I think it’s fair to assume now that the vast majority of public debate has degenerated into a weary war of attrition over some bollocks.
I’m not the first to note that we’re in a remarkable situation; narratives that are quite blatantly porkies are now given the same level of credence as things that are quite plainly true. I’m talking about complete, outright and cynical lies dominating the public sphere.
Things like everyone’s recent favourite:
Or, better still, this fucking whopper that The Sun pulled out:
The Sun story reads like Lynton Crosby’s infamous dead cat strategy being adopted by the press. If the aim of those disseminating this bullshit is to side-track the little people into wasting their time getting angry on twitter about non-stories whilst the wealthy quietly go about the business of carving up the country, then I’d say they’re doing a marvellous job. Check out this poor bastard getting roasted on the James O’Brien show – he manages to pull out a full compliment of regurgitated crap, from ‘EU bendy banana regulations’ to imaginary mobs of immigrants invading Portsmouth – all the while agreeing that Brexit has totally shafted his business. I’d feel sorry for him if he didn’t also have the right to vote.
At the moment the big stupid public is getting into a huge amount of rage over the subject of child refugees. The story of the closure of Calais’s refugee camp – and the possibility that some of those refugees are going to come to the UK - is dominating the news cycle, with both sides devoting hours to tearing strips off each other. It’s seen a couple of celebrities get a full public evisceration (notably Gary Linekar for daring to call racists racist), and viral campaigns calling for a mass trolling of The Sun (again Linekar related, he’s up for an award in the Sun sponsored National TV Awards and with typically British humour anti-Sun protestors are voting for him in droves).
There’s no denying that this is a story of some importance; it’s as much about how we view ourselves as a nation, about what things the public and politicians think are acceptable to do, and how we’re going to face the world if and when we do leave the EU.
But at the same time, how important is this story? How many refugee children are we actually talking about? They’ve come in three bus loads so far, each one holding between 12 -14 people. It is a tiny, insignificant amount of people coming into the country. In total 100 refugees are coming to England. 100. The fact is, they could be 100 Tony Montana’s, ready to chainsaw competitors and mainline gack, and still most of the country would not feel a single effect of their presence. For this band of 100 to actually deserve the amount of time and effort we’ve wasted banging on about them we’d have to squeeze them onto a double decker bus (they’d only fill one) and have them tour the UK, leering at our women, throwing pebbles at our dogs, setting fire to pictures of Bruce Forsyth and scribbling foreign witch words all over £50 notes which you, the long suffering public, would be obliged to hand over balanced on union jack festooned platters. Which they’d then shit on.
If we’re worried about freeloaders flooding the country, then there’s a far more concerning figure; every day around 1500 people die but 2000 are born. That’s 500 scrounging, useless creatures burdening the tax payer every single day. They won’t work a tap! They’re a drain on our schools, a burden on our health service, and a menace on our streets! They don’t speak the language, they’re all illiterate, and they know NOTHING about British values. If this nation wasn’t caught in the grip of liberal madness we’d do the right thing and deport them direct back to the womb. And there they can stay until they’re prepared to integrate. I’d say at least another three have come merrily into the hand-out capital of the world since I started typing this sentence. Madness I tell you.
They literally sleep on beds of tax payer money.
But if you’re worried about the financial burden refugees represent (and that is it, right? Because, as you tell me repeatedly, you’re not racist, so this must be about things like jobs and houses and schools and benefits and hospitals and not just about you being scared of potentially seeing a human who actually technically don’t even look that different to you), then why are you losing your shit over 100 refugees when the government has just openly admitted to spunking (Dr Evil voice-) ONE BILLION POUNDS? This goes for the self-identified left wing as well. David Davies is inadvertently dead catting you with his wittering about giving refugees teeth checks. He never seriously suggested the move – all he did was tweet that refugees coming into the country should be submitted to a vigorous dental examination, thus to ensure they weren’t daring to flee a warzone whilst being alive longer than 18 years. This wasn’t a policy announcement it was an insight into his shitty personality. So why did the left give him multiple platforms to spread his unpopular views? Why did they do this when (and I’ll say it again) the government has just openly admitted to spunking (Dr Evil voice once more) ONE BILLION POUNDS.
Of course you know about the £1bn right? Or not? I’m guessing it’s a not for some of you. Because while people have been virtue signalling/racist-ing about 100 or so refugees, there’s been far less interest paid to the latest revelations of another complete fuck up that happened under David Cameron, namely the billion pound black hole that was the Troubled Families Scheme. And this isn’t a case of “the MSM didn’t report it” – they did; just no one seemed to give a toss.* But we should give a toss, because this balls up (or goldrush, depending on how many service providers you own) gets to the heart of just what has gone wrong under the current ideology – it relates to the privatisation of services, to the benefits system, to employment and to the creeping robbery of our country by the rich covered by the demonization of the poor. It’s got the lot mate. Woo!
Here’s the whole sorry tale. Back in 2011 Cameron was copping all sorts of grief for the riots that had swept the country. He could have decided to pump money back into the youth clubs, libraries, local recreation centres, schools and councils, in an attempt to give the skint people of Britain something to do with themselves. But did he fuck. Instead his response was typical of ‘caring’ Conservativism; blame the poor.
He launched the Troubled Families Scheme with all manner of fanfare, originally chucking £448 million at the project. The ideology behind it was the standard market driven, private provider bullshit that Tories love. Here was the theory; 120,000 ‘troubled families’ would be identified across England. These families were seen as a burden on local services, a contagious mayhem lurking in the nation’s heart. The local councils who had to suffer these families would be given additional funds to sort them out. These funds would be used to contract private service providers who would deal with the sort of things identified as endemic to troubled families; drug addiction, mental health issues, generational unemployment, willingly watching Channel 5, that sort of thing. The families would be elevated out of their miserable pit and everyone would cheer. The councils would identify the families themselves, contract the service providers themselves, and then be paid by results. Definitely no flaws immediately apparent there then.
The scheme rolled in on a load of tough talking statements to press. Its head, Louise Casey, gave an indication of the direction she was planning in an early interview with the Telegraph: "We should be talking about things like shame and guilt,” she blasted like a lairy vicar. “We have lost the ability to be judgmental because we worry about being seen as nasty to poor people." Uhhh Huummmm.
Here's Louise Casey. She's smiling because she pissed away a billion quid and got away with it. You'd smile too.
Anyway, try and guess what happened next.
You guessed it! [you can read that bit in an OG Maco voice if you like] The scheme was a 5 year jolly of corruption and heavily massaged figures. Public money drained into private coffers. We’re all in it together etc etc etc. The councils knew that they could only get money if they were successful in ‘curing’ a ‘troubled’ family. Naturally the last thing you want to do in this situation is identify an actual troubled family who might have some deep seated problems to cure. So instead they identified families who were basically poor, and rebranded them as anti-social. These were the people who should feel the ‘shame and guilt’ that Casey was trumpeting. As one researcher put it
“Many of the families that the government identified as “troubled” were merely multiply deprived households. Eligible families were chosen if they met five out of seven measures of disadvantage, including one or both parents out of work, living in poor quality housing and having a parent with a mental health problem… more than 8,000 families in more than 40 local authorities were deemed to have been “turned around” solely through data-matching exercises. Data on employment, youth crime and truancy, say, could be used to identify eligible families and find out which, with no input from the troubled families programme, met the criteria for being turned around due to the children going to school more often or a parent finding a job.”
For five years the government regularly claimed that the Troubled Families scheme was a roaring success, all while Cameron poured more and more money into it; £900 million more in fact. Its entire framework dovetailed with the narratives running from the top down in the UK; that poverty was a choice of the feckless, that the poor were abhorrent, that private firms could dictate the ways in which you could become a productive citizen, all served with a healthy subtext of arbeit macht frei. But it was all pointless rubbish. An independent, highly detailed report has dropped showing that the entire scheme was useless, unless it’s aim was to channel public cash to private coffers (surely not!)
"Across a wide range of outcomes,” wrote the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in mid-October, “covering the key objectives of the Troubled Families Programme - employment, benefit receipt, school attendance, safeguarding and child welfare - we were unable to find consistent evidence that the programme had any significant or systematic impact. " Over 5 years £1bn+ had been spent on a project that offered "statistically insignificant" rewards.
Beautifully, just a couple of days before the report was made public – and almost certainly with full knowledge of its contents, Communities Minister Lord Bourne gushed that
"We believe this programme has transformed the lives of thousands of families. The councils and frontline staff who have put it into practice should be pleased with the work they have done."
Hilarious! A naked, bare faced piece of bullshit. Here's the good Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (to use his full title). He's smiling as well (alebit in the manner of a man who's just choked down his third corpse of the evening). Everyone's so happy :)
By rights, this revelation should spell the end to all sorts of things. In a normal culture it would be definitive proof that any suggestions the Tories are a ‘safe pair of hands’ with the economy is simply untrue. People are losing their minds at the thought of refugees costing the government a few million, and Cameron and his neo-Victorian adherence to an ideology that equates poverty with sin lost us a billion. All the time he lost it, he kept claiming that he knew what he was doing. And now, elsewhere in our employment sector, workfare programs just keep on running – another facet of the current government’s obsession with the ‘undeserving’ poor- despite evidence that they (along with the system of sanctions that accompanies them) are absolutely useless at sorting out unemployment.
What does all this mean? How have I come from talking about refugees and ended up on job sanctions? Because I feel like the conversations we have in this country about everything from the economy to immigration to society are distorted to the point of insanity and at times I’m not sure if I’m dreaming the lot. Has there always been this wide a gulf between words and meanings, or is this a facet of the social media age where the more sensational a lie, the further it travels? How do we return to some sort of reality where things tally? Shall we even bother? Are we just preparing for the time when we enter virtual reality and our boring prosaic world is left long behind? Or are we just mugs?
* You can compare the numbers; a column written in the Guardian about the failure of the Troubled Families Scheme was shared 156 times. A column in the same paper on Gary Lineker talking about refugees, written a couple of days later, was shared 8,478 times.