Opinion: Not the whole truth

On Monday, while in London for a meeting, I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard. (I can never resist a good freebie – I was once an MP after all –  and besides it gave me three extra Sudokus to do on the train home).

Inside I found four vouchers (one for each of the remaining days of the week) for “i” – Britain’s first new quality newspaper for over two decades. The paper only costs 20p a day. But I am such a sucker for freebies that I just could not resist using the vouchers to try it out.

It’s a shortened version of its sister paper The Independent. But I am ashamed to say it took me a day to realise that was why the vouchers were in the Standard. All three papers are, of course, now in the hands of the same Russian owners.

That made me think. The Independent is the only British newspaper which can be relied on to be genuinely independent, and to publish columnists with a very wide range of views. It is Russian-owned. But a whole string of newspapers produce ignorant and bigoted comment based usually on fictionalized stories chosen for their populist appeal. They are mainly Australian-owned! When I was a kid, everyone would have assumed it would have been the other way round.

But the important point is this. How can we expect the average British newspaper-reader to make good decisions about issues of public importance, if they are fed a constant diet of prejudice, depicting various minority groups as the villains of every problem in our society?

One newspaper this week told me that the commonest boys name given to male babies last year was Oliver. Another chose to spin the line that, if you added together all the possible variations of Mohammed, the Mohammeds beat the Olivers. The implication was clear. They didn’t need to spell it out. And they didn’t bother to give us the total for the Jons, Johns and Jonathans put together, for example.

Even more sadly, when the public is led to believe that all sorts of things are going wrong in our country, they not unnaturally demand action from the politicians to put it right. That, I am sure, is why so many senior Conservatives constantly demand that, for example, we should leave the EU and cap immigration.

All the more sensible Tories know that leaving the EU would be catastrophic for our economy. And they know that business needs skilled employees who can only be recruited from abroad. But they daren’t say that. Politicians need votes. The temptation to pander to crude bigotry is very strong when your job depends on it.

So all too many politicians say one thing before doing the opposite, because they knew it was right all along. That’s why the Tories will never take us out of Europe and why Vince Cable is winning the war to relax the cap on immigration. Even the Tories have had to realise that putting unnecessary difficulties in the way of business is not the most sensible policy, when you are trying to get out of a recession.

David Rendel is Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Newbury, a Councillor on West Berkshire Council and a directly elected member of the party’s Federal Executive

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8 Comments

  • Mark Inskip 30th Oct '10 - 5:48pm

    “The Independent is the only British newspaper which can be relied on to be genuinely independent”

    Will this be the same Independent that was using its front page at the start of the week to spin scare stories about a double-dip recession, then on Tuesday when reporting on real data had to write “Chancellor George Osborne’s recovery plans received a welcome boost today with better than expected third quarter growth figures and a crucial upgrade for the UK economy.”

  • Mr Rendel should check his facts before passing judgment. ‘John’ comes from the Hebrew ‘Yohanan’ (‘favoured by God’), whereas Jonathan comes from ‘Yonatan’ (‘God’s grace) and Jon is often a shortened form of Jonah (from ‘Yonah’ meaning ‘dove’). So there’s no reason to add them up when comparing them to other names.

    The idea that the Independent is ‘genuinely independent’ and somehow unbiased is as ridiculous as pretending the Murdoh press is. The Independent can be trusted to paint as villains Israel, bankers, Australian press barons and other left-wing bogeymen in a way that is just as prejudiced and unconstained by inconvenient facts as the treatment of Europe and immigrants by certain right-wing publications.

    Mr Rendel might want to reflect that all media magnates, Russian or Australian, need to sell papers and will pander to the prejudices of their target audience. There’s nothing evil about that; it’s the product of having a free press. They largely reflect bigotry but don’t cause it – that’s the fault of our education system which fails to inspire sufficient intellectual curiosity or critical thinking in people.

  • The Hate Mail also didn’t find the space to mention that adding the Oliviers abd various spellings of Olly put Oliver well ahead of Mohammed. The same applies to John/Jack and Harry/Henry.

    It is of course also the cast that Mohammed is far more dominant as a name for Muslim boys than any name for most other religions. Or that many Mohammeds use their second name such as Muhammad Hosni Mubarak and Muhammad Anwar Sadat.

    But then this the paper that asked “Is there anything English about Nick Clegg?”

  • David Rendel – Agree

    David – Don’t agree

    And by the way, Jon is normally short for Jonathan. I suppose you may get the odd shortening of Jonah, but quoting the exception as the norm is what gets politicians and journalists a bad name.

  • “Will this be the same Independent that was using its front page at the start of the week to spin scare stories about a double-dip recession, then on Tuesday when reporting on real data had to write “Chancellor George Osborne’s recovery plans received a welcome boost today with better than expected third quarter growth figures and a crucial upgrade for the UK economy.” ”

    Well, of course, they could have said “Chancellor George Osborne’s plans received a kick in the teeth today when better than expected third quarter growth figures showed that Labour’s Keynesian stimulus policies, supported at the time by Vince Cable, had been successful.”

  • Nick Clegg on the other hand would never dream of skewing the debate on housing benefit by pandering to populist notions of fairness would he?

    He would see through the propagandist conflation of two different issues such as is being done by asking whether it is fair that those hard workers paying taxes and living in modest accommodation should pay for those on housing benefit to keep their three and four bedroomed luxury flats in central London. He and other leading Lib Dem coalition members would put the issue straight by asking first: is it fair that those who are earning should pay their rightful share of taxes? and second: should we prioritise using those taxes for the provision of roofs over the heads of poor children more highly than anything else? Wouldn’t they?

    No Nick Clegg wouldn’t do such a thing as spin an outrageously illiberal notion of fairness in order to gain public support for the coalitions policies would he?

    So we can rest assured that the Lib Dems in coalition would never demonise a sector of society such as those in reciept of housing benefit or living in council houses and blocking up the waiting lists by being elderly in order to make some populist capital. Nor would they affect a horror at the finances they found on entering office in order to justify actions they had only moments before campaigned against.

    Ah the refreshing smell of “New Politics” you can’t beat it.

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