Cage-fighting kids? The real problem is the kneejerk reaction

Why bother with putting things into context when you can just point and screech?

What is it about the story of "cagefighting kids" is it that we find so shocking? Is it the kids-as-entertainment aspect? Is it the fighting? Is it the age of the participants? Or is it the cage?

Perhaps what's needed here is a way of learning self-defence against a kneejerk -- it's a particularly brutal weapon, when used by an advanced practitioner like the Daily Mirror or the Metro, and fans of martial arts have found themselves on the defensive thanks to headlines like CAGE OF INNOCENTS or CHILD CAGE FIGHTERS. How do you block it? And is there some way of sending in a counterpunch?

Gareth A Davies, the Telegraph's expert on combat sports, shows the value in speaking to experts who actually know what they're talking about. He points out that it was not mixed martial arts taking place in the arena, but jujitsu; and while he condemns the setting, he is irritated by the moral outrage. "Take away the cage, the ring card girls, and put a gi on the boys, and there would have been no interest in the news pages in this story. What it is not -- is mixed martial arts," he says.

Is that needless hair-splitting? I don't think it is. These weren't children punching and kicking each other in a free-for-all. They were taking part in an exercise with strict rules. Whether you think that's suitable entertainment for an adult audience -- some of whom had been drinking, the Mirror tells us in a somewhat pearl-clutching tone -- is up to you. Perhaps there's something, also, about the cage that makes it seem sordid, or wrong. Not that the cage was involved in any way other than to mark the boundaries of the arena, as far as the children were concerned.

Mixed martial artist Rosi Sexton, meanwhile, aims to set the record straight. "As it turns out, one of the boys and his parents are good friends of mine. He's a great kid -- polite, well mannered and dedicated to his sport. His parents are also wonderful people, totally devoted to their son and very upset at the way this is being portrayed," she writes. But is anyone listening?

As ever, though, a bit of context from an expert like that does tend to take the edge off a good tale, doesn't it? Why bother with putting things into context, or explaining the value of combat, self-defence or martial arts to children, when you can just point and screech? KIDS IN A CAGE! Shock! Outrage! CHILD CAGE FIGHTERS! Get angry now!

What that approach does, though, is to dehumanise the participants somewhat. Those are real children in that arena, with families who love them and care for them, no doubt. They're not out vandalising or causing trouble; they're involved in something which requires discipline and hard endeavour in order to bring a reward. Have we heard from the parents of the boys involved? Do we want to? Do we care what they have to say -- or are we just keen to be outraged and upset by what we see, or what we think we see, that it doesn't matter what's actually there?

We see what we want to see, and it seems we're keen to be outraged. But behind the anger and the fury, the real stories are a little less sensational than we're led to believe. If you're going to get angry, at least get it right about why. Otherwise it's just shadow-boxing.

 

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.