Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Typical Daily Mail

Paul Dacre's anti-judge rant would seem to have backfired fairly spectacularly, at least in the opportunities it provided for the Mail's enemies in what Dacre called the Liberalocracy. Polly Toynbee took the opportunity of calling Dacre the nation's "bully-in-chief", adding that he


Probably does more damage to the nation's happiness and wellbeing than any other single person, stirring up hatred, anger, fear, paranoia and cynicism with his daily images of a nation going to hell in a downward spiral of crime and depravity.


Which I think is going slightly over the top. What about Gordon Brown?

One of the comments on Toynbee's article, from "Greg Norton", struck me as particulary interesting. I can't vouch for its accuracy, but it sounds plausible enough:

Everyone I've ever known who's worked at the Daily Mail describes it in the same way: a deeply cynical, amoral place where dubious practices and truth-twisting are expected and overlooked, just as long as they bring in a "good story". The reporters are generally unenthusiastic about the paper's political views but sufficiently ambitious/jaded and well paid (particularly with regards to expenses) to treat the whole thing as some sort of big game. A good number of them lead lifestyles which, if replicated in a celebrity, would bring down the full weight of Mail disapproval.

This culture of cynicism begins at the very top. Mr Dacre - who is famously foul-mouthed and dismissive to underlings - might well believe fervently in a good number of the 1950s moral codes he espouses, but the organisation he leads is hugely hypocritical. This is why he would never allow himself to appear on a programme like Today. He would be instantly exposed as a fraud.


Here's some more Daily Mailery for you: a new "political correctness gone mad" (PCGM) story that illustrates rather wonderfully the way the paper operates. This one relates to Caerphilly Council, who have apparently banned the word "British" on the grounds that it creates a"false sense of unity" - and thus, presumably, will offend Welsh nationalists.

They've found a new "political correctness gone mad" (PCGM) story. This one relates to Caerphilly Council, who have apparently banned the word "British" on the grounds that it creates a"false sense of unity" - and thus, presumably, will offend Welsh nationalists. Or at least issued a leaflet containing such advice, which isn't quite the same thing.

Many Scots, Welsh and Irish resist being called British', the leaflet says before going on to state that 'the idea of being 'British' implies a false sense of unity'.

Personally, I find this baffling. Welsh nationalists ought to be the last people on earth to be offended by the word "British". The Welsh are, after all, the original Britons. I can understand how the appropriation of the name by Anglo-Saxon interlopers might cause a degree of outrage in some proud Brythonic breasts, but for a true Welshman to say "I'm not British" would be a little like John Prescott claiming to be solidly middle-class. On the other hand, Ulster unionists get very upset if you don't call them British: don't their sensibilities count here?

This strange decision, which there is no reason to doubt is genuine, stems, we are told from advice provided by one of those loveable quangoes, in this case the "Valleys Race Equality Council". Here's the best bit:

The body is headed by shamed former Cabinet Minister Ron Davies who quit the Government in the wake of a gay sex and drugs scandal after a self-professed 'moment of madness' on Clapham Common.


It's not just that they couldn't resist repeating the old story (and, to quote Paul Dacre's comments on Sunday night, exercising its immemorial prerogative "to identify those who have offended public standards of decency"). It's the implication that there must somehow be a connection between Ron Davies's embarrassment of a few years ago and the committee's peculiar notion of offensiveness. In reality, I have no doubt, Ron Davies had nothing to do with drafting the guidelines, and was almost certainly unaware of them.

Of course, there is an important point here, and it relates not to the appropriateness or otherwise of the term "British" but to the waste of public money on devising, writing and printing these guidelines - and on the "awareness" training of which such guidelines invariably serve as a curriculum. Not for nothing was the leaflet - distributed to 9,000 staff - entitled "Equalities in the Delivery of Council Services". There will be many people - elderly in need of in-home care and support, vulnerable children, or even ordinary residents who would like to see some books in their local library (sorry, multimedia resource centre) - who aren't having the service the deserve, need and have paid for because money has been allocated to projects such as this.

Conservative MP David Davies (that's Davies with an "e", not to be confused with the great popular hero) took up the Mail's offer to denounce "political correctness gone mad". He said, "Organisations like this are using public money to propagate their own narrow nationalistic ideas." I think that's baloney, although it's true that Welsh-language chauvinism is one of the very few forms of bigotry acceptable in today's climate - that and some forms of religious separatism. It's far more likely that the committee's aversion to the word British stems from the skewed perspective of the "diversity" industry. Mr Davies goes on, moreover, to propose an equally otiose solution:

Perhaps they should be replaced by a single body that promotes Britishness and encourages everyone in this country, whether black, Asian or white to unite and stand together under the British flag.

No. That would cost just as much and become just as obsessed with developing rules and procedures and issuing leaflets. I don't want to be instructed on how to be British any more than I want to be told not to be. It's the existence of these tax-devouring job-creation schemes for otherwise unemployable social science graduates that is the real scandal, not the particular brand of fashionable nonsense they are foisting on us.

After bringing us the views of "Wales rugby legend Gareth Edwards", who was happy to denounce the advice as "political correctness gone completely mad", the report came to the inevitable official explanation from the council. And it's the usual newspeak:

We are committed to equality and we always try to ensure that everyone is treated equally, regardless of sex, race or religion.

'However, we also recognise that political correctness can sometimes be taken too far and we try to strike the right balance so that we are sensitive to the needs of minorities by taking a common sense approach.

'The information contained in our equalities handbook was a terminology exploring various words and their connotations - it is not a direct instruction to staff about what phrases they can and cannot use in the workplace.'


Which, while demonstrating the hollowed-up thought processes of the modern bureaucratic mind, reveals little, mainly because it is not intended to. What it doesn't tell us - presumably because the Mail didn't think to ask them - was whether anyone had claimed to be offended by being described as "British". Although even if they had, a less hamstrung public authority would have told such a trouble-maker that their personal "sensitivity" did not alter the legal and geographical fact that they were indeed British. An even more important question not addressed by either the council or the newspaper is in what way the use or non-use of the term "British" connects with "ensuring that everyone is treated equally, regardless of sex, race or religion". As for "'the information contained in our equalities handbook was a terminology exploring various words and their connotations", that isn't even English, let alone British.

All in all, a typical Mail PCGM. These things follow a formula a fixed as one of those Welsh metrical patterns celebrated at the annunal Eisteddfodd. A somewhat exaggerated claim. An irrelevant personal dig at some one in a high-up position in the quango responsible. An outraged rentaquote Conservative MP. And finally a non-committal statement from the council's flat-footed PR department.

The PCGM serves several functions. It fills space cheaply and easily, provoking a guaranteed rise from the readership while cementing the Mail's self-appointed role as guardian of the "values" of Middle England. The technique, indeed, is almost Pavlovian. All involved, the tame politician, the council spokesperson, the reader, play their allotted roles in the drama, which is essentially concerned with the manipulation of rage. And having served its purpose, the story fades away, only to be replaced by a similar-sounding one next week.

At least it demonstrates that the Daily Mail doesn't need sex scandals to fill its pages. But whatever would they do without political correctness?

6 comments:

lost causes said...

At the Mail, every week is Hate Week.

By the way, "tax-devouring job-creation schemes for otherwise unemployable social science graduates" is about the best line I've heard all year.

valdemar said...

Points for 'proud Brythonic breasts'. Two, in fact.

You didn't mention that Polly Toynbee accurately skewered Dacre for the rancid hypocrite he undoubtedly is. When those Royal Navy types who were captured by the Iranians tried to sell their stories, the Mail fulminated about fallen heroes and other faux-patriotic bollocks. It didn't mention that it had tried and failed to buy their stories.

So what the smug little git really wants is the right to do whatever he pleases with his fat, tumescent checquebook, and morality be hanged! In better times his sort would have been horsewhipped on the steps of the Jockey Club.

lost causes said...

Reminded of:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/aug/20/mydailyhell

My in-laws read the Mail. If you call them on it they say it's for the crossword. But come on.

Which in your opinion is the lesser organ the Mail or the Sun / NOTW?

The Heresiarch said...

@Lost Causes

The Sun/NOTW are far, far worse. For all the Mail's obnoxiousness and hypocrisy, it has its good points: as I pointed out in the previous article, it has campaigned solidly against New Labour's civil liberties abuses. The Sun has pretty consistently cheerled for ever more draconian restrictions, and it still seems to believe that Tony Blair was a good idea. The NOTW's obsession with sex exposés is cheap and crude, and the tactics they resort to border on the criminal.

Umbongo said...

Thanks for reminding us what a wonderful paper the Guardian is. What would we do without, for instance, Polly Toynbee, Julie Bindel or Seamus Milne for regular breaths of incisive, unprejudiced and measured comment?

lost causes said...

For all the crazy views of Guardian columnists (e.g. Cornish nationalism today), at least the paper has a distinction between it's reportage and it's opinion pieces, so you can just ignore them and get some fairly reliable information. And Charlie Brooker is of course legendary.