The Twitter Antidote to Right Wing Press Attacks: A flood of tweets sends #CameronMustGo viral and rattles the agenda of the powers that be

B2_BFpHCUAEQbtq

Over the past month hundreds of thousands of social media users have taken to Twitter to boost Ed and Labour (#WeBackEd) and denounce the rule of Cameron and his cronies (#CameronMustGo).

#WeBackEd trended well at the start of November as tens of thousands tweeted their support for the beleaguered Labour leader. It has since developed into an excellent way to promote Labour’s policies (especially useful since the majority of the media skirt over these in favour of bacon sandwiches and the like).

Now #CameronMustGo is being used as a vehicle for Twitter users to vent their anger about the debilitating and cruel policies of Cameron and his government.

The first tweets went out on Saturday 21 and by Monday 24 had reached 250,000. By the end of the week, that figure was up to 645,000 on UK trends.

This has clearly upset the plans of the right wing media, which are used to driving the political agenda of the day, dictating what we read, view and talk about.

Not much coverage

One indication was the relative lack of press coverage accorded to the story in the first few days. (Just imagine the feeding frenzy if such negativity was being aimed at Ed and Labour.)

@BBCtrending, self-described as the “BBC team reporting on stories trending around the world”, managed to ignore #CameronMustGo until Wednesday 26, when it had been trending for five straight days.

That same morning, The Daily Telegraph decided to try and take back control. It asked the question: “How worried should David Cameron be about Twitter bullies?” And it co-opted one Radhika Sanghani to “shine a light on the campaign’s sinister side” (our emphasis).

Sanghani, although conceding how rare it was for a topic to trend on Twitter for five days running, was somewhat peeved that almost  3,000 tweets an hour were featuring #CameronMustGo. “It is stubbornly sticking around and just won’t go away,” she griped.

Sanghani really, really wanted to know whether the hashtag was an “honest representation” of the UK electorate’s voting intentions or “the work of angry left-wing activists who want to take down the PM”.

So she conducted a “30-minute search” in which she could find just one post “from a typical British voter” (a mother and a writer, we were told). Somehow, she was also able to glean that most of the hundreds and thousands of tweets were “from people who know each other” (although she did not explain the feasibility of this).

Furthermore, the tweets were “pretty standard left-wing complaints” – oh, you know, tedious stuff like “the impact of cuts on the poorest and the NHS; the growing reliance on food banks, and cost of living increases”.

She was concerned. “They’re obviously entitled to do this, but the problem is that all other voices are drowned out.”

Now there’s an irony!

Twitter not part of the plan

Cameron and his enablers in the media must be rattled by the competition coming from Twitter. Despite throwing everything (including the kitchen sink and bath) into their campaign of demonising Ed and Labour, they have not been able to push up the Conservatives’ own polling figures or deliver a knockout blow to the opposition. (And, of course Nigel Farage is still sticking in Cameron’s craw.)

They’ve long since upped the ante; the spin is being spun out of control. Dominate the discourse, manipulate the information, introduce distractions and destroy hope to suppress the liberal vote. And, to some extent this has been working. There are many who believe that all politicians are the same and who won’t vote for “any of the above”, if at all.

Having a positive effect

What Twitter does is give a megaphone to the very forces, activities and views that the right wing media ignores or belittles. It provides platforms such as #WeBackEd and #CameronMustGo as an antidote to the mainstream media’s fudged statistics, biased opinions, lies and witch-hunts against the poor and the vulnerable.

Running alongside the mainstream headlines of Ed’s supposed problems, his policies – now all over social media – are beginning to get through. In the last few days, YouGov, polling for The Times, asked which national party best represents working people. 46% of respondents said Labour, 24% said UKIP and 18% said the Conservatives.

B3D5SJDIUAAnY2t

Poverty on the Rise: CameronMustGo because he and his cohorts rob the poor to overflow the coffers of the rich

Recent research confirms an alarming rise in poverty and inequality fuelled by the policies of the Tory-led coalition government. 13 million people in the UK, half of them in working families, are now living in poverty due to falling wages, rising prices and lack of full time work, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest annual report on poverty and social exclusion.

This report and several others demonstrate that these days having a job doesn’t guarantee that you can keep the wolf from the door:

  • Average incomes have fallen by 9% and there’s been a “sharp increase” in the number of under-25s “living below the breadline”.
  • In the last year, three out of five people who moved from unemployment to a job were paid less than the minimum wage (although not a single company has been prosecuted).
  • 1.4 million adults are working part time because they can’t find full-time work.
  • 1.6 million people are on temporary (mostly zero hour) contracts.
  • The average self-employed person now earns 13 per cent less than five years ago.
  • Growing numbers of people on low incomes depend on food banks to survive (22% of the record half a million who used them in the first 6 months of the current financial year, according to research by the Trussell Trust).

It’s a no-win situation for people in need of the social security safety net: those wishing to appeal the loss of benefits are soon confronted with the fact that “legal support … has been almost completely withdrawn”.

Failing our children

Rates of child poverty are shocking – over 30% in almost all the major cities in the UK (reaching as high as 39% in Manchester and 37% in Birmingham) and in a large number of London’s boroughs (Tower Hamlets, at 49%, tops the list).

63% of children living in poverty are in a family where someone works. At the same time, changes to the social security system have reduced the value and coverage of child benefits and tax credits for families with children and thus “worsened the experience of poverty for many”.

New research shows a third of families of children with disabilities are worse off due to the cuts – often being forced to choose between food or heating – and a quarter say this has affected their child’s health.

Who benefits?

These are just some of the hardships being perpetuated by the government under its irrational and obsessive programme of cuts. We are called on to offer due sacrifice – “all in it together” to pay off the criminal debts of a few.

But by now it should be clear that Cameron and Osbourne’s austerity programme has been hitting those with the lowest incomes hardest. Not only that, but a recent study finds that Osborne has been engaged in a significant transfer of income from the least well-off half of the population to the more affluent.

Although the top 5% lost 1% of their potential income (which, truth be told, they won’t even have noticed), the rest of the top half of earners gained while the poorest groups ended up “losing most as a proportion of their incomes”.

Meanwhile, Osborne plans to make another £12bn of welfare cuts in the next parliament. And Cameron, seeing it as his “moral” duty, is adamant about lowering taxes for the rich (perhaps to “balance” things off for having increased VAT, a tax that impacts most on poor people).

“Cameron must go”

Whether due to wilfulness or incompetence, Cameron’s government is failing the working people in more than a hundred different ways – from poverty to welfare to childcare to the NHS to low pay to education (see the full list here). Not only that: it hasn’t even paid down the deficit, which along with the debt just keeps on rising.

It’s no wonder that the twitter hashtag #CameronMustGo went viral this past weekend when over 100,000 angry tweets recorded the growing opposition to austerity and berated Cameron for breaking promises and telling lies. The resistance was bound to come (you can’t fool all the people all the time). But on Election Day, will it be strong enough to see the back of Cameron? Ed and Labour have the policies, but can they withstand 6 more months of the relentless and coordinated beat down, driven by the Nasty Party and right-wing media? More thoughts tomorrow…

Bedroom Tax or Mansion Tax? Should we defend robbing “little grannies” with a spare room or charging the super rich who have many, many rooms to spare

The mansion tax is one of Labour’s policies for supporting the NHS and ensuring the very wealthy pay their share of tax. It stands in stark contrast to the current government’s bedroom tax, which church leaders have attacked as “deeply unfair” and Labour has said they will abolish.

In a stinging rebuke on the impact of the bedroom tax, today senior Church of England clergy said, “As well as being ineffective, we perceive both the principle behind the policy and the consequences of its implementation to be unjust.”

In contrast, the latest non-story aimed at disparaging Ed, which the media so love doing, focused on singer Myleene Klass’ attack on the mansion tax on ITV’s The Agenda.

According to Klass, the mansion tax would hit “little grannies” who’d lived in their modest homes in London for years and years, rather than the super-rich. In London, she declared, £2m would only buy somewhere “like a garage”.

Bent as they were on insinuating Klass thrashed the floor with Ed (she was said to have “gone Paxman” on him), the media did not ask the pertinent questions: Just how many “little grannies” on pensions and benefits are rattling about in £2 million mansions? Did Klass ever “do a Paxman” on Ian Duncan Smith? Is it a fact that in London garages are so expensive? (Alas, we still do not know)

Ed, however, argued that “those with the broadest shoulders should pay the biggest burden. I think that is a decent, right principle and that is not happening under this government.”

The mansion tax policy has sensible, built-in safeguards: the threshold will rise if house prices rise (and even initially may be higher than £2m based on prices when it’s introduced) and also people in high-value homes who don’t have high incomes – like those “grannies” – can defer the tax till the property changes hands.

Meanwhile, the bedroom tax (a policy that appears to have been scribbled on the back of a cigarette pack) has forced lots of grannies as well as many disabled people to pay up or go into rent arrears and risk eviction.

myleene-3--z

Ed on the Offensive! He won’t “shrink from the fight” with “powerful forces” to win the election

Ed Miliband made a powerful speech yesterday at the University of London, where he pledged to take on “vested interests” and “powerful forces” to win the next general election.

Describing the current state of the country as “deeply unequal, deeply unfair, deeply unjust”, he said he was determined to change the “zero-zero economy” where some people are on zero hours contracts and those at the top are paying zero tax.

He said Labour would fight for workers on zero hour contracts and his government would crack down on tax avoidance. “No vested interest, whoever they are and however powerful they are, from banks to energy companies, should ever be able to hold our country back.”

He also noted his need to have a thick skin, given the increased level of attack on him over the past week, and suggested that “every tactic” would be used between now and the election “to try to destabilise, distract us and throw us off course”.

Media reactions

Apparently unable to criticise the speech itself, the Independent emphasised Miliband’s use of a teleprompter (no one has ever spoken with one before?) and illustrated the article with: “In pictures: Ed Miliband trying to look normal”.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail called the speech “make or break”, as though people were planning to take away his leadership if they didn’t like it, and contrived to snap him by the “Exit” sign.

Over at the BBC, a generally positive pre-speech article by Nick Robinson, saying that Ed is here to stay as the leader, is given the ambiguous headline “Ed Miliband is going nowhere”.

Others, like LBC (devising a red herring of the highest order), promoted Nigel Farage’s nonsensical demand for a televised pre-election, one-on-one debate with the leader of the opposition (on what basis, we do not know).

Twitter wasn’t fooled though, with #6monthstowin trending all day, and #webackEd still among the top 10 most tweeted hashtags.

How unequal are things really?

An Oxfam report earlier this year (‘A Tale of Two Britains’) showed that the richest 5 families in Britain are wealthier than the bottom 20 per cent of the population.

Moreover, according to Oxfam, although the UK is the world’s sixth largest economy, “1 in 5 of the UK population live below our official poverty line”.

One of the key reasons for this is the ‘tax gap’: the government itself estimates the amount of missing tax money the Treasury is owed to be around £34 billion last year.

And then there are the banks. Fines of £2.6 billion for what the BBC euphemistically calls “Forex failings” and the Telegraph refers to as “foreign exchange manipulation” (a.k.a “criminal fraud”?). But no criminal charges for the bankers.

Channel 4’s economics editor Paul Mason, for one, is tired of reporting the same news about the banks ripping us off. A video of him standing outside the banks has gone viral.

Ed’s got the answers

In contrast to the austerity policies that have left the country in such dire straits, Ed’s made three promises to voters about what a Labour government will do:

  1. Undo the damage the Tories have done to the country: scrap the Bedroom Tax, the Health and Social Care Act and the gagging law and reverse the Tories’ £3bn tax cut for millionaires.
  1. Take on the powerful vested interests that hold millions back: force energy companies to freeze gas and electricity bills, scrap letting fees and stabilise tenancy agreements, raise money from tobacco companies, tax avoiders and a mansion tax to fund the NHS, reform banks so they support small businesses and stop recruitment agencies hiring only from abroad.
  1. Start to rebuild a fairer, better Britain: raise the minimum wage, promote the living wage by giving tax breaks to companies that pay it, ban zero-hours contracts, bring in a lower 10p income tax rate, support working parents with 25 hours of free childcare for 3- and 4-year-olds and get 200,000 homes built every year.

What’s not to like about that?

_78965389_78965314

Ed Under Siege: The Labour leader survives a week of egregious attacks from right, left and centre, despite having some of the best policies in town

In September 2010, Ed Miliband was elected leader of the Labour Party to jaw-dropping shock among Blairites, many Labour MPs and all-knowing political pundits and, not least, the chosen one and front runner, David Miliband.

As fate would have it, that same weekend it was announced that Kim Jong-un had been anointed as the new Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Somehow these two stories were coupled on BBC’s Newsnight – with obscene relish, it must be said. Behind the anchor, a frightful red photograph of Ed was juxtaposed with an even more terrifying one of Kim Jong-un.

That report summed up the general message from the media: Red Ed had stabbed his brother in the back and taken over.

Assassination by the press

Since then it has become the norm for the press to represent Ed in a bad light. Unflattering photos show him looking wild-eyed or gormless, with bacon butties and beggars. Personal attacks have included insinuations about his deceased dad’s (lack of) Britishness. And, more recently, even his own.

These days the anti-Ed campaign is becoming ever more low-grade, shrill and relentless with the approach of a general election that the Tories know they can’t win. Last week – feeding off right-wing propaganda, Blairite stirring and the mutterings of a few shadowy, unnamed backbenchers and backstabbing Labour leader-wannabees – the media was in full flight.

Amidst the daily screech of exaggerated headlines (see, for example, “Bonfire Night Plot to Oust Ed” and “Labour Turmoil as ‘Posse’ Plots a Coup to Replace Ed Miliband”) above claims of “widespread disgruntlement”, the punditry was baying for blood.

And, in the process, it was ignoring the meltdown of the Tory leadership in Brussels, the real story of the week. (No wonder democracy is in crisis.)

So much noise did all this create that normally sensible progressive pundits began to panic as some polls purported to show Ed had slumped below Clegg in voter preference. In fact, the findings on how voters view Ed appear to be overblown. To coin a phrase, it all depends on the question, stupid.

Reality check

What are the complaints against Ed and how do they stack up?

He is said to be a weak leader. But do weak leaders challenge the banks, the energy companies, the water companies? Do weak leaders take on the vicious Murdoch media machine or thwart the plans of the president of the United States to bomb Syria or dare to criticise Israel’s actions on Gaza?

As to charges that Ed has no vision? Just how bold is it – in the context of globalisation and neo-liberalism – to propose an economic agenda that speaks of redistribution of power as well as money, and the importance of dignity for working people?

Indeed, name any other mainstream party leader who is even remotely interested in “moving away from over reliance on financial services… to a broader industrial base, better-skilled and higher productivity workforce”, as Ed has pledged.

It’s said that Ed and Labour have no policies. Are you kidding us!

Ed and Labour intend to repeal the Tory/LibDem NHS Act and introduce a mansion tax and a tax on banker’s bonuses to pay for improved services. This will see the addition of new guarantees for GP appointments in 48 hours and a one-week cancer test, together with 3,000 more midwives, 5,000 more care-workers, 8,000 more GPs and 20,000 more nurses to improve care and take pressure off the most expensive hospital services.

Other commitments include actions to ease economic pressures, like freezing energy bills, breaking up the banks, building a million new homes, 25 hours a week free childcare, banning zero-hours contracts, increasing the minimum wage, introducing a living wage and ending unpaid workforce.

Ed took plenty of stick from press and pundits for not addressing the deficit in his speech to the Labour Conference in September. Never mind that the polls showed solid support for the policies he announced – how much do you reckon working people care about the bloody deficit? And do you really think most people appreciate paying for the crimes of the bankers under the wicked Tory austerity programme?

Push back?

After a week of having everything thrown at him (including the kitchen sink), Ed is holding his ground. On Friday he set out his stall on Facebook. The hash tag #weBackEd was posted on Twitter and it is still trending two days later.

Meanwhile, Labour is still ahead in the polls … and the odds are on Ed being the next PM.

B12WeswCAAEKAOgarticle-2144721-131A0CCE000005DC-968_468x311

Dodgy Numbers and Double Speak: In Cameron and Osbourne’s dystopian world, opaque is transparent and indecent is moral

George Osbourne’s new “annual tax statement” to households, purporting to show how our taxes are spent, is such a willful distortion of facts it leaves you gasping for air.

We get very precise figures on how much we pay out (for example, those earning £30,000 a year will see they spend £892 on education and £822 on state pensions) but these figures are based on income tax (which the government has cut) and do not include levies like VAT (which the government has increased).

They will also see that the biggest slice of the pie (£1,663) apparently goes to “welfare”. This, the most egregious of all the distortions, is clearly designed to be divisive and to further vilify the social security net and those who are in need of it.

The reality is that when the “welfare” budget is broken down, it can be seen that only 3% of it goes to the unemployed, while pensions account for 46%. As Suzanne Moore points out, “This is basically a giant mailshot to justify more cuts.”

Far from being “a revolution in transparency” as stated by Osbourne, this tax statement is another government exercise in opacity that is classic George Orwell.

Just two days earlier, Cameron – the man who increased VAT in 2011 from 17.5% to 20% – claimed he had a “moral duty” to lower taxes, boasting that his government had already cut income tax by £10.5 billion.

Cameron is instituting his “moral” tax cuts at a time when London has become home to 104 billionaires (“more per head than any other country”, drools the Daily Mail).

Taxes are part part of the social contract that provides us with public services – roads, police and fire protection, garbage collection, research and universities – as well as a safety net in case of illness, disability or (something we all face) ageing.

It is not “moral” to take less tax from those in the highest income brackets while increasing VAT. Although they pay less VAT in total, lower income households spend a larger share of their income on taxed goods, so “they are proportionately harder hit.”

There is hope that people are not being fooled by Tory doublespeak. A YouGov poll commissioned by the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) shows that almost two thirds (65%) of the British public support a cap on executive salaries and the same percentage believe increasing the top rate of income tax on those earning over £150k per annum would reduce inequality. Even more (83% per cent) think closing tax loopholes would reduce inequality.

Chancellor George Osborne