Wednesday 18 March 2015

The Fifth Estate

Go anywhere on Twitter and you will see something not dissimilar to this image. It has nearly a million shares on Facebook and Christ alone knows how many retweets. A cheap piece of distortion takes only minutes to construct and disseminate. Deconstructing one can prove impossible. This particular meme (pictured) is one of the most toxic of all.

Being an MP is not an easy job if it is done right. It means moving around a lot, researching things, going to meetings, having no privacy, carting in and out of London twice a week at least - and that gets seriously expensive - and tiring and you can't reall
y do a good job by scrimping on everything.

The expenses system and the media scrutiny upon it makes it difficult to claim for small and innocuous items which seem like penny pinching, but actually, it all adds up and MP's to avoid unfair headlines end up out of pocket. There were much greater restrictions placed on expenses after the expenses scandal, so MPs would rightly want a pay bump which then just removes all argument.

What they should really do is just abolish the expenses system and pay them a constituency allowance from which they can draw their own pay, with variations according to the constituency proximity to London. In a lot of respects the public has unrealistic demands of MPs and really need to grow up. You cannot really expect a person to do an effective job of scrutinising government while living out of a suitcase in Aldgate Travelodge.

As it happens, I think what MPs end up with after tax is little over a grand a week, which isn't exactly megabucks. You can earn that with an aerospace, law, accountancy, or engineering degree and when a lot of MPs say they could earn more doing something other than being an MP, they're probably right. Meanwhile, a nurse can potentially earn up to £98k.

As to nurses payrises, that's a tricky question in that there is no single definition as to what a nurse is. It goes from the grossly underpaid juniors to grossly overpaid nurse practitioners and senior nurses, some of whom can clock up a very handsome salary with shift allowance and long service. Moreover, in the years preceding their payrises outstripped the private sector equivalent and a freeze allows inflation to level it out.

It's a false equivalence that ignores some fairly critical nuances and doesn't really add anything to the debate other than reinforcing the spurious and corrosive notion that all MPs are self-serving and lazy. That is a narrative promoted by media because that's the narrative that sells newspapers and advertising space. If anyone one is out of touch, it's the public who are out of touch with their politicians, with a pitiful understanding of how government works, which is actively hindered by the media's wilful complicity in promoting a false perception - culminating in memes such as the above, and parties like Ukip.

That said, memes of this type are easy to spot and for every share on Facebook, there'll be a million people who think it's bullshit too. But memes can be more discreet and more pernicious - especially the ones promoted by the corporate media. In the coming debate approaching an EU referendum, what we see is spin and counter-spin where the truth slips between the cracks. 

What's missing is the detection system that should reside in our media. Rather than scrutiny of sources we see wholesale propagandising and copy lifted verbatim from "think tanks" suchas Open Europe, Business for Britain and the IEA and with coprophagiac journalists lacking the inquisitiveness, experience or wisdom to question it, and it then stands as "official" research.

The same is also true of the welfare reform debate where we see statistics from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation taken at face value as though their heavily biased mantras were unassailable facts. The effect of this is that those with inherited institutional prestige can pedal their wares to a media cartel which can distort the debate according to which agenda it is pushing. 

In the case of the EU we have the Daily Telegraph masquerading as a eurosceptic newspaper, but pushing think tank memes almost certain to keep us in the EU - not least with the red herring decoy of EU renegotiation while deliberately trying to hide the alternatives. Of course it is naive of me to believe it was ever any different, in that our newspapers have always been grubby propaganda outfits, not least the Mail and the Daily Telegraph, but at least in days of old there was a obligation for think tanks to produce work of high quality, rather than them being established brands from which any passing ego in the Westminster circle jerk can borrow prestige. 

The truth is, with the twenty-four hour news cycle being what it is, meaning news rooms are much more fluid places with much less expertise available, and the media being so impenetrable to anything which counters its own narratives, we can't expect our media to fulfil the role of the Fourth Estate anymore. So it then falls to the Fifth Estate. That is me and thee, dear reader. And if we want a clean fight, then our mission should be to bypass the media stonewall and go after the parasitic think tanks, discrediting them wherever they speak. You can't kill a meme once it's out. But you can cut the head off the snake.

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