IT WOULD be reasonable to state that social conservatives do not necessarily get a good reception in the mass media. Some do not help themselves in this regard. Mary Whitehouse, who campaigned from the 1960s onwards, was forced to admit that she had objected to least one television programme she had not actually watched. She accused the makers of Not The Nine O’Clock News of racism for suggesting that the first president of Zimbabwe was called the Reverend Canaan Banana. Unfortunately that really was his name.
There is nothing wrong in advocating that the suggestible or immature should be protected from material that could corrupt, deprave, or promote undertaking certain courses of action without warnings of the possible, or in some cases inevitable, negative consequences. Jaded hedonists in the pursuit of new or enhanced forms of personal gratification can not only be self-destructive, but may also destroy those around them.
However, it has been a staple fare of television comedies to mock not just social conservatives but actual Conservatives in a way that other comedies do not do to socialists and lotus-eaters. The ITV programme The New Statesman did both. The central character, Alan B’stard, was a stereotyped caricature of Conservatism. He wanted not only to abolish welfare, but to introduce slavery in its place. He was both corrupt and depraved, always cooking up illicit cash-only money-making schemes and finding new and interesting ways to cheat on his wife.
In the third episode of the first series, B’stard, a self-declared libertarian, inveigles his way into a campaign against pornography. He arranges to print a pamphlet for a campaigner entitled Sex is Wrong. Unbeknownst to the campaigner, B’stard fills the pamphlet with explicit images, ostensibly to illustrate the author’s belief in the wrongness of sex. At the Conservative Party Conference, B’stard uses his speech in the main hall as a sales pitch for this publication, describing its illustrations in enticing detail. Sex is Wrong becomes a conference best-seller solely for its explicit imagery, and makes B’stard a tidy profit. It has to be borne in mind that this programme was first broadcast 32 years ago, when images of the kind now available at the click of a mouse were heavily restricted in this country.
Anti-Semitic images and text are also but one mouse-click away, but some people go further than merely seeking such material for their personal gratification. They will forward it to their followers on social media. Some enterprising types will create their own and share it with the public. A portion of those who peddle anti-Semitic content are members of the Labour Party. Until the spring of 2016, these card-carrying peddlers of racist bigotry appeared to be able to continue their activities without any party sanction. It was then that Naz Shah, the woman who beat George Galloway for the seat of Bradford West, was exposed as one of their number. Further examples of Labour’s structural anti-Semitism were put on wider display, mostly by the Guido Fawkes website.
Labour’s response to this endemic racism in its ranks has been a cross between denial and a reluctance to take firm action. At present, the party will do so only when forced, and it will be forced only when the public profile of the offender is sufficiently high. It required threats to leave the party made by Labour MPs before Ken Livingstone was suspended indefinitely as his two-year suspension was approaching its end. Ken has since quit the party, but that seems to have made no difference to his political activity. Similar action by more than three dozen MPs, including the deputy leader, overrode Jeremy Corbyn’s veto on the suspension of Chris Williamson. But Labour MPs appear not willing to act in the cases of people who have never before graced the national headlines.
The incident that precipitated the MPs’ revolt over Williamson was a speech at a meeting of the Corbyn fan-cult Momentum, where he complained that Labour had been ‘too apologetic’ over accusations of anti-Semitism. While Williamson has been placed in the sin-bin for an indeterminate period, no action has been taken against those who enthusiastically applauded his defiant words. Instead the cult’s true believers decided their members required re-education.
What Momentum produced was a video containing a speech by Novara Media’s Michael Walker interspersed with a deluge of anti-Semitic images, including the infamous mural that Corbyn himself had defended. Shared on Twitter, at the time of writing it has been viewed 1.3million times. It is arguably the largest redistribution of anti-Semitic content in this country by a political organisation since the war. Jeremy Corbyn himself endorsed it.
It was not necessary to do this. Walker’s speech on its own could have sufficed if he believed it was sufficiently eloquent. It is a matter of debate whether splicing in propaganda, as Momentum decided to do, reinforced Walker’s argument. Certainly none of the hate-filled propaganda on show was dissected, examined and debunked in any great detail. Instead it was piled on to the viewer, image after image, trope after trope, hatred after hatred.
It could be actionable to suggest Momentum’s true motivation here. It is, however, reasonable to question their judgment. No one would produce a video campaigning against pornography that included explicit content. Groups opposing domestic violence would not show scene after scene of women being brutally beaten by their partners. There have been no public information films warning children of ‘stranger danger’ that included details of what actually happens to a child who ignores the proffered advice.
What remains here is the fact that Momentum faced the challenge of how to warn their members off racist attitudes. In coming up with a solution, they have behaved somewhat like latter-day real-life B’stards.