Rachel Maclean, the working poor and a typical Twitter firestorm based on modern media misrepresentation
You’re reading Reaction. To get Iain Martin’s weekly newsletter, columnists including Tim Marshall, Maggie Pagano and Adam Boulton, full access to the site and invitations to member-exclusive events, become a member HERE.
Have you heard the one about the heartless Tory minister ordering the poor to get a better job or work longer hours?
There was an outpouring of outrage on social media following Rachel Maclean’s interview on Sky News Breakfast this morning. On the basis of tweets about the interview, it was decided that she had cruelly dismissed the concerns of the poor. Headlines in the Mirror and Huffington Post presented it in stark terms.
But watch the clip and it becomes obvious, to anyone fair minded, that the headlines don’t match what she said.
When she was asked about solutions to tackle plummeting living standards across the country, the Safeguarding Minister responded that the government must focus on providing greater opportunities for people willing to work more hours and find better jobs.
“Over the long-term we need to have a plan to grow the economy and make sure people are able to protect themselves better – whether that is by taking on more hours or moving to a better paid job,” she said.
Maclean was referencing the need for a long term plan. A perfectly fair criticism is that the government doesn’t have such a plan, or should have one by now. But Maclean was acknowledging low pay is a long term issue.
Host Kay Burley told Maclean that many Brits are having to work “every hour God sends them” and use food banks to make ends meet. Maclean agreed, but stressed: “We have often heard in the past when people are facing problems with their budgets that one of the obstacles – and it may not be for everyone – is about being able to take on more hours or even move to a better job. That is why job centres exist.”
But, she went on to explain, this doesn’t work for everyone. Not everyone can get or handle more hours.
She added: “That’s why we need to have the other measures, such as all the help we are putting into schools, the help with the local authorities … and that’s where we are going to target help to where it is most needed.”
An eager gaggle of MPs and commentators leapt on Maclean’s comments. News outlets across the spectrum ran with a variation of the misleading headline: mean minister tells poor to work more hours and get a better job.
Maclean was clear: it’s the government’s responsibility to make it easier for people to find better jobs, and work longer hours if they wish.
Such mad social media rows of this kind are becoming more common. In the olden days, before Twitter, there were examples of misrepresentation, of course. But newspapers moved at a different pace. There was usually a little more time for interrogation of a controversial quote. Now the news cycle is so fast, moving in seconds, that a clip of an interview at breakfast goes viral and within minutes thousands of users are shouting about a a truncated, misleading interpretation of someone saying something perfectly reasonable.