Meet the new year, same as the old year. Welcome to 2024. As the unnecessary death count continues to rack upwards in wars that are not just unnecessary but immoral; as Labour, devoid of any policies, commitment or public enthusiasm, lumbers its way to electoral success; as the environmental disaster gets lower and lower on the public’s consciousness; and as all of us face the prospect of lower incomes and higher bills, let’s take a brief and selective look back at Critical Mass’s reporting from last year to see how we got here.
Our first news report of last year was that Extinction Rebellion was changing tactics and aiming to have 100,000 people circle parliament in April. We warned, “Socialists will certainly want to build the 21st April protest. However, the Ecologist cautions that, in building a mass movement, ‘adopting a strong anti-capitalist stance would be movement suicide’. XR is caught in the same bind as all reform movements. To win, really win, it is necessary to change a corrupt and corrupting system. But saying that risks alienating many of the people they are hoping to attract. The problem lies, ultimately, in the control exercised over the debate by the pro-establishment media who label as ‘extremists’ any protest that does not play within the rules.”
In the event 21st April attracted 60,000 protestors but, as one pro-environment website reported, “Despite being potentially the biggest climate demonstration in U.K. history, you might well have missed it. The press coverage was virtually non-existent.”
In fact, as 2023 moved on, attacks by the government, supported by the mass media, turned into new laws to restrict protest. But this did not prevent the end of the year bringing in November the largest gatherings in support of Palestine ever seen on London’s streets, with close to one million voicing their opposition to what is an ongoing genocide. However, we also noted that the Sunday newspapers were less interested in what that march was calling for – an immediate ceasefire – than the actions of a small group of white thugs. This is what I wrote in reviewing the press coverage: “Unable to cope with the idea that the British public supports a ceasefire, in a recent YouGov poll 76% supported one, the media are doing all they can to discredit those who favour peace. Politicians are fuelling a hatred of peace whilst desperately trying to label those who favour peace as hate marchers.”
Of course, media bias is nothing new, but in times of international conflict or national events such as, picking one at random, the coronation of a new king, anybody who opposes the establishment view is likely to find themselves labelled an extremist. In which case, given the establishment support for genocide, poverty, inequality and injustice, we should perhaps be proud to be called extremists.
Whilst Gaza dominated our coverage at the end of the year and the environmental protests were featured throughout the year, it would be hard to be a socialist in Britain and ignore the Labour Party. In February we asked whether Labour had finally passed the watermark where it should no longer be considered socialist. On 15th February we noted the following: “It has been quite a week in politics with oil companies posting record profits, and water companies posting record amounts of raw sewage into our waterways. UK gas prices are tumbling from an all-time high of 600p a therm in August 2022 to 129p a therm today. Meanwhile our energy bills are set to rise again when the price cap is upped from £2,500 to £3,000 in April. Then the government announced a fresh clampdown on Universal Credit, targeting the poorest and most vulnerable in society with fresh sanctions.”
But we went on to note that Starmer did not seem particularly motivated to fight any of this. The strategy was to win over Tory voters not enthuse Labour ones. Although Labour has a healthy poll lead, we noted then, “Even if they win, their timidity in opposition suggests an even more timid performance in government. Capitalism will continue to prosper, and we will pick up the bill.”
In March we reported that the United Nations had described Tory plans to deport refugees as “a clear breach of the Refugee Convention”. The tabloid media are obsessed with refugees, which they conflate with immigration, and a good deal of the front pages of both the Express and the Mail are targeted at creating hatred against those from overseas.
On 9th March we noted, “At PMQs yesterday Keir Starmer had the opportunity to point out that people claiming asylum are not illegal, they have every right to do so. He could have said that the UK has a proud record of taking in refugees and is now one of the most illiberal countries in Europe. He could also have said that people do not take to small boats on a whim. It is an act of desperation by desperate people who deserve our help. He did none of those things.
Instead he reminded the Prime Minister that he had “promised the country that the Bill will stop all small boat crossings .. when will he achieve that?” Not is it the right policy, but will you implement it more efficiently?”
As Labour is showing itself to be the wrong choice for those who want to GTTO, many are looking for an alternative party to vote for in the coming election. Many are looking to the Greens who they think of as a proto-socialist party. But on 18th April we reported that they had abandoned their opposition to NATO during their Spring Conference. Adam Colclough, a member of the Greens, used Critical Mass to voice his opposition to the change, concluding, “At a time when the risks to human survival are so great, the Green Party needs to be more imaginative and courageous in its approach to international policy.” At the time the war in Ukraine was paramount, but that support for NATO is now fuelling a genocide in Palestine, achieved largely with weapons provided by NATO countries.
We should not forget that, as much as last year was dominated by war, at home it was also a year in which workers found their voice again.
In May we reported on the NHS strikes, as nurses, led by a grassroots campaign, rejected a 5% pay offer and demanded a double digit pay award. This left Grant Shapps very confused as we reported: “The deal in question was only worth 5% a year over two years. Pat Cullen did recommend acceptance, but the members rejected it. Shapps thinks leaders should tell people what to do and people should do as they are told. That is the Tory way. Cullen made it clear that she had underestimated the members. It was her job to represent her members’ wishes, and they had made it plain that they wanted a double digit increase this year.”
In the event, the nurses settled for 6%.
By June the frenzy in the press against inflation-proof pay rises had resulted in yet another media-induced lie becoming a de facto truth. High wages were causing inflation.
In an article published on 16th June we debunked this myth. The main argument was contained in this section:
“Rate rises are a blunt instrument at the best of times, but the main impact of raising them is to increase the cost of debt, such as mortgages and loans. Increasing them is supposed to slow down the economy. This means higher unemployment, more poverty, and more homelessness.
“You might wonder, then, whether raising interest rates is really a smart move? First, you would need to be convinced that it is the main culprit for rising inflation; but, at a time when wages are, on average, rising by 7.2%, inflation in the UK remains stubbornly at 8.7%. You might notice this, but in case it passes you by, wage inflation continues to be below the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rate of inflation.
“Hidden away in the ONS press release (actually, not so much hidden as ignored) is this: ‘Growth in… regular pay fell in real terms… by 1.3%…’ In other words, adjusted for inflation, wages continue to fall. What that means is that, in real terms, wages are not keeping up with prices.
“It is inflation fueling wage demands, not the other way around.”
In July the tabloids were obsessed with the case of Colin Pitchfork, a convicted murderer and rapist who was up for parole. Not a case that socialists would normally expect to have much interest in. But, for us, this was not a case of a monster being put back on the streets but a case of how justice is achieved. Britain once used to pride itself on its justice system, probably unfairly. But the idea that justice is blind to anything other than the facts has been successfully eroded by tabloid headlines supporting right-wing politicians who have long since abandoned any idea that the justice system is about rehabilitation and simply want it to be about retribution and revenge.
We concluded: “Our system of justice is under threat. Julian Assange, who has done nothing wrong, passed his fifth year in jail on his 52nd birthday this week. Asylum seekers are kept in terrible conditions or threatened with being deported to Rwanda merely for trying to find a better life. These are a long way from Colin Pitchfork, but, if we believe in justice, we have to believe in it for those we abhor not just those we support. And perhaps that is what the Colin Pitchfork case should remind us. There are hundreds of cases brought to the Parole Board every year. Their re-offending rate is less than 1 in 100, whereas general re-offending rates are still around 50%. Still too many of course. But let’s see behind the headlines and understand that this is not about one heinous individual but about the government, bit by bit, eroding what was once a proud tradition of British justice.”
Critical Mass, through its daily news output, the Sunday Socialist PDF/magazine and more recently our video Critical Mass News Review, believes in the idea that with the mass media so fervently supporting the right wing and the wrong ideas, we need to keep our small corner of sanity alive. If you are reading this we assume you agree with us.
We do this because we believe that somebody needs to tell the truth. We also do it because we believe in social change. We hope we can rely on your support in 2024. We do not expect it to be an easy year, but at least by supporting independent, advertising free, media you are continuing to keep the flame of justice and socialism alight.
Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.