Conservatives are especially conservative with the truth: the media are the message
In 2004, George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at Berkeley, wrote Don’t Think of an Elephant! Lakoff’s central point was that how issues are framed – which points of view the media and other political agenda setters defined as important and acceptable, and the language used to do so – largely shapes how voters think about them.
Media manipulation involves a series of related techniques in which partisans create images or arguments that favour their own particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies, psychological manipulations, deception, linguistic, rhetorical and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or alternative perspectives by simply crowding them out.
Discrediting and minimisation are often used in persuading other people or social groups to stop listening to certain perspectives and arguments, or by simply diverting public attention elsewhere. An example of diversion is the recent widespread scapegoating of refugees and people who need social security, such as disabled people or those who have lost their jobs, in a bid to maintain the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values at a time when its failings were brought into sharp focus during and following the global crisis – also exposing failings in the behaviours and practices of the government and the vulture capitalist financier class.
Neoliberalism always gravitates towards increasing inequality, extending and deepening poverty. Fear mongering is sometimes used with a diversion or misdirection propaganda technique to mask this, and may be pervasive. Sometimes politicians and media commentators suddenly take a debate in a weird and irrational but predictable direction to avoid democratic accountability.
The process often begins with a marginalised group being singled out and held to blame for the socioeconomic problems created by the system of socioeconomic organisation itself. Using the construction of folk devils (welfare “skivers” , “workshy” “something for nothing culture”, “culture of entitlement” or “dependency” for example), the political class and media generate moral panic and outrage, which serves to de-empathise the public and to justify the dehumanisation of politically created outgroups.
Stigma, prejudice and discrimination follow, all of which serves to subvert responsibility for the harmful consequences and distress experienced by the targeted group. In the UK, people needing welfare support, and particularly disabled people, have been stigmatised and then targeted with discriminatory policies which have placed a disproportionate burden of austerity – cuts to lifeline support and services – on that social group. The policies have also contravened disabled people’s human rights.
Meanwhile, the vulture capitalist financier class are still being rewarded, profiting from often reckless, economic and socially damaging behaviours. Of course it’s business as usual for this group, regardless of the pressing need for behavioural change and an increased responsibility-taking mindset among them. After all, it is this group that have caused most damage to our economy, and on a global scale.
The media and the government conflate neoliberal authoritarian behaviours, and policies that cause distress and harm to marginalised social groups, with “power and strength”, and any opposition to this with “weakness”.
Campaigners against social injustice are labeled “extremist” and politicians on the left who stand up against prejudice and discrimination are labeled “weak”, “anti-British” and extensively ridiculed and smeared. Every single Labour leader, with the exception of Blair, has had this treatment from the mainstream media.
During the coalition and Conservative governments, the tabloids have chosen and framed most of the debates that have dominated domestic politics in the UK, ensuring that immigration, welfare, law and order, the role of the state, and Britain’s relationship with Europe have all been discussed in increasingly right wing terms, while almost ironically, the government have colonised progressive rhetoric to cover their intentions.
There is therefore a growing chasm between Conservative discourse, and policy intentions and outcomes. There isn’t a bridge between rhetoric and reality.
The Conservatives have plundered from left wing narrative purely to broaden their superficial appeal and to neutralise opposition to controversial and contentious policy. The legislative context in which such language is being used is completely at odds with how it is being described by purposefully stolen terms and phrases which are being applied most deceitfully.
The negative associations because of Conservative policies have eclipsed the original meanings of the imported language. I always flinch when a Conservative minister says that the government is intending to “support” disabled people into work, or that they want to make welfare “fair” and they support “social justice”, for example. These words are used in a context of coercive and punitive policy measures.
It’s very disorienting and disarming to see the language of social justice, democracy, inclusion and equality being used to justify and describe policies which extend social injustice, authoritarianism, exclusion and inequality. It’s also much more difficult to challenge actions that are disguised by a tactic of extensive euphemising, that draws on glittering generalities and the narrative of the opposition (the left generally).
Only a Conservative minister would claim that taking money from the lifeline support of sick and disabled people is somehow “fair,” or about “helping”, “supporting” or insultingly, “incentivising” people who have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors and the state via the work capability assessment, to work.
The Tories all too frequently employ such semantic shifts and euphemism – linguistic strategies – as an integral part of a wider range of techniques of neutralisation that are used, for example, to provide linguistic relief from conscience and to suspend moral constraint – to silence both “inner protest” and public objections – to the political violation of social and moral norms and human rights; to justify acts that cause harm to others while also denying there is any subsequent harm being inflicted by austerity policies; to deny the targeted population’s accounts and experiences of political acts of harm, and to neutralise any remorse felt by themselves and other witnesses.
Media discourse has often preempted a fresh round of Conservative austerity cuts, resulting in the identification, scapegoating and marginalisation of social groups in advance of targeted, discriminatory policies. Media discourse is being used as a vehicle for the government to push their ideological agenda forward without meeting legitimate criticism, opposition and public scrutiny and without due regard for essential democratic processes and safeguards. The mainstream media will not challenge or undermine the wider state-corporate nexus of which it is a fundamental part.
Noam Chomsky has written extensively about the role of the free market media in reinforcing dominant ideology and maintaining the unequal distribution and balance of power. In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman explore the media’s role in establishing the apparence of a political and economic orthodoxy (neoliberalism) and extending a seemingly normative compliance with state policies, while also marginalising antithetical or alternative perspectives, dismissing them as heresy. In the US and UK, most left wing commentors have a very diminished media platform from which to present their perspectives and policy proposals.
This “free-market” version of censorship is more subtle and difficult to identify, challenge and undermine than the equivalent propaganda system which was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.
As Chomsky argues, the mainstream press is corporate owned and so reflects corporate priorities and interests. While acknowledging that some journalists are dedicated and well-intentioned, he says that the choice of topics and issues featured in the mass media, the unquestioned premises on which that “coverage” rests, and the range of opinions that are expressed are all constrained to reinforce the state’s dominant ideology.
How to tell lies dishonestly
Propaganda, PR, spin, manipulation, and techniques of neutralisation (a kind of doublespeak aimed at “switching off” your inner conscience, remorse and morality, and that of witnesses, so you can do things normally considered unacceptable, immoral or plain evil), are indirect or convoluted ways of telling lies. These techniques are very sneaky, often providing “get outs”. As such, the tactics are dishonest ways of being dishonest. While often providing a cover or superficial style of “truth”, the underlying content is always a big lie.
Not “a series of possibilities” or a “terminological inexactitude,” or “a series of misunderstandings” or “an unwise commitment”, but a lie.
Even the labels “fake news”, “post rationalism” and “post truth” are euphemisms. We live in an age of great political deceit and lies, and an ineffectual, trivial lexicon to describe it.
That’s intentional, manipulative whopping whopper political lies.
The Conservatives have developed a notorious lexicon of euphemisms, especially designed to divert challenges and debate, to hide their aims and intentions and to reduce opposition, in order to manufacture an illusion of consensus, consistent with old school diversionary and bandwaggon propaganda methods.
Winston Churchill came up with the crafty phrase “terminological inexactitude,” which means being conservative with the truth (see what I did there), or to be more direct, it means telling lies. There are indirect ways of lying – less honest ways of being intentionally dishonest, if you will.
Euphemisms are often a form of doublespeak; they are words used to hide, distort or “neutralise” reality. Euphemisms put political intentions, actions and their consequences in a better light, in much the same way that the mafia employs language to minimise the consequences of their actions. No-one is ever murdered by the mafia, to hear them talk, instead they are simply “given their medicine” , “clipped” or “wacked”, for example. However you say it, people still end up dead, unfortunately. The mafia say that disposing of the bodies of their murder victims is “spring cleaning”.
A credibility assessment of Tory narrating and editing: the sin in the spin exposed
1. “Reforms” = The stealthy privatisation of public wealth. Conservative “reforms” entail cuts to social provisions and public services – paid for by everyone – which support the poorest citizens when they experience hardship. The money is then re-allocated to the wealthiest citizens via generous tax cuts and lower business tax rates which effectively privatises wealth and profit, while making any risks and costs a social burden.
2. “Targeting those in greatest need” = savage and increasing cuts to social security provision, and in particular, to disabled people’s lifeline support. No-one actually qualifies for support, any more. However, a handful may get a favorable outcome when assessors flip a coin to decide which of the very ill people they meet and put through the mill are lucky enough to meet their target of permitting around six successful claims per year. From 2017, the target will reduce again to three. By 2020, no-one will “need” disability benefits and support, as we will all be cured by work fare and CBT.
Ultimately, this entails a constant moving goalpost of eligibility to publicly funded support. The government reduces the numbers of those previously entitled to welfare by constant, changing and unstated political redefinition of “need”, while implying to the public that welfare and those who need it are dispensable.
3. “Making work pay” = dismantling social security by stealth and driving down wages, ensuring that private companies profit.
4. “National living wage” = small and pitiful increase in minimum wage that does not offset welfare cuts (Universal Credit, benefit cap, reduced eligibility criteria for disability benefits) and other losses, such as job insecurity, poor working conditions, zero hour contracts.
5. “Supporting/helping people into work” = extremely punitive measures of behavioural conditionality and financial sanctions that hinder people in finding appropriate work, aimed at cutting social security spending and presenting lifeline benefits as dispensable to the public, whilst coercing people to behave in ways that benefit the state and that do not benefit those citizens being manipulated and coerced to fulfil the aims of the policy makers.
2, 3, 4 and 5 also undermine collective bargaining, since people are being coerced to take any work available, rather than suitable, secure work with acceptable pay and working conditions. This puts a downward pressure on wages.
6. “Worklessness” = a made up word that disguises job precarity, unemployment and underemployment, because of government, economic and labour market failure, followed by political scapegoating and widespread, brutal cultural bullying of the poorest citizens.
7. “Extremists”= peaceful campaigners who object to social injustice, anyone else who doesn’t support the neoliberal status quo, authoritarianism, inequality, growing poverty and human rights abuses.
8. “Hard working strivers” = compliant and exploited citizens whose consumerism and systematic oppression keeps Tory donor big businesses in profit. As an imposed ideal, the work ethic also props up injustices like work fare, political scapegoating and prejudice directed at people who lose their jobs and need social security.
9. “Democracy” = authoritarianism, so that means it’s whatever the Tories say it is.
It entails policies which engineer a set of changes with huge distributional consequences: tax credit and benefit cuts will mean low-income working families with children will become significantly worse off, while wealthier families stand to gain a lot as a result of increases in the personal allowance and higher rate tax threshold, for example.
Recent analysis by the Resolution Foundation shows four fifths of the gains from income tax cuts go to the most affluent half of households, while the poorest third of households will shoulder two-thirds of the government’s benefit cuts. This is an extraordinary indictment on a government that claims to have “fairness” and “social justice” at its heart.
10. “Progressive”= extremely regressive, almost feudal.
11. “Behavioural change”= to separate citizens from the prospects of material progress and to condition them to accept both the status quo and the short straw of neoliberal ” market forces”, cunningly disguised as invisible bootstraps.
12. “Policy” = a method of siphoning money from the poorest citizens and public services into corporate and millionaires’ bank accounts, while punishing the poorest citizens as they are robbed, by telling all and sundry it’s their own fault that they are poor. Usually involves an element of character divination and quack “cures” for “faulty” people. Often justified by an implied “trickle down” of wealth.
Neoliberal policies require a political framework of authoritarianism as they don’t benefit most people, and strip our public assets. A lot of neoliberalism is about governments kidding people that neoliberalism doesn’t cause massive inequalities, poverty, and the removal of publicly funded social support mechanisms.
While the state shrinks radically in terms of what it provides for ordinary people to meet their needs, it paradoxically develops a massive and increasingly bureaucratic order to deceive ordinary people and
to impose an authoritarian rule and control citizen perceptions and behaviours, allowing the government to keep on imposing ruthless scorched earth neoliberal policies so that a few very, very wealthy folk can get even wealthier whilst everyone else becomes increasingly miserable and struggles in meeting their basic survival needs.
13. “Supply side economics” = founded on the mythical “trickle down” and the side-splittingly comedic idea that reducing taxes for the wealthiest will increase Treasury revenue. Usually, it’s hiked VAT and another raid on disabled people’s lifeline support that does that.
The economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, “Mr. David Stockman has said that supply-side economics was merely a cover for the trickle-down approach to economic policy – what an older and less elegant generation called the horse-and-sparrow theory: If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.” This basically means the majority of the population are fed a pile of horsesh*t.
14. “Free market”= economic Darwinism, the triumph of rogue multinationals and predatory capitalism, which brings about the commodification of every single basic human need so a few corporations can make sustained, massive profits, while everyone else is dispossessed by the government.
15. “Big society” = oppressive bureaucratic state that is enforcing the systematic dismantling of the social gains we made with our post-war settlement. It also means privatisation and cutting public services down to Victorian size, but excluding the gin houses. So, in a nutshell, no support but lots of authoritarian surveilance, control and punishment from the government, who continue to spend the public’s taxes on funding tax cuts to millionaires, reducing corporate tax, letting big companies off from their obligations, bailing out banks that cause global recessions and subsidising those hard done by big businesses.
16. “Work experience” = free labour, exploitation opportunities and big profits for the government’s corporate sponsors. Also part of a wider plan to dismantle welfare and to undermine trade unions and collective bargaining.
17. “The law” = whatever the Tories say it is. If they don’t like it, they simply ignore or re-write it.
18. “Cutting the deficit” = it means to probably more than double it, but it’s also a smokescreen for a strong neoliberal programme of austerity and redistributing public wealth into a few private bank accounts, mostly offshore.
19. “Fair” = whatever the Tories say it is. Usually, Conservative “fairness” entails taking money from the poorest citizens, raiding public funds and handing it out to very wealthy people and providing rogue companies with contracts to help them do so.
Ethically bankrupt companies such as Atos, G4S and Maximus also generally cost the public billions more than they promise to save.
20. “Social justice” = rather like Augusto Pinochet’s bureaucratic authoritarianism: huge and growing social inequality, absolute poverty and harsh financial penalties for many people, such as those who are economically inactive because they are too ill to work, and those who have exploitative employers paying them a pittance. Sanctions and welfare conditionality are held to be “fair” and about Conservative “social justice”.
Low taxes for stingy and disproportionately resentful millionaires, who have gained the most from society but don’t feel like giving anything back, is also considered by the Conservatives as “social justice”. Poor and disabled people experiencing harm, distress and dying because of the Conservative austerity cuts is also included in this definition, as are aggressive government denials of “causal links” between blatantly draconian policies and any human suffering whatsoever. Apparently punitive policy that imposes starvation and destitution on the poorest people is in their best interest.
21. “Causal relationship/cause and effect” = whatever the Tories say it is. Anything that challenges Conservative discourse is generally dismissed as “anecdotal”. However the government make up statistics to “empirically support” their own anecdotal narrative and dogma.
22. “Small state”= massively bureaucratic administration aimed at incredibly intrusive and controlling state interventions in the intimate areas of our lives, such as decision-making, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. These technocratic interventions inevitably reduce the autonomy and remove the liberties of the poorest citizens, whilst those in positions of power, making the decisions, are not held accountable for the consequences of their abysmal, callous and usually very greedy choices.
The Behavioural Insights Team, at the heart of the Cabinet, are contributing to formulating policies to save the government money and to make a lot of profit from that. Their aim is to distract the public and “change the behaviours” of mostly poor citizens, providing both a prop and justification for failing neoliberal policies which result in widespread poverty, precarity and massive social inequalities. Welfare conditionality and sanctions, for example, are forms of punitive behavioural “correction” for the assumed character deficits and “faulty” psychology of people who are not wealthy. It seems the government think with impeccable logic that people can be punished out of being poor, by making them more poor in order to stop them being poor.
Meanwhile those who damaged the economy are left to continue making hefty profits from economy-damaging behaviours, because the government decided to make poor people pay for those “mistakes” via austerity measures instead. The behaviour change agenda sends out the message that it is individuals who somehow “choose” to be poor (yes, really), rather than poverty being an inevitable feature of an economic system that is weighted towards rewarding wealthy citizens while increasingly dispossessing the majority of ordinary citizens.
23. “We are all in it together” = it’s everyone for themselves, unless you are poor. The wealthy get socialism and special handshakes, the poor get laissez faire, the work ethic via operant conditioning, Samuel Smiles’ Victorian moralising bibles: Thrift and Self help, and a liberal dose of Malthusian miserablism.
24. “British values” = extremely divided society with a high level of social prejudice, inequality, absolute poverty and human rights abuses.
Used to redefine working class interests by the establishment, designed as a pressure cooker type of diversionary release for oppressed blue-collar workers, by offering them one “opportunity” to democratically register their alienation, anger and fear because of deteriorating social conditions and political disenfranchisement, via the populist Brexit campaign, while maintaining neoliberal hegemony and ensuring an ever-downward pressure on labour conditions, wages and collective bargaining.
25. “Integrated healthcare” = a combination of savage cuts, homeopathy, cognitive behavioural therapy, “pulling yourself together” and being told that “work is a health outcome” a lot. It’s failure precedes and contributes to justifying privatisation.
26. “Truthfully” = I want you to think I am being honest, but I am not. It’s a delivery style rather than being about actual truth content.
27. “Objectively”= the status quo; ideologically driven, more dogma to follow. Anti-intellectualism.
28. “Safe in our hands” = we fully intend to privatise all public services to make profit for big business and ourselves.
29. “Work is a health outcome” = the creation of an opportunity for big business to exploit sick and disabled people by politically coercing them into low paid, insecure work via punitive policies (euphemistically called “welfare conditionality”), and to build a desperate reserve army of labour, thus driving wages down further whilst simultaneously dismantling the welfare state and the NHS.
30. “Transparency” = corruption and authoritarianism.
Picture courtesy of Tom Pride.
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