2 MIN RANT: Atos are clearly not ‘fit for work’ so why are we still paying them £100million a year?

Imagine this scenario. Your boss pays you £100million to complete a task. Your failure rate is so great – around 70% – that it costs half that again to clear up your mistakes. He gives you another £100million; the same thing happens. He gives you another £100million; the same thing happens. How long would expect to keep your job?

Atos Healthcare, a privately run French company of medical experts IT professionals are still being contracted to determine whether British benefit claimants are ‘fit for work’ or not with their controversial Work Capability Assessments. But 70% of appeals against them are successful. Where proper representation is not available it is around just 60%, according to the Guardian, which incidentally makes it even more insulting that legal aid for welfare claimants is being cut.

First of all, it’s hard to see how this will actually save the taxpayer money. It is costing the taxpayer £100million a year to contract Atos, and it is costing the taxpayer another £50million to clear up mistakes by Atos. The reason for the extra £50million? They’re terrible at telling the sick from the healthy. Why? Because over a third of them are not even medical professionals. They don’t know how to diagnose an illness, and they don’t know how to spot a healthy person faking an illness.

Taxpayers – some of whom are also benefit claimants, by the way – have already paid for the NHS, and we trust it. All our NHS GPs are experts in medicine, and they have all trained for years. Sometimes they’ve known the claimant all his or her life. They know past illnesses, and past recoveries. They know if they’ve made false claims of sickness in the past, or if they have a history of being a bit of a hypochondriac. They know what symptoms a particular illness has; symptoms a false claimant might not know to fake. Why on earth would we think it easier for a fraudulent claimant to fool a real, live, flesh-and-blood GP than an automated computer system? Is it because the GPs are going to be so busy doing their own commissioning that we have to get an IT company to diagnose illness? Perhaps we should get nurses to re-programme the computers and get hospital cleaners to drive ambulances while we’re at it.

But the incompetence and the financial cost to the taxpayer is nothing to the human cost. Larry Newman, who had been diagnosed with a degenerative lung condition but was awarded zero points for his Work Capability Assessment by Atos, was told he wasn’t eligible for benefits, and that he only had three months before he should expect to start work again. He died before the three months were even up, and his widow Sylvia Newman said her husband’s dying words were to joke: “It’s a good job I’m fit for work.” If Atos had accessed Mr Newman’s medical records – as he had explicitly given signed permission for them to do – they would clearly have seen how unwell he was. According to Mrs Newman, they didn’t bother to look at them. She says they didn’t even take his pulse or look at the scars on his chest. This is why GPs themselves have expressed concern at Atos’ disregard for their knowledge and work: health conditions that require complex understanding can’t possibly be analysed by check boxes in a computer system, and when patients lose their access to support they need it can have an enormously detrimental affect on their recovery.

This is particularly significant for cases relating to mental health. There have been countless suicides and attempted suicides as a result of Atos’ Work Capability Assessments. People have been sectioned after being found “fit for work.” It ought to be obvious from this alone that the tests used by Atos are simply not fit for purpose.

Here are just some of the complaints. People report only being asked questions which are not relevant to their illness, and not being allowed to actually talk about the things that are. People’s official medical records often get ignored. The advice of GPs, social workers, and mental health workers often gets ignored. People get called to Work Capability Assessments in buildings without disability access. 20% of Atos Healthcare’s medical centres do not have wheelchair access. Only one Atos centre has disabled parking available, 31 Atos medical assessment centres are not on the ground floor, 16 centres do not have chairs suitable for disabled people (for example chairs without arms, which make it pretty hard to stand up or sit down again), 27 centres do not provide drinking water irregardless of how long the claimant is made to wait for their assessment, and it is not clear whether the centres are required to provide toilets at all, disabled or otherwise: many service users have complained that their centre did not. These are things that private companies and individuals often don’t think about, because they don’t appreciate the complex needs of the disabled – and why would they? – but a doctor, or medical professional, would surely not expect an incontinent person to wait for an appointment without access to a toilet, or a person who suffers panic attacks to wait, in a stressful situation, without access to water?

In fact, I have never heard a good report of an Atos assessment, although Atos insist that 90% of their service users are satisfied. Atos officials insist that all complaints are “taken very seriously and fully investigated” but an incorrect Work Capability Assessment result can literally be a matter of life and death. What good is a full investigation into a complaint if you’re already dead?

The astonishing incompetence of Atos should alarm everyone, not just benefit claimants. The whole point of welfare means that you never know when you, or someone you love, may need it. It is something we all pay into, so that we all have access to it. The lucky ones, surely, are those of us who never need to claim our money’s worth back?

But if you’re one of those who feels you’re being fleeced, think about this: the government is paying £100million of your money to a foreign company whose mistakes cost us £50million to fix, just for the sake of getting a handful (1% of all claimants*) out of the system. Which it won’t do anyway: the number of fraudulent benefits claims in the UK has, after all that, remained the same. It seems obvious who any anger should be directed towards.

*DWP’s own figures.


The ‘Love Test’: we are all victims now

Damien McCrystal’s article ‘Phone-hacking: the case for the defence,’ published in today’s Guardian, not only attempts to justify the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone and the deleting of messages, but actively praises this callous, profit-driven illegal activity as “showing initiative.” Most people are rightly disgusted, but we should be honest: victim-blaming is becoming more and more socially acceptable.

Damien McCrystal’s reasoning process is reminiscent of something troubling that Rebekah Brooks said whilst giving evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee last week. Ms Brooks talked about a “suspected paedophile” who was found to be innocent after “answering questions to the media.”

With neither the authority nor the expertise to do so, the tabloid press have decided to take over our centuries-old justice system.

It is not the role of the press to “show initiative” by interfering in criminal investigations, and it is not the role of the tabloid press to determine the guilt or innocence of a suspect. People like Damien McCrystal and Rebekah Brooks demonstrate a shockingly arrogant disrespect for the democratic rule of law when they forget or ignore this. Ironically, it is the democratic rule of law that the paper Mr McCrystal once worked for (the Sun) is so keen on seeing enforced as harshly as possible. There will be no reduced sentences for guilty pleas for any News International employees placed in the dock, presumably.

Let us deliberate over the extraordinary logic of this: Damien McCrystal – ex-employee of a paper that wants us to snitch on our neighbour over their benefit claims – argues cheerily – in defence of the paper that called for an open house season on the whereabouts of paedophiles – about how serious, organised law-breaking happens all the time, and he knows about it, along with everyone else, and he chooses not to take that evidence of harmful illegality to the police. Then closes his column with what sounds like a cowardly threat to papers like the Guardian that pursued the story.

As if that’s not enough, he asserts that the medical records of Gordon Brown’s son are fair game because Fraser Brown’s illness affects his dad’s ability to do his job. Well, for a start, the government had better improve financial support for carers mighty fast, now the health of our family members is suddenly a valid consideration for anyone assessing our employability. Perhaps the Sun will back such a campaign?

Yet, as much as most people seem to be rather repulsed by Damien McCrystal’s arrogant and dispassionate way of articulating his case, the central thrust of his argument is actually a world view that has been doing the rounds for a while, is socially acceptable in a variety of situations, and gets used as a mitigating factor is all kinds of nefarious behaviour, from rape to terrorism; from mugging to domestic violence. The argument is that the responsibility for preventing illegal and unethical behaviour lies not with the perpetrator, but with the person harmed by that behaviour – and that this applies completely irrespective of which party is the most powerful. Mr McCrystal places the responsibility and blame for phone-hacking with any phone-owner who didn’t go to all possible lengths to secure their phones against illegal invasions of privacy.

It should strike us as astonishing, illogical, and cruel to us to consider such a world view, but in most cases, for most people, it doesn’t. We have created a confusing world for ourselves: a blurry mass of moral chaos; a jumble of the hedonistic, rebellious libertarianism of the 1960s, and the consumerist, individualistic materialism of the 1980s. We all boisterously declare that we ‘have the right’ to do what we like, say what we like, buy what we like, and sell what we like, and when those ‘rights’ are coupled with a dehumanising belief that profit is justification for almost anything, well, Damien McCrystal and Paul McMullan are just the inevitable, caricatured consequence of that attitude. If you’re powerful, you ‘have the right’ to exploit the vulnerable, and if anyone asks why? It makes money. They should have known their phones weren’t secure: if they don’t like being exploited, they shouldn’t allow themselves to be.

It is that same culture of victim-blaming that allows Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous actions to be blamed by so many on legitimate frustrations with ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘political correctness.’ (If you don’t believe me, take a look at any of the Daily Telegraph’s online articles about Breivik and scroll down.)

It is this culture of victim-blaming, too, which lies behind comments like that of the controversial Canadian cop who sparked a storm of ‘Slutwalks’ across the globe by suggesting that women and girls should avoid “dressing like sluts” if they don’t want to be raped. (If?) Victim-blaming, as any feminist will tell you, is one of the main reasons why only 50,000 rapes a year are reported to the police, while Rape Crisis get 80,000 calls.

It is the victim-blaming mentality that says gay couples who get homophobic abuse for showing affection in public should just be timid and keep their love private to avoid offending sensitive homophobes; it is victim-blaming when Bergouhi Elissa – the American lady who is suing the state of New York this month after her 12 year old (12, for goodness sake) son hanged himself following his school’s alleged failures to respond to frequent complaints of her son being on the receiving end of “repeated and frequent taunting, ridicule, menacing, threatening abuse and bullying,” gets told it is her fault for not taking her son out of school, or even his, for being different. (It is his “perceived sexual orientation” that is said to have been the main focus of the bullying.)

Victim-blaming is often talked about under the guise of ‘personal responsibility’: not expecting any help, handouts, or protection from others, in other words. This is what our societal moral compass has come to: we equate the inability to protect yourself or your child from the casual infliction of harm from others with being irresponsible.

Don’t misunderstand: conservatives are absolutely right to lament the absence of personal responsibility in our society. But how can the state expect the poor, the vulnerable, the angry and the uneducated to bother with such vaguely defined concepts, when the most powerful and privileged people in the world stomp around doing just whatever they please with no regard for the consequences, nor for the democratic rule of law?

Personality responsibility begins here, with this understanding: there is no excuse for inflicting avoidable suffering on another human being. None. It doesn’t matter, Paul McMullan, if you think a grimy public interest in the humiliation of, say, a film star’s daughter like Jennifer Elliott will make you some money, and it doesn’t even matter that you have a ‘right’ to do it. When your actions are causing suffering and distress to someone, then for goodness sake, take responsibility for your own actions – not for their suffering, but for your own actions, of which you are in full control – and bloody well stop. Preferably before they commit suicide. (NB: There is a clip of McCullen accepting culpability for Elliott’s suicide which is curiously no longer available on the BBC website, although it was there a couple of weeks ago.)

Anyone sympathetic to the papers and hacks who publish these vindictive stories, by the way, should apply what I affectionately call the ‘Love Test.’ If someone you loved was an alcoholic, was having a mental breakdown, had become homeless, had a disabled child, or had put on masses of weight, would you think articles degrading them for it were acceptable? Why should it be okay for other people’s loved ones?

These tabloid hacks remind me of something my father – a big advocate of personal responsibility – used to tell me when I was young: if you want to be treated like an adult, he used to say, then act like one. If the tabloid press wants to self-regulate and be considered as an institution of power in their own right, with the ability to hold democratically elected politicians and independent judicial experts to account, and even special exemptions from the law on the rare occasions where there is a public interest (like the Daily Telegraph’s excellent expenses scandal scoop) then they need to act a little bit more like grow-ups with some real constitutional awareness, and a little bit less like gossiping 14 year olds.

People can call it moral superiority, pontificating, liberalism gone mad, whatever they like: this hateful culture of victim-blaming has to be challenged. If we allow people like Damien McCrystal to make up the rules we will get a world where sick people are punished for being unemployed; where gay people are to blame for religious bigotry being brought to book; where any number of ridiculous things are to blame for sexual assault; where feminism is to blame for the effects of the recession; where Muslim groups are blamed for white pride killings like the Oslo shooting, as well as being blamed for ‘Islamic’ ones like 7/7, and where immigration is to blame for racism.

We have seen, thanks to Nick Davies’ exposure of the News of the World scandal, where this culture of victim-blaming dressed up as personal responsibility leads: a dark, rotting, stinking hole of amoral social Darwinism, into which Britain has somehow partially sleepwalked. We need to stand up to it – all of us – now, and dig ourselves out. Don’t imagine for a second that it’s not your business; not your problem. Remember the love test: we are all victims now.

IN THE DOCK: David Cameron

The charges: That David Cameron demonstrated an unforgivably severe lack of judgement over the appointment of Andy Coulson, and that News Corp’s BSkyB bid may have been influenced unduly by Cameron’s relationship with Rebekah Brooks.

Refusing to confirm or deny in the Commons (nine times, no less) whether he had discussed the BSkyB bid with his “neighbour and friend” Rebekah Brooks is the kind of thing that smells nasty even if it’s perfectly clean. And given that the BSkyB brief was removed from Vince Cable after he inadvertently gave slip to a personal bias against Rupert Murdoch, it seems perhaps especially hypocritical to be discussing in private with the Chief Executive of News International, but that doesn’t actually make the discussions (that Jeremy Hunt inadvertently admitted took place) improper. (Well, it was probably inadvertent. Hunt couldn’t have been all too pleased at being left in the firing line for the initial debate; a debate which commentators are saying squashed all Hunt’s hopes of future leadership in about the first three minutes of his performance.)

Unfortunately Cameron’s panicked refusal to answer the question probably prompted more of a story than a simple answer – perhaps to the effect that yes, the News Corp bid for BSkyB came up in conversation occasionally but private conversations would have no bearing on the final decision – would have done. After all, if he’s going to avoid a question nine times that’s as good as an admission anyway, in most people’s minds, but with an added implied acceptance that he actually did something wrong.

In other words, as is so often the case with Cameron, it’s his handling of the issue which was so disastrous, not the issue itself. Cameron’s belly-dancing around impropriety and inappropriateness and legality is almost irrelevant. There’s a popular narrative amongst his supporters that because he’s done nothing technically wrong, and Labour Prime Ministers were closer to the Murdochs anyway, that his critics should lay off. There’s even an argument that his background is causing a bias against him. The trouble is, Cameron is not really under fire for his relationship with the Murdochs and Brooks itself, nor is he under fire for any actual improper activity. He’s under fire, instead, for his naivety, and his arrogance, and his weak grasp on the severity of the crisis.

Yet regarding the ‘Andy Coulson problem’, even for those of us who cringe over our PM at the best of times, never mind when he dodges questions about patronage and corruption in Parliament, the calls for his actual resignation over the Andy Coulson’s appointment seem a little bit unfair.

First of all, let’s be fair: it’s not just Cameron who was fooled by Coulson. There were several police officers, for a start, who presumably believed him innocent of any crime, not to mention a Parliamentary committee and, well, pretty much everyone who doesn’t pay much attention to the Guardian took the view that, at the very least, the phone-hacking scandal, though disgraceful at the time, had all been adequately resolved when Glen Mulcaire and Clive Goodman were arrested.

In fact, even now, the allegations against Mr Coulson remain purely just that – allegations – and most senior ministers, if only for legal reasons, are still being extremely careful to make that clear whenever Mr Coulson is discussed.

Of course, none of these other people were perhaps given the “warnings” about Coulson that Cameron is said to have received. It is difficult to know how many “warnings” David Cameron actually received himself, from credible sources he could in all honesty be expected to take seriously, because the whole world and his hamster now seems to be claiming to have “warned” Cameron about hiring Coulson in one way or another, but certainly the Guardian and its sister paper the New York Times were confident enough to print a series of facts and questions that, well, weren’t exactly things Coulson would put on his CV, to put it generously. (Why was News International paying Glen Mulcaire’s legal fees? How did all the further accusations to come out square with the ‘rogue reporter’ line of defense? Why did Rebekah Brooks admit to paying police for information in the past, and why did Andy Coulson interrupt her to correct her comments? And so on…). With all these claims being raised by a national newspaper, and with letters sent by senior figures like John Prescott and Tom Watson clearly calling attention to the suspicions around Coulson, it’s at best puzzling that this didn’t make the PM even the slightest bit uneasy. As Mr Prescott put it in his open letter to Cameron in 2009: “You now appear to be the only person satisfied with Coulson’s role while every other relevant authority is investigating the claims… I must say that I feel your “very relaxed” attitude to these allegations seriously calls your judgment into question.” Indeed.

Just to be clear: there is no partisan argument being made here, only a personal one against David Cameron. This is what makes the Conservative rhetoric (whilst calling for cross party cooperation, no less) about Labour misdemeanours like Alistair Campbell’s “sexed-up” Iraq Dossier (a claim that has been thrown out by several inquiries although deep public mistrust definitely still surrounds the issue), the Damien Green scandal, the Phil Woolas scandal, and the Tom Baldwin, er, not scandal, such poor responses to serious questions about, let’s face it, potential corruption at the core of British democracy.

A partisan response might make sense if the criticisms were all coming from Labour supporters and members, and if they were all directed at the Conservative party itself, but they aren’t. Criticisms are being directed at David Cameron personally, and they have come from Daily Telegraph columnist Peter O’Bourne, ConservativeHome editor Tim Montgomerie, and other firmly Blue voices. Either David Cameron doesn’t realise this, or else he genuinely only understands one very simplistic, immature style of debating. Which is worse? It’s genuinely difficult to say.

There are issues of ideology in politics, and issues of ethics, which can be debated over port and brie for hours. Then there are issues of ability and competence. For example, Tony Blair, whilst far from perfect, many would say, in terms of ideology or ethics, was never seen by anybody – even his fiercest critics – as incompetent or weak. He was certainly never unable to answer a question. Or at least, you didn’t realise he hadn’t answered it until he’d gone.

Yes, David Cameron’s manner of handling of both the BSkyB bid and the Andy Coulson debacle worries a lot of people, understandably, for ideological reasons. The Tories have, after all, been working extremely hard to convince floating voters that the days of crony capitalism, patronage, and minority financial gain, all taking priority over the national interest are long gone from their party’s policies. The nooks and crannies of this scandal – was Neil Wallis’s free advice, advice which is valued by the Met at £1,000 a day, ever declared as, or considered as, a Conservative party donation? Should it have been? What did he advise? Did Mr Wallis influence government policy at all? Did Wallis and Coulson talk about Sky ownership? – lie like gaping wounds in our political system, with the answers to such questions at best unknown, at worst avoided, by the Prime Minister. The nature of the issues involved (corruption, patronage, money, private corporations run amok with no regard for the rule of law) definitely risks making Conservative politics look ‘nasty’ again in a way that it wouldn’t do perhaps for the Labour party, because of a partisan bias.

But the reason the scandal is so damaging to David Cameron himself is not ideological, but personal: it confirms and highlights not just the worst fears people on the left have about the Conservative party itself, but the worst fears people on all sides of the political spectrum have about the weaknesses of David Cameron as a leader. Not only that, but it shows us exactly why those qualities that he lacks so desperately matter so very much in a Prime Minister. It was that terrible mix of naivety and arrogance, surely, which led Cameron to ignore so many heavyweight warnings about hiring Andy Coulson. A lack of negotiating powers, debating skills, or political stature leads more than ever to unelected figures calling the shots. And – perhaps worst of all – a failure to properly understand the British people ourselves caused him to completely underestimate the importance of the phone-hacking scandal to his electorate, made him fail to realise how frightened and angry people would be about the apparent collusion of the police force with an unelected body like News International, and led him to remain “very relaxed” about the entire stink right up until he was absolutely forced, by the Guardian, Chris Bryant, and Tom Watson, to address it.

The Guardian is not calling for him to resign over this, and neither am I. But they did “warn” us not to hire him as our Prime Minister in the first place, because he seemed naive, arrogant, out of touch, and ill-equipped to engage intellectually with important issues. Whether or not any wrongdoing actually occurred at Number Ten, they were demonstrably correct in their analysis of his talents.

Don’t romanticise the tabloids – or those who work for them

Even the News of the World journalists who have all been made redundant through no fault of their own deserve only limited sympathy.

The first good thing about the News of the World’s closure is that it could make it harder for News International – and indeed NewsCorp – to limit the commercial damage done to other Murdoch-owned outlets. People in Britain are still furious and disgusted by the paper’s illegal – not to mention immoral – activities, and, with the paper gone, Murdoch and Brooks might struggle to direct this much public outrage towards the News of the World alone. Just as we were expected to believe for years and years that the original phone-hacking scandal was just one lone reporter at News of the World, so we’re now expected to trust Rebekah Brooks when she says she has “no reason to believe” phone-hacking has happened at any other News International paper. Apart from the fact that having “no reason to believe” something has happened is hardly a guarantee that it has been thoroughly investigated (after all, David Cameron had “no reason” to mistrust Andy Coulson, didn’t he?), while the organisation still has this inflammatory woman at its helm, it will, surely, be difficult for thinking members of the public not to feel a deep mistrust towards not just one particular paper, but the whole of News International?

So it’s possible, albeit a bit optimistic, that British consumers will decide not to give a single penny to Brooks, whether via the Sun, the Times, Sky subscriptions, HarperCollins, or any other Murdoch products.

Certainly the BSkyB takeover bid must be halted, at the very least, as Ed Miliband says (rather bravely, considering that he’s allegedly already received threats) until the criminal investigation is over.

The second reason not to cry too hard over the loss of the News of the World, and the loss of jobs for those who worked there, is quite simply this: it isn’t a very nice paper. In fact, it’s a downright vindictive, hateful, and (if you’re a paediatrician) dangerous example of what we laughingly call tabloid “journalism.”

Let’s not, in a desperate, irrational kind of liberalism, romanticise the tabloids – or the people who work for them.

Perhaps they’re not all cut from the same ridiculous self-aggrandising cloth that hacks like Paul McMullen are made of. They can’t all believe, surely, that being successful in your field means it is fine for the tabloid press to violate your human rights, and violate you as a person (not to mention violate some of the most basic laws of the land)? Well, it’s difficult to say, because these great believers in openness and honesty seem to have become curiously shy over the past week. So all we have to judge them by – not having access to their private voicemails, alas – is their own journalism.

Laying aside the legal and moral disgrace of hacking the phones of people like Milly Dowler, the victims of the 7/7 bombing, and families of serving soldiers, tabloid defenders like Paul McMullen and John Gaunt, and indeed much of the coverage by papers like the Sun of the phone-hacking scandal, has tried to position the argument as celebrities having their privacy invaded, which is a grey area at worst, and at best, is somehow morally justified because celebrities make a lot of money and sometimes court the media.

Keeping the discussion fixed around celebrities makes the argument easier. Everyone we see on television with the power to speak up – Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan, and so on – they’re all automatically rich, successful, and popular, and therefore no-one should have much sympathy when the media hangs their dirty knickers out for everyone to see. Right? But quite aside from people like Chris Jefferies and Robert Murat, who end up in the papers through absolutely no fault of their own, only to be totally demonised and harrassed, there are some genuine spotlight figures who are – despite being ‘celebrities’ – not rich, not powerful, and are really easy scapegoat and humiliate. Some public figures are even extremely vulnerable, and there are some who are hunted and harassed by the press not just when they’re having sex with someone else’s wife at a dinner party, but while they’re going through, for example, an emotional breakdown.

Kerry Katona, to take one example of an extremely easy celebrity scapegoat, went bankrupt, and battled with bipolar disorder and a drug problem. Courtesy of the News of the World, Katona’s friends and children were treated to stories which declared things like: “Kerry Katona goes mad on coke after 4 day booze bender!” – complete with photos – denouncing her as “shameless,” and quoting unnamed “sources” falling over themselves to talk about “how mad Kerry is!” They also got to see the special feature about their mother, “Kerry’s in meltdown,” with more nameless “sources” decrying how Kerry is always “ranting and rambling,” and on occasion has had to be calmed by a psychiatrist.

And what of Susan Boyle, a lady described by Professor David Wilson as having “long-term psychological needs”? Boyle, who has spoken outright – to News of the World directly, in fact – about suicide attempts because of prolonged bullying, and who was checked into the Priory following a mental breakdown, does not, surely, need or deserve to be continually mocked as the “hairy angel” by the News of the World, nor chased into a car whilst having a mental health breakdown.

There is no legal issue here perhaps, and perhaps there shouldn’t be. But there is also no argument for public interest, or exposing hypocrisy. There is certainly no moral argument at all. The tabloids can bleat and whine about it being what people want as much as they like: this is straight up and down a case of powerful people dehumanising and scapegoating less powerful people, for profit. It’s despicable, it’s unnecessary, and – at the risk of being denounced as a total snob – every single person who chooses to work at or buy these vindictive, hateful publications should feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves. You need to ask yourself some honest questions about what you get out of reading an article entitled “Sad Amy 3 drunk blackouts.” That’s today’s Sun, by the way. Wondering about the type of people who read this, I scrolled down and saw that the first comment declared “at least she has made enough money not to be a drain on the NHS!” So that’s alright then.

Let’s be absolutely clear: this has nothing to do with freedom of the press. There’s no particular need to take away Jan Moir’s right to write homophobic articles about Stephen Gately in the Daily Mail, or Polly Toynbee’s right to rant about the banks; Richard Littlejohn’s right to whine about asylum seekers and transsexuals, and the Socialist Worker’s right to whine about, well, anything and everything they can think of. It isn’t about the right-wing press vs the left-wing press: the Spectator is far, far, far to the right of the News of the World and the Sun, and so is, arguably, the Daily Telegraph. And it isn’t about celebrity gossip snobbery. Whilst the Spectator calls for rises in VAT and tougher anti-strike laws; while the Daily Telegraph has featured a Telegraph blog piece calling for voting rights to be linked to how much tax you pay; whilst Heat magazine and More! magazine run endless gossip about which celebrities have done what, wearing what, and with whom, none of these publications are actively hateful. They don’t feel the need to insert the adjective “Sad!” whilst describing a person’s psychological destruction, for example.

The laws don’t need to be changed: practices like hacking into phones and bribing the police are already illegal, and the press should be free to write about whatever they want, if they obtain the information legally. But there is a broader point: people should – especially when they spend all the livelong day writing articles that scream from the treetops about the need for greater personal responsibility amongst, say, poor people who have children they can’t afford – take some bloody responsibility as a human being for their actions. “It makes money,” and “other people do it too” are not acceptable excuses for treating another human being as less than a human being.

So no, it’s no great victory that News of the World has gone. But it’s no great sadness, either. If you work for a paper like News of the World, for an organisation like News International, if you spew out hatred and nastiness day after day after day against people who cannot defend themselves, if your employer is extraordinarily keen on rants about trade unions and the unemployed, well, don’t be surprised that the organisation turns out to be not particularly keen on workers’ rights.

Should we feel sympathy for all those law-abiding journalists, now out of a job? Compassion is important, but my God is it hard to find sympathy for people who have spent every working day dehumanising not just famous people, but asylum-seekers, immigrants, disabled people, benefit claimants, women, chavs, Muslims, terrorist suspects, drug addicts, alcoholics, gay people, transgendered people, women, the mentally ill, gypsies, and goodness knows who else without so much as a shiver of remorse, and all purely for profit.

Even if Rupert Murdoch still manages to take over BSkyB, and even if Rebekah Brooks does stay in her position as Chief Executive of News International, and even if Murdoch’s empire continues to flourish unabated, perhaps one small positive thing can still come out of this whole debacle. Perhaps a few more people will see vindictive behaviour – in the press or anywhere else – towards people that it’s not easy to sympathise with, and think again before joining in and giving them a kick, however small. Perhaps, just perhaps, a few more of us will learn that when we allow the powerful to repeatedly kick the the vulnerable, sooner or later, they can, and will, get around to people we actually do care about. The trouble is that by then, it’s often too late.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: