This is the same Philip Hensher who whinged in The Independent yesterday that: “I have a belief that nobody should be forced to endure being called a “cunt” or subjected to threats of physical violence as a condition of their work.”
Hensher has been widely condemned after writing a sub-Daily Mail rant about people on sickness or disability benefits – which got very close to libeling people who had taken part in a survey by campaign group After Atos by implying some of them were fraudulent claimants.
This led some people to challenge Hensher on twitter, sometimes using strong language, to which he replied in kind. Guardian journalist Zoe Williams also questioned Hensher’s piece. He responded by describing her as ‘an awful person’ to her colleague Deborah Orr.
As the obscure novelist began to lose his temper he resorted to lying about the ‘abuse’ he was receiving, furiously re-tweeting anything critical of him to his media chums. Hensher claimed that people were calling him a cunt and accusing him of inciting the murder of ‘handicapped’ (his word) people.
In fact at this point no-one had called him a cunt, and the tweet he was referring to said the exact opposite:
@johnnyvoid He might be a cunt (I’ve never heard of him so can’t comment) but what’s his choice of warm beverage got to do with it?
— № YOU (@n0_vu) January 18, 2013
Predictably after Hensher lied that people were calling him a cunt, some people then ended up calling him a cunt.
This led to Hensher stropping off twitter journalist-style and then spewing up the garbage that polluted the usually deserted comment section of The Independent website yesterday.
Using the genuinely unpleasant shit that was recently directed at Mary Beard and Suzanne Moore as cover, Hensher launched into a breath-takingly dishonest diatribe.
Hensher claims that no-one challenged his ‘facts’ when in fact several people calmly and without insults took his bullshit apart piece by piece. In case there is any doubt about his wild claims, in yesterday’s piece Hensher said: “The number of people asking the Government to support their ill-health, in addition, has risen in a way difficult to believe in recent years.”
So let’s dispute that particular piece of crap with a graph from a report published by the DWP themselves:
The number of people on out of work benefits due to sickness or disability has been falling steadily, since long before the brutal and notorious Atos assessments were introduced. The huge leap in people claiming sickness benefits actually happened in the late 80s when claims jumped by almost a million people as Thatcher destroyed the UK’s industrial heartland. This was almost 30 years ago and many of those people were approaching retirement age even back then.
Hensher then goes on to say that he expected “an explanation of why such claims have risen so sharply, and out of line with almost every comparable economy.”
Since claims have not risen sharply then it would be somewhat difficult to explain why they have. But Hensher’s nonsense about claims being out of line with almost every comparable economy are easily demolished, with yet another graph (a fuller analysis of which was also tweeted to Hensher, which he ignored).
This graph comes from the OECD report that Hensher seems to be referencing. As can be seen quite clearly, the UK’s rate of people on out of work sickness or disability benefits is only marginally higher than the OECD average and significantly less than Hungary,Sweden, Norway and Finland. This graph also shows how claims have been more or less static in the UK, although they have risen sharply in France and the US, two of the countries Hensher mentioned as having no such rise in his first piece.
So Hensher is bull shitting and his opinions seem to be based on little more than tabloid scare stories and his own nasty little prejudices. At a time when disability hate crime is soaring, and an increasing number of tragic suicides have been linked to the Atos assessments Hensher was discussing, it is fucking irresponsible and downright unpleasant of The Independent to publish this kind of garbage.
But free speech is free speech and they can say what they like. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to apply to the rest of us normals who don’t have a newspaper column. All of the comments on the piece originally written by Hensher have been removed by the newspaper who could have simply moderated out anything over the top – as anyone else who runs a site which accepts comments sometimes has to do.
And this is the thing. The internet is a fucking bear pit and always has been. Some of the misogyny is horrible, though more a reflection of society at large than anything to do with twitter and the internet. Sometimes people say stupid and aggressive things when they are angry. Some other people just say shit to wind people up. This is the territory that anyone who writes on the web needs to navigate and is something that most bloggers have come to terms with.
This doesn’t mean misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, disablist abuse and racism shouldn’t be challenged on the web, they absolutely should. Strong language and debate however is a different matter.
The nasty background chatter of parts of the internet should not be used to drown out or fend off genuine criticism. And if a writer swears at people, like Hensher does, then he should fucking expect people to swear back at him. Whilst it’s impossible to know what Hensher and The Independent received in their inbox, there were no direct threats of violence aimed at Hensher on twitter – just a couple of vaguely menacing tweets, one from a disabled person saying ‘I bite’, and another quoting Rudyard Kipling. Not very pleasant, but hardly a campaign of violence, abuse and intimidation.
Hensher on the other hand slandered thousands of people with his uninformed rant about benefit claimants. It seems that Hensher can dish it out, but can’t take it himself, something he condemned in others when he was part of a twitter hate mob himself.
UPDATE: The writer of the comment that Henshaw claimed proved people “wanted him dead” and that someone hoped that he “fall over and be permanently crippled” has responded to his piece in the comments on The Independent:
“Oh, So I’m nameless? I was the one who wrote the “slip over and find out what it’s like” comment. What I actually wrote was: “get out in that snow you love, slip over and break your spine, you’ll soon change your tune. “It only takes a minute … to fall in love”, the song says, it only takes a millisecond to end up paralysed for the rest of your life!” My comment was NOT a wish that you would end up disabled, but that you and your readers would realise how simple it is to become disabled.”
Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid