The media column: 'It's no wonder the Daily Mail hates the Community Fund'

David Aaronovitch
Monday 13 January 2014 03:42
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Eleven days ago, the Community Fund, one of the committees that awards lottery money to deserving organisations, sent out a press release – embargoed for the following Monday – detailing its grants for the next year. Among the many outfits listed was the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC), which received a grant for the second time, this one amounting to £340,000. The Coalition's objectives are to "help and advise individuals facing deportation and provide a network through which they, their families, friends and colleagues can meet and support each other".

When someone at the Daily Mail spotted the name in the press release, the excited newspaper decided to break the embargo. Under the headline, "Is this the barmiest lottery handout of them all?", the Mail questioned why a load of dubious foreigners, each with one foot rightly placed on the steps of the bus home, should be getting dosh that would be better earmarked for white grannies and ill horses.

So far, so predictable. Then, it seems, the Home Secretary had one of those fits that so depress those who (like me) admire him. On that Saturday, the Community Fund learned that the next day's Sunday Times would feature a Home Office-inspired story, criticising the grant to NCADC for being too political. A spoiler appeared in the first edition of The Observer on the front page, and the Times story dwindled with each passing edition. Still, the Blunkett knee had been seen to jerk, and everyone piled in.

Monday morning dawned with a second bite in the Daily Mail. Every radio – and most TV – news shows and bulletins featured the story. On Tuesday, under the headline "The farce gets worse", the Mail claimed that NCADC was so loony that it was "championing the case of two Palestinian bombers and an Islamic cleric said to be a danger to national security". Although the Palestinians currently have an appeal before the House of Lords, NCADC is simply against their deportation after sentence. One spokesman (unquoted in the Mail) said, "We don't take any position at all on the safety of their convictions. They have been sentenced to 20 years with a recommendation to deport after that. We believe that is a double punishment."

On Wednesday 14 August, the freelance columnist Stephen Pollard attacked what he described as the "Orwellian named Community Fund" (Pollard usually bylines himself, incidentally, as a senior fellow of "The Centre for the New Europe"), whose spokesman, "one Gerald Oppenheim is saying simply that they can give money to whoever they like... and even if the entire country thinks they are in the wrong, well yah boo sucks, we ain't changing our minds and there's nothing you can do tee hee."

Oppenheim has merely pointed out that the Community Fund operates under its own clear rules, and not according to government whim. The exact opposite of Big Brother, you might think. But no, this shows "how deeply embedded left-wing, politically correct assumptions have become in the minds of the great and the good...". Write the rest yourself, and spare Mr Pollard the physical effort.

In this piece of "have we all gone raving mad" Dacreism, Pollard makes passing reference to "The Runnymede Trust, which argues that the word 'British' is racist." I wonder if he wrote this, or if it was inserted into his piece by a helpful editor, who had read a Mail news report earlier that week, also banging on about "the left-wing think-tank, the Runnymede Trust, whose controversial report into Britain's national identity condemned the word 'British' as racist".

I ask because the assertion is, as Pollard must know, a lie. The sentence of the Runnymede Trust report (published back in 2000) was this: "Britishness has largely unspoken racial connotations. Whiteness nowhere features as an explicit condition of being British, but it is widely understood that Britishness is racially coded."

Since this campaign began, the Community Fund has had several dozen abusive and racist phone calls, most using the Mail articles as their rationale for phoning. Mr Pollard and his high-paying employers might like to reflect on the following advice, given to its needy supplicants by the NCADC. "Get your facts right," says the coalition. "It is not enough to have strong views on the subject; you must support your views with accurate up-to-date information."

No wonder the Daily Mail hates it so much.

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