Category: Authoritarianism

The Peterloo Massacre

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The Manchester Observer was a short-lived non-conformist Radical newspaper based in Manchester, England. Its radical agenda led to an invitation to Henry “Orator” Hunt to speak at a public meeting in Manchester. The Peterloo massacre and the shutdown of the newspaper resulted from that Public Meeting.

By 1819, the allocation of Parliamentary constituencies did not reflect population distribution. The major urban centres of Manchester, Salford, Bolton, Blackburn, Rochdale, Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham and Stockport, had a combined population of almost one million. They were represented only by their county MPs. Lancashire was represented by two members of parliament: John Blackburne of Hale Hall and Edward Smith Stanley, (Lord Stanley). Lord Stanley was a Conservative Whig and member of the “Derby Dilly” – a breakaway group of Conservative Whigs. The name derives from the family title “Earl of Derby” and the name of a stagecoach: the “Diligence” or “Dilly”; The title was bestowed on the Group by Irish Nationalist Leader Daniel O’Connell in a scathing reference to an erratic coach, with Stanley driving the horses.

It was quickly picked up by others, and the name stuck. Stanley’s reputation was as the “Prince Rupert of Debate”: leading his followers to attack but unable to rally them afterwards. As a result, it was difficult to estimate the number of MPs who were actually part of the ‘Dilly’. But the name did highlight the turmoil of the Ruling Classes. Change was very much in the air. 

Both Blackburne and Stanley were Oxford educated Landowners whose families had “been in politics” for some time and were not liking the change. Not the Cooperativism and Utopian Socialism of one time Manchester resident Robert Owen – Pioneer of the Cooperative Movement and member of the Manchester Board of Health. As Whigs they were aware of the rising demands of the emerging Working Class. There was something in the air.

Indeed, in 1820, The Radical War burst out in Scotland when A Committee of Organisation for Forming a Provisional Government put placards around the streets of Glasgow late on Saturday the first of April, calling for an immediate national strike. By the third of April there was a strike.

Work stopped over a wide area of central Scotland including Stirlingshire, Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, with an estimated total of around 60,000 stopping work, particularly in weaving communities. Eighty eight men were charged with treason. The leaders – Andrew Hardie and John Baird – were hanged and beheaded. The last beheadings in the British Isles. 

The 1819 Peterloo Massacre was normal, not exceptional.

Voting, in 1819, was restricted to the adult male owners of freehold land with a rateable value greater than forty shillings. The equivalent of a rateable value of about £172 as of 2018, which equates, approximately, to owning a Freehold property worth £172,000. The amounts are approximations as the Rateable Value was largely abolished with the introduction of the Poll Tax of 1990. This property qualification resulted in very few people having the Vote. Those who did have the vote numbered around two percent of the population, and, in Lancashire the number was even lower. When 60,000 people turned out to hear Orator Hunt talk, they outnumbered the voting population for the whole of Lancashire. 

The imbalance of power was not simply between Men and Women but between Rich and Poor. Indeed, Radicals were demanding that Women get the Vote. Which “moderates” saw as a step too far. Indeed Women – over thirty, of a certain class – only got the Vote after violent confrontation with the Liberals – under Asquith – and Moderates in 1918: almost a century after Orator Hunt stated that Women, who were single, tax paying and of sufficient property should be permitted to vote.

Equality of voting rights only really came about with the 1928 Representation of the People Act. The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 only allowed propertied women to vote and almost all men. The Franchise for all Working Class Adults has only really existed for about ninety years. The Electoral Register for Local and National Elections only became the same register in 1949 and the voting age fixed at 18 in 1969. Every step of the way was fought for. 

In 1819 votes in Lancashire could only be cast at the county town of Lancaster, by a public spoken declaration at the hustings. There was no Secret Ballot. Britain’s first secret ballot box, which was used in Pontefract in 1872, was mandated by the Ballot Act of 1872. The Liberal candidate, H.C. Childers was elected MP for the town and the Returning Officer announced the result of the secret ballot in the Town Hall after the votes had been counted.

In 1819, the vote was cast by standing up in public and announcing for whom you cast your vote. The Returning Officer would then record the cast vote. This was of much concern to Chartists who saw the affront to democracy in people being influenced – by drunkenness or threats – at the hustings. Indeed, the specific Electoral Offence of “treating” derives from the practice of candidates providing food and drink at the hustings to induce a favourable vote.

The first automatic secret ballot box was built and patented in Merthyr Tydfil by a former iron puddler, turned grocer, William Gould. Gould was disparaged as a “Chartist Lip” – who served as a Poor Law Guardian – but understood secret ballots prevented industrialists and landowners having influence at the ballot box. The principle behind his ballot box was that each voter had a token and each candidate a ballot box. The voter inserted the token into the box of their choice and the vote was registered onto a clock face on the box. This would reduce the potential for intimidation. Despite campaigning, his idea was not adopted. In terms of secrecy of the vote, it was a huge step up from the spoken declaration at the hustings. 

The problem of getting to Lancaster is that most working people would need to walk. Using modern roads, the hike would be about seventeen hours each way at a brisk pace. In addition, time would be needed to be taken away from working; food would need to be carried and accommodation organised. The large scale movement of people was a terrifying prospect for Justices and Politicians and Landowners. An election in which there was Universal Adult Suffrage would have been revolutionary with hundreds of thousands of people moving to Lancaster to cast a vote.

The logistics of voting, alone, would have extended the ballot to weeks if not months. Which would increase the time away from work and the food required and, in no uncertain terms, disrupt the entire economy. The Rotten Boroughs were not simply a symptom of corruption but of the collapse of the practical political and economic life of the Country. 

Stockport fell within the county constituency of Cheshire, with the same franchise, but with the hustings held at Chester. This would have complicated the matter further. Both Chester and Lancaster Returning Officers would be obliged to confer and coordinate. Many MPs were returned by Rotten Boroughs such as Old Sarum in Wiltshire, with one voter who elected two MPs. Dunwich in Suffolk had almost completely disappeared into the sea yet returned Members of Parliament. Closed Boroughs with more voters, dependent on a local magnate meant that more than half of all MPs were elected by boroughs under the control of a total of just 154 proprietors. This hugely disproportionate influence on Parliament of the United Kingdom drove calls for reform.

The Manchester Observer was formed by a group of radicals that included John Knight. John Saxton and James Wroe. The popularist form of articles aimed at the growing literate working-class meant that, within twelve months, it was selling 4,000 copies per week to its local audience and more further afield. By late 1819 it was being sold in most of the booming industrialised cities – Birmingham, Leeds, London, Salford – all calling for non-conformist reform of the Houses of Parliament. It was a powerful demand for Democracy to be part of life for everyone and not just the few. 

Orator Hunt stated: 

“The Manchester Observer is the only newspaper in England that I know, fairly and honestly devoted to such reform as would give the people their whole rights.”

The non-conformist articles, combined with a popularist style, often resulted in the main journalists of T. J. Evans, John Saxton and James Wroe constantly being sued for libel. Being found guilty, particularly for articles critical of Parliament’s structure, resulted in jail which then raised circulation. Despite its popularity, the radical agenda was seen as bad for sales by traditionalist conformist-Whig businesses. Advertising revenue remained low with only one of its 24 columns being filled by adverts. The lack of advertising meant the Observer was always in financial difficulties.

In Early 1819, Johnson, Knight and Wroe of the Manchester Observer formed the Patriotic Union Society. Leading radicals and reformists in Manchester joined the organisation, including members of the First Little Circle. The First Little Circle had formed in 1815, influenced by the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and Joseph Priestley. While the members were Unitarians, the political ideas were practical, utilitarian and resolutely reforming. Members went on to become Editors and Members of Parliament and to be involved in the Businesses of Manchester whose emerging Municipal Socialist, Cooperativist and Feminist movements would have a lasting impact on Britain.

The objective of the Patriotic Union Society was parliamentary reform both locally and, in the longer term, nationally. The Patriotic Union Society invited Henry “Orator” Hunt and Major John Cartwright to speak at a public meeting in Manchester. The national agenda of Parliamentary reform, and the local agenda to gain two Parliamentary Members for Manchester and one for Salford, were to be the subject of the speech but, to avoid the police or courts banning the meeting, the Patriotic Union Society and the Observer advertised only, “a meeting of the county of Lancashire, than of Manchester alone.” 

On August 19th 1819, at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000-80,000 Men, Women and Children. As the meeting began, local magistrates called on the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry to arrest Orator Hunt and those on the hustings with him. A Yeomanry charge into the crowd, knocked down a woman and killed a child before detaining Hunt. The 15th Hussars were then summoned by the Chairman of the Lancashire and Cheshire Magistrates, William Hulton. They charged with sabres drawn, killing 18 people and injuring 700 more. The Hussars had been ordered to Manchester by a panicked government who believed an insurrection was being planned on the basis of an intercepted message between the Manchester Observer’s founder – Joseph Johnson – and Orator Hunt: 

“Nothing but ruin and starvation stare one in the face in the streets of Manchester and the surrounding towns, the state of this district is truly dreadful, and I believe nothing but the greatest exertions can prevent an insurrection. Oh, that you in London were prepared for it.” 

The Local Magistrate, William Hulton, had the meeting declared illegal as the intention of choosing representatives without the Monarch’s Permission was seditious and a serious misdemeanour. This began a series of planned meetings and cancellations with the terms of the meeting being constantly changed to conform to the desire for Members Of Parliament and the repeated escalation of the State against the Radicals. Eventually, the Meeting was policed by six hundred of the 15th Hussars; the 88th Regiment of Foot Cavalry; two six-pounder guns from the Royal Horse Artillery unit; four hundred men of the Cheshire Yeomanry; four hundred special constables; and one hundred and twenty cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry.

The Yeomanry were described by the Manchester Observer as being, “generally speaking, the fawning dependents of the great, with a few fools and a greater proportion of coxcombs, who imagine they acquire considerable importance by wearing regimentals”.

Subsequent descriptions include, “younger members of the Tory party in arms”, and, by later historians, “the local business mafia on horseback”.

Field Marshal John Byng, 1st Earl of Strafford, rather than supervising events as he had indicated he would, spent the day at York Races – where he had two entries – and left the matter of Manchester in the hands of Guy L’Estrange.

HC Deb 24 November 1819 vol 41 cc228-301

No. 36. REPORT from Lieutenant Colonel l’Estrange, inclosed in the foregoing.

Dated Manchester, August 16, 1819, eight o’clock, P. M. 

...I have, however, great regret in stating, that some of the unfortunate people who attended this meeting have suffered from sabre wounds, and many from the pressure of the crowd…

Geo. L’Estrange,
Lieut. Col. 31st regiment.

The Military rioted and massacred the Civilians; many, of whom, were wearing their Sunday Best Clothes and had marched from all around Manchester. Carrying banners and organised for a picnic. The imbalance of power was not simply political but of brute force. There were banners for Manchester Female Reform Society – Votes for Women! – “No Corn Laws”, “Annual Parliaments”, “Universal suffrage” and “Vote By Ballot”. Nothing really radical. Mary Fildes (born Pritchard) a political activist and an early suffragette was on the platform with Orator Hunt.

Mary remained a radical and was later arrested, in 1833, as a member of The Female Political Union of the Working Classes. She was arrested for distributing “pornography” – in fact contraceptive advice. The only banner to survive has the words “Liberty and and Fraternity” and “Unity and Strength” carried by Thomas Redford – who was cut down by cavalry. The crowd was dispersed in about ten minutes; but rioting was sparked as far away as Macclesfield and Oldham.

Field Marshal Byng was promoted to lieutenant general in 1825; then advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1828; advancing, again, to Commander-in-Chief of Ireland and then to the Privy Council of Ireland. He was elected as a Whig Member of Parliament for Poole in Dorset in October 1831. One of the few military men to supported the 1832 Reform Bill. His role in Peterloo never once prevented him from enjoying political power. 

Wroe, as then editor of the Observer, described the incident at the Peterloo massacre. He took his headline from the Battle of Waterloo four years previously. Subsequently, Wroe wrote pamphlets entitled, “The Peterloo Massacre: A Faithful Narrative of the Events”. They sold out each print run for 14 weeks with national circulation. Saxton, having been on the hustings with Hunt, was arrested and imprisoned. He stood trial with Hunt at York Assizes.

His defence that he was present as a reporter, not participant in the hustings party, was successful. The success of his defence did not sit well with the Government. Hunt was sentenced to five years at Ilchester Jail, fined one thousand pounds and made to find two sureties of five hundred pounds having escaped the charge of High Treason.

The Observer printed an article claiming that, “something was previously arranged”, as Manchester Royal Infirmary had been emptied of patients, on the 15th of August, anticipating the massacre. That all the surgeons had been summoned to attend on 16th. The Board of the infirmary vigorously denied this. The Liverpool Government then instigated repeated prosecutions of the Manchester Observer and those associated with it. Vendors were prosecuted for seditious libel. Fifteen charges of seditious libel were brought against Wroe, his wife and his two brothers resulting in the temporarily suspension of publication. Wroe relinquished ownership of the copyright and resumed under the last proprietor of the Manchester Observer (Thomas John Evans). At trial Wroe was found guilty on two specimen charges.

The other charges against him, his wife and his brothers being given “to lie”. The charges would only lie provided the publication of “libels” ceased. Wroe was sentenced to six months imprisonment and fined £100 with a further six months, and being bound over to keep the peace for two years, to give a surety of £200 and to find two other sureties of £50 each.

The prosecuted charges related not to anything in the Manchester Observer, but to articles in Sherwin’s Weekly Political Register, which Wroe had previously sold. It was clear that the Liverpool Government wished to silence Wroe and took the most certain way of doing so. Prosecuting Richard Carlile, who had been present at Peterloo enabled prosecution on the coat tails of conviction. Carlile wrote an article on the “Horrid Massacres At Manchester”. The Government responded by closing Sherwin’s Weekly Political Register. Carlile responded by changing the name to The Republican and writing: 

“The massacre… should be the daily theme of the Press until the murderers are brought to justice…. Every man in Manchester who avows his opinions on the necessity of reform, should never go unarmed – retaliation has become a duty, and revenge an act of justice.”

Carlile was then prosecuted for blasphemy, blasphemous libel and sedition and publishing material that might encourage people to hate the government; for publishing Tom Paine’s Common Sense, The Rights of Man and the Age of Reason. In October 1819 he was found guilty of the blasphemy and seditious libel and sentenced to three years which enabled Wroe to be caught up in the moral panic of atheist Republicanism and prosecuted with impunity.

The sentences were said to have been reduced because of the distressed state of the Wroes. A distress brought about by the Government but which cast the Government in a poor light. It was a delicate balance to secure an effective remedy to the power of Wroes publications. Wroes successor, Evans, was subsequently (June 1821) convicted on one charge of a seditious libel another of libelling a private individual and imprisoned for eighteen months and bound over for three years in the sum of £400 with two other sureties of £200. By then the 11 members of the first Little Circle excluding William Cowdroy Jnr. of the Manchester Gazette had helped cotton merchant John Edward Taylor found The Manchester Guardian.

The Manchester Observer had ceased publication. The Government had driven it into silence by repeated prosecution. The final editorial recommending:

“I would respectfully suggest that the Manchester Guardian, combining principles of complete independence, and zealous attachment to the cause of reform, with active and spirited management, is a journal in every way worthy of your confidence and support.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley was in Italy at the time of Peterloo. In response, Shelley wrote “The Masque of Anarchy: written on the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester“. Because of radical press restrictions, it was not published until 1832 – the same year as The Representation of the People Act (1832).

The Act introduced a system of voter registration, to be administered by the Overseers of the Poor; and instituted a system of courts to review disputes relating to “voter qualification”. The Act limited the duration of polling to two days – formerly forty days. The reform act increased the number of people able to vote, across the country, to about 650,000 – about ten times the largest estimate of the number of people attending Peterloo.

When Shelley wrote:

“Men of England, heirs of Glory,
Heroes of unwritten story,
Nurslings of one mighty Mother,
Hopes of her, and one another;
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.”

He was writing lyrics for punk bands like The Mekons, Scritti Politti and Strike Anywhere. The radical sentiments of Peterloo never vanished regardless of how submerged they were. Indeed Shelley is claimed to be part of the inspiration for the Arab Spring, Ghandi and numerous other radical causes. The truth is closer: “A spectre is haunting Manchester – the spectre of Peterloo. All the powers of old England have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Liberal and Tory, Johnson and Swinson, European Research Group and Big Data-spies.” To paraphrase those later journalists of the Manchester Guardian: Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx.

For a few months following Peterloo it seemed England shook, towards an armed rebellion. Abortive uprisings took place in Huddersfield and Burnley, the Yorkshire West Riding Revolt, the Cato Street conspiracy, the Cinderloo Uprising in the Coalbrookdale Coalfield, the Pentrich rising, the March of the Blanketeers, the Spa Fields, and the Radical War ll made the end of Regency Civilisation more and more vivid. The Government introduced the Six Acts, to suppress radical meetings and publications. By the end of 1820 every significant working-class radical reformer was in jail. Civil liberties were largely gone.

Two hundred years later, the Tories are again splitting and civil liberties are again being rolled back.

 

Picture: The Skelmanthorpe Flag. Anonymous.

Image © Kirklees Museums & Galleries

Financial advisors and millionaires are preparing for a Labour government led by Corbyn

30 years of plutocracy have brought un-representative democracy

Back in 2013, I wrote an article, together with Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research UK, which was about a chilling proto-fascist document written by JP Morgan – it can be accessed here: The Euro Area Adjustment—About Half-Way There.

Firstly, the authors said that ‘financial measures’ are ‘necessary’ to ensure that major investment houses such as JP Morgan can continue to reap huge profits from their speculative activities in Europe.

Secondly, the authors maintain, it is necessary to impose ‘political reforms’ aimed at suppressing opposition to the massively unpopular austerity measures being imposed at the behest of the banks and financial sector. 

The authors write: “The political systems in the periphery were established in the aftermath of dictatorship, and were defined by that experience. Constitutions tend to show a strong socialist influence, reflecting the political strength that left-wing parties gained after the defeat of fascism [following world war 2].

“Political systems around the periphery typically display several of the following features: weak executives; weak central states relative to regions; constitutional protection of labour rights; consensus-building systems which foster political clientalism; and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the political status quo. The shortcomings of this political legacy have been revealed by the [eurozone] crisis.”

Whatever the historical inaccuracies in their analysis, there can not be the slightest doubt that the authors of the JP Morgan report are arguing for governments to adopt authoritarianism to complete the process of social counterrevolution to austerity that is already well underway across Europe.

What JP Morgan is making very clear is that anything resembling ‘socialism’, representative ‘democracy’, collectivism, trade unionism or inclinations towards the left of the spectrum must be removed from political structure: localism must be replaced with strong, central authority; labour rights must be removed, consensus (democracy) and the right to protest must be curtailed.

In short, JP Morgan are calling for extremely authoritarian measures to suppress the working class and wipe out its social gains since the post-war settlement. This is the proto-fascism and reflects the unadulterated antisocial voice of  neoliberalism, which is incompatible with human rights, social liberalism and democracy.

JP Morgan are not a lone voice making such demands. In the UK, savage welfare cuts have driven some disabled individuals to fear for their lives. But the austerity programme also has a few winners. Cutting or eliminating publicly funded support programmes that support the poorest citizens, those who fall on hard times, has long been an ideological goal of Conservatives.

Doing so also generates a tidy windfall for the corporate class, as the ‘business friendly’ government services are privatised and savings from austerity pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens. The liberalisation that the financial class demand – what bankers call deregulation – is the process that caused the financial crash.

Many of us have said over the last eight years that austerity is not an economic necessity or ‘in the national interest’ as was claimed in 2010, and it is more like a tool of ‘statecraft’ and radical socioeconomic re-engineering, driven entirely by ideology and not economic requirements. 

You can read my 2013 article here.

Now for more of the same

In a truly nauseating article in the Financial Times (FT) titled How to hedge your finances against a future Corbyn governmentfinancial ‘advisors’ are cowering in outraged ‘fear’ at the prospect of a Labour government. They are very worried that a few millionaires may face a capital gains tax rise, property taxes and other erosions to the generous privileges they have become accustomed to over the last few years.

Gosh, fancy that, having to contribute a fair amount of tax towards maintaining a country that the rich have taken so much from. Yet they don’t want to contribute anything to the society that has benefited them so much. 

I can really empathise with their ‘fears’. I mean, that’s almost as bad as having to join the foodbank queue because your wage doesn’t meet the cost of living, or even your most fundamental survival needs. I can see why they would be left cowering in fear behind their hoarded wealth. 

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This despicable class of people, who regard most of their fellow human beings as disposable commodities, have had their own way for far too long. They have institutionalised their power through law, media, and corrupt political rituals, and have become habituated to the status quo.

The FT says “They might be considered unlikely to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, but the rising popularity of the Labour leader is rapidly moving up the agenda in conversations between the UK’s wealthiest and their financial advisers. In the event that he came to power, what impact might future Labour policies have on their wealth? And secondly, what financial planning measures — if any — could be considered to mitigate these?

Well you could be less controlling and anally retentive. Less pathological about wealth defense. You just let go and stop hoarding obscene amounts of money. You could care about the suffering inflicted on others so that you can stash your cash offshore, leaving a black hole in the economy and our public services on the point of collapse, because of ever-circling vulture capitalist parasites like you.

George Bull of RSM, the accountancy firm, says: “these fears are well-founded, as Labour’s 2017 manifesto mentioned wealth taxes as one option for easing the care cost crunch.”

Oh, the sheer horror of it. I mean fancy having to give a shit for the people who have been brutally dispossessed by the state in order to fuel the accumulation of even more wealth for the already very very wealthy. How outrageous. 

The article goes on to say:  “Should a mis-step in the Brexit negotiations topple the existing administration, this could prompt a fresh election which many believe Mr Corbyn could win.”

Yes, and your very worst fear has been realised. The PM’s Brexit deal was rejected by 230 votes – the largest defeat for a sitting government in history. It takes a very special sort of skill to unite so many people against your proposals. Dis may.

Yet curiously, despite the vote of no confidence tabled by Corbyn, the BBC are claiming that the Pound rises after ‘meaningful’ Brexit vote and crashing defeat for the PM.

The BBC then claim the “vote opens up a range of outcomes, including no deal, a renegotiation of May’s deal, or a second referendum.” However, the BBC don’t mention the rather obvious other possibility – a General Election, which is more than a little short sighted of them.

Even if we assume that a no confidence motion may not force an election , it would be prudent to consider Wednesday’s vote as the start of a process. The shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner has suggested the PM could face a series of confidence votes in the coming weeks. In fact that is highly likely, since she does not command a majority and will struggle getting anything through parliament.

Apparently, sterling rose 0.05% to $1.287 after declines of more than 1% earlier in the day. The currency slumped 7% in 2018 reflecting uncertainty about the terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union. 

“A defeat has been broadly anticipated in markets since the agreement with the EU was closed in November 2018 and caused several members of the government to resign,” said Richard Falkenhall, senior FX strategist at SEB. The BBC says that “business groups said their members’ patience was wearing thin.”  

On Friday, hedge fund manager Crispin Odey, a major donor to the Brexit campaign, said he now expected the project to be abandoned altogether and that he is “positioning for the pound to strengthen.”

The real culture of entitlement

The very wealthiest are likely to find ways to circumvent increased taxes on those on the highest incomes. I guess rich  people don’t like  ‘progressive’ tax , well-funded and functioning and effective public services 

Bull continues: “There is no certainty as to what people might do.

“However, we hear far greater interest about lifetime tax planning — for example, gifts of assets to children being made sooner rather than later — so that parents’ asset values are reduced before a wealth tax or land value tax takes force.”

“The favourable inheritance tax status of defined contribution pensions, which can currently be passed tax free to heirs in some circumstances, is something many advisers fear the current government will scrap, let alone a Labour one. Higher-rate tax relief on pensions contributions is another obvious area of vulnerability, advisers say.”

Vulnerability? I guess that’s pretty relative. Ask those people targeted by austerity policies from 2010, which saw them lose their lifeline support while at the same time, the chancellor handed out £107,000 each per year to millionaires in the form of a tax cut. People have died because the government’s austerity policies. Get a grip.

My favourite part was this:  

“The Labour party has also signalled its intention to close various loopholes and tax breaks, as well as ending “the social scourge of tax avoidance”. It has signalled that it would make public the tax returns of those earning more than £1m a year and double the number of HMRC staff investigating wealthy tax avoiders.

“It might also increase the insurance premium tax on private healthcare. The rate of corporation tax would be restored to 26 per cent. In addition, a Labour government might tackle tax planning that takes advantage of the gap between income and corporate tax rates, such as the practice of holding investments within a company.

“One possibility is that the undistributed profits of “ close” companies— those controlled by five or fewer people — could be taxed as though they had been distributed to shareholders. 

“Labour has said it wants to see the public disclosure of trusts, which it describes as “a key vehicle for tax avoidance and illicit financial flows”. The industry says HMRC already has access to this information and making it public would put beneficiaries in a vulnerable position. 

“People avoiding tax by using trusts would fear “trial by media”.

“It would be a witch hunt. People might want to consider unwinding those structures.”

My heart bleeds. Like the ‘trial by media’ that unemployed and disabled people faced in the run up to the brutal and uncivilised cuts to the social security that the overwhelming majority of them had paid into via taxes? And all to justify a transfer of wealth from public funds to a few private bank accounts, a proportion of those being offshore.

The hysteria continued: “Labour’s plans to nationalise railways, water, energy and Royal Mail would take a toll on those segments of the market. And Mr Corbyn’s aim to intervene more heavily in areas such as energy could drag on the dividends paid by those companies and investment funds.”

But it would benefit the public. You know, the many, not the few.

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Job Curtis, a Henderson fund manager, says: “We are already beginning to see weakness in companies involved in passenger transport and water utilities. United Utilities — a water company covering the north west of England, has experienced a large share price fall in the last year partly because of the increased likelihood of a Labour government under Corbyn.”

“Sectors including utilities and energy companies are high dividend payers and whether it’s nationalisation or increased regulation and price caps, the outlook for higher and sustainably high dividend incomes looks under threat under a Corbyn government,” says Mr Stevenson. 

But many of us will be able to afford our utility bills.

Henry Pryor, an independent buying agent, whines the prospect of a Labour government is “frightening” for the owners of large, expensive assets. I think Henry should really try to expand his understanding of the word “frightening”.

I suggest he asks citizens for some insights, perhaps those with severe illness who are forced to claim disability support after a lifetime of working and paying social insurance via taxes, then he should go through mandatory review and the appeal process. That’s fear. Or perhaps he should spend a year on the streets, without the safety of his wealth and assets. 

 That said, perhaps the pitchforks really are coming…

Nick Hanauer is a rich guy, an unrepentant capitalist — and he has something to say to his fellow plutocrats: Growing inequality is about to push our societies into conditions resembling pre-revolutionary France.

 

You can sign the petition (here) to register your own no confidence in Theresa May’s government, and demand a general election. Only 557 more signatures are needed, as the response overnight has been overwhelming. 


 

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Defending disinformation against democracy: the Integrity Initiative

Inside the Integrity Initiative, the UK gov’s information war on the public with Journalists Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton and Professor David Miller.

The Institute for Statecraft and its offshoot, the Integrity Initiative, constitute a secret propaganda network tied to the UK security services. They bring together high-ranking military and intelligence personnel, journalists and academics to manufacture and disseminate propaganda serving the geopolitical and economic aims of the UK and those of its allies.

The Integrity Initiative is a self declared ‘charity’, funded by the UK Foreign Office, British Army and Ministry of Defence, which has been described by the Sunday Mail as a right wing infowars unit.

The Institute for Statecraft, which “led” the Integrity Initiative, was traced to this mill in Fife (Image: Sunday Mail.)

Created by the NATO-affiliated, UK-funded Institute for Statecraft in 2015, the Integrity Initiative was unmasked in November after Anonymous hackers released a volume of documents detailing a web of politicians, journalists, military personnel, scientists and academics involved in purportedly fighting ‘Russian disinformation.’

The highly secretive, government-bankrolled “network of networks” has found itself under scrutiny for smearing Her Majesty’s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘Kremlin stooge’ – ostensibly as part of its crusade against ‘Russian disinformation.’ The Initiative has received more than £2.2million from the Foreign Office in two years to – in one minister’s words – “defend democracy against disinformation.”

The latest leaks indicate that the organisation played a central role in shaping media narratives after Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were mysteriously poisoned in Salisbury last March. It’s notable that many of the draconian anti-Russia measures that the group advocated as far back as 2015 were swiftly implemented following the Skripal affair – even as London refused to back up its blame frame with evidence.

Within days of the Skripal poisonings, the Institute solicited its services to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), offering to “study social media activity in respect of the events that took place, how news spread, and evaluate how the incident is being perceived” in a number of countries.

After receiving the government’s endorsement, the Integrity Initiative launched Operation Iris,’ enlisting the “global investigative solutions” company Harod Associates to analyse social media activity related to the Skripal incident. 

The latest release of hacked documents also revealed a curious link between the Integrity Initiative and Skripal himself – a connection made all the more suspicious by the group’s central role in coordinating a determined and evidence-free  campaign to implicate and punish Moscow for the alleged nerve-agent attack.

One document from July 2018 contains contact details for Pablo Miller, Skripal’s MI6 recruiter, handler and (conveniently) neighbour in Salisbury. Miller, it seems, had been invited to a function hosted by the Institute. The plot sickens.

I have wondered what happened to Yulia Skripal. Worryingly, she has dropped off the media radar.

David Miller, Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Bristol School for Policy Studies, has said that despite being ignored by the media, leaks from Integrity Initiative have paralysed the operations of this UK-funded covert influence network, and could ultimately lead to its dismantling.

Miller also believes that: “People have a right to know how the Government are spending their money, and the views being promoted in their name.”

I agree. I think it’s obscene that our money is being spent on covert military grade psyop operations designed specifically to micromanage our perceptions of reality and to stage-manage our democracy. 

He adds: “This [leak] has made a mess of [Integrity Initiative’s] operations, they are spending most of their time now trying to fire-fight on the coverage this is getting. And they are not doing essentially what they are being paid to do, which is to counter the Russians.

“The British government is getting bad value for money, if it was ever getting ‘better’ value.”

As part of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, which studies Western attempts to control media coverage of key international events, Miller has played a crucial role in studying the four tranches of data anonymously uploaded and sourced from the previously little-known group, which has been backed by the UK Foreign Office, NATO and Facebook, to the tune of over £1 million per year.

The documents, whose authenticity has not been denied by government, contain details of psyops against public figures, of the manipulation of media coverage from leading outlets, and have also revealed worldwide networks of prominent journalists and academics, secretly engaged to discredit, at every turn, pro-Moscow points of view and left wing political developments.

Despite the refusal by all of those named to either admit their connection or to say that there was nothing untoward in their activities, Miller believes that the exposure has made it more difficult for them to push and publish anti-Russian content.

The Integrity Initiative has waged an information and propaganda war on the public. Yet nothing has been done to address the scandal surrounding this McCarthyist UK government-funded think tank, which has attacked Jeremy Corbyn and the anti-war left and laundered disinformation through the corporate media under the guise of ‘countering Russia’. 

“Most of the people named are trying to pretend that this is not all of great significance, but the revelation of the involvement of the government in manipulating other countries, and the political process in the UK, is extremely damaging for them,”  Miller says. 

Miller has also said that Parliament needs to conduct a more sustained inquiry into Integrity Initiative, and Jeremy Corbyn smears. 

For Miller, the “cardinal sin” from a UK perspective was the smearing of the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, as a potential ‘Kremlin ally’ in Whitehall, which means that a state-paid intelligence operation has been manipulating domestic politics.

Miller also points to the absence of coverage of what he calls a “real, genuine scandal” in top news sources, which, he says, are themselves implicated in the scandal fallout.

Miller also sates that, at the very least, this exposure should lead to a crucial national dialogue about the role intelligence agencies should play in public life and in influencing politics.

Why, it’s as if the role of MI6 in the faked Zinoviev letter has habituated the Establishment to maintain the status quo at all cost, including the stage-managing of our democracy, using anti-Russian sentiment as a template. It’s also apparently become such normalised behaviour that it’s hiding in plain view.

“Integrity Initiative are beyond the realms of sense. The activities they are engaged in are morally and ethically dubious, and will certainly – as we can see already – backfire on them,” Miller continued.

“This will result hopefully in the ending of this operation, and if we are lucky, a sensible discussion in parliament about controlling the future of British covert operations.”

Funding shot up to £2.6 million in 2018-19, with £1.96 million from the FCO and the rest from the US State Department, NATO and the American neoconservative Smith Richardson Foundation. Facebook, which plays in integral role in imposing censorship on behalf of the US, donated £100,000. See: UK Integrity Initiative heavily involved in Skripal affair.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has said: “It is one of the cardinal rules of British public life that official resources should not be used for party political purposes.

“So, it is simply outrageous that the clearly mis-named ‘Integrity Initiative’ – funded by the Foreign Office to the tune of £2.25 million over the past two years – has routinely been using its Twitter feed to disseminate personal attacks and smears against the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour Party and Labour officials.”

Andrew Fisher, an aide to the Labour leader, said: “This astonishing story really deserves attention.”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “Such clear political attacks and propaganda shouldn’t be coming from any charity.

“We need to know why the Foreign Office have been funding it.”

Isn’t it obvious?

Surveillance capitalism: citizens as a means to an end

So far I haven’t seen anyone make the connection between the exposure of the Integrity Initiative and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Or the fact that the government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign, spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of citizens’ money so the Conservatives could target them with personalised dark ads and psyop-crafted strategic comms

As soon as the Conservatives casually announced their ‘behaviour change’ agenda back in 2010, and instituted the ‘Nudge Unit’, a scandal of the type surrounding  Cambridge Analytica/SCL was inevitable. How could anyone expect that an increasingly authoritarian government, somewhat defined by resistance to change, would resist the temptation to draw on ‘behavioural science’ techniques to manipulate citizens’ perceptions, cognitions, behaviours, choices, and ultimately, their voting decisions?

‘Surveillance capitalism’ was the term coined in 2015 by Harvard academic Shoshanna Zuboff to describe this large-scale surveillance and modification of human behaviour for profit. It involves the predictive analysis of big datasets describing the lives, choices and behaviours of tens or hundreds of millions of people, allowing correlations and patterns to be identified, information about individuals inferred and analysised, and future behaviour and decisions to be predicted. This is then used to influence behaviours through personalised and ‘dynamic’ targeted advertising. 

This whole process is refined by an experimental approach – testing a range of variations of adverts on different demographics to determine what works best. Every time we log on we potentially become the unwitting and thus non consenting subject of trials designed to determine how to most effectively extract money from us or to persuade us of something. The common denominator is the covert use of powerful behavioural modification strategies: psyops. 

Our personal data is being used to construct ‘persuasion profiles’, using sets of estimates – based on probabilities – on the effectiveness of particular influence-strategies on individuals, which are also based on past responses to these strategies. Some of these companies are also experimenting with biometrics.

We are led to believe that it is other states that seek to meddle in the UK’s elections. The use of data analytics and psychological profiling to target people on social media with political content, has had a profound political impact, but it remains largely unappreciated. Political campaigning has shifted from being a public process to being a private, personalised series of micro-monitoring strategies, enabled by access to the apparatus and mechanisms of surveillance capitalism. It’s a process that has led to the government regarding citizens as a means to an end – that being simply maintaining power, upholding the status quo.

The Snowden leaks in 2013 concerning GCHQ and the NSA’s covert activities made controversial headlines around the world. GCHQ’s stated aim was to compile a profile of the internet habits of every user on the web.  The Investigatory Powers Act, commonly known as the “snooper’s charter, permits the security and intelligence agencies legal authority to acquire personal datasets from technology companies in bulk, and the UK government is reported to be exploring an agreement with the US that would give British intelligence agencies better access to these databases.

Data sharing between surveillance companies and state security and intelligence agencies is well established. In the US, tech companies have been forced to hand over data about their users to the NSA for some time. When Yahoo refused, they were threatened with a $250,000 fine, every day, with the fine doubling every week that their non-compliance continued, faced with the prospect of financial ruin, they acquiesced.

Clearly, monitoring and surveillance practices have changed the relationship between the citizen and the state, shifting the balance of power and distorting democracy.

It cannot be right for either private companies or governments to use citizens as Pavlovian dogs. Such personalised psychological persuasive strategies seriously undermine the human autonomy that is central to human dignity and democracy.  

Related

 Documents of the “Integrity Initiative” Part 4  – Anonymous (4 January 2019)

The chilling manipulations of the Institute for Statecraft are straight out of the cold war playbook – Chris Williamson, Morning Star Online

Social media is being used to stage manage our democracy using nudgebased strategies

Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Interim Repor–  House of Commons
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee 

The Art of Deception: Training for a New Generation of Online Covert Operations – The Intercept

Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research – Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman

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


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I have a very limited income. But you can help if you like, by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others affected by the Conservative’s welfare ‘reforms’. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s calm decency is the best antidote to the Conservatives’ perpetual politics of spite


Yesterday I wrote two articles about the Conservative’s latest grotesque dead cat strategy. The second was concerning an email I got in the early hours from the Conservative Party’s Vice Chair, Helen Whatley, which gave the whole series of  ever-complicit mainstream media commentaries and events in parliament a staged and an “integrity Initiative” kind of feel to it. I wrote a very angry and swift response. The bloomin’ cheek and brass neck of the Tories, asking ME to join their party to “show” Jeremy Corbyn. Needless to say I told them exactly what I thought of their psyop-styled invitation.

The Conservatives turned parliament into a spite-riddled pantomine yesterday, despite the fact that a homeless man who had collapsed outside the houses of parliament died hours before. He is the second homeless person to die after falling ill outside parliament this year. True to form, the heartless government refused to see this as a wake-up call, and instead, unabashed, they indulged in disrespectful and vindictive performances to attack  HMs opposition leader.

Data released on Thursday by the Office for National Statistics shows nearly 600 homeless people were found dead on the streets or in temporary accommodation in England and Wales in 2017. They are the first official government figures and show a 24% increase in deaths over five years.

Deaths have risen every year since 2014, increasing from 482 to 597 last year, according to the figures. The average age of a rough sleeper at death was 44 among men and 42 for women. Eighty-four percent of the homeless people who died were men. London and the north-west had the highest mortality of homeless people in England and Wales.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses a demonstration against nuclear weapons this year.

The trials, tribulations and triumphs of Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn has done more to increase his party’s vote share since Clement Attlee in 1945. Corbyn has remained calm, measured, rational and reasonable despite the general hatred directed at him by the Conservatives, from some of the ‘moderate’ left and of course, the far-right. Despite being targeted by truly evil and relentless propaganda and smear campaigns which a amplified by the media, he has, nonetheless seen considerable electoral success in spite of it all.

A whistleblower, Peter Francis, revealed in 2015 that the Special Branch were ordered to put Corbyn under surveillance, and they compiled secret files on the political activities of Corbyn and nine other MPs, even after they had been elected to the House of Commons. Francis disclosed that he had read the files on the 10 MPs while he worked for the Metropolitan Police’s special branch.

He added that he had personally collected information on Corbyn, and two other MPs, while he was working undercover infiltrating anti-racist groups in the 1990s.

In March 2015, Francis named the other Labour MPs whom police had kept files on – Harriet Harman, Diane Abbott, Joan Ruddock, Peter Hain, Dennis Skinner, Jack Straw, Ken Livingstone and the late Bernie Grant and Tony Benn.

The revelations prompted criticism from some of the MPs who swiftly went to the Commons and demanded answers from the police. (This is a transcript of the parliamentary debate, and Guardian articles here and here).

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has told MPs that the revelations were “extremely serious”, warning: “This matter will not go away”.

Hain, a former cabinet minister, (here) wanted to know why he was being watched by the police when he was an MP, adding that the revelations raised “fundamental questions about parliamentary sovereignty”. Two politicians have established that the police maintained files on their political activities in recent years. Neither of them – Jenny Jones, a Green Party peer, and Ian Driver, a Kent councillor who stood against ex UKIP leader Nigel Farage at this year’s general election – have a criminal record. 

The police were unable to say how many elected progressive politicians have been monitored by its ‘domestic extremism’ unit (whose formal name has been the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit.)

It’s an utter outrage, and clearly demonstrates the sheer unaccountability and contempt for democracy that the establishment have and hold. Yet the despicable prop and propaganda mouthpiece for a profoundly antidemocratic establishment, the Daily Telegraph, reported that undercover police officers had monitored Jeremy Corbyn for two decades. It was claimed that he had been put under surveillance “amid fears that he was attempting to undermine democracy.

It was part of a barrage of stories from the rightwing press intended to damage his attempt to win the election.

But those of us with more sceptical (and less cynical) minds are asking a different question – why were the police spying on an elected MP who has been committed to nonviolent protest? 

As Corbyn has previously said: “I am a democratically elected person and it turns out I was put under surveil­lance for a long time because I campaigned on human rights issues and was involved in justice campaigns.”

Meanwhile, the Conservatives see universal human rights as an inconvenience to be  disregarded for those who can’t afford the privilege. They think social justice is about property rights, the right for employers to exploit workers, the right for the state to coerce ill and disabled people into exploitatively low paid jobs, regardless of whether or not they are well enough to work. 

It’s high time the UK public asked itself what kind of leader isthe best kind for the majority. Authoritarian leaders seem to conventionally appeal to historically stereotypical notions of “strength”, but who genuinely believes that this bunch of arrogant, sneering, narcissistic bunch of public school bullies has any real strength? And why does anyone imagine they give a toss about the majority of people’s lives? 

It’s time for us to emancipate ourselves from the conventional, overbearing authority, hierarchy and other forms of centralised, commanding domination of government. A collaborative, facilitating kind of leadership and political organisation is the only one with which we can genuinely engage and be engaged.

I’ve spent quite a bit of the last few years reflecting on the baleful influence of shadowy pressures coming from the establishment – ‘the permanent state’ – who quite simply will go to any lengths to prevent a thoroughly decent democratic socialist who means what he says, to be Prime Minister. 

And that in itself shows just what a flimsy facade democracy has become, serving as little more than a fact-proof screen erected around a very nasty long standing authoritarianism embedded in a deepest, darkest state. It’s time to knock it down and rebuild an accountable responsive government that serves the people, rather than simply enduring one that thinks we should serve it.

I’ll leave you with Jeremy Corbyn’s comment on yesterday’s shenanigans in parliament.

 


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Emily Thornberry’s letter about the Integrity Initiative’s propaganda initiative

I recently wrote an article related to the tweet above, about the covert government-funded unit which has been systematically and strategically attacking the official opposition, seriously undermining democracy in the UK.  

Last month (5 November), Anonymous Europe obtained a large number of documents relating to the activities of the ‘Integrity Initiative’ project, which was launched back in autumn, 2015. The project is funded by the British government and has been established by the Institute for Statecraft.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the hack has had zero substantive coverage in the UK, US or European press since a number of journalists were also implicated in playing a role to fulfil the project’s aims, but it was picked up by Russian media. 

The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ programme, among other things. Statecraft’s Security Economics director, Dr Shima D Keene, collaborated with John A. S. Ardis on a paper about information warfare. Anonymous published the documents, which have unearthed the massive UK-led psyop to create a ‘large-scale information secret service’ in Europe, the US and Canada.

The declared goal of the project is to “counteract Russian propaganda” and Moscow’s hybrid warfare (a military strategy that employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, ‘irregular’ warfare and cyberwarfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy, lawfare and foreign electoral intervention). 

The Integrity Initiative consists of representatives of political, military, academic and journalistic communities with the think tank in London at the head of it.

On 26 November, Integrity Initiative published a statement on the Russian media coverage of the hack. In it they said:

“The Integrity Initiative was set up in autumn 2015 by The Institute for Statecraft in cooperation with the Free University of Brussels (VUB) to bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America.”

“The Integrity Initiative aims to unite people who understand the threat, in order to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.”

In the wake of the leaks, which also detail Government grant applications, the Foreign Office have been forced to confirm they provided massive funding to the Integrity Initiative.

In response to a parliamentary question by Chris Williamson, Europe Minister Alan Duncan said: “In financial year 2017-18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500.

“This financial year, the FCO are funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.” 

Apparently, the Institute launched the Integrity Initiative in 2015 to “defend democracy against disinformation.” However, the evidence uncovered strongly suggests that it’s rather more of an attempt to defend disinformation against democracy.   

In the Commons yesterday, Emily Thornberry asked Alan Duncan why taxpayers money had been used by the so-called ‘Integrity Initiative’ to disseminate political attacks [on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party] from its Twitter site.

Duncan insisted that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) funding did not support the Integrity Initiative’s Twitter operation, which raises some interesting questions. See Thornberry’s letter demanding answers below:


I’m very much looking forward to the response.


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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Damian Hinds rebuked for misusing statistics and being conservative with the truth

The statistics watchdog today issued a stern rebuke to Damian Hinds (pictured last week at the Tory Party conference in Birmingham) accusing his department of misleading the public over school funding and standards

Education Secretary David Hinds’ careful use of numbers doesn’t add up

The chair of the UK’s statistics watchdog has written to education secretary Damian Hinds for the fourth time this year, raising “serious concerns” about his department’s use of school funding statistics.

The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) launched an investigation into the Department for Education over a minister’s claim that it was spending “record amounts” on school funding, after it emerged that the figures included billions of pounds of university and private school fees.

The figures cited by the DfE and school standards minister Nick Gibb, in defending the government’s spending on education, included the money paid out by university students on tuition fees and money that parents spent on private school fees.

Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to Hinds this morning, chastising him for repeatedly using misleading statistics to support misleading claims.

Hetan Shah, CEO of the Royal Statistical Society, described the rebuke as “blistering”, and said it was “amazing” for Sir David to send such a letter to a minister. 

“Extraordinary that [the Uk Statistical Authority] has felt it necessary to seek the secretary of state’s reassurance that his department remains committed to the statutory code of practice for statistics and, secondary that [the DfE] will start behaving in a manner that ‘does not mislead’,” he tweeted. 

The row erupted last week after the DfE and Gibb cited figures saying that the UK was the third-highest spender on education as a proportion of economic output in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of wealthy nations.

His comments came after more than 2,000 headteachers marched to Downing Street to protest at funding cuts. Headteachers also accused the government of eroding trust. Jules White, the head of Tanbridge House school in West Sussex and leader of the Worth Less? group, which has lobbied for fairer funding, said: “Parents and the wider public have a right to know the facts and the government cannot have it both ways; you cannot slash our budgets and then pretend all’s well. 

“The constant use of misinformation is placing an intolerable strain on headteachers’ relationships with the DfE. Trust is being eroded. We respectfully request the DfE to publicly set the record straight and, much more crucially, work with the chancellor to make a real-terms investment in our schools in the upcoming budget. ”

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “If trust goes, there is little left for the profession to hold on to. Failing to face up to the truth will cheat an entire generation. The chancellor must now step up and rescue education funding. It is in the national interest.”

Mary Bousted, joint leader of the NEU teaching union, branded the DfE’s use of figures as “appalling.”  

Hinds has defended the department’s use of figures today in a letter to the Statistics Authority, and pledged to work closely with it to ensure that “all departmental statistics to be both factually accurate and used in the right context”.

The shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, said the UKSA letter represented a “humiliating rebuke” for Conservative ministers and called on the government to come clean over the crisis in school funding.

The intervention by the UKSA follows a row last week over a claim by the DfE and the schools standards minister, Nick Gibb, that the UK’s spending on education was the third highest in the world.

Complaints were made to the UKSA after it emerged in a BBC report that the OECD figures on which the claim was based included university student tuition fees as well as fees paid by private school pupils.

Hinds wrote to MPs over the weekend defending his department’s claims, but following its investigation, the UKSA ruled the figure “included a wide range of education expenditure unrelated to publicly funded schools … rather than a comparison of school spending alone. 

The result was to give a more favourable picture. Yet the context would clearly lead readers to expect that the figures referred to spending on schools

An accompanying letter by Ed Humpherson, UKSA’s director general for regulation, to the DfE’s chief statistician piled on the criticism.

“The way statistics have been presented gives a potentially misleading picture of changes in schools funding,” he wrote. “It is important that the department present statistics and data professionally and I encourage you to continue to work with communication teams to minimise the risk of misleading the public.”

The UKSA complained about a DfE tweet on school funding featuring a graph with a truncated axis which had the effect of “exaggerating” school spending figures. The information was also presented in cash terms rather than real terms.

It also criticised Gibb’s claim that in an international survey of reading abilities of nine-year-olds, England had leaped up the rankings last year after decades of falling standards, moving from 19th out of 50 countries to 8th. “This is not correct,” Norgrove pointed out. “Figures published last year show the increase was from 10th place in 2011 to 8th place in 2016.”

The UKSA also ruled on a complaint from shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, about the DfE’s oft-repeated claim that there were now “1.9 million more young people studying in good or outstanding schools”. The authority said the figure did not give a full picture and should be set in the context of increasing pupil numbers, changes to the inspection framework and out-of-date inspections.

“I am sure you share my concerns that instances such as these do not help to promote trust and confidence in official data, and indeed risk undermining them,” said David Norgrove.

The education secretary responded to the UKSA saying his department was “looking into the precise issues raised” but he went on to largely defend the disputed claims.

Here are both letters:

Header

The Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP
Secretary of State for Education
(via email)

8 October 2018

Dear Secretary of State

I am writing to raise with you serious concerns about the Department for Education’s presentation and use of statistics. 

The UK Statistics Authority has had cause to publicly write to the Department with concerns on four occasions in the past year. 1 

I regret that the Department does not yet appear to have resolved issues with its use of statistics. Last week, the Minister of State for School Standards wrote that, in an international survey of reading abilities of nine-year-olds, England “leapfrogged up the rankings last year, after decades of falling standards, going from 19th out of 50 countries to 8th.”2. This is not correct. Figures published last year show the increase was from 10th place in 2011 to 8th place in 2016. 

My attention has also been drawn to a recent tweet and blog issued by the Department regarding education funding. 3 As the Authority’s Director General for Regulation has noted in a letter to the Department today, figures were presented in such a way as to misrepresent changes in school funding. In the tweet, school spending figures were exaggerated by using a truncated axis, and by not adjusting for per pupil spend. In the blog about government funding of schools (which I note your Department has now updated), an international comparison of spend which included a wide range of education expenditure unrelated to publicly funded schools was used, rather than a comparison of school spending alone. The result was to give a more favourable picture. Yet the context would clearly lead readers to expect that the figures referred to spending on schools. 

The Shadow Secretary of State for Education has written to express concerns about your use of a figure that appears to show a substantial increase in the number of children in high performing schools, as judged by OFSTED. While accurate as far as it goes, this figure does not give a full picture. It should be set in the context of increasing pupil numbers, changes to the inspection framework and some inspections that are now long in the past, as an earlier letter to the Department from the Office of Statistics Regulation pointed out. 

I am sure you share my concerns that instances such as these do not help to promote trust and confidence in official data, and indeed risk undermining them.

I seek your reassurance that the Department remains committed to the principles and practices defined in the statutory Code of Practice for Statistics. In particular, I urge the Department to involve the analysts closely in the development of its communications, to ensure that data are properly presented in a way that does not mislead. 

I have asked the Authority’s Director-General for Regulation, Ed Humpherson to speak with Jonathan Slater, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education, and to Neil McIvor, Head of Profession for Statistics at the Department for Education, about what the Department might do to improve its practice. 

I am copying this letter to the Minister of State for School Standards, to Mr Slater and Mr McIvor, and to John Pullinger, the National Statistician. 

  Yours sincerely
Sir David
  Sir David Norgrove

1 Letter from Ed Humpherson to Head of Profession (March 2018) National Pupil Database Access
Letter from Sir David Norgrove to Shadow Secretary of State for Education (March 2018), School Funding
Letter from Ed Humpherson to Head of Profession (January 2018) International Reading Literacy Study
Letter from Ed Humpherson to Jonathan Slater (November 2017) Department for Education breaches of the Code of Practice

2 The Telegraph (27 September 2018): Our whizzpopping phonics revolution is transforming literacy in schools
3 Department for Education (28 September 2018): Tweet regarding school funding
Department for Education (28 September 2018): Education in the Media: Funding

 

response
Dear David,

Thank you for your letter. 

I appreciate you drawing your concerns to my attention and very much welcome the work by the UKSA to ensure communication of statistics across Government meets the highest standards. We are keen to work closely with the UKSA and we want all departmental statistics to be both factually accurate and used in the right context.

We are looking into the precise issues that you raise, and the Permanent Secretary will write to the UKSA shortly with a more detailed response. It may be helpful though to respond on the points of substance, including for the public including for the public
record.

Taking funding first – we need to be clear about different types of funding and spending. However, several statistics in the OECD’s 2018 report comparing expenditure in 2015 (which as you know are the latest comparative data published by the OECD) demonstrate the UK as being among the higher spenders on education at primary and secondary level, whether you look at spend as a share of GDP, spend as a share of government spending or spend per pupil. It is true to say that the OECD has ranked the UK as the third highest for total education spending – the figure which includes tertiary and private education for every country. A more direct statistic about school spending
specifically is that among G7 nations the UK government spent the highest percentage of its GDP on institutions delivering primary and secondary education.

On overall school funding, core funding is rising to £43.5bn by 2019-20. Of course, I recognise that pupil numbers are rising, we are asking schools to do more and schools are facing cost pressures. I am on record setting this out with a range of different audiences and agree that context is important.

Moving on to the survey of reading abilities, it is true to say that we have achieved our highest score in PIRLS since it first began in 2001 – in 2016 we were placed joint 8th. We agree that we could have been clearer that the improvement from 19th to 8th was between 2006 and 2016. We have put a great deal of emphasis on the teaching of phonics, introducing the phonics screening check in 2012, and since then many more six year olds are on track to be fluent readers.

Regarding the 1.9m statistic, I believe it is important to establish that the proportion of children in schools whose last Ofsted judgement was Good or Outstanding has risen from 66% in 2010 to 86% in March 2018; to make this more intelligible we tend to use the number of children rather than a percentage figure – hence we express it as 1.9m more children in Good or Outstanding schools. 

Our methodology is published at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/children-in-good-or-outstandingschools-august-2018As you know, Ofsted use a range of triggers for a reinspection, such as an unexpected fall in exam performance.

Naturally we want to ensure we always present those factually accurate statements, and all others, in line with your Code of Practice for Statistics and I look forward to working with your team further on that. More widely, in the interests of making sure the public debate is well-informed, I hope that others who produce and use statistics which become regularly cited will also aspire to the highest standards of data integrity, and that the UKSA can play a role in challenging where data could easily be open to misinterpretation.

Thank you once again and please be assured of my, and my department’s, continued commitment to working with you on the integrity of statistics and informing the public debate.

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Related

A list of official rebukes for Tory lies

Esther Mcvey forced to apologise for being conservative with the truth

It’s truly priceless that Iain Duncan Smith can accuse anyone of misrepresenting statistics with a straight face.

 


 

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

media networks on Twitter

Media network community, from The University of Exeter’s study – Different News for Different Views: Political News-sharing Communities on Social Media Through the UK General Election in 2015

In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, an annual report produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Britain was judged to have been in 40th place. This compared to Norway and Sweden at the top of the index, with the UK placed below Trinidad and Tobago and only just ahead of Taiwan. The United States is also trailing, to the dismay of US media organisations, at 45 on the list (with North Korea in bottom place, at 180). 

The Index is based on an evaluation of media freedom that measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries. It is compiled by means of a survey questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts all over the world. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.

Last year, the World Press Freedom Index report said“The election of the 45th president of the United States set off a witchhunt against journalists. Donald Trump’s repeated diatribes against the Fourth Estate and its representatives – accusing them of being “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” and of deliberately spreading “fake news” – compromise a long US tradition of defending freedom of expression. The hate speech used by the new boss in the White House and his accusations of lying also helped to disinhibit attacks on the media almost everywhere in the world, including in democratic countries.”

Britain’s ranking, from the World Press Freedom Index 2018

The recent report has drawn attention to several issues that may have contributed to the UK’s place in the ranking. It says: “A continued heavy-handed approach towards the press (often in the name of national security) has resulted in the UK keeping its status as one of the worst-ranked Western European countries in the World Press Freedom Index.” 

 

Related 

The erosion of democracy and the repression of mainstream media in the UK

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

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberism 

Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I write because I must. You can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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