Time to “defang” the propagandists?

A popular technique among propagandists is to take a single example of something, distort it, and then present it to those they wish to persuade as a disgraceful but typical example of something or somebody they wish to attack. It’s cheap, easy and mendacious.

Commercial promoters have also long used the technique to big up the product or service they wish to promote or highlight laws they want changed for their advantage. It’s not exactly advertising and it’s not exactly public relations but, to quote Abraham Lincoln out of context, you can fool some of the people all of the time.

I’m often reminded of this huge hinterland when I read a tweet by some Yimby Lobby operator on X. Just pick a single example of a local amenity society opposing some huge development (not always even housing) or of a local planning authority turning down an application for a large development. Then, single out or exaggerate the benefits it would have brought to some deserving folk, completely ignore why people objected or the council opposed it, ignore too its unique features and finally present it as a completely typical example of the planning system’s shortcomings.

Then call for planning to be completely abolished.

What’s all too telling is that this campaign to smash up planning is led by the country’s neoliberal think-tanks. Nor is it surprising that, with Labour set to win the next election, the Party and its institutions have recently been the main target.

But given that we’re dealing with the very right-wing economic agenda adopted in the 1980s and intensified ever since, it’s all the more surprising that Labour has fallen for it hook, line and social-media. Sir Keir Starmer has repeatedly declared himself a “yimby”, apparently unaware of just what an insult to his Party’s moderate social-democratic traditions this is.

Does he really want to align Labour firmly with those in and around Tufton Street?

Just this morning, for instance, the Institute of Economic Affairs’ director of public policy and communications, Matthew Lesh, was complaining on X that Britain’s homes are among the smallest, lowest-quality and most expensive in the developed world.

No use, of course, pointing out that builders actively campaigned to remove Parker-Morris standards in 1980 and know very well that poor quality and restricting supply increases their profits. But Mr Lesh still had a message for the gullible.

“Fixing the housing crisis is entirely about increasing development, everything else is a distraction or excuse,” he posted.

Note that “entirely”, that “distraction”, that “excuse”. Those who campaign for destruction of environmental protection and for massive increases in wealthy folk’s ability to amass even more wealth are entirely capable of adopting a lofty moral tone when haranguing poorer folk who, er, depend on environmental protection and redistribution of wealth from the mega-wealthy.

The small pool of active Yimby Lobby operators is busy using terms like “villains” or “defang” when attacking environmentalists and has weaponised “boomers” and the rest of the language of ageism to convince youngsters unhappy about how the housing market has undermined their dreams of home ownership that it’s all a plot by older people to deny their ambitions.

Here, generalisation comes in again. According to this propaganda, all older people are seriously cash-rich and desperate to protect the value of their homes from anything that might reduce them slightly while fighting for the pension triple lock to top up the huge pensions which all pensioners (in the weird world of yimby propaganda) enjoy.

I sometimes wonder how long the young men in sharp suits at these think-tanks would last if they had to manage on the basic state pension. Yet, curiously, you don’t hear them demanding that wealthy older folk’s pensions be means-tested.

Meanwhile, in this Through the Looking Glass world, all young people can be convinced that all that’s needed for their ambitions to be met is destruction of the planning system, at which point the nation’s volume builders would rush out to build millions of cheap, huge, luxury flats and houses and sell them to young folk at prices low enough to undermine their profit stream, or to letting companies who will be only too glad to rent them out without making a bean in profit.

Dream on.

We live in a world of “asymmetric warfare”, where bad actors like Russia know full well the lies they can seed via social-media are worth every bit as much as battlefield munitions. It’s so frustrating when there’s a sustainable future to be planned that effort has to be spent countering this relentlessly negative stuff.

The reality is that we need a wider planning system that protects and co-ordinates all forms of management of land and the way we move around it in a world of climate-change, food and water shortages, conflict etc..

So, is it time to “defang” the propagandists of extremist economics?

Jon Reeds