Tuesday, 2 September 2008

A tale of a working family

Anecdotes are a favourite tool of the columnist. They attempt to wrap an entire national narrative around a single tear-sodden story.

And readers? Well they just lap it up.

On Friday Jon Gaunt, the self-appointed crusader against all things politically correct and the willing mouth-piece of 'White-Van Man', published a reader's letter as his weekly column. It's a story of a working family trying to ends meet after the birth of their first child. A story that The Sun headlines: "This is where you've gone wrong, Gordon"

Now I have no idea if the letter is genuine (indeed I’ve no reason to doubt its authenticity), but what surprised me was the letter's consistency with the current crop of rightwing memes. I'll pull a few paragraphs and maybe you’ll see what I mean.

"My name is Kelly. I know you must get a hundred letters like this every week but I need to rant, and what's the point in writing to a politician – they are too busy with the environment to care.

The first point Kelly makes is that writing to a politician would be pointless. As if somehow Gaunty's more representative than her elected member of parliament. This is a theme Gaunt uses regularly on his TalkSport radio show. He claims he has decades of experience in consumer radio, however my experience of Gaunt's style is to run with instances of misunderstanding and bureaucratic bungling and then use his position in the media to abuse whatever PR or communications representative is unlucky enough to pick up the phone. The actual issue is usually just an honest mistake, but that doesn't stop Gaunty from ranting for several minutes about how useless the said company is, and how it takes a hero like Gaunty to put things right.

Of course it makes for great talk radio, but the reality is that most MPs - of all parties - take their constituency casework very seriously, and that had Kelly contacted her MP, chances are he or she would have provided Kelly with information about any further support that may be available. The MP would have certainly agreed to meet with Kelly and listen to her plight.

This opening paragraph also contains the first insertion of a right-wing meme, one that suggests that politicians are more concerned with the environment than families like Kelly’s. Of course if this were the case we might actually hit some of our carbon targets. What this meme alludes to is that touchstone rightwing issue - tax. Congestion charges and fuel duty are regular themes for right-wing commentators to bash Westminster. In the current economy this is especially potent.

Kelly goes on to explain how she's on the minimum wage and her husband brings in a tad more. She complains that her work forced her to take maternity leave at 8-months. Of course this isn't a Westminster stipulation, and as we don't know in what environment Kelly works, we can't really comment. No doubt, however, it's got something to do with a Health & Safety fascist somewhere along the line.

Kelly goes on...

"...fast-forward nine weeks and we are £1,400 into our overdraft with no way out and my son dresses head to toe in George.

Firstly, as a father of two young kids (a three-year old and a one-year old), debts of £1,400 seem modest - especially in 9-weeks. Also, I don't really see dressing in "George" as being a problem. The stuff is well-made and fashionable. I know my kids have some George clothes. This seems awfully sneery, as if the government has an obligation to give Kelly Baby Gap vouchers. This is the reality of having a family - you have to make sacrifices. T'was always so.

"I get £113 maternity pay. My partner had to take two weeks' holiday because we couldn't afford paternity pay. I get £20 child tax credit and am not entitled to working tax credit because I am under 25!!

Statutory maternity pay is provided by your employer. It is a cost that must be incurred by businesses often struggling in an increasingly competitive economy. The cost to the business also includes replacing Kelly. Should we really put increased pressure on businesses? Also, I had to wrangle time for paternity leave, including using some holidays because I couldn't afford to lose money. So what should the government do, Kelly? Force these businesses to fork out for full-pay for that fortnight or should Brown send you a cheque himself?

Now I'm sorry if I come across as being a bit harsh. I want more couples to have babies and I want society to do what it can. But why is a right-wing rag giving time to a tale of working class woe? What's in for them? Surely they don't want greater benefits for Kelly, and as a result bigger taxes for us all?

Kelly now explains how she's not entitled to certain benefits because she's in full-employment, under-25 (she'll get Working Tax Credit at 25 - she's 24), and because the baby's father lives with her :

"...I'm in this position because I have a partner. Because my baby has a daddy. Because I have a job.

If I was single or on benefits, my rent would be paid, ditto my council tax. I would have been given £500 to buy the baby a pram and cot, etc.

I would still receive £113 maternity pay, but I would also get an extra £100 each week in child and tax credits, regardless of my age. My son, instead of receiving the £250 child trust fund from the Government, would get £500.

And to top it all off, I would be paid to be with my son and would not be expected to go back to work until he is seven!!

So this is why this is red meat to Gaunty and his like. This letter hasn't been published because it's a clarion call to society to do more for working families. Quite the opposite, the reason this letter was published is because it's an open attack on that most loathsome of creatures - the single parent.

Kelly is not so much desperate for help, as desperate to crow about what other people are getting. Society, it seems, has some cheek to try and create a decent situation for a one-parent child to be born into. Not only must the child not have the benefit of two-parents, it must also be born into poverty as the mother had the carelessness to get herself knocked up (it's single mums the right hate, single fathers are invariably depicted as martyrs).

"Why is it suddenly better to be single? Or a layabout content to live off benefits? Why is the Government ONLY helping single parent families and rewarding the idiots of the land who refuse to work and contribute like everybody else?

You see? Single parents and "layabouts". It's all about drawing attention to the benefits that the country's worse-off receive. Why do layabouts and single-parents get all the help (Kelly is forgetting about the benefits she actually does get), rather than wholesome hard-working families like Kelly's?

"I feel cheated by so-called Great Britain. From where I'm sitting, it's not so great."

Oh look! It's nother right-wing meme. "So-Called Great Britain" is often used on Gaunty's radio show. I even think there is a promotional audio with just than line. Another meme Gaunty loves to quote is "Broken Britain" - something I'm sure I'll touch on in future posts.

This is exactly the sort of story The Sun, and the wider rightwing commentariat, adore. It's a bloody steak to working readers who are told to resent the "freeloaders" who enjoy handouts from the government. It also, by way of the partisan headline, gives the paper the chance to pour more scorn on Gordon Brown - the man they blame for all things related to the "culture of benefits". Oh, and less I forget, it's great copy for Gaunty.


septicisle said...

Easily the finest post to grace this blog so far.

Sim-O said...


And no, Aaron, you're not being a harsh.

itslefty said...

Jon Gaunt, is a big fat tub of lard, Just as person should be expected to wipe their bottom after having a shite, Jon Gaunt should wipe his mouth after talking, because there's more shite comes out of his mouth than my bottom.

Tim said...

Word of the wise to Lefty: when you hurl abuse at Gaunt, he wins.

Iain Dale, for example, doesn't struggle to portray fair criticism as abuse because he's confused; he does this to stop people looking at the criticism. Actual outright abuse is a gift to people like this.

So, when you think about it, Jon Gaunt doesn't deserve abuse... because he's a manipulative arsehole.

[typo fixed]

dickyd said...

As far as i am concerned i make gaunty and kelly one hundred percent right.Benefits for people who contribute to society when they need it not benefits for freeloaders.

Tim said...

Thanks for registering and offering your opinion, 'dickyd', but could you do me a small favour and point to any actual evidence of freeloading (or layabouting) presented in this article?