In defence of Johann Hari: A Response to a Conservative

December 7, 2010

in Activism, Opinion

Last week, I posted the video above to my Facebook, and in response had a lovely chap I can always rely on to disagree about everything denounce Johann Hari as a liar. A liar? Interesting. I asked for more. I got four articles in response (well, five, but the fifth was about an article Hari had written on Dubai which didn’t make much sense). They were:

* “I’ve Always Wanted to Fisk Johann Hari… ” by Iain Dale, noted Conservative Party blogger, in reference to an article by Hari entitled, “If you’re looking for class war, just read Cameron’s policies“.

* “Johann Hari’s error strewn attack on Hammersmith and Fulham Council” from ConservativeHome, a blog representing grassroots Conservative Party members, in reference to Hari’s article “Welcome to Cameron land“.

* The imaginatively named “Johann Hari is a liar” from the Devil’s Kitchen, a blog written by the leader of the UK’s Libertarian Party, about Hari’s article on wage slavery in China.

* And another, brief article from Devil’s Kitchen, “Oh look, it’s Johann Hari“, attacking an equally brief blogpost from Hari on Richard Littlejohn being racist.

The problem is, and I’m sure you will have guessed this already, these bloggers are all right-wing conservatives with axes to grind, agendas to push, and very little by way of scruples. So although most of Johann Hari’s “lies” are pretty easily verified immediately through a Google search, but that won’t stop people attacking him anyway.

Iain Dale

A cartoon mocking the Tories

Iain Dale, Conservative Party blogger

Take, for example, Iain Dale’s commentary:

(Hari’s comments in red, Dale’s in italics)

He will give a £1.2bn inheritance tax cut to the richest 2 per cent in Britain – with most going to the 3,000 wealthiest estates (including his wife’s).
Wrong. In fact the cut means that ONLY millionaires will pay inheritance tax.

Regardless of the fulminations of the Daily Mail, not that many people actually pay inheritance tax – 12,000 households were eligible under the old system. Under the intended new system, only the 3000 richest households will be eligible, or Iain Dale’s millionaires. But because they are the richest that means that they get the maximum benefit of lifting of the threshold. So a family with a family house worth £345,000 now won’t have to pay inheritance tax at all and therefore benefits by £45,000 – but David Cameron, who is worth £30 million, is now exempted right up to the threshold, and his family will now benefit by £700,000.

So, like Johann Hari said, the richest estates will benefit most from the rise in inheritance tax.

Then he promises to end the 50p top rate of tax, giving another £2.4bn to the richest 1 per cent.
No, he has never promised to do this. He said it would be an aspiration at some point in the future.

The difference between “I promise” meaning “I will” and “I will in the future” is pure semantics that cannot be considered lying. I would also venture to suggest that the likelihood of David Cameron repealing the 50p tax-band, a symbol of the Labour/Brown era which penalises the rich most and derided as “socialism” by the Tories, is considerably closer to 1 than Mr. Dale would like you to believe.

Then he has pledged to cut taxes on the pensions of the richest, handing another £3.2bn to the same 1 per cent.
Has he? This is a new one on me. Source please.

1.6 second Google search later: “ConDems – granting tax £25,000 tax relief to those earning £150,000 a year – the same as the benefit cap

Then his marriage tax relief policies will give 13 times more to the rich than the poor.
No they won’t. The tax relief is targeted at only those with an income of less than £44k. Are people on £44k rich?

Um, yes, yes they are: in the top 15% of earners in the country in fact. The average wage in this country is £23,000 – that means that half the country are earning well under that, and most people in the country will never earn £44k, or indeed even aspire to it. That Iain Dale thinks this is a low income says much about the bubble he lives in.

To pay for this, he will slash programmes for the middle and the skint, like the Child Trust Fund, SureStart and state schools.
Wrong. The CTF will indeed be abolished, but SureStart will not.

Johann Hari states that SureStart will be slashed, not abolished, and he is right: “Sure Start funding frozen for four years

ConservativeHome:

A cartoon mocking the Tories

Polo might not be necessarily upper-class, but the fact you have to own your own horse does make it one of the more expensive sports to play on an estate.

This post was in response to an article by Hari pointing out that Hammersmith and Fulham Council had, among other things, started to charge disabled people on benefits £12.50/h for home care, sold most of the homeless shelters in the borough and changed the housing rules to require people to actively prove they had nowhere else to go, and rented the use of the local park to the World Polo Association, ripping out the running track to allow for polo games once a year. ConservativeHome felt that pointing out these things was “a regurgitation of dishonest Labour press releases”. I am no Labour apologist, but it’s not Labour being dishonest here:

“If Hari feels that Hammersmith and Fulham Home Care charges are wickedly “Thatcherite” what does he feel about the Labour councils which routinely have higher charges?”

I was a bit taken aback by this one. Was ConservativeHome honestly trying to tell me that in an article which starts off by explaining that Hammersmith and Fulham has sold off 12 homeless shelters, and denied a pregnant victim of domestic violence emergency shelter so she had to sleep in a park, their concern is that Johann Hari isn’t making a point of attacking Labour councils who also try to charge the sick and disabled for home care? Call me gullible, but I am quite sure that Hari is happy to attack anyone who tries to make the poor pay charges they can’t afford to. Just the Tories do it more…

“Council Tax hits the poor harder the rich. So contrary to Hari’s claims reducing it helps the poorest the most. His claim that they “disproportionately benefit the wealthy” shows the most staggering ignorance.”

Rich people live in higher band houses than poor people, and consequently pay more of it. Reducing council tax by 3% saves the rich more money, and charging (predominantly poor, working class) people £121 a year more for childcare as a way for paying for that cut is simply robbing the poor to pay the rich.

“Hari’s claim that holding polo in Hurlingham Park has been at the expense of facilities there is the opposite of the truth. The deal with the World Polo Association is bringing in £170,000 in revenue to the Council over three years plus projects to improve the park and the opportunity for children from local primary schools to have free tickets to the tournament and attend sessions to learn polo themselves.”

The polo association may well bring in investment, but I believe the point was that local people now don’t have access to their park for a month of the year or a running track at all, which was one of the few professional running tracks in the country. Given polo requires you to rent or own a horse and running costs nothing, I wonder which sport was benefiting poor kids more….

“The reduction in the number of homeless hostels reflects an achievement in reducing the numbers in temporary accommodation.”

The point regarding homeless shelters is evidently drivel by the fact that homelessness has risen everywhere in the wake of the recession. Reducing the numbers of people in temporary accommodation by making it harder for people to access it is not an “achievement”, its a disgrace.

Basically, this entire article is absolute rubbish.

The Devil’s Kitchen:

Chris Mouncey, leader of the 500 strong Libertarian Party, does not like to mince his words. Indeed, he opens his article with “Just look at this fat, lying little turd. Don’t tell me that you don’t want to punch that face till it bleeds because I simply won’t believe you.” His article is less interested in calling Johann Hari a liar so much as a “posh, cocktail-drinking, Islington-living, Independent-writing shit”. Mouncey seems to be upset, more than anything, about Johann Hari claiming that 35 hour days and 35c/h salaries is an unacceptable way to treat workers. Something which even MSNBC had a problem with:

Devil’s Kitchen definitely prefers flying insults to fact-checking. However, the author does ask for the proof that “After slavery was abolished, GDP fell by 10%”, as Johann Hari asserts here.

I will admit, this is the only fact alleged by Johann Hari that I have not been able to track down a source for. From what I have read, it seems likely that Hari was referring to Gross National Product, rather than Gross Domestic Product, but I have no idea how to check this.

Finally, “Oh look, it’s Johann Hari” contains no factual assertions whatsoever, so I ultimately cannot comment. The point of the article appears to be that the author is upset that Hari points out that 600,000 Chinese workers are worked to death every year – which is true.

All in all, I am not Johann Hari’s biggest fan, but I do respect his work and ability to make arguments on the basis of facts rather than sleight of hand, which is more than I can say for the British right’s luminaries.

Yay, Johann Hari!

Yay, Johann Hari!

Subscribe to SarahMcCulloch.com via Email! (or via RSS!)

Be Sociable, Share!

Related Posts:

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin December 7, 2010 at 1:57 pm

“The problem is, and I’m sure you will have guessed this already, these bloggers are all right-wing conservatives with axes to grind”

Having met Chris a few times, it’s hardly fair to call him a conservative. He’s practically an anarchist. To be fair, he’s no Kevin Carson (shame, we need more of those) but lumping him in with conservatives would be like lumping Stalin in with the Fabians.

Reply

sarah December 19, 2010 at 10:58 am

Hi Martin,

perhaps I am mistaken, but the Libertarian party’s policies are well right-wing. Removing the welfare state? Aren’t people rioting at the Tory’s attempts to do that?

Also, really unimpressed by the way he attacks his opponents with ad hominems – the lefts generally want to attack you for your position on Cuba, rather than tell you to go bleed to death…

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/the_daily_politics/8619971.stm

Reply

Martin December 19, 2010 at 5:30 pm

This assumes the terms “left” and “right” wing mean anything- they don’t. “right wing” policies often involve social authoritarianism- which people like Chris do not support.

I recently came to the conclusion that the only benefit those terms actually provide us with is an easy way to set up straw men for our opponents, because they certainly no longer have any real meaning besides that.

Reply

sarah December 19, 2010 at 6:28 pm

I think that the grid of economic and social liberal/authoritarianism is more valid than assuming that all free marketeers want to hang homosexuals and all lefties think abortion’s great. But because everyone wants a spectrum instead, libertarians (and fascists, I suppose, but you don’t meet many of them these days) tend to get differently placed depending on who you talk to.

I find political labels useful because you get an idea of where someone’s principles lie – but the policies they may support in pursuit of them can vary wildly on temprement, history, background, reading, etc.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: