Leaked document reveals how government are micromanaging public perceptions of the government’s austerity programme

daniel-kahneman-quote-nudge

Kahneman’s work with Amos Tversky was a key influence on the development of behavioural economics. Kahneman’s friend and colleague, Richard Thaler, built on their body of work, producing the first text about Nudge. Behavioural economics is a form of neoliberal ‘cognitive credentialism’.

It has increasingly informed political justification narratives, favouring the wealthy and powerful, and presenting a case for imposing austerity on the poorest citizens. It is also used to fuel a tenuous, pseudoscientific and neo-technocratic alternative account of the subsequent growth in poverty and inequality, and the political destruction of the UK’s public services.

The Conservative-led coalition instituted the Nudge Unit in 2010. Although now part-privatised, and seemingly wholly unaccountable to the public, it remains a part of the Cabinet office, too. 

A question we really need to ask is who nudges the nudgers?

A leaked dossier, apparently a joint study by the Cabinet Office and Department for Work and Pensions, states: “Austerity and its fall-out undermined perceptions of competence and the belief that [the government is] acting fairly, openly and with integrity.”

The damning document was accidentally exposed by an unnamed person, revealing it in front of Westminster journalists and photographers. The leak highlights the fundamental disconnect between what people are experiencing and what they are being told is happening by the government.

This is a form of testimonial injustice and part of a wider strategy of epistemic authoritarianism.

The document shows part of a study that has highlighted the poor state of the public’s trust in politics, government and the party in power. It then outlines strategies that are part of an attempt to ‘build trust’ and “improve government communications.” This indicates a shameful government that thinks soundbites rather than a much needed positive change in policy direction is an adequate way of running the country. 

It also reflects the utter arrogance of a Conservative government who think that trust is something that may be simply acquired from the public, rather than earned.

The authors named on the document are Laura de Moliere, the Department for Work and Pension’s lead behavioural scientist, and Catherine Hunt, Head of Insight and Evaluation at the Cabinet Office.

The document shows the governments’ planned use of communication strategies to ‘manage’ public perceptions of the government’s behaviours and their policies. However, the Conservative’s draconian austerity programme has resulted in widespread distress, hardship, harm, and has caused citizen deaths. This document basically reveals the Conservative’s emphasis on political slogans, attempts at subliminal manipulation and gaslighting techniques, as a means of simply maintaining their power. Using language to erode people’s shared sense of reality is also a totalitarian technique of control.

The document shows a government with no intention of changing their prejudiced, punitive policies and the subsequent harms and hardships they are inflicting on the poorest citizens. It demonstrates a profoundly undemocratic government with absolutely no intention of listening to the public, or engaging in a democratic dialogue.

“Acting in the public’s interest” has become another empty, meaningless Conservative slogan, repeated ad nauseam, in much the same way as “strong and stable” was, and before that, “we’re all in it together.”

brazil

Poster from Terry Gilliam’s dark, dystopic film Brazil. It’s a satire, about a hidden,  bureaucratic, totalitarian government, which is reminiscent of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Conservative’s austerity policies have been targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, while at the same time as the savage cuts were being implemented, the chancellor lavished £107,000 each per year in a tax break hand out to millionaires. We have never been “all in it together”. That was a big lie.

Cameron’s slogan preempted the damage that austerity has inflicted on the UK, because it was known in advance that those policies were going to cause harm. The government have responded to raised criticisms and legitimate concerns regarding the consequences of their policies by using a range of techniques of neutralisation.

However, a few cunning and deceitful linguistic strategies and lies are not going to fool people for long. Sooner or later, the empirical evidence catches up and then overtakes the lies. Peoples’ direct experiences of austerity inform them of the truth. Yet the government is trying to tell them that those experiences are not so. Using a form of political gaslighting – calling people who raise legitimate concerns “scaremongers”, for example – reflects the same attitudes and behaviours of despots throughout history.

strong and stable

Fascism ultimately takes on the contours of whatever national and political culture produces it.

This is a government that has a serious problem in recognising any limits to its authority.

The UK’s democracy recession

The leaked paper explains why several ministers and Conservative MPs have appeared to be using the same crib sheet recently, claiming repeatedly that Universal Credit, for example, is “compassionate and fair”, when that description does not in any way match the evidence. It explains the repeated and unbelievably ludicrous claims that the government make about their commitment to “social justice”,  “fairness”, and that they are “competent” and “tackling inequality” in the context of a policy framework underpinned by conscious cruelty. 

The government have hired specialist coaches to instruct them in how to tell lies effectively, using experts in behaviourist communication techniques of manipulation. We have historically regarded states that employ surveillance and monitoring to screen, rank and change citizens’ behaviour by acting upon them without their consent as “totalitarian”. 

A state that misuses psychology and propaganda to impose conformity on a population regards citizens as a means to an end, to fulfil ideological goals: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state”.

The Conservatives have adopted the Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda approach to managing public perceptions and beliefs. Like Goebbels, the Conservatives have adapted techniques in commercial advertising to the political sphere, including the use of catchy slogans and subliminal cues. 

Nudge and behavioural economics more generally has added another layer of strategic and creeping authoritarianism aimed at micromanaging  citizens’ perceptions, decision-making and behaviours to align them with government aims. 

This, of course, completely turns democracy on its head, as I have said on many other occasions on his site. 

dossier

The damning leaked document.

It’s truly remarkable that a government who claims it favours a small state has used public funds to build a massive and private propaganda and behaviour modification empire, without any reference to the consent of the governed. The need to control citizens to such a degree indicates an overcentralisation of  political decision making. 

Ian Lavery said: “Austerity has done more than just destroy public trust, it has destroyed lives.

“The Tory party continues to treat being in government as some sort of cynical PR exercise.

“If they recognise that austerity has been a disaster, they should be focusing on bringing it to an end rather than how to spin it.”

Several of us have approached the government for comment.

However, it will probably take a while for the government’s Strategic Communications Service to finish crafting their response.

Here is the document in full, courtesy of the Mirror

The role of communication in rebuilding political trust

November 2018

Catherine Hunt, Cabinet Office & Laura De Moliere, DWP

1. What does this paper deliver?

This paper provides a definition of trust, based on a review of academic, public sector and media industry publications as well as our own research. It identifies the factors that underpin trust, looks at why trust in the institutions of government is falling and sets out how this affects us as communicators. It builds on the conclusions from our previous paper on trust from April 2018 and recommends a strategy for building trust and improving the effectiveness of our communication activity in the future.

2. Summary and recommendations

The main conclusions that can be drawn from this paper are:

An individual citizen’s trust in government (political trust) is based on his or her perceptions of its competence and whether or not is acting in the public (and the individual’s personal) interest, judged by the values that it governs by.

  • Competence is judged by the presence of five specific behaviours: setting out a shared vision for the future; authenticity; taking perspectives; valuing others’ opinions; and transparency.
  • The core trust values that Government should demonstrate are fairness, openness and integrity

Citizens’ political trust and views of whether it is acting competently and in the public interest is influenced by:

  • Specific support for the political administration in power at any given point in time.
  • Diffuse support for the overall system of government and its institutions

Trust in politicians has always been low. However, the global recession in 2008 and subsequent period of austerity triggered a decline in diffuse trust for the system of government in many Western economies, including the UK.

  • Austerity and its fall-out undermined perceptions of competence and belief that it […] acting fairly, openly and with integrity

Rapid social, demographic and technological changes are […]

As diffuse trust in the institutions of government […]

parties is rising. People who support […]

parliament. This is also true for […]

The decline in political trust […]

which will in turn reduc[…]


(The last part was only partially visible in the photo capture.)

One final comment. I have researched and written a lot over the last few years about the very issues that this leak exposes. I’ve been one of the biggest critics of PR and strategic comms, techniques of neutralisation, the political abuse of psyop techniques and psychographic targeting, behavioural economics and the political use of nudge on a largely unaware and non-consenting public.

In other words, I have told you so.

I’ve linked this psychopolitical governance approach with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the government’s use of similar companies during the last election, and the Leave campaign. The Institute for Statecraft and Integrity Initiative exposure reveals yet another dimension of this hidden, dark approach to governance. It indicates a kind of secret police, employed to uphold and enforce the government’s narrative and ideological aims.

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951.

Some voices are eternally relevant.

 

Related

gcs-guide-to-communications-and-behaviour-change1 - Copy
You can read this document here.

You can also read the Civil Service Strategic Communications handbook here

Some of my work:

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

 The government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Exclusive: DWP Admit Using Fake Claimant’s Comments In Benefit Sanctions Leaflet

The benefit cap, phrenology and the new Conservative character divination

Rogue company Unum had a profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper – Politics and Insights

Stigmatising unemployment: the government has redefined it as a psychological disorder

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down: mind the Mindspace

The just world fallacy


28 thoughts on “Leaked document reveals how government are micromanaging public perceptions of the government’s austerity programme

  1. You can fool some of the people all of the time ………. ‘Nudge’ is offensive. It implies that the electorate can’t work out a good strategy for their own lives. MPs, Advisors, the job has gone to their heads.

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  2. These last few ’rounds’ with ‘tory government’ have far more in common with the likes of Joseph Goebels and his cronies then tory would ever, even covertly admit to let alone publicly accept: but ever was it thus!
    This satanic crowd of torys however, have done us all a favor though, in that the ultimate exposure of their hideous plot and true raison d’être should now leave no right-minded, thinking person in any doubt of the intended nature of their minutely planned machination nor the lengths they were prepared to go in its implementation or defence.
    The ‘law’ and the ‘courts’ would be dragooned into forcing their draconian measures as far and as fast as they could be pressured into service with very little resistance along the way and subjugation of the medical profession aided by their elite was simply a formality.
    Rebuilding ‘political trust’? I don’t think so! Let’s know these people and their shallow, shabby, self-serving beliefs for what they are. Some political ideologies are so primal and so poisonous and so long past their nightmarish time that they and their dangerous protagonists are fit only for eternal exile to the political wilderness where, hopefully they might wither ignominiously: to dust!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. At a GIS conference I saw the use of taking refuge in cynicism, over 30 years ago, to nullify criticism from the audience about the use of statistics to protect the government.

    I wrote about the conference for a technical journal accurately reporting what had been said. After dissemination of the printed journal and within days of its release to the mapping community I was under pressure to withdraw my statements or the academic (I was told) would lose tenure.

    I did not buckle under the emotional blackmail but that same academic was allowed to prepare a comment for the next issue saying I had obfusticated his words. 500 other people in the audience that day knew that was a statement covering his a… I resigned from that journal as a writer and not long after moved abroad – I saw the use of propaganda first hand way back then. This article highlights what has been going on for decades, though now it’s a much slicker regime.

    Another important aspect of a resort to cynicism is the use of comedic programs that poke fun at the politics of today by revealing the deceptions and then making cynical jokes about it.

    How we revel in the humour, which in turn numbs our conscience about the results of the terrible suffering these ‘comedic’ scenarios have caused.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Yes, many of us lived and sometimes even worked through the Thatcher regime and I find it hard to forget how she tried to make my kids into criminals as they were looking for their first jobs. The council tax was tripled for families as I recall and the young, unemployed, thanks to Tory policies, were supposed to pay. This was a deliberate attack on “The People” meaning the same people she beat up during the miners strike – the people she did not like. The crime of the miners was that they were well paid and encouraged others to ask for more pay; a threat to the rich.
    I was watching Peston two nights ago and at the end of the program he said to the MP’s present ‘this is completely crazy, what are you all going to do?’ (Brexit). They all sat there open-mouthed and not one uttered a word. This is where we are – no politician has a clue what to do about a far right extremest government.
    Wiki “President Paul von Hindenburg had already appointed Hitler as Chancellor on 30 January 1933 after a series of parliamentary elections and associated back room intrigues. The Enabling Act—when used ruthlessly and with authority—virtually assured that Hitler could thereafter constitutionally exercise dictatorial power without legal objection.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Hitler's_rise_to_power
    Our parliamentary system: archaic and covered in scaffolding with only the clock in working order.

    “Fight The Establishment’s Narratives By Getting Clear On Your Own”
    https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2019/01/18/fight-the-establishments-narratives-by-getting-clear-on-your-own/

    Do you know who you are? Are you aware that we ALL have free will and the object of the exercise is to take it away?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you Kitty for another excellent piece, which I will tweet for the benefit of all of us who suffer under this vile regime.
    It’s like living in a nightmare, a feeling of total disempowerment……but, at least we are informed, and with much gratitude and thanks, for all your tireless work.
    I wish that every person who is struggling to make ends meet would read this excellent blog and vote accordingly – we’d soon get them out!

    Like

  6. This is just plain chilling, so lucky that the document was leaked. Let no one dare say now, “But it couldn’t happen here …”
    Way back in the day, for a while I was a member of the British Psychology Society; surely such professional bodies have standards, don’t they?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Government is Antoinesque.
    Politics is broken.
    Democracy is dead.
    Parliament is not fit for purpose.
    Government has become the enemy of the State.

    The banksters are but one part of ‘the establishment ‘ that depends upon corruption to exist.
    The inextricable entanglement is both endemic and systemic.
    Government is corrupt.
    The corruption is absolute, lead from the top down, and out of control.
    Being rotten to the core and from the core, everything it touches it taints.
    Having neither the will nor ability to change, outside intervention is indicated.

    Any persons who fail to act appropriately when faced with corruption,
    or condone in any way the actions of those determined as corrupt,
    become, by definition, corrupt themselves.

    There comes a time when, for the sake of humanity, society and civilisation,
    it is not only the choice of a person to throw out corrupt governance,
    but a duty.

    It is those in power who are the terrorists, having destroyed our society from within.
    The Orwellian nightmare was exceeded decades ago.

    What do we get instead of openness, honesty, transparency and accountability?
    State patronisation, gaslighting, coercive control, social engineering, control of the flow of information, perception management, constant lies, deceit, secrecy and greed – and for what ? – political pragmatism, damage limitation, personal profit, reputation management – all to maintain the life of luxury to which this species of psychopathic narcissists genuinely believe they are entitled.

    Here are a few examples of systemic, systematic and institutional corruption:
    – selecting a vulnerable and otherwise defenceless target – or disempowering the target
    – selection can also include consideration of whether the target has been identified as a potential threat to the abusers by virtue of exposure
    – by dint of nothing more than wordplay, tortuous semantics and linguistic gymnastics, specious and fatuous reasoning creates a fantasy nightmare scenario for the target, based not on evidence, but on illogical and irrational perversity
    – in addition to the intellectual bullying – far more pernicious and cruel than a stick – the target is dragged into the abusers’ professional equivalent of their own dining room, the judicial system – the institutional parasites feast upon their target
    – what we are seeing is the callous harvesting of targets for their assets, their liberty, their humanity, whilst falsely justifying their cruelty by falsely claiming that the target is a danger to the state, when in fact the target is perceived as nothing more than a danger to their corrupt and lucrative institutions, which they defend from exposure
    – these parasites also harvest the state systems that finance them, and indeed it is the availability and exploitation of these funds that influence their decision.
    What we are seeing is an elite state within a corrupt state, where ordinary citizens are nothing more than the equivalent of sheep, allowed to develop until ready for consumption.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. They are fully aware of what they’re doing – When you have to fight to stop your government harming you it can only be assumed it’s the agenda. It’s known but often forgotten that prior to any policy being implemented there run studies on the consequences positive and negative including committee meetings and each part is voted on before moving closer to sending it to parliament where it will accrue amendments and discussion then be voted on. We are experiencing the results of their CHOICE – The bottom line is that whilst selling off our infrastructure they are also selling off this country and her people. People are ignoring the so called ‘Trade deals’ or are convinced they are a good thing. The truth is that they are not trade deals but corporate protectionism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLKBYO8-u64

    All of the multinationals who are fully installed in every part of our infrastructure have been buying up NHS Social Security MOD and much of the governments IT systems Atos Maximus Capita Serco Concentrix G4S (Who incidentally are to be given powers of arrest along with corporations like Serco) and of course Virgin Care, placing them in charge of our country. They are selling off not just the countries sovereignty but also yours. I watched a video today that blew me away and while not about austerity or whats going on, it most certainly explains a lot regarding the ‘Bigger picture’ I’ll just leave it here

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