The media should engage with "conspiracy theorists"

Dismissing Japanese politician's concerns over the September 11 attacks gives credence to believers'

Since 2008, the Japanese Diet member Yukihisa Fujita has been voicing concerns over the US account of the events of 11 September 2001. His much-documented conversion to the "truth movement" via dubious internet videos such as Loose Change is a cause for concern, and it is tempting to dismiss him as an irrational fantasist.

Yet, beneath his recourse to contestable evidence, and his affiliation with sacred cows such as David Ray Griffin (with whom he co-authored Questioning 9/11 in Japan's Parliament), is a critical faculty absent from too much of the political class. Fujita may have deflated his own arguments with "facts" culled from the net, including doubts over whether the Pentagon was struck by a plane at all, but the knee-jerk reactions of the media have been equally counterproductive.

Yesterday's Washington Post insisted:

Mr Fujita's ideas about the attack on the World Trade Center, which he shared with us in a recent interview, are too bizarre, half-baked and intellectually bogus to merit serious discussion.

But why? Surely one of the functions of the media is to inform through reasoned debate. Such refusals to engage with "bogus" ideas only serve to fuel the believers' conviction. If they are wrong, why not prove it with evidence, instead of trying to force consensus with nothing but bullying language?

The Post accuses Fujita of being "fact-averse", and casts those who question the official account as members of the "lunatic fringe". But crucially, it identifies the MP's views as rooted in the rising tide of anti-US sentiment in Japan. If so, dispelling the myth of US complicity in 9/11 should help ease relations between the two countries.

Agree with him or not, Fujita is an articulate and intelligent politician. His criticisms of Japan's failure to carry out a full investigation of US claims for war in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks are sound. And his insistence that there is a distinction between acts of war and crime is a creditable contribution to the debate on war in the Middle East.

That such an influential figure -- the director general of the Democratic Party's international department, no less -- could succumb to the lure of "truther" polemics shows how inflated the issue has become.

The tarring catch-all that is the term "conspiracy theory" is inadequate as a tool for meaningful debate. Less strong-arming from the media, please, as well as the Loose Change set.

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Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

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A simple U-Turn may not be enough to get the Conservatives out of their tax credit mess

The Tories are in a mess over cuts to tax credits. But a mere U-Turn may not be enough to fix the problem. 

A spectre is haunting the Conservative party - the spectre of tax credit cuts. £4.4bn worth of cuts to the in-work benefits - which act as a top-up for lower-paid workers - will come into force in April 2016, the start of the next tax year - meaning around three million families will be £1,000 worse off. For most dual-earner families affected, that will be the equivalent of a one partner going without pay for an entire month.

The politics are obviously fairly toxic: as one Conservative MP remarked to me before the election, "show me 1,000 people in my constituency who would happily take a £1,000 pay cut, then we'll cut welfare". Small wonder that Boris Johnson is already making loud noises about the coming cuts, making his opposition to them a central plank of his 

Tory nerves were already jittery enough when the cuts were passed through the Commons - George Osborne had to personally reassure Conservative MPs that the cuts wouldn't result in the nightmarish picture being painted by Labour and the trades unions. Now that Johnson - and the Sun - have joined in the chorus of complaints.

There are a variety of ways the government could reverse or soften the cuts. The first is a straightforward U-Turn: but that would be politically embarrassing for Osborne, so it's highly unlikely. They could push back the implementation date - as one Conservative remarked - "whole industries have arranged their operations around tax credits now - we should give the care and hospitality sectors more time to prepare". Or they could adjust the taper rates - the point in your income  at which you start losing tax credits, taking away less from families. But the real problem for the Conservatives is that a mere U-Turn won't be enough to get them out of the mire. 

Why? Well, to offset the loss, Osborne announced the creation of a "national living wage", to be introduced at the same time as the cuts - of £7.20 an hour, up 70p from the current minimum wage.  In doing so, he effectively disbanded the Low Pay Commission -  the independent body that has been responsible for setting the national minimum wage since it was introduced by Tony Blair's government in 1998.  The LPC's board is made up of academics, trade unionists and employers - and their remit is to set a minimum wage that provides both a reasonable floor for workers without costing too many jobs.

Osborne's "living wage" fails at both counts. It is some way short of a genuine living wage - it is 70p short of where the living wage is today, and will likely be further off the pace by April 2016. But, as both business-owners and trade unionists increasingly fear, it is too high to operate as a legal minimum. (Remember that the campaign for a real Living Wage itself doesn't believe that the living wage should be the legal wage.) Trade union organisers from Usdaw - the shopworkers' union - and the GMB - which has a sizable presence in the hospitality sector -  both fear that the consequence of the wage hike will be reductions in jobs and hours as employers struggle to meet the new cost. Large shops and hotel chains will simply take the hit to their profit margins or raise prices a little. But smaller hotels and shops will cut back on hours and jobs. That will hit particularly hard in places like Cornwall, Devon, and Britain's coastal areas - all of which are, at the moment, overwhelmingly represented by Conservative MPs. 

The problem for the Conservatives is this: it's easy to work out a way of reversing the cuts to tax credits It's easy to see how Osborne could find a non-embarrassing way out of his erzatz living wage, which fails both as a market-friendly minimum and as a genuine living wage. A mere U-Turn may not be enough. 


Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.