The front pages of our national newspapers offer one way of looking at how something has been reported or recorded, and some days the words used are telling.
After the drownings yesterday of 27 people who were trying to reach Britain, the newspapers offer varied responses. Typical of the old-school way of thinking is the Daily Telegraph, which has the headline: “27 migrants die in Channel disaster.”
That might seem straightforward enough, until you swap the second word for ‘people’. In some contexts, it is acceptable to call people migrants, if you must, but this Telegraph headline has is a subconscious message: these weren’t people, they were migrants.
Beneath that main headline are three sub-headings, including: “Johnson demands France ‘step up’ and help stop gangs ‘getting away with murder’.”
This is a common theme for newspapers on the right and plays into the government stance that none of this is anything to do with Britain. It’s all the fault of those foreigners who won’t stop other foreigners trying to come to our country.
This then brings up what you might call the immoral geography excuse, which maintains that because people trying to reach this country cross other countries, none of this has anything to do with us.
Under this way of thinking, you can blame the French, or the EU or the people smugglers, without taking any responsibility. Yet one reason more people are trying to cross the Channel in such a dangerous way is because the legal routes have been made much harder.
The Daily Mail, having lost its more sceptical editor, Geordie Greig, dutifully follows the Johnson line with: “You’re letting gangs get away with murder.”
The Sun has the word ‘SHAMEFUL’ beneath the strap: “Now will leaders finally act.” The shame, in case you’re wondering, being that the French seemingly let this happen.
The i newspaper has: “Horror in the Channel: 31 die in search of a better life” – which acknowledges why those tragically lost people, including children, were trying to reach this country.
The Daily Mirror allows the full impact of what has happened with its headline – “A human tragedy”, although a strap heading blames “watching French cops”.
The Guardian goes for the factual-emotional approach: “Tragedy at sea claims 31 lives in deadliest day of migrant crisis.”
The number of lives lost varies between 27 and 31, although the lower figure is the one being reported now by the BBC.
Whatever the appalling tally, there is little chance the government will take any notice.
Boris Johnson’s attitude to migration is determined by the intolerant right-wing of his party, by those newspaper front pages – and by the stalking figure of Nigel Farage, who can’t see a wound without rushing out to buy a bag of salt.
That man is too appalling for words, but sometimes words are all we have, so let’s just say that he is a moral scumbag and ceaseless agitator who profits from easy anger and offers no solutions. Worth remembering as he is threatening to enter politics again.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, is always saying that she is going to “overhaul our broken asylum system” – somehow overlooking that her party has had 11 years to mend that system. She also told a parliamentary committee that 70% of those crossing in small boats were economic migrants, whereas a recent Refugee Council report indicated that most were in fact people fleeing war zones.
We are a wealthy country, and those of us who live here do so by happy accident of birth. Other people’s unhappy accidents of birth should not be held against them.
Asylum applications to this country are down on a year ago, while the more visible Channel crossings are up. What happened yesterday is a human tragedy that should make us think again. But sadly it almost certainly won’t.