: 35) and as a trade union, to make the case across all sectors:

“We will succeed if we are convincing in our arguments, not just on the science, but    the politics and economics of climate change” (ibid.: 36).

Environmental politics, to be relevant and responsible in 2017, cannot ignore evidence of the incompetence and violence of the unregulated power of the market economy, including literally life-changing technological innovations:

Digital technology: innovation or domination? Liberation or coercion?
“It is very common for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended negative consequences” (Justin Rosenstein, cited Paul Lewis, ‘Scroll, refresh, repeat, delete’, The Guardian Weekend, 07 10 2017).

Justin Rosenstein, Tech exec and Facebook ‘like’ co-creator, is one of those who “put in place the building blocks of the digital world from which they are now trying to disentangle themselves” (Lewis, ibid.). Lewis’s report illuminates how digital technologies are reshaping lives, relationships, consciousness, and possibly intelligence itself, as more people move into a world of “continuous partial attention”, in which technological manipulation may be harmful or immoral (ibid.) in its psychological impact, for example in fostering addictive behaviour, i.e. “reward-based behaviour that activates the brain’s dopamine pathways” (Chris Marcellino, cited Lewis, was one of the inventors in his early 20s hired by Apple to work on the iPhone, and is now in the final stages of retraining to be a neurosurgeon).

“It’s not inherently evil to bring people back to your product”, Marcellino says. “It’s capitalism” (cited Lewis). But “if we only care about profit maximisation, we will go rapidly into dystopia” (Rosenstein, cited Lewis). In other words, dystopia is the logical destination for unregulated turbo capitalism and its neoliberal values: which amounts not just to self harm, but to self destruct. (The cliff edge / no deal being contemplated with apparent equanimity by the UK ‘Bexit’ team serves as a one such scenario.) It is the symptoms and consequences of this system that have so preoccupied social progressives and environmentalists over the years, though environmentalists have been reluctant to actually name that enemy, and this reluctance is my concern here.

For example, Alan Cunningham, a Liverpool-based researcher on poverty and low carbon pathways to health, found that, while Liverpool FoE and MET (Merseyside Environmental Trust) had campaigned on health as linked to sustainable living, “other local and national NGOs continued to deal with separate silos undermining the process of decision making” (Cunningham, ‘Low Carbon Pathways to Health in the Liverpool City region’, 12 11 2013).

“When the Transition initiative started we tried to set up a Wellbeing Group but we   were told that other Transition towns and cities, other local and national NGOs and          local Community Enterprises did not accept the link between sustainable living and   health. The Wellbeing Group was in an impossible position because it was sharing             structures with Groups which had a different view of health and a different world             view” (ibid.). Added emphasis.

These are cognitive, intellectual and political differences, not dissimilar to those noted by Guardian letter writers in response to long term environmentalist, George Monbiot’s recommendations in no less than three recent articles: ‘How do we get out of this mess? (Guardian, 09 09 2017); ‘A lesson from Hurricane Irma, (Guardian, 13 09 2017); and ‘How Labour could lead the global economy out of the C20’ (Guardian,11 10 2017). Monbiot proposes “private sufficiency” and “public luxury” as conceptual contributions to ways forward:

“Private luxury shuts down space, creating deprivation. But magnificent public               amenities should be owned and managed by neither state nor market, but by communities, in the form of commons” (Monbiot, 11 10 2017).

However, some Guardian readers think he’s skirting. Dr Patrick O’Sullivan comments that Monbiot “seems unable to acknowledge that the only real solution to the problems he identitifes – climate change, globalization, poverty, overcrowded cities, social fragmentation, mass extinction, destruction of valued habitats – is socialism” (Guardian letters, 14 10 2017). O’Sullivan concludes: “George, now that you are finally slouching towards socialism, it’s time to read [William] Morris’s News From Nowhere” (ibid.).

The convergence of environmental and social progressive/socialist politics may be speeding up inside the petri dish of post ‘Brexit’ and post Trump politics, but new risks and dangers have already ensnared those taking up digital ‘opportunities’. James Williams, 35, an ex Google strategist who left Google last year, sounds a warning:

“The attention economy incentivises the design of technologies that grab our                  attention. In so doing, it privileges our impulses over our intentions” (Williams, cited       Lewis, ibid.) . . . . That means privileging what is sensational over what is nuanced,       appealing to emotion, anger and outrage” (Williams, cited Lewis, 07 10 2017.)

A month before Trump was elected to the White house, Williams blogged that the reality TV star’s campaign had heralded a watershed in which “the new, digitally supercharged dynamics of the attention economy have finally crossed a threshold and become manifest in the political realm” (Williams, cited Lewis). Williams explains:

“The dynamics of the attention economy are structurally set up to undermine the        human will. If politics is an expression of our human will, on individual and collective     levels, then the attention economy is directly undermining the assumptions that         democracy rests on” (cited Lewis, ibid.).

Capitalism has always been anti-democratic, as democracy does not serve the interests of capital, and latterly, modern turbo consumerism, which of course drives the attention economy. And the neoliberal drive towards deregulation is designed to constrain, undermine and circumnavigate democratic values and accountability. But could this latest twist prove terminal?

Given how central new technologies are to both environmental politics, progressive politics, and electoral process, as both ‘problem’ and ‘solution’, activists and politicians have a struggle on their hands to keep up with the ramifications of the transformations so many of us are already part of, as well as trying to anticipate how to proceed in a future world, for which previous experience may provide little guidance as to what is relevant to the planet and societies’ next steps.

If you have watched any of Jacques Peretti’s hair-raising TV investigations, e.g. his recent 3 part series, Billion Dollar Deals and How They Changed Your World (BBC2, 27 10 2017, 04 10 2017), the last episode (screened on 11 10 2017) on how the concept of work has changed, including the impact and ‘promise’ (or threat) of AI (Artificial Intelligence), may have jolted your awareness of the importance and fragility of all the rights and protections secured and defended by Labour, the trade unions and the EU in the past, and which require our renewed vigilance and collective organization in the face of technological changes with fundamental consequences for lives and employment: uncertainty, insecurity, social control, impoverishment, individualism, feature prominently in the western gig economy, for example, as well as in our increasingly underfunded public services (see Who Deserves a Pay Rise? C4 Dispatches, which investigates the personally life-changing impact of pay caps on public sector employees over the last 10 years [23 10 2017]).

Co-creativity and alliance.
The months since CAT members’ conference in October 2016, have shown us both the violence and entrenched power of those opposing social creativity, collective action, social justice and a multicultural society, as well as people’s potential and power (as seen in the film Austerity Fight), when we are roused to act collectively against violation and injustice. It is a process, not a single, final fix. ‘Victory’, as Solnit understands, will always be a work in progress.

“The absolutists of the old left imagined that victory would, when it came, be total and permanent, which is practically the same as saying that victory was and is impossible       and will never come” (Solnit, 2016: xxii).

During the 2017 general election campaign, we were told (without let up) by politicians (on all sides) and the MSM, that the Labour party was finished, that Corbyn was a joke and unelectable, and that those who thought otherwise were variously ‘hard left’, ‘Trotskyite’ morons and dreamers. The subsequent Labour vote can thus be seen as an act of non compliance, of bold civil disobedience (for other examples, see ‘Non compliance in the face of affront, bullying, coercion, and violation’ at, in category Commentary 2016). As Solnit notes:

“And then every now and then, the possibilities explode. In these moments of rupture,       people find themselves members of a ‘we’ that did not until then exist, at least not as an entity with agency and identity and potency . . . ” (Solnit: xxiii).

The political landscape in the UK erupted in 2017, the general election result making the Labour party the opposition party, which can now be viewed as a powerful progressive alliance, rather than the proverbial ‘broad church’. Voter registration soared and young people stepped out of the shadows to register their values, concerns and aspirations, alongside the many older voters who had previously withdrawn their long term support for Labour, returning to vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s reinvigorated Labour party; and those who had never voted or chose to switch their vote from other parties to Labour.

“And yet, and of course, everything in the mainstream media suggests that popular       resistance is ridiculous, pointless, or criminal, unless it is far away, was long ago, or,         ideally, both (ibid.: xxiii).

But, as Josiah Mortimer, editor of Left Foot Forward, witnessed: “Non-political people turning out in droves. Seemingly switched-off friends proud of casting their vote” (‘Talent from Corbyn to Chuka: why I left the Greens to join Labour’, Labour List, 28 09 2017). After being a Green member for 6 years, Josiah voted Labour in June 2017:

“It now feels clear that the changes within Labour are much more than temporary –    there has been an internal culture shift. With around 600,000 members, Labour is        now the great movement of the left. A broad church, but one that was resoundingly     united around an inspiring manifesto this year” (ibid.).

This emergent political conversation is well under way: it’s cross-class and cross-generational, and embraces our cultural diversity as a basis and driver for a renewed democracy. None of these developments were anticipated, predicted or understood by the MSM and neoliberal politicians. The revived Labour party, while not sufficient in itself to do what is needed, has already shown that it can be a vital instrument and catalyst in helping shift values and practices in society and its institutions, in collaboration with others who care, including other EU citizens.

And in 2017, the issue of EU membership and citizenship is not peripheral to environmental or progressive politics in the UK. Nor can those campaigning over the loss of EU citizens’ rights in the UK post ‘Brexit’ be seen, or self define, as a special interest group pursuing ‘single issue’ politics. They are now party to what is a substantive social and political transformation.

BREXIT: A nail in our coffin? Or an opportunity?
The EU referendum vote in 2016 has caused uproar, mayhem, grief and despair in people’s lives and relationships, and across party lines. For many young people in the UK, used to identifying as European citizens, the threat of ‘Brexit’ is alarming and real: their lives will be wrenched out of their control.

Another set of case studies attests to the speed and extent of the consequences of the ‘Brexit’ vote. In Limbo: Brexit testimonies from EU citizens in the UK, was launched at the Croxteth Manor symposium (14 10 2017), ‘What has the EU ever done for the North West region?, organised by the Merseyside branch of European Movement UK, Britain for Europe, Liverpool For Europe and Regional Rallies. It makes harrowing reading. The EU citizens in the UK who tell their stories are from: Italy, France, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Austria, Greece, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Lithuania, Belgium, Slovakia, Sweden, Ireland and Britain. They variously came to the UK for a week’s holiday, or as a student or for work. They fell in love with UK society and stayed for a lifetime (some as long as 26, 32, 40, 49 and 50 years). In their grief, they speak of their broken hearts, not just broken lives, after the ‘Brexit’ decision. Their testimonies evoke precious features of UK society, alerting us to what we are in danger of throwing away as a society:

“What I have always loved so much about this country is its openness, its acceptance, its liberty” (Andrea Carlo, Italy: 15).

“I came to this country because of its tolerance, its diversity of ethnicity and cuisine, its great music and art, its thriving science and technology and its vibrant multiculturalism” (Professor Bruno G. Pollet, France: 21).

“I soon fell in love with the society’s openness and tolerance, the industry’s meritocracy, the people’s pragmatism, and the loveliness of the English countryside” (Philip, Greece: 34).

The ‘Remaining of Liverpool’ campaign, seen in action at the anti Brexit demo in London in September 2017; in Manchester (outside Tory conference, 01 10 2017); and most recently, Liverpool, at the Croxteth Manor symposium (14 10 2017), emanates from a new grouping LfE (Liverpool for Europe), which brings together previously disparate political actors, from those whose interest in politics (especially party politics) has been previously minimal or conservative, to political activists, practised in campaigning, protesting, resisting. Steve Gavin (LfE) told the London rally that “Brexit will be disastrous for working people”, adding:

“European nationals living as family, friends, neighbours and work mates in our             great city are being used as pawns in negotiations that the Government clearly        doesn’t understand” (cited ‘”The Remaining of Liverpool!” – Latest mass protest           against Brexit gets a Liverpool Twist’. Press Release for Europe, 10 09 2017.

For example: “My family is multi-national, a 3-passport concoction, a mini EU. I’m Italian, of Greek-Italian parentage; my husband is Dutch, our daughter is gloriously, incongruously British; or as she puts it, ‘half-Dutch, a quarter Italian, a quarter Greek – and 100% English’” (Elena Gualtieri, Italy, In Limbo: 76).

And: “It never occurred to me that at the age of 75 and having lived here for 50 years, being Dutch could one day make me ‘the other’. Not because I felt different, but because others might start to see me differently” (Elly Wright, The Netherlands: ibid: 79).

Heartbreakingly: “Until June 2016, English was the language of liberation, freedom, respect and equality” (M.T., Italy: ibid: 4).

Now, as Rafael Behr puts it:

“’In David Davis, Britain has a schoolboy in charge of the moon landings’” (The  Guardian, 18 07 2017). A reckless bluffer who is wildly out of his depth. . . His skills are      suited to a peculiarly British mode of advancement: the celebration of swagger and bluff over due diligence.”

If only this were ‘funny’ and incidental to the future prospects of UK citizens, but Davis’s every appearance at the EU podium this year bears out Behr’s assessment: the sloppy arrogance of his body language, his near permanent smirk as he tries to ‘look the part’, his rambling ill preparedness. Behr nails the gendered and classed nature of a problematic political culture:

“Davis has benefitted from Westminster’s generosity to men who gamble and busk    their way through scrapes born of their own ill preparation – overgrown schoolboys         who shirk their homework, then talk their way out of detention” (ibid.).

At the London rally, Gavin nutshelled the disturbing combination of ignorance, arrogance and political incompetence on display (our lives in their hands):

“Brexit is being done by a minister for Exiting the EU who doesn’t understand what a   customs union is. A foreign secretary whose negative judgemental views about        Scousers are so well known, but who will negotiate with the world in our name. And    the lifeblood of trade that runs up and down the Mersey is being ignored by a Trade           Secretary who doesn’t understand economics” (LfE press release, 10 09 2017).

A spokesperson from the Europe Movement Merseyside (EMM) declared:

“The Mersey nation was not hoodwinked by the lies of the leave campaign last year      and will not be fooled now by a government passing legislation to give itself              unprecedented powers to make decisions without meaningful Parliamentary                  scrutiny” (ibid.) See

Behr warns: “When designing a weapon, it is a good idea to imagine it falling into the wrong hands” (‘The EU withdrawal bill is nothing less than an executive coup’, The Guardian, 05 09 2017). Claude Moraes, Labour MEP, who chairs the European parliament civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, is concerned that “Brexit will be a betrayal of the UK’s fight for equality” (The Guardian, 11 10 2017). And Dr Marcin Barszczewski, an EU citizen, originally from Poland, living joyfully in Northern Ireland for 11 years, says: “I have always felt welcome and accepted here – a place where I could spend my entire life” (In Limbo, 2017: 99). But he notes: “What makes me most concerned is the fact that few people with whom I spoke about this saw the EU institutions primarily as peacekeeping mechanisms” (ibid.). Free to leave Poland after 1989, when the Berlin wall came down, he understands the continuing significance of the EU for peace and non-violent internationalism in Europe.

Similarly, and despite his powerful critique of the EU, Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis “remains convinced that the EU must be confronted from within, rather than through a series of exits” (Varoufakis, And The Weak Suffer What They Must? Europe, Austerity and The Threat to Global Stability [2016]: xi). And in his forward, he highlights the importance of seeking out common ground across differences:

“When capitalism’s crisis deepens, as happened in the 1930s and is happening again         today, people from opposite ends of the political spectrum find common ground. . . The prerequisite for this precious common ground is a willingness to look for it and build alliances that confront the monsters that have a habit of crawling out of the fault lines in the crisis: the Le Pens, the Golden Dawns, the AfDs, the BNPs, the UKIPs and indeed the bureaucrats, politicians and opinion-formers that insist on business  as usual when it is business as usual that is tearing our societies apart” (ibid.: xii). Emphasis added.

 This is politics, not shopping: conscientious collective action, not individualistic, competitive consumerism. What distinguishes Varoufakis’ political stance is not just the depth of his analysis and historical understanding, but that he “strives to find common ground when this is possible without betraying my opposition to the hideous dictum, ‘And the weak shall suffer what they must’” (ibid.: xiii). This ethic is what should concentrate minds at this point in our shared history.

So, if the problem is hetero-patriarchal turbo capitalism and its neoliberal practices as threats to democracy, people’s wellbeing and dignity, and the planet, through privatisation, fragmentation, marketisation, commodification, individualism and deregulation, for example, fuelling inequality, human / environmental degradation and (resource) wars, then any serious environmental or socially progressive politics has to identify as non neoliberal and anti Austerity.

As evidence of the full horror of a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ ‘Brexit’ starts to pile up from so many different constituencies, interest groups and corners of society, can we muster the political will to rescue the UK from the Tories’ jaws and their determination to continue to enforce Austerity politics, to wreck meaningful links with the EU, including the lives of EU citizens in the UK, and instead align the UK with Trump’s white supremacist and misogynist vision for the US?

Can we rescue the UK, in order to fulfill an ambitious double role?  Shifting the UK government towards anti Austerity politics, informed by socialist and environmental values, as well as helping the EU enact its own transformation from within, recommitting itself to:

“a fundamental territorial expression of the principle of social democracy and of a      European social model that advocates reinvestment in people and places facing      development and regeneration changes” (Olivier Sykes & Andreas Schulze Baing,          ‘The impact of EU regeneration and structural funds’, in Essay series: Does the EU               work for working-class people? CLASS [Centre for Labour and Social Studies], June           2016: 21).

Only together.

Three further questions to conclude:
In aligning with anti Austerity activists, can environmentalists bring nourishment to the Labour movement, via the Labour party and the trade unions, in a genuine peer process, thereby augmenting the environmental count inside the Labour movement, as well as widening the Labour party’s electoral impact at the next general election?

Can anti Austerity politics, led by the revived Labour party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, provide the umbrella of hope and courage about the kind of society we want to be, as a continuing member of a reforming EU, and committed to working together across our differences?

And given that this Tory government has shown that inequality and brutality are not enemies to be vanquished, but weapons to secure political dominium and private profit,   can the Liverpool for Europe movement and the Remainers across the UK, find and expose their anti Austerity hearts as part of their pro EU and anti Brexit campaign, and in alliance with Labour help remove the Tories from office?

Authors cited:
Rafael Behr
Joanna Bourke
Ha-Joon Chang
Vickie Cooper
Alan Cunningham
Mim Davies
Nick Dearden
Peter Fleming
David Harvey
Paul Lewis
George Monbiot
Josiah Mortimer
Jacques Peretti
Steven Poole
Michael J. Sandel
Rebecca Solnit
Andreas Schulze Baing
Olivier Sykes
Yanis Varoufakis
Dave Whyte
Zoe Williams
                                                                                                                   val walsh / 25 10 2017


The problem of journalism as entertainment and entrapment.


The political imbalance and prejudice of MSM (mainstream media) have been well documented over the years by media analysts (e.g. in Glasgow and Cardiff), and questions of who gets air time and how they are treated when reported or interviewed remain contentious issues. But never mind the evidence, Nick Robinson, former BBC political editor, chooses to characterise all those who find fault with MSM as extremists (Right or Left) (‘Silencing the disagreeable won’t work. Put them on air’, The Guardian, 28 09 2017). He casts the BBC and traditional media as blameless victims of social media and “the increased polarisation of our society” (cited Graham Ruddick, ‘Alternative news sites in “guerrilla war” with BBC, says Robinson’. The Guardian, 28 09 2017). This is worse than ingenuous, and combines ignorance and casual insult in a way that has become all too common, notably since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

Guardian letter writers point out how MSM (including Robinson himself and Andrew Marr) have colluded with climate breakdown deniers (30 09 2017). But the track record of MSM also includes choosing not to report significant events. For example, you would have thought the BBC, set up as a public service broadcaster, had a special duty to report on the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS over the last 7 years. Not so. Apparently this was not ‘a great story’ worth chasing. Instead, information was withheld, leaving David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt in particular to carry on regardless: denying and lying as they smiled their way past any opposition. Campaigners across the country were left tearing their hair out at this mainstream media silence, having to resort to the street, public meetings and social media to spread the bad news. The consequence is that, until very recently, too few people (beyond the workforces themselves) had any idea of what was going on and how serious the consequences already were.

The neoliberal orthodoxy internalised by media moguls and too many journalists, commentators, academics and politicians has left them bewildered by recent political events, for example, the EU referendum result and the 2017 general election. As news values have shifted, and facts, values and opinions have ended up in the blender, they have visibly lost control of their own professional field of ‘expertise’. For journalists and commentators, their practices have increasingly morphed into ‘entertainment’, and worse, entrapment as entertainment. Three journalists in action this week around the Labour party conference in Brighton,  provide evidence that Robinson’s defensive complacency is misplaced:

Jo Coburn, of the Sunday Politics show, interviewed multiple award-winning film director, and now the official film-maker for the Labour party, Ken Loach, after the LP conference this week. She suggested that to describe the Austerity policies and actions of the Tory government as “conscious cruelty” was extreme, ridiculous even, as it implied that all Tory politicians were cruel people (she thought this was unfair). She argued that instead we should be celebrating the rise in employment levels. Loach, who has a long track record of political activism and artistic production that focuses on poverty and social justice issues (most recently his film, I Daniel), drew attention to the poverty of much of that employment (such as low pay, insecure and unsafe jobs, zero hours contracts). And he denied that “conscious cruelty” was a misnomer.

Not only does Loach care passionately about these social and political issues as an artist and human being, he is also eloquent in their exposition, and has the stats on child poverty, hunger, food banks, housing, homelessness, for example, at his fingertips. He cited these, to justify the “conscious cruelty” verdict, simultaneously ascertaining that Jo Coburn did not know the answers to his questions about these damning features of our society. She had implied that his statement was just a flamboyant, personal opinion. He demonstrated that it was a judgement based on hard, incontrovertible evidence. “I know what is going on”, he said quietly.

As a film maker (documentary and ‘fiction’), his work is rooted in extensive and careful research. Coburn showed herself not so thoroughly prepared, not least perhaps because in her media role she expects to challenge and interrogate, to be in control. She does not expect to be challenged (and shown wanting). On this occasion, both her humanity and her professional competence as a political journalist were left quietly in tatters.

In the same week, Jon Snow, interviewing Jeremy Corbyn, suggested that perhaps the Labour party is now “the nasty party”. Again, the form of questioning and the chosen issue of racism in the Labour party, seemed to be about trying to catch Jeremy out, to gain control, to overpower. Not such a ‘new man’ after all, Jon.

And something similar happened in Laura Kuenssberg’s interview with Jeremy Corbyn this week, where, as a senior political journalist, she pretends (surely) not to know what the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, had meant when he spoke at a LP fringe meeting of those individuals and institutions as “they” who “will come after us” in government. Of course she knows what he means. She was trying to turn it into an attack on Labour’s credibility, as well as a way of implying or creating friction between these two long standing best friends and allies.

These are examples of modern journalistic practice as entertainment / entrapment: a power struggle that leaves the ethics and purpose of broadcast and public sector journalism sorely damaged. Less fit for purpose than we, the people, have a right to expect. And therefore less likely to be trusted. On the evidence.

val walsh / 30 09 2017