Written for York Nouse in February 2014
In July 2011, an article was published on the Daily Mail’s website under the headline “Girl, 13, crushed to death by a falling branch as she sat on park bench because her teachers were out on strike”.
In April of last year, they devoted their front page to labelling Mick Philpott a “vile product of welfare UK”, and thereby implicated the welfare state in the violent deaths of his six children.
And on Tuesday they launched a petition to divert funds away from foreign aid, and towards relief for those affected by the recent floods here in the UK.
Fine. It’s the Mail. But with their latest campaign, Dacre & Pals seem determined to dive to all new depths through the water currently submerging the Somerset Levels in search of an opportunity to scapegoat the underdog and demonise the downtrodden.
The petition’s proponents seem really to believe that the water wouldn’t be quite so high up, and would sooner be further down, the walls of Surrey homes and Somerset fences if only we didn’t squander so much money trying to help foreigners.
Let’s pretend that the Prime Minister has not assured local councils that “[m]oney is no object in this relief effort”. Let’s pretend that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has not acknowledged that the situation in Somerset is partly the result of bad decisions being made about when to dredge, not a lack of funds to enforce them.
But even if money were an issue, that money could come from anywhere. Why is it that any cost incurred during the relief effort should come from the foreign aid budget, just because both expenditures happen to be some form of aid? Can the Mail only cope with so much human suffering being alleviated at any one time?
There are, after all, more deserving targets of the paper’s ire. They could petition for a donation from the companies and individuals who every year cost the UK economy £69.9bn in tax evasion and £10.2bn in tax avoidance. The recovery of all losses would comfortably pay for the foreign aid budget as well as the estimated cost of the flood clean-up. And the money left over would completely cover the annual cost to the state of Housing Benefits, Income Support, and Jobseeker’s Allowance—twice. Win win, surely?
They might even call on Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to apply for money from the EU Solidarity Fund (set up to provide relief to contributors in the event of a natural disaster), as Germany did when hit by floods in 2002. Several MEPs have already written to Mr Paterson asking him to submit an application. But for the Mail to join that chorus might threaten their ongoing project of convincing us all that the European Union was set up to fleece the British taxpayer.
The Mail’s follow-up headline—“Cameron pledges cash… but not foreign aid funds for flood victims”—is an actual admission that they are much more interested in where the money is taken from than where it ends up.
They have found a line that has summoned up, from nowhere, discontent about the foreign aid budget. And long after the Prime Minister’s guarantees have rendered the petition inconsequential to the thousands impacted by the floods, that line will be peddled, and hundreds of thousands will chant their support.
There might be a legitimate debate to be had about the size of our aid budget and where the money should go—UK aid to India is due to stop by 2015 as a result of the country’s growth in recent decades. But any supposed trade-off between domestic relief and foreign transfers, be it posited by the Daily Mail or by Tory MPs, is contrived.
If the Mail’s editors could care less about the victims of the floods, they would lend the paper’s considerable influence to ensuring that floods like these do not become the norm in future. Every word in this sentence is a hyperlink to a Mail article that belittles, smears, or undermines the efforts of everybody campaigning to address climate change. Removing them from its website would be a good way to start.