This week the Daily Express ran the front-page headline 'MURDER UK'. The idea behind this distinctly non-alarmist headline is that murder rates have shot up in Britain. We can only feel sorry for regular Express readers. They're probably already hiding in makeshift bunkers waiting for a tidal wave of asylum seekers to rape and murder their families. Or, more terrifying still, the collapse of the housing market.
The Express appears to be trying to corner the market in what's best described as 'the journalism of fear'. For as long as we can remember it's been trying to make its readers shit themselves with hysterical doomsday scenarios including everything from dirty bombs to evil gypsies.
Unsurprising, intellectual rigour isn't particularly important in 'building' this kind of story. Murder rates ARE rising, but not in quite the simple way the Express hopes.
Is the average Daily Express reader really significantly more at risk of being murdered today than, say, 20 years ago? It's doubtful. For a start, the Express has lumped all types of murder together. But even in the Express's own article the director of the Victims of Crime Trust directly attributed the increase in murder mainly to drug dealers, who at least tend to kill each other. This is pretty plausible: the trade in hard drugs is flourishing, and it's become more associated with guns and shootings.
But what about other types of murder? It's possible that a few more people are getting booted to death outside nightclubs, but Britain isn't producing more serial killers or insurance-scamming wife murderers. Big Vern-style tooled-up bank robbers are all but extinct. Mugging remains ever-popular, but however violent some muggers are, it rarely results in murder.
Fortunately, murder is very rare, unlike the other tabloid favourite, 'yob' behaviour. Even the Express has to admit that the general odds of being murdered are one in 19 million. Given that this is an average, Mr and Mrs Daily Express are even less likely to be murdered, unless they're running a crack den to supplement their pensions.
However, the Express maintains that murder has tripled since 1965, the year in which the death penalty was abolished. The paper doesn't bother to point out that the drug trade didn't exist in 1965 on anything like the scale it does today. Nor does it mention the fact that the UK suffers from a peculiarly first world problem: that despite generally becoming more affluent over the decades, we also have extremes of poverty. Being poor doesn't make you a murderer, of course, but poverty directly and indirectly causes all sorts of problems, including mental illness, crime and the sort of mad-eyed drunks you meet in off- licences on Holloway Road. (Who appear to have a death grudge against other customers, the staff, humanity, and, quite possibly, the Snickers bars.)
However, what's more interesting than the merits and demerits of the Express's actual story are the machinations behind it. The Express has long been locked in a circulation battle with the Daily Mail. Both papers increasingly seem to exist in their own tiny-yet-terrifying worlds, where fear rules and we're all as vulnerable as butterflies in a blast furnace. Quite why circulation should go up as a result of readers being kept in a state of terror isn't clear - surely they'd prefer to see headlines like 'IT'S OK. DON'T WORRY. EVERYTHING'S FINE' - but it seems to work.
But hey, if it works for the Express, it should work for TFT. So we'd humbly like to remind you of the following reasons to be afraid:
- THE DEATH RATE OF HUMANS IS CURRENTLY 100 PER CENT. IT MAY GET HIGHER.
- MICROSCOPIC SIZE AND HIDING IN YOUR BLOODSTREAM WHEN YOU GO ON
HOLIDAY. ONCE THEY'RE IN THE UK THEY KILL OFF THEIR HOST BY HAVING MILLIONS OF BABIES WHICH FEED OFF YOUR BRAIN.
- AL QUAEDA HAS BRED A NEW STRAIN OF VIRUS THAT ATTACKS PROPERTY PRICES.