A strange thing happened last week. The Daily Mail ran a headline: ‘He shall not be moved!’ The issue? 200 people answered a call from a cancer sufferer to stop bailiffs evicting him.
The story was extremely positive, hailing ‘people power’ as ‘supporters stage a peaceful protest’.
And it wasn’t just the Mail. The Express ran the story too, with the headline: ‘Saved from eviction by army of 200 strangers’, backed up by the caption ‘The comfort of strangers…around 200 turned up to stop bailiffs evicting Tom and Susan Crawford from their Notts home on Wednesday.’
So, the question is, have the right-wing press just started backing Occupy-style tactics?
Now, a couple of points. The victim of the bailiffs was a cancer sufferer, so there is a definite human-interest element to this. Secondly, it came from a YouTube request for help – and viral posts often make headlines. But there are a couple of other questions to ask: would these papers have covered the story so positively (or at all) if the resident had been a council house victim of the bedroom tax?
And, a more controversial question: if the family had not been elderly and white, but young and from ethnic minority backgrounds – or even, heaven forbid, unemployed after being made redundant – how would the papers have covered the story? Would they have covered it at all?
There’s precedent to this tactic, after all. Occupy-coordinated actions against evictions happened a lot at the movement’s peak, particularly in the US but also in the UK – and I’m pretty sure they didn’t get (glowing) coverage in these two right-wing papers. Perhaps it’s because those were victims of austerity, rather than the error of a nationalised bank – then Bradford and Bingley.
That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. It simply points to an inconsistency. The Express have been running a campaign all week (well, all their existence) against immigrants in social housing, while the Daily Mail is typically no friend of the dispossessed. Remember the Daily Mail during the Dale Farm traveller eviction case? They owned the land, but were forced out to cheers from the reactionary press. Or when 50 people were evicted from an unused UBS office block?
So have we witnessed the start of a new sympathy for those at the hard end of the housing crisis?
My guess is no. But I hope I’m wrong.