Leftstream Podcast #2

By Robin Coleman and Pierre Marshall

Ogg audio (download link)

Mp3 audio (download link)

Credits: the music used is ‘the Pirate and the Dancer’ by rolemusic. Licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Some notes:

Leftstream Podcast #1

By Robin Coleman and Pierre Marshall

Here’s our first podcast, it’s an experiment, let us know what you think and we’ll try to make it a semi-regular thing.

Here’s a direct download link (Ogg Vorbis, 40.2 MB).

Credits: the music used is ‘the Pirate and the Dancer’ by rolemusic. Licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Some notes:

  • It’s in stereo with Pierre louder on the right channel and Robin louder on the left. It results in a bigger file size, not sure if that’s worth it and will probably switch to mono recording for the next one.
  • It’s recorded in Ogg Vorbis, and it’s published in Ogg Vorbis. Most audio players should support it, but if anyone needs an Mp3 copy, say so and that’ll be done.
  • It was recorded a week ago and is now is slightly out of date.

Here’s a map of the Middle East for future reference:
Middle East map

There are definitely a few countries there which have as much a right to be called ‘democracies’ as Israel claims.

Lastly, ask us questions! Leave a comment on this post, or tweet @leftstream. Alternatively, if you want to come on the show, we can ask you questions, in real-time!

Groundhog day for East Oxford Community Centre? An investigative report.

EOCC

An investigative report -By Mike Doherty

The online petition to save East Oxford Community Centre from being taken over by Oxford City Council had reached over 600 signatures by late last week. On the Monday of that week, a small group of campaigners and petitioners stood outside the centre; a former school and a Cowley Road landmark, and in the heat of a radiant summer afternoon sun, successfully fought off the council officers. The local press was there recording the noisy community protest, and a Cowley road resident collecting signatures for a paper petition told the Oxford Mail that “this is a valuable, fantastic community centre.”

Speaking to the Oxford Mail about the protest, Colin Aldridge, the “Interim Chair of the East Oxford Association”, the volunteer trustee association committee that manage the centre and its paid staff, told the Oxford Mail that the council had “backed down” in the face of their protest. The council later countered by flexing its legal muscles, and released a statement accusing the association of not being “fit to run such a property”, and, threatening that unless the trustees ceased “resistance”, they would have to “consider formal proceedings”.

Most community centres get in the paper because they are holding a refugee arts event, a comics convention or a children’s theatre workshop. The EOCC, to be fair, does that too, but it also gets in the newspapers because of what appear to be perennial campaigns to save it from something or other. A local wag once said to me, when a nice community-esque picture of the centre appeared in the Mail as part of the Cowley Road Carnival, that it was a change from “a picture of the centre with people waving banners outside it, or with a big padlock on the door, or as part of a crime scene with police tape wrapped around it.” The current happening at the centre is no less dramatic, but behind the heart-warming tableaux of young community campaigners protesting against council public space-snatchers, a far more murkier hinterland exists, with claims of missing bank accounts, hints of wrong-doing, resigning trustees, the mishandling of employment procedures, and a committee seeming unable to literally manage a piss-up in a bar.

It is apparent that the line in the sand has been drawn yet again with battle declared between grass-roots community and the big bad council behemoth. As the afternoon wore on and activists and council officers regrouped, online Oxford buzzed with support for the temporary victory. It seems churlish not to join in the celebrations, particularly as in 2009 I was a trustee of the East Oxford Association myself, but when I am told to; “Save our East Oxford Community Centre”, I am driven to ask: “Yes, but for whom and from what, and who exactly is the “our”?

The Council is clear that the EOCC needs to be saved for local people from the association that’s running it. The council said it had “serious concerns” about “management” and had been trying to engage the association to “rectify” this “for some time”, adding that: “We have no option in circumstances where a public asset is being mismanaged other than to terminate the licence.” It is quite clear that the “our” is the council, a local democratic public authority that owns the building.

The Association also seems clear on its opposing view, saying on its online petition page that “we want to keep the Community Centre run for the people of East Oxford and by the people of East Oxford.” Addressing the ‘from whom?’ it states that: “For many years the Community Association has been aware that the City Council has had alternative ideas for the use of the site,” It adds that the notice from the council to quit is because the council wants to “sell part of the sight for redevelopment and “significantly reduce community management of the Community Centre.” Sources close to the campaign claim to have seen plans that the centre is going to be drastically redeveloped and that the community space could be reduced to a single room.

The local politicians don’t help to resolve this either. When the council gave the association a four week notice to quit back in June, Craig Simmonds, City councillor for St Mary’s Craig and local Green Party leader, said: “The situation cannot continue as it is and action needed to be taken, but at the moment councillors disagree on the way forward.” On the other hand, Bev Clack, the Labour Councillor for the centres St Clements ward said: “It couldn’t be allowed to continue in the way it was going because that wasn’t fair to anyone. My sense is that having the council managing the centre is the best option.” While both seemed to be agreeing with the council; that the centre is being mismanaged, the disagreement appears to hinge on who fixes it – the council or the association – with Cllr Clack clearly siding with the council and Cllr Simmonds declining to state who exactly should take the necessary remedial action.

To muddy the waters, in Friday’s Oxford Mail letters page, a local resident, speaking on behalf of “the local community and groups using the centre,” said they were “keen” to see the association stay in charge, refuting the mismanagement claims by saying that the association was “a charity overseen by the Charity Commission, and their latest accounts are on the commission’s website and are up to date and audited.” It then demanded the evidence for the mismanagement claims.

The Community Centre has been here before. Way back in March 2007, a previous campaign to stop the council closing the Social Club Bar, which was then a separate entity, amidst numerous complaints about anti-social behaviour and linked police concerns, appeared to have succeeded when Oxford City Council pulled back from a threat to close it and said it would “work with the centre’s committee to fix the problem.” The problem was duly fixed when the association disbanded the Social Club and evicted the Social Bar committee, before changing the locks.

After a short closure, the bar continued for a year under a private licensee, before a new bar; ‘The Old School Bar’, was constituted as an association affiliation in 2009 and then run by a voluntary bar manager and licensee under the direction of three of the trustees formed into an attached trustee bar committee. One of the trustees, Sally Joss, was also the association chair at the time, with Sarah Lazenby, the association treasurer, having oversight of the bar account bookkeeping as well as the main centre accounts. There was an uneasy transition, as the Old School Bar manager enforced licensing regulations and volunteers helped to rid the bar of trouble-makers and strived to put in place effective book-keeping procedures, but eventually things appeared to be running smoothly and extra revenue soon started to flood into the centre’s coffers.

Now the association had a new source of income alongside the more usual booking and tenancy fees, with the bar money going through the bar committee into an account linked to but separate from the association’s main account. The stock was brought on account from Bookers cash and carry, and a cheque book, with two of the three bar trustees acting as co-signatories, was used to buy sundries and pay the security firm providing the bouncers. The takings where paid back into the Old School Bar and half of the profits then being transferred by cheque to the main association account where they then entered the community centre accounts system managed by the paid community centre co-ordinator. The remaining half of the profits went towards the refurbishment of the bar room, of which £2,000 has been spent on new fridges, £1,500 on new sofas and, eventually, £4,000 alongside a £10,000 grant from the council towards new windows. The remaining monies were banked in the bar account.

All was going well until Sally Joss resigned from the committee in March 2013. Soon after this her partner – also a trustee – initiated employment tribunal proceedings against the association. That’s probably another story, but the upshot was that a new chair and a new bar committee member were voted in from within the association.

The ‘smooth running’ was then shattered during the association’s AGM in October 2013. A few weeks prior to the AGM, the then chair had resigned and in an email sent to selected association trustees, but not made public, said: “we must be careful not to open the charity up to allegations of fraud and corruption.” After this ominous start, AGM proceeded under the Vice-Chair. Just before the elections of the new trustee committee were about to take place, the association Treasurer rose and addressed the audience, which included centre tenants, councillors, press and local people. Referring to the bar account during the sixth month period from 15th March, 2013 to the previous month, she told the assembled crowd that she didn’t know where the bar money had gone and that the bar bank account has been emptied. “I have repeatedly asked for answers,” she said. “I think we need to call the police.” She then went on to say that the bar account total, instead of moving steadily upwards as it had always done since the Old School Bar’s inception, had sunk to £408.22. The meeting immediately descended into uproar and was brought to a close, with an emergency ‘Special General Meeting’ ordered for four weeks later to address the astounding claims. The bar was ordered to present its accounts to that meeting.

A document that attempts to calculate the alleged discrepancies has emerged. It is worth examining this document because it contains the only available authoritative reckoning of the bar’s accounts. The notes in the document attempt to calculate the amount of money paid to the Bookers account and a comparison is made between the average amount paid out in the previous fourteen months prior to Sally Joss’s resignation, and the six months under the present bar committee. This, the document states, was an average of 1,523.30 a month paid out under Sally Joss’s bar committee, compared to an average of £2,275.47 per month for the six months to date since Sally Joss resigned. The notes then calculate that during the 14 months under Sally Joss, a whopping £35,021.64 of gross takings in cash was paid into the bar account, but that for the six months afterwards; “the credits were nil.”

Accounts from various sources willing to speak differ as to what had occurred, but the consensus seems to be that another account had been set up – either as a new second account within the existing financial architecture, or as a separate reconstitution of the bar as “trading wing” company or alternatively, as a “private company”. This, according to some sources, was apparently done with the agreement of the association. Other sources differ. What is clear is that a valid and complete set of accounts and bank statements have still not been presented, despite demands to see them from the wider trustee committee, councillors, council officers and concerned ex-trustees, including by a trustee who claims that he was effectively silenced by being bullied out of the committee in a process that a local councillor likened to “a Stalinist show trial.” The bar accounts do not form part of the audited accounts currently held by the Charity Commission.

The convoluted plot is thickened by the astounding information contained in another document that has recently come to light. It is the wording and notes of a motion that the then and current association trustee, Tim Murphy, presented to the emergency Special General Meeting called to discuss the discrepancies in the bar accounts. In the document, Tim Murphy first notes that there are “serious concerns about the accounts of the Old School Bar.” He then states that the (Old School Bar) “company was set up to covenant profits to the East Oxford Community Association,” but had become “too detached from the parent organisation.”

Tim Murphy then refers to the resignation email sent by the previous chair just before the interrupted AGM. It also refers to Company House records attached to the email concerning the security firm hired by the association and the related claims by the previous chair that the firm had actually been dissolved in January 2011. The document then states that: “It follows that they could not have had valid insurance from that date,” and that the chair had been attempting “for some time to obtain clarity and probity,” along with the “full and complete accounts history of the Old School Bar.” Tim Murphy’s document then ends with the proposed motion, which is: “That this meeting adopt a motion of no confidence in the Executive of the (association),” and that there should be a “thorough financial investigation employing an external accountant.”

The 2013 emergency Special Meeting finally dawned and, according to an ex-trustee who was present, most of the debate – bizarrely – centred on the 14 month period when the bar appeared to be running smoothly rather than the problematic six month period in dispute. This was described by one attendee as an “obvious distraction technique.” Due to an unfortunate accident on her way to the meeting, the Treasurer could not attend. Finally Tim Murphy’s motion was read out and then, surprisingly, voted down by the eligible enfranchised attendees present at the meeting.

It’s now over eight months later and the security firm and financial issues have still not been addressed in an open and accountable way. To add yet another twist to the story, Sally Joss has now been informed by the association that she is liable for a tax bill on the profits for the 14 months that she was one of three trustees on the bar committee. For some unexplained reason, according to this trustee, they are not liable and that it is Sally Joss’s problem to deal with. She was told “to go and get legal advice about it.”The bank statements from the claimed separate bar ‘credit’ bank account have still not come to light, another chair has resigned, hence the “interim” status of the current chair leading the campaign. On Thursday’s ‘Catweazle’ open-mike night, real ale had to be hastily brought in because the bar equipment, stock and fridges belonging to the community centre had been removed from behind the bar.

Where does all this leave the campaign to save the centre? Could all this possibly amount to the “serious concerns” about the “mismanagement” of the centre by the association that the council are talking about? And where are the “plans” that the campaigners claim to have seen that prove that the council has a hidden agenda to drastically reduce the footprint of community related space in favour of building “eco-houses.” They are said to date from 2008, but like the ‘credit’ bank account statements, they remain elusive to date.

These claimed council redevelopment plans need to be further investigated and published by the association, alongside some recognition that the council has invested in the community centre in the past. Contrary to claims made on online campaign platforms, the bulk of the new windows, the refurbishment of the foyer, the lift and the new co-ordinators office were all paid for by the council.

And they need to be open. It appears that a new association is in charge, under a new chair and that the association has taken a new radical direction. And they need to pay the tax bill for the bar that is due to former chair and trustee, Sally Joss, who over the course of the 14 months that she was on the bar committee, worked thousands of voluntary hours alongside other volunteers and the bar licensee to bring in a serious amount of money for the centre.

Community is a conservative concept. Community is a discrete social group constituted by the leaders within it and its exclusionary boundaries are defined by the people who are deemed by the insiders to not be in it. The current association and campaigners may have the best intentions at heart, but they need to seriously consider the implications of occupying a socially inclusive public building in defiance of the council. How are they going to manage the centre, its revenues, its upkeep and the paid staff in the long term with such an aggressive oppositional stance? How are they going to sort out the financial mess that they have inherited? They also need to tell the people of East Oxford when they going to hold an emergency meeting to elect a new committee and debate the current options. “Interim” chairs don’t wash. It smacks of a coup. If they don’t do this then they are just another fractious clique in a decade’s long power struggle over a financially and politically valuable local resource. The danger is that the campaign to “save” it is just a way of disguising this ongoing struggle.

The politics don’t get any cleaner the lower down the political food-chain you go, and ‘community’ is no exception. Let’s hope that the next time the centre is in the newspaper, it’s for a more mundane reason than yet more conflict over who gets to be in charge. Unfortunately, as things stand, that doesn’t seem likely. The centre should have local oversight, but its past history is anything to go by, it also clearly needs oversight from the council, something that some of its former radical patrons would probably shudder at. And there’s the rub.

By Mike Doherty.

 

The MH17 disaster is one big guessing game

by Pierre Marshall

A Malaysian Airline flight mysteriously dropped out of the sky last Wednesday.

We know all the standard background details about the aeroplane and its passengers, and I think it’s fair to say at this point in the news cycle that the actual story is pretty much finished. The plane was destroyed. It was a one-time event and it’s over now.

The nationalities of all the passengers are known and nobody’s suggesting that the plane was hijacked or blown up by a passenger. There were a couple of videos of a plume of smoke rising from somewhere near Torez, but for now the only images we have of the crash are endlessly looping videos of mutilated corpses lying about in the summer heat. It makes for good news fodder, but audiences are fickle and there’s only so many ways to report on a pile of dead bodies and twisted metal.

At this stage the story is feeding off a steady dribble of press conferences and statements from important people who are wheeled out to puzzle how exactly this disaster happened. Underlying it all is the more politically-charged question of who is responsible. As for the rest of the population, they’ve already decided on their own version of events. Some think the rebels did it, some think the Ukrainians did it, and neither side has enough substantial proof either way. We can guess that neither side genuinely intended to shoot down a civilian airliner, so whatever happened it was probably a really unfortunate mistake.

Buk missile launcher control panel, by Yuriy Lapitskiy

Buk missile launcher control panel, by Yuriy Lapitskiy

The rebels did it

This is the most straightforward theory, the rebels mistook the passenger jet for an Ukrainian military plane and shot it down with a missile launcher. To back this up Igor Strelkov made some hastily-deleted comments on Vkontakte claiming rebels shot down an An-26 military transport plane near Torez. That would make sense since flight MH17 ‘fell out of the sky’ in around the same area at around the same time.

The evidence for this theory hinges on the assumption that the rebels had a missile launcher capable of targeting and hitting an aircraft so high up. So far proponents of this theory claim the rebels most likely used a Buk system, and the rebels say they don’t have one of those, and we’re back to “he said, she said”.

Tributes to MH17 victims outside the Dutch embassy in Berlin, by Pierre Marshall

Tributes to MH17 victims outside the Dutch embassy in Berlin, by Pierre Marshall

The Ukrainian military did it

There were some inconsistencies in the MH17 flight path, it would have normally done a slight right turn shortly after entering Ukrianian airspace which would have adjusted its course to avoid the rebel held region. This right-turn waypoint is the area where some maps say contact with the plane was lost, but flightradar was tracking it all the way to Torez. The Ukrainian military might have mistaken MH17 for a Russian military jet because it deviated from the normal civilian flight route. Or, moving down the less plausible theories, the Ukrainian military mistook MH17 for Putin’s presidential plane (this has since been roundly dismissed as Putin wasn’t flying over Ukraine at the time). Or it was part of a secret military coup within the Ukrainian military which went wrong. The Russian air force is quite certain that a Ukrainian military plane was near MH17 when it went down, which would be in line with the claims a now-vanished Spanish air-traffic controller made on twitter.

The best explanation Malaysian Airlines can muster for the change of route is that every other airline was regularly flying over the same airspace and they thought it was safe. Still, there are unanswered questions, and as long as we’re kept in the dark about the change of flight path people will be quite happy to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.

Malaysia airlines flight meal, by Jonom1

Malaysia airlines flight meal, by Jonom1

Why

While we’re still groping around for adequate information, the next step is a guessing game where we work out the suspect based on who had the best motive to commit the crime. In the current circumstances the downing of a civilian airliner can only be a good thing for the Ukrainian state, the killing of innocent civilians is a morally indefensible act. A line has been crossed here, a small regional conflict now concerns the rest of the world with the citizens of 10 other countries killed in the crossfire. An international appeal for ‘stability’ would play nicely into Poroshenko’s hands.

Furthermore, the incident occurred within the internationally recognised boundaries of Ukraine, so the Ukrainian authorities are in a good position to prove they didn’t do it. This is particularly important when trying to locate the aeroplane’s black box. Russia have said they won’t take it, and the Ukrainian state can’t be trusted to investigate the data which might implicate it. Personally I think the Malaysians should have the box, though the rebels have already taken it and likely stashed it away somewhere nobody will ever find it.

The counter to this line of argument is that the Ukrainian state had no long-term need to shoot down an airliner. Some have suggested that the rebels were winning and the Ukrainian military needed a magic bullet to turn things in their favour. From what I can see that’s just not true. The Ukrainian army forced rebels to retreat from Slavyansk last week and they began encircling the city of Donetsk. The rebels were putting out ‘300’ style propaganda, as if this were their last stand. Igor Strelkov’s deputy even signed off a famous letter with:

Forgive us for not dying in Slavyansk. We may yet have a chance to die in Donetsk if Russia will not help us.

We may yet have a chance to die in Donetsk. They’re courageous words, invoking a final desperate chance to save the day. They’re not the words of someone confident of their victory.

Even if the rebels did shoot down the airliner, the Ukrainian state still shares the blame. Donetsk International Airport was out of action and the residents in rebel-held territory knew that the sound of planes meant Ukrainian air strikes. For two weeks the Ukrainian army bombarded rebel cities with all kinds of artillery. They put the residents of those places under sustained fire, and if those residents get a hold of a missile battery and start shooting down planes, who is at fault? Who pulled the trigger and who started the war?

Imagine this time last year, I’d not heard of Donetsk or Lugansk, or the village of Grabovo. Now these names take top place in news bulletins every day, lets try not to forget them too soon.

Now is the time to raise our voices on TTIP.

Action in Edinburgh

Action in Edinburgh

Behind closed doors, the EU and US are planning the biggest corporate power grab in a decade. If agreed, the EU-US trade deal (TTIP) would grant corporations the power to sue governments, threatening to lock-in the privatisation of our schools and NHS.

Rules that protect workers, the environment, food safety, digital rights and privacy would be undermined, with harmful industries like fracking and GM technologies encouraged.

This is a deal that would have devastating and irreversible impacts on our society. But we are being entirely shut out of the decision making process. Negotiations are shrouded in secrecy. Anyone taking part must sign nondisclosure agreements. There is no access to the draft text of the agreement – even for MPs.

If ever there was an agreement that politicians and big business wanted to push through on the quiet, this is it. But we won’t let them. As politicians and lobbyists meet in secret, the international movement to stop TTIP is growing.

Bringing together farmers and trade unionists, environmentalists and privacy campaigners, new and diverse coalitions are emerging in opposition to TTIP. Protests are gathering pace across the EU and US, with a mass arrest of 250 protesters – including MEPs and political candidates – at the last round of negotiations in Brussels.

Just two days before the next round of negotiations on TTIP, people around the UK came together to say: hands off! From Brighton to Bradford, Cardiff to Cambridge, Sheffield to Swindon, many of actions were planned and the fight back delivered. Hundreds of people took part in creative actions outside the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, in central London.

Now is the time to take action. The negotiators are working against the clock. For the US this agreement must be concluded by early 2016 to avoid running up against the presidential election. We can prevent that happening.

President Obama has already been refused special powers to negotiate the deal through congress. The European Commission has been forced to hold a public consultation. In the UK, MPs and MEPs who support TTIP are on the back foot and more and more people are becoming clued-up on the threat we face. We are winning the argument. Now, we must raise our voices.

On 12 July, NHS campaigners, anti-fracking groups, major trade unions, local food growers and many more (see the list of supporters below) took to the streets together for the beginning of a broad and exciting new UK campaign. We are part of an international movement with the power to defeat this agreement and strengthen the position of the many against the few.

Join us!

www.noTTIP.org.uk #noTTIP

The #noTTIP day of action is supported by:

Part of the #NoTTIP day of action, supported by:

350.org, Biofuelwatch, Campaign Against Climate Change, Community Food Growers Network, Corporate Watch, Disabled People Against Cuts, European Greens in London, Frack Free Sussex, Frack Off London, Friends of the Earth, Fuel Poverty Action, Globalise Resistance, GMB, GreenNet, IOPS, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Keep Our NHS Public, Lewisham People Before Profit, London Federation of Green Parties, Occupy London, Open Rights Group, OurNHS, People & Planet, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Platform, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), Reclaim the Power, Red Pepper, Roj Women’s Association, STOPAIDS, Student Stop Aids Campaign, SumOfUs, UK Food Group, UNISON, University and College Union (UCU), War on Want, We Own It, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, World Development Movement, Young Greens.

 

New Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association (GRTPA) launched in Westminster

The GRTPA was started in September 2013 by an English Romany Gypsy Officer from Thames Valley Police, Jim Davies and a Czech Roma Officer from Cambridgeshire, Petr Torak, who met by chance at an Association of Chief Police Officers conference. The association has grown quickly and now has over 50 members from the UK and several members from Europe.The formation and national launch of the GRTPA will mark a key milestone in how Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities participate and engage with police forces up and down the country.

Jim Davies, GRTPA Chair and Police Officer at Thames Valley Police said: “I had heard of other Traveller Police Officers but didn’t know who they were. We just weren’t that visible. Part of the problem is, I think, that such is the level of discrimination towards us, discrimination that exists in all walks of life, many Travellers who have built successful careers are apprehensive about disclosing their ethnicity for fear it may harm them. This is as true in policing as it is in other professions.”

Petr Torak, GRTPA member and Police Officer at Cambridgeshire Police said: “First and foremost we are a support association for Police Staff who are Gypsy, Roma or Traveller. We are there to provide support to our members and help in any way we can with the issues that affect our working lives.” “However we can do much more than this. We want to help break down the barriers between the Police and the Gypsy Roma Traveller community. We want to be a police network that will give Gypsy, Roma Traveller people the confidence to be visible, and by being visible I think we can turn that age old myth, that all Gypsies and Travellers are criminals, on its head.”

Yvonne MacNamara, CEO for the Traveller Movement said: “The Traveller Movement is proud to be supporting the launch of the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Police Association and we hope that it will mark the beginning of a more meaningful relationship between the police and the communities and will build trust on all sides.” “The formation of the GRTPA also sends out a clear message of hope for all young Travellers. The barriers are being broken down and it’s good to see Romany Gypsies, Roma and Travellers visibly engaging with civil society in positions of authority and responsibility.

Press release by Mike Doherty, Campaigns and Communications Traveller Movement.

 

Media bias and UKIP, the party of the people

BBCPurpleBy Nathan Akehurst & Manishta Sunnia in collaboration with Yasmin Spark

In a YouGov survey released two days before the recent elections, 47% of respondents thought there was a media bias against UKIP. These figures include a majority of UKIP and Tory voters plus 40% and 31% of Labour and Lib Dem supporters respectively. People seemed to have bought into Nigel Farage’s claims that the press are giving UKIP a rough ride.

This is odd as the exact opposite seems to have been the case. Between 2009 and 2013, UKIP’s spokespeople appeared on Question Time twenty one times compared to the Green Party’s meagre eleven. This is unrepresentative of the size, popularity and vote distribution of the two parties. This is also an increase compared the amount of airtime given to other relevant parties such as the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. From the year 2012 to 2013, media citations for Ukip also rose from 10,000 to a whopping 25,000.

UKIP has undoubtedly grown in support and stature. But it has not done so enough to warrant the level of attention handed to it by an unquestioning commentariat. Farage’s own ‘political earthquake’ phrase was thrown about by media outlets scant hours after polls for council elections had closed. To give some perspective, UKIP now have 120-odd seats out of the 4000+ that were elected. When non-voters are taken into account, this giant ‘earthquake’ is more of a slight tremor. Just 5.4% of the electorate voted for UKIP. There must be reasons other than popular support to explain why UKIP is getting so much airtime.

Dimbleby

Not all of this airtime is positive, granted. UKIP attracts scandals like a cowpat attracts flies. UKIP politicians thinking that gays cause flooding, that Londoners need to wear masks to prevent themselves from catching Eastern European diseases, that disabled foetuses should be aborted, et cetera, is newsworthy. UKIP punch above their weight because they are a polarising force. They have done everything possible to incur the ire of progressives and leftists, whilst at the same time hitting their message home to swathes of the public – often in solidly Labour areas. However, it does not explain the fact that Farage and his band have been given an unreasonably easy ride. The interviewer in which Farage made his comments about Romanians did not merely prove that the UKIP’s leader had a tendency towards racism but how easy it was to corner him. Instead, the Nick Robinsons and David Dimblebys of the establishment have feted and cajoled him. Even where they have challenged him, he has been allowed to define the terms of the debate. To be sure, UKIP are growing and either good or bad stories about them are selling newspapers, but there is something darker going on.

UKIP uses the language of anti-politics and does so adroitly, tapping into public anger about out-of-touch elites. But its programme is anything but anti-establishment. Its leadership and money are drawn from traditional elites. It relies on assumptions that once again are becoming normative and are defining the political consensus. Clare Moody, a Labour candidate, released leaflets in her campaign claiming she was tougher than UKIP on benefit claimants. Sadiq Khan wrote a letter of ‘apology’ to UKIP voters to win them back. Other Labour politicians (and indeed Conservatives and Lib Dems) have jumped on the immigrant-bashing bandwagon. Indeed, it was only last year that the government sent vans around telling immigrants to ‘GO HOME.’

10309575_10152745312004409_3513652612846765248_nUKIP claims it is saying what no-one else wants to say. In fact, the political world is lining up to say it. That’s part of the real reason the media cover UKIP so much- because they fit a narrative that is entrenched enough to use to sell papers. The Greens, on the other hand, railing against draconian immigration policies and arguing for a citizens’ income, can be dismissed as cranks by, as Farage puts it, ‘the political class and their mates in the media.’ Unlike UKIP, the Greens do not receive swathes of money from the wealthy and have an elected MP. Yet, the media have still dismissed the Greens as ‘a protest party’. The media’s complacency and endorsement of UKIP when challenged fall into deaf ears and flippant behaviour, such as when the SNP’s Alex Salmond raised the issue of media bias on election night.

A simple look at their narrow, divisive and bigoted policy platform demonstrates that UKIP are not a party of ‘the people.’ The question remains – how do we recuperate the public from a shift toward the politics of the far right that has been fundamentally sustained by mainstream media and political elite?