Is Establishment Commentariat Fascist-Racism Provable, and Measurable? Gavin Lewis looks at the examples from Trevor Phillips, Paul Mason, John Ware, Polly Toynbee
By GAVIN LEWIS
Few would argue with the fact that journalistic standards in the west have collapsed to the point of non-existence. In the US this has occurred since Reagan-era abolitions of the regulation of the media, which previously had demanded strict levels of factual content. In 90s Britain’s New Labour government spin machine would join in the increasing post-1970s general Murdochisation of the media, in ensuring only the voices of powerful vested interests are heard and their economic interests pursued. Consequently, the British media has degenerated into an exclusive space for institutional Public Relations releases, camouflaged by the supporting window dressing presence of minor human interest skateboarding-dog-type stories.
Little chance of a Woodward & Bernstein-type exposé these days. Actually, as Seymour Hersh has just experienced – with his Nord Stream Pipeline story, and Al Jazeera discovered with their The Lobby and The Labour Files revelations – present a story embarrassing to power and it will be ‘sent to Coventry’, subjected as Media Lens pointed out, to an Omertà code-of-silence by the rest of the institutional media or alternately, an ideological war will be declared on the cited material and its sources.
In place of journalists, we now have a commentariat. They operate as a combined Lord Haw-Haw type propaganda regime and 16th C Vatican Priest-Caste, enforcing permissible and non-permissible truths. Their job it is to sell us the narratives of the powerful. This does raise the question, in specific case studies can we identify this commentariat as now degenerating to measurable overtly Fascist-Racist standards?
Trevor Phillips is a Black-British Blairite journalist. As part of the public relations for Blair’s war on Muslim homelands, British journalists were encouraged to generate ‘collective guilt’ narratives about Muslims – as sex-offenders, as poor citizens etc – presumably so the wider public wouldn’t care about their global victimisation. Unsurprisingly, when the Party reverted to its traditionalist identity under Jeremy Corbyn, Philips as a Labour member, came under investigation for his previous comments about Muslims.
Among these comments, which might justifiably be accused of scapegoating, and scaremongering, were the following…
Placing a Christian girl into Muslim foster care was “akin to child abuse”. Also spun across the media in a publicity blitz were “Muslims not like us” and they are a “nation within a nation” and “Muslim communities are not like others in Britain and the country should accept they will never integrate”
And also the following generalisations “a significant minority of Britain’s three million Muslims consider us a nation of such low morals that they would rather live more separately from their non-Muslim countrymen, preferably under sharia law” and “…would like to see areas where sharia law took precedence over British law”.
There is a yardstick against which Phillips comments can be measured. In 1968 Enoch Powell delivered what is regarded to be one of the most dangerous and inflammatory speeches about immigrant communities in British political history. Known as the Rivers of Blood speech it is interesting to look for direct quotable thematic similarities between the two sets of destructive ethnic generalisations – particularly with regard to shared ‘refusal to integrate’ and ‘ethnic conspiracy take-over’ narratives.
Enoch Powell: “Hitherto it has been force of circumstance and of background which has rendered the very idea of integration inaccessible to the greater part of the immigrant population – that they never conceived or intended such a thing, and that their numbers and physical concentration meant the pressures towards integration which normally bear upon any small minority did not operate.”
Arguably, Phillips’ crowd-playing tabloid soundbites are more directly racially provocative, than Powell’s technocratic Oxbridge classicisms, but perhaps the following quote, even further demonstrates the men’s overt over-lapping ideological similarities?
“Now we are seeing the growth of positive forces acting against integration, of vested interests in the preservation and sharpening of racial and religious differences, with a view to the exercise of actual domination, first over fellow immigrants and then over the rest of the population.”
Anyone finding the historical sets of sentiments worryingly close to each other, will be astonished that Philips was part of the generation of young people originating in the Black Commonwealth that Powell was targeting for condemnation.
Powell’s fielded conclusion was:
“I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”
This does raise a number of questions wasn’t Phillips like Powell strategically hyping a dangerous existential ethnic binary collision, but in this case, as part of the ongoing modern rationalisations for neoliberal, neo-imperialist western global dominance? If so it seems – to paraphrase Malcolm X – nothing is beyond political next generation ‘house slave/servant’ careerists? Also is this actually some sort of disgraceful competitive in-joke among the establishment ruling-classes relating to how much, can be got away with?
Taken as a whole text, fifty years ago Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech was regarded as so inflammatory as to result in Tory Leader Edward Heath sacking Powell from his Shadow cabinet.
Yet under Keir Starmer’s new Labour Party leadership the investigation into Philips offence to Muslims mysteriously disappeared, and he was instead rewarded with a knighthood.
Phillips bureaucratic claim to fame/infamy under New Labour was removing the critical teeth from the CRE (The Commission for Racial Equality) and turning it into the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission). In terms of credibility, Phillips was criticised for a payment/remuneration scandals during his time at the EHRC.
Institutionally the EHRC went on to censure the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn for its handling of anti-Semitism claims. There were no prosecutions, damaged life opportunities, injuries, or deaths involved. Geoffrey Bindman RC noted in his reading of the report, that outside of procedural faults/irregularities, the EHRC cited only two cases. Labour’s accused “two members are seeking to challenge these findings in the high court.” Arguably David Baddiel’s Blackface, ‘Pineapplehead’ racist incitements and ‘Pikey’ slurs had more documented victims than can be found in the entire Labour anti-Semitism moral panic.
And by comparison, the EHRC was curiously silent about the mosques firebombed and street murders of Muslims following New Labours ‘collective guilt’ narrative. And was equally quiet regarding the torture operation that predominantly targeted Muslim people of colour – including pregnant Fatima Boudchar – that occurred under the New Labour regime. Would the old CRE been this acquiescent?
Paul Mason has been a corporate media news broadcaster, briefly apparently ‘posed’ as a supporting leftist political writer during Corbyn’s Party Leadership, and is now attempting to become a constituency MP candidate within Starmer’s ideologically inverted version of the Labour Party.
There is little to add to the Grayzone’s outing of Mason as a pro-war security state propaganda mouthpiece. Kit Klarenberg, with the occasional support of Max Blumenthal and David Miller, should be congratulated on their diligent reference to sources including communications between Mason and the security services.
Mason like other security embedded members of the commentariat has been smearing the anti-war, anti-racist, anti-imperialist sections of the left as ‘Putin apologists’ – partly evidenced on his Twitter output and – as the Grayzone notes even to the extent of building
“a bizarrely constructed “dynamic map of the ‘left’ pro-Putin infosphere”
“the Muslim Community,” “Young Networked Left” and “Black Community”
Again what we can do is measure Mason’s ideological positions and strategic rhetoric against historical precedent.
Mason’s willingness to turn a blind eye to Nazis in Ukraine in support of western ruling-class interests, is not unique to him. In 2014 the BBC’s Newsnight team ran an item entitled Neo-Nazi threat in new Ukraine, including an interview with a representative of the Azov Battalion, proudly stating this his enemies were ‘Russians and Jews’. These days the BBC’s news channel blindly repeats the White House orthodoxy that the presence of Nazis in Ukraine is merely a ‘Russian claim’. However this type of political positioning has previously had serious consequences.
In the years prior to WWII, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Kennedy (father of JFK and Robert), and the heir to the British throne were among members of western ruling classes that all expressed an admiration for Adolph Hitler, on the basis that at least he wasn’t pro-worker, pro-Soviet in the same way Zelensky is not pro-Russia. Perhaps if previous admirers of fascism had been less concerned with their bank balances, careers, strategic alliances and positions within western global hierarchies, some of the horrors of Nazism could have been ameliorated? Unsurprisingly, Mason’s careerist position is in line with Starmer’s on this.
Mason’s current rhetoric – like Phillips’ – has regressive authoritarian resonances. The idea that Black people are primitive, lack agency and are mere stooges of foreign interests, has been used to smear some of the greatest figures in world history. Isn’t Mason simply repeating the public relations positions that had Nelson Mandela labelled a terrorist and Soviet puppet by Reagan and Thatcher regimes? Is Mason so racist as to be willing to repeat the same ‘political traitor’ smear strategy FBI boss J Edgar Hoover’s used against Dr Martin Luther King? Ironically in comparison to our era’s commentariat complicity; back then, there were “journalists and editors who refused to publish hit jobs on Dr King based on the FBI “information”. It certainly suggests that tactically, establishment practices haven’t changed all that much, but rely on a failure of popular cultural memory.
John Ware is a former tabloid journalist for Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper. Indicative of the times in which we live, he now has a career at the BBC. The furore over his BBC Panorama show Is Labour Anti-Semitic (2019) is fairly well known. Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) pointed out that Ware’s claim that specific Labour activists had been expelled for anti-Semitism was actually not so, given in reality, charges were actually ‘bringing the party into disrepute’. Also in this reporting activist Jackie Walker’s Jewish identity was strategically omitted from the programme. Jewish academic Justin Schlosberg highlighted examples of the show editing, cutting and paring quotes in a manner which made them unrepresentative.
Al Jazeera’s The Labour Files has also further damaged the credibility of Ware’s Is Labour Anti-Semitic. One of Ware’s major claims of Labour anti-Semitism was contradicted by recorded evidence of the actual cited conversation. Ware was also accused of muddling together alleged incidents from both within and outside of the Labour Party. Al Jazeera’s data also raises representational questions as to how and why Ware’s documentary got made. It revealed 23% of all Labour’s anti-Semitism complaints involved 1 person and 12% came from the Labour Against Anti-Semitism. The latter is not even an entirely Jewish organisation which means complaints originating from non-Jews against Jewish Labour socialists were taken seriously. And, LAAS’s Director, Euan Philips hid from accountability behind the pseudonym David Gordstein, suggesting that perhaps he was also trying to pass as Jewish?
Once again examining historical continuities tells us a lot about bias in rhetoric and editorial decision making. Ware and the Panorama team chose to make this programme and from a specific pro-colonialist subjective point view, two years after Al Jazeera’s The Lobby filmed Shia Masot of Israel’s UK embassy, offering to fund a campaign against prominent British politicians who might be supportive of Palestinian human rights.
Despite potential UK democratic national sovereignty issues, Ware and his team instead chose to treat some of the group liaising with the Masot as victims. One of the group Ella Rose had actually been caught on film publicly fantasising about beating up middle-aged Black Jewish feminist activist Jackie Walker. This scrutiny-free ride given to the white complainants and apparent ethnic double-standards surely makes raising the question of racism legitimate?
The issue of racial double standards can also be informed by looking at Ware’s previous treatment of Muslim people of colour. In contrast to the scrutiny-free ride given to the complaints of white Israel supporters in The Battle for British Islam (2015) he attacked with some hostility the Islam Channel for its slogan ‘Voice for the Voiceless, Voice of the Oppressed’. Apparently, for irony-free Ware, Muslim complaints about western racism and ‘voicelessness’ were a nonsense and should not be permitted a voice.
Pretending that people of colour don’t experience racism and don’t have the right to complain has long been recognised as a form of discrimination. BBC Arts has been among those embracing this recognition. Lenny Henry’s Caribbean Britain Episode 2 (BBC 2022) recalls this type of attack on a Black Arts exhibition at the Heyward Gallery – The Other Story in 1990. The Evening Standard’s headline covering this event was …
“Black Pride and Prejudice They argue that they are rejected and ignored when they are nothing of the kind”
Surely then it is possible to argue that John Ware has met one of the BBC’s own definitions of racism? With the help of denialists, Muslim ‘voicelessness’ has continued. In 2022’s Tory leadership campaign candidate Penny Mordant was condemned for merely meeting representatives of the Muslim Council of Britain.
On a paucity of evidence, John Ware asked from TV platform privilege Is Labour Anti-Semitic. Might not the general public ask Is John Ware Racist?
Media mythology paints Polly Toynbee as an early example of someone who broke through some sort of glass ceiling in entering ‘journalism’. In reality Toynbee had one A-Level and dropped out of university but still managed to parlay her prestigious family name into a media career. Toynbee was the daughter of the poet and critic Phillip Toynbee, granddaughter of Historian Arnold Toynbee. When Toynbee entered the workplace employers had little or no equal opportunity policies and the legislation was next to non-existent. It is doubtful therefore that she ever had to compete against Black and/or working-class candidates for her break.
The latter part of her career was infamous for the ideological support she gave Tony Blair and the New Labour project. This manifested as a sort emperor’s new clothes, court reporting, which included depicting imaginary New Labour social justice battalions moving across Britain’s economic landscape.
New Labour’s Thatcherite tax system favouring the super-rich, resulted in less council house building in 13 years than under one of Thatcher’s. Previous advances in welfare support and funded grant supported education provision were reversed. New Labour’s NHS rationing meant hospitals were fined and/or threatened with fines for treating too many patients, too quickly. This Toynbee spun as “the biggest redistribution ever to the poorest“(by comparison Clement Attlee’s Labour invented the NHS and built 1 million new homes, Harold Wilson’s Labour invented the welfare and educational funding Blairites abolished, while they also cut access to Nye Bevan’s ‘cradle-to-grave’ NHS care). The 5 million voters who abandoned New Labour’s betrayals, did so on the basis of lived experience, and refused to express gratitude for Toynbee’s imaginary ‘achievements’.
The more significant issue is the support she gave Blair and Brown’s New Labour, despite the facts of a million and more dead in Iraq; that Britain had been placed hand-in-glove with a superpower practising torture and, there were accusations – later to be confirmed – that torture was going on under the Blair regime too. Instead of siding with the victims Toynbee repeatedly spun Iraq and other foreign policy offences as a tragedy for Blair. Including articles like “Blair can’t break free from Iraq, but he won’t crumple” and “Disaster in Iraq masks the truth: Blair’s brand of social justice by stealth transformed Britain forever”.
In subsequent elections, Toynbee would ask voters to forget about Iraq and vote for New Labour based upon some fictitious notion of infrastructural provision. This she termed the ‘nose peg’ strategy.
Once again we might ask, what are the loathsome historical precedents and continuities – in this case – for the notion that infrastructural provision could somehow offset mass killings? Isn’t Toynbee keeping company with post war apologists who argued that under Mussolini “the trains ran on time”? Nazism was once defined as ‘Hitler plus autobahns’. Post war there were still apologists arguing along the lines of ‘never mind the death camps, look at the autobahn’.
Toynbee was named 2004’s “Most Islamophobic Media Personality” by the Islamic Human Rights Commission after she had also got into John Ware territory and “challenged the legitimacy of the idea of Islamophobia”. This award Toynbee spun as an example of Muslim ‘extremism’.
So is establishment commentariat Fascist-Racism provable, and measurable? The answer for those who accept the precedents of history and close examinations of specific case studies will probably be yes. Consequently, viewers and readers of news channels and newspapers are disengaging. Some parts of the general public are forming alternative networks for news, sometimes based in the university sector. But in the absence of a government of structural change and challenge to oligopoly power, it seems what is called for – and in some cases already happening – is more confrontational and adversarial relations to the now persistent rhetorical violence of corporate media elites.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gavin Lewis is a freelance Black British mixed-race writer and academic. He has published in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States on film, media, politics, cultural theory, race, and representation. He has taught critical theory and film and cultural studies at a number of British universities. He is a member of the British trade union Bectu.
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