BoJo: a Litany and The Bodyguard's Tale
Tuesday, 30 November 2021 18:40

BoJo: a Litany and The Bodyguard's Tale

Published in Poetry

BoJo: a Litany

by Christopher Norris

I hate your lies, the monstrous lot
Of lies you’ve told to save your skin,
To line your pockets, take a shot
At some old rival, seek to pin
The blame elsewhere, pretend you’ve got
A half-way truthful tale to spin,
Or tell the world you’re really not
That scheming bastard out to win
A bit more time before the plot
Unravels and you end up in
Deep shit, or gaol, or a tight spot
Where your glib tongue and oafish grin
Won’t ease the punishment one jot
Or help you take it on the chin.

I hate your fake patrician ways,
Your indolence, your languid drawl,
Your mindless yawp, your fool displays
Of boorishness, your flaccid sprawl
On that front bench, the way they glaze,
Those eyes of yours, when some close call
Gets through at Question Time, the maze
Of lies, brush-offs, attempts to stall
For time, or feeble jokes to raise
A laugh from crass back-benchers – all
These things I hate, and count the days
Until at last the blinkers fall,
You’re naked in the public gaze
And off to gaol for the long haul.

I hate your Eton-Oxford-primed veneer
Of civilized behavior, wit,
And what does service in that sphere
As intellect, though scarcely fit
To hide your lack of mental gear,
Your fallback mode of trueborn Brit
With speech to prove it: Eton sneer
Or Oxford posh, the standard kit
For those whose choices of career –
Say, politics or crime – admit
No end of vicious traits or sheer
Stupidity but tell them ‘quit!’
If class and breeding don’t appear
Quite right to make their role legit.

Another thing I hate: how your
Vile defects all bespeak the same
Root vice, how rot infects the core
Of BoJo-being, how your name
Alone’s enough for us to score
A moral bull’s-eye – lack of shame,
The crook’s last alibi, the store
Of handy get-outs when the game
Goes wrong, the fraudster’s bottom drawer
Of killer notes to help defame
Some pesky journalist or shore
Your last defences up when blame,
At last, lies squarely at your door
And justice comes to stake its claim.

But, truth to tell, what I most hate
Is how those COVID victims died
In tens of thousands, how the rate
Sky-rocketed because you tried
To fix the numbers, under-state
The risks, keep your rich chums onside,
Give each big contract to some mate
Of yours with zero bona fide,
Put lockdowns off till it’s too late,
Bluff your way through, let COVID ride,
Leave care-home dwellers to their fate,
Make sure the tabloid hacks provide
Your cover, then sit back and wait
As each new variant hits its stride.

The Bodyguard’s Tale

by Christopher Norris

You can call me his chief protector,
You can call me his hired gun,
You can call me Chief Inspector
Since it’s one of the jobs I’ve done.
Started off in the private sector,
Looking out for Number One –
I’d have taken on Hannibal Lecter
With the bunch I used to run!
Then I joined the Old Bill as Director
Of Ops for his days in the sun
When we’d duff up the odd objector
While the monster was out having fun.

Yet I thought: who’d be poacher-turned-keeper
If ‘security’ means you’re employed
Just to shelter this jerk from the Reaper,
This cock of the walk who’s destroyed
Human lives by the thousand (much cheaper
Than the health-care he enjoyed!),
Whose lies twist and cling like a creeper,
Whose stunts are pure celluloid,
And whose harms to the country strike deeper
Than a germ-bearing asteroid.

Then I thought: what are bodyguards there for
In such desperate times as these
When the top guy we’re summoned to care for
Has brought the whole land to its knees?
It’s not monsters like him we prepare for,
Not scoundrels who loll at their ease
While the people they’ve no time to spare for
Die in droves from a viral disease
And the ‘freedom’ he wants a fanfare for
Is the freedom to die as we please.

A dilemma, but soon I decided
Where my best course of action lay
If this old hired gun were now guided
To bring predator down, not prey.
Oh, the papers will feast on it: ‘why did
Such a cool hand as him go astray?’,
And I’ll tell them: ‘It’s one thing I’ve prided
Myself on – still having the say
When duty and right are divided
And duty just has to give way’.

No denying the hour was a sad one
When conscience submitted its plea
And I thought: ‘Career? You once had one,
With your hiked-up protection fee.
But this last guy turned out such a bad one
That you shook the poison-tree!’.
So I’d practise the hip-shots, then add one,
Get the whole thing worked out to a tee,
With the monster’s last outing a mad one
Facing all his accusers in me.

Deals done
Tuesday, 30 November 2021 18:40

Deals done

Published in Poetry

Deals Done

by Sally Flint

The amount the government has to spend on state pensions will fall by £1.5bn by 2022, partly because of over-65s dying of Covid, forecasts suggest. The government will also receive an extra £0.9bn from inheritance tax - www.bbc.co.uk/news/business 3 March 2021

Boris Johnson’s ‘chumocracy’ is using Covid crisis to sell off health service by stealth, says Sir David King - Guardian, 13 April

The many, they've been shown enough footage
so they'll never want to end life pining
behind a care home window. Now we'll save

on pensions, my government's new schemes
include 'enabling' individuals. For example,
'Nurse relatives at home to help out hospitals'.

I've shown being a carer's a not-for-profit vocation,
look at the ones who kept me breathing for a pittance,
emboldened my ego. And now the funeral industry's cut

throat we've put in place the option of no ceremony,
economy cremations. So, blame scientists, bats, markets,
ignore the financial ones, Dyson ventilators and PPE

not fit for purpose - all nonsense about security & texting.
The next Prime Minister will inherit state-of-the art
wallpaper & vaccination roll outs. I'll soon be earning

an enormous amount from after-dinner speeches.
Of course, I've been getting on with it; selling
our wonderful NHS for profit to benefit the few.

May Day 2021: The Stink
Tuesday, 30 November 2021 18:40

May Day 2021: The Stink

Published in Poetry

The Stink

by Peter Knaggs

At first we thought it was a mop
or a dishcloth and we threw them out –
But the nest day it was still there –
So we swept the floor and opened a window
but it got worse. We held our hands
over our mouth and said JESUS
and – Where’s that coming from?
and – that fuckin’ stinks. We looked
under the stairs and moved the drawers.
It would make the faint-hearted gag
or puke and the women held their noses.
We looked at each other: What is it?
What is it? What is it? It was pin-clean,
we’d washed and got the bleach out
then I had an epiphany and I knew exactly
what it was. It was our government.

The Cumm-Back
Tuesday, 30 November 2021 18:40

The Cumm-Back

Published in Poetry

The Cumm-Back

by David Erdos

And so Cummings condemns and throws even their
Former secret codes into chaos. As with any supposed
Divorce, the embittered try to deny what once was.

It is as if the Tin Man had spilt the rotten beans kept
Inside him, to poison the cowardly Lion, with his fart-like
Exhalations as he waddles towards his warped Oz.

The issue is: do we care? This is just like ‘bored of Brexit.’
As fucked by farragos, the cargos of lies oil-slick out.
Corrupting the shore, the seas’ surround and all swimmers,

Whilst staining language, as so little remains without doubt.
We can oppose and decry but will suffer still, doing nothing.
As the point of contagion is always concerned with the germ.

How do we keep our hands clean, alongside the society built
To wash them? If we do conceive fresh solutions, by shifting
Soil, sense and surface to actively turn that lost worm?

I consider the great ones who led, from Luther King, to John
Lennon. Severely wronged, cruelly taken for what they tried
To do, share, or say: messages beyond time and taste, yet still

Rife with substance, while today, those we’re left with, wish
Only to forge their own way. And so, Cummings returns.
In lifting the rock, his crawl stains us. He wishes to burn,

And tear shadow, like a policy made to induce direct,
Or, indirect forms of hate. He’s what they used to call,
A shit-stirrer, but his wrath like broth mixes rancour

With the forces that boil and reduce each and all nourishment.
He resembles one of those strange parts in Shakespeare:
Escalus, the sad servant, plotting in twain with the Duke,

Or, perhaps, the First Murderer in Macbeth, charged with
The dismissal of Fleance. To Old Dominick, we’re all children
For whom the oppressions of fate forsake fluke.

He could possibly be Richard Three; a Domidick, scarce configured.
Unmade for the standards from which decency was designed.
On the prowl for a Prince to terminate in the Tower, eyeing Anne –

Or, his Mary, as he sneers and squints at road signs. We know
That every word is a lie and every line, misdirection. He wants
To see the world crumble but naturally, is no anarchist.

For unlike those who seek change, he isn’t even after reversal.
Instead, he’s the killer, who, with all victims gone can’t resist
Sticking the knife in his chest, just to see what it feels like.

We are in his dream. That’s the madness – when monsters
Like this still exist. And perhaps, that’s the hope: that when
He wakes, we’ll be better; but then, that’s the thing about

Stabbing: once the knife is in, it just twists. And thus,
It deepens. The wound will be one we’re all feeling.
As the bald fucked the blonde bastard with something

As chilling as his passionless, spiteful and carefully placed

Judas kiss.

Government press office, 26th Jan.
Tuesday, 30 November 2021 18:40

Government press office, 26th Jan.

Published in Poetry

Government press office, 26th Jan.

by Steve Pottinger

Here’s the way to spin it, boss.
Go out there, look glum,
say you take responsibility.
Don’t mention Dido, Dad, or Dom
for God’s sake. Steer clear, too,
of remembering the time you said
that a good outcome at the end of this
would be 20,000 dead.
That’s history. Tell the hacks
you’ve acted promptly at all times.
Forget trying to ape Churchill. No wise cracks
in Greek or Latin. Avoid care homes,
airports, late lockdowns, PPE.
Stick to the script. Talk of your sorrow.
Back to business as usual tomorrow.

Rue Britannia, Land of Hopeless Tories
Tuesday, 30 November 2021 18:40

Rue Britannia, Land of Hopeless Tories

Published in Poetry

Rue Britannia, Land of Hopeless Tories

by Martin Rowson, with image above by Tom Janssen

I

Rue, Britannia!
Britannia, rue that knaves
Have for cent-u-aries
Kept us slaves!

Rue, Britannia,
You’ll always kid yourself
That Pat-riot-ism
Will trump wealth!

II

Land of hopeless Tories, Mother of the sleaze,
Whose history is gory and riddled with disease,
Wilder yet and wilder howl the Tory Press,
Regilding the dung heap of this fucking mess,
Regilding the dung heap of this fucking mess!

Rule Britannia and the shameful arrogance of right-wing class politics
Tuesday, 30 November 2021 18:40

Rule Britannia and the shameful arrogance of right-wing class politics

Published in Music

Stuart Cartland criticises the jingoistic response to the BBC's decisions about Rule Britannia. Image above: Aboriginal prisoners, Australia

If as a nation we are to be serious about addressing racism and legacies of oppression then the recent furore about the possibility of dropping Rule Britannia from the BBC's Last Night of the Proms is a very serious indication of how little change has been made and how far we have to go.

Let’s be absolutely clear here, a song that glorifies empire and the systematic subjugation of millions of people should not just be viewed as outdated and distasteful but instead as shameful. Indeed, it should be viewed much as Deutschland Über Allës is viewed within Germany, the outrageous racial connotations it implies and the shameful nationalistic context it is from.

The problem here is that those on the right have always viewed Britain and its related traditionalism as being an exception. Empire and colonialism are part of the very qualities that many conservatives and nationalists are proud and boastful of however this jingoistic facade is untenable especially as these very qualities directly include the slave trade and the annihilation of millions of subjugated peoples around the world who were in the vast majority had brown skin.

Again, Rule Britannia is not just an outdated, ill-fitting song for the twenty-first century that jingoistic nationalists and traditiono-philes might point to when imagining a sense of a mythical past of British greatness, it is a song that actually refers to slavery, this is within the context of the pioneering world slave trading nation – Great Britain! This is ‘not just a song’ a ‘bit of pomp’ or harmless, this is a cultural and political barometer. 

Of course, this has been an absolute boon to the right-wing press and the political populism of political-correctness-gone-mad. However what this does is actually uncover how the mainstream right and Tory types like Boris Johnson really feel in terms of a cultural reckoning in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, beyond any superficial tokenistic slogans and PR induced platitudes.

Indeed, Prime Minister Boris Johnson publicly stated in response that:

it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, about our culture, and we we stopped this general fight of self-recrimination and wetness.

Of course it is easy for him to make these crass claims when it is his sense of tradition, culture and history under the spotlight – but this is partly the point. This shameful arrogance of class and racially based identity politics, situated within a history or exploitation, subjugation and a misplaced sense of glory and pride, is woefully outdated and shameful – but also deeply offensive.

It shows how much of Britain is still unwilling to fully comes to terms with the reality of empire and move away from the tired and inadequate conservative right-wing narrative of pomp and glory.

If we are to be serious in confronting social and cultural oppression in its many forms, then what better way start than confronting a sense of self-inflated nationalistic sense of arrogance and entitlement. Of course, the problem being here is that these are exactly the qualities of those who are in power in this country and those that are controlling the narrative on this very issue. Until then songs that glorify empire, subjugation and oppression will have a place in twenty-first century Britain.

A lesser evil
Tuesday, 30 November 2021 18:40

A lesser evil

Published in Fiction

13th October 2040

Dear Richard,

I know it must be weird and more than slightly disturbing to receive a ‘letter from beyond the grave’, but I trust you won’t be seriously spooked by it, not after all those years as a hospital doctor like me and some of the strange, last-minute revelations we both got to hear from time to time. I’m writing because I have something to tell you which I’ve never spoken of to anyone else although it has been on my conscience for the past twenty years and I’ve been half-minded to tell you about it many times.

The whole thing will probably come as a bit of a shocker and I leave it to you whether or not to make the story more widely known. I still feel justified in what I did and hope that you’ll agree in thinking it was for the best, everything considered. You’ve been a great friend through various thicks and thins over the years and I hope – really hope – this won’t lead you to change your opinion of me or make you wish we’d never met.

I shall lay out the facts as ‘objectively’ as I can but will need to bring in some stuff about how my mind was working at the time in question and what sorts of moral consideration came into play. You took that ‘Medical Ethics’ course with me when we qualified back in the day so maybe the moral philosophy bits won’t seem quite so dry and unappealing. Some of it did strike us both that way at the time but the topics came back to me and really helped to clarify my thoughts during the short period – just a couple of days in 2020 – that I want to talk about here. Anyway my blessings on you, friend, and I sincerely hope that being singled out for receipt of this ghostly communication won’t prove too burdensome or curse-like a privilege.   

******

They brought him in around 3 a.m. with lots of security and a flurry of medics and senior admin people, all trying to look calm and commanding on their home terrain, but constantly jostled by the bodyguards if they got too close. None of the usual signing-in stuff, the standard formalities or pleasantries. Straight off to Intensive Care it was, with me following on since that was my ward and we’d had advance notice that a ‘special patient’ was about to come in, someone with advanced symptoms and a severe lung infection.

I’d not thought any more about it – too many other cases to cope with, quite a few of them just as bad – until he actually turned up and I realised who it was. No mistaking him then, even looking like that, clearly in a very bad way, what with constantly fighting to breathe and the wild, frightened eyes of someone who’s been in denial for days but now knows it’s for real. For the rest of that night-shift I just got on with it, looked in on him twice but had more to do with the other patients. Besides, they seemed to have drafted in a small team of unfamiliar medical staff, specially trained maybe, who were always in and out of his side-room. Just as well – us regulars had our hands more than full.

This was all twenty years ago and I don’t now have any detailed memory of what happened over the next two days, or exactly what stages my thinking went through before I reached my decision. There was one conversation I do recall having in the hospital canteen during the evening after the night of his admission. It was with two friends, both nurses, one male and one female, and they were talking about a bunch of related topics – the pandemic, the NHS as it then was, the government cutbacks, their likely effect on our ability to cope with the crisis, that sort of thing.

I started off just lending half an ear and thinking more about how tired I felt, having slept very patchily during the day and not made up for several days’ cumulative deficit. What drew me in was their brief but lively discussion of where the blame lay, how ‘he’ – the guy lying upstairs in our ward with all those tubes and pipes and monitors attached, all those doctors and nurses looking after him – was one of those Tories who had hugely worsened this crisis, who’d cut public spending to the bone, privatised whole chunks of the NHS, flogged them off to their fat-cat friends, and were even then planning to cut a huge deal with US Big Pharma. Their talk stopped there, with both of them expressing their anger but not drawing conclusions, not suggesting there was anything we could do. . . . I had to go back on my rounds then but the talk had set me thinking and I needed more time to sort my thoughts out.

I’d next be working on Intensive Care the following night and one of my assignments given the shortage of staff was to check his oxygen levels, make sure his respiration wasn’t too spasmodic or effortful, and run all the usual measurements – pulse, temperature, and so forth. It was routine stuff, if anything could really be called ‘routine’ in those crazy times, but of course we were all very aware of those jumpy-looking security people and there was no pretending, management pretences aside, that he was Joe Public and to be treated on a par with everyone else.

Maybe that’s what first really got to me, the sense of how unjust it was, how monstrous, that a man like that, a creature of wealth and privilege who’d done such harm to the country and would soon very likely go on to do a whole lot more, should now have this ultra-special treatment while thousands of others fought for their lives in hospitals, homes and social conditions severely impacted by policies like his. And then I thought, or the thought came to me: what had I learnt from those few classes in medical ethics that we went through as part of our training? Is the issue quite as clear as surely it ought to be if the Hippocratic Oath has the kind of straightforward, unambiguous force it’s meant to have, according to longstanding tradition and present-day orthodoxy?

I slept intermittently the next day, waking up each time with a sense that I’d been churning things over in my sleep, coming up against the barrier of something unthinkable, and jolting awake with the urgent desire to sort myself out. I remembered enough of the medical ethics stuff to know pretty much what the big questions were and what kinds of answer they’d received from people who appeared to have a good grasp of them. There was the debate around ‘causing death and letting die’, the difference (which most people think is a real one) between actively or deliberately killing somebody and omitting to save his or her life, whether through negligence or refusal to intervene. That’s ‘most people’ in a broad sense, by the way, not ‘most philosophers’ or ‘most people who’ve done a few classes in medical ethics’. They often got into a bit of trouble when asked to justify their view but the intuition ran deep and there were arguments to support it.

I thought: would letting this man die be morally unacceptable given how much harm he has done to so many lives, not to mention how many people have died during the pandemic as a result of his incompetence, indolence, arrogance, and downright wickedness? And given the prospect of his otherwise surviving, remaining in office and inflicting future harm on even greater scale? The more I thought about it the less monstrous it seemed, the idea of (as orthodoxy would have it) betraying my medical vocation, my professional duty, and indeed the basic principles of right conduct enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath.

But then: might there not be another, more specific reason for believing that Oath to have more than one interpretation and for thinking that it could – on a longer, larger, you might say more socially responsible view – suggest a very different view of things? Again, I kept running through the arguments and counter-arguments and kept coming up against the same obstacle. On the one hand I couldn’t overcome the feeling that failure of care toward any patient – for that matter, any human individual whose well-being or very survival depended on it – must be morally as well as, in my case, professionally and legally wrong. That means a strict, no-exception understanding of the Oath and a belief that acts of omission are morally as culpable as – or fully on a par with – acts of commission whenever those acts knowingly entail or might foreseeably cause harm to another person.

On the other hand the person in question here was one whose future life, if his record to date was anything to go by, would be spent doing harm to a great many people in a great many ways, among them people placed in his own desperately needful situation but enjoying nothing like his advantages of power, wealth, and unearned social privilege. On this view the Oath could be justifiably be taken to allow for the sort of case where a medical worker in my position reviewed his choices, consulted his conscience, and decided that an act of omission – involving, say, the patient’s breathing apparatus or some other vital arrangement – was morally in order. It took me many hours of concentrated, sometimes agonised conscience-searching to work myself around from the first to the second way of thinking.

Another thing I learned from that medical ethics class was the difference between deontic and consequentialist accounts of moral responsibility. The deontic view, simply stated, is that there exist certain absolute moral imperatives, that they have to do with unconditional rights and wrongs, that they are strictly universal (hold good across all situations, cultures, or belief-systems), and that departures from them admit of no exculpatory factors, such as pleas in mitigation or extenuating circumstances. This position tends to go along with an abstractly high-minded morality and a punitive attitude in matters of legal or judicial practice. This follows from the fact that deontic ethics makes the reasoning individual and his or her conscience, motives or deliberations the ultimate arbiters of right and wrong. It leaves them without any recourse beyond that universalist tribunal, no leeway to claim ‘I did it for the greater good, even though it involved an acknowledged lesser harm and even if that harm would count as grievous on a deontic account’.

The other main approach – flatly opposed in most ways – is the consequentialist view whereby motives will (indeed must) come into it although what really matter are the consequences of an action, its outcome in terms of overall benefits to those concerned, or those whose lives would be adversely affected by the agent’s choice not having gone that way. If anything, this puts greater strain on the agent’s conscience or their effort to think through a complex situation because they can’t fall back on the routine application of pre-existing rules. But it allows them scope to steer a conscientious way around the deontic call for actions or choices that might be so rule-bound, counter-intuitive, or repugnant as to leave them feeling utterly revolted by their own ‘principled’ conduct.

This is all very heavy and not what you’d expect from me, even in a letter written, as I hate to say (such a cliché, for one thing) ‘at death’s door’. But it’s stuff we both heard about and then promptly forgot, me at least, since on the whole – in the normal run of cases – we had few choices but got on and did our jobs the best we could do and left hard cases to the guys on the ethics committee, or (more often than most people realise) to medics and relatives in an urgent huddle over some poor suffering soul. But then it all came back, that ethics stuff, when I found myself faced with a real choice and one that left behind any rule-book, moral or professional, for dealing with hard cases. I’ve said how my thinking went in that terrible time and you’ll certainly have figured out by now which way I decided. Still I’d better be a bit more explicit about it in case the choice I made might appear too quick or straightforward.

I didn’t want to fall back on the idea that omissions are less blameworthy than commissions since I took full responsibility for not performing certain of my professionally and (on the narrow view) ethical responsibilities. To pretend otherwise would be to shuffle off any burden of guilt by effectively declaring myself not fully accountable for my action and hence unfit to exercise any kind of genuine moral agency. No: my omission was a full-fledged commission and subject to no such get-out clause. Where I did part company with what many people would no doubt think my plain moral obligation was with regard to both the interpretative scope of the Hippocratic Oath and – closely related to that – the deontic versus consequentialist debate.

They are related because the Oath is mostly read, in broadly deontic terms, as addressed to the individual doctor’s or medical worker’s conscience and as bearing primarily on their obligation to the patient, likewise conceived as an individual bearer of certain strictly inalienable rights. I agree with this view in so far as it applies to persons as persons, that is, as individuals conceived quite distinct from certain roles they may play in contexts – like that of politics – where their beliefs, policies, and actions can have consequences far beyond the private-personal-individual sphere. Shifting from one perspective to the other entails some large changes of moral reckoning, among them the shift from a strongly individualist or person-centred to a longer-range, more socially responsive and collectivist view.

Along with that goes a much greater emphasis on the weighing-up of bad against good consequences, a process that has the beneficial effect of bringing us rapidly down to earth from the abstract universals of deontic precept. In simpler terms: when times are bad or perilous, as they were twenty years ago when all this happened, then it may be commendable to act on the maxim ‘do whatever serves to create the best outcome or cause least suffering to the greatest number’. This might entail an action at odds with some more specific rule, such as ‘act always in the interests of the patient and, above all, for the preservation of his or her life’. Then the consequentialist is entitled to reply ‘but that precept may be suspended or overridden if the result of its strict application is to bring about the kinds of larger-scale social or collective harm that will, very likely, follow from its being applied without reference to context or consequences. And there is another point here about the agent’s motives and the conception of justice they involve. For it is in no sense a retributivist conception, one that conceives the act as a right and proper punishment, whether exacted by the agent as self-appointed minister or carried out in their (again self-appointed) role as instrument of justice in its social or communal form. Rather, the act is performed purely for the sake of averting bad – humanly undesirable – consequences, and not out of any hankering for retribution, for payback time, or any such punitive aim.

Of course my assessment of the situation took account of the man’s character, his many amply documented vices and weaknesses, as well as his proven record of incompetence in office and the effect of an Eton-Oxford education in bolstering his native arrogance and strongly marked sociopathic traits. After all those considerations had a lot to do with the case – the strictly consequentialist case – for what had by now become something very like a fixed intention to act according to my new-found ethical lights. But, equally important, they didn’t involve any idea of his having deserved such treatment at my hands, or his having behaved in such a way that punishment of this sort is justified. Consequentialism applies more than anywhere in the context of political judgement since here we are concerned with the consequences for better or worse in a great many lives when individual politicians with great power in their hands enact policies that impinge directly on those lives.

So you can’t exclude assessments of moral character from a consequentialist reckoning but you can – and must – be absolutely clear that any practical conclusions arrived at have nothing to do with just desert, retribution, or other such punitive concepts. I won’t pretend that all this reasoning went through my mind during those incredibly stressful and often, to be honest, horribly confusing times. I’m doing a sort of rational reconstruction, arranging my thoughts so far as I recall them into something like an ordered sequence. But of one thing I’m certain: that I somehow made the journey from thinking it monstrous, that idea of mine, to thinking it not just compatible with but actually required by my ethical and professional commitments.

I know it’s the biggest of asks to send you this letter now, when I’m safely beyond worrying, and leave you stuck with the decision whether or not to make the facts public. Believe me, you’re the only person I could possibly have trusted to take it on, both on account of our shared medical background and our friendship having held up so strongly over the years. Besides, there were times after the event when we talked about related matters – politics, ethics, social justice, and of course the NHS, still there now in more than name despite all those decades of chipping away by Tories, fat cats, Branson-style carpetbaggers, assorted rippers-off and US Big Pharma.

Once or twice I almost let slip what had happened, or perhaps did let it slip when the drinks had loosened my tongue and slightly befuddled your brain. Perhaps it won’t come as such a huge surprise or shock after all. Let me say, in case you’re wondering: I do feel regret that it fell to me, at that time and in that situation, to make the choice that has since weighed heavily upon me and occasioned many moments of painful, even guilty recollection. But let me also say that when I manage to focus and think things through once again, as I did during those extraordinary days, then the regret comes apart from the guilt and my conscience arrives at the same conclusion.

Goodbye, my old friend.

 

Covid-19 and the ownership and control of the media
Tuesday, 30 November 2021 18:40

Covid-19 and the ownership and control of the media

Natalie Fenton points to the need for less concentrated ownership and more democratic control of the media, in the wake of the Covid-ap pandemic. 

The media are vital purveyors of information and interrogators of power in a pandemic where a government’s decisions translate directly into lives lost or saved. In a global health crisis, the public need, more than ever, a media that will interrogate those decisions and hold power to account.

However, the sad fact is that the pandemic has exposed much of the mainstream media as being part of the system rather than its watchdog. There have been repeated examples across different media outlets of a systematic failure to interrogate government responses. Instead, media outlets merely amplify the official statements from endless, bland press briefings.

These daily briefings churn out what we used to call propaganda but now refer to as PR. The government has explicitly sought to restrict media challenge and scrutiny by refusing to put forward ministers or representatives to go on news programmes such as Radio 4’s Today Programme. It has also barred certain journalists from asking questions at their press briefings in order to discredit critical reporting – actively seeking to punish and freeze out watchdog journalism.

BBC journalists also have to worry about possible government funding cuts. Reporting accurately on your own paymaster has always been a problem for political journalism, but particularly so when the government is all too willing to be the playground bully. So when Dominic Cummings ignored the rules of lockdown and outraged the nation, Radio 4 gave his wife a spot to explain how kind he is.

Newspapers have also played the game to their advantage. With many of them facing economic meltdown due to the collapse in advertising revenue, the News Media Association (representing most of the largest and wealthiest media organisations) lobbied government for their own bailout. The result has been government underwriting of large corporate media to the tune of £35m through advertising and paid-for content under the rubric of ‘we are all in this together’. 

The advertising looks like public health campaign material. But the paid-for content that tells the reader that the government is doing a pretty good job looks like any other article, just tagged with an additional health warning that “this advertiser content was paid for by the UK government”.

In the UK, this is particularly ironic given that the press campaigned extensively against effective (independent) regulation on the basis that it would lead to unwarranted state ‘intrusion’ into the industry. Many of them are still paying out millions of pounds settling phone hacking cases – so this £35m subsidy of taxpayers’ money is in effect contributing to phone hacking settlements.

Meanwhile, virtually none of the paid-for content is going to small independent news organisations, even though they lobbied for their fair share.  As a result many of these will struggle to survive.

Alternative models of ownership and control

Coverage of the pandemic has revealed mainstream media to be an explicit channel for government PR spin, further propelling the revolving door between major news organisations and the government. Boris Johnson worked for the Telegraph and the Times. Michael Gove was a Times journalist. George Osborne became editor of the London Evening Standard. Allegra Stratton’s recent appointment as Rushi Sunak’s director of strategic communications is a friend of Dominic Cummings, and was national editor of ITV news and political editor of Newsnight. The list goes on.

What can we do about it? The deep entanglement of media power and political power is self-serving. Government favours large corporate media because they are dominant – and they retain their dominance because the government favours them. Concentration of media ownership keeps this relationship intact. So we must legislate for more plurality of media ownership, to create a sustainable communications environment that is innovative, diverse and fully independent of vested interests (whether these are commercial or political).

We need to encourage alternative models of media ownership such as cooperatives and employee buyouts, that promote equality and financial security of journalists over profit-making and shareholder returns, and serve a far wider range of needs and more diverse set of interests.

We also need more democratic, diverse and accountable public sector broadcasting. Over the last three decades the independence of the BBC has been steadily eroded and its programme making increasingly commercialised. In recent years, its funding has been severely cut and its programming has become increasingly conservative. Public service content needs to be delivered through modern, democratised public platforms and networks and to operate autonomously of government and the market.

Without these changes, our mainstream media will remain far too complicit with elite political power to do the job they are supposed to do. And in a global health crisis, a failure to scrutinise government mismanagement could literally mean life or death for thousands of people.

This is the latest in the series of articles on the effects of the pandemic on culture, published jointly with the Morning Star.

A World Beater
Tuesday, 30 November 2021 18:40

A World Beater

Published in Poetry
 World Beating (or – Boris Johnson's Wet Dream)
 
by Martin Rowson, with image by Martin Gollan
 
I wanna be a
    World beater,
A
    World beater
A
    World Beater
A
    Woad Botha
A
    Veldt Pouter
A
    White Buddha
And a
    World beater
And though I'm just a
    Wet bleater
A   
    Warped boaster
A
    Windy Bunter
My
    Wild banter
Gonna make me a
    World beater
A
    World breeder
Whose
    Whack butter
Soaks
    Wank blotters
Gonna be a 
    World beater
A fucking
    World beater
A
    World belter
Who
    Would batter
The
    World, bladdered
And make the
    World bleed
Until the
    World's bitter
And the
    Welts blister
Cos I'm a
    World beater
A
    World Beater
A
    World Beater
A
    World beater
Who's gonna beat that sorry World red, white

    Black and blue.

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