Category: Brexit

Boris Johnson lies to prime minister in resignation letter

Boris Johnson wrote a two-page resignation letter to Theresa May
Boris Johnson’s resignation letter

“If a country cannot pass a law to save the lives of female cyclists — when that proposal is supported at every level of UK Government — then I don’t see how that country can truly be called independent.”

That’s what Boris Johnson wrote yesterday in his resignation letter. But a Channel 4 factcheck showed that it’s just another occasion of Boris being conservative with the truth.

This parting missive on the issue of Brexit — which he was apparently still writing when Number 10 confirmed his departure — spends a lot of time waffling on vehicle regulation.

The former Foreign Secretary wrote: “we seem to have gone backwards since the last Chequers meeting in February, when I described my frustrations, as Mayor of London, in trying to protect cyclists from juggernauts. 

We had wanted to lower the cabin windows to improve visibility; and even though such designs were already on the market, and even though there had been a horrific spate of deaths, mainly of female cyclists, we were told we had to wait for the EU to legislate on the matter.” 

His concluding thought on the issue: “If a country cannot pass a law to save the lives of female cyclists — when that proposal is supported at every level of UK Government — then I don’t see how that country can truly be called independent.” 

It wasn’t “supported at every level of UK Government” at all. 

Boris spectacularly neglects to mention that the regulations he’s talking about were in fact put forward by the European Parliament, and backed by 570 MEPs, with 88 voting against. He also fails to acknowledge that those laws have actually been passed.

More crucially, Johnson is telling tall stories with he claims that the laws in question were “supported at every level of UK Government.”

When the regulations were put forward by the EU, the UK government explicitly did not support the proposals.

A government spokesperson told BBC News in 2014: “Where we are not supporting European Parliament proposals, it is simply because they will not produce practical changes in cab design and could lead to additional bureaucracy for Britain.” 

The European Council, which includes representation from the UK government, later adopted the directive.

It’s inconceivable that Johnson didn’t know that the European Parliament had proposed the laws, he also knew that the UK government opposed them — because he explicitly called out ministers on the issue at the time. 

In January 2014, Johnson said: “If these amendments, supported by dozens of cities across Europe, can succeed, we can save literally hundreds of lives across the EU in years to come. I am deeply concerned at the position of the British Government and urge them to embrace this vital issue.” 

Perhaps in his hasty drafting, Johnson has dismembered misremembered the exact chain of events, confused among the dying reverberations of all the other Euromyths he told.

Johnson’s old boss, Max Hastings, once said: “It is a common mistake to suppose Johnson a nice man. He is a man of remarkable gifts, flawed by an absence of conscience, principle or scruple.”

Yes. What a cuddly, tousled, eccentric, deceitful, narcissistic, bigoted lying thug.

Image result for boris johnson

Related

Boris Johnson Has Ruined Britain – The New York Times

Au revoir, blundering Boris’: Europe reacts to political chaos in UK The Guardian

The past really is another country. Let’s leave Boris Johnson thereThe Guardian

“The government is well rid of a foreign secretary whose grotesque colonial fantasies were an affront to the world.

“Boris Johnson was only given a pass on his grotesque racism because of the snivelling class deference of UK political media.”

Birds of a feather…


 

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An introduction to Dominic Raab, the new Brexit sectarian


Dominic Raab, the hard Brexit Sectarian Secretary  – who has replaced David Davis following his resignation last night – is a hard right libertarian and supports a hard Brexit. He’s been a fiercely loyal pro-Brexit outrider from the backbenches, and made broadcast outings more regularly than some ministers during the general election.

As a staunch neoliberal, he said in 2010 that “positive discrimination is wrong in the same way as negative discrimination. It means people are thinking in terms of social criteria and it is anti-meritocratic.”

It’s likely that May’s decision to appoint a staunch Brexiteer to the role is an olive branch to ever-restive Leave-supporting MPs who could seize on Davis’ resignation as an opportunity to launch a leadership challenge against her.

Raab was a co-founder of Change Britain, effectively a continuity wing of the Vote Leave campaign. Raab is a former lawyer for Linklaters, advising on EU and trade law and an ex-chief of staff to Davis. Linklaters has also hired Hanbury Strategy to provide the law firm with policy advice ‘in connection with the impact of Brexit on their clients’ businesses’. It also employs former foreign secretary William Hague as chair of its international advisory group. Of course, another of Hanbury Strategies’ clients is AggregateIQ Data Services Ltd.

Raab said last year that Brexit offers the UK’s legal sector “enormous” opportunities and that Britain already had a reputation as being a “global centre for business as being the best place to resolve disputes”. The legal industry employs 300,000 people — two-thirds outside London — and revenue generated by legal activities in the UK is £31.5bn, he said, adding that legal expertise is one of Britain’s unique selling points. Advising business on Brexit is certainly a lucrative role.

Raab was speaking at the Policy Exchange in London at the launch of a report by Linklaters, which explores ways of ‘ improving’ Britain’s ‘competitiveness’ after Brexit by ‘enhancing the rule of law’. The report concluded that Brexit ‘creates an opportunity to reinforce the rule of law in Britain’ and to make laws that are clear and ‘manageable’. It says one danger is that the future pressure on the government and parliament’s time after Brexit could result in “hastily drafted and poorly scrutinised laws that unintentionally subvert the rule of law.”

The Linklaters report concludes that Brexit will not allow Britain to change its laws completely but “it will provide a once in a generation opportunity to make material improvements” and says clearer legislation will help provide businesses “with the certainty and fairness they need to invest, employ and transact in the UK.”

The report says after Brexit it will be the responsibility of the UK parliament to enact laws in areas that are currently within the competency of the EU and this opportunity will require “some innovation” on the part of parliament. It urges that parliamentary processes to scrutinise new laws should be simplified and it also urges that the volume of legislation and regulation should be reduced. 

It’s kind of ironic that for all the domestic haggling and wrangling on Brexit, we risk forgetting that internationally, Britain is the place people think of as the place they would most like to come to resolve their disputes. That is a unique comparative advantage for us.” 

Raab went on: “As we seek to minimise legal risk please let’s not cower in a corner afraid of our shadow — Britain is better than that,” adding there were opportunities for post-Brexit Britain to build on its reputation as a centre for ‘legal expertise’. He sees the UK as a haven for businesses who want  a more ‘relaxed’ legal system, presumably, than elsewhere.

Despite his support for a full break with the European Union, in Raab’s constituency, Esher and Walton, citizens voted 58.4 percent to 41.6 percent to remain. He doesn’t like worker’s rights (most Tories don’t, they get in the way of exploitation and profiteering). Raab has links to an extended network of individuals and organisations pushing deregulation and climate science denial. In 2012, he wrote a piece for the Taxpayers’ Alliance demanding the government be transparent about the cost of its climate policies. 

Raab has voted against allowing a right to remain for EU nationals already in living in the UK after Brexit. He has also campaigned to change the UK’s Human Rights Act.

He was also a part of the Leave Means Leave campaign, despite his name being removed from the site recently, which was also supported by some of the UK’s most prominent climate science deniers such as former Tory MP and now Lord Peter Lilley, and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Sammy Wilson. It was also supported by libertarian Tories calling for deregulations which have previously pushed disinformation on climate change including Jacob Rees-Mogg John Redwood, Christopher Chope and Ian Paisley to name a few. The Labour Party and Trade Unions have expressed concerns about his appointment, as Raab has also advocated scaling the minimum wage back.

Rabb is a co-author of the hard-right ‘Britannia Unchained‘ manifesto in 2012, along with Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Chris Skidmore and Liz Truss, who collectively claimed that British workers ‘prefer a lie-in to hard work’ and that British people ‘are amongst the worst idlers in the world’.

Raab is also a keen advocate and supporter of the notorious libertarian Taxpayers’ Alliance, who bleat that rich people have to pay a little back to the society they gained so much from. Back in 2011, Raab proposed, in a pamphlet published by the Centre for Policy Studies entitled ‘Escaping the Strait Jacket’, that should the UK leave the EU this should be seen as an opportunity to slash protections for workers.

Referring to David Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, at the time, Raab wrote: “This opportunity should be seized, and used to remove some of the obstacles to British business.” 

Paul Blomfield, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Minister, said: “The new Brexit Secretary has long harboured ambitions to slash vital workplace protections and rights, and the Prime Minister has now put him in a position to do so.

“This latest blow for workers comes a few days after the Cabinet failed to rule out a race to the bottom with the EU on crucial employment protection. It’s become abundantly clear once again that this chaotic Tory Government cannot be trusted with people’s rights after Brexit.”

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary said: “This appointment signals a promotion of a hard right figurehead who has shown contempt for working people in Britain.

“Theresa May has appointed someone who think British workers are lazy and have too many rights and he has already published plans to slash vital rights from the minimum wage to rights for agency workers.

“The hard won rights of UK workers are already under serious threat in the post-Brexit landscape – basic things like not being forced to work 60 hours a week and being able to get home to see your family.

“Dominic Raab’s appointment now poses a direct and immediate threat to working people in Britain.

At a time when we see a Tory back bencher salivating at the prospect of axing the Working Time Directive, the new Brexit Minister needs be clear where he stands on workers’ rights – the public will not accept a Brexit that makes life harder for working people.”

As a campaigning anti-unionist, Raab had also presented an ultimately unsuccessful Ten Minute Rule Bill proposing that emergency service and transport Unions should be required by law to ensure that strike votes receive 50% support of union members. Raab argued that reform was needed to prevent “militant union bosses” holding the “hard working majority” to ransom.

I guess he doesn’t get the whole idea of ‘collective bargaining’, then, unless of course, it involves big business gathering together to lobby the government for labour market deregulation and bigger profits.

In February this year, Raab advertised for an unpaid intern just ahead of a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy publication, responding to the Taylor review on insecure work. The BEIS report criticised “exploitative unpaid internships” saying “an employer cannot avoid paying someone the minimum wage simply by calling them an ‘intern’ or saying that they are doing an internship.” 

Earlier in the year while he was serving as Housing Minister, Raab courted controversy by claiming that immigration to the United Kingdom had driven up housing prices by as much as 20 percent. Raab’s claims were then challenged by the UK Statistics Authority which asked that he publish the information supporting his allegation. When produced, it transpired that the information he cited was based on modelling long-since considered discredited and out of date, leading to criticism of his performance in his ministerial role. 

In 2015, he voted against explicitly requiring an environmental permit for fracking activities and voted not to ban the exploitation of unconventional petroleum for at least 18 months and not to require a review of the impact of such exploitation on climate change.

In 2011, the self-pitying, privileged white male waged a gender war on feminists, calling them “amongst the most obnoxious bigots”. He said he feels that men get a raw deal ‘from the cradle to the grave’ because of  “anti-male discrimination in rights of maternity/paternity leave”, young boys being “educationally disadvantaged compared to girls”, and because “divorced or separated fathers are systematically ignored by the courts”. Raab clains: “Men work longer hours, die earlier, but retire later than women”.  I guess child-rearing and being burdened with a disproportionate share of household chores, which isn’t salaried, don’t count as ‘work’. 

 

Related

Brexit, law firms, PR, lobbying and the communication ‘dark arts’ political hires


 

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Brexit, law firms, PR, lobbying and the communication ‘dark arts’ political hires

influence

Media Intelligence Partners’ lobbying aims.

Dark arts.” “Peddling.” “Salacious.” These are just a handful of terms the media has used to describe campaign, ‘corporate research’ and ‘strategic communications’. Even the lighter description “opposition” doesn’t quite capture what companies like Cambridge Analytica do. 

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has highlighted that the power and dominance of the Silicon Valley – Google and Facebook and a handful of very wealthy individuals – are at the centre of the global tectonic shift we are currently witnessing, as democracies are increasingly being stage-managed by those who can afford the props and scripts. In a way, it was inevitable that sooner or later, politics would be reduced to branding and ‘market competition’, and that political outcomes would become aligned with neoliberal outcomes. 

Surveillance strategies and targeted marketing also include the use of biometrics. The private company Endless gain, for example, use biometrics and psychology and “to understand human emotions and behaviour, and Psychology to optimise human emotions and behaviour. Our way helps our clients convert more customers, keep them for longer, and have them spend more.” 

Endless Gain claim on their site to “optimise conversions” in the same way that behavioural economists at the Nudge Unit claim to “optimise decision-making”, in their quest to align citizens’ choices with neoliberal outcomes.

The company uses eyetracking, facial expression recognitiongalvanic skin response,  EEG and pupil dilation – biometrics, in addition to conventional psychological research, “bringing together biometric research with findings from decades of academic psychology –particularly on emotional decision-making and the psychology of persuasion – to make changes to your site that increase both revenue and conversions.”  

Other companies, such as the hugely influential Crimson Hexagonuse AI.  The company is based in Boston, Massachusetts and has also a European division in London. Edelman Intelligence, a massive PR company, are a client of this company, as are TwitterThe company’s online data library consists of over 1 trillion posts, and includes documents from social networks such as Twitter and Facebook as well as blogs, forums, and news sites. The company’s ForSight platform is a Twitter Certified Product. (See also: The anti-social public relations of the PR industry, which details the intrusive ‘360 degree’ social media ‘listening’ and monitoring posts used by companies to gather data and intelligence and to formulate ‘strategic communications’ to discredit critics)

This level of surveillance and persuasion is deeply intrusive form of commodification and control that effectively exiles citizens from their own characteristics, perceptions, behaviours and choices, while producing lucrative markets aimed at data mining, behavioural analysis, prediction and modification.

Furthermore, the data collection, analysis and profiling is likely to build in discrimination, reflecting and reinforcing material and power inequalities. Credit reference agencies, insurance companies and the financial sector have previously demonstrated this point only too well. 

The data mining, analytics and persuasion market exists because large corporations and governments want to micromanage and psychoregulate citizens. However, such intrusive surveillance and micromanagement poses fundamental challenges to our democratic norms and personal autonomy.  

Tailored and targeted ‘strategic communications’ and persuasions are based on behaviour modelling and presupposed preferences, which may or may not be accurate or comprehensive. However, such an approach forecloses the possibility of citizens seeing alternative choices and developing new preferences: of accessing a full range of choices, learning and developing. It reduces citizens, commodifying their biology, psychology and decision-making, and transforming human nature into profits for big businesses and maintaining the power of the establishment.

Carole Cadwalladr, writing for the Guardian and Observer, revealed how the foundations of an authoritarian surveillance state have been laid in the US and how British democracy was subverted through a covert, far-reaching plan of coordination enabled by a US billionaire, Robert Mercer. And how we are in the midst of a massive land and power grab by billionaires via our data. Data which is being silently amassed, harvested, analysed, profiled and stored. Whoever owns this data owns the future.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal highlights the erosion of democracy because governments are paying to use these sophisticated techniques of persuasion to unduly influence voters and to maintain a hegemony, amplifying and normalising dominant political narratives that justify neoliberal policies. ‘Behavioural science’ is used on every level of our society, from many policy programmes – it’s become embedded in our institutions – to forms of “expertise”, and through the state’s influence on the mass media, and other social and cultural systems.

It also operates at a subliminal level: it’s embedded in the very language that is being used in political narratives. Repetition is an old propaganda technique that sometimes works. The ‘Strong and Stable’ ideological motif of the government, however, was a tad overused, and led to ridicule because it became so visible as a ill-conceived technique of persuasion. But what about all of the psycholinguistic cues that remain opaque?

The debate should not be about whether or not these methods of citizen ‘conversion’ are wholly effective, because that distracts us from the corrupt intentions behind the use of them, and especially, the implications for citizen autonomy, civil rights and democracy.

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie has said that British voters in the lead up to the referendum to exit the European Union were duped by the Leave campaign. Speaking to MPs on Tuesday 27 March, the former Cambridge Analytica employee described how pro-Brexit groups like BeLeave used Canadian firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ) to profile and target online voters with psychologically tailored “strategic communications”, using personal data allegedly gleaned from Facebook. 

“I think it is completely reasonable to say that there could have been a different outcome of the referendum had there not been, in my view, cheating,” he said. The revelations and accusations came almost exactly one year before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March, 2019.

Wylie said AIQ was subcontracted through Cambridge Analytica, a political data company which also stands accused of manipulating voter behaviour to help Donald Trump win the US presidential election. The comments follow separate accusations that the Leave campaign may have also broken electoral laws on spending thresholds, which are capped at £7m. The Leave campaign spent £6.77m but then allegedly received a £625,000 donation from BeLeave, a youth Brexit group. The donation was then spent on AIQ services, in breach of the £7m limit on campaign spending. Wylie also described the spending breach as part of a “common plan” coordinated by the pro-Brexit campaign.

Cambridge Analytica is by no means the only private company that has hugely profited from corrupt methodologies, abominable politicking and the run-up to Brexit. The company is a pioneer in ‘behavioural microtargeting’ – using online data to build up a sophisticated psychological profile of voters, then targeting those individuals with ‘bespoke’ psychologically tailored messages, and the media, with carefully curated narratives that indulge group tendencies – drawn from social psychology and in-depth knowledge of social science –  and social norms to influence political outcomes.

The UK Policy Group

There are many other similar companies which are quietly raising substantial antitrust concerns.

The UK Policy Group, for example, is the UK branch of a notorious US political organisation – Definers Public Affairs – which has worked for Donald Trump’s administration and has aggressively targeted his critics. The company boasts: “What sets us apart is our focus on political-style research, war room media monitoring, political due diligence and rapid response communications.

“We help our clients navigate public affairs challenges, influence media narratives and make informed decisions to disrupt crowded markets.

“The global political, policy and corporate communications landscapes are evolving rapidly. Decision makers need high quality research to make informed decisions and need relevant content to drive the court of public opinion and provide context to shape decisions by policymakers.

“With affiliates in Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley, UK Policy Group employs some of the best communicators, researchers and media analysts as part of our team.”

Former government officials are advising this highly controversial company. The UK company’s vice president is Andrew Goodfellow, who was the Conservative Party’s director of policy and research. 

Ameet Gill, who was the former director of strategy Number 10 and founder of lobbying company Hanbury Strategyis providing consultancy to the firm. Official documents reveal that David Cameron ’s former director of strategy, Gill, was given permission by parliamentary authorities to accept a contract advising the firm through his political strategy company Hanbury Strategy. Pelham Groom, a company director, was previously head of ‘media monitoring’ for the Conservative Party. Chris Brannigan, Theresa May’s former Director of Government Relations is also a member of the group’s advisory board. Rhiannon Glover is an analyst, formerly, the late duty press officer for the Conservative Party and researcher in the office of Nick Hurd.

The company is also partnered with Trygve Olson, of Viking Strategies, who advised the European People’s Party in the 2009 EU elections and worked as a consultant to the Republican Party in the US.

The company says: “We offer our clients an end-to-end system of research on issues and opponents, monitoring the news cycles, and shaping narratives via rapid rebuttal communications.

UKPG provides our clients with unparalleled campaign-style research as the foundation of driving informed decisions that allow them to shape public opinion, and impact outcomes.”

The company employs people to find damaging information on political rivals. Scrutinising the personal histories, online videos and posts of Labour Party candidates, the company collects dossiers of potential discrediting and smear material to be handed to the Conservative Party. It’s understood that the information is then handed to right-wing websites and newspapers to construct narratives and add a veneer of evidence to negative articles.

The company expansion by US-based company Definers Public Affairs came at a time when US lobbying firms were eyeing UK expansion “in anticipation of flood of Brexit-related work, using their capacity to influence the national news cycle’ and as a ‘master of opposition research”. 

Ian Lavery MP, Labour Party Chair, said: “I am disappointed but not surprised to hear that in an attempt to deflect from their total lack of direction and policy, the Tories are reduced to digging low and dragging British politics through the gutter, in the desperate hope that they may find some salacious morsel.

“This kind of base mudslinging has no place in British democratic debate, and deflects from the real issues facing people today. It is time that Theresa May stops spending money and effort on these tactics and focuses on policies to improve the lives of those who have suffered because of her government’s heartless policies.”

Brexit

There is a clear danger that the UK, having “taken back control” will simply hand enormous power over to corporate lobbyists who see Brexit as “a once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to influence the way the UK is governed. Those companies that can influence policies and regulations – such as trade policies, labour laws and environmental regulations – stand to profit hugely.

For those who are worried they won’t, well there are a huge number of think tanks, consultancies and PR companies ready to lobby on their behalf and guide them through the Brexit fallout, all for a hefty sum of post-Brexit private profits. 

In the wake of the EU referendum, many law firms have also created stand alone ‘Brexit’ teams in order to cope with the increasing demand from clients asking how leaving the EU will impact them. Just after the referendum, companies are bringing together existing partners to build out their Brexit teams, mainly composed of individuals with EU/competition, trade and regulatory backgrounds. 

Former government lawyers can earn significantly more money in the private sector. In return, law firms get people with not just the relevant legal skills, but also insider knowledge and connections: people with “a unique understanding of the administrative and political processes across Westminster, Whitehall and Brussels”.

Law firms are hiring politicians, government lawyers and other officials in a bid to position themselves as the go-to people for such advice.

Some of the notable recent moves of government ministers through the revolving  door to private profiteering, are:

Paul Hardy, House of Lords → DLA Piper Senior Director Competition law, International Trade

Andrew Hood, Foreign and Commonwealth Office → Dechert Senior Director International Trade, Government Regulation

Francis Maude, Government → Covington & Burling Senior Advisor International Trade, Regulation

Anthony Parry, HM Treasury → Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Consultant EU Law, International Trade.

Here is a list of ‘go-to’ private companies that are profiting from handing out Brexit advice and lobbying on behalf of big business:

Media Intelligence Partners

Conservative hack Nick Wood, who was once Iain Duncan Smith’s former press aide, set up his own PR consultancy, Media Intelligence Partners in 2004. From 1998 until 2004 he was the Media director for Conservative Party.

However, a break from the Conservatives was absolutely not on the cards for this die-hard Thatcherite. Wood, axed by Michael Howard in 2004, went on to represent Iain Duncan Smith’s think-tank and advised selected Tory parliamentary candidates on PR in the run-up to subsesquent election in 2005.

Wood, who held senior political roles at The Times and Daily Express during a 20-year journalistic career, served under both Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague during one of the most internecine periods in Tory history. 

He has worked with around 50 clients including “prestigious” international think- tanks like the Heritage Foundation and some of the “thought-leaders in UK public policy,” such as the Centre for Social Justice. MIP worked with pro-Brexit Leave means Leave and Economists for Free Trade, formerly called Economists for Brexit. This group has a powerful influence on the media.

Advisors for Economists for Free Trade include Tim Montgomerie, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Owen Paterson, Viscount Ridley and John Longworth, Former Director British Chambers of Commerce, Co-Chairman of Leave Means Leave.

Wood has also worked with major private sector clients including HSBC Bank and eBay. In 2008 he also established the media training and presentation company Pitch-Perfect with Jonathan Haslam, a former Downing Street Press Secretary. 

Media Intelligence Partners (MIP, sometimes MIPPR)) is a London-based PR and lobbying company. The Telegraph reported in 2009 that four Conservative MPs had claimed more than £66,000 in expenses for services provided by the company. Commons rules state that “advice for individual members on self-promotion or PR for individuals or political parties” is banned. However, that didn’t stop Iain Duncan Smith claiming more than £11,000 on his office expense account for services between June 2005 and December 2007. 

Andrew Mitchell, the shadow international development secretary, billed the taxpayer for £18,800 for “research and secretarial services” between April 2006 and July 2008. 

Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, claimed almost £20,000 in office expenses for “research” from the consultancy between November 2006 and May last year, while Philip Dunne, another backbencher, claimed for £17,000 for “research and secretarial services”.  

MIP provides services to a number of Brexit lobby groups. As well as being heavily involved in the campaign leading up to the referendum, and Brexit campaigns since, MIP also sells consultancy services to clients.

It says of its ‘Brexit Consultancy’: “MIP is ideally placed to help business leaders navigate this challenging period of change. We help our clients reduce risk and grasp the opportunities of the UK’s exit from the EU. Our insight and expertise on the negotiations and the likely outcomes are invaluable to business leaders in all sectors.”

The company says that during the EU referendum campaign, it “worked closely with current and former cabinet ministers”, including the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, and International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox. It says it ‘remains at the forefront of the campaign to secure the best possible deal for Britain.”

MIP were behind the launch Conservatives for Britain, the organisation that lead the Conservative campaign to leave the European Union. The launch appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 7 June 2015. Conservatives for Britain was founded by MP Steve Baker and MEP David Campbell Bannerman and went on to attract the support of over 100 Conservative Party MPs.

Grassroots Out

MIP ran the ‘communications and strategy’ campaign forGrassroots Out in the four months prior to the June 2016 referendum. Four senior MIP employees were seconded to the campaign, directing the press office and providing ‘high-level strategic advice’ to the campaign’s key spokespeople. MIP also managed a nationwide Grassroots Out tour, featuring speeches from Chris GraylingOwen Paterson and Liam Fox. Founded by Conservative MPs Peter BoneTom Pursglove and the Labour MP Kate HoeyGrassroots Out claimed cross-party support, including from MIP, the Brexit Secretary David Davis and Nigel Farage, the ex-leader of UKIP.

Leave Means Leave

Since the EU referendum, MIP has been working with Leave Means Leave “to make sure the instructions of the British people are acted upon”. This has involved MIP communicating with ministers on Leave Means Leave‘s behalf. 

Other Brexit-related work includes MIP undertaking media work for the launch of a joint Centre for Social Justice and Legatum Institute report called 48:52 Healing a Divided Britain in September 2016.

The MIP site says: “We devise effective and strategic media outreach, implementing bespoke public relations campaigns. We help our clients achieve their goals across both traditional platforms and more modern online and social media.

“We have unrivalled experience of the media landscape, from Fleet Street to broadcasters and online media. Our staff have worked at the highest levels of national newspapers and international broadcast organisations and have in-depth knowledge of the media’s editorial processes.”

Wood set up MIP with then former Central Office staffer Penny Mordaunt and Nick Longworth, the broadcast PR specialist also axed in the PR Officers’ cull that ended Wood’s five-plus years running Tory media operations.

Edgar Johnson is a Senior Account Executive at MIP and works on a variety projects ranging from new product and company launches to “bespoke political campaigns.” He also assists with MIP’s digital communications and research services.

Prior to joining MIP, Johnson worked as a researcher for Mark Harper MP in the UK Parliament.

He has “valuable campaigning experience from the 2015 General Election where he wrote election literature, devised social media content and campaigned on the front line across several key marginal seats. This helped to return a full brace of Conservative MPs across his region for the first time in nearly 30 years.”

He was also part of MIP’s team providing communications and strategy for the cross-party Grassroots Out campaign during the 2016 EU referendum. During the campaign, he co-ordinated successful events across the country and managed one of Grassroots Out’s largest rallies featuring current Secretary of State for International Trade, Rt. Hon Liam Fox MP. MIP were paid a total of £42,828.00 for their services.

Brexit Consultancy: the result of years of lobbying for vested interests

MIP say: “The United Kingdom’s historic decision to leave the European Union represents a period of uncertainty and opportunity for Britain’s business community. The consequences for legislation, regulation, tariffs and trade rules are huge – and will affect UK firms operating domestically and internationally.

“MIP is ideally placed to help business leaders navigate this challenging period of change. We help our clients reduce risk and grasp the opportunities of the UK’s exit from the EU. Our insight and expertise on the negotiations and the likely outcomes are invaluable to business leaders in all sectors.

“Our Brexit advisory service is headed up by our Chief Executive, Nick Wood. Before founding MIP in 2004, Nick served as Director of Communications to the Conservative Party, having previously been Chief Political Correspondent for The Times newspaper.

“Nick and our MIP staff were at the heart of a Leave campaign that upset the odds, winning the support of 17.4 million people in the largest democratic exercise in the nation’s history.

“We worked with politicians from across the political spectrum, as well as senior business people and campaigning organisations, to bring about the referendum over a number of years. We then worked intensively for four months of the campaign itself to win a historic victory. 

“During this time, we advised and worked closely with current and former cabinet ministers, including the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, and International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox. We remain at the forefront of the campaign to secure the best possible deal for Britain.” (My emphasis)

It then says: “To learn more about how we can help your business capitalise on the opportunities of Brexit, please get in touch.”

In February 2017, the Electoral Commission launched an investigation into referendum spending by Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe. Taking a lead from a series of articles, particularly by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer, the Commission began looking at the role of AggregateIQ in the referendum campaign.

The Electoral Commission wrote to Darren Grimes, this time asking him to “please explain why you chose to commission AggregateIQ in particular to undertake the work you reported in your spending return, rather than another company.”

Replying on March 3, Grimes told the Electoral Commission that he decided to spend more than £675,000 with AggregateIQ after volunteering with Vote Leave and watching the US presidential election process. “I attended some Vote Leave Ltd events during the campaign as a volunteer activist and socialised with some members of staff. I asked and was told that AIQ was running Vote Leave’s digital campaign and I also became aware that AIQ had worked on Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, that I was greatly impressed by. I was therefore confident that they could assist us in putting the proposed donation to effect in the time available,” Grimes said in emails to the Electoral Commission.

On 11 May 2018, the Electoral Commission found against Leave.EU, which ran a separate campaign to the official pro-Brexit group Vote Leave, following its investigations into alleged irregularities during the referendum campaign. It found that Leave.EU had unlawfully overspent at least £77,380 – 10% more than the statutory spending limit – though the real figure “may well have been considerably higher”. 

Additionally, its investigations found that Leave.EU inaccurately reported three loans it had received, including “a lack of transparency and incorrect reporting around who provided the loans, the dates the loans were entered into, the repayment date and the interest rate.” Finally, Leave.EU had also failed to provide the required invoice or receipt for “97 payments of over £200, totalling £80,224.”

The Electoral Commission’s director of political finance and regulation and legal counsel complained that the £70,000 fine he was permitted to impose on Leave.EU did not meet the severity of the offences committed by a “key player in the EU referendum”. Further he announced that there was ample evidence of criminal activity from the group campaign chief, Liz Bilney, and that she “knowingly or recklessly signed a false declaration accompanying the Leave.EU referendum spending return”. The Electoral Commission has referred the matter to the police.

Leave.EU’s co-founder, Aaron Banks, has stated that he rejects the outcome of the investigation and will be challenging it in court.

In January 2018, the UK government’s own Brexit analysis was leaked; it showed that UK economic growth would be stunted by 2%-8% for at least 15 years following secession from the EU, depending on the leave scenario. 

The UK continues to learn the hard way that democracy and journalism is in danger of being overwhelmed by rogue politics and a communications industry revolution that accelerates the spread of pro-establishment lies, misinformation and dubious claims, commonly called ‘briefings’.

Many observers point to the two major events – Brexit and the election of Donald Trump – that signal moments of peril for democracy and the press. Both of these events are linked by a handful of people – Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer, for example.

The lobbying industry shapes policies that suit big business and a minority of the population. PR and communications companies are often involved in the circulation of malicious, pro-Conservative ‘strategic communications’ on behalf of those powerful and wealthy enough to benefit from spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on private companies every time there is an election or referendum, the resilience of populist propaganda, racism and sexism and the emergence of the so-called post-truth era erodes the fundamental foundations of democracy and corrupts what was once the cornerstone of ethical journalism. 

Conservative donor Robert Mercer invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica, where his daughter Rebekah is a board member. Credit Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images.

Related

Conservatives for hire: cashing in on Brexit

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

Calibrating Academy- Hubert Huzzah

The revelations about Cambridge Analytica indicate clearly that western governments are subverting democracy

Cambridge Analytica try to dismiss Chris Wylie’s evidence as ‘conspiracy theories’ and ‘false evidence’


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Conservatives for hire: cashing in on Brexit

Lord Lansley, Peter Lilley and Andrew Mitchell

Andrew Lansley, Peter Lilley and Andrew Mitchell

Three former Conservative Cabinet ministers have been secretly filmed and exposed trying to sell information on Britain’s exit from the European Union. The former cabinet ministers have denied any wrongdoing despite being caught on camera offering to receive money in exchange for advising a fictitious Chinese company. 

Andrew Lansley, Peter Lilley, and Andrew Mitchell were caught trying to profit from providing “intelligence” on Brexit negotiations to a Chinese companyaccording to a joint investigation by the Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches.

The Sunday Times was tipped off by sources within Whitehall that Brexit had triggered a “lobbying frenzy,” as businesses are eager to get information about the negotiations. Undercover reporters then invited a number of former ministers to interviews for a job on the advisory board of ‘Tianfen’, a fake Chinese company.

Lansley, who served as health secretary when David Cameron was prime minister, was filmed being offered tens of thousands of pounds for information and “intelligence” on Brexit. He also said the deal could be kept secret from authorities if he was employed through his wife’s PR company, Low Europe, to avoid scrutiny.

He said: “If you have a contract with Low then basically I come with Low. So if you had a contract separately with me it would have to appear separately on the transparency register as a contract with you. But if it’s with Low then its covered by the Low contract.” 

Low says it’s core strategy “is to attract business primarily from clients who have pan-national projects in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.” Lansley is employed by the company, which has recently moved from the UK to Brussels.

On their site, Low say of Lansley: “He has extensive experience of managing reputational issues by communicating through the media; a wide knowledge of how the media works; and a large network of media contacts at the most senior levels.” However, he was clearly complacent regarding the risk of exposure via investigative journalists. 

Peter Lilley, who was the Tory party’s deputy leader between 1998 and 1999, also expressed interest in approaching key ministers for Tianfen. He told the undercover reporters that he sits on two advisory groups with influence over the Brexit process.

The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, who was the international development secretary in Cameron’s government, was willing to give paid advice to the company for £6,000 a day and said he would work up to 10 weeks a year. The Times reported he already gets paid nearly £75,000 for his job as an MP. “My constituents don’t mind what I’m paid,” he said while being filmed.

Lansley said he was already making €5,000 a day (around £4384) by giving Brexit advice to his pharmaceutical clients. He spoke about his connections at the top of government, such as Prime Minister Theresa May and Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade.

However, he appeared to draw the line at lobbying the Government directly, saying conversations had to “follow the rules”. However,  he did offer introductions to senior Brexit figures.

Lansley said in a statement that he always kept his outside interests separate to his Lord’s duties. 

Lilley revealed his “good relationships” with Liam Fox and David Davis, and said he was happy to have chats with them on behalf of Tianfen. Last week, he denied being asked or agreeing to have private conversations with any ministers on behalf of Tianfen, and any suggestion the company would get insider information was “wholly misplaced.”

Mitchell said he could advise the owner of the company on Brexit, by drawing on his business experience and inner knowledge of government. He said last week that all of his outside interests were fully declared on the Commons register.

In total, the Times has discovered that more than 20 politicians are making money out of Brexit.

The Channel 4 documentary was initially pulled from transmission last week amid a string of complaints from the three men, prompting an emergency review involving Channel 4’s chief executive, Alex Mahon, and the director of television, Ian Katz.

Lilley accused Channel 4 of a “tawdry attempt at entrapment” and insisted he had done nothing wrong. Mitchell said he was “totally innocent” and suggested that he had launched his own investigation and alerted MI5 after suspecting the approach was fake.

The final decision to delay transmission, by Channel 4 and the Sunday Times, had been taken because of warnings about the potential impact of airing the programme on the health of Lansley, who is currently being treated for cancer.

However, by this time, the former ministers had also briefed their version of events to  the Mail on Sunday last week. That front page account outlined how the three former ministers were asked to come to the Mayfair property and were greeted by a woman named Fei Liu, who claimed she represented “Chinese millionaires.”

Sir Alistair Graham, former chair of the committee on standards in public life, said the behaviour displayed in the footage was unacceptable. “To take advantage of this difficult time and confusion to make extra money doesn’t demonstrate a great deal of concern for the public interest,” he said.

The first of the Nolan principles of public life is that “holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest” and the second is that “holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.”

Lansley has said: “I made it clear in these meetings, which took place while I was undergoing cancer treatment, that I would apply the terms of the House of Lords code in any business relationship; and that this would be written into any contract that I entered into.

“No privileged access, insider information, lobbying activity, parliamentary advice or services were offered,” he claimed.

The code of conduct for MPs clearly states that “information which members receive in confidence in the course of their parliamentary duties should be used only in connection with those duties. Such information must never be used for the purpose of financial gain”.

However, Lilley insists that he was not referring to any confidential information – and does not possess any. “That I am a member of groups with experts who express views on Brexit was relevant only to show that I am engaging in the many ways that Brexit can benefit Britain,” he told Channel 4.

He insisted: “I have not undertaken any venture which would involve me breaking the codes of conduct referenced nor the Nolan principles. I repeatedly made it crystal clear I would not use confidential information. I possess no such information. If I did I wouldn’t make it available to anyone.”

A Channel 4 spokesman said: This investigation raises important questions about transparency and accountability in public life. We are continuing to work on the film [Politicians for hire: cashing in on Brexit], which will be broadcast soon.”

Meanwhile, outraged Peter Lilley has referred Channel 4 to Ofcom, making a lengthy complaint about the planned Dispatches documentary, which you can read here.


Related 

A reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the UK Coalition have exempted themselves

 


 

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Government criticised for lack of diversity, lack of transparency and poor fiscal management

Image result for scrutiny of government

The Institute For Government (IFG) published their annual Whitehall Monitor Report on Thursday, presenting an insight and analysis of the size, shape and performance of government and the civil service.

In the opening paragraph, the IFG say: “The Prime Minister Theresa May lost her parliamentary majority in a snap general election. Revelations about ministers’ inappropriate conduct resulted in three Cabinet resignations. Preparations for Brexit have been disrupted by the snap election, by turnover in personnel and by difficulties in parliamentary management. The Government faces challenges in key public services, notably hospitals, prisons and adult social care.

It was noted in the report that preparations for Brexit have been disrupted by “difficulties in parliamentary management”. The Government has introduced only five of the nine new bills it says are needed for Brexit, and a third of the Government’s major projects worth over £1bn are at risk of not being delivered on time and on budget.

This Whitehall Monitor annual report – which is the fifth – summarises:

  • The political situation following the early election constrained the Prime Minister’s political authority and created challenges for the Government’s legislative programme and management of public services, major projects and Brexit.
  • The civil service is growing, in terms of size, but should be more diverse.
  • Government is less open than it was after 2010, and is not using data as effectively as it should.

I’ve used the summary to shape my analysis.

Fiscal management

The forecasts for tax revenues have been downgraded, the Government also forgoes billions of pounds through tax expenditures that are not subject to rigorous value-for-money assessments.

Since 2010, the value of liabilities on the government’s balance sheet has grown more quickly than the value of assets, increasing net liabilities. Furthermore, “revenue is not likely to overtake spending, in the foreseeable future”. 

Despite the promises from George Osborne of a budget surplus by 2020, and his fiscal straitjacket – the imposed, rigid programme of spending cuts and austerity for the majority of citizens, and tax cuts to the wealthiest ones. 

In real terms, revenues from taxes have grown 7% since 2010/11. This is largely the result of:

  • VAT receipts increasing by 22% (partly due to the standard VAT rate increasing from 17.5% to 20% in 2011)
  • National Insurance contributions increasing by 11%
  • Some increases in income tax collected following a stabilisation following the global crash

Council tax is also included in Treasury revenue, and that will have risen, since many low paid or out of work people now pay a contribution, whereas previously, they were exempt. Despite the increases in VAT, revenue from the sale of goods and services has fallen 34% since 2010/11. 

For the 2017 Autumn Budget, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) downgraded its forecasts for productivity growth. This, in turn, has resulted in the outlook for Government revenue being revised downwards.

Tax expenditures cost £135bn per year. Tax expenditures are tax discounts or exemptions that “further the policy aims of government”. The total sum of all forgone revenue from tax expenditures across income tax, National Insurance contributions, VAT, corporation tax, excise duties, capital gains tax and inheritance tax was £135bn in 2015/16. This is equal to a quarter of the total central government tax revenue in that year, and is larger than the total budgets of all but two departments (Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health).

For capital gains tax, the cost of tax expenditures was more than four times the amount of revenue collected

This certainly provides a strong indication of the government’s policy and budget priorities, making a mockery of trite sloganised claims of “a country that works for everyone”. Some social groups clearly raise rather more hidden political costs than others, but it is only disadvantaged and marginalised groups that tend to be negatively ideologically portrayed as a “burden” on the state by Conservatives and the media. 

In the 2017 Autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced new stamp duty reliefs for first time buyers purchasing properties worth under £500,000. Due to the policy being specifically targeted at first time buyers, this policy resembles a tax expenditure, and in 2018/19 (its first full year) is expected to cost £560m.

Furthermore, the National Audit Office has reported that the Treasury does not monitor tax expenditures and assess the value for money they offer with the same rigour as it does general expenditure. The Institute for Government, along with the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has called for the tax reliefs that most closely resemble spending measures to be treated as spending for accountability and scrutiny purposes.

Net government liabilities are now over £2 trillion. The Whitehall Monitor report says: “The Government’s net liability has implications for future generations of taxpayers, who will bear the costs of meeting these obligations, but the long-term nature of such obligations can make discussions around the government balance sheet seem more remote than the immediate choices about how much departments should spend each year.

“Nonetheless, policy choices have important implications for the Government’s liabilities – for example, the decisions taken by the Coalition Government to increase the state pension age, and to set a triple lock that guarantees annual increases of at least 2.5% in the state pension, are likely to have contrasting effects on the size of the state pension liability.”

The report goes on to say: “But the Government has made commitments to voters on public services, productivity, social mobility and major projects. If it fails to meet their expectations, it risks further undermining confidence in government.”

The government is still not transparent about its spending plans. The report says that “Better data is needed to understand the benefits – and risks – of outsourced public services”. 

“Wider government contracting includes back-office outsourcing by departments and the purchase of goods they use in the delivery of public services (e.g. paper, energy), as well as privately run public services. In 2015/16, £192bn was spent by government on goods and services, of which £70bn was spent by local government, £65bn by the NHS and £9bn by public corporations, with central government departments and other public bodies accounting for the remaining £49bn. 

“While some contract data is published, the Institute for Government and Spend Network have previously highlighted gaps in transparency – including on contractual terms, performance and the supply chains of third-party service providers.

“The Information Commissioner has said that the public should have the same right to know about public services whether the service is provided directly by government or by an outsourced provider”. [My emphasis]

The IFG also say in their report: “In 2016, the Public Accounts Committee concluded that the outsourcing of health disability assessments at DWP had resulted in claimants ‘not receiving an acceptable level of service from contractors’, while costs per assessment had increased significantly. [My emphasis. Some 10% of the budget for the Department for Work and Pensions goes to private contractors.]

“Similarly, in 2013 MoJ [Ministry of Justice] found that it had been overbilled in relation to contracts worth £722m.”

There have been numerous high-profile failings in government outsourcing. The recent collapse of Carillion highlights many of the longstanding and existing issues, and should encourage a political focus on solving them.

The report continues: “There is no centrally collected data outlining the scope, cost and quality of contracted public services across government. Nonetheless, we know that Whitehall departments account for only a portion of outsourced service delivery, which can also happen further downstream after departments have provided funds to public bodies (for example, the purchasing of services from GPs by the NHS) or local authorities.”

The next section of the report outlines the 2016–17 parliamentary session, in which 24 government bills were passed – fewer than in any session under the 2010–15 Coalition Government. In part, this reflects the curtailed session, which ended with the dissolution of Parliament on 3 May ahead of the election in early June. The report goes on to say that 1,097 pages of legislation – 38% of all pages passed in the session – were dealt with at speed, raising questions about the adequacy of the scrutiny these bills received.

There were also concerns raised about the scope of the powers the government has sought regarding the EU Withdrawal Bill, which has proven controversial. In particular, the inclusion of so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers, allowing the Government to amend or repeal existing primary legislation without the scrutiny normally afforded to bills. This has quite properly provoked concern among parliamentarians.

Curiously, the report says that the use of statutory instruments (SIs) – previously used only to pass non-controversial policies and amendments – has dropped. However, this flies in the face of existing evidence, which is sourced from the government’s own site. If there has been a drop since 2014, it certainly contradicts the trend set since 2010. Furthermore, the Government has been criticised for using SIs to pass controversial policies, such as welfare cuts.

It seems that IFG counted the number of SIs by parliamentary session (the parliamentary year which tends to run from Spring to Spring) rather than by calendar year.

Scrutiny of SIs is rather less intensive than scrutiny of primary legislation. They are subject to two main procedures, neither of which allows Parliament to make any amendments:

  • negative procedure, in which an SI is laid before Parliament and incorporated into law unless either House objects within 40 days
  • affirmative procedure, in which both Houses must approve a draft SI when it is laid before them.

It’s also worth reading: Conservative Government accused of ‘waging war’ on Parliament by forcing through key law changes without debate.

The lack of progress on inclusion and diversity

The IFG says there has been “little recent progress” in numbers of senior civil servants with disabilities or ethnic minority backgrounds, while the percentage of women  also decreases proportionally with ascending Whitehall pay scales. .

They report: “The civil service needs to fulfil the promise of its diversity and inclusion strategy, especially in improving the representation of ethnic minority and disabled staff at senior levels.”  

Of those appointed to the highest departmental rank of permanent secretary in 2017, “as many were men with the surname Rycroft as were women – two in each case”. The report notes also “there has never been a female cabinet secretary for the UK”.

Despite the much-trumpeted launch of the Disability Confident employment scheme, aimed at “helping to positively change attitudes, behaviours and cultures,” and “making the most of the talents that disabled people can bring to the workplace”, sadly there is no evidence that the Government intends role-modeling positive behaviours or putting into practice what it preaches.

The representation of disabled civil servants at senior level has improved only very slightly: 5.3%, up from 4.7% in 2016. Across the UK population as a whole, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 21% of people are estimated to have a disability (some 18% of the working-age population). 

Lack of openness, transparency and accountability

In the UK, the idea that government should be open to public scrutiny and policies congruent with public opinion is central to our notion of democracy. Government openness and transparency also tends to be linked with citizen inclusion, democratic participation and a higher degree of collaboration between citizens and government on public policy decisions. It also ensures that corruption and the misuse of political  t power for other purposes, such as forms repression of political opponents is less likely.

Information and data deficits are more likely to lead to political corruption and a reduction in democratic accountability.

The IFG report says that in 2016–17, more ministerial correspondence was answered in time, which were thanks to more generous targets, while fewer parliamentary questions were answered on time and information was withheld in response to more Freedom of Information requests.

Parliament has other mechanisms to hold government to account, including urgent questions (which have most tellingly increased significantly in recent years) or select committee inquiries (which have also increased in number, with the election delaying government responses). The Government has established a track record of withholding details of planned legislation from the opposition. (See for example: PIP and the Tory Monologue).

According to Democracy Audit UK  an independent research organisation, established as a not-for-profit company, and based at the Public Policy Group in the LSE’s Government Department – the lack of transparency has been fuelled by the coalition period, and now, the Conservative’s’ narrow majority,  as the amount of secondary legislation is growing, and primary legislation is drafted in ways that increasingly leave its consequences obscure, to be filled in later via statutory instruments or regulation. Commons scrutiny of such “delegated legislation” is subsequently reduced, and likely to be very weak and ineffective.

Meanwhile, departments’ publication of mandated data releases, including spending over £25,000, organograms and ministerial hospitality, is patchy. Departments also proactively publish on GOV.UK, though supply and demand differs by department

The IFG says that many departments are not publishing their data as frequently as they should and this, coupled with the difficulty of measuring government performance, suggests that the government is becoming less transparent and accountable.

A rise in the numbers of Freedom of Information requests that are being refused

Since 2010, government departments have become rather less open in response to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. In 2010, 39% of requests were fully or partially withheld; this had increased to 52% by 2017. 

Departments are able to refuse requests on a number of grounds: if the request falls under one of the 23 exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (such as national security or personal information) or those in the Environmental Information Regulations; if it breaches the limit for the cost involved in responding (£600 for central departments and Parliament); if the request is repeated; or if the request is ‘vexatious’ (meaning it is likely ‘to cause a disproportionate or unjustifiable level of distress, disruption or irritation’). 

Of the 2,342 requests withheld in full in 2017, 50% were held to be due to FoI Act exemptions, 47% to cost, 2% to repetition and 1% to vexatiousness.

Of course exemptions may also be used as “good reasons” – excuses – to withhold inconveniently controversial information that is likely to bring valid criticism and cause scandal.

Mike Sivier‘s request for information about how many people have died after going through the Work Capability Assessment, which had resulted in a decision that they were fit for work, was originally refused. The figures were only released after the Information Commission overruled a Government decision to block the statistics being made public, through Mike’s Freedom of Information request.

After the request, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), an independent authority set up to uphold public information rights, agreed that there was no reason not to publish the figures, despite the Department for Work and Pensions variously claiming the request was “vexatious”, and that it “could impose a burden in terms of time and resources, distracting the DWP from its main functions”.

However, clearly the real reason for the original refusal of this request is that the information was highly controversial and contradicted political claims regarding the completely unacceptable level of harm that has been caused to citizens by the damaging impact of the Conservative’s draconian welfare policies. 

The ICO said: “Given the passage of time and level of interest in the information, it is difficult to understand how the DWP could reasonably withhold the requested information.”

More recently, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has continued to try to block John Slater’s FoI request which is likely to expose the widespread failings of two of its Personal Independent Payment (PIP) disability assessment contractors, initially claiming that it did not hold the information he had requested, before arguing that releasing the monthly reports would prejudice the “commercial interests” of Atos and Capita.

The DWP later told the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that releasing the information “will give rise to items being taken out of context… [and] will be misinterpreted in ways that could lead to reputational damage to both the Department and the PIP Providers”, and would “prejudice the efficient conduct of public affairs” by DWP.

It also warned the ICO that the information could be “maliciously misinterpreted to feed the narrative that the Department imposes ‘targets’ for the outcomes of assessments”.

However, that comment alone indicates the highly controversial nature of the information being withheld, and thus also betrays the real motive. Information is being restricted to stifle legitimate criticism of Government policy and to hide from public view the empirical evidence of its consequences.

The ICO has nonetheless ordered the release of the information requested. A DWP spokeswoman said: “We have received the ICO judgement and we are currently considering our position.” 

If the DWP disagree with the decision and wish to appeal, it must lodge an appeal with the First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) within 28 calendar days. The requester also has a right of appeal.

The ICO say: Failure to comply with a decision notice is contempt of court, punishable by a fine.

It’s also worth noting that the DWP are obliged to inform any contractors of how the Freedom of Information Act may affect them, making it clear that no guarantee of complete confidentiality of information may be made and that, as a public body, it must consider for release any information it holds if it is requested. 

The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) overtakes the DWP to become the most opaque department. This is one example of a wider lack of transparency around Brexit and reflects the wider reluctance of the Government to share assessments of the anticipated impact of Brexit on different parts of the UK economy. Publication of spending and organisational data remains patchy, suggesting departments are not using the data themselves. 

The Scotland Office, Wales Office and Department for Transport tend to grant more requests in full, and in a timely manner. Among the more opaque are several departments regularly granting fewer than 30% of requests, particularly since 2015, including the Cabinet Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Minstry of Justice (MoJ).

None of the departments created in July 2016 – DExEU, DIT and BEIS – has ever granted even half of its total requests in full. In the three-quarters leading up to Q3 2017, DExEU was the least likely of all departments to comply with FoI requests, respectively answering 18%, 10% and 15% in full. It also refused a higher percentage because they were considered “vexatious” than any other department in 2017; 14% of requests.

The IFG report says “DExEU’s lack of transparency here, and its tardy responses to other requests for information (though not on FoI, where it is the sixth most responsive department), are consistent with its wider reluctance to release information, including the Government’s assessments of the anticipated impact of Brexit on different parts of the UK economy.”

Chart percentage of Freedom of Information requests withheld by government departments

You can read the full IFG Whitehall Monitor Report here


 

I don’t make any money from my work. 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. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 

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Leave Director admitted the Brexit referendum was won by lying to the public

Buried in a 19,800 word Spectator essay written by former online editor and Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings is an admission: The Brexit referendum was won by lying to the public.

The piece, found here, is well worth reading but also falls victim to classic “mansplaining” (explaining something in a condescending or patronizing way) of a complex issue with many words wasted on prose that most politicians would be proud of, working around the subject rather than delving in to the heart of it.

Of course, that’s for a very good reason, because at the heart of the vote to leave the European Union is an entanglement of lies and propagandist sensationalism that even the most brave souls wouldn’t dare admit to.

There is the admission that the NHS wouldn’t really take back our £350 million EU fee, and that immigration wouldn’t really be capped, and that standards of living wouldn’t really change if we left the EU. All of which are matters that the general public voted on, and all are incorrect.

And so to the damning paragraph that outs the Leave Campaign for what it was:

“Pundits and MPs kept saying ‘why isn’t Leave arguing about the economy and living standards’. They did not realise that for millions of people, £350m/NHS was about the economy and living standards – that’s why it was so effective. It was clearly the most effective argument not only with the crucial swing fifth but with almost every demographic. Even with UKIP voters it was level-pegging with immigration. Would we have won without immigration? No. Would we have won without £350m/NHS? All our research and the close result strongly suggests No. Would we have won by spending our time talking about trade and the Single Market? No way.”

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Government refuse to publish Brexit impact assessment. We need to ask why

“Despite calls from over 150 MP’s and threats of legal action, the Department for Exiting The European Union are still refusing to publish Brexit impact assessments.” David Lammy.

Whitehall’s internal risk assessments of the impact of leaving the EU on various sectors of the UK economy have remained the private property of the government. The government’s reluctance to publish them has been one of the most controversial, and widely discussed, features of its approach to Brexit. Ministers say that publication would undermine their hand in the Brexit talks and could influence the debate on Brexit if they were revealed. Circulation of the assessment is said to be highly restricted inside government because of its political sensitivity.

However the government’s authoritarian refusal to publish these documents is undemocratic, and it means the public will be intentionally kept in the  dark about Whitehall’s internal analysis over the economic impact of Brexit. Not a government that’s fond of public scrutiny, transparency and democratic accountability, then.

If you think my use of the term “authoritarian” is a bit strong, it’s worth remembering that in 2012, the government was ordered more than once by the Information Commisioner and by a Tribunal to release the risk register document relating to the impact of the controversial Health and Social Care Bill. Ministers vetoed the disclosure, and said that revealing such information would “interfere with policymaking”, and as such, was “not in the public interest.”  However, the Information Tribunal had ruled that the public interest in publishing the risk register was “very high, if not exceptional”.

Nonetheless, it has never been published for the public to see. Over the last 7 years, I have given many other examples of policies and narrative that indicate the Conservative’s strong authoritarian tendency.

The highly controversial Welfare “Reform” Act ( key measures of which were the introduction of Universal Credit, the “bedroom tax”, changes and steep cuts to disability benefits, the introduction of  a harsh and punitive sanctioning regime and the benefit cap) was defeated several times in parliament. The government implemented it nonetheless, by enforcing the “financial privilege” of the Commons in order to ignore the serious concerns raised and the refuse to entertain the mitigating amendments from the House of Lords.

Parliamentary debate regarding Brexit legislation is at a crucial stage, but opposition parties are given very little information before they are expected to make key decisions and vote on them. This is not an isolated or incidental set of circumstances. It’s emerged as a key Conservative strategy over the last few years, to ensure that parliamentary and public scrutiny and debate of controversial legislation is minimal. It’s a government that likes to get its own way, regardless of what the majority of the population may think. 

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary, has said: “Brexit isn’t a game – people’s livelihoods and futures are at stake.

The Prime Minister seems to be intentionally keeping people in the dark in her quest to leave the single market and customs union.

The Government must publish their secret impact assessments as soon as possible so people know what’s in store and what the government is putting at risk.

Public services, unions and government need to plan for the future, we can’t do that when the government is hiding so much information from everyone.”

Image result for Brexit memes
There has always been a substantial gap between the Conservatives’ ideological position and economic prudence. Despite assurances earlier this year from the government, the Daily Mail  and the Express that our economy is “thriving”, they have somehow managed to misplace £490bn of our cash. That’s half a trillion pounds. It’s equivalent to 25 per cent of GDP.

This quote from the Daily Mail hasn’t held up very well in the fullness of time:

“In a damning assessment of the scaremongering by the Remain camp, the Office for National Statistics declared that there had been no post-referendum economic shock.”

I think it’s a bit of an economic shock to discover that the UK’s wealth has suddenly diminished from a surplus of £469bn to a net deficit of £22bn, and that investment in the UK by overseas companies and individuals fell from a £120bn surplus in the first half of 2016 to a £25bn deficit, over the same period, in 2017. 

Meanwhile, the government’s decision to leave the EU has itself “raised uncertainty and dented business investment” in the UK, a new report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned. 

The report says that real wages are being stripped back amid soaring inflation, despite low unemployment. Of course this has been a longstanding problem under successive Conservative governments as they have pared back labor market regulation and undermined the very notion of workers rights and collective bargaining. The balance of power was deliberately tipped against unprotected employees, in favour of exploitative and bad employers.

David Cameron introduced enormous fees of £1,200 for anyone seeking redress from an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal or discrimination. The crippling cost had its intended effect – in one year there was a 67% drop in the number who could afford to use tribunals. Only the highly paid or those backed by a union can now seek help. Women have been the hardest hit as sex discrimination cases fell by over 80% in the first year of fees.

Then there came the Trade Union Act which was deliberately designed to set too high a bar for strikes – a conditional ballot requiring a 50% turnout, and 40% of the electorate to vote yes.

General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Frances O’Grady, says: 

“Pay packets are taking a hammering. This is the sixth month in a row that prices have risen faster than wages.

Britain desperately needs a pay rise. Working people are earning less today (in real-terms) than a decade ago.

The Chancellor must help struggling families when he gives his Budget next month. This means ditching the artificial pay restrictions on nurses, midwives and other public sector workers. And investing in jobs that people can live on.” 

Despite their eyewateringly disingenuous rhetoric, the Tories have never been “the party of the workers”. Real wages are still shrinking , the cost of living is spiralling upwards, inflation was 2.6% in July (the mid-point of the quarter), and jumped to 3% in September.

Today, in response to the ONS employment report that was published, the Resolution Foundation analyst, Stephen Clarke, says:

“Today’s figures confirm the big picture trend that the UK labour market is great at creating jobs, but terrible at raising people’s pay.

“The scale of the pay squeeze over the last decade is so vast that people today are earning no more than they did back in February 2006, despite the economy being 4.4 per cent bigger per person since then.”

Britons would need a £15 per week pay rise to get back to the levels before the financial crisis.

Brexit, the economy and more shenanigans

The 140-page annual report from the OECD outlines the state of Britain’s economy 16 months after last year’s EU Leave vote.

It also says the deadlock in talks has put Britain on course for a “disorderly Brexit”, suggesting: “In case Brexit gets reversed by political decision (change of majority, new referendum, etc), the positive impact on growth would be significant.” 

The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats said it was clear from the OECD report that a second vote was needed to prevent the harm caused by Brexit.

Jo Swinson said: “Brexit has already caused the UK to slip from top to bottom of the international growth league for major economies.

“This will only get worse if the government succeeds in dragging us out of the single market and customs union, or we end up crashing out of Europe without a deal.”

At least 20 members of May’s cabinet backed remaining in the EU in the run-up to last year’s referendum. 

The Treasury and Conservative ministers have rejected the OECD’s suggestion of second Brexit referendum, despite the warning from the thinktank that Britain must stay close to the EU or face long-term decline, and that reversing the decision to leave would significantly benefit the economy. 

I wonder if Philip Hammond’s Autumn budget on 22 November will continue to push the “balancing the budget” theme – a Conservative euphemism for more austerity, and the poorest citizens having to live within the governments’ dwindling and increasingly miserly “means,” now that he’s somehow misplaced a massive amount from the public purse. It’s going to be very difficult to woo the electorate with such a backdrop of even more looming poverty for the demographic that Conservatives usually direct their traditional prejudices at. For many of us, the “no gain without [your] pain” mantra doesn’t endear the Conservatives or switch on our confidence in their “long-term economic plan”.

There is a veritable chasm between policy and democracy, rhetoric and empirical evidence, not forgetting the galaxy-sized space between facts and techniques of persuasion. Maybe the Conservatives are still trying to convince themselves, in the their typical blustering, unreachable, non-dialogic “because we say so” way that always indicates denial and authoritarianism, that they can persuade a cut-weary public that austerity will suddenly work if we persist for yet another decade.

The “paying down the debt” deadline set by the chancellor has become an elusive goalpost, forever retreating into the future, and now we are expected to believe that by 2025, our economy will be fine and we’ll have a comfortable surplus instead of an ever greedy black hole of trillions.

Back in 2010, we were reassured by George Osborne that the government’s aim was for the deficit to be eliminated by 2015, and in his first budget he said that aim would be achieved, based on the government forecasts of the time. That didn’t happen. By November in 2011, the first surplus was forecast for 2016/17. By December 2013, it had been pushed back again to 2017/18. Now it’s been pushed back to 2025.

That’s providing that the public continue to believe the Conservatives have a shred of economic credibility for the forseeable, of course. Personally, I think that people are starting to grasp that the continuing radical cuts to public spending the economy will continue to shrink rather than expand the economy, because it’s not rocket science, and besides, we have now witnessed 7 years worth of empirical evidence that austerity does not work the way the Conservatives say it will. There’s only so many times that the Conservatives can get away with saying “but the economic damage was greater than we feared”.

The Tories have succeeded in being economical with the truth. But the fullness of time itself – the last 7 long years – has been a very good test of verisimilitude. The Conservatives failed. The public have noticed.

Only months ago, before the election, the government were boasting about the economic “recovery”. Yet when it comes to actual policies, we see more miserly austerity cuts, juxtaposed with generous tax cuts for very wealthy people, and the justification narratives always sound as if those carrying the brunt of austerity cuts – our poorest citizens: disabled people, young people, those on the lowest wages, public sector workers and so on – are somehow culpable personally for the state of the economy, inequality and poverty.

Some disabled people have been forced by the state to “tighten their belts” on behalf of the nation to the point that it has actually killed them. I can’t help but wonder how long the public are willing to sacrifice politically marginalised groups in the name of “the national interest” and “the deficit” just for the sake of fulfilling economic dogma, traditional Conservative prejudice and nasty, antisocial ideology.

The revised figures from the Office for National Statistics figures have weakened the governments’ position in Brexit talks. On Monday, the prime minister is meeting with European Union leaders, Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, a matter of only days after the exit negotiations were deadlocked.

The OECD said Britain must secure “the closest possible economic relationship” with the EU after Brexit to prevent the economy suffering a long-term decline.

Angel Gurría, the OECD’s secretary general, said Brexit would be as harmful as the second world war blitz and the British would need to act on the propaganda maxim to “keep calm and carry on.” That doesn’t exactly bode well. 

The revision of UK national accounts, the ONS “Blue Book”, shows that the country no longer has a net reserve of foreign assets, and therefore no safety margin while talks with the European Union reach a critical point, as time runs out to reach an agreement.

Is no prime minister better than a bad prime minister?

The half a trillion pounds that has gone missing is equivalent to 25 per cent of GDP.  

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that if we leave without a deal, trade with the EU would fall by as much as 29%, costing the UK economy between £48.6 billion and £58 billion – the equivalent to between £741 and £884 per person.

The Treasury, rather worryingly,  is equally pessimistic saying it could cost 800,000 jobs, cut GDP by 6% and see the pound fall by 15%.

The Conservatives have succeeded in raising employment figures, but all that means in reality is that more people earning smaller wages.

And the pay squeeze is set to continue.

Maike Currie, investment director for Personal Investing at Fidelity International, says the rise of the ‘gig’ economy, and the government’s public sector pay cap, are partly to blame for the wage squeeze:

Another month, another fall in real household incomes. Today’s wage growth figures show our total earnings including bonuses grew at just 2.2% in the three months to August . With yesterday’s CPI figures showing inflation spiking to an eye watering 3%, the gap between our pay packets and the cost of goods and services continues to remain vast – our wages are not keeping up with the rising cost of living.

“The absence of wage growth remains the missing piece of the puzzle in the UK’s slow road to recovery – high employment should be the worker’s best friend because that’s what pushes up wages. With UK unemployment at a 45-year low, one would think that workers’ bargaining power at the wage negotiation table would improve, yet earnings growth remains elusive and the UK’s workforce is getting poorer. There are many potential reasons for this ranging from poor productivity to the squeeze on public sector pay and the rise of self-employment in the so-called ‘gig economy’.

Treasury documents showed Britain could lose up to £66bn a year if it pursues the hard Brexit option – leaving the single market and EU customs union.

Yet May’s Conservative conference speech signalled that the UK will prioritise immigration over single market access in Brexit talks, which also sent confidence in pound sterling plummeting.

While the longer-term economic impacts of Brexit are yet to unfold, and surprise everyone except the government, today’s report from the Resolution Foundation think-tank strongly suggests that the lowest paid could once again be hardest hit. It’s like everything this government touches upon immediately loses its value.

A draft Cabinet committee paper, which is based on a controversial study published by George Osborne in April during the referendum campaign, says:

“The net impact on public sector receipts – assuming no contributions to the EU and current receipts from the EU are replicated in full –would be a loss of between £38 billion and £66 billion per year after 15 years, driven by the smaller size of the economy.”

This evening the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Better Brexit for Young People released a report on the concerns and priorities for Britain’s youth during the Brexit negotiations. The report, compiled in association with LSE, gathered data from forty focus groups of 18 to 24-year-olds from varying economic, geographical and social backgrounds over an eleven-month period from November 2016 to September 2017.

The report, which is divided into three sections, explores youth views on the current state of Brexit, their concerns about Brexit and their priorities for Brexit negotiations.

In the introduction, it says: 

“[Respondents] spoke of their concern about the economic pressures they face with regard to housing, jobs, and education, and the political, social and economic direction of travel that Brexit represents”.

This opinion, says The LSE say that this is an opinion that was shared by over 90 per cent of those surveyed, demonstrating an overwhelmingly negative view of Brexit and its consequences. It’s clear that the referendum stirred feelings among many young people  of sadness, anger and frustration at the outcome of the referendum, and some of that was directed at people who voted to leave – the majority being older generations.  The government chose not to give the right to vote to 16- and 17-year-olds in the referendum. It is fair to ask whether allowing them to vote could have changed the result of the referendum or not.

Neoliberalism: more business as usual

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the near meltdown of the global financial system would prompt a comprehensive rethink of the principles underlying neoliberalism. Instead, the crisis was exploited to de-fund social welfare provision on a grand scale, to dismantle the social gains from our post-war settlement ) legal aid, the NHS and other public service provision, social housing and civil rights, and to hand out our public funds to a small and very wealthy cabal. Austerity socialised losses for the poorest, and privatised hand outs in the form of tax cuts. Labor market deregulation and increasing trade union regulation also benefitted the wealthiest, resulting in the growth of exploitative wages, job insecurity and poor employment practices for ordinary people, and big profits for the wealthiest. 

Immediately following the referendum result, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), a free market thinktank, revealed what many of us suspected – Brexit has presented the Conservatives with a cornucopia of opportunities to extend the principles of an already overarching, totalisin ideology to its absolute limits. The CPS said:

“The weakness of the Labour party and the resolution of the EU question have created a unique political opportunity to drive through a wide-ranging … revolution on a scale similar to that of the 1980s … This must include removing unnecessary regulatory burdens on businesses, such as those related to climate directives and investment fund[s].”

Shortly after, George Osborne proposed to cut corporation tax from 20% to below 15%, to staunch the haemorrhage of investment. During the coming months and years, the unfolding Brexit fueled economic crisis will provide countless pretexts for similar “emergency measures” that solely benefit big business profits and of course “roll back the state”. 

This is inevitable if the current government remain in office. There will be no Brexit risk assessment available to the public. There will be no vote in parliament, no second referendum, no fresh elections: just the most massive, scheming and authoritarian legislative programme in history within the current parliament, in which the Tories command an absolute majority based on 37% of the votes cast in the last general election.

So much for “taking back democratic control”. 

Tom Coberg, writing for the Canary, says:

“[…] it was not long after the 2016 EU referendum that one commentator observed how the Conservatives appeared to be adopting tactics akin to “disaster capitalism“. And that with Brexit:

[…] the prize is the opportunity to rework an almost infinite range of detailed arrangements both inside and outside the UK, to redraw at breakneck speed the legal framework that will govern all aspects of our lives.

May has begun to prepare the public for this. And according to Joe Owen of the Institute for Government, the civil service drew up plans for a ‘no deal’ “months ago”. Though, given the close links between the Tories and Legatum, such a scenario may have been the plan all along.

Or to put it another way: extreme Tory Brexit looks as if it could mean exploitation of the many, for the benefit of the few.”

 We are taking our country back. 

We’re heading for the feudal era, singing Hayek’s deadly anthem all the way. 

When the “free market” came to Chile

 


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