A story in the Guardian newspaper the other day resonated with me as it highlighted two issues which I’m particularly vexed about.
A young black trainee priest made the mistake of treating Twitter as a forum for balanced, informed, and mature debate and discussion. He posted a comment, a perfectly reasonable and thoughtful comment, which resulted in an avalanche of abuse, much of it racist and homophobic, most of it narrow minded and nasty which prompted his employer, the London diocese, to condemn their trainee in strident terms and announce an urgent investigation into his actions and words which they labelled “unacceptable, insensitive, and ill-judged”. His heinous sin was to indicate his intention not to join Boris Johnson’s ‘national clap’ for recently deceased Captain Tom Moore:
“The cult of Captain Tom is a cult of white British nationalism. I will offer prayers for the repose of his kind and generous soul, but I will not be joining the ‘national clap’.”
Jarel Robinson-Brown expressed his opinion honestly and respectfully. His real sin was naivety. He thought such an opinion would reach a mature and tolerant audience when in fact Twitter, and social media in general, is a ‘Jekyll and Hyde on steroids’ space. When it is good it can be very good but when it is bad – it is toxic, rancid, and hate-filled bile.
The multi-billion-pound corporations who own, control, and make billions in profits from these platforms must be compelled to regulate their business more stringently with particular attention paid to anonymity. Individuals who choose to hurl racist, homophobic, sexist, and hateful attacks on individuals online via Twitter, Facebook and similar platforms must have the cowardly veil of anonymity removed. No more fake accounts. No more freedom to spout hate and threaten violence without the responsibility of answering for your words and threats if they cross criminal thresholds.
Remove Cowardly Online Veil of Anonymity
Each account on social media platforms must belong to real and identifiable people. If that means less sign up because their anonymity is no longer guaranteed so be it. Less profits for these social media giants are a small price to pay for a healthier cyber space that still facilitates and hosts robust and heated debate and passionate argument but radically reduces criminal racism and violent threats.
Until the anonymity shield is withdrawn from the social media arena cowards and racists will continue to spit and spew their repugnant vomit. Each user of social media should not be compelled to reveal their identity to other users but when words posted amount to criminal standard racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and threats of violence the respective host companies must be able to provide real user details to the appropriate investigating authorities.
Narrow-minded and nasty comments are an unfortunate but inevitable feature of social media platforms hosting millions of different opinions and personalities but comments and threats which breach criminal boundaries are not.
Choosing to disagree with the words Jarel Robinson-Brown posted regarding Boris Johnson’s ‘national clap’, even vehemently and vigorously, is perfectly acceptable. It is the racism and homophobia which is unacceptable. I too declined to join Boris’s ‘national clap’ last week the day after Mr Moore died from a combination of COVID-19 and pneumonia.
Captain Tom Raised Millions for the NHS – But Why Did He Have to?
The 100-year-old former British Army officer and businessman was propelled to international fame when he decided to walk around his garden 100 times in an attempt to raise money for the National Health Service which he credited with keeping him alive for so long. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic this was his personal effort to support and thank the NHS, and his original target was £1000 but social and corporate media coverage ignited public support and over 1.5 million people donated almost £34 million. A fundraising effort worthy of widespread praise and recognition indeed.
However, the words deployed by Boris Johnson in seeking to encourage the United Kingdom to join him in public applause last week made me sick:
“Tonight let’s clap together for Captain Tom at 18:00 and let’s clap for the spirit of optimism that he stood for. But let’s also clap for all those he campaigned for – our brilliant NHS staff and care workers – and let’s do everything we can to carry on supporting them. Because if we stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives then, in the words of Captain Tom, tomorrow will be a good day“.
What a hypocritical and conniving shyster Johnson is. He is using the honest endeavours of a pensioner to hide the grotesque truth from the people. The question is not how to honour the fundraising efforts of a 100-year-old man – it is why the hell did that man have to walk around his garden to raise money for an essential universal service that we all pay for via national taxation?
Johnson and his Tory gangsters are only too happy to applaud the efforts of NHS fundraisers just like they applauded the NHS and care workers at the start of the pandemic, but their words and applause are nothing but sick and deceitful empty gestures.
The NHS is woefully underfunded and reliant on charitable donations and pensioners walking around their gardens because the Tories have chosen to starve it of essential funds to facilitate tax cuts for their super rich friends and to plant the idea of further privatisation to plug the gaps deliberately created by years of underfunding. The playbook is always the same whether in relations to railways, telecommunications, gas, or electricity. Starve public assets of funds while ideologically promoting privatisation as the answer to the problems.
Tory Underfunding for Ten Years Has Decimated the NHS
Frontline health services have been decimated on the Tory altar of austerity, and real terms reductions in budgets have hit every aspect of the NHS, particularly the most deprived areas according to detailed studies. Highlighting budget cuts totalling billions of pounds the British Medical Association has long explained that such cuts are not only wrong but counter-productive as failures in early health intervention lead to longer term problems that end up costing more money, time and heartache but such reports land on the desks of wilfully deaf Tory Ministers.
A principal reason why the UK, and particularly NHS England, has been so hard hit with COVID-19 deaths and wholesale disruption within the NHS was because the years of chronic underfunding left it so incapable of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic appropriately. Ten years of austerity butchering health and local government services and cheering with glee when refusing to increase the wages of nurses and other health and public sector workers has taken its toll. Despite recent well trailed announcements the reality of life for nurses and other health workers under the Tories is less pay in real terms today than ten years ago, in fact 7.4% less.
Even BMJ Now Calls Out Tory Corruption and Cronyism in NHS Management
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic twelve months ago the Tories successive years of underfunding had left the NHS teetering on the brink of collapse with huge recruitment problems and waiting lists larger than any ever recorded.
Now twelve months into dealing with a pandemic the NHS was unprepared for in relation to PPE for staff safety, underfunded in relation to acute beds and understaffed due to years of real terms pay cuts and increased stress resulting in some staff having to rely on foodbanks for survival, the NHS is more fragile than ever, particularly in England. Staff are underpaid and overworked. Vacancies lie unfilled due to the years of neglect.
One of the oldest and most respected medical journals in the world, the British Medical Journal (BMJ), was compelled only a few months ago to launch an astonishing attack on the Tories for their mismanagement of the NHS, cronyism, and corruption in relation to the awarding of contracts without proper scrutiny and a deadly denial of science during the pandemic which cost many lives. The devastating editorial under the heading ‘Covid-19: politicisation, “corruption,” and suppression of science’ was an excoriating condemnation of Johnson and his spivs:
“Government appointees are able to ignore or cherry pick science – another form of misuse – and indulge in anti-competitive practices that favour their own products and those of friends and associates.”
“The medical-political complex tends towards suppression of science to aggrandise and enrich those in power. And, as the powerful become more successful, richer, and further intoxicated with power, the inconvenient truths of science are suppressed.”
“When good science is suppressed, people die”.
Faced with the Tory and Boris Johnson’s record of underfunding the NHS it is cruel deception to join him in clapping for Captain Tom Moore’s fundraising efforts lest it normalises a situation which is abnormal and disgusting. The NHS must never ever rely on charitable donations. Let the funding of nuclear missiles rely on such public kindness but not the most precious and necessary public service across the UK.
Clapping is not a fitting tribute to Captain Tom Moore. A properly funded health service paying decent wages to its staff is. The Tories are unwilling to deliver such a tribute. In the meantime, battering Johnson, Hancock, et al around the head with old Tom’s discarded Zimmer frame each night at 6pm for five minutes each would be more worthwhile and at least represent some restorative justice.