Channel 4's 'Horror Story' continues

Alison Banville alisonbanville at
Wed Nov 24 17:02:53 GMT 2010

UK Channel 4’s own ‘Horror Story’ continues
Oliver Huitson, 23 November 2010
Following on from their recent report on local government, last Thursday Channel 
4 broadcast a quite astonishing programme by Martin Durkin: Britain's Trillion 
Pound Horror Story. For reasons to be established, the broadcaster seems intent 
on repositioning themselves as the public voice of right-wing think tanks and 
corporate lobbyists. Taking the viewer on a painful journey of half truths, 
fictions and ideological dogma, Durkin’s polemic reflects abysmally on Channel 
Durkin himself is no stranger to controversy. In 1997, his attack on the Green 
movement, Against Nature, led to Channel 4 issuing a public apology. The 
Independent Television Commission ruled that Durkin had both distorted the views 
of his contributors as well as “misleading” them about the nature of 
the programme. In 2007, Durkin released his seminal work, The Great Global 
Warming Swindle, which again aired on Channel 4. Again, contributors complained 
of being "totally misled" by Durkin, and the programme was widely denounced as 

The latest film centred around a number of key ideas as it examined the 
country’s national debt and proposed various solutions to recover the nation’s 
finances. Having assembled a suitable range of views from various right wing 
lobby groups (The Adam Smith Institute, Institute of Economic Affairs, Tax Payer 
Alliance), Durkin set out his case against the state:

Big government kills growth 

In the latter half of the 20th century, Britain’s economy grew substantially 
under the welfare state. GDP per capita, in real terms, was around four times 
higher in 1998 than it was in 1900. The post-war period, the birth of the 
welfare state that Durkin so maligns, saw some of the highest sustained growth 
of the century. That it has drastically reduced poverty, homelessness and infant 
mortality whilst increasing literacy and life expectancy is unworthy of mention. 
The repeated claim that the government, as a buyer of goods and services, 
“cannot stimulate growth” is a claim almost no economist would agree with – they 
might disagree when it does so, but not that it can do so. Government spending 
constitutes aggregate demand, and when there are no other sources of demand, it 
contributes to growth.

Quantitative easing – “theft and fraud”

In an interesting section, Durkin rails against QE and the mechanics of 
inflation. The creation of money from thin air by the central bank is then used 
to purchase various bonds, increasing the money supply and deflating the value 
of everyone’s money. Eamonn Butler, of the Adam Smith Institute, says:
“So if you’re a saver you’re putting money aside in a bank in order to pay for 
your retirement and when your retirement comes you find that it’s worth an awful 
lot less than you originally thought. Who’s had the benefit of that? Not the 
bank, no, the government. People are cheated and defrauded by this… Inflation is 
theft, there’s no question about it at all.”
What Butler and Durkin fail to mention to viewers is that private banks create 
money from thin air every single day when they issue loans; the loan is not 
taken from deposited money, it is conjured from the ether as a book entry. The 
bank is then repaid the loan in full, with interest. Under the fractional 
reserve system, the people’s money is leveraged constantly not to aid government 
but to finance private projects (and, of course, line the pockets of private 
banks). As with the rest of the film, criticising the private sector is strictly 
off-bounds – even if guilty of industrial scale “fraud” and “theft”.

The Bank Bailout
“In the private sector if you really fail and you’re doing nothing useful nobody 
pays you anything…” (Sir Anthony Jay)  
This will come as news to the British taxpayer; the failed banks rescued at 
enormous public expense have still been handing out billions of pounds in 
bonuses year afteryear. The difference between “free markets” in theory and 
practice seems to entirely escape Durkin. On the bailout, he says, “the real 
cost of bailing out the banks was trivial, it’s estimated to have added a mere 
£73bn to our debt”. 

Taking his figure for the national debt as £4.8tn, this is close to the Office 
of National Statistics estimate released in July of £4tn. The ONS figure 
includes a sum of between £1tn - £1.5tn for the takeover of RBS and Lloyds 
Banking Group. Has Durkin used ONS data whilst simultaneously denying the 
bailout element? It’s impossible to say, he doesn’t reference his assertions. 
Furthermore, Mike Denham of the Tax Payers Alliance estimated the cost of the 
bailout to be “£1tn higher” even than the ONS figure. That’s the same TPA for 
whom Matthew Sinclair is “research director”. Sinclair is one of the main 
speakers in Britain’s Trillion Pound Horror Story. Perhaps they never got round 
to discussing the bailout. 

Britain’s decline: from the workhouse to the welfare state

In quite a lengthy section, Durkin looks back longingly at the golden-age of the 
good society, “the 18th and 19th centuries”, periods marked by obscene poverty, 
ill health, squalor and extreme inequality; true Dickensian Britain. These were 
the days of child labour, fifteen hour shifts in lethal factories and, of 
course, actual slavery – justified with the same sort of crude economic 
reductionism that pervades his entire programme. Indeed, it was the appalling 
conditions of Britain’s poor that gave rise to the welfare state in the first 

As for welfare destroying manufacturing, Durkin would do well to have a look at 
Germany. It remains one of the top three manufacturers and exporters in the 
world despite having an effective and comprehensive welfare state. How does he 
explain this? He doesn’t. Nor does he mention the real death blow to British 
manufacturing – Margaret Thatcher, the doyenne of the very same neo-liberals 
that he lauds with such zeal.

State monopolies

These are, we are told, appalling – but only in “health and education”. There is 
no mention of private monopolies like the trains or local bus services, and with 
good reason. Privatisation has transformed Britain’s rail from a cheap and 
relatively efficient service into the modern nightmare we face now; extreme 
overcrowding, a four-fold increase in the level of state subsidy to £5bn and 
prices so high it is cheaper to fly around Britain than use the trains. The 
programme showed no awareness of “natural monopolies” at all, nor the dismal 
inefficiencies created when they are privatised. But private monopolies do not 
earn a single mention. Instead, the real target is the NHS:
“Many [people] are dying and they don’t know it’s the fault of the NHS… it’s the 
worst system in the advanced world… for treating the poor.” (James Barthomolew, 
Institute of Economic Affairs)
This is not just false but completely absurd. In the US, a nation who spends 
nearly twice as much on health as Britain as a percentage of GDP, a substantial 
number of the poor have no medical insurance at all; it is this that drove the 
widespread calls for public health provision. In Britain, those same poor are 
entitled to the same treatment as everybody else. In terms of results, life 
expectancy in Britain is two years higher than in the US, despite the US being a 
far richer nation. Around 45million of America’s poor have no health insurance 
at all, and it is estimated that around 45,000 die each year for this 
very reason. Bartholomew’s claim is a patent falsehood.


The film's climax arrives with Durkin’s call for inheritance tax and capital 
gains tax to be abolished, and for a flat tax of no more than 20% on income. 
Both inheritance and capital gains are unearned income for the recipient; the 
taxes they provide contribute to schools, hospitals and a host of other public 
services. A flat rate of income tax breaches a fundamental rule of fair 
societies that those who have more, and can afford more, should contribute more 
as a proportion of their income.
Ireland, the “Celtic Tiger”, gulped down the medicine Durkin prescribes: it 
slashed taxes, geared itself wholly to business demands and substantially 
liberalised its economy – they unleashed the magic of ‘the market’. They are now 
all but insolvent, a true basket case; they are in such a dire financial state 
that they threaten tocollapse the entire European project. The forces of 
“creative destruction”, unchecked, soon become simply destruction for the many 
and creation for the few.
“Taxes aren’t just for the super rich, or the affluent, they hit everyone”
Of course, taxes really aren’t for the super rich or affluent, only everyone 
else. In the world of market fundamentalism, “wealth creators” should never be 
overly pursued for the taxes they owe; their mere presence is gift enough to the 
little people. So in the entire course of the programme, tax evasion and 
avoidance merit not a single mention, despite being estimated to cost Britain 
between £42bn and £120bnannually. 

All considered, the film was little more than an unashamed propaganda effort, 
bereft of any balance or nuance. The film itself can still be viewed in full at 
Channel 4’s online service, 4OD. It is recommended viewing, though probably not 
for the reasons Channel 4 intended. With the axe in full swing, the 
broadcaster’s aspirations now seem no higher than playing chorus right to 
Chancellor Osborne while even he, if he has a shred of integrity, would be 
embarrassed by its crude errors and excesses. They no doubt feel they are 
delivering ‘edgy’, ‘daring’ material; in reality they are simply regurgitating 
the most pernicious and misleading dogma of the corporate lobby. 

This article is published by Oliver Huitson, and under 
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23 November 2010 - 8:32pm
Superbly written piece. Many thanks for bringing this to the attention of a 
wider audience.
What is going on with Channel Four post-crash, post-election in politics and 
current affairs? They are pandering to a cliche ridden, punitive, right wing 
agenda informed by the vandalising, zombie capitalism agenda of the right wing 
think tanks.
Gerry Hassan
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Oliver Huitson
23 November 2010 - 8:59pm
Thanks Gerry
Hard to know exactly what they're playing at, to be honest, be interesting to 
see how much more of this nonsense they have in store. Though I think they'd 
struggle to beat this Durkin effort.
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24 November 2010 - 1:17am
Good piece.
I didn't watch much of the show but I caught some of his assult on state 
monopolies and the NHS.
It was appalling in its inaccuracies. It's difficult to tell whether he is a 
liar or an idiot. Either way, this was not remotely worthy of Channel 4.
It is somewhat concerning that some watching may have believed it.
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Chris Whitrow
24 November 2010 - 1:48am
I totally agree. I used to respect Channel 4 as an upholder of high journalistic 
standards, but the fact that they've given so much air time to Durkin, not once 
but several times, is alarming. I complained to them as soon as I saw the 
programme and immediately realised it was nothing but propaganda mixed with pure 
drivel. There is a place for polemic, but it needs to be presented in a balanced 
context and with respect to the facts.
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Oliver Huitson
24 November 2010 - 7:58am
"It is somewhat concerning that some watching may have believed it."
I have seen plenty of comments on various forums (CiF for instance) that really 
lapped it all up and believed every word. This was a primetime slot, 9pm, with 
quite a lot of advertising so probably had a pretty big audience too.
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Seamus Martin
24 November 2010 - 11:59am
And don't forget Peter Hitchens's documentary blaming Nelson Mandela for 
everything done by Thabo Mbeki. His theory was that since Mandela appointed 
Mbeki as his successor it was all Mandela's fault. The major flaw here was that 
Mandela didnot appoint Mbeki as his successor. 
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24 November 2010 - 12:26pm
How does one complain about a Channel4 programme?
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Oliver Huitson
24 November 2010 - 1:12pm
OFCOM complaints:
I think they might have a job defending the "accuracy" of some of these claims, 
the NHS one in particular.
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