Originally written for publication in The Boar, Warwick University’s student newspaper.
At the start of this week I was in a relatively good mood. With a string of unfinished essays hanging over me, I knew that it would be one filled with the woes of actually working. However, it began with April Fool’s Day and I was looking forward to enjoying the traditional hoax story put out by my favourite lefty-hippy newspaper and spiritual home, The Guardian.
I had to run errands in the morning and having got up late, I knew I would only have time to skim the piece. I loaded the website over breakfast. ‘The day Britain changes’, the headline read. “This should be a cracker”, I thought to myself. Some brilliant Brooker-esque satire of the coalition government, no doubt. Oh Guardian! How I adore thee.
The joke appeared to take the form of a list – a spoof set of absurd policies the government was supposedly enacting this week. It began with a ‘spare bedroom tax’. The sort of thing the Monster Raving Loony Party would come up with but with a twist. The Guardian had superimposed a sinister Tory edge – the ‘tax’ would take the form of cuts to housing benefit, primarily hitting the most vulnerable. Clever. Very clever.
I glanced down the page and spotted a ‘plan’ to scrap the disability living allowance and replace it a new means-tested benefit. A subtle nod to a classic episode of The Office, in which the nation’s favourite socially-inept bigot, Gareth Keenan, proposes ‘disability tests’ to clamp down on fraud. Not as funny and I doubt that many would get the reference.
Before I left the house, I had just had time to skim the other ‘reforms’ the paper had fabricated. Tax cuts for millionaires and an arbitrary cap welfare payments also made the list. These were of course, preposterously backward proposals cleverly crafted to act as a reductio ad absurdumattack on greed-is-good Conservatism. But they weren’t particularly wacky ideas, so didn’t really raise a smile. Besides, in this climate, ministers wouldn’t be able to offer the rich anything like a break so the believability of the piece suffered.
The jokes – or attacks – were all too obvious and the paper was losing me. Sadly, I was forced to admit to myself that The Guardian‘s April Fools joke had been a disappointing one.
I returned from my nondescript errands and in an effort to avoid starting work, logged on to the BBC News website. To my surprise and disappointment they seemed to be running with a similar joke themselves. They’d hired an Ian Duncan Smith impersonator to come on one of their respected radio stations and make the ridiculous claim that he could live on £53 a week, without recognising any of the challenges inherent in doing so.
Satirizing wealthy ‘out of touch’ government ministers should left to The Thick Of It. It should not pervade the respected news output of a public service broadcaster. It was at that point, I knew things were spinning out of control.
In recent days, we have witnessed an even more bizarre turn of events. Presumably in a bid to lift spirits amidst a triple dip recession, several news outlets have conspired to continue running April Fools style hoax stories beyond the first of the month. The Telegraph reported that the Queen was to receive an additional £5m of funding, a huge sum supposedly sanctioned by George Osborne as thousands face the prospect of unemployment.
Enough is enough. The first of these jokes a rather weak ‘what would happen if the Tories had their way’ piece stretched out far too long. Now, even ultra-lefties like me have to take a stand against openly mocking the coalition with these stunts. We need our media to go back to reporting on what the government is actually doing rather than presenting us with some sick parody of what we might expect from it.
It’s time for us to listen to the steps the government is going to take to better the lives of us the most vulnerable in society. I for one, can’t wait to find out.