Author: Kitty S Jones

I’m a political activist with a strong interest in human rights. I’m also a strongly principled socialist. Much of my campaign work is in support of people with disability. I am also disabled: I have an autoimmune illness called lupus, with a sometimes life-threatening complication – a bleeding disorder called thrombocytopenia. Sometimes I long to go back to being the person I was before 2010. The Coalition claimed that the last government left a “mess”, but I remember being very well-sheltered from the consequences of the global banking crisis by the last government – enough to flourish and be myself. Now many of us are finding that our potential as human beings is being damaged and stifled because we are essentially focused on a struggle to survive, at a time of austerity cuts and welfare “reforms”. Maslow was right about basic needs and motivation: it’s impossible to achieve and fulfil our potential if we cannot meet our most fundamental survival needs adequately. What kind of government inflicts a framework of punishment via its policies on disadvantaged citizens? This is a government that tells us with a straight face that taking income from poor people will "incentivise" and "help" them into work. I have yet to hear of a case when a poor person was relieved of their poverty by being made even more poor. The Tories like hierarchical ranking in terms status and human worth. They like to decide who is “deserving” and “undeserving” of political consideration and inclusion. They like to impose an artificial framework of previously debunked Social Darwinism: a Tory rhetoric of division, where some people matter more than others. How do we, as conscientious campaigners, help the wider public see that there are no divisions based on some moral measurement, or character-type: there are simply people struggling and suffering in poverty, who are being dehumanised by a callous, vindictive Tory government that believes, and always has, that the only token of our human worth is wealth? Governments and all parties on the right have a terrible tradition of scapegoating those least able to fight back, blaming the powerless for all of the shortcomings of right-wing policies. The media have been complicit in this process, making “others” responsible for the consequences of Tory-led policies, yet these cruelly dehumanised social groups are the targeted casualties of those policies. I set up, and administrate support groups for ill and disabled people, those going through the disability benefits process, and provide support for many people being adversely affected by the terrible, cruel and distressing consequences of the Governments’ draconian “reforms”. In such bleak times, we tend to find that the only thing we really have of value is each other. It’s always worth remembering that none of us are alone. I don’t write because I enjoy it: most of the topics I post are depressing to research, and there’s an element of constantly having to face and reflect the relentless worst of current socio-political events. Nor do I get paid for articles and I’m not remotely famous. I’m an ordinary, struggling disabled person. But I am accurate, insightful and reflective, I can research and I can analyse. I write because I feel I must. To reflect what is happening, and to try and raise public awareness of the impact of Tory policies, especially on the most vulnerable and poorest citizens. Because we need this to change. All of us, regardless of whether or not you are currently affected by cuts, because the persecution and harm currently being inflicted on others taints us all as a society. I feel that the mainstream media has become increasingly unreliable over the past five years, reflecting a triumph for the dominant narrative of ultra social conservatism and neoliberalism. We certainly need to challenge this and re-frame the presented debates, too. The media tend to set the agenda and establish priorities, which often divert us from much more pressing social issues. Independent bloggers have a role as witnesses; recording events and experiences, gathering evidence, insights and truths that are accessible to as many people and organisations as possible. We have an undemocratic media and a government that reflect the interests of a minority – the wealthy and powerful 1%. We must constantly challenge that. Authoritarian Governments arise and flourish when a population disengages from political processes, and becomes passive, conformist and alienated from fundamental decision-making. I’m not a writer that aims for being popular or one that seeks agreement from an audience. But I do hope that my work finds resonance with people reading it. I’ve been labelled “controversial” on more than one occasion, and a “scaremonger.” But regardless of agreement, if any of my work inspires critical thinking, and invites reasoned debate, well, that’s good enough for me. “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all” – Elie Wiesel I write to raise awareness, share information and to inspire and promote positive change where I can. I’ve never been able to be indifferent. We need to unite in the face of a government that is purposefully sowing seeds of division. Every human life has equal worth. We all deserve dignity and democratic inclusion. If we want to see positive social change, we also have to be the change we want to see. That means treating each other with equal respect and moving out of the Tory framework of ranks, counts and social taxonomy. We have to rebuild solidarity in the face of deliberate political attempts to undermine it. Divide and rule was always a Tory strategy. We need to fight back. This is an authoritarian government that is hell-bent on destroying all of the gains of our post-war settlement: dismantling the institutions, public services, civil rights and eroding the democratic norms that made the UK a developed, civilised and civilising country. Like many others, I do what I can, when I can, and in my own way. This blog is one way of reaching people. Please help me to reach more by sharing posts. Thanks. Kitty, 2012

DWP stop man’s PIP support after assessor claims amputated foot has ‘healed’

weir

Tommy Weir says the reference in his Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment report to his left foot was either ‘gross incompetence or simply a lie’ because he doesn’t have a left foot.

A man who had his foot amputated because of a health condition has had his social security support cut after an assessor claimed a wound on his non-existent foot had “completely healed”.

Despite the evident error in the Department for Work and Pensions report, Tommy Weir’s £479 a month payments were immediately stopped last month.  

Weir suffered from a bone infection which led to life-threatening sepsis and an eventual amputation of his leg under the knee in October 2017.

He was initially examined at his home and awarded a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) as he cannot walk without the aid of a prosthetic leg. Before becoming too ill to work, Weir was a swimming pool manager.

The assessment was carried out by Independent Assessment Services (IAS), previously known as ATOS.

Weir said, referring to the assessor’s later claim: “The reference to my left foot was either gross incompetence or simply a lie because I don’t have a left foot. 

“I honestly believe I’m yet another case where IAS have quotas to fulfil that rely on refusing people’s applications for PIP or other benefits, no matter what kind of disability is put in front of them.”

In the IAS assessment, it is recorded in a “current symptoms” section that “the wound on his left foot has healed”.

Weir, who has worked at the local authority leisure centre in Renfrew for 35 years, said: “My employers have been great and they have made adaptations at work to allow me to do my job.

“I believe IAS takes the opposite view, that they are set up to take things away, not to help.”

A spokesperson from IAS last night apologised to Weir

The spokesperson said: “We are looking into this, we understand this was an error and would like to apologise to Mr Weir, as the wording should have read that his wound had healed.

“We are unable to say if his PIP will be reinstated as it is the DWP who will make that decision.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “PIP is awarded based on someone’s needs arising from a disability or health condition and those needs can change over time with rehabilitation or, in the case of amputees, with the use of prosthetics.

Decisions are made following consideration of all the information provided, including any assessment report and supporting evidence from a GP or medical specialist. If someone disagrees with the decision, they can of course ask for it to be looked at again.

“Mr Weir has asked us to reconsider our decision and we will contact him as soon as we have looked at his case again.”

Source


 

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After a miserable decade of austerity and inequality, how did the Tories get re-elected?

How Britain voted 2019 age-01

Voting preferences according to age in the 2019 general election.

I’m writing a series of articles about the general election results in December. I’m looking for opinions on this topic. 

If you’re interested in writing about the election, drop me a message here at Politics and Insights.

George Monbiot’s view

George Monbiot says:  “Something has changed: not just in the UK and the US, but in many parts of the world. A new politics, funded by oligarchs, built on sophisticated cheating and provocative lies, using dark ads and conspiracy theories on social media, has perfected the art of persuading the poor to vote for the interests of the very rich. We must understand what we are facing, and the new strategies required to resist it.

“When the same thing happens in many nations, it’s time to recognise the pattern, and see that heaping blame on particular people and parties fixes nothing.

“In these nations, people you wouldn’t trust to post a letter for you have been elected to the highest office. There, as widely predicted, they behave like a gang of vandals given the keys to an art gallery, “improving” the great works in their care with spray cans, box cutters and lump hammers. In the midst of global emergencies, they rip down environmental protections and climate agreements, and trash the regulations that constrain capital and defend the poor.

“They wage war on the institutions that are supposed to restrain their powers while, in some cases, committing extravagant and deliberate outrages against the rule of law. They use impunity as a political weapon, revelling in their ability to survive daily scandals, any one of which would destroy a normal politician.”

Monbiot proposes a new model of politics which he calls political ‘rewilding.’

You can read more about Monbiot’s proposal in his article – There is an antidote to demagoguery – it’s called political rewilding.

Ian Mclauchlin’s view

The second view on the outcome of the election is a guest post (below) by my friend and fellow campaigner Ian Mclauchlin, reflecting his own justified suspicion of a “new politics, funded by oligarchs, built on sophisticated cheating and provocative lies, using dark ads and conspiracy theories on social media, has perfected the art of persuading the poor to vote for the interests of the very rich.”

He says: “I’ve been dismayed to see that the world seems to be going from bad to worse. Rogues are elected and there’s a suspicion (in my mind at least) that it’s happened not always by fair means. They’ve been doing the ‘wrong’ thing almost as a matter of course and getting away with it. Their values are not my values. etc. 

How could this be? Why, in recent times, have we been saddled with particularly unsavoury and incompetent leaders?

If you accept for a moment that they’ve been given all the votes that they seem to have been given, why would people vote like that? For the obviously retrograde and the dangerous?

Well ask yourself what’s changed. In the last 15 years or so, but especially the last 10, Social Media have become available and increasingly heavily used. That’s given those who previously didn’t have a voice the opportunity to find their voice. Not only have they found it, but realised that it can be spread around the world. It’s then amplified by sharing and comments by like minded people. That doesn’t mean it’s the right voice, nor does it mean it’s a correct analysis. But the proponents ‘think’ that it is. So what follows?

What follows is that the bigoted, uneducated, prejudiced and intellectually challenged have found that they can spread their ‘opinions’ – often gained by  accepting with gullibility what they’re told to think by the newspapers they choose to read – far and wide. They then think that their opinions are worth more than they are. Social media amplify those opinions and recipients believe that they’re majority opinions so, like sheep, adopt them as their own!

And Political Parties of dubious morality (are there any other kind?) haven’t been slow to notice this and have deliberately muddied the social media waters accordingly for their own ends, thereby adding to the amplification and the wrong thinking. And so they’re complicit in it all and need to be held to account for that reason alone.

That’s one explanation anyway, in the face of the otherwise inexplicable and downright perverse . . . .

____

So what do you think happened? Ian is right about government and the media’s unrelentingly ruthless lies, dishonesty and disinformation strategies in the run up to the election and the sheer gullibility of the working class, who have apparently voted for more of the same retrogressive policies that have made their lives more difficult and precarious over the last decade.

In my next article in this series I’m exploring how social psychology may play a part in the rise in populism – a political approach that strives (on the surface, at least) to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups, nationalism and authoritarianism, especially in societies where people experience high levels of socioeconomic inequality.  Unfortunately, many people often mistake authoritarian leaders for ‘strong’ ones.

They’re not. Authoritarians are invariably all mouth, lots of slogans and no democracy.

The despised elite has ignored the public in the UK for the last decade has just been returned to office by the same public, as if people expect that voting for more of the same will somehow yield different results and benefit them personally, this time. Unless people really thought the elite was not this particular elite who are not a fundamental part of the establishment…

The electorate has absolutely no grounds whatsoever for the belief that things will improve, and there is plenty of evidence over the past ten years which shows how the Conservatives have not got working class interests at heart.

It seems that many people were quite happy to forego both an interest based and evidence-based decision on how to vote in 2019. 

How Britain voted 2019 education level-01


Educational attainment and voting preferences in the last general election.


 

Politics and Insight’s independent, measured, authoritative reporting has never been so vital, or in the public interest. These are turbulent, decade-defining times. Whatever lies ahead for us all, I will be with you – investigating, disentangling, analysing and scrutinising, as I have done for the last 9 years. 

More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart. 

My editorial independence means I set my own agenda and present my own research and analyisis.  My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power, holding them to account.

My first step to fight back this year is to join the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) as soon as I can afford to. It is an essential protection, now.

It’s not cheap, especially for someone like me, as I’ve no income from my work. I pay WordPress to keep adverts off my site, too. But I am one of those people who often has to make daily choices about whether to eat or keep warm. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. Like many others in similar circumstances, I am now living in fear for our future under a government that has already systematically and gravely violated the human rights of disabled people, which has resulted in fear, suffering, harm and all too often, premature death.

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going. 

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A few billionaires own more wealth than 4.6 billion people, says report ahead of Davos

Bootstraps

The age of endless growth in prosperity for everyone is now a distant memory of a rather more hopeful era. Despite what the government tells us, inequality is growing. And this is damaging to the economy, and to ordinary citizens who are struggling to get by on ever-diminishing incomes and ever-rising living costs. It’s highly unlikely that Brexit will help matters, too

Rising inequality coincided with a profound shift in economic policy throughout much of the developed nations of the world – neoliberalism. Political parties got elected from the end of the seventies by promising to cut tax rates, ‘free up’ markets, and reduce government intervention in the economy. The change was most pronounced in Britain and the United States, after Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took office. But it also occurred to varying degrees in Continental Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan. 

Those countries with largest tax cuts also experienced the biggest increases in inequality, and losses in public welfare and social cohesion.. However, neoliberals’ prevailing view of inequality is that it isn’t a bad thing because it ‘spurs’ people to work harder and become more self-reliant and self-disciplined.

However, people in poverty are increasingly likely to be in working families, which indicates that poverty isn’t caused by people being lazy, undisciplined and unmotivated.

The myth of meritocracy is also used to justify inequality.  Boris Johnson and Charles Murray, among others, have argued that wealth is linked with having a higher IQ. However, roughly a third of rich people inherit their wealth, so that cannot be linked to their own personal qualities, talents or achievements.

There is also the problem with defining ‘skills’and ‘talent’ worthy of merit. One person’s idea of talent is another person’s idea of Simon Cowell. 

The authors of a paper called Talent vs Luck: the role of randomness in success and failure, say “The largely dominant meritocratic paradigm of highly competitive Western cultures is rooted on the belief that success is due mainly, if not exclusively, to personal qualities such as talent, intelligence, skills, efforts or risk taking. Sometimes, we are willing to admit that a certain degree of luck could also play a role in achieving significant material success.

But, as a matter of fact, it is rather common to underestimate the importance of external forces in individual successful stories.”

The authors conclude, rather depressingly that: “The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent, and vice-versa.”

Although the researchers outline the role of luck and randomness in how some people become very wealthy, they have overlooked the role that neoliberal policies play in redistributing public wealth towards the already wealthy.

The team who undertook this study, led by Alessandro Pluchino, also concluded that an important factor in their model was an element of fortune and misfortune that can make or break the individuals’ success.

This is one good reason why we need a robust social security system. Because no-one is immune from periods of hardship and misfortune: an accident or illness, the loss of a job, and a range of other circumstances can leave us facing poverty. No-one ‘deserves’ to be hungry, homeless and poor.

The ‘Inequality Turn’ in the 1980s is one of the most distinctive aspects of contemporary political economy. It isn’t likely that people suddenly became less ‘deserving’ of a decent standard of living, given the radical change in economic ideology and subsequent shift in socio-economic organisation. It’s rather more likely that the political choices of neoliberal policy over that time have resulted in the growth of inequality.

The neoliberal shift has led to the world’s billionaires having more wealth than 4.6 billion people and the world’s richest 1% own more than double the wealth of 6.9 billion people. There are just 2,153 billionaires. 

Those are the latest figures on global inequality from a report released on Monday ahead of an annual meeting of global elites in the mountain resort of Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. The report by the international aid organisation Oxfam states that the number of billionaires has doubled in the last decade.

As at least some of the world’s 2,153 billionaires attend the World Economic Forum this week, others will be working to communicate another message: the complicity of the global elite in wealth inequality.

“Our broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women. No wonder people are starting to question whether billionaires should even exist,” said Amitabh Behar, the CEO of Oxfam India who will be present at Davos.

“[Inequality is at the] heart of fractures and social conflicts all over the world, and no one is fooled,” said Pauline Leclère, Oxfam France’s senior campaigner for tax justice and inequalities.

“Inequality is not someone’s ‘fate’. It is the result of social and fiscal policy that reduces the participation of the wealthy [through taxes] and weakens funding for public services.”

Leclère said this is the message that Oxfam will be trying to deliver at Davos.

The charity  has released its annual report ahead of the famous economic meeting to address mounting inequality since 2014. 

The 2008 financial crisis saw the rich get richer. In 2012, the top 10% of earners took home 50% of all income. That’s the highest percentage in the last 100 years, according to a studyby economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty. 

If you want to know how that happened, you need to simply compare and contrast Conservative neoliberal policies: those aimed at wealthy people have tended to reward them with money, simply for having money, while the poorest citizens have been ‘incentivised’ to be less poor by being financially sanctioned.

This language of ‘incentives’ has been used to engineer a massive shift of public wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest. For example, the social security cuts to disabled people’s support happened at the same time as a generous tax cut to the UK’s wealthiest citizens. While the government imposed austerity on everyone else, they handed out £170,000 each per year to the millionaires in the form of a generous tax cut. 

According to government opinion and rationale, wealthy people require wealth to ‘incentivise’ them to be wealthy, whereas poor people require less money to somehow punish them out of their poverty. 

I don’t think the current government are in a position of power because of their coherence, honesty, talent and intelligence.

I think they are in government because of their ruthless pursuit of insulting the intelligence of others. And succeeding to do so.

Boris Johnson making a tenuous and tedious link between IQ, talent, competition and the inevitability and essential nature of inequality.

Gender inequality

This year, Oxfam examined the gender divide as well, highlighting that men worldwide own 50% more wealth than women due to a “sexist and unfair economic system”.

The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa, according to the report.

Women are much more likely to work in sectors that are more insecure and less valued economically, the Oxfam said.

They do more than 75% of unpaid care work and make up two-thirds of the “care workforce” in nursery and domestic jobs.

“Women and girls are among those who benefit least from today’s economic system,” said Behar.

Overall, their conclusions on inequality remain unchanged.

“Unfortunately, the organisation’s conclusion is the same. Inequality continues to rise in extreme proportions,” Leclère told Euronews, adding that inequality is bad for economies.

The director of the International Monetary Fund said at a conference in Washington DC last week that although inequality between countries was decreasing, inside many high-income countries, inequality is growing.

“The gap between rich and poor can’t be resolved without deliberate inequality-busting policies, and too few governments are committed to these,” said Behar.

Though members of civil society say they’re looking to receive concrete results from Davos, they know it’s an uphill battle.

Leclère says NGO members aren’t “fooled” by the events’ big, lofty political speeches. “We’re waiting for them to follow up with action.”

I can’t see that happening any time soon.

The remedy for an inclusive economy and society

77 years ago, the Beveridge Report identified five social evils: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. We had thought we had eradicated these injustices from society for virtually everyone in the advanced economies with the development of social security, education, housing and health services combined with a growing and inclusive economy offering full employment.

What’s the point of a government of a wealthy nation if it cannot ensure citizens have food, fuel and shelter – fundamental survival requirements? And even worse, one that thinks it is somehow acceptable to punish citizens who need welfare support by withdrawing the means of meeting survival needs by sanctioning them for ‘non-compliance’.

How did we regress to become a state where absolute poverty is once again visible and widespread, and where inequality is everywhere? Absolute poverty is when people cannot meet the costs of basic survival needs, such as for food, shelter and heating. Inequality causes lower economic growth and reduces efficiency, as a lack of opportunity means that the most valuable asset in the economy – citizens – cannot reach their full potential, and so cannot fully contribute and benefit.  

Maslow

Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs

Breaking with the Keynesian model in western Europe and north America in the early postwar decades, the UK and US returned to an earlier, ‘classical’ presumption that, left alone, markets arrive at ‘optimal’ economic equilibria and the state should therefore withdraw from ‘social steering’. The neoliberal era has not only seen the soaring away of top incomes at the expense of those in the lower reaches of the income hierarchy but has also itself been thrown into question by the financial crash of 2008, which no neoclassical economist anticipated.

What would help to reduce inequality?

A good starting point for the UK government would be ensuring:

  • quality, long term employment jobs and fair wages
  • housing everyone can afford
  • health care and support when people need it
  • education for the future
  • a progressive and redistributive tax and transfer system that promotes fairness
  • reversing the legislation that disempowered trade unions, leading to the decline of trade-union membership and collective-bargaining rights
  • secure income in retirement.

These measures would reverse some of the damage that successive neoliberal governments have done to the UK’s social safety nets, resulting in a shift away from democratic norms and the balance of power and wealth.

Prof Alston, an independent expert in human rights law, spent nearly two weeks travelling in Britain and Northern Ireland and received more than 300 written submissions for his report about inequality and poverty in the UK.

He concluded: “The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.”

Alston is absolutely right. The Conservatives from Thatcher onwards have steadily dismantled the social gains of our post war democratic settlement: the NHS, social security, legal aid, social housing and trade unions have been under a vicious onslaught of oppressive Conservative policies for many decades. Our public services are being sold off. Privatisation is about a few people making a big profit, which invariably comes at the expense of the quality of services delivered. Companies making ‘efficiency savings’ by cutting costs, restricting services and hiring fewer and less qualified, less expensive staff.  The public ends up paying private contractors rather more, than public providers, too.

The Australian professor, who is based at New York University, said government policies had led to the “systematic immiseration [economic impoverishment]” of a significant part of the UK population, meaning they had continually put people further into poverty.

“Some observers might conclude that the DWP had been tasked with “designing a digital and sanitised version of the 19th Century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens”, he said.

The UN report cites independent experts saying that 14 million people in the UK – a fifth of the population – live in poverty, according to a new measure that takes into account costs such as housing and childcare.

Alston said the cause was the government’s “ideological” decision to dismantle the social safety net and focus on work as the solution to poverty, something that many of us have also observed over the past decade.

“UK standards of well-being have descended precipitately in a remarkably short period of time, as a result of deliberate policy choices made when many other options were available,” he said.

Alston raises a fundamental question – is the government, and the country, comfortable with the society that we’ve become?

He outlines the normalisation of food banks, rising levels of homelessness and child poverty, steep cuts to benefits and policing, and severe restrictions on legal aid. All of these political decisions make life considerably more difficult for millions of people.

In Professor Alston’s view, these are the unequivocal consequences of deliberate, calculated political decisions. I agree. 

Despite the government’s focus on work and record levels of employment, and their glib promise of ‘making work pay’, about 60% of people in poverty are in families where someone works. 

Alston notes that this, along with welfare cuts, has created a “highly combustible situation that will have dire consequences” in an extended economic downturn.

facade welfare

Read more: Davos 2020: everything you need to know about the World Economic Forum

 

Related

Welfare sanctions can’t possibly “incentivise” people to work

 


Politics and Insight’s independent, measured, authoritative reporting has never been so vital, or in the public interest. These are turbulent, decade-defining times. Whatever lies ahead for us all, I will be with you – investigating, disentangling, analysing and scrutinising, as I have done for the last 9 years. 

More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart. 

My editorial independence means I set my own agenda and present my own research and analyisis.  My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power, holding them to account.

My first step to fight back this year is to join the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) as soon as I can afford to. It is an essential protection, now.

It’s not cheap, especially for someone like me, as I’ve no income from my work. I pay WordPress to keep adverts off my site, too. But I am one of those people who often has to make daily choices about whether to eat or keep warm. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. Like many others in similar circumstances, I am now living in fear for our future under a government that has already systematically and gravely violated the human rights of disabled people, which has resulted in fear, suffering, harm and all too often, premature death.

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going. 

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The election in the media: against evasion and lies, good journalism is all we [don’t] have – Alan Rusbridger

This post is by Alan Rusbridger, chair of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

In his first 1,000 days in office Donald Trump made 13,435 false or misleading claims, according to the good folk at the Washington Post who painstakingly monitor the president’s habit of bending the truth. How we Brits have smiled at this con man’s Teflon gift. Could never happen here.

But consider the lessons political managers around the world might have learned about our election and how we struggled to negotiate the increasingly blurred lines between truth and falsehood; facts and propaganda; openness and stealth; accountability and impunity; clarity and confusion; news and opinion.

 It rather looks as if one or two skilled backroom manipulators (we can guess) studied Trump’s ability to persuade enough people that black is white and, rather than recoil in disgust, came to the opposite conclusion: it works.

One far off day we will discover whether 40 new hospitals will be built, and whether 20,000 new police officers will materialise along with 50,000 “new” nurses. It won’t be long before we learn whether we’ve now finally got Brexit “done” or whether this is just the start of a long and painful process of negotiating our future trading relationships with a greatly weakened hand.

We’ll learn the reality of whether there is to be frictionless trade between the mainland of Britain and the island of Ireland. We will read the truth about alleged Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum … and much more. But by then life will have moved on, and maybe many of us will have forgotten the promises, evasions and outright lies of late 2019.

Lessons learned? That, in an age of information chaos, you can get away with almost any amount of misleading. You can doctor videossuppress informationavoid challenging interviews – but only after your opponents have been thoroughly grilled. You can expel dissenting journalists from the press pack or hide in a fridge. You can rebrand a fake “fact-checking” website. In the end, none of it matters.

Coin one unforgettable message and stick to it. “Get Brexit done” was brilliant, never mind that the meaning of “Brexit” and “done” was far from clear: this is an age of simplicity, not complexity. Even the so-called mainstream media will do far more to amplify that slogan rather than question it. Try this stunt: slap the words on a JCB digger and drive it through a pile of polystyrene bricks … and watch as news editors obligingly clear their front pages for the image.

They are making posters, not doing journalism.

And remember that in most countries, governments have unusual power over public service broadcasters. So, in the event that television journalists seem to be getting too big for their boots, it is often useful to drop a heavy hint there will be a price to pay. Maybe Channel 4 has outlived its usefulness? Possibly it’s time to privatise the BBC? That should do the trick.

rees mogg 2

 Jacob Rees-Mogg was conspicuously missing from the Conservatives election campaign. Photograph: Ian Walton/Reuters

Old-fashioned press conferences should be kept to the minimum. A manifesto should say almost nothing. Gaffe-prone colleagues should be “disappeared”. If in real trouble, make things up. You’ll be amazed how readily even the best journalists will repeat unattributable fictions (see the “row” over the four-year-old boy in Leeds General Infirmary and what “happened” during the subsequent visit of health secretary Matt Hancock). By the time the journalists have corrected themselves and Twitter has spent 24 hours arguing about the truth, the world will have moved on.

So, as Trump has discovered, the liars, myth-makers and manipulators are in the ascendancy – and however valiantly individual journalists attempt to hold them to account (and many, especially at a local level, have tried magnificently) the dice are loaded against them.

The one over-riding thought is that for many years I looked at US newspapers and pitied colleagues there who “just” ran the newsroom, leaving comment pages to others. Pity has turned to envy. I now think it would be cleansing for all British national newspapers to split the responsibility for news and comment. It’s simply too hard for the average reader – especially, but not only online – to tell the difference.

And a hero? After the Yorkshire Evening Post‘s reporting of the Leeds story was questioned, its editor in chief, James Mitchinson, wrote a long and considered reply to a reader who, on the basis of something she read on social media, thought the story was fake. Mitchinson’s reply courteously asks the reader why she would believe the word of a total stranger (who might not even exist) over a newspaper she had read for many years in good faith.

The fact the paper knew the story to be true was, said Mitchinson, down to “bog-standard journalism”. It was a powerful statement of why good journalism – independent and decently crafted – should matter.

So let’s hear it for bog-standard journalism. There’s too little of it. It may not be enough, but it’s all we have.

——-

Related

The government’s disinformation campaign has been facilitated by a complicit, biased, undemocratic media

Journalism in the UK is under threat from a repressive, authoritarian government

BBC’s ‘churnalism’ and the government’s PR and ‘strategic communications’ crib sheet

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

The problem with Jeremy Corbyn? The ranting incoherence of the mass media

Defending disinformation against democracy: the Integrity Initiative

Research finds ‘inaccuracies and distortions’ in media coverage of antisemitism and the Labour Party

The interdependence of the PR industry and neoliberal Conservative governments

Journalism in the UK is under threat from a repressive, authoritarian government

From Spycatcher and GBH to the Zinoviev letter – an emergent pattern and the real enemy within

——-

 

Politics and Insight’s independent, measured, authoritative reporting has never been so vital, or in the public interest. These are turbulent, decade-defining times. Whatever lies ahead for us all, I will be with you – investigating, disentangling, analysing and scrutinising, as I have done for the last 9 years. 

More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart. 

My editorial independence means I set my own agenda and present my own research and analyisis.  My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power.

This morning I came across this on Twitter:

Independent journalists are now facing a threat from an authoritarian government, who have successfully managed to distort our mainstream media.

I did expect this promise of a purge on left leaning sites if Boris Johnson was returned to office, but not quite so soon after the event. It’s a case of vote Tory on Thursday, get fascism by Saturday. 

John Mann isn’t by a long stretch the only so-called moderate ex-Labour neoliberal  extremist whipping up McCarthyist hysteria and hate. But he has been strategically placed for a while by the Conservatives to destroy independent sites like mine. He’s a particularly nasty individual.

My first step to fight back in the coming year is to join the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). It is an essential protection, now.

It’s not cheap, especially for someone like me, as I’ve no income from my work. I pay WordPress to keep adverts off my site, too. But I am one of those people who often has to make daily choices about whether to eat or keep warm. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. Like many others in similar circumstances, I am now living in fear for our future under a government that has already systematically and gravely violated the human rights of disabled people, which has resulted in fear, suffering, harm and all too often, premature death.

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going. 

DonatenowButton

The government’s disinformation campaign has been facilitated by a complicit, biased, undemocratic media

Disinformation and new forms of propaganda can take many forms—from the use of false images, misleading headlines, to social media techniques that create an impression of consensus – that the ‘majority’ understands an issue in a certain way (also called ‘bandwaggon technique’). Polling can be misused, for example, to create an illusion of agreement in a population, and to draw on the conformity tendency or ‘herd mentality’ of the public.

Media agenda setting and framing of events may also contribute to the bandwaggon effect, and even subtle cues such as a broadcast presenter’s attitude and language towards election candidates can also influence voters.

For example, the many times we have heard the phrase “… let Jeremy Corbyn in” from broadcast media over the course of this election sends out a message that a Labour government would not be the norm, or the ‘preferred’ outcome of an election. The phrase also references and amplifies Theresa May’s chilling authoritarian comment that the Tories would “never allow [Jeremy Corbyn to be elected as Prime Minister] that to happen”. That is the intended subtext.

Sometimes, journalists quite openly reveal their own clear biases. This blatant lack of impartiality contravenes the UK’s norms of democracy and dismally fails to uphold public interest.

The comments, attitudes, gestures and facial expressions of presenters may also send out cues about party leaders deemed ‘suitability’ for office. Boris Johnson’s avoidance of difficult interviews was not because of cowardice. It was a tactical measure to avoid scrutiny, and to avoid being seen in a negative light. The interviews he did participate in were friendlier than other party leaders. Johnson had an easier time of it, by and large, during the election campaign.

The PM having a friendly selfie moment on This Morning

Johnson was somehow unable to find time to be interviewed by BBC1’s Conservative but nonetheless formidable Andrew Neil. He had no problem squeezing in a breezy and fawning chat with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on ITV.

Can’t imagine why. Informative to see what ‘rigorous scrutiny’ from the British media looks like, however.

The media’s complicity in a strategic disinformation campaign

The case of Jack Williment-Barr, the four-year-old boy (pictured above) who was forced to sleep on a hospital floor as he waited in A&E, has brought public focus on the state of the chronically underfunded NHS just days before the election. The story appeared in the Daily Mirror. But it has also put focus on the other key trend of the election campaign: false and misleading claims that have circulated on social media and been amplified significantly by the mainstream press.

The image of Jack lying on a pile of coats has been at the centre of two major controversial disinformation campaigns. Jack’s story and the shocking image that highlighted the shocking state of the NHS have now been subjected to dishonest political re-edits, twice over. It is inconceivable that these re-edits have originated from anywhere other than the Conservative headquarters.

First, journalists who claimed to have been briefed by ‘senior Conservatives’ misreported that Matt Hancock’s adviser had been punched by one of 100 activists who arrived after the health secretary came to the hospital in an attempt to deal with the ongoing story. It turned out that there was no such punch, and that the adviser had simply accidently walked into the hand of one of the very small number of protesters who were at the hospital. He was pointing at something.

Hancock visited the hospital as a ‘damage management’ exercise following Boris Johnson’s earlier refusal to look at a photo of Jack on the floor of the hospital presented to him by Joe Pike, an ITV journalist. He took the phone from Pike, to avoid a difficult discussion about the government’s chronic underfunding of the NHS.

In the second re-edit, thousands of people shared a story that claimed to prove the photo of Jack was ‘staged’ by ‘Labour activists’, and that his mother had placed him on the floor specifically to take a photo. Once again, the claim was false; once again, it was amplified across social media by key journalists and political editors before any of them had bothered checking the provenance of the claim, or the facts of the case from the hospital itself.

None of this was true.

So Hancock was sent to Leeds General Infirmary, where the original photograph was taken. “Health Secretary has been despatched to Leeds to try to sort this out after PM’s awkward reaction earlier,” the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg tweeted.

Soon after he arrived, reports came from many of the country’s leading political journalists that Hancock’s aide had been attacked. Reports including ITV political editor Robert Peston, Laura Kuenssberg and others. This certainly looked like a very well co-ordinated disinformation campaign.

There were also reports that claimed “100 activists” had arrived and that their journey had been “paid for by the Labour Party.”

Some indicated that they had been told the news by Conservatives, and later indicated that the claims had been checked with “multiple sources.”

That will be just Matt Hancock, then.

It very quickly became clear that all of those claims were false. A video of the incident appeared shortly after that made very clear that there were only a few activists, and that the punch had not actually happened at all. 

Then, the same evening, the second misleading narrative took hold. A flurry of tweets began, boosting two stories that were eerily written using the same wording.

The first and most prominent disinformation item claimed to be sourced from a senior nurse who worked at the hospital, though it got the name of it wrong. It said that the photo had been staged by Jack’s mother, and that he immediately got back on a trolley after it was taken.

The second, which appeared to start slightly later, was credited to a “paediatric nurse.” It used a range of seeming medical jargon to definitively suggest that “no child would be treated in such a way,” and that therefore the image was either fake or misleading.

In both cases, a flurry of accounts took the text of the tweet and re-shared it, oddly, as if it was their own comment. It also made its way onto Twitter, where it was similarly shared without context.

Taken together, the story was shared tens of thousands of times onto different social media sites. Many have suggested that bots have been used.

The original viral post on a medical secretary’s Facebook account said, “I am a nurse myself” and cited a “good friend of mine” at Leeds General. It claimed the boy in the photo “was in fact put there by his mother who then took photos on her mobile phone and then uploaded it to media outlets”. The post dismissed the pictures of the ill boy as “another Momentum propaganda story”, despite the fact the hospital had already apologised for his treatment.

She later claimed her account had been hacked.

It didn’t matter that the hospital had confirmed the incident happened and apologised to the family, or that the nurses who supposedly served as the source for either story were anonymous and almost certainly not real. The story was shared as if it was fact and was amplified by Conservative MPs and senior journalists.

In some cases, those people have taken down those tweets. But worryingly, others are still live, and still being interacted with by readers.

Neither of the claims are remotely factual. Again, the hospital involved has confirmed that the incident happened, and that the event the photograph shows is real.

Responsible and publicly trusted reporters, such as Kuenssberg and Peston have a fundamental duty to make sure the comments they are putting out in the public domain have been verified and fact checked.

The hospital statement had already summed it the situation up – the hospital admitted there was no bed, the expectations of the family fell woefully short of the high standards of the NHS and as such an apology was issued.

The standards of journalism fell woefully short of the high expectations of the UK media. Throughout the election campaign, it’s clearly evident that the mainstream media has demonstrated that we cannot trust it to deliver impartial commentaries or fact checked news. 

However, the BBC did address the despicable misinformation campaign, but not during peak viewing hours: 

 

Laura Kuenssberg’s controversial, possibly illegal comments on the postal vote

Laura Kuenssberg: “the postal votes, of course, have already arrived. The parties, they’re not meant to look at them, but they do kind of get a hint. And, on both sides, people are telling me that the postal votes that are in are looking very grim for Labour…”.

The Electoral Commission says: 1.9 Ballot papers will be kept face down throughout a postal vote opening session. Anyone attending an opening session must not attempt to see how individual ballot papers have been marked. It follows therefore that keeping a tally of how ballot papers have been marked is not allowed.

1.10 In addition, anyone attending a postal vote opening must not attempt to look at identifying marks or numbers on ballot papers, disclose how any particular ballot paper has been marked or pass on any such information gained from the session. Anyone found guilty of breaching these requirements can face an unlimited fine, or may be imprisoned for up to six months.”

In a statement on Twitter, the watchdog said: ‘It may be an offence to communicate any information obtained at postal vote opening sessions, including about votes cast, before a poll has closed. ‘Anyone with information to suggest this has happened should report it immediately to the police.’

Kuenssberg told viewers on Wednesday – with just hours to go before the polling stations opened – that while parties were not supposed to look at voting papers when they were verified – but not counted – at opening sessions, they did “get a hint” of how they were doing and it was not looking good for Labour.

Her comments, however, came across as a statement of fact, rather than a hint.

She said: “The forecast is that it’s going to be wet and cold tomorrow. The postal votes, of course, have already arrived. The parties – they’re not meant to look at it, but they do kind of get a hint – and on both sides people are telling me that the postal votes that are in are looking pretty grim for Labour in a lot of parts of the country.

“Of course, postal voters tend to skew to elderly voters and people who vote early … but the kind of younger generation who we know skew much more to the Labour party, you might expect to turn out to the polls tomorrow. But in this winter election, turnout is just another one of these factors that we just can’t predict.”

Kuenssberg’s remarks, made during an interview on the BBC’s Politics Live programme, was widely shared on social media on the final day of an election campaign that has seen unprecedented criticism of the media. It led to suggestions that she could potentially have breached the Representation of the People Act, which prevents the reporting of how people voted until after polls close.

A spokesperson for the broadcaster made clear they did not believe there were any issues with the on-air comments. “The BBC does not believe it, or its political editor, has breached electoral law,” they said.

Ballot papers are kept face down while votes are opened and it is forbidden to attempt to see how ballots have been marked or to keep a count. Postal votes are not counted until 10pm on the day of the election.

The broadcasting regulator Ofcom has strict electoral rules around broadcasting or publishing the results of votes or opinion polls on election day before 10pm over concerns that doing so could influence voters’ decisions.  

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Waltham Forest council in east London has been scrambling to deliver postal votes that should have been out by last Friday, after an administrative error delayed the process.

The problem affected 1,470 voters in three constituencies, including Chingford and Woodford Green, which Iain Duncan Smith won for the Conservatives with a majority of 2,438 at the last election and which is a key target for Labour.

The council could not say how many voters were affected in each constituency but said all but one form had now been delivered.

It said 1,364 forms had been hand-delivered by the end of Monday and 105 more had been couriered to voters outside London on Tuesday and Wednesday.

A council spokesman said the borough had dealt with 27,993 postal votes for this election. He apologised for the error and said the Electoral Commission had been notified.

He added: “Completed postal votes will get to us if they are posted by last post on Wednesday 11 December. They can also be handed to staff at any polling station in the constituency on the day of the general election.”

Given the context of this error, it’s very easy to see why many people have a growing concern that this election may be rigged.

The fake narratives and lies in the Conservatives’ and Liberal democrats’ social media campaigns

Almost all of the Conservative Party’s recent Facebook adverts promote claims labelled as misleading or untrue by one of the platform’s third-party fact-checking partners, a First Draft investigation has found.

Nearly 90% of the ads posted in the first days of December push figures already challenged by Full Fact, the UK’s leading fact-checking organisation. The non-partisan, independent charity works with the tech giant to assess posts which have been reported as misleading or false by users in the UK.

Facebook recently announced that posts from political organisations and political adverts are exempt from fact-checking, meaning parties and candidates can promote inaccurate claims without scrutiny.

Online ads have become a controversial central theme of elections, where parties can reach voters with micro-targeted messages that are ‘psychographically tailored’ according to the data held on individuals, concerning their postcode, hobbies, site and online buying preferences and other private information collected by data analysts, but these categories are not in public view in the Ad Library. (See: The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign.)

The so-called “dark ads” have emerged as a method of advertising that utilises data obtained by the likes of Facebook and Google, among other platforms to ‘customise’ and tailor messages in political campaigns.

They can be served directly to users of Facebook and via Google’s widely used double-click technology which serves ads to millions of websites, including political ads.

It should not be left to US internet companies to safeguard UK elections. Our election laws are decades out of date, and our next Parliament should take urgent steps to secure the accountability and transparency we need to protect our democracy.

Will Moy, chief executive of Full Fact, told First Draft: “Full Fact plays an independent role in Facebook’s Third Party Fact Checking programme, which doesn’t currently cover ads or content from political figures or parties.

“But Full Fact continues to regularly scrutinise claims by all political parties, including manifestos and debates during this election campaign.”

The Conservatives massively stepped up their ad campaign on Facebook, running almost 7,000 ads and spending more than £50,000 between November 27 and December 3, according to the latest figures from Facebook’s Ad Library.

First Draft accessed the Facebook Ad Library API to download all 6,749 ads from the Conservative Party between December 1 and December 4. Some 88% (5,952) of the most widely promoted ads featured claims about the NHS, income tax cuts, and the Labour Party which had already been labelled misleading or untrue by Full Fact.

Not every ad includes the misleading claim directly in its image or caption. At least 54% (3,646) of the total ads served link to a webpage carrying the misleading claims.

When ITV News asked senior Conservative Michael Gove about the ads, he said: “I’m not aware of any adverts that we publish that have been misleading.”

The central Conservative Party press office have not responded to requests for comment.

A Facebook spokesperson told ITV News: “We don’t believe a private company like Facebook should censor politicians. Our approach is instead to introduce unprecedented levels of transparency so anyone can see every political advert and who it’s from.”

The misleading ads include:

Moy, director of Full Fact, said: “This election candidates and campaigns on all sides are asking voters for their trust. Serious parties and politicians should not be recycling debunked claims or targeting individuals with bad information – we all deserve better than that.”

Facebook, however, expects that the public will somehow determine for themselves the truth of claims made in adverts. It’s a view that is evidently shared by the BBC regarding claims made in party manifestos.

The Liberal Democrats have also been accused of misleading voters ahead of polling day, using inaccurate graphs and leaflets masquerading as local newspapers, which featured in their posted leaflets.

The Lib Dems have also been accused of using misleading graphs in Facebook ads. First Draft found hundreds of Lib Dem Facebook ads use graphs to falsely claim they are the only party to beat Labour, the Conservatives or the SNP “in seats like yours”.

Facebook does not provide data on where the ads have been targeted but some Twitter users have complained that they have received ads which reflect voting pattern statistics that are inaccurate for their constituency.

At least 16.5% of the Lib Dems 7,295 ads since the campaign began feature such claims.

First Draft has not been able to find misleading claims in Facebook adverts from the Labour Party, which has promoted far fewer ads than the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats.

However, Full Fact recently described as “not credible” one claim that the average family would save £6,700 under Labour policies. Labour’s Liz McInnes has used this claim in a Facebook ad.

Fact Check say: “More than three quarters of the supposed “savings” come from just two large costs, rail season tickets and childcare, neither of which comes close to reflecting what an average family actually pays. In England, two fifths of families don’t pay anything for childcare; only 5% of people use a train more than three times a week.

However: “Some of the smaller figures seem fair estimates of savings that might come about if Labour’s policies were implemented, but they overstate the extra costs families have faced since 2010.”

And: “We haven’t seen the workings behind this figure, which Labour says is from a House of Commons Library analysis.”

There’s a world of difference between contested figures and deliberate intent to mislead the public, as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have set out to do.

The Tories’ ambition is a one party state

The Tories have been brazen in their contempt for democratic process and norms. For example, it has been plain from their increasing reliance on statutory instruments (SI) to sidestep debate and voting in the Commons, in order to push through controversial and unpopular draconian policies. 

When the House of Lords overturned Osborne’s nasty raid on the working poor’s tax credits (itself enacted by statutory instrument, in case the Commons vote it down), he reacted with the oblique but unmistakable threat to flood the Lords with so many new Tory peers so that such a defiance of his authority could not be repeated.

The Conservatives’ utter contempt for both international and national human rights legislative frameworks is another worrying symptom of authoritarianism. The UK is the first state to have prompted investigation into how it upholds the human rights of disabled people. The inquiry report concluded that the government have systematically and gravely violated the human rights of disabled people via their punitive policies. The government continue to deny this, and in the meantime, the public has tended to look the other way while ill and disabled people die prematurely through neglect, loss of support and other austerity related cuts that were disproportionately targeted at one of the most vulnerable communities.

The way in which the Tories have treated marginalised communities has expressed clearly their traditional prejudices, leading to direct discrimination and oppressive policies, while those with the least need – the millionaires – have been lavished with tax cuts and other hand outs from our public funds.

The highly controversial welfare ‘reforms’ were hammered through the scrutiny stage into legislative process by Cameron’s claim to an archaic Commons proviso: ‘financial privilege’. The public are still waiting to see the risk register following the Health and Social Care bill, despite the government being ordered to place it in the public domain by the Information Commissioner and the court.

Then there was Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament- normally a standard procedure in the calendar of Parliament, but the prerogative was clearly used for controversial political objectives by the PM.

The prorogation was an improper and unlawful attempt to evade parliamentary scrutiny of Johnson’s Brexit plans in advance of the UK’s departure from the European Union on 31 October 2019; individuals and groups who opposed the prorogation included opposition MPs, UK constitutional law scholars, and John Major, the former Conservative Prime Minister. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, called the decision a “constitutional outrage”.  

Page 48 of the Conservative manifesto

Stefan Enchelmaier, Professor of European Law at the University of Oxford, “almost missed” the mention of the Human Rights Act (HRA) in the Conservative manifesto. Probably, most people have. That is probably the point.

Buried on page 48, the 2019 manifesto contains a single mention of the party’s pledge to “update” the 1998 HRA, which brings the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law. It doesn’t specify what the ‘update’ will look like, or when it will happen (beyond “after Brexit,” which isn’t much of a clue). The language is euphemistic and vague, indicating that the ‘update’ will “ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.” This is not a pledge intended to draw attention.

The attempt at hiding this pledge marks a change. David Cameron’s 2015 manifesto, which also promised the infamous “in-out referendum,” committed—five times over; three in bold—to “scrap” the Human Rights Act (HRA) and introduce a British Bill of fRights. This pledge came despite the failure of the 2010 coalition’s especially set-up Bill of Rights Commission to agree on its content, and by the end of 2015, there was still no British Bill of Rights. In December 2016, it was announced that HRA repeal was delayed until after Brexit; and the 2017 Tory manifesto pledged to remain signed up to the ECHR “for the duration of this parliament.” For now, that is.

During this time, some prominent Conservatives politicised the HRA as “Labour’s.” Others, such as Dominic Grieve defended it.

This is a bit strange given it passed with overwhelming cross-party support in 1998.

Furthermore, the ECHR itself was shaped to a considerable degree by Winston Churchill and Tory lawyer David Maxwell-Fyfe . More recently, the Conservatives have used a narrative of the legal sovereignty issue into the Brexit debate, BUT leaving the EU does not entail leaving the ECHR. They are two different organisations completely.

Tory statements on human rights have often been inflammatory, like Cameron saying he felt “physically sick” at the thought of prisoners’ right to vote. Then there were the lies that were used to portray human rights in a negative light – like the “pet cat” Theresa May said prevented a deportation (in reality, Judge Gleeson had found that the deportee was in a stable relationship, and was therefore allowed to stay under the HRA, and that the couple also kept a cat).

Helen Mountfield, barrister, legal scholar and principal of Mansfield College, Oxford said: “There has really been a populist misrepresentation of what the law is.” She is suggesting that politicians and the populist press have in part intentionally fuelled the perception that the HRA is “a rogue’s charter.”

It’s noteworthy that the Conservatives’ new promise to “update” the HRA is hidden away in a paragraph that,rather worryingly, promises other sorts of constitutional review, including looking at “the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts.” Basically the Tories want to place themselves above the law. It’s usually one of the first acts of a despotic regime when they gain office. Amending existing human rights laws is another

The Tories are being intentionally unclear so that later they can do what they want. Given their past record, we can say that they mean to ‘weaken’ the commitments that we have to the ECHR. Some of Cameron’s plans entailed making human rights ‘relevant’ and relative. It would be down to a minister to decide if a case would be heard, the decision would be on an individual basis. This profoundly undermines the universality of human rights.If only some rights are upheld, it flies in the face of the fundamental principle that everyone has the same fundamental rights

The Tory proposal is likely address when, where and by whom those rights can be enjoyed and who can be held to account for their violation. It won’t be the government.

Whatever the eventual shape of the HRA, the systematic attacks on it are symptomatic of a troubling trend: populist attempts to undermine the perceived legitimacy of the rule of law.

The “Enemies of the People” headline used by the Daily Mail after the case on triggering Article 50 in 2017 demonstrates the government are fine with attacking the independent Judiciary. So this is about destroying the mechanisms of government accountability and operating within the law. It is an attack on our institutions, and the dignity and wellbeing of citizens.

We’ve already seen the government’s utter contempt for the human rights of disabled people and some ethnic communities. Their manifesto promises to confiscate the belongings of Roma, Gypsies and travellers, and to move them from their homes.

The Tories are far worse than ‘anti-progressive.’ They are brutal, cruel authoritarian eugenicists. It’s written between the lines of their narratives of ‘deserving and undeserving’ it’s embedded in their the myth of meritocracy. It drips from their disdain for a public they think can’t spell Pinocchio, or aren’t ‘clever’ enough to escape a burning multi-storey building. They think they are better than others and that gives them the right to rule. On their own terms.

That’s not a democracy, by the way.

Nor is the government’s almost total control over our mainstream media, who no longer serve the public interest.

—–

Related
 

Journalism in the UK is under threat from a repressive, authoritarian government

BBC’s ‘churnalism’ and the government’s PR and ‘strategic communications’ crib sheet

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

The problem with Jeremy Corbyn? The ranting incoherence of the mass media

Defending disinformation against democracy: the Integrity Initiative

Research finds ‘inaccuracies and distortions’ in media coverage of antisemitism and the Labour Party

The interdependence of the PR industry and neoliberal Conservative governments

Journalism in the UK is under threat from a repressive, authoritarian government

From Spycatcher and GBH to the Zinoviev letter – an emergent pattern and the real enemy within

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

 
——-

 

Update following the election result: Politics and Insight’s independent, measured, authoritative reporting has never been so vital, or in the public interest. These are turbulent, decade-defining times. Whatever lies ahead for us all, I will be with you – investigating, disentangling, analysing and scrutinising, as I have done for the last 9 years. 

More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart. 

My editorial independence means I set my own agenda and present my own research and analyisis.  My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power.

This morning I came across this on Twitter:

John Mann@LordJohnMann
 

I can this morning announce that as government advisor on antisemitism that I will be instigating an investigation this January into the role of the Canary and other websites in the growth of antisemitism in the United Kingdom. https://twitter.com/supergutman/status/1205296902301990912 

Marlon Solomon@supergutman
 

Who’d have guessed that Mendoza – one of the people most responsible for toxifying the British left with racially charged conspiracy theories about Jews – would blame a Jew before anyone else.

Whoever takes control of Labour, from whatever faction, please fuck these people off.

View image on Twitter
3,147 people are talking about this
 
 

Independent journalists are now facing a threat from an authoritarian government, who have successfully managed to distort our mainstream media.

I did expect this promise of a purge on left leaning sites if Boris Johnson was returned to office, but not quite so soon after the event. It’s a case of vote Tory on Thursday, get fascism by Saturday. 

John Mann isn’t by a long stretch the only so-called moderate ex-Labour neoliberal  extremist whipping up McCarthyist hysteria and hate. But he has been strategically placed for a while by the Conservatives to destroy independent sites like mine. He’s a particularly nasty individual.

My first step to fight back in the coming year is to join the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). It is an essential protection, now.

It’s not cheap, especially for someone like me, as I’ve no income from my work. I pay WordPress to keep adverts off my site, too. But I am one of those people who often has to make daily choices about whether to eat or keep warm. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. Like many others in similar circumstances, I am now living in fear for our future under a government that has already systematically and gravely violated the human rights of disabled people, which has resulted in fear, suffering, harm and all too often, premature death.

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going. 

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David Graeber speaks about dangers of ‘fanning the flames’ of antisemitism controversy for Jews

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The mural commemorating the battle of Cable Street

David Graeber is a Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and is also involved in social and political activism. His books includDebt: the First 5000 Years and Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire

In September this year, Graeber wrote an article that was originally published on the OpenDemocracy site – For the first time in my life, I’m frightened to be Jewish.

He says: “I am 58 years old, and for the first time in my life, I am frightened to be Jewish.

“We live in a time when racism is being normalized, when Nazis parade in the streets in Europe and America; Jew baiters like Hungary’s Orban are treated as respectable players on the international scene, “white nationalist” propagandist Steve Bannon can openly coordinate scare-mongering tactics with Boris Johnson in London at the same time as in Pittsburg, murderers deluded by white nationalist propaganda are literally mowing Jews down with automatic weapons.

“How is it, then, that our political class has come to a consensus that the greatest threat to Britain’s Jewish community is a lifelong anti-racist accused of not being assiduous enough in disciplining party members who make offensive comments on the internet?”

He later says: “The problem is that exploiting Jewish issues in ways guaranteed to create rancor, panic, and resentment is itself a form of antisemitism. (This is true whether or not the architects are fully aware of what they’re doing.) It creates terror in the Jewish community. It deprives us of our strongest allies.”

That is the left.

You can read Graeber’s candid, excellent and thoughtful article in full here.

Graeber has also made this video:

 

Related

Marginalisation of left leaning Jewish groups demonstrates political exploitation of the antisemitism controversy by the right wing

Michael Rosen discusses antisemitism

An open letter to the Chief Rabbi from an Imam, about Jeremy Corbyn

Letter endorsing Jeremy Corbyn, signed by key public figures and Jewish academics

Techniques of neutralisation: Cameron says keep calm and carry on climbing Allport’s ladder

 


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Is hypocritical PM a ‘terrorist sympathiser’? He called for Osama Bin Laden to face trial in 2001.

Boris

Boris  Johnson, a grubby liar and hypocrite.

Yesterday, I was the person who spent just two minutes researching Boris Johnson’s position and previous comments in the media on Osama Bin Laden. While researching, I found the Telegraph article that the Johnson wrote in 2001. The Conservatives have condemned Jeremy Corbyn’s statement that Bin Laden should have faced a trial. 

Grubby, nasty quote mining and giant unverifiable inductive leaps over the amoral void, by habitual hypocrits and liars. That sums up Conservative propaganda.

In 2011, a special forces raid on the al-Qaida chief’s Pakistan compound resulted in Bin Laden and four others being shot dead.

George Osborne, among other Conservatives, claimed a Labour Party led by Corbyn would “pose a threat to national security” because, he claimed, Corbyn “sympathises with terrorists”.

This claim has been made by the Tory party many times. 

David Cameron has described Jeremy Corbyn a “security threat” and “terrorist sympathiser”. In the Corbyn interview from which Cameron quoted without context, the Labour leader had already described the New York bombings as a “tragedy”, and was explaining that the “tragedy” of Bin Laden’s death was that he was assassinated and did not face trial.

More recently, an unscrupulous and dishonest Boris Johnson accused Jeremy Corbyn of seeking to “legitimate the actions of terrorists” in his speech after the 2017 Manchester bombing, 

However, in 2001, Boris Johnson said that he also supported Bin Laden facing a trial. Curiously, no-one has yet called him a terrorist sympathiser or a threat to national security. The media have slavishy amplified the Conservatives’ propaganda without any fact checking whatsoever.

I did some fact checking because I was sick of seeing the Conservatives’ deceitful and ruthless quote mining of Jeremy Corbyn’s comments, which are taken out of context then used to prop up outrageous political claims such as “Corbyn hates the UK”. The Tories are so full of this kind of unscrupulous, flimsy propaganda shit. They’ve got away with it for far too long. This is not the standard of political discourse and debate we should expect to see in a healthy democracy. The Tories have raced to the bottom of the pit marked “amoral”, dragging a mostly unresistant media with them.

I posted Boris Johnson’s Op-Ed article in the Daily Telegraph on December 13, 2001 – just three months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks – on Twitter, to expose his sheer hypocrisy and dishonesty. It went viral.

Job done. Exposing lies and hypocrisy used to be the job of our paid journalists, but that is no longer the case here in the UK, with few notable exceptions.

RT  have run an article on this issue. I don’t expect that the UK media will.

Another under-reported matter is that Boris Johnson called for the “break up” of the NHS back in 2002. The Prime Minister made the speech in 2002 while a backbench Tory MP, criticising Labour’s refusal to consider breaking up the NHS. It comes as Donald Trump flies into the UK amid concerns of a US trade deal which would damage the health service. Johnson has previously said that the government should examine “the experience of other countries that have a far better record of health care provision … because they do not rely exclusively on a top-down monopolistic health service of the kind we have in this country.”

That’s Tory-speak for privatisation. The so-called libertarian right wing see the NHS as the last bastion of a collectivist tradition that they want to eradicate completely from British society. 

NHS

They loathe it because they see it as a form of decadence, and as antithetical to the fundamentalist principles of ‘competition; and the vulture capitalist’s right to make money out of anything – an idea that has driven more than four decades of neoliberal elitist ‘reform.’

Some of the Tories have direct connections to companies that want to make money out of NHS privatisation (see above). I wonder if that has some bearing on their view.  

Boris Johnson probably didn’t want you to see this. Or perhaps he simply has a very poor long term memory.

Boris Johnson was blocked from accessing state secrets as foreign secretary because Downing Street felt he was a security risk

The Conservatives have repeatedly claimed that HM’s opposition leader is a “risk to national security”, but don’t produce any evidence of this.

However, the party had to restrict Boris Johnson’s access to intelligence because he was such a liability:

  • Theresa May tried to restrict Boris Johnson’s access to secret intelligence when he was foreign secretary.
  • The then prime minister wanted Johnson not to be shown some secret intelligence when he was appointed in July 2016, BBC News reported.
  • Sources said Downing Street’s decision was based on a variety of factors, including a lack of trust in Johnson, and personal enmity between him and May
  • The report followed claims in 2017 that British spy chiefs were “wary” of sharing information with Johnson because they didn’t trust him.

Theresa May repeatedly withheld sensitive intelligence from Boris Johnson when he was foreign secretary, because they believed he would leak the information.

May wanted the then foreign secretary to not to be shown certain sensitive secret intelligence when he was appointed in July 2016, BBC News reported, citing multiple security sources.

Downing Street’s move is said to have worried security chiefs at the time because of the foreign secretary’s role in authorising sensitive operations.

Johnson was aware of Downing Street’s decision at the time and was “very unhappy about it,” it was reported. Sources close to Johnson insisted there was no row about information access and claimed he saw everything he needed to for his role.

Johnson first visited the headquarters of MI6, the government’s foreign intelligence service, as foreign secretary three months after his appointment when he was shown around by its chief Alex Younger.

Johnson praised the work of the security services and said: “Even from my relatively short period as foreign secretary I can testify to how vital the work they do is.”

But at the same time a row was taking place about whether Johnson should have access to all the intelligence produced by the UK’s spies, the BBC reported, despite the fact ministerial responsibility lay with Johnson for MI6 and GCHQ, another branch of the intelligence service.

The New Statesman reported at the time that multiple diplomats had doubts over Johnson’s personal style as foreign secretary.

A month previously, he had said the ISIS stronghold of Sirte, the Libyan city, could be “the next Dubai” once they “clear the dead bodies away.” It may be a sentence that would be appropriate down the pub with a few of the boys, but it isn’t a statement that reflects a prime minister of calibre.

 Boris Johnson is not fit to be prime minister. 

People like me have increasingly taken on the role of public interest journalism and research to fill the void, and most of us are unpaid.

I became too ill to work in 2010. I have lupus, which is progressive, and in my case, has many and complex symptoms. The illness has had a huge impact on my mobility, for example, and my immunity to infection. I rely on the state support that I paid into over my working life, but frequently struggle to get by, like far too many others.

I don’t like asking people for money. I rarely do, though like other independent writers, I have a donate button at the foot of most of my articles. I write first and foremost because I feel I must. We need reliable sources of information in an era of fake news and authoritarian state propaganda. Our mainstream media has badly let the UK public down. It does not hold the government to account, as a rule. This has seriously undermined the UK’s democracy. 

However, if you feel you would like to support my site so I can keep on keeping on, you can always make a donation. The smallest amount is always valued. It helps me pay for my site, for a WordPress plan that doesn’t allow advertising, and my broadband bills. I also have to pay to access research sometimes.

I would also thank those who have made generous donations over the last few years to support my work and help me keep going.

Much love and solidarity X

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My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.

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