[Updates, two so far, at end of post]
You have to hand it to the Murdoch Sun. Nobody does a witch hunt quite like them – remember “The Big Earner”, where they demonised Big Issue sellers, claiming they were making huge amounts of money? And no other paper is so skilled at talking DOWN to its audience, using CAPITALS to make sure readers UNDERSTAND that they NEED to get VERY VERY ANGRY about SOMETHING.
And today, that SOMETHING is a retired couple who live near Nottingham. They bought their then council house over 30 years ago. One of them has arthritis in both legs and is therefore entitled to Disability Living Allowance (DLA), a benefit that is not means tested. This also qualifies him for the Motability scheme, where he puts the DLA payment towards the lease cost of a car.
So far, so ordinary, but Mick and Jeana O’Shea are past winners of the EuroMillions lottery, where they won over £10 million. So the Sun is in full righteous indignation mode, which they would not be if the subject was a retired City banker sitting on just as much, if not more, money. After all, the entitlement would be the same. Instead, a photo of the house is shown, just to encourage the nutters.
Plus we get the line about Motability cars being free. They aren’t: So when the Sun tells that “On top of the money, Mick is given a shiny new car every three years”, they are being flagrantly dishonest. There is also the unproven inference that the couple are living in Nottingham, rather than the west of Ireland where they have a holiday home (which is really, really big, honest), just to get benefits.
The Sun characterises the O’Sheas as “multi-millionaires” (which by happy coincidence is also the view of “one neighbour”), while skating over their gift of £1 million to each of their three children, a £0.5 million trust fund for each of their grandchildren, and their giving to charities and friends. And there just has to be The Usual Suspect waiting to pass judgment on them.
Yes, Matthew “Gromit” Elliott of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) is on hand to parrot “It’s barmy that taxpayers are funding benefits and new motors for a multi-millionaire”, thus reinforcing the characterisation and the dishonesty. The dubiously talented array of non-job holders at the TPA are never there when it’s someone from the City, are they? Why might that be?
Well, the person from the City also getting the Motability car and benefits that aren’t means tested might also support the TPA, rather than the local hospice. And they might also have invested in a house in a gated compound. The O’Sheas have no such security, and this vulnerable and not totally mobile elderly couple now face months of being vilified wherever they go.
But Rupe’s downmarket troops will sell more papers, so that’s all right, then.
[UPDATE1 1800 hours: the Mail has, as is routine, lifted the story (it credited the Sun, though) as it meets the requirements for why-oh-why righteous hackery. The Mail version also makes it easier to identify the O'Shea house, so that'll be more nutters arriving on their doorstep, then.
There is also the opportunity for readers to experience a different TPA talking head, as the Mail has engaged the services of the ubiquitous Emma Boon, flush with success after her appearance on Question Time. Those who have wrongly concluded that La Boon is a beacon of sweetness, light and reason should peruse her comments carefully.
She has responded "It's irrelevant if he has paid tax all his life and that is a ridiculous argument to make". Why? DLA is not means tested. It's no use blaming the claimant for playing by the rules. She then talks of "someone well off [who] can use the mobility [sic] scheme to get themselves a new car for free", demonstrating that she hasn't done her homework and is spreading misinformation. It's not a free car (perhaps this should be called "falling into the Littlejohn trap").
And Ms Boon is wrong to call Mick O'Shea "a newly-made millionaire". Plus, her claim about Motability that "that's not what the scheme was created for" is yet another lame appeal to authority. Still, it's more free press coverage. Mustn't grumble]
[UPDATE2 Tuesday 1230 hours: with the predictability of a bad penny, Richard Littlejohn has turned up to kick the O'Sheas. He calls Motability a "racket" that provides a "free car" for the couple - kudos for consistency there - and does not even mention the millions that they have given to their children or put in trust for their grandchildren. And there is no mention of donations to the local hospice, as this is all about demonising two pensioners.
There is an inference that having arthritis should mean they are forbidden from taking holidays abroad, and the tired recycling of figures suggesting that most of those claiming disability benefits were capable of work, backed up with lots of the usual hearsay and little else (Mick O'Shea has since - wisely - declined to speak to the local paper).
Dicky Windbag then tells his readers "there are no plans whatsoever to target the genuinely disabled". Dick, you're a dick. Now try selling your dodgy proposition to someone like the unfortunate Sue Marsh]