Making sense of Blairs Labour strategy is no mean feat, for without a core constituency such as Bushs Christian fundamentalism, what buttons need to be pushed in order to sell a similar strategy to an extremely sceptical electorate? What is patently obvious is that fear will be at the centre of the strategy but it wont be fear of terrorism per se but fear based upon a media-led campaign centred on personal safety that is largely sustained by peoples perceptions, perceptions created by the media that the government has used, reverse engineering style as a justification to essentially criminalise the entire population with. Step-by-step, the government has tapped into these perceptions about crime, guns, drugs, anti-social behaviour and a general dissatisfaction with life as it is lived to create the pre-conditions that enables the government to legislate us into a police state, one small step at a time.
As a reporter on ITV News put it when talking about Blunkett's new proposed anti-terrorism laws
“Is the public being led, sleep-walking, into the creation of a police state?”
But before unpacking the Blair Fear Project in more detail, remember that the alternatives to New Labour are a pretty pathetic lot but then this is England where mediocrity rules.
The Tory Party is a spent force having shot its bolt with nineteen years of Thatcher/Major and then watched its core ideology get hijacked by New Labour in a move that has effectively completed the Thatcher (counter)-revolution. And critically, what does it tell us about the years of Labour's role as capitalisms fifth column?
Next, we have the Liberal Democrats, who in effect pass for what remains of old Labour. Not much joy to found with them, theyre just too wishy-washy to stir the loins of the electorate. The fringe parties from the neo-fascist BNP through to the almost neo-fascist UK Independence Party appeal only to a narrow segment of the most backward working/middle class and in any case, its very much a vote based on changing emotions and there is no way they can be considered as serious contenders except in specific localities at the local level and as a convenient voice (articulated through the gutter press) for Blunketts (not so) hidden agenda.
On the Left we have George Galloways Respect Unity Coalition, a thinly veiled quasi-Trotskyist assemblage out of the Socialist Workers Party that bases its support on an opportunist exploitation of the Muslim vote. Not much joy to be found there either. Then we have the Socialist Alliance and in Scotland the Scottish Socialist Party, probably the most coherent of the Left parties with a strong local support but it's a regional party so it doesnt really count. There is also a smattering of Marxist/Communist parties who between them couldn't fill the back room of a pub even on a good day with free beer on offer.
Hence is it accurate to say that its a shoo-in for Labour next year? More than likely if only because there are no viable alternatives on offer unless something really dramatic happens between now and election day. However, Im not in the business of soothsaying, far more important is to analyse the nature of Blairs sophisticated propaganda campaign and in particular, New Labours relationship to and exploitation of the media.
The Fear Factor
The Role of the Media
News stories, from the sensational to the serious talk of the public and its fear (vox pops with Mr, Ms and Mrs Public) that are in turn read/viewed by the public thus reinforcing perceptions about crime and received as the truth. This is a cumulative process that works by accretion over time utilising a variation of Goebbels tried and tested method of repetition.
Hence although its not true that the UK is a more dangerous place than in the past (crime levels have actually dropped, what has changed is methods of reporting that now includes having to report a harmless altercation as a violent crime) the government then uses the publics perceptions of the reporting of violent crime as a replacement for the truth and the media in turn, report it as if the public's perceptions are true.
Crime has dropped by 5% according to the British Crime Survey - marking the longest period of falling crime for 106 years - although police figures show an increase in reported offences.
In so doing, the media creates a closed, self-referential system of belief and the government uses it as a basis for a series of ever more repressive measures, arguing that if the public feels fearful then those fears must be allayed. Of course if we had an honest instead of duplicitous government, then it would counter the publics perceptions with the reality of the situation but it doesnt suit the state because it has an entirely different (and hidden) agenda.
Hey Smooth Talker
Interviewer John Humphries: May I remind you. Youll know it of course, Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, he talks about us taking steps that overstep the limits on the pretext of the fight against terror.”
Home Secretary David Blunkett: Yes, I met him…he says the same about my measures on Anti-Social Behavior and last night I attended two Community Meetings, in which people were asking for even greater power and were rejoicing in the powers we had given the Police.
Note that just because some people say the government has and needs more powers is not a reason that the government should get them. Blunkett is playing on peoples perceptions about crime and using received opinion as a justification. Moreover, note Blunketts wholy unwarranted conflation of crime with the war on terror.
The same BBC interview contains a number of examples of how the process of conflation of two issues is used to justify another, entirely different one. In response to Humphries question about whether or not the measures already taken were draconian, Blunkett spake thus
“No theyre not. Theyre sensible, pre-emptive measures. Pre-emptive in the sense that we live now in a rapidly changing world, where peoples fears are greater, not just in terms of terrorism, but fear in their own neighbourhood and community, and weve been able to establish stability and security in terms of the economy, and peoples economic family life, we need to be able to do that in their immediate environment, and internationally, and in dealing with terrorism.”
Again, not that the danger is greater but that “peoples fears are greater” and once more reinforcing the link between terrorism and “fear in their own neighbourhood and community”. And note the use of the word “pre-emption echoing pre-emptive war that links imperialist foreign policy with Blunketts local initiative.
Later, in the same interview, Blunkett attempts to establish a link between a rapidly changing world and the need to reassure people about their fears
“Yes, its greater because we see things now, across the world, because of instant, er, satellite. er, television, that we never did immediately before. We have seven day week, twenty-four hour, instant communication, all of this underpinned by a changing culture, a lack of respect, the inability of parents to parent properly, the binge drinking that is a phenomenon”
So “lack of respect”, a “changing culture” and then a slur on parents with the assertion that parents dont know how to parent properly, though what any of this has to do with “threats” from terrorism is not elucidated but then thats not the point is it. Blunkett continues
“Well people do not open their hearts, and minds, and hear messages, particularly Progressive messages if, underpinning that, subliminally, is a fear of whats happening around them, and if they're more insecure when they go out, and they walk on the street, if they fear, because of the eleventh of September, and its aftermath, what is happening in terms of the , er, the new forms of threat, from outside, then we have to provide that stability and security, if theyre going to be able to the messages about opening your hearts and minds to other, about reducing the fear of difference, about being able to create a civilised and caring …and compassionate society”.
Again, fear of whats happening around them. So people, when they go out, they fear because of 9/11 and Blunkett cites “new forms of threat, from the outside” that we have to be protected from, although what these new kinds of threat consist of we are not told. And the outside is equated with danger and at the same time reducing the fear of difference, two mutually exclusive messages that sows confusion but plants the idea that the outside is dangerous.
In the course of the short interview Blunkett uses the word “fear” eight times and always in the context of perceptions rather than reality.
The media for its part is only too happy to participate in the sham. This morning for example on the Today programme (23/11/04) repeated the lie that “following consultations, 79% of the public support the introduction of the ID card”. However
“Following the 2002-2003 sham “consultation” on ID Cards, the Home Office proudly announced that 79% of respondents supported ID cards. Despite the fact that this result was only obtained by fiddling the figures, Home Secretary David Blunkett has been repeating it ever since.
“Well, reality has caught up with Big Blunkett. Today the Home Office published the results of its more recent consultation. The figures are now a mere 31% in favour and 48% against.
“Blunkett would undoubtedly claim that these figures are meaningless since they represent a self-selected group. But the same was true of the first consultation. The fact is that comparing like with like support for Big Blunketts Identity Card scheme has fallen from (at most) 79% to a mere 31%.
Yet more reinforcement of received opinion by the media that knows only too well that the statistic is a lie.
The Blunkett interview is most instructive because it contains all the elements that the Blair Fear Project utilises in order to justify the creation of a police state. The process has been subtle, consistent and long term, firstly the focus on law and order and then crime to the issue of terrorism arguing that similar tactics are needed to defeat both. Thrown into this heady mix are organised crime and the war on drugs both by association linked to international terrorism. Thus the triumverate is complete, crime > organised crime > terrorism, the common factor being fear.
The same tactic has been used with illegal immigrants because firstly they sponge on the system (a totally false allegation) and second because of organised crime and its alleged links to international terrorism, thus is planted yet another false connection, that between illegal immigrants and international terrorism, only now its criminal gangs of people smugglers who are used as the pretext.
In the US, the public was stampeded
The other important aspect of the message, again reflecting the British experience is the actual language employed. Blunkett (with occasional slips, no doubt deliberate on his part) is always careful to present his propaganda in tone and phrase that belies its content. Not for him the hysterical approach, the delivery is reasonable and measured, one could say with a feigned reluctance, I dont want to turn the UK into a police state but circumstances leave me no alternative, but why not let Blunkett speak for himself
but we have a view from a situation where we want to prevent and protect our people, from any incident that would change the political climate and if I wanted, and the Prime Minister wanted, to actually get engaged now, with a climate of fear, we'd create a Cabinet minister, as the Tories are requesting, who would be a Homeland Security Secretary or Tsar who would have by their very nature, and their survival politically, to appear on television and radio virtually every day, and I could do it, put the Fear of God Up People
Once more, climate of fear only this time, its the Tories who carry the burden. Buried in the text is a key phrase any incident that would change the political climate, in other words, its not about terrorism but about preserving the status quo. Worse, Blunkett wants to protect us from any incident that would alter the state of affairs!
Sleepwalking? Yes, lulled into a state of passive aceptance. Consider the raft of laws passed on crime since Labour took office in 1992 with each set of laws including a small erosion of for example due process, habeas corpus, trial by jury, what I call creeping repression.
The government of course rejects the more extreme utterances of the press as irresponsible but leaves intact the body of the received opinion. Hence the government will make pronouncements about asylum seekers that defends the right of genuine asylum seekers but it will imply that most are not and cite the rejected ones as proof, neglecting to mention that the rules are loaded against all applicants. Thus when the media quotes the statistics the public are left with the impression that the majority of asylum seekers are fakes.
The same tactic was used with terrorists when in fact out of the over 600 people detained under anti-terrorism laws only a handful have been sucessfully prosecuted and all of those are from Northern Ireland!
And now we have the latest round of laws that if passed, enshrines preventive detention and criminalises thought in classic Orwellian mode including criminalising actions in preparation, that is before actually committing an alleged terrorist offence, in other words, thought crimes have been added to guilt by association, the classic McCarthyite tactic used in the 1950s by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Thus having decided to fight the election on a fear ticket, it stands to reason that between now and election day, the anté will be upped, big time. As they keep on iterating its not a question of if but when so be prepared
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