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Josiah Mortimer’s Left Foot Forward Article, “In the frame: The left is learning how to shift the political narrative,” explores how our wording can sabotage or supercharge our message. As I myself have adopted the title ‘progressive Left’ and ‘progressive Socialist policies,’ I was pleased to read of his endorsement for the term ‘progressive’ as a consciously positive description of the Socialist Left. In his piece he describes, “How progressives are wising up to the power of ‘framing’.” My chief beef right now is with the word ‘levelling;’ it is almost as damaging to claim that this Tory Government is ‘leveling down’ as it is to but into their snake oil about ‘levelling up. Why? Because the word ‘levelling,’ in and of itself, automatically implies equality so the direction of travel is entirely immaterial and redundant to the argument. I prefer to describe the perpetration of this Tory con job by exposing the Government’s real objective of ‘Decimating Down’ to destroy progressive Socialist principles and target the poor in deprived areas.
Mortimer observed that, “When the BBC’s top political reporter suggested the UK had ‘maxed out its credit card’ last week, the broadcaster was reinforcing a dominant narrative, or ‘frame’: that the UK economy was just like a household – and is equally at risk of going under. It was nonsense of course. The UK economy is not like you and me. I cannot print money when I need it. The Bank of England, however, can. Nor is the UK is at risk of a debt crisis or going under. Borrowing costs have actually fallen for the UK while debt has risen – because the UK has huge amounts of headroom for investment. There was immediate pushback against the BBC narrative – in part because the left is increasingly aware of how the language the media chooses to ‘tell a story’ can have major impacts on public opinion. Treating the UK economy as a household reinforces austerity economics: governments must slash borrowing to avoid going under. The solution is almost always gutting public services.”
This pervasive concept is hard to tackle because sadly the progressive Socialist Left only really started to unpick this myth when Jeremy Corbyn became Leader with John McDonnel backing him up as Shadow Chancellor. The time honored business adage, “You have got to spend money to make money” is just as relevant with regard to Government financing of everything from the new Green Deal to infrastructure projects and the building of affordable council housing. Mortimer is less clear in his explanation of why “Borrowing costs have actually fallen for the UK while debt has risen.” This should have included the dramatic fall in interest rates that make it a lot more affordable for the Government to borrow money right now. This ready access to ultra cheap lending should have prompted the supposedly business friendly Tories to borrow to invest in order to reap the rewards of increased tax returns as the economy rebounded from the shock of the banking crisis, but they didn’t, the economy and wages stagnated.
However, I believe that it was that wage stagnation that drove the Tory strategy as much as their desire to needlessly slash the welfare budget and drive people into destitution. Their personal investments were far more wisely placed to guarantee increased personal wealth among the ruling elite. Stage two of this destructive slam dunk comes with crash-out Brexit when all of the hard earned rights of workers can be eviscerated after we lose the protection of the EU. While ordinary people speculate and try to guess what kind of a deal will finally emerge from the Brexit negotiations, the Tories already know their desired outcome and have their money invested in hedge funds to make a killing in the New Year. With the help of the compliant BBC and rightwing Media they are keeping the public distracted with the minutia of complicated lockdown restrictions and hype over the vaccine that will save us all… to wallow in poverty, enduring decades of exploitation under the unasailable Tory Dictatorship! We must act now!
Mortimer is right to point out the crucial role of how we must cautiously choose our words in the coming fight-back. Think of the huge increase in defence spending as an example: the reality is the polar opposite with a Tory Government commitment to beefing up the military industrial complex for potential aggressive foreign interventions. Just as warheads were renamed ‘Peacekepers’ the new spending is not defending us from a viable enemy, but our arms industry, already a major export, will see greater investment and AI will invade our lives. The big arms manufacturers might well try to fill the employment void when the car manufacturers move to the continent; a workforce decimated by massive unemployment will be ripe for exploitation on minimum wage zero hours contract jobs. The enslavement of the poor was always one of the prime objectives of the Tory Government in their pursuit of Brexit, but the Covid 19 Pandemic has given their authoritarian, corrupt kleptocratic agenda an early additional boost.
Mortimer reveals that, “The concept of ‘framing’ – the values and ideas we activate when we talk about politics – has risen in prominence in recent years, popularised by US linguist George Lakoff’s 2004 best-seller ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant’. While some of the neuroscience behind it is disputed, there’s some fairly universal communications principles at its core. One is understanding the importance of emotion and pathos in politics. It has often seemed that the right understands it more than the left. While Remainers were throwing statistics about GDP around during the EU referendum, Leave campaigners were appealing to the heart: values about independence, power and control. ‘The left have clung to the idea that facts and figures change minds,’ Dora Meade from the New Economy Organisers Network noted in this week’s episode of the Reasons to Be Cheerful podcast. ‘Humans are powered by stories and shortcuts,’ Nicky Hawkins from the Frameworks Institute added.”
Mortimer claims that, “For the left to succeed, we don’t just have to understand your own arguments – we have to think about how it is being heard by our audience. That means flinging facts at people is unlikely to have effects we intend. ‘Myth-busting’ too is a dangerous game and one still popular on the left. The right don’t tend to bother with it: knowing it generally results in repeating and reinforcing your opponents’ messages. I was struck by a graphic being shared earlier this year about the government’s Immigration Bill. The myth-buster listed all the arguments against migration in large font…before ‘debunking’ them with far less visible text. The effect was simply to prominently re-share Tory refugee-bashing lines.” While this is true there was a huge unmet necessity to try to counter the fantisemitism myth; we need to take onboard the crippling damage that has occurred from letting this run rampant and further reinforcing the fake news with constant unwarranted apologies. This too skewed the framing of a very minor issue.
Mortimer warns that, “Thinking about the economy, one of the most harmful frames is to divide societies into ‘contributors’ or ‘drainers’: or in the last coalition government’s spiel: ‘strivers’ versus ‘skivers’. Often the left can reinforce this by talking about ‘hard-working people’ needing support, and thereby implying that there are lazy people who are less deserving of a helping hand. We have to tell a different story. Marcus Rashford did this powerfully recently in his campaign against child hunger. Rather than basing it on an issue of deservedness, it was couched in terms of shared values: supporting each other in hard times. The policy – free meal vouchers in the school holidays, followed on from this, not the other way round. Progressives cannot go in guns blazing with the policies, without first telling the story behind them.”
Mortimer explains that, “A corollary of this is that the left loves to self-describe it’s ideas as ‘radical’ – in turn doing our opponents’ dirty work for ourselves. Instead, it’s those who want to deregulate, to slash, burn and hack back our safety net who are the dangerous ‘radicals’. The task then, whether it’s on the economy, social policy, or migration, is to position left-wing solutions as common-sense proposals that stem from positive values. In the past few weeks I’ve been seen several progressive ‘framing’ workshops (as well as podcasts) that hope to take these lessons on board. Slowly but surely, radical progressive activists may be wising up on how to step up our communications.” The Tories have a way of using words to twist the truth and promote their toxic policies. They have harnessed jingoism, weaponized nationalism and set areas of the country aggressively competing against one another to limit the scourge of lockdowns. We have to sell a kinder more tolerant future for the forgotten majority in the UK.
Mortimer, who is co-editor of Left Foot Forward, includes a Link to the Podcast, “The episode of Reasons to Be Cheerful” entitled, “YOU’VE BEEN FRAMED: shaping the political conversation” in his article. The intro to the Podcast says, “Hello! We all love a good story. This week we’re talking about ‘framing’ – how the stories and metaphors we use shape how people understand politics, the economy and our society. Framing experts Dora Meade and Nicky Hawkins discuss what it’s all about and what progressives can learn. Then California-based Ian Haney Lopez explains how the ‘Race Class Narrative’ can build a coalition for change.”
So how will the Tories smooth over the next PR nightmare of crash-out Bexit? The Byline Times Article entitled, “Government’s ‘Cold Turkey’ Brexit Preparations On Same Scale as COVID Failures MPs Warn,” doesn’t contain reassuring news.” David Hencke reports that, “Despite spending £4.4 billion on Brexit preparations, the Government has no overall plan says the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee. Boris Johnson’s planned Brexit in four weeks’ time will be more ‘cold turkey’ than the ‘oven-ready’ deal he promised a year ago, according to the head of a parliamentary committee which today severely criticises the Government for not being adequately prepared for the UK leaving the EU – whether a deal is secured or not. Labour MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: ‘Pretending that things you don’t want to happen are not going to happen is not a recipe for government, it is a recipe for disaster. The lack of definite next steps and inability to secure a deal adds to the challenge.”
Hencke reports that, “A year after the oven-ready deal, we have more of a cold turkey and businesses and consumers do not know what to be prepared for.’ The committee warned that it was extremely concerned about the ‘risk of serious disruption and delay at the short Channel crossings’ because new border technology is not in place and has not been properly tested and lorry parks have not been fully completed. It also said that the ‘Get Ready for Brexit’ campaign – abandoned in 2019 – has still not reached a third of the companies, which believed in October that the transition period would still be extended. The Cabinet Office also had no idea whether the remaining two-thirds of businesses which were aware had fully complied with the new arrangements, it added. Many businesses still did not know what the final arrangements would be as it depends on whether a deal is reached or not.”
Hencke says that, “The committee found that, despite spending £4.4 billion on Brexit preparations, the Government has no overall plan. It has also cut the number of civil servants working on the Brexit project from 22,000 to 15,000 and replaced many with more expensive management consultants. The committee compared this to the lack of an overall Government plan for the Coronavirus crisis. It said: ‘The EU Exit and the COVID-19 response have shown up critical gaps in the Civil Service’s approach to planning, particularly for unexpected events or undesired outcomes. The Cabinet Office keeps a national risk register, with input from across government and particularly the Treasury, but recent events have shown up the limitations in this crucial governance system. He reports that, “Ministers specifically limited the amount of contingency planning the Civil Service was to carry out ahead of the EU Exit Referendum in 2016.” This is truly shocking when you consider the devastating impact that Brexit will inflict on the UK.
What will be the final impact of this chronic level of unpreparedness? Hencke says that, “This meant Government only began to formulate policy, negotiating positions and preparations after the vote. In its programme of work on COVID-19, the committee uncovered the shocking lack of economic planning for a pandemic, even though that risk has been on Government’s ‘most likely’ list for years.” He says, “The committee went on to say that the Government does not know the full cost of Brexit. ‘It did not have its own comprehensive information on government spending on EU Exit for 2019-20 or any earlier period, although it is now tracking information in-year for 2020-21,’ it said. ‘It has relied on departmental processes to ensure money on EU Exit has been used as expected. Departments are expected to publish information on EU Exit spending in their 2019-20 Annual Reports, but these have been delayed due to COVID-19 and the Treasury has identified inconsistencies in what has been presented so far’.”
Hencke reports that, “In a letter to MPs, Alex Chisolm, permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, said that the Government had made ‘significant progress on changes needed to manage the border after the end of the transition period’. He claimed that work was proceeding fast on the lorry parks and that internal testing of IT for border checks had started. But none of the projects had reached ‘green status’ – Whitehall jargon for being ready to use immediately. His letter also revealed that projects for new customs facilities at Birmingham Airport and Warrington were still behind schedule.” I cannot believe that the PM would be so naive as to believe that the EU negotiators will crumble at the last ditch and grant all of the unreasonable concessions demanded by the UK; essentially all the perks of membership without the fees or constraints. They must know this is not possible and a serious crash-out plan will be required,It is terrifying to contemplate how the Tories will exploit such a dire national emergency.
Newsnight focused on Brexit with Faisal Islam interviewing Bruno Bonnell, member of the French National Assembly for President Macron’s En Marche Party, the hard core Brexiteer Tory MP Peter Bone and John Shirley, the founder if an international freight forwarding company who had been 28 years in the business at Dover. Islam asked, “With 27 days to go before a new fundamental system in how we trade, are we ready, why aren’t we ready?” Shirley said, “we in the freight forwarding industry, we thought it’s going to be really difficult, it’s going back to 1992, imposing all kinds of red tape, it’s going to strangle the economy, but we thought maybe we could have enough time to get prepared, get things in place…” He spoke of paying “maybe double or triple the foreign hauliers that bring all of our cargo in to the UK by road and take out all of our cargo out by road; 99% of that cargo is on foreign hauliers.”
John Shirley said, “If you remember a couple of years ago there were some people saying I’d rather eat grass than be in Europe. Then there was a group of MEPs who turned their backs on the European anthem. So what’s going to happen? Well those hauliers are turning their tail lights on Britain! They have decided they are not going to put up with coming to this country and sitting for weeks in customs. Formalities… certificates; they are not coming. They have told myself and my colleagues they are not coming here after Christmas: this is very alarming!” Fisal responded, “Surely this is a temporary thing, there’ll be some ripples over Christmas and things will work themselves out after a few weeks or a few months?” Shirley thought not, he said an emphatic, “No you are in a customs union or you’re not…” He gave examples; what he said made perfect sense and it doesn’t surprise me, but it should alarm us all. That is most of our food! Those people in the UK who said they would rather eat grass: they might just have to!
The hype about food deliveries and late night sessions is all intended to give the impression that the British team are negotiating in earnest, when I believe the reality is that this is just a total sham. The final walk out could come as soon as Monday, so we should expect some really toxic anti-EU press over the weekend as Johnson’s corrupt cabal set the PR trap ready to demonize the EU for punishing the UK negotiating team. We cannot be fooled by this performance; it is time to demonstrate in huge numbers; a so-called ‘Australian deal’ is not the road to nirvana, it’s a NO-DEAL CRASH-OUT with all the catastrophic economic consequences. We must make this massive betrayal the turning point when the British people say enough, no more Tory exploitation. Why can’t the British learn to riot like the French or at least march on mass like the citizens of Belerus? The Covert 2019 Rigged Election allowed this Tory Government to take power, we need to fully Investigate the vote and their financial corruption, expose the truth: Get The Tories Out! DO NOT MOVE ON!