23 November 2004
W A R N I N G
Making sense of Blair’s Labour strategy is no mean feat, for without a core constituency such as Bush’s Christian fundamentalism, what buttons need to be pushed in order to sell a similar strategy to an extremely sceptical electorate? What is patently obvious is that fear will be at the centre of the strategy but it won’t be fear of terrorism per se but fear based upon a media-led campaign centred on personal safety that is largely sustained by people’s perceptions, perceptions created by the media that the government has used, ‘reverse engineering’ style as a justification to essentially criminalise the entire population with. Step-by-step, the government has tapped into these perceptions about crime, guns, drugs, ‘anti-social behaviour’ and a general dissatisfaction with life as it is lived to create the pre-conditions that enables the government to legislate us into a police state, one small step at a time.
As a reporter on ITV News put it when talking about Blunkett’s new proposed ‘anti-terrorism’ laws:
“Is the public being led, sleep-walking, into the creation of a police state?”
ITV News 21/11/04
But before unpacking the Blair Fear Project in more detail, remember that the alternatives to New Labour are a pretty pathetic lot but then this is England where mediocrity rules.
The Tory Party is a spent force having shot its bolt with nineteen years of Thatcher/Major and then watched its core ideology get hijacked by New Labour in a move that has effectively completed the Thatcher (counter)-revolution. And critically, what does it tell us about the years of Labour’s role as capitalism’s fifth column?
Next, we have the Liberal Democrats, who in effect pass for what remains of ‘old’ Labour. Not much joy to found with them, they’re just too wishy-washy to stir the loins of the electorate. The fringe parties from the neo-fascist BNP through to the almost neo-fascist UK Independence Party appeal only to a narrow segment of the most backward working/middle class and in any case, it’s very much a vote based on changing emotions and there is no way they can be considered as serious contenders except in specific localities at the local level and as a convenient ‘voice’ (articulated through the gutter press) for Blunkett’s (not so) hidden agenda.
On the Left we have George Galloway’s Respect Unity Coalition, a thinly veiled quasi-Trotskyist assemblage out of the Socialist Workers Party that bases its support on an opportunist exploitation of the ‘Muslim’ vote. Not much joy to be found there either. Then we have the Socialist Alliance and in Scotland the Scottish Socialist Party, probably the most coherent of the Left parties with a strong local support but it’s a regional party so it doesn’t really count. There is also a smattering of ‘Marxist/Communist’ parties who between them couldn’t fill the back room of a pub even on a good day with free beer on offer.
Hence is it accurate to say that it’s a shoo-in for Labour next year? More than likely if only because there are no viable alternatives on offer unless something really dramatic happens between now and election day. However, I’m not in the business of soothsaying, far more important is to analyse the nature of Blair’s sophisticated propaganda campaign and in particular, New Labour’s relationship to and exploitation of the media.
The Fear Factor
Although Blair is utilising the same basic technique of fear as the motif the methodology is entirely different in the UK due in no small part to the fact the UK is a far less violent society than the US, with fewer murders and fewer violent crimes. So the fear factor has to be based on a different set of perceptions about the quality of life and a rapidly changing culture that is always an unsettling experience and tailored-made for exploitation by unscrupulous politicians. I experienced this in the run-up to the 1994 elections in South Africa where Black South Africans over the age of 50-55, were more prone to vote for the Apartheid Nationalist Party, preferring the devil they knew rather than the new (based upon results the ANC obtained from the first genuine national surveys of the entire population conducted in 1993).
The Role of the Media
The media’s treatment – across the board – has been to take ‘received opinion’, that is the public’s perceptions about crime, safety on the streets, and so forth, as a replacement for reality. The process works as follows:
News stories, from the sensational to the ‘serious’ talk of the ‘public’ and its ‘fear’ (vox pops with Mr, Ms and Mrs Public) that are in turn read/viewed by the public thus reinforcing perceptions about crime and received as the ‘truth’. This is a cumulative process that works by accretion over time utilising a variation of Goebbels tried and tested method of repetition.
Hence although it’s not true that the UK is a more dangerous place than in the past (crime levels have actually dropped, what has changed is methods of reporting that now includes having to report a harmless altercation as a violent crime) the government then uses the public’s perceptions of the reporting of ‘violent’ crime as a replacement for the truth and the media in turn, report it as if the public’s perceptions are true.
“Crime has dropped by 5% according to the British Crime Survey – marking the longest period of falling crime for 106 years – although police figures show an increase in reported offences.”
Row over figures as crime drops 5%
In so doing, the media creates a closed, self-referential system of belief and the government uses it as a basis for a series of ever more repressive measures, arguing that if the public feels fearful then those fears must be allayed. Of course if we had an honest instead of duplicitous government, then it would counter the public’s perceptions with the reality of the situation but it doesn’t suit the state because it has an entirely different (and hidden) agenda.
‘Hey Smooth Talker’
Interviewer John Humphries: May I remind you. You’ll know it of course, Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, he talks about us taking steps that overstep the limits on the pretext of the fight against terror.”
Home Secretary David Blunkett: Yes, I met him…he says the same about my measures on Anti-Social Behavior and last night I attended two Community Meetings, in which people were asking for even greater power and were rejoicing in the powers we had given the Police.
BBC ‘Today’ Programme, 13/11/04
Note that just because some people say the government has and needs more powers is not a reason that the government should get them. Blunkett is playing on people’s perceptions about crime and using received opinion as a justification. Moreover, note Blunkett’s wholy unwarranted conflation of crime with the ‘war on terror’.
The same BBC interview contains a number of examples of how the process of conflation of two issues is used to justify another, entirely different one. In response to Humphries’ question about whether or not the measures already taken were draconian, Blunkett spake thus
“No they’re not. They’re sensible, pre-emptive measures. Pre-emptive in the sense that we live now in a rapidly changing world, where people’s fears are greater, not just in terms of terrorism, but fear in their own neighbourhood and community, and we’ve been able to establish stability and security in terms of the economy, and people’s economic family life, we need to be able to do that in their immediate environment, and internationally, and in dealing with terrorism.”
Again, not that the danger is greater but that “people’s fears are greater” and once more reinforcing the link between ‘terrorism’ and “fear in their own neighbourhood and community”. And note the use of the word “pre-emption’ echoing ‘pre-emptive war’ that links imperialist foreign policy with Blunkett’s local ‘initiative’.
Later, in the same interview, Blunkett attempts to establish a link between a rapidly changing world and the need to ‘reassure’ people about their fears:
“Yes, it’s greater because we see things now, across the world, because of instant, er, satellite. er, television, that we never did immediately before. We have seven day week, twenty-four hour, instant communication, all of this underpinned by a changing culture, a lack of respect, the inability of parents to parent properly, the binge drinking that is a phenomenon”
So “lack of respect”, a “changing culture” and then a slur on parents with the assertion that parents don’t know how to parent properly, though what any of this has to do with “threats” from terrorism is not elucidated but then that’s not the point is it. Blunkett continues
“Well people do not open their hearts, and minds, and hear messages, particularly Progressive messages if, underpinning that, subliminally, is a fear of what’s happening around them, and if they’re more insecure when they go out, and they walk on the street, if they fear, because of the eleventh of September, and its aftermath, what is happening in terms of the , er, the new forms of threat, from outside, then we have to provide that stability and security, if they’re going to be able to the messages about opening your hearts and minds to other, about reducing the fear of difference, about being able to create a civilised and caring …and compassionate society”.
Again, fear of what’s happening around them. So people, when they go out, they fear because of 9/11 and Blunkett cites “new forms of threat, from the outside” that we have to be protected from, although what these new kinds of threat consist of we are not told. And the “outside” is equated with danger and at the same time reducing the fear of difference, two mutually exclusive messages that sows confusion but plants the idea that the outside is dangerous.
In the course of the short interview Blunkett uses the word “fear” eight times and always in the context of perceptions rather than reality.
The media for its part is only too happy to participate in the sham. This morning for example on the ‘Today’ programme (23/11/04) repeated the lie that “following consultations, 79% of the public support the introduction of the ID card”. However:
“Following the 2002-2003 sham “consultation” on ID Cards, the Home Office proudly announced that 79% of respondents supported ID cards. Despite the fact that this result was only obtained by fiddling the figures, Home Secretary David Blunkett has been repeating it ever since.
“Well, reality has caught up with Big Blunkett. Today the Home Office published the results of its more recent consultation. The figures are now a mere 31% in favour and 48% against.
“Blunkett would undoubtedly claim that these figures are meaningless since they represent a self-selected group. But the same was true of the first consultation. The fact is that comparing like with like support for Big Blunkett’s Identity Card scheme has fallen from (at most) 79% to a mere 31%.
Yet more reinforcement of ‘received opinion’ by the media that knows only too well that the statistic is a lie.
The Blunkett interview is most instructive because it contains all the elements that the Blair Fear Project utilises in order to justify the creation of a police state. The process has been subtle, consistent and long term, firstly the focus on ‘law and order’ and then ‘crime’ to the issue of ‘terrorism’ arguing that similar tactics are needed to defeat both. Thrown into this heady mix are ‘organised crime’ and the ‘war on drugs’ both by association linked to ‘international terrorism’. Thus the triumverate is complete, crime —> organised crime —> terrorism, the common factor being fear.
The same tactic has been used with ‘illegal immigrants’ because firstly ‘they sponge on the system’ (a totally false allegation) and second because of ‘organised crime’ and its alleged links to ‘international terrorism’, thus is planted yet another false connection, that between illegal immigrants and international terrorism, only now it’s criminal gangs of people smugglers who are used as the pretext.
In the US, the public was stampeded
but in the UK we have been quietly
herded into a police state.
The other important aspect of the message, again reflecting the British experience is the actual language employed. Blunkett (with occasional ‘slips’, no doubt deliberate on his part) is always careful to present his propaganda in tone and phrase that belies its content. Not for him the hysterical approach, the delivery is ‘reasonable’ and measured, one could say with a feigned reluctance, ‘I don’t want to turn the UK into a police state but circumstances leave me no alternative’, but why not let Blunkett speak for himself
“…but we have a view from a situation where we want to prevent and protect our people, from any incident that would change the political climate and if I wanted, and the Prime Minister wanted, to actually get engaged now, with a climate of fear, we’d create a Cabinet minister, as the Tories…are requesting, who would be a Homeland Security Secretary or Tsar who would have by their very nature, and their survival politically, to appear on television and radio virtually every day, and I could do it, put the Fear of God Up People”
Once more, “climate of fear” only this time, it’s the Tories who carry the burden. Buried in the text is a key phrase “any incident that would change the political climate”, in other words, it’s not about terrorism but about preserving the status quo. Worse, Blunkett wants to protect us from any incident that would alter the state of affairs!
Sleepwalking? Yes, lulled into a state of passive aceptance. Consider the raft of laws passed on crime since Labour took office in 1992 with each set of laws including a ‘small erosion’ of for example due process, habeas corpus, trial by jury, what I call creeping repression.
The government of course rejects the more ‘extreme’ utterances of the press as ‘irresponsible’ but leaves intact the body of the received opinion. Hence the government will make pronouncements about ‘asylum seekers’ that defends the right of ‘genuine’ asylum seekers but it will imply that most are not and cite the rejected ones as proof, neglecting to mention that the rules are loaded against all applicants. Thus when the media quotes the ‘statistics’ the public are left with the impression that the majority of asylum seekers are fakes.
The same tactic was used with ‘terrorists’ when in fact out of the over 600 people detained under anti-terrorism laws only a handful have been sucessfully prosecuted and all of those are from Northern Ireland!
And now we have the latest round of laws that if passed, enshrines preventive detention and criminalises thought in classic Orwellian mode including criminalising actions in “preparation”, that is before actually committing an alleged terrorist offence, in other words, thought crimes have been added to guilt by association, the classic McCarthyite tactic used in the 1950s by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Thus having decided to fight the election on a fear ticket, it stands to reason that between now and election day, the anté will be upped, big time. As they keep on iterating it’s not a question of if but when so be prepared…