Of course, as unacceptable as any level of stabbings and murders is, the truth isn't exactly as worthy of panic as we're led to believe. The number of homicides by sharp instrument has been at roughly the same level for five years, and violent crime resulting in injury has decreased by 49% since 1995. Crimes involving knives make up only 7% of violent crime.
Still, it's difficult to open a paper without having the shit scared out of you about the danger and lawlessness of it all. The front page of yesterday's Mail screamed 'SCHOOLGIRL STABBED TO DEATH ON HER WAY HOME'. Today's has the first picture of the schoolgirl and the promise of a two page spread inside. That's where this particular moral panic gets merged with another more familiar one.
The big splash headline yells 'Stab girl 'failed by police''. That headline stretches across the story and past it, covering another story given the same billing. It's the story I looked at yesterday, with a different headline.
'The migrant knife culture, by police chief' it says, above a nice picture and an article that isn't actually by the police chief. Nice to see that the alternative headline is as misleading as yesterday's. There's also a cached version with 'mailonsunday' in the URL, suggesting a version has been sitting around on the website for four days, waiting for a good stabbing story to tie it in with.
The intent of this is clear. Chief constable Julie Spence's comments are supposed to prove a connection with 'mass migration' and the stabbings we see most days in the paper, the coverage relentlessly repeated and rehashed until the next stabbing.
Yesterday's paper edition had news of a man being arrested for the last murder splashed across the papers, of an anti-violence campaigner. Unfortunately for the Mail, the suspect is the victim's grandson and not an immigrant. Which might explain why the coverage was tucked away on page 31.
In any case, the link the Mail's trying to make between Spence's comments and the compassionately renamed 'stab girl', as well as the many other stabbings we've been hearing about, is complete rubbish. Here's what she actually said:
'We have had the Iraqi Kurds who carry knives and the Poles and the Lithuanians who carry knives. If it is normal to carry them where you come from, you need to educate them pretty quickly. We have done a lot of work to tell them not to, and we have seen it go down.'
She was talking about people carrying knives because they don't realise they're not supposed to. She was, quite clearly, not talking about anyone being stabbed.
There's a direct connection between this kind of reporting and the BNP knowing it can capitalise on it with things like Barnbrook's 'Blame the Immigrants'. Sure, it's not this exact story, but it isn't as if this was the first time the Mail or other papers like the Express has tried to exaggerate the amount of crime committed by immigrants. And it won't be the last.
It's dog whistle stuff. The reader is encouraged to make a connection without the paper actually making a definite claim. Complain to the PCC and the Commission will only look at the content of the Spence story - but readers can be relied on to get the paper's message.
And the whistle will make some readers hear 'black and Asian people' in place of 'immigrant'. Barnbrook makes a rather more heavy-handed connection with his 'immigrants and the sons of immigrants' schtick, but it's not long before commenters on his post are talking about the number of black people in prison and the genetic differences between black people and the 'indigenous British'.
It's no wonder the BNP like the Mail, and it's no wonder that the party's members are bewildered about the paper not going far enough. Which reminds me of the scene in 'Bad News' where Adrian Edmonson pretentiously tells his interviewer that the band aren't really heavy metal, and Nigel Planer storms off almost in tears, sobbing 'I only joined because you said it was heavy metal'. The paper doesn't have to explicitly say the things the BNP wants it to in order to give us that message.
Which makes it's recent coverage of the BNP more curious. Why, if the paper hates the BNP so much, does it carry on pulling this kind of stunt? We know one thing - the editor interprets his job as being to sell as many copies as possible by voicing his readers' concerns. Some of those readers are the 'I'm not racist, but...' crowd, who can convince themselve's they're not racist or xenophobic because they don't like the BNP. Others are actually the BNP. And when it comes to xenophobia and borderline racism with a veneer of phoney concern and respectability, there's no other game in town. They'll keep slavishly buying the paper no matter how much it attacks them.
The proof is Barnbrook's blog. Despite two big hatchet jobs about Barnbrook himself, one of his three blog posts is based mainly on stories he's read in the Mail. One of the others is making the exact same claim as the Mail is here, but without the finesse.