Working mother scapegoated on Newsnight while bankers rifle world finances

Hopefully we’ve all seen the BBC Newsnight clip (above) and signed the petition demanding an apology for serious misrepresentation of Shanene Thorpe, portraying her as a benefit scrounger.

What started off innocently enough as an investigation into “what it’s like being a working mum struggling to pay rent and housing costs” turned into an interrogation with political editor Allegra Stratton as chief inquisitor and Shanene as one of the irresponsible unemployed who should be living with her child in her mother’s two-bed flat.

Shanene is, in fact, a working mother who pays taxes and can’t make enough from her job at Tower Hamlets Council to house herself and her children. Like many others, she is dependent on the state to support her landlord – there being a decided lack of public housing in these here parts – but you don’t see many of them put through the wringer.

The questions which should have been asked: where is the social housing and where are the decent liveable wages?

Allegra Stratton has been a reporter I’ve generally trusted, so it’s difficult to know whether the final cut of the piece is the work of an editor with an agenda or simply that of a wealthy woman sufficiently privileged to lack any notion of what it’s like to have to struggle to make ends meet.

However, there’s a bigger issue here than a journalist exploiting and humiliating a young woman: in the current economic climate, the media is simply serving as a shill for the ruling classes when they act like this While the bankers run riot, stealing everything that isn’t nailed down, have we noticed an upsurge in demonising the very people who are being made to pay?

Owen Jones’s book Chavs makes us all aware of what malicious forces exactly we are invoking when we hurl that “c” word around. But the upholders of the status quo are shapeshifters, mutating and changing tack, coming at the working class from different angles, undermining our understanding of how the world works and turning us into rats in a sack. Because, while we’re fighting each other, our eyes are off the culprits who got us into this mess and continue to wreck lives.

Former Newsnight reporter Greg Palast is, thankfully, not in the same mould. Rather than kiss up and kick down, Palast takes on the powerful and puts them under the scrutiny that Allegra reserves for young women with no social or economic power.

In his new book, Vultures’ Picnic, we see the pattern take hold across the world. In countries from Brazil and Ecuador to Greece, the World Trade Organisation acts as the battering ram for deregulation of the banks, smashing up economies and privatising state assets. The World Bank makes demands on the beleaguered governments to impose brutal budget cuts and policies on their own people such as raising the price of cooking-oil in Ecuador thirty-fold.

The women in Ecuador who protested on the streets, banging their cooking pots, were quickly silenced (although the story of how their government broke ranks with other underling nations and fought back successfully is a fascinating section in Palast’s book). The Greeks are blamed for what damage the banks wrought, not the rich who didn’t pay their taxes; the British working classes are bashed for daring to have decent pensions and public sector wages. It is all the victims’ fault.

And it blinds us to what’s happening in the highest echelons. Palast cites economist Joe Stiglitz as seeing “despots turning World Bank privatization programmes into bribery free-for-alls (‘briberisation,’ Stiglitz called it), cruel demands on nations begging for food (Ethiopia still bothers him), and the Bank’s pathological desire to tear down finance regulations in nations that barely had finances.”

They even anticipated the social unrest that would inevitably follow the rape of entire economies and prescribed methods to crush revolt. Stiglitz: ‘We had a name for it: the IMF riot. … They turn up the heat until, finally, the whole cauldron blows up.”

Palast continues, “And we could see the squeeze, explosion, and crackdown repeated from Greece to Thailand.”

According to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, the top 1,000 in Britain are worth over £400 BILLION and their profits have risen since 2009, so the tired old mantra that there’s not enough cash in the kitty simply won’t not do. In fact, it’s just plain old-fashioned lying.

Shanene finds herself collateral damage in the lie-spinning. But, like Ecuador and Brazil, she’s fighting back and deserves all our warmest respect and support.

Like the song goes: It’s the rich what gets the pleasure, it’s the poor what gets the blame.

Follow Shanene on Twitter.

Class analysis from Lenin’s Tomb.

Greg Palast’s book on BP, “Vultures’ Picnic: A Tale of Oil, High-Finance and Investigative Reporting”, will be released in Britain on June 26th; for tickets and details of the launch event at ULU (the University of London Union) on June 26th, please email Oliver Shykles,

UPDATE: Special Guest Warren Ellis (Author of Transmetropolitan), Nick Dearden of Jubilee Debt Campaign and John Hilary of War on Want (more guests to be confirmed) will be sharing the stage at the Vultures’ Picnic launch in London 26 June with special guest appearances by Laurie Penny and Anna Chen.

Madam Miaow says … visit Anna Chen’s website here:


Anna’s food blog here:

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