I have been contributing a weekly column to the Sri Lankan English-language daily newspaper Ceylon Today since January 1 2014. Their circulation is small and they only pay me Rupees 3,000 per article (about GBP 14). This is a hobby rather than a career or source of wealth and influence.
My most recent article was prompted by the abysmal level of debate during the still on-going parliamentary election campaign in Sri Lanka. I was particularly exercised by the abusive response given to my friend Professor Rajiva Wijesinha for his thoughtful contributions to discussion of good governance. I did not have much interest in Jeremy Corbyn, but I thought some discussion by me of his supporters’ reaction to John Mann MP would be of interest to a Sri Lankan readership.
There was only one comment on the print edition of the article. That was from Rajiva himself who commended my efforts.
I then posted the article on my blog. There was only one comment on that.
I shared the blog version on my Facebook Timeline. There was no comment at all on that.
Other people shared my FB post on FB. I think Janey Preger was the first. She thought the article was ‘excellent’ but not all of her friends agreed.
A significant volume of comments only ensued when Raymond Gorman shared it. Most reactions were personally hostile to me. One called me ‘a feckin eejit’. Another posted a link to an article about foreign paedophiles in Sri Lanka which seemed to be intended as a slur on my character. Raymond, decent man that he is, removed it. The general drift of comment seemed based on the assumption that I was a Daily Mail-reading Tory. I have never voted Tory in my life. The last time I voted was to contribute to the Labour landslide of 1997. I have not lived in the UK since 1998. I have no intention of returning but if I do, I have little doubt that I will be voting Labour.
I have never bought the Daily Mail in my life and have only read it online. The only time I bought the Telegraph was when I was stuck in Ashton-under-Lyne during the Thorpe trial and no Guardian was available despite the proximity of Manchester. The Torygraph was particularly strong on salacious court cases. I have rarely read the Times in my entire life and since Murdoch took it over, it has seemed worse that the Sun. I started reading the Guardian when I was 12. I have never bought the Spectator. I started reading the New Statesman when I was 15. During the 70s and 80s I was an avid reader of Socialist Worker and Searchlight and went on Anti-Nazi League marches and attended Rock Against Racism festivals.
Some FB friends with connections to British journalism suggested that my article should gain a wider audience and I should pitch it to the Times or the Telegraph. I demurred on the grounds that my article said nothing original. An article in the Daily Mail, which I had not read when I wrote my article, covers the same ground as me, and more. Living, as I do, up a mountain in the poorest province in Sri Lanka, I do not have the resources to function as an investigative journalist. I am an elderly gent who enjoys writing and, in his anecdotage, likes to share his experiences and thoughts with a defenceless readership.
The only value I could add to the Corbyn story was that from 1994 to 1997 I worked on child protection for the Department of Health. During that time, the Islington care homes scandal was a hot topic and DoH officials at many levels of seniority were very frustrated at the lack of co-operation from officials at the London Borough of Islington. The council leader was Margaret Hodge. I never met her but I knew her husband Henry Hodge. I thought he was a lovely man and was very fond of him. I did not meet Jeremy Corbyn at any time but I did deal with correspondence from him at various government departments. I read the voluminous files on the Islington scandal and my recollection leads me to support what John Mann MP says about Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to react pro-actively to the allegations of horrendous child abuse.
When I said to Michael Paine: “I know what I know. You vote for whoever you think best”. He seemed to think that I was morally reprehensible. He threw Thomas More at me- the fictional Robert Bolt saint and man of principle rather than the real -life bigoted psychopath who enjoyed watching heretics sizzle and pop. Paine placed this in context by saying he was not in favour of secret courts. Neither am I. Apparently, because I said that I believed Mann’s allegations because I had seen documentary evidence( that I could not now produce) placed me in the same league as the totalitarian governments of the Soviet Union, China, Iran and the Tudors. This is insanely disproportionate. I can only repeat that my “evidence” is not necessary to the case presented about Corbyn’s lack of action. The issue has been in the public domain for a long time. This is not just conspiracy theorists. Social worker Liz Davies’s testimony is believable even though it has recently been reported in the Daily Mail.
Back to the Sri Lankan election: President Sirisena has said, People should use their intelligence, knowledge of what happened in the past when casting their vote”. If Jeremy Corbyn has what it takes to be prime minister of the UK, my humble article should not be a bother to him. Former Sri Lanka president Mahinda Rajapaksa hopes to become prime minister after this general election. He said about complaints of heckling and hooting at meetings that democratic politics is not for the faint-hearted: “It is part of the package and one should be able to withstand such pressure and such eventualities in politics. I have been booed and even stoned at political rallies in the past but I braved those incidents. If one was scared of facing such situations, one should leave politics”.