Let’s cast our minds back to September, when Ed Miliband was roundly mocked for refusing to pose with a “Help for Heroes” wristband for the Sun newspaper’s campaign backing the charity for ex-servicemen. He refused because he has staked his reputation on standing up to the Murdoch press, and had been roundly lambasted for posing with a special copy of the Sun backing England’s World Cup football team in June. Now, it’s October, and David Cameron has been slammed because he refused (five times!) to pose with Elle Magazine’s “This is What a Feminist Look Like” T shirt.
I’m with David on this, as I was with Ed Miliband last month. A t-shirt, or a special edition of a newspaper, or a wristband – does nothing to advance the causes in question. Nothing. And no, “raising awareness” doesn’t count. Instead of badgering Miliband to pose with a wristband, why not press him to adopt policies to improve the lot of former soldiers in Labour’s next manifesto, and holding Ed and his party to it if they win the election? And do we need Cameron to put on a fancy T-shirt or to address the fact that cuts are falling disproportionately on women and ethnic minorities?
Furthermore, the Sun’s campaign for ex-servicemen does a lot of admirable work, no doubt, but it also benefits… The Sun. They can get the party leaders to jump when they ask, and they can punish them if they refuse. That’s another subtext to their “empty chairing” of Miliband the next day. The fact that he didn’t pose with them became the story and another useful stick to beat him with. As for Elle – they have been occupied trying to “rebrand” feminism. It doesn’t need it. It’s necessarily confrontational and difficult because you’re challenging power structures. In many ways, given his policies, Cameron refusing to wear the T-shirt is actually somewhat honest. Elle wanted their feature spread, and they didn’t get it. Good causes are becoming entwined with corporate interests. Neither Elle nor the Sun are impartial – otherwise we’d hear less about the alleged slight of being rebuffed for a photoshoot and more about what concrete policies could be enacted to further the cause or end inequality between men and women.
And the second thing that had me frothing at the mouth before 10am was Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s non-apology for his earlier comment on British towns being “swamped” by immigration. He has said that his comments were “reckless”, and the BBC this morning said that he had been “slapped down” by No 10, but I have two issues with this.
Firstly, this dominated the weekend papers. Sure, he retracted, after dominating the news cycle over the weekend and this morning. So… the message got through, make no mistake. Secondly, No 10 never rebutted what he said. It looks like he has been (reluctantly and very slowly) shushed. Which fuels the conspiracy theorists who believe the immigrant invasion of Britain is being covered up by a liberal elite. For that matter, when he said it, not one journalist asked him to justify the claim. No facts, no figures. Boring, you might say. Yes, but in such an inflammatory debate that is fuelled by fear and xenophobia, facts matter more than ever. The average person may say such a thing, but Fallon is a Minister, he has a pulpit and he has staff to fact check for him. Either he didn’t, or he ignored the facts (that this is patently untrue). So either he is incompetent or deliberately stirring the pot. Whichever it is, it’s a case of style over substance. And he got all the PR he needed. Thanks, media, for not interrogating this at all.