Cameron’s collision and other stories – a week in the news.

A typically unpredictable week for David Cameron began with the media quick to decide that his collision in Leeds with a jogger uncannily resembling Russell Brand was a major security breach. The Mirror wailed, ‘It could have been a terrorist‘ whilst the Mail asked, ‘what if this man had been carrying a knife?  More pertinently, Kay Burley read out a tweet from a viewer on Sky News which asked, ‘what if he had Ebola?’ It was left to the police to diffuse the hysteria. ITV News reported West Yorkshire Police saying the collision it was ‘nothing sinister, just a man in the wrong place at the wrong time’. On Radio 5 live the jogger himself, Dean Farley, (who, as I am bound by the laws of journalism to tell you, is 28) saw things rather differently. He was simply running along – ‘I’ve got earphones in, I’m going on a run. I’ve got my eyes to the floor and I didn’t even see who it was. And nobody told me who it was’. He later posted on his Facebook page: So im all over the news as ‘the protester that attacked david cameron…..yeah if you call brushing into someone while running then getting assaulted by half a dozen coppers in suits attacking. 

NB For those of us who are worried by the prospect of contracting Ebola from bearded joggers – please see this checklist provided by the Guardian on how best to avoid becoming infected.

The word of the week was ‘swamped’. Defence secretary Michael Fallon told Sky News’ Dermot Murnaghan that whole towns and communities were being swamped by huge numbers of migrant workers. As Stuart Jeffries pointed out in The Guardian  this is a toxic, dehumanising word which was appropriated first by Margaret  Thatcher in 1978 who spoke of curbing immigration to ease people’s fears that they might be ‘swamped’ by those from a different culture. If Fallon did not know the history of the word he used, or that there might be some faint chance that the likes of the Mail would jump at its return to currency, then he was not ‘careless’ in his actions, he was quite simply ignorant of the discourse around immigration and the language that his own party and supporters have helped to popularise. Improbably, it was all too much for UKIP. The Independent reported its immigration spokesperson Steven Woolfe as saying, ‘the government is resorting to intemperate language. Can you imagine what would have been said if we had said that?

It was a bumper week for the media gift that is also known as UKIP leader Nigel Farage. Hot on the heels of last week’s calypso ‘controversy’ was the news that Nigel thinks white people blacking up is OK and that ‘this business of political correctness has “gone too far”. There was also a twitter spat with Frankie Boyle, where the children’s comedian labelled Farage a c**t  and the revelation that Channel 4 is to make a ‘spoof’ documentary where UKIP wins the general election. And much as all this horrifies the political classes, it appears from the most recent reports in the Independent that UKIP support is at a record high.

If only sections of the popular press would express horror at the Home Office’s decision to not support future search and rescue operations to prevent migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. A decision described by Amnesty International’s UK director, Kate Allen, as unforgiveable. ‘This is a very dark day for the moral standing of the UK. When the hour came, the UK turned its back on despairing people and left them to drown, ‘she said. But this is what happens when day after day, year after year human beings are defined not by who they are, and what horrors they have fled, but by the largely fictitious threat they pose to ‘our way of life’. Perhaps the chairman of MigrationWatch, Andrew Green, had it right in the Telegraph when he wrote: the danger is that a debate about language will close down a legitimate, indeed essential, conversation about the impact that current levels of immigration are having on our society. For us to have that conversation, and for it to be constructive, we need to follow three essential guidelines: stick to the facts; don’t demonise your opponents; and, above all, don’t condescend to the public.

Sound advice roundly ignored by the majority of tabloids who chose to report the appearance of the Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart before the Home Affairs committee in typically alarmist fashion. According to the Daily Express front page on Wednesday, ‘BRITAIN IS A MIGRANT MAGNET’ with immigrants willing to risk death for UK benefits

Speaking of the Daily Express, in 1978 the legendary Manchester poet John Cooper Clarke wrote that, though he’d never seen a nipple in the Daily Express, the paper was nonetheless, boring mindless mean….Full of pornography, the kind that’s clean. No change, John. No change. Indeed, the Express’ steadfast commitment to immigration / Princess Diana/Madeleine McCann/health and weather stories as front page lead stories EVERY SINGLE DAY for the last century has led many to speculate about the health of its own journalists – faced as they are with the monotonous regularity of daily revisiting ‘exclusives’ which evoke a singularly bleak vision of modern Britain. The famous masthead should not be a crusader but a groundhog.

Sure enough, on Monday  we were told that even though autumn was here there was still time for a 70F blast of Indian summer and that drinking cocoa could help us beat memory loss.  Tuesday told us to get ready for the hottest Halloween on record, Wednesday upped the ante on immigration, Thursday told us of ‘new’ Maddy claims whilst Friday’s front page informed us that keeping slim, regular exercise, good diet, low alcohol intake and not smoking would prolong life. Well, who knew?

Thank God for some proper journalism. The BBC’s Panorama programme about the tragic death of 17 month old baby Peter Connelly took two years to research and create. Peter was killed by his mother, her boyfriend and his brother in 2007 and after their conviction a near hysterical press blamed Haringey social service for the chain of events that led to Peter’s death. This programme examined the practices of social services, the metropolitan police, Ofsted and the government in the light of the scandal. It highlighted, too, how the lives of doctors and social workers had by affected by the tragedy and the subsequent media coverage. As Patrick Butler wrote in the Guardian, this excellent documentary was essentially an anatomy of an establishment cover-up, aided and abetted by an incurious, opportunistic media.