Letters to the Canary: are conspiracy theorists part of the ‘Left’, Universal Credit, and rich people

Letters to the Canary
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The Canary is excited to share the latest edition of our letters page. This is where we publish people’s responses to the news, politics, or anything else they want to get off their chest. We’ve now opened the letters page up so anyone can submit a contribution. As always, if you’d like to subscribe to the Canary – starting from just £1 a month – to support truly radical and independent media, then you can do that here:

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This week’s letters

This week we have people’s thoughts on Universal Credit, a controversial Canary Lowdown on conspiracy theorists, and whether rich people are addicted to money. 

Universal Credit

I have just read your story by Steve Topple about the Universal Credit increase that isn’t an increase.

You have missed part of the story. The government keeps trying to spin it that they are boosting the payments with uplifts. However, the boosts have actually decreased.

In 2020 they gave a £20-per-week uplift. This worked out as just over £80 per month. As you are likely aware this ended October 2021.

In 2022, £650 was given as a grant over two payments, and around £67 a month was given October-March 2023 as energy bill support. This works out as £849 over the calendar year. Or just over £70 per month.

Read on...

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This year and next they announced £900 in support. That is split over 3 payments. £301 in spring 2023 (between end of April and mid may), £300 in Autumn 2023 and £299 in spring 2024.

So in reality, unless they announce any other support, this year’s support is currently at £601 plus three £67 energy payments that ended in March.

Totalling at £802 for the 12 months in 2023, it averages at under £70 (£66.83 to be precise).

I have done all these calculations using calendar years as the ‘qualifying period’ aren’t all in the same tax year as the payments. In the same way that the April increase isn’t being received until June. They can decide which side or a tax year they want to include payments on in their budget, but they cannot argue with a basic monthly calendar or simple maths. Year on year, the support has dropped and food bank support has needed to increase.

I feel this deceptive behaviour needs to be brought into the spotlight. The government needs to stop all these randomly spotted grants and just provide a consistent benefit increase. That way people have a reliable way to budget, not sit and check their bank every other day waiting a month to receive a lump-sum amount.

Roberta, via email

Is there a conspiracy at the Canary…? Responses to Joe Glenton’s Lowdown on conspiracy theorists

If you want to read the Lowdown, an exclusive weekly article for subscribers only, sign-up to our email list here. They always seem to divide opinion!

Defining anybody with a label is not helpful to understanding. This word you use has no single meaning, and I find your complaint is also sadly negative to read in a world where we need positive solutions.

I’m not sure what you define by the label ‘left’, because in British politics at least it’s become very right wing in my view – if that description still applies!

Recently I have been finding the Canary one-dimensional, left versus right, for example. There are so many pressing issues which fit outside this narrative, perhaps in what you call conspiracy thought.

Charles, via email

Dear Joe Glenton,

Political people such as yourself do not comprehend that British state schools have not taught anything about even the basic concepts of politics, politicians and the peoples’ parliament (aka democracy).

The British do not know if they are right- or left-wing, as the political concepts are not taught at all.

So it is not arrogance, and you are right they are politically clueless as they cannot be anything else.

As Gandhi observed, peoples’ politics are their daily bread.

Christine Williams, Admin Grey Swans pension group via email

I think that at least some understanding of Mr Glenton’s concerns on conspiracies can be gained by looking at the work of David Dunning (classically the article by Kruger and Dunning). It is sketchily described in the book p284-285 ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre.

Overall, the research underpins the conclusion that those who misunderstand through ignorance are also unable to recognise their own intellectual shortcomings. It is very easy to caricature these findings, but one has to remember just how complex modern society is, and how biased are so many sources of information – a particular problem in the UK with its mainstream media.

All of this is nothing new: ‘A little learning is (indeed) a dangerous thing’ wrote Alexander Pope three hundred years ago.

The other point to consider is just how close the extreme ‘left’ and extreme ‘right’ overlap. The career of Frank Furedi is a case in point. (I should add, though, that I am in close agreement with some of FF’s views on school education).

I gave up supporting the Canary financially some time ago, largely because of Mr Topple’s extreme language. Again ‘think three times before speaking, and seven times before writing’; bad language is rarely effective in convincing the unconvinced. Worse still, to adopt the kind of language used by extremists does not provide the ‘clear water’ between our (hopefully) more ‘progressive’ viewpoint and others. If the Canary were to change its tone/language (though not its content), I may return.

Anonymous, via email

Kudos to Joe Glenton.

This letter said so much that I’ve been thinking for quite a while now. Like, what’s with all the new-left anti-vaxxers and anti-science stuff? Where did that come from? Well, it’s clear where it came from (the unholy alliances formed by big capital, private research institutes, and universities have rightly created a deep suspicion of science serving the wrong masters). But it does not excuse its existence as a quasi-ideology in the midst of a space and movement intended to promote radical thoughts and actions.

Of course there may be those otherwise well-intentioned people who fall into this chaosphere through association: family, girlfriend, boyfriend, or even a desire to cosplay (like those oddballs in the eighties who became flat earthers merely to geek out on the mathematics of it; it wasn’t a belief system, more a hobby) and then end up convinced by their own propaganda. But mostly the problem is a lack of real political culture at the fundamental level, a lack of civism and civics.

With all the power of the tools we currently have at our disposal, I’m forever astonished by the lack of pub-lunch interest in fundamental questions about our systems, democracy and politics; how little space they take up in social dialogue and how few people seem aware of the immense influence the answers have on their lives. Instead we are left with the latest shiny object. Just that.

But thanks all the same for opening up the subject. You’re right. We can’t be inclusive with exclusivists. We can’t be progressive with reactionaries, and we can’t have sane discussions with whackos. But as far as I can see, there is no known way to prevent the frequent occurrence of all three, if a broad-church dialogue is to be maintained.

Hugh Featherstone, via email

Hello Joe

Clearly there’s a lot of confusion all over the political spectrum. I feel that “old-school” socialists probably have a better grip on it than most, since we grew up in a time when “working class” was a primary identity, and for those of us that where lucky enough to meet the right people, Marxism gave us a good ‘analytical tool-box’ to understand economic and social issues.

I live in New Zealand now, and have been involved here in a project dedicated to debunking conspiracy theories. But I would say, in reply to this article, that at least the conspiracy theorists have an understanding that ‘all is not well with the world’. The flourishing of conspiracy theories is in large part the result of decades of vacuum left by the absence of Left ideas in the public arena. Therefore I would suggest that, rather than ‘fuck off you are not welcome here’, your message should be ‘stick around, you might learn something’.

The culture of ‘the Canary’ risks being an echo-chamber of virtue signalling in much the same way as conspiracy content is. The Canary content should encourage its readers’ personal interactions to be outward looking and educative where appropriate rather than merely adversarial.

Kevin Mayes, via email

More complaints? Why, yes.

As usual, my complaint is about incomplete thinking.

A child during WWII, I learned that there were poor people, which I saw all around me, and rich, even very rich people which I only heard off or read about, and I wondered. I asked Mum if these people could buy everything they wanted, and things for all their friends, and still have money left, and was told “oh yes, much, very much left”. I asked “why don’t they give that to poor people then?”. Mum, who was ironing, said, “if we knew that the world would be different”.

So that was my challenge as a seven year old. Then, as a seventy-year-old, leaving my job as the head of a substantial Housing Association, dealing amongst other people with addicts, I saw the similarities between “substance misuse” addiction, and wanting more money when you couldn’t possibly spend all you’ve got. It’s called compulsion, the “I’ve got to have it“ factor.

In Holland I visited an old people’s home for heroin addicts. They get their daily dose and they live harmoniously together. Not very different from the early 80’s, when addicts in Brighton got heroin from the chemist on prescription, and quietly
went home. The trouble started when the government decided to stop free heroin. No chemist, so the dealers came in, from up North, from London. They wanted money, lots of money, to cover for the fact that every deal was “illegal” and could land them in prison; the addicts didn’t have any dosh, so they started stealing, robbing, assaulting, violence in the streets. Before long there was a real, big problem with addiction. We provided special hostels for addicts, helping them to
stop – mainly quite successful I must say. Since then nothing much has changed.

Until you think about why rich people want more.

At a Zoom seminar with two well-known professor/psychiatrist/consultants, I stated my view that rich people who own billions and want more are addicts. But I was immediately dismissed on the grounds that “they don’t do any damage” which was “completely different”.

No damage? No damage when you make people pay £1,000 a week for a shabby flat, paid for by Housing Benefit which diminishes the housing budget accordingly? No damage if people have to go to foodbanks to feed their children and the collective wealth of the top 10 has grown by billions?

I beg to differ.

Jenny Backwell, via email

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