Monday, 2 December 2019

General Election 2019 - Thurrock Hustings


I went to the local hustings in my constituency on the 28th November and I thought that, while my concentration holds, I’d write a piece about the event along with my opinion of some of the issues I had with the organising of the event.

I will start off with my main problem with the organisation of the event – the issue of the completely un-inclusive rules governing the questions.

If you managed to find the hustings mentioned anywhere (as it wasn’t particularly well advertised) readers were given an e-mail address to which they could send questions.  This, however, was the most inclusive part of the event and it goes downhill from here.  The questions were collated and chosen using the following rules (cut and pasted from the e-mail as sent including errors):


We have had a large of number questions sent in which is really encouraging.

Some are duplicates or very similar.

Some people have sent in multiple questions.

What we have decided is as follows:

To work on date order.

If there are a group of question similar, we will take the first in date order but encourage people with a similar question to come along to be available to put a supplementary point if there is time.

Secondly, if someone has submitted a number of questions we will use the first question submitted unless the first question falls into a group, on that case we may go to a later question.

Some questions will go on to the reserve list to be asked if there is time.

The format allows for equal amounts of time for submitted questions and questions from the floor.

I hope all of the above is clear.

We ask you to be at the venue by 7:20 and make your selves known to the organisers.  If you are unable to attend, your question will NOT be asked in your absence.

We are asking the people who questions have been chosen to put them to the panel in person.


Now there’s no problem with duplicate questions being rooted out or similar themes being whittled down to a single question but the idea that the ‘fastest to the draw’ getting to be the question asked about a subject seems a little arbitrary to me.  Surely the better way to do things would be to choose the best question out of however many the organisers got on the subject.  For example, I sent in a question about the climate crisis which was well-worded but wasn’t as good as the one that got chosen.  Imagine how the hustings would have suffered if I had beaten the other person to the draw.

The second problem with the selection criteria was that if a person submitted a number of questions, only the first would be accepted (unless it happened to be the same or similar to one already asked) when the organisers would choose the next question that person submitted until they got one on a subject that wasn’t already covered.  This selection criterion seems to be a little short-sighted on the part of the organisers because, although it’s only right and proper that as many people get to ask a question, it had the effect of leaving some subjects uncovered.  For example, it is true that a NHS-related question was chosen but it concerned the closure of Orsett Hospital whilst I submitted a question on the more serious issue of whether or not the NHS was on the table in trade talks with the United States.  Now, while events in the world of politics moved faster on this subject with Jeremy Corbyn holding a press conference revealing that he had an un-redacted copy of the official government papers of the six meetings with US representatives which showed that, indeed, the NHS was on the table in initial trade talks and that some of the plans were in a very advanced stage of preparation, the question was left unraised at the hustings.  I, in fact, submitted a second question on the NHS being on the table as soon as I saw the Labour press conference referencing the document and that wasn’t chosen either.

This first question only policy also meant that a number of the subjects I and any other person who submitted multiple questions on were completely ignored and important issues left unraised.  I don’t care that I didn’t get to have more of my questions chosen, I do care that many subjects were left uncovered because of the selection criteria.

The spectre of un-inclusiveness rears its ugly head with the decision by the organisers that questions would not be asked if the person who submitted the question wasn’t at the hustings.  This is incredibly excluding for people who are housebound for any number of reasons, shift workers, parents who can’t get a babysitter or people who aren’t comfortable going out after dark.  It seems that the organisers either didn’t consider those people and their circumstances or didn’t consider their questions to be as important as someone who could attend.  Either way it doesn’t sit well with me or with the idea that people should be encouraged to engage in the political process.  Is it any wonder that some people don’t bother?

The final problem with the rules around the questions is that the people who submitted the questions had to ask them at the hustings.  This rule threatened to stop people who were not confident enough to speak in front of an audience or having a specific disability that may make communication difficult from having their questions answered.  One question was supposed to be asked but, for some reason, the organisers were going to allow someone else to ask it on that person’s behalf which was breaking their own rule, however, the other person didn’t come forward to ask the question.

It was the fact that such excluding rules were set in collaboration with someone I used to be on the Board of Governors of the local adult college with that hurts the most because, as inclusivity is such a big thing in education, he really ought to have known better.

The rules around the asking of the questions this time around were a break from the conventions set at the last hustings in 2017 when submitted questions were read out by the moderator which was a much more inclusive way of doing things.  Questions were still taken from the audience but people who submitted questions beforehand didn’t necessarily have to be in the audience to have their question answered.  You can find the video of the 2017 Thurrock hustings at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZsppLJ2zyI if you don’t believe me (the vicar of the church where it was being held certainly didn’t).

The kick off was due at 7:30pm and, because the advertorial mentioned that they were expecting a lot of people to attend, I thought I’d get there early.  Refreshments were due to be offered at 7pm so I got to the church at around 6:30pm to grab a good seat and one for my ex-wife.

I had a brief exchange with my former colleague from the adult college before grabbing my seat and then I asked the vicar about whether there was going to be a section of the evening in which Jackie Doyle-Price, the Conservative candidate defending her seat, would be able to be held to account for her past record as Thurrock’s Member of Parliament for the last nine years.  He told me there wouldn’t be to which I said that that was hardly fair.  He tried to argue that John Kent, the Labour candidate, had a past record as the former leader of the local council to which I argued that, although it was still politics, it was local politics and didn’t have the same weight of responsibility as being an MP does or the same sphere of influence.  I got a little heated but still well under control when I tried to discuss the exclusive nature of the question rules and he said that he disagreed with my recollection at which point he made a veiled threat to call the police to kick me out if I caused a scene.  I had no intention of causing a scene and told him so but for a man of God (and, I suppose, a committed Christian but you never can tell) he was extremely rude and judgemental, jumping to incorrect assumptions because of a heated discussion.

While I was waiting for the start of the hustings, I noticed someone I thought I recognised but couldn’t place at the time.  It wasn’t until sometime during the interrogation of the candidates that I realised it was Peter Perrin.

It was such a shame to see Perrin, a thorn in the side of the local council and regular contributor to local news website Your Thurrock, at the hustings dressed like a pimp with his red and white shoes (which I suppose are de rigueur for a man who makes Methuselah look like a spring chicken) and doubly heart-breaking that his friend from Your Thurrock, Michael Casey, wasn’t there for him to make eyes at in that special way that he does much like a little puppy’s look at its master.  I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that there’s something a bit odd with their friendship, not the difference in ages but the almost constant appearances of the duo together and the fact that Casey bends over backwards to protect Perrin from any kind of criticism (something that Casey never did for me when I was a contributor to his site and I was always being attacked much more viciously than Perrin ever has been).

The hustings kicked off at 7:30pm or thereabouts with opening statements from the candidates.  I was surprised to see five candidates as I was only expecting four at the most but Thurrock’s cup overflowed with candidates from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, The Green Party and an independent.  I only knew about the independent candidate earlier in the day when I got his campaign leaflet through my letterbox so he must have been a late addition to the roster.

My heart bled for the Green Party candidate, Ben Harvey, when he didn’t receive any applause and the Lib Dem and independent candidates didn’t fare any better.  I  can’t for the life of me remember the latter two candidates’ names because, although I knew the Lib Dems would probably put a candidate up, he seemed to be a late addition too and I wasn’t paying much attention to the names being given.

Labour’s John Kent and Conservative Jackie Doyle-Price both received some applause but the whole response from the much smaller audience than they were expecting (and much smaller than 2017’s audience) was rather lacklustre to be quite honest.

The first question was on the climate crisis and it was quite refreshing to hear a level of consensus from the candidates about how important an issue it was and the urgent need for action.  I could actually believe that most of the candidates did mean what they were saying but it was Jackie Doyle-Price whose words rang hollow because, as she was an MP for the last nine years, I know her voting record on a lot of subjects and her record on the environment is appalling.  She’s voted 16 times against measures to prevent climate change, voted twice for selling England’s state owned forests and voted 4 times against financial incentives for low carbon emission electricity generation methods (statistics from TheyWorkForYou.com).  However, I’m sure she’d be an asset to the Green agenda with the amount of manure she was spreading.

My concentration started to slip so I can only really remember details of my own question, Jackie Doyle-Price’s response to a question about Orsett Hospital and a question about how disabled people are treated by the benefits system so I apologise but them’s the breaks.

My question was “Mental health services in Thurrock and the rest of the country are still underfunded despite constant assurances that mental health would be given parity with physical health.  What are you planning to do to improve the situation in Thurrock particularly?” to which I added the caveat that when giving their answer each candidate should give any relevant job titles or experience in mental health they may have (or had in the past).

It was nice to hear that the candidates all thought that mental health was an important issue although, as they all seemed to say that about everything, it was less convincing than their response to the climate crisis question.  Most of the candidates were quite up front with their lack of knowledge or prior experience in mental health matters and the independent candidate scored a few points with me when he said that he’d be willing to engage with experts to get the knowledge, something I wouldn’t have expected a novice politician to say so he seemed a bit more savvy than his faltering delivery indicated.  Again, however, Jackie Doyle-Price was caught in a blatant lie, although to give her credit, she did mention that she was the Minister for Mental Health for a while, something I thought she’d try not to mention given her underwhelming performance in the role.  She stated that mental health funding had gone up but, being a mental health service user myself, I know that local mental health services have been subject to massive cuts.  In my response, I corrected her by noting that the local psychotherapy team was cut by 50%, leading to long waiting times for psychotherapy and group therapy that is supposed to be offered in 18-24 month lengths was downgraded to a mere 6 month long offer.  Hardly a glowing tribute to a mental health service in a constituency represented by the Minister for Mental Health, something that she would have been aware of if she had bothered to listen to those of us who were trying to bring it to her attention or if she was doing her job as the local MP and responsible Minister.

I also picked up on a point made by John Kent who said that MPs should listen to the mental health service users by telling him that I was part of a three-year-long project during my psychologically better days in which service users went around Essex, Thurrock and Southend asking what service users wanted out of the mental health service but that our findings were ignored.  I was cut off by the moderator before I could say that the findings would have helped reduce expenditure on services that weren’t helpful and channelled the money saved into services and projects that would have had much better outcomes.  Just before I got cut off, my ex-wife put her hand on my leg because she thought I was getting upset and she wanted to calm me down; I wasn’t but it was nice that she cared enough to make the gesture.

I didn’t know what to expect from the other candidates but I knew Jackie Doyle-Price and her attitude to mental health issues from our correspondence in the days before she started ignoring me.  She was dismissive of my concerns and downright insulting to me personally so I didn’t hold out much hope from her.

The next question was about Orsett Hospital although I can’t remember the exact details of the question.  The only reason I remember anything to do with at all was because Jackie Doyle-Price name checked me in her answer and there was no reason to do so because Orsett Hospital is concerned with physical health, not mental health.  Although I wasn’t the questioner, I was given the chance to add a response (which was lucky for the moderator because I would have kicked up a stink if I hadn’t been given the chance to respond).  “Please don’t name check me because the question was about Orsett Hospital that deals with physical health, not mental health,” I said, nice and respectfully.  She tried to say something but I couldn’t hear what she said and by that point I didn’t care.  I wasn’t planning to vote for her anyway but she wasn’t even trying to get my vote.

The final question I can remember anything about was from my ex-wife (although, to be totally honest, it was a question I worded on her behalf for her to ask) – “Disabled people have been subjected to vile interrogations to justify their paltry benefit income.  They are treated worse than criminals and considered guilty of fraud.  What are you planning to do to rectify this appalling state of affairs?”

There was a good deal of consensus amongst the candidates that the benefits system has treated disabled claimants terribly but all of them seemed to concentrate on Universal Credit as the part that needed changing and this is understandable as UC gets a lot of press and new claimants are put onto that new benefit rather than the old disability benefits, however, in Thurrock there are still many disabled people on those old disability benefits so concentrating on UC was a bit of a mistake for all of the candidates.

My ex-wife was given the chance to respond to the answers she got but I hadn’t had time to coach her with the response I would have given and I wasn’t chosen to add any response either.  However, a lady in the back of the audience made the point I would have made anyway, slapping Jackie Doyle-Price down with the fact that Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments were the more generally claimed benefits at the moment and that she had voted to reduce benefits by £30.  I felt a warm glow as Doyle-Price was made to look a fool for the third time.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been if I could have brought up the fact that she refused to go to a mock Work Capability Assessment that some mental health organisations had set up to show MPs how unfit for purpose the WCA was for people with mental health issues.

Again, Jackie Doyle-Price’s record on welfare is pretty appalling. She voted 16 times for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the "bedroom tax"), voted 5 times against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices, voted 12 times against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability, voted 4 times for making local councils responsible for helping those in financial need afford their council tax and reducing the amount spent on such support, voted 46 times for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits and voted 8 times against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed (statistics from TheyWorkForYou.com).

There were some questions from the audience that hadn’t been pre-selected and were therefore completely unknown to the candidates beforehand and then they each got a chance to make a closing statement.

As the audience filed out of the church, I was standing with my poster reading “Our NHS is Not for Sale” that got some thumbs up and some nice comments from some of the audience members.


I had a nice chat with my local councillor who was in attendance with whom I discussed the NHS and disability assessments and a chat with the Green Party candidate and his female companion about the shocking pollution in Thurrock, the destruction of ancient woodlands for the HS2 project and the need for better public transport.  Mr Harvey had mentioned during the question session that the Green Party was proposing legalising drugs so they could be taxed and controlled, taking it out of the hands of criminals so I suggested that, perhaps, legalising prostitutes might also be a good idea because it could be taxed like legalising drugs and be safer for the prostitutes as well.  Apparently, it’s already in the Green Party manifesto so it’s nice to see some really sensible policies are being proposed to take drugs and prostitution out of the hands of criminals although I’m sure it will upset a lot of Tory MPs if it ever happened.

As Peter Perrin tried to sneak past and out the door I called after him that I was still waiting for the apology he owes me for attacking me in one of his pointless submissions to Your Thurrock.  He stuck his aged head through the doorway saying he didn’t owe me anything and he didn’t apologise to rude people which was wrong on two levels – he attacked me in his column so he owes me an apology and attacking me in his rant was incredibly rude as was his attitude to me when he spoke to me (an irony that is probably lost on the poor old man) so his holier than thou attitude is a bit rich.

It’s actually a real shame because I once had some respect for Perrin as we both advocate for better mental health services but the fact that he regularly get his nonsense published on Your Thurrock and he appears at virtually every council meeting to ask a question has given him an inflated ego that only Boris Johnson or Donald Trump could match and with as little reason.  He plays on his poor little old man fa├žade to get sympathy, hiding his contemptuous true self until he momentarily lets the mask slip and the bitter twisted insignificant old man struggling for relevance is revealed.  I truly pity him.

The final excitement of the evening was when Jackie Doyle-Price passed me on her way out and I asked her if she’d like to take my poster home in case she needed reminding that the NHS isn’t for sale.  She said thank you for advertising Tory policy and I corrected her because it is a matter of public record that US trade talks have included full access to the NHS.  I didn’t get personal when I responded to her but she got very snippy (probably because I’d made her look a fool and a liar during the question session).  Her ‘husband’, Mark Coxshall (henceforth known as Gollum), also thanked me for promoting Tory policy and upped the snippy stakes and a young Tory lout did the same ramping up the hatred a further notch all witnessed by the young lady from the Green Party who thought how the Tory trio treated me was appalling.

I didn’t mind the pissy attitude of Doyle-Price, Gollum and the lout because I’d scored more points against her than she could have got against me and because the fact that she really believes that her party isn’t prepared to dismantle the NHS and sell it to US companies shows that she really is more stupid than she looks when there’s a 451-page document proving her wrong.  She believes every word she’s told  by her superiors in the Parliamentary Party which is why she’s only rebelled 17 times out of 1928 votes she’s attended because she puts party allegiance above everything even on matters of conscience, not that she has a conscience, in my honest opinion.  I have described her as a mindless Tory drone in the past and last night only reinforced that opinion of her.  She’s getting better at lying but not much when her lies are uncovered so easily and publically as they were last night.  It’s actually hard not to feel pity for her.  She’s an insignificant cog in the Tory machine who rose to a junior ministerial position because she was loyal to her bosses only to be thrown out with the rubbish back onto the back benches because she just isn’t as extreme as the new management want her to be and because of her loyalty to her previous leaders.  Poor old Jackie – a pointless drone, ‘married’ to a man who looks like he ran through a forest of ugly trees, smacking into every one of them twice so his exterior is as hideous as his soul, and hanging around with brainless Tory louts.

You may say that I’m being very rude towards some of the people mentioned in this blog entry but I’m not really.  I just speak as I find and tell people what they might not want to hear and Jackie Doyle-Price must be able to appreciate that about me because that’s what she says she does.

Addendum

Here’s the full list of questions that I submitted but didn’t get chosen for your further entertainment:

The language being used by senior politicians like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage has led to an increase in hate crime.  Should politicians be held to account for their hate-filled rhetoric and, if so, if your party wins the election, will we see some prosecutions for incitement?

At the 2017 hustings the Naylor Report on the NHS was covered in the questions asked.  Does your party agree with the Naylor Report and are you going to implement the recommendations?

The Grenfell tragedy still casts a shadow over the UK but the lessons learned still don’t seem to be being acted on.  What are you going to do to make sure that sprinkler systems are going to be fitted in all tower blocks?

The amount of lies and deception being bandied about on social media by political parties that is left unchallenged by social media platforms during this election campaign is a disgrace.  What will you do to toughen up the laws regarding political advertising on social media?

If the climate crisis isn’t addressed soon, although the planet itself will survive, life will become extremely and increasingly tough for the coming generations and we will see the number of animal extinctions explode.  What are you planning to do to avert this dystopian future?

David Rowland, Director of the Centre for Health and the Public Interest, states that privatisation of the NHS is higher than advertised because some of the money from Clinical Commissioning Groups and NHS Trusts is going to local authorities and the voluntary sector which isn’t counted as private expenditure even when those organisations are merely funnelling the money to private companies.  What will you do to stop this and further privatisation of the NHS?

Is the NHS on the table in trade talks with America?

The Conservatives have stated in their manifesto that they will be building 40 new hospitals.  Despite this being proven to be a lie (the plans are for 6 refurbishments of current hospitals), the plans for the 40 hospitals are all in Conservative marginal seats.  Does that mean that Thurrock is going to get a new hospital to replace Orsett Hospital that is being closed?

Thurrock Council is pushing ahead with plans for their new council office building at the cost of £10 million and against the wishes of the residents of Thurrock.  Will you stop the building going ahead and insist the money is spent on Children’s Services or social care both of which could do with the extra injection of funds?

Since 2010 there has been a rise in mental ill-health, suicides and early deaths amongst the benefit claimant community that has been directly attributed to the so-called welfare reforms but that attribution was never highlighted despite the last Conservative administration having created a role to deal with suicide prevention.  Giving any relevant current or past titles you had, if your party becomes the next government, what will you do about the atrocious rise in welfare related mental ill-health, suicides and early deaths?  And would your party bring charges against those who pushed on with the welfare policies regardless of the death toll?

Given the recent revelations regarding the un-redacted US trade talks papers, is your party in favour of lowering our food standards, allowing US companies access to our NHS and radically reducing the rights and protections for both workers and consumers in order to get a post-Brexit trade deal with Donald Trump which will only actually benefit the US due to Trump's "America First" policy stance?

Leaks from the official document into Russian interference in the 2016 EU Referendum state that there was indeed evidence of Russian interference in the poll. Given this, the illegal activity by the Leave campaign and the fact that, despite David Cameron's assertion that the result would be legally binding, such referendums are, in fact, not legally binding, only advisory - should there be a second referendum based on the confirmation of any Brexit deal on the table with the option to Remain which could have legal enforcement of the result written into the Act of Parliament?

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

General Election 2019 - The fight for the UK’s soul


The UK is fighting for its very soul as a General Election like no other will determine the fate of the country not just for the next five years but for at least a generation.  Pulled in distinctly different directions amid the most tempestuous political times, the electorate must choose between darkness and light as never before.

The choice should be clear but we live in the most complex and divided times in the shadow of a nine-year long government that has chipped away at every possible faultline to divide the population culminating in the hate-filled rhetoric of the EU Referendum played out on a field of lies, misinformation and unbridled emotion over reason.

The Conservatives stoked up hatred towards the sick, the disabled, immigrants and the poor even before the referendum and that referendum let the genie out of the bottle because scapegoating had become an everyday matter of fact in political discourse.  Closeted racists and bigots burst out of hiding, emboldened by the over-the-top ranting from Eurosceptics using the well-worn trope of ‘othering’, painting a picture of the UK being fine if it wasn’t for those damn dirty foreigners but providing no real evidence for their worldview.

I’m not suggesting that ordinary people who voted to leave the European Union are stupid, just not paying attention or are easily swayed by highly emotional but factually deficient arguments.  I’m also not suggesting that all Leave voters are racist bigots, however, the truth is that all racist bigots voted to leave the EU.

It is against this backdrop that the current General Election is being fought, a society that is fractured, hate-filled and has been made to distrust experts and put their complete, unwavering and uncritical faith in the words of politicians who make pronouncements on subjects they have no knowledge of but are delivered as fact.

We live in a topsy-turvy, post-Truth, fact averse, fake news and propaganda world in which Boris Johnson can literally and blatantly lie with every movement of his lips and people not only forgive him, they believe every single lie as if it is the Word of God.  The gullible electorate, or at least a significant number of them, believe Johnson won’t sell off the National Health Service to Donald Trump post-Brexit or that he’s actually trying to get a deal with the EU when it’s obvious to anyone actually paying attention that his actual goal is a ‘No Deal’ Brexit at the end of 2020.

On the other hand, people are all too willing to believe that Jeremy Corbyn, a life-long anti-racism campaigner is a racist and a terrorist sympathiser because he met with members of proscribed terrorist organisations in the open in the name of peace whilst forgiving, or most likely ignoring, the secret talks with those same organisations made by members of the Conservatives while they were in government.  Some people are also so gullible as to forgive or ignore the fact that the Conservatives have a former IRA member in their ranks.

Jeremy Corbyn is a man who’s attacked when he’s right and attacked when he’s even slightly wrong.  Maligned and smeared by the Right-wing Press, which is most of it, attacked and insulted by the Conservative benches and, most shamefully, many on his own party’s benches because he has dared to take the Labour Party back to its Socialist roots after over a decade of being moved to the Right.  The irony is that the policies that have been proposed by Corbyn’s Labour not only have a great deal of public support but are actually less radical than they first appear if you look at them from a truly Left-wing perspective; it’s only because of the enormous shift to the Right that Labour previously took that they look radical.  The policies have even been given the thumbs up by leading economists although will anyone listen to them when the electorate has been conditioned to distrust experts?

It is the very fact that Corbyn is dangerous to the vested interests served by the Conservatives and the assorted agents of neo-liberalism that he is smeared on a daily basis because he wants to empower the worker, protect the vulnerable and reframe political discourse in a more caring manner that might just change the UK for the better.  Yet, despite this and despite the fact that his policies are well-received by the public, people still refuse to back Labour because the smears against Corbyn have made him toxic to many outside his supporters.

And this brings me neatly back to the start of my train of thought, the fight for the UK’s very soul.  The choice is clear – a Conservative victory and the path of darkness, a dystopian future where life is cheap, human rights are a thing of the past and the NHS is a long-forgotten dream or a Labour victory and the path of light, a caring society that benefits everyone, where what are considered to be British values are revered as they should be and the stench of hate and despair is blown away, not an unachievable utopia, just a better society.

I’m a misanthrope with an extremely low opinion of Humanity but I’d still prefer the latter to the former.

By the 13th of December we will know for sure which direction the electorate has decided the UK should take.  Will it be darkness or will it be light?  The answer will determine whether we deserve to survive as a society or whether we should fall.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

The Decline in Journalistic Standards and Its Relevance to the Anonymised Posting of Comments


 An article I published on LinkedIn.

Once upon a time journalism was a respected profession, its job to relay the events of the day, investigate wrongdoing and holding the powerful to account.  Being a journalist offered an individual some measure of respect.  A journalist was a crusader for truth and, in some respect, justice and their words held a kind of gravitas that no one else could lay claim to.  The powerful were afraid of the journalist because their integrity meant that any negative press coverage would destroy them but they also held them in awe because any positive coverage could bring popularity.  It’s not to say that there wasn’t bias in the Press but it was kept to a minimum, coverage was weighted towards truth.

In the last few decades, however, truth and justice are low on the priorities of the Press.  Bias has become the norm and has slowly been replaced by ideological propaganda.  The powerful in politics have become so entwined with the press barons that it is the Press that seems to control government policy, not directly, however, subtly and insidiously.

In order to cover the Press influence over government, the public are fed a constant stream of non-stories and complete inanity in which non-entities are raised to the level of celebrities, devaluing both the profession of journalism and the meaning of what it is to be a celebrity.

Press coverage has been dumbed down to the level of early years reading books in the tabloids and so infused with ideology in the broadsheet-type of newspaper that it is little more than a brain-washing tool to convert those who haven’t already succumbed to the predominantly Right-wing political view espoused by the media and to reinforce those beliefs in those already of an authoritarian bent.  Unfortunately, what little there was of independent or Left-wing media has dissipated to the level of almost non-existence or slowly moved to the political Right.  Thank Heavens for the new breed of Left-wing online media to give people a counter-narrative to the one pushed by the print and television media.

Local media outlets were slightly less affected by the degeneration in journalistic standards.  Their output, although sometimes biased, contained much more news content than a national newspaper.  The content may not have been the kind of hard-hitting journalism that would set the world to rights or worry too many people in power but local journalists did serve at least one of the old pillars of quality journalism – the truth.

Local newspapers made heroes of local residents for minor accomplishments but didn’t try to make them into celebrities and, although they allow local politicians of the ruling political party and local MPs access to a platform to push their ideological agenda, what news was covered in their pages was fairly untainted by political bias.  The local politicians were still, although in diluted form, held to account for their decisions and local celebrities were considered human beings who were only made to justify bad behaviour.  Members of the public were off-limits unless they were the subject of a news story – criminal, victim or hero.

Sadly, it seems that even local media is succumbing to the decline in journalistic standards.  Members of the public who are simply commenting on news stories have become fair game.  You don’t have to be a criminal, victim or hero any more to be targeted by an unscrupulous journalist and their ethically-challenged editor.

The new age of journalism has brought about the rise of the Left-wing online press who employ professional journalists of the political Left with their inherent bias and the local online newspapers (or news blogs, depending on your chosen terminology) who rely on a small team of professional journalists of whatever political persuasion the publisher happens to favour and amateur journalists, those enthusiastic writers who never had a chance to become ‘proper’ journalists but have some talent and like to uphold standards in their work and those people who happen to be friends with the publisher who lack standards but get published anyway to fill space.

I have become a victim of one of these amateur journalists, a gentleman named Peter Perrin, an elderly person who happens to be friends with the owner, editor and publisher, a gentleman named Michael Casey, of one of these online newspapers, Your Thurrock.

Perrin decided to use my full real name in one of his columns back in January 2019.  It was in reference to what he referred to as a “war” between myself and some other commenters in the comments section of the various articles published.  It was not a conflict I started because it initially began after I defended people with addiction issues from some nasty comments by another commenter and I was attacked by the other person so I defended myself.  The attacks by the other person, who posts anonymously under a screen name, kept on coming so I had to defend myself each time.

And that’s where my complaint lies.  Perrin referred to every person involved in the so-called “war” but was unable to identify any of the others as they all used anonymous screen names whereas I use my preferred name, Valen, together with my real name as my screen identity thus I am called “Valen (Myles) Cook”.  Perrin used my full name including my full real name when he could have just referred to me as “Valen” or not even used any names at all and just referred to ‘the individuals involved’.

You might say that I brought this on myself for using my real name but, at the time Perrin referred to me by my full name, another of the referenced commenters had also included his real name as part of his screen identity.  Perrin didn’t refer to that person by their real name although he had access to it.  It was an act that can only be considered as a direct personal attack, an act of persecution on his behalf.

I demanded an apology that never came.  Perrin stated that he wasn’t a journalist and had done nothing wrong.  He is wrong on both accounts.  As soon as you have an article published, whether paid or not, you are a journalist.  A commenter on a news story or article is not a public figure, they post as a member of the public and therefore should be off-limits to attack as being no criminal, victim or hero in a newsworthy story.

I complained to Michael Casey.  He ignored my complaint to begin with then exacerbated the situation but stating that “Peter is a private citizen, not an employee”, which is incorrect.  He may not be paid but even volunteers are considered employees of the organisations they work for.  Casey also stated that “As fair as we are concerned this is a private matter between you and Peter”.  This is again incorrect.  Casey is a publisher of a publically accessible news website.  Perrin’s attack was published by Casey, who is also the owner and editor, on his publically accessible news website which makes him responsible for the resolution of the situation.  A private matter is something that happens in private, this was public and personal.

Casey having washed his hands of his responsibilities as editor, publisher and employer of Perrin left me with no alternative but to take the matter up with the press regulator IMPRESS.  I received an e-mail that gave me two routes to take to resolve the situation but, and this is where the matter comes back to the decline in journalistic standards, from what I could see, my situation falls through the massive hole in their Standards Code.

The clauses of the IMPRESS Standards Code seem not to apply in any form to a direct attack on a member of the public (who is not subject of a news story) by a journalist.  There is mention, under the heading of Public Interest, of a publisher needing to show that “They could not have achieved the same result using measures that are compliant with the Code” but only if there is a breach of the clauses of the Code.  The fact that Perrin could have achieved the same result without using my full name or that Casey, as editor, could have removed my full name before publication seems irrelevant.

Some might say that, if a journalist can attack a member of the general public who is not the subject of a news item and get away with it, the Standards Code they are held to is unfit for purpose.  The fact that Michael Casey has further victimised me by removing my account on his site so I can no longer post comments or defend myself from any attacks that I might be subject to from commenters, or his journalists, in the future shows how low journalistic standards have dropped from the heady days of yore when journalists were respected.

It saddens me, as an amateur journalist myself, to see the profession I saw as noble fall so far in its standards of ethics.  Over the years I have written for and edited club magazines and home-produced spare-time magazine projects as well as having written for Your Thurrock itself and, in everything I’ve done, I refused to lower myself to personal attacks on members of the public in my articles and columns.  I held a belief that journalism had to be better than what we are currently offered in the media, a journalist had to be nobler and stand for truth and for what’s right.

Most of my columns and articles are comment pieces and may deal with public figures in a harsh manner but I would never stoop so low as to attack a member of the public.  I used to fiercely debate with people on a level footing in the comments section of my articles, posting as just another member of the public, and that’s acceptable.  Using one’s privileged position as a journalist - paid or unpaid, professional or amateur – to attack a member of the public is just wrong – morally and ethically.

The problem with this apparent hole in the IMPRESS Standards Code means that people who wish to post comments on news websites, YouTube or any number of blog sites will be unwilling to do so using their real name because of the possibility of attack from the writer.

People spend a lot of time complaining about abuse they get from anonymous commenters but nothing is ever done about it.  Why should anyone do anything to prevent anonymous comments when it’s that anonymity that stops people from being held accountable for their comments, views and abuse? 

The people who don’t post abuse prefer the anonymity because they can be someone different online that may upset their friends and family if they found out (a closeted gay, for instance, waiting to gather up the confidence to tell their family and friends but using the anonymity the internet provides to explore their sexuality) so they don’t want change.  The people who do engage in online abuse prefer the anonymity because they won’t be held accountable for the abuse they hurl into cyberspace so they won’t push for change either.

The subject of internet anonymity is problematical but there are some websites that could enforce an anti-anonymity policy to prevent abuse amongst the commenters on their site rather than victimising those who willingly use their real name when posting comments.

A few months ago, I suggested to Michael Casey that he should ban people from posting comments under anonymous screen identities due to some of the offensive comments people were posting on Your Thurrock.  Nothing ever came of it yet he is willing to allow one of his columnists to victimise me for using my real name.  Michael Casey allows abuse between commenters, vile and uneducated views to be posted and expletives without comment, yet he deletes my account because I dare to stand up for myself in the face of a personal attack from one of his columnists and his lack of journalistic standards.

Journalism could be the noble profession that it used to be, holding the powerful to account, championing truth and justice and informing the public of the events of the day but not while the standards to which journalists are held are so lax and while there are people like Michael Casey and Peter Perrin who can’t even maintain the moral and ethical standards at levels that surpass the official Standards Code.

Please note: I am using the names of Michael Casey and Peter Perrin under the Public Interest rules as their lack of journalistic standards should be noted as a matter of public interest and there is no other way to achieve the same result without using their names.