Category: Censorship

The impact of government policy on free speech in universities: Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

protest pic

Freedom of speech is generally considered an integral part of a functioning democracy. In 2014, I wrote about how the process of dismantling democracy started in earnest from May 2010 here in the UK, and has been advancing by almost inscrutable degrees ever since, because of pervasive government secrecy and a partly complicit, dominant right wing media.

In order to “protect democracy” governments are subverting the law. This is a fundamental paradox, of course and Edward Snowden saw this could lead to the collapse of democracy and critically endanger our freedom of speech. Snowden reminded us that what no individual conscience can change, a free press can. It has to be one that is free enough to allow a diverse range of political commentaries, rather than a stranglehold of right wing propaganda from the Murdoch empire and its ideological stablemates.

Between July and August 2013, The Guardian newspaper was subject to prior restraint as well as property destruction by members of GCHQ following its publication of documents relating to PRISM, the NSA and the disclosures of Edward Snowden. Jackbooted officials arrived at the Guardian office and smashed up hard drives containing the information. It hit the news surprisingly quietly, when Snowden exposed a gross abuse of political power and revealed mass surveillance programmes by American and British secret policing agencies. (More detailed information here).

David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, Guardian interviewer of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, was held for 9 hours at Heathrow Airport and questioned under the Terrorism Act. Officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. 

This was a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process, and as Greenwald said: “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation.”

Even the Telegraph columnist Janet Daley remarked that these events were like something out of East Germany in the 1970s.

This certainly raised critically important legal and ethical issues, for those involved in journalism, especially if some kinds of journalism can be so easily placed at risk of being politically conflated with terrorism. (See also Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late).

Freedom of expression is enshrined and protected in UK law by the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The most important of the convention’s protections in this context is Article 10.

Article 10 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

Freedom of expression, as outlined in Article 10, is a qualified right, meaning the right must be balanced against certain other rights. Nevertheless, several judgments by the European Court of Human Rights have held that “Freedom of expression…is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population”.

Since the Human Rights Act (1998) came into force, UK laws are required to be compliant with the rights guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights, including that of free speech and freedom of association and assembly. Under the act, Higher Education Institutions, for example, are under a statutory duty to protect the free speech of staff and students, as well as protecting them from discrimination.

However, the Conservatives have a long history of censorship. During The Troubles in Northern Ireland the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 regularly stopped or postponed the broadcast of documentaries relating to Ireland. A Real Lives documentary for the BBC, “At the Edge of the Union” was temporarily blocked in August 1985 by direct government intervention from the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan which led to a one-day strike by the National Union of Journalists to defend the independence of the BBC. Those were the days. And of course, under the same regime, Spycatcher, written by Peter Wright, former MI5 officer and Assistant Director, and co-author Paul Greengrass  was also banned.

We are prevented by parliamentary rules from broadcasting parliamentary proceedings in a comedic or satrical context. Proceedings of the House of Lords, House of Commons, and various Parliamentary Committees are broadcast on BBC Parliament and Parliament’s website. The Rules of Coverage released by the House of Commons Broadcasting Committee place severe limitations on the use of this footage, including a prohibition of its use in the context of political satire. For this reason, rebroadcasts of foreign comedy shows containing Parliamentary footage are restricted from broadcast in the UK, or the footage removed or replaced, often to rather comic effect.

There are many more historic examples of censorship in the UK of course.

The impact of Conservative policy on free speech in universities

Free speech on campus is under threat – and the Government’s Prevent scheme poses one of the greatest risks.

The question of free speech on campus has dominated headlines, student unions, and social media for a few years. However, the emphasis has tended to be on no-platforming, and safe spaces with countless right wing commentators pieces whingeing about the so-called ‘student snowflake’ psyche. The Universities Minister even threatened to fine institutions that ban speakers.

However, the government’s Prevent strategy in the UK is the biggest threat to free speech at universities rather than media caricatures of “snowflake” students, according to a director of Liberty, among others.

Farcically, ‘extremism’ is broadly defined as ‘opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance’: in other words, opposition to a particular script of ideals clad in the language of national-discursive cohesion.

However, this approach has consistently failed to engage critically with students’ attempts to challenge the encroachment of fascism, for example, by conflating top-down attempts to stifle expression through Prevent, with bottom-up efforts to protest and challenge far right or very controversial speakers.

Furthermore, the listing of non-violent climate activists Extinction Rebellion (XR) as a ‘terrorist-type’ group under Prevent guidelines in a leaked document that also outlined how concern for Muslims around the world and “criticism of British military involvements are signs of “extremism”, have accelerated calls for Prevent to be abolished and for the formulation of a new way forward. This is definitely an attack on free speech, which is aimed at stifling any form of dissent, upholding  the dominance and normalisation of a right wing, neoliberal ideology. 

The climate emergency campaign group was included in a 12-page guide produced by counter-terrorism police in the south-east titled Safeguarding young people and adults from ideological extremism, which is marked as “official”.

The document says that ‘issues to look out’ for include people who speak in “strong or emotive terms about environmental issues like climate change, ecology, species extinction, fracking, airport expansion or pollution”. 

The document also flags young people taking part in non-violent direct action, such as sit-down protests, banner drops or “writing environmentally themed graffiti”.

The guide, bearing the counter-terrorism policing logo, urges those in “regular, direct contact with young people or members of the public” to look out for various warning signs and consider a referral to Prevent if they believe someone is falling prey to “ideological extremism” – which has a broad scope for interpretation. The Conservatives consider those even slightly left of centre to be ‘extreme’. 

Left wing terrorist

Some of the left wing groups on the leaked document, clearly indicating the UK government’s McCarthyist turn.

718 XR leaked doc

Part of the leaked document.

The disclosure that XR has been listed alongside proscribed groups such as National Action and Al-Muhajiroun is likely to be deeply embarrassing for counter-terror chiefs. They have for years faced claims that Prevent can cross the line to stifle legitimate free speech, thought and dissent.

XR and other left-wing and environmental groups listed include Greenpeace, the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), Stop the War, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which featured alongside threats to national security such as neo-Nazi terrorism and a pro-terrorist Islamist group. The leaked guide, aimed at police officers, government organisations and teachers who by law have to report concerns about radicalisation, was dated last November. 

It’s clear that that Prevent and counter-extremism policy in general is being used to police the fallout from failing neoliberal government policies. For a party  that has loudly claimed to despise the so-called nanny state, this document indicates a massive state overreach which seriously threatens our right to political engagement, democratic participation and peaceful protest. (See footnote)

Corey Stoughton, director of advocacy at the human rights organisation, said the tactics of the strategy for monitoring campus activism had a “chilling effect” on black and Muslim students, provoking self censorship for fear of being labelled extremist.

“There is a substantial irony in the government spuriously accusing today’s students of threatening free speech [for example, no platforming of far right and other controversial speakers] when, in fact, the true threat to free speech on campus is the government’s own policies,” Stoughton said, a former civil rights lawyer at the US department of justice during the Obama administration. 

In January 2017 King’s College, London, told students that their email could be retained and monitored as part of the college’s Prevent obligations. It is believed other universities also monitor emails. Critics, including human rights lawyers, have said the policy is a catch-all for many types of political dissent and free speech, and that it also encourages the demonisation of Muslims.

More recently, campaigners and experts are warning again that free speech is being stifled in universities because of the Conservative’s “overzealous” anti-terrorist Prevent programme, with students and lecturers being regarded as “suspects and informants”

Prevent’s stated aim is to curb ‘home-grown’ terrorism. The Prevent policy applies across schools, further education colleges and universities to deny a platform to those who might promote terrorism unless the risks can be mitigated. The strategy has been interpreted as encouraging teachers and lecturers to report those who might have been radicalised or might radicalise others – although Counter terrorism security advisers  (CTSA) also require institutions to have “particular regard to the duty to ensure free speech” and to “the importance of academic freedom” when carrying out the Prevent duty. But clearly there is a strong tension arising between the Prevent strategy aim and upholding academic freedoms.

Freedom of expression at higher education institutions has a specific protection under the Education (No 2) Act 1986. The act states that everyone involved with the governance of an HEI must take such steps as are “reasonably practicable” to ensure freedom of speech is secured for members, students, employees and visiting speakers.

This means that universities have an explicit duty to protect freedom of expression in their institutions. Notably it requires universities to keep up to date a code of practice that sets out what procedures it expects from staff and students regarding freedom of expression. Furthermore, it further includes student union premises as being part of the “university establishment” even if not owned by the university, which is significant when considering the degree to which student groups might be able to argue they are not party to the requirements of the act as regards freedom of expression.

Furthermore, The Equality Act 2010 brings together more than 116 pieces of legislation covering anti-discrimination law in the UK. Chapter 2 of Part 6 of the Equality Act (the Higher Education Chapter) applies, in conjunction with Part 2 of the Equality Act, to Higher Education Institutions, and specifically protects students and prospective students from discrimination, harassment or victimisation from the institution’s governing body.

However, recently, students have even had their university essays investigated by police and faced questioning by staff under government counter-terror measures. The Independent reports that a Freedom of Information requests reveal that academic materials have been flagged in response to the government’s anti-radicalisation strategy – but it is understood that no action has been taken against students. So far.

At De Montfort University in Leicester, three students’ essays were flagged to university security before their work was assessed by police. Meanwhile, at the University of Wolverhampton, a student’s piece of work prompted staff to question the student.  

Alison Scott-Baumann, a professor of society and belief at Soas, University of London, found in her research that many academics and students connect “inhibition of free speech” with Prevent. 

On the findings showing that students’ work is being investigated by the government, she said: “It completely destroys trust between the staff and the students and it also distorts the subject matter that staff feel they can teach.”

Scott-Baumann, a senior academic whose work involves researching free speech, added: “It suggests to me that because other means of uncovering radicalisation are not working – because there is no radicalisation on campus of a dangerous kind in my view – then if you can’t find what you are looking for you go into essay surveillance having failed to find anything on campus.”

Prevent is being used as a front for the government’s new McCarthyism

Waqas Tufail, a senior lecturer in criminology at Leeds Beckett University, called the figures “shocking” and added the new data shows how Prevent has encouraged a “McCarthyite culture” on campus.

 He said: “You would not think students’ essays were being policed in a democratic state. In what way can the police be arbiters when it comes to an essay?”

While the flagging of academic texts to Prevent has been previously documented, experts say this is the first time they have heard of universities reporting students for their essays.

Post compulsory education (from degree level education and above) – and particularly concerning the social sciences and humanities – requires students to think critically, often exploring very contentious issues. It is expected as standard that students will explore and present in their work a summary of all of the key positions within any area of controversy, reflect and evaluate each perspective fairly, and present a balanced and reasoned conclusion. You don’t have to agree with a proposition to present it fairly, consider and evaluate it and set it into a context. 

The University of Reading faced criticism for flagging an essay by a prominent left-wing academic, which examines the ethics of socialist revolution, as “sensitive” under the Prevent duty. 

The new data reveals that some universities also require students and academics to fill out forms before they can access material related to certain topics for their studies.

On the latest data, Dr Tufail, who has carried out research on the Prevent Programme, added: “It is just perhaps more evidence that Prevent is not working. And despite what the government has said for a long time, it does discernible harm. It really hits home when you think about the impact on academic freedom and general freedom of speech. There hasn’t been quick enough action from the government.

“I think the government has a lot to answer for. But we shouldn’t let individual universities off the hook.”

The government launched a review of the Prevent programme scheme last January, after years of allegations that it discriminated against Muslims and violated freedom of speech and religion. However,  the investigation has been beset by controversy, with Lord Carlile leave his post as ‘independent reviewer’ after a legal challenge accused him of bias.

Fope Olaleye, black students’ officer at the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “The level of surveillance being experienced by students, especially vulnerable students, is already having a censorious and chilling effect on who can engage in educational spaces.”

He added: “There is no doubt that the relationship between lecturers and students has changed, from one of partners in learning to that of suspects and informants, and this must change. 

“Universities and colleges should be spaces of critical thinking, not sites of surveillance.” 

Evidence provided by academics and students to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as well as interviews conducted with students and other organisations by Index on Censorship suggests that the Prevent duty is having a chilling effect on freedom of expression in British universities.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) think tank, said: “While everyone must be live to the dangers posed by extremism, I do worry about the potential chilling effect of Prevent on free speech at universities. The complaints are too loud and come too often to ignore.

“It is ironic that so many academics feel the real threat to free speech comes from the government, when the last Conservative manifesto said free speech needed strengthening in universities.” 

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “The Prevent programme threatens freedom of speech and stifles debate and open discussion. Staff and students must be free to discuss and debate controversial issues without fear of being referred to the authorities. Prevent does more harm than good if it closes down debate on contentious topics or makes people less likely to speak up.”

A UK Universities spokesperson said: “Universities continue to work hard to implement effective approaches to Prevent that are supported by students and staff, that protect freedom of expression while complying with their wider duties.

“Institutions are committed to promoting and protecting free speech, provided it is done within the law and balanced with safeguarding responsibilities to all students.”

Free speech is vital to the free flow of thoughts and ideas. Nowhere is this perhaps more important than in universities, which are crucibles for new thought and academic discovery, and whose remit is to encourage and foster critical thinking.

We should be very concerned that Prevent legislation in particular – which compels universities to refer students who “seem at risk of being drawn into terrorism” – is at odds with the statutory duty on universities to protect free speech and I echo the call by the Joint Committee on Human Rights for a full, independent review of the Prevent policy. Freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination are intertwined fundamental human rights. 

An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and press. These traditional safeguards of liberal democracy, along with equal access to justice and government accountability via legal aid, have been systematically eroded by the Conservatives. 

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

Footnote

Back in 2013, I wrote an article – JP Morgan wants Europe to be rid of social rights, democracy, employee rights and the right to protest – about JP Morgan’s chilling, extremely partisan review of what they saw as the ‘state of progress’ on ‘tackling’ the Eurozone crisis. It was the political reform part of the review that particularly worried me. 

The review says: “At the start of the crisis, it was generally assumed that the national legacy problems were economic in nature. But, as the crisis has evolved, it has become apparent that there are deep seated political problems in the periphery, which, in our view, need to change if economic and monetary union (EMU) is going to function properly in the long run. The political systems in the periphery were established in the aftermath of dictatorship, and were defined by that experience.

“Constitutions tend to show a strong socialist influence, reflecting the political strength that left wing parties gained after the defeat of fascism. Political systems around the periphery typically display several of the following features: weak executives; weak central states relative to regions; constitutional protection of labor rights; consensus building systems which foster political clientalism; and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the political status quo. The shortcomings of this political legacy have been revealed by the crisis.”

“There is a growing recognition of the extent of this problem, both in the core and in the periphery. Change is beginning to take place. Spain took steps to address some of the contradictions of the post-Franco settlement with last year’s legislation enabling closer fiscal oversight of the regions. But, outside Spain little has happened thus far. The key test in the coming year will be in Italy, where the new government clearly has an opportunity to engage in meaningful political reform. But, in terms of the idea of a journey, the process of political reform has barely begun.” 

What the review is making clear is that ‘socialist’ and democratic  inclinations  must be removed from political structures; localism must be replaced with strong, central, authority; labour rights must be removed, consensus (call it democracy if you will) must cease to be of concern and the right to protest must be curtailed.

This is an agenda for hard right, corporatist, centrist government. There’s another word for that, and it’s what the bankers seem to want. 

JP Morgan’s proto-fascist document can be accessed here: The Euro Area Adjustment—About Half-Way There. Firstly, they say that harsh financial measures are ‘necessary’ to ensure that major investment houses such as JP Morgan can continue to reap huge profits from their speculative activities in Europe. Secondly, the authors maintain, it is necessary to impose ‘political reforms’ aimed at suppressing opposition to the massively unpopular austerity measures being imposed at the behest of the banks. 

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

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

They got their own way.

In 2019, JP Morgan Chase reported record $36.4B profit for 2019 .

Chomsky’s concept of Necessary Illusions in Manufacturing Consent is linked to powerful elites dominating how life happens – shaping human experiences – and most people, some 90% of the population, are marginalised, diverted from political awareness, participation in self-governing, and reduced to apathy so they don’t vote or take responsibility for the quality of our lives, as a social collective. Media are a tool of society’s elites and owned and controlled by them and are used to impose those illusions – propaganda tools – that are necessary to keep people diverted from participation, empowerment, and the political process.

Chomsky said that the major form of authority that really needs challenging is the system of private control over public resources. Such privatisation (and economic enclosure) is something our own government is galloping along with at full tilt. It’s a system that entails the dispossession of the majority of citizens (the 99%) by a wealthy and powerful minority (the 1%).

Seumus Milne has said: “The real corruption that has eaten into the heart of British public life is the tightening corporate grip on government and public institutions – not just by lobbyists, but by the politicians, civil servants, bankers and corporate advisers who increasingly swap jobs, favours and insider information, and inevitably come to see their interests as mutual and interchangeable… Corporate and financial power have merged into the state.” From: Corporate power has turned Britain into a corrupt state.

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The ‘revolving door refers to the interchange of personnel, usually between businesss and government, but also between lobby groupsmanagement consultantsthink tanks and government, as well as between the media, public relations firms and government. 


 

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Authoritarian government warns headteachers against expressing ‘political views’

Last year, thousands of headteachers across England wrote a letter to parents to warn that there is “simply not enough money in the system” to fund schools properly, as their costs continue to rise and budgets come under severe pressure.

The letter from more than 4,000 heads told around a million families that the government’s then new national funding formula would still mean that their children face an unfair “postcode lottery”, with some schools able to afford class sizes of 20 but similar schools in other regions forced to have classes of 35 pupils.

The head teachers said that the proposed national funding formula will do little to solve the funding crisis affecting many state schools.

Now, campaigners are concerned that the government wants to ‘gag’ teachers in England over the issue of diminishing funding and resources in schools. 

A revision was made in September to the Department for Education’s (DfE)’s document entitled Staffing and employment advice for schools– billed as departmental advice for school leaders, governing bodies and local authorities – which contained a new paragraph with a blunt statement in a staff management section.

It states: “All staff have a responsibility to ensure that they act appropriately in terms of their behaviour, the views they express (in particular political views) and the use of school resources at all times, and should not use school resources for party political purposes.” 

The warning, which was first reported by Schools Week, comes after campaigns by school leaders over budget cuts that have irked the government, and high-profile union activity targeting parents during the previous general election campaign, which may have cost the Conservative party votes. 

However, headteachers and teaching unions have said they will defy any attempts by the DfE to block legitimate criticism, following the warning to teachers in England against expressing “political views”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Headteachers have long had a legal responsibility to provide a balanced presentation of opposing views when teaching political or controversial subjects.

“This update simply brings this guidance in line with the law, which makes clear that headteachers and local authorities must not promote partisan political views in school.” 

However, Jules White, a headteacher behind the Worth Less? national group of school leaders that has organised critical letters on funding, said: “If expressing political views is about biased and ill-judged grandstanding by heads and teachers, then I fully support the DfE’s views.

“If, on the other hand, the DfE wishes headteachers to be gagged as they simply tell the truth about the financial and teacher supply crisis that our schools are facing then this is unacceptable.

“Worth Less? always uses independent evidence from sources such as the IFS and DfE data itself to support the legitimate concerns it raises with parents and the public. Our claims are never disputed, but frequently ignored.

“I will continue to lead our campaign and speak out in a reasonable and considered manner on behalf of colleagues and the children and families that we serve.”

Last year, Worth Less? organised 5,000 headteachers to lobby the government, while White and his colleagues oversaw a letter sent to an estimated 2.5 million households via pupils from thousands of state schools.

Geoff Barton, a former headteacher who is now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, derided the DfE’s advice and suggested it would be unlikely to deter teachers from campaigning.

It is perfectly reasonable for school leaders and teachers to be able to articulate their concerns … and it is clearly in the public interest for them to have a voice. You cannot disenfranchise 450,000 teachers from talking about education,” he said.

Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said: “The Tories are trying to ban teachers from whistleblowing when schools cuts bite into our children’s education. They may hope to silence teachers, but they can’t get away from the fact that they will have cut £3bn from school budgets by 2020.

“If the government wants to know why teachers are publicly criticising them, they need only look at their own record of broken promises. They even cancelled their ‘guarantee’ that every school would receive a cash increase.”

The non partisan Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says that since 2009school spending per pupil in England has fallen by about 8% in real terms, with a smaller fall in Wales of about 5%.

While total school spending has risen in England by about 1% in real terms over this period, a 10% rise in pupil numbers means that the only slightly increased resources are now rather more thinly spread.

Damian Hinds had only been education secretary for a month when Labour shadow secretary, Angela Rayner, reported him to the UK Statistics Authority for making the incorrect claim that “real-terms funding per pupil is increasing across the system”. Themistake’ was corrected, and six months into the job, Hinds says he recognised not only that school budgets are being cut, but that such cuts are unsustainable and destructive.

Yet despite Hinds’ claim that he has grasped some of the problems facing schools, he has offered no solution.

In September, Hinds was forced to apologise to the families affected by the Whitehaven Academy scandal, and pledged to “do everything we can to stop it happening again”. Hinds said images of the Cumbria school’s squalid facilities shown in a recent BBC Panorama investigation were “very striking”, and said he was “sorry” for everyone affected.

The secondary school has been at the centre of a row over the way the private company Bright Tribe runs its schools in the north of England for years, but matters came to a head last autumn when flooding damaged already “dilapidated” buildings on the school site, and the chain announced it was walking away.

It has since emerged that the DfE was warned of problems as far back as 2015, but had taken no action.  The governmenthad approved the academy initiative. Bright Tribe had taken the money intended for repairs to the school, and then not carried out the work. 

Michael Dwan, who set up Bright Tribe and had previously made a fortune of over a hundred million pounds from similar arrangements in NHS provision, said “I am not in control of the trusts and never have been.”

Hinds told Schools Week: “I am sorry for the families involved with Whitehaven, of course I am, and as secretary of state for education, ultimately responsibility for the school system sits with me, and particularly the academy part of the school system, then especially so.” 

“I want to make sure that we learn from what happened, and make sure that we do everything we can to stop it happening again.”

The controversial Bright Tribe academy trust confirmed in September that the final six of the ten schools it ran will be ‘re-brokered’,

The wind-up of the trust follows a turbulent year which saw its founder, property tycoon Michael Dwan, resign last September. New trustees, installed by the government, are now investigating allegations of misuse of public money.

The Bright Tribe founder Michael Dwan withdrew his support from the ailing trust amid frustrations over government scrutiny and concerns that his ‘efforts had gone unrecognised’, copies of letters and emails obtained by Schools Week revealed in July.

The new bosses, who include two school leaders that specialise in the winding up of failing trusts, are investigating allegations that Bright Tribe made repeated false claims for building and maintenance grants at Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, the first school to be given up by the private trust.

The school is now in limbo, it does not have the option to return to local authority control. It cannot make long-term planning decisions, hire new permanent members of staff or organise pay rises. The government has offered no solution, struggling to find a new chain willing and able to take on the school, which is in a precarious financial position.

By the end of 2017, 64 academy status schools were waiting to find a new sponsor after being abandoned by, or relinquished by their managing trust. Using average enrolments of 279 pupils for state primary schools and 946 for state secondary schools this would mean over 40,000 students are adversely affected.

Legitimate criticism of government policies that have negative consequences on children, public sector staff and the tax paying public isn’t ‘expressing political views’; it is an absolute necessity for a functioning democracy.

A government that labels valid concerns ‘political views’ is an oppressive, authoritarian, gaslighting one.

You can watch the Panorama documentary, Profits before Pupils? The Academies Scandal, here.

 

Related

Pupils with Special needs are being failed by system ‘on verge of crisis’

 


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Charities not allowed to criticise authoritarian government ministers

Image result for gagging clause UK

Charities and groups contracted to deliver the government’s new Work and Health Programme have been told they must not be critical of the work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey.

A clause in the contract for those delivering the programme stipulates that signed-up charities must “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of McVey and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). However, such contracts that prevent charities from speaking out do not align with government claims of  “transparency”. 

Turning Point, the RNIB, the Royal Association for Deaf People, and the Shaw Trust are among charities that have agreed to act as providers of services under the programme – which focuses on supporting disabled people and other disadvantaged groups into work in England and Wales. It does not operate in Scotland.

There are currently at least 22 organisations – covering contracts worth £1.8 billion – that have been required to sign the clauses as part of their involvement with Department for Work and Pensions programmes.

The existence of an extraordinary clause was revealed through a freedom of information (FoI) request by campaigning website the Disability News Service (DNS)You can read the report on the disclosure in full here.

DNS says the clause states that the contractor “shall pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of DWP and ensure it does nothing to bring it “into disrepute, damages the reputation of the Contracting Body or harms the confidence of the public in the Contracting Body”.

The contract defines the “Contracting Body” as the work and pensions secretary – Esther McVey, who was criticised and heckled last week in the Scottish Parliament as she attempted to make a defence for Universal Credit and the hated rape clause.

All of the disability charities contacted by DNS have insisted that the clause – which DWP has been using since 2015 – will have no impact on their willingness to criticise McVey or the Department.

Shaw Trust said the “publicity, media and official enquiries” clause had been present “in previous DWP contracts” and “does not and has not impinged on our independence as a charity”.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The department did not introduce this clause specifically for the Work and Health Programme contract.

“It has been used in DWP employment category contracts since 2015.

The contract is the framework which governs the relationship with DWP and its contractors so that both parties understand how to interact with each other.

“The clause is intended to protect the best interests of both the department and the stakeholders we work with, and it does not stop individuals working for any of our contractors from acting as whistle-blowers under the provisions of the Public Interest “Disclosure Act 1998, nor does it prevent contractors from raising any concerns directly with the department.”

So how do charities raise concerns about the impact of draconian Conservative policies, without being “critical of the work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey,” or get around the problem of “paying the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the DWP, exactly? 

The UK government has “systematically and gravely” violated the human rights of disabled persons, a fact that was verified by the United Nations (UN) investigation, the findings of which were published in 2016. The UN report documented multiple violations of disabled people’s rights, including the way that they are politically portrayed as being lazy and a “burden on taxpayers”, the harm to health caused by unfair assessments, the cuts to legal aid and curtailed access to justice, the imposition of the bedroom tax and the ending of the Independent Living Fund, in addition to the cuts made to the welfare safety net.

The government have dismissed these findings in their entirety. Yet a truly democratic, accountable and transparent government would have monitored and assessed the impact of their punitive policies, and launched an inquiry to explore the correlation between their policies and practices and the distress, harm, premature deaths and suicides that have been well documented and evidenced over the past few years. 

This authoritarian gagging clause emphasises a toxic oppressive culture, and an intention of the government to silence its critics. However, it is unenforceable insofar as it purports to preclude a worker or group from making a protected disclosure, under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Whistleblowing legislation has been amended since the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 and the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015.

The 2013 Act, among other things, introduced a public interest test. In order to benefit from whistleblower protection a disclosure must “in the reasonable belief of the worker making the disclosure” be “made in the public interest”. 

The 2015 Act created a power for the Secretary of State to impose reporting requirements on prescribed persons (bodies to which whistleblowers may disclose information).  It is claimed that these requirements would cover matters such as the number of whistleblowing disclosures received and investigated. 

In an era of  outsourcing and public sector commissioning, most contracts issued by NHS trusts, local authorities and central government departments, or by their prime providers, now include such restrictions on providers speaking freely or releasing any information without permission.

The Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector included in its 2014 report a specific request to the government that such clauses be outlawed. Nick Hurd, then the Minister for Civil Society, said in a priceless Orwellian response that it was the government’s ambition for the UK to be “the most transparent and accountable government in the world”; but he said it had a duty “to ensure all publicly released information is accurate and validated, and contracts with providers are designed to reflect this”. 

That’s a government denial clause, by the way. 

Asheem Singh, director of public policy at the charity chief executives body Acevo, said in 2014 that gagging clauses are unacceptable and charities and social enterprises should challenge them.

“There is no doubt that many confidentiality clauses in government contracts are designed to protect not the public but the department or the ministers concerned,” he says. “We need an open, transparent system where data is freely shared. We have reams of data protection legislation that is designed to protect the vulnerable. Contractual confidentiality clauses that aim to prevent ‘bringing a department into disrepute’, as one example puts it, merely protect officialdom.”

Exactly.

However, the right to whistleblow if individuals believe there has been serious wrongdoing remains. If it’s in the public interest, there is a right to disclose and be protected from any consequences, and that is the law.

You can read about the laws and protections regarding whistleblowing and gagging clauses here.

Image result for gagging clause UK

Update 9 October 2018

The media has finally decided this issue is newsworthy.

At least 22 organisations – covering contracts worth £1.8 billion – have been required to sign the clauses as part of their involvement with programmes getting the unemployed into work, The Times  has reported.  

Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) denied they were “gagging clauses” intended to prevent criticism of ministers or their policies, insisting they were just “standard procedure”. However a spokesman confirmed that the contracts did include references to ensure both parties “understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests”. The signatories to contracts must undertake to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the Work and Pensions Secretary, the newspaper reported, adding that they must “not do anything which may attract adverse publicity” to her, damage her reputation, or harm the public’s confidence in her. 

The disclosure comes after McVey confirmed that some people would be worse off as a result of the introduction of Universal Credit, saying the Government had taken some “tough decisions”. However, this was contradicted by Downing Street

Former prime minister John Major called for a rethink of the planned roll-out of UC to more than two million claimants of existing benefits, warning the Government risked a poll tax-style backlash if the policy was seen as unfair.

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that from April 2019 Citizens Advice (CA) and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) will receive a total of £51 million to help people with universal credit claims. This move in itself shows how unfit for purpose the Universal Credit (UC) process is, as people need support in simply claiming it. 

CA and CAS  have been given a role in supporting  claimants through every step of making a UC claim and ‘managing their money when it arrives.’ The main focus will be on budgeting advice and digital support. 

£12 million is being provided to CA and CAS to set up the service by April 2019, with a further £39 million being paid from April onwards.

The government funding has understandably raised concerns about the freddom that CA and CAS will have to campaign in relation to the failings of UC.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey said:

“This brand new partnership with Citizens Advice will ensure everyone, and in particular the most vulnerable claimants, get the best possible support with their claim that is consistently administered throughout the country.

“Citizens Advice are an independent and trusted organisation, who will support people as we continue the successful rollout of Universal Credit.”

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

We offer independent and confidential advice to millions of people every year, and have already helped nearly 150,000 people with Universal Credit. We’ve seen first-hand what can happen when people struggle to make a claim and their payments are delayed.

“We welcome the opportunity to provide even more people with the help they need with Universal Credit, and deliver a consistent service through the Citizens Advice network across England and Wales.

“Delivering this service will give us even greater insight into the Universal Credit system. We’ll continue to share our evidence with the government to help make sure Universal Credit works for everyone.”

The problem is that’s what he thinks.

Related 

Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper

 


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Government denies censuring Priti Patel regarding secret Israeli meeting, now she’s resigned

Theresa May faces increasing pressure to strip two more cabinet ministers of their posts following separate conroversies involving Priti Patel and Boris Johnson.

Patel jumped before she was pushed, and offered her resignation yesterday. In her resignation letter, Patel said her “actions fell below the high standards that are expected.”

Senior Conservatives said both ministers had committed sackable offences which have materially damaged the UK’s interests and those of its citizens.

The controversy around Patel’s unofficial trip to Israel grew, as it emerged she may have omitted to tell May she discussed funnelling UK aid cash to the country’s army despite Downing Street asking for full details of her visit.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson faced pressure in the House of Commons, were he denied he made undiplomatic comments that were clearly recorded in Parliament and which led to the Iranian judiciary threatening to double a British woman’s prison sentence unfairly. The 38-year-old British woman was arrested and jailed in Iran, accused of spreading propaganda, with a central part of her defence being that she had never worked teaching journalists in the country, but was merely there on holiday.

But when Johnson mistakenly told MPs in a public hearing that she had been “teaching journalists”, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was hauled in front of an Iranian court and threatened with another five years in prison – on top of her existing five-year sentence. 

These ministerial gaffes come less than a week after the Prime Minister was forced to push Michael Fallon out of her Cabinet, following allegations about sexually inappropriate behaviour. And then there are the emerging allegations regarding Damian Green and Mark Garnier, who both face Cabinet Office investigations over inappropriate conduct, too.

According to the government, Priti Patel, the International development secretary, failed to inform the Prime Minister about the meetings she had in Israel, including discussions of plans to send funds to the Israeli army, to support “humanitarian operations” in the Golan Heights. Amid the recent Conservative diplomatic omnishambles, Patel was already facing demands she should quit the post after failing to come clean with Theresa May over 12 other meetings she has held with senior Israeli figures, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sources from the Department for International Development (DfID) confirmed on Tuesday night that Patel held further meetings in September with Israeli government officials without adhering to proper procedures. It emerged that Patel had two further meetings in September without government officials. She met the Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in Westminster and Israeli foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York.

She was also rebuked by No 10 after giving the false impression in an interview with the Guardian that foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the Foreign Office knew about the meetings.  

At 13 out of a total of 14 meetings with Israeli officials over August and September, she was accompanied by Lord Polak, a lobbyist and a leading member of Conservative Friends of Israel.

No 10 on Tuesday said Patel had not informed the prime minister about the “aid to Israel” discussions at a crunch meeting on Monday which was supposed to draw a line under the controversy. 

The Foreign Office advised that because Britain did not officially recognise Israel’s annexation of the area, (it’s been an area of longstanding geopolitical dispute) it would be hard for the Department for International Development to work there.

Speaking in the Commons, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt defended Patel’s “perfectly legitimate” right to raise the matter – saying it was within the context of providing medical help for Syrian refugees who could not get assistance in their own country. 

Labour’s Kate Osamor said it was a “black and white case” of the ministerial code being broken, and called for Patel’s resignation.

Writing to the prime minister, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said he understood  Patel had met UK officials during the holiday.

“I have been informed that while she was in Israel, Ms Patel met officials from the British consulate general Jerusalem, but that the fact of this meeting has not been made public,” he wrote.

“If this were the case, then it would surely be impossible to sustain the claim that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was not aware of Ms Patel’s presence in Israel.”

He added: “The existence of such a meeting or meetings would call into question the official account of Ms Patel’s behaviour, and the purpose of her visit.”

In a her disjointed statement on the government site, Patel says: “On Friday 3rd November, the Secretary of State was quoted in the Guardian newspaper as follows:

“Boris knew about the visit. The point is that the Foreign Office did know about this, Boris knew about [the trip].”

This quote may have given the impression that the Secretary of State had informed the Foreign Secretary about the visit in advance. The Secretary of State would like to take this opportunity to clarify that this was not the case. The Foreign Secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it.

“The stuff that is out there is it, as far as I am concerned. I went on holiday and met with people and organisations. As far as I am concerned, the Foreign Office have known about this. It is not about who else I met, I have friends out there.” 

And: “The Secretary of State regrets the lack of precision in the wording she used in these statements, and is taking this opportunity to clarify the position.”

The comments looked like a pretty terrible attempt to gloss over what were apparently  out and out lies. On the face of it.

But perhaps the lies are not entirely Patel’s. 

She then goes on to disclose the meetings in her statement. The official story is that Theresa May learned about the proposals from reports in the media, and Downing Street sources “confirmed” this.

However, Stephen Pollard at the Jewish Chronicle says that he understands Patel was told by Number 10 not to include the extra meetings so as not to embarrass the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In an interesting development, information emerged from two different sources, that Patel did disclose the meeting with Mr Rotem but was told by Number 10 not to include it as it would embarrass the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In addition, the article goes on to say that although Patel’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not authorised in advance, the British government was made aware of it within hours. 

The Jewish Chronicle says: “On 22 August – the same day as Ms Patel spoke to Mr Netanyahu – Middle East minister Alistair Burt and David Quarrey, the British Ambassador to Israel, met Michael Oren, Deputy Minister at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. According to the notes of the meeting, Mr Oren referred to Patel having had a successful meeting with Mr Netanyahu earlier. 

It is understood that this information was then conveyed to Number 10.

In addition, Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to Patel in advance of the UN General Assembly and they discussed the Development Secretary’s meeting with Mr Netanyahu, as well as the details of Ms Patel’s plan for UK aid to be shared with the Israelis. Mrs May agreed that the idea was sensible but needed sign off from the FCO.”

Of course Downing Street deny telling International Development Secretary Patel to withhold the information. A spokesman for May accepted Number 10 knew about a meeting between Patel and Yuval Rotem, but said the minister’s department did not put it in a list disclosing 12 meetings that took place on her summer holiday “because it occurred several months later.” 

The Number 10 spokesman said Patel did disclose the September 18 meeting when she met and was censured by Theresa May on Monday.

He explained that the reason the meeting did not appear on the list of disclosed appointments was because the Department for International Development had confined the list to those that took place on her summer holiday to Israel.

Several reports have claimed Number 10  instructed Patel not to publicise the Rotem meeting, because it would be too embarrassing for Boris Johnson and the Foreign Office.

It was thought the emergence of the Rotem meeting in New York would give the prime minister further reason to sack Patel, who was expected to lose her job yesterday.

However, she resigned. She was ordered back from an official trip in Africa by the PM and summoned to Downing Street over the row, yesterday. 

In her resignation letter, Patel said: “While my actions were meant with the best of intentions, my actions also fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated.

“I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the government for what has happened and offer my resignation.”

In her reply, the prime minister said: ‘‘As you know the UK and Israel are close allies, and it is right that we should work closely together. But that must be done formally, and through official channels.

”That is why, when we met on Monday I was glad to accept your apology and welcomed your clarification about your trip to Israel over the summer.

“Now that further details have come to light it is right you have decided to resign.”

The question is what did the Foreign Office already know of Priti Patel’s visit to Israel?

 


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Osborne criticises the government’s manifesto, while charities are silenced by ‘gagging act’

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George Osborne, the architect of many an omnishambolic budget, has called the Conservative manifesto “the most disastrous in recent history” in a suprisingly critical editorial

The London Evening Standard derided the Tories’ campaign attempt to launch a “personality cult” around the prime minister. Osborne attacked Theresa May’s handling of Brexit as marred by “high-handed British arrogance”.  He said the campaign had “meandered from an abortive attempt to launch a personality cult around May to the self-inflicted wound of the most disastrous manifesto in recent history”.

He has already mocked May’s net migration target as “economically illiterate” and branded Brexit a “historic mistake” since becoming the London paper’s editor.

The editorial then mockingly suggested the current conversation among Downing Street aides would likely be along the lines of: “Honey, I shrunk the poll lead.”

The Evening Standard has also criticised the government’s manifesto meltdown over the  highly unpopular “dementia tax”, saying: “Just four days after the Conservative manifesto proposals on social care were announced, Theresa May has performed an astonishing U-turn, and bowed in the face of a major Tory revolt over plans to increase the amount that elderly homeowners and savers will pay towards their care in old age. 

There will now be a cap on the total care costs that any one individual faces. The details are still sketchy but it is not encouraging that the original proposals were so badly thought through.” 

In another article titled U-turn on social care is neither strong nor stable”, it says: “Current Tory leaders should have been ready to defend their approach. Instead we had a weekend of wobbles that presumably prompted today’s U-turn. The Pensions Secretary Damian Green was unable to answer basic questions in a TV interview about who will lose their fuel payments, and how much extra money will go into social care.

“Either the Government is prepared to remove these payments from millions of pensioners who are not in poverty, and don’t receive pension credit, and spend their substantial savings on social care; or they chicken out, target the tiny percentage of pensioners who are on higher tax rates, save paltry sums and accept the whole manoeuvre is a gimmick. Certainly, if the savings are to pay for a new care cap, then many pensioners will lose their winter fuel payment. This isn’t for consultation after an election — it’s an issue of honesty before an election.”

With the Tories’ poll lead diminishing, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has warned that the proposed “dementia tax” would become May’s version of the poll tax which led to Margaret Thatcher’s downfall.

Whilst Osborne is free to speak his mind, it’s an irony that many charities have complained they have been silenced from criticising the Conservative social care plans despite the fact they will be hugely damaging to elderly and disabled people across the country.

One chief executive of a major charity in the social care sector has told the Guardian that they felt “muzzled” by the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill – a controversial legislation introduced in 2014  which heavily restricts organisations from intervening on policy during an election period.

The charity said May’s decision to means test winter fuel allowance would “inadvertently” result in some of the poorest pensioners in the country losing the support, adding that “will literally cost lives”.

The charity also claimed that the so-called “dementia tax” on social care in the home would stop people who need support from seeking it.

“We are ready to speak out at one minute past midnight on 9 June,” the charity leader added, but stressed they were too afraid to do so now.

Sir Stephen Bubb, who runs the Charity Futures thinktank but previously led Acevo, an umbrella organisation for voluntary organisations, said it was notable how quiet his sector had been about the policy.

He went on to say: “The social care proposals strike at the heart of what charities do but they should be up in arms about them but it hasn’t happened. It is two problems: there is the problem of the so-called “gagging act”, but also the general climate of hostility towards charities means there is a lot of self censorship.” 

“Charities that once would have spoken out are keeping quiet and doing a disservice to their beneficiaries. They need to get a bit of a grip.” 

He cited the example of the Prime Minister hitting out at the British Red Cross after its chief executive claimed his organisation was responding to a “humanitarian crisis” in hospitals and ambulance services.

May accused the organisation of making comments that were “irresponsible and overblown”.

It’s not the only time the Conservatives have tried to gag charities for highlighting the dire impacts of Tory policies. In 2014, MPs reported Oxfam to the Charity Watchdog for campaigning against poverty. I guess the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had better watch it, too. What next, will they be reporting the NSPCC for campaigning for children’s welfare?

'Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm - and it's forcing more and more people into poverty' tweeted Oxfam
Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm – and it’s forcing more and more people into poverty.

The Oxfam campaign that sent the Conservatives into an indignant rage and to the charity watchdog to complain was an appeal to ALL political parties to address growing poverty. Oxfam cited some of the causes of growing poverty in the UK, identified through research (above).

Tory MP Priti Patel must have felt that the Conservatives are exempt from this appeal, due to being the architects of the policies that have led to a growth in poverty and inequality, when she said: “With this Tweet they have shown their true colours and are now nothing more than a mouthpiece for left wing propaganda.”

I’m wondering when concern for poverty and the welfare of citizens become the sole concern of “the left wing”. That comment alone speaks volumes about the attitudes and prejudices of the Conservatives.

Bubb said: “That was a warning shot. So many charity leaders do feel that if they do speak out there will be some form of comeback on them. The Charity Commission has been notably absent in defending charity rights to campaign – the climate has been hostile to the charity voice.” 

There is some fear that charities face a permanent “chilling effect” after the Electoral Commission said they must declare any work that could be deemed political over the past 12 months to ensure they are not in breach of the Lobbying Act. 

Another senior figure also said charities were too afraid to speak out on the social care proposals. “We are all scared of the lobbying act and thus most of us are not saying much during the election. There was the same problem in the EU referendum – if you criticise the government then you are being “political”.

During the referendum a row broke out after the Charity Commission
issued guidelines that some charities interpreted as preventing them from making pro-EU arguments. 

Head of the organisation, William Shawcross, dismissed the charge by Margaret Hodge MP that his Euroscepticism was to blame for the issuing of the advice from the commission on when charities could intervene on the issue.

Steve Reed, shadow minister for civil society, said the Labour party would scrap the lobbying act because it had “effectively gagged” charities.

Theresa May pledges to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government

Image result for theresa May Internet regulations

A plurality of views and perspectives is a fundamental ingredient of a flourishing democracy. Freedom of speech is a prerequisite of an inclusive, genuine democracy. When a government tries to stifle some perspectives, and control which views may be expressed or permitted online, it’s an indication that we have left democracy behind, and strayed into the realms of authoritarianism.

If Theresa May gets to form a new government next month, then it would appear that the Conservatives will be attempting a regulatory land grab of the Internet. But, if the Conservatives’ digital record is anything to go by, its pledge to negotiate an “international settlement” and be a “global leader” for an incredibly complex area of Internet and data law looks, frankly, like the stuff of dystopian movies about totalitarian regimes. I suspect the phrase “digital crime” is set to take on a whole new meaning. 

May is planning to introduce far-reaching regulations on the way the internet works, allowing the government to decide what is said online. Much of the internet is currently controlled by private businesses like Google and Facebook, Theresa May intends to allow government to decide what is and isn’t published, the manifesto strongly suggests.

I’m all for an internet environment that is safe and free from harassment and bullying. However, we already have legislation in place to ensure that it is.

The proposed laws would also force technology companies to delete anything that a person posted when they were under 18.

 The companies would be forced to help controversial government schemes like its Prevent strategy, by promoting “counter-extremist narratives”.

It seems that this is a Conservative reaction to the EU Digital Single Market Project.
It’s aim is “to create a true digital single market, where the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured — and where citizens and businesses can seamlessly and fairly access online goods and services: whatever their nationality, and wherever they live.” (Commission Press Release May 2015).

The new EU digital single market legislative package seeking to improve cross-border access to digital services and create a level playing field for companies will be launched in 2015. The Commission will also seek to complement the regulatory telecommunications environment, modernise EU legislation on copyright and audio-visual media services, simplify the rules for consumers making online purchases, and enhance cyber-security. This ambitious agenda includes concluding the long-running negotiations over data protection reform.

As my friend Hubert Huzzah has pointed out, the European Single Digital Market will make it difficult to defraud people, and importantly,  it will the Election manipulation in the form of  “we are just advertising on Facebook” strategies worthless.

The Conservative plans are in keeping with the Conservatives’ commitment that the online world must be regulated and controlled as strongly as the offline one, and that the same rules should apply in both.

“Our starting point is that online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline,” the Conservatives’ manifesto says, in justification for the new level of regulation. 

In laying out its plan for increased regulation, the so-called “small state” Tories anticipate and reject potential criticism that such rules could put people at risk.

“While we cannot create this framework alone, it is for government, not private companies, to protect the security of people and ensure the fairness of the rules by which people and businesses abide,” the document reads. “Nor do we agree that the risks of such an approach outweigh the potential benefits.”

Tucked away at the end of the Conservative’s manifesto, it’s clear that May wants to introduce huge changes to the way the internet works:

“We will take up leadership in a new arena, where concern is shared around the world: we will be the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the Internet.”

Among the new self -appointed powers proposed, the government intends to force internet companies to remove “explicit” or “extremist material”, backed by legal power to impose fines.

This is a government that has labeled disability campaigners  “extremists” and fully endorsed the media labeling of those in standing in democratic opposition to Conservative policies as “saboteurs”.

The Conservatives say “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet.  We disagree.”

The Conservatives are claiming this proposal is part of an ambitious attempt by the party to impose some sort of “decorum” on the internet and social media.

Senior Conservatives have also confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the phrasing indicates that the government intends to introduce huge restrictions on what people can post, share and publish online.

The plans will allow Britain to become “the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet”, the manifesto claims.

Internet imperialism, how very Conservative.

There are many proposed measures in the manifesto that are designed to make it easier to do business online, of course, but the Conservatives are proposing a rather more oppressive approach when it comes to social networks.

One particular issue that caught my eye was the Conservative’s voiced “concerns about online news”, warning the government is willing to “take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy”, while pledging to “ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online”.  

One Tory source clarified that this comment relates to Google and Facebook’s growing dominance of the advertising market, which the newspaper industry believes is crushing its business model. The source suggested that if the web giants failed to act voluntarily then they could be forced by legislation to find ways to financially compensate traditional news producers.

Implications for social media

So, the Conservatives will also seek to regulate the kind of news that is posted online and how companies are paid for it.

This may have some potentially serious implications for the growing number of online independent media platforms that have developed precisely because of an undemocratic crisis of representation in our mainstream media, which has increasingly become an unreliable source of objective news, generally. 

Independent media includes any form of autonomous media project that is free from institutional dependencies, and in particular, from the influence of government and corporate interests.

We are not constrained by the interests of society’s major power-brokers. So far. 

I haven’t forgotten Iain Duncan Smith’s pledge to “monitor” the BBC’s news coverage for “left wing bias”, or the jackbooted government officials visiting the Guardian offices to smash the hard drives containing the Snowden leaks. This doesn’t signal a coming improvement if it is to be based on Tory standards of “objective and reliable”. 

The manifesto also says that the government will work even harder to ensure there is no “safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online”. That is apparently a reference in part to its work to encourage technology companies to build backdoors into their encrypted messaging services – which gives the government the ability to read terrorists’ messages, but also weakens the security of everyone else’s messages, technology companies have warned.

The proposals follow on from the Investigatory Powers Act being passed into law. That legislation allowed the government to force internet companies to keep records on their customers’ browsing histories, as well as giving ministers the power to break apps like WhatsApp so that messages can be read.

Imagine a future when the only online reflection of reality is a Conservative one. Antisocial media.

“In every really great world-shaking movement, propaganda will first have to spread the idea of this movement. Thus, it will indefatigably attempt to make the new thought processes clear to the others, and therefore to draw them over to their own ground, or to make them uncertain of their previous conviction.

Now, since the dissemination of an idea, that is, propaganda, must have a firm backbone, the doctrine will have to give itself a solid organization. The organization obtains its members from the general body of supporters won by propaganda. The latter will grow the more rapidly, the more intensively the propaganda is carried on, and the latter in turn can work better, the stronger and more powerful the organization is that stands behind it.” Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Hitler’s promise of “strong government and stability” was widely supported particularly by industrialists and businesses, who were terrified of the left wing unions, socialism and communism.

A lot of people describe Theresa May as a New Right Conservative, some have been misled by her semantic shifts and claimed she is a “red Tory”. However, it seems she is more of an old right wing authoritarian, after all.

The stuff of nightmares.

 


 

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Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

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Conservatives are especially conservative with the truth: the media are the message

In 2004, George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at Berkeley, wrote Don’t Think of an Elephant! Lakoff’s central point was that how issues are framed – which points of view the media and other political agenda setters defined as important and acceptable, and the language used to do so – largely shapes how voters think about them. 

Media manipulation involves a series of related techniques in which partisans create images or arguments that favour their own particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies, psychological manipulations, deception, linguistic, rhetorical and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or alternative perspectives by simply crowding them out.  

Discrediting and minimisation are often used in persuading other people or social groups to stop listening to certain perspectives and arguments, or by simply diverting public attention elsewhere. An example of diversion is the recent widespread scapegoating of refugees and people who need social security, such as disabled people or those who have lost their jobs, in a bid to maintain the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values at a time when its failings were brought into sharp focus during and following the global crisis – also exposing failings in the behaviours and practices of the government and the vulture capitalist financier class.

Neoliberalism always gravitates towards increasing inequality, extending and deepening poverty. Fear mongering is sometimes used with a diversion or misdirection propaganda technique to mask this, and may be pervasive. Sometimes politicians and media commentators suddenly take a debate in a weird and irrational but predictable direction to avoid democratic accountability.

The process often begins with a marginalised group being singled out and held to blame for the socioeconomic problems created by the system of socioeconomic organisation itself. Using the construction of folk devils (welfare “skivers” , “workshy” “something for nothing culture”, “culture of entitlement” or “dependency” for example), the political class and media generate moral panic and outrage, which serves to de-empathise the public and to justify the dehumanisation of politically created outgroups.

Stigma, prejudice and discrimination follow, all of which serves to subvert responsibility for the harmful consequences and distress experienced by the targeted group. In the UK, people needing welfare support, and particularly disabled people, have been stigmatised and then targeted with discriminatory policies which have placed a disproportionate burden of austerity – cuts to lifeline support and services – on that social group. The policies have also contravened disabled people’s human rights.

Meanwhile, the vulture capitalist financier class are still being rewarded, profiting from often reckless, economic and socially damaging behaviours. Of course it’s business as usual for this group, regardless of the pressing need for behavioural change and an increased responsibility-taking mindset among them. After all, it is this group that have caused most damage to our economy, and on a global scale.

The media and the government conflate neoliberal authoritarian behaviours, and policies that cause distress and harm to marginalised social groups, with “power and strength”, and any opposition to this with “weakness”.

Campaigners against social injustice are labeled “extremist” and politicians on the left who stand up against prejudice and discrimination are labeled “weak”, “anti-British” and extensively ridiculed and smeared. Every single Labour leader, with the exception of Blair, has had this treatment from the mainstream media.

During the coalition and Conservative governments, the tabloids have chosen and framed most of the debates that have dominated domestic politics in the UK, ensuring that immigration, welfare, law and order, the role of the state, and Britain’s relationship with Europe have all been discussed in increasingly right wing terms, while almost ironically, the government have colonised progressive rhetoric to cover their intentions.

There is therefore a growing chasm between Conservative discourse, and policy intentions and outcomes. There isn’t a bridge between rhetoric and reality. 

The Conservatives have plundered from left wing narrative purely to broaden their superficial appeal and to neutralise opposition to controversial and contentious policy. The legislative context in which such language is being used is completely at odds with how it is being described by purposefully stolen terms and phrases which are being applied most deceitfully.

The negative associations because of Conservative policies have eclipsed the original meanings of the imported language. I always flinch when a Conservative minister says that the government is intending to “support” disabled people into work, or that they want to make welfare “fair” and they support “social justice”,  for example. These words are used in a context of coercive and punitive policy measures.

It’s very disorienting and disarming to see the language of social justice, democracy, inclusion and equality being used to justify and describe policies which extend social injustice, authoritarianism, exclusion and inequality. It’s also much more difficult to challenge actions that are disguised by a tactic of extensive euphemising, that draws on glittering generalities and the narrative of the opposition (the left generally).

Only a Conservative minister would claim that taking money from the lifeline support of sick and disabled people is somehow “fair,” or about “helping”, “supporting” or insultingly, “incentivising” people who have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors and the state via the work capability assessment, to work.

The Tories all too frequently employ such semantic shifts and euphemism – linguistic strategies – as an integral part of a wider range of techniques of neutralisation that are used, for example, to provide linguistic relief from conscience and to suspend moral constraint – to silence both “inner protest” and public objections – to the political violation of social and moral norms and human rights; to justify acts that cause harm to others while also denying there is any subsequent harm being inflicted by austerity policies; to deny the targeted population’s accounts and experiences of political acts of harm, and to neutralise any remorse felt by themselves and other witnesses.

Media discourse has often preempted a fresh round of Conservative austerity cuts, resulting in the identification, scapegoating and marginalisation of social groups in advance of targeted, discriminatory policies. Media discourse is being used as a vehicle for the government to push their ideological agenda forward without meeting legitimate criticism, opposition and public scrutiny and without due regard for essential democratic processes and safeguards. The mainstream media will not challenge or undermine the wider state-corporate nexus of which it is a fundamental part.

Noam Chomsky has written extensively about the role of the free market media in reinforcing dominant ideology and maintaining the unequal distribution and balance of power. In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman explore the media’s role in establishing the apparence of a political and economic orthodoxy (neoliberalism) and extending a seemingly normative compliance with state policies, while also marginalising antithetical or alternative perspectives, dismissing them as heresy. In the US and UK, most left wing commentors have a very diminished media platform from which to present their perspectives and policy proposals.

This “free-market” version of censorship is more subtle and difficult to identify, challenge and undermine than the equivalent propaganda system which was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. 

As Chomsky argues, the mainstream press is corporate owned and so reflects corporate priorities and interests. While acknowledging that some journalists are dedicated and well-intentioned, he says that the choice of topics and issues featured in the mass media, the unquestioned premises on which that “coverage” rests, and the range of opinions that are expressed are all constrained to reinforce the state’s dominant ideology.

How to tell lies dishonestly

Propaganda, PR, spin, manipulation, and techniques of neutralisation (a kind of doublespeak aimed at “switching off” your inner conscience, remorse and morality, and that of witnesses, so you can do things normally considered unacceptable, immoral or plain evil), are indirect or convoluted ways of telling lies. These techniques are very sneaky, often providing “get outs”. As such, the tactics are dishonest ways of being dishonest. While often providing a cover or superficial style of “truth”, the underlying content is always a big lie.

Not “a series of possibilities” or a “terminological inexactitude,” or “a series of misunderstandings” or “an unwise commitment”, but a lie. 

Even the labels “fake news”, “post rationalism” and “post truth” are euphemisms. We live in an age of great political deceit and lies, and an ineffectual, trivial lexicon to describe it.

That’s intentional, manipulative whopping whopper political lies.

The Conservatives have developed a notorious lexicon of euphemisms, especially designed to divert challenges and debate, to hide their aims and intentions and to reduce opposition, in order to manufacture an illusion of consensus, consistent with old school diversionary and bandwaggon propaganda methods.

Winston Churchill came up with the crafty phrase “terminological inexactitude,” which means being conservative with the truth (see what I did there), or to be more direct, it means telling lies. There are indirect ways of lying – less honest ways of being intentionally dishonest, if you will.

Euphemisms are often a form of doublespeak; they are words used to hide, distort or “neutralise” reality.  Euphemisms put political intentions, actions and their consequences in a better light, in much the same way that the mafia employs language to minimise the consequences of their actions. No-one is ever murdered by the mafia, to hear them talk, instead they are simply “given their medicine” , “clipped” or “wacked”, for example. However you say it, people still end up dead, unfortunately. The mafia say that disposing of the bodies of their murder victims is “spring cleaning”.

A credibility assessment of Tory narrating and editing: the sin in the spin exposed

1. “Reforms” = The stealthy privatisation of public wealth. Conservative “reforms” entail cuts to social provisions and public services – paid for by everyone – which support the poorest citizens when they experience hardship. The money is then re-allocated to the wealthiest citizens via generous tax cuts and lower business tax  rates which effectively privatises wealth and profit, while making any risks and costs a social burden.

2. “Targeting those in greatest need” = savage and increasing cuts to social security provision, and in particular, to disabled people’s lifeline support. No-one actually qualifies for support, any more. However, a handful may get a favorable outcome when assessors flip a coin to decide which of the very ill people they meet and put through the mill are lucky enough to meet their target of permitting around six successful claims per year. From 2017, the target will reduce again to three. By 2020, no-one will “need” disability benefits and support, as we will all be cured by work fare and CBT.

Ultimately, this entails a constant moving goalpost of eligibility to publicly funded support. The government reduces the numbers of those previously entitled to welfare by constant, changing and unstated political redefinition of “need”, while implying to the public that welfare and those who need it are dispensable.

3. “Making work pay” = dismantling social security by stealth and driving down wages, ensuring that private companies profit.

4. “National living wage” = small and pitiful increase in minimum wage that does not offset welfare cuts (Universal Credit, benefit cap, reduced eligibility criteria for disability benefits) and other losses, such as job insecurity, poor working conditions, zero hour contracts.

5. “Supporting/helping people into work” = extremely punitive measures of behavioural conditionality and financial sanctions that hinder people in finding appropriate work, aimed at cutting social security spending and presenting lifeline benefits as dispensable to the public, whilst coercing people to behave in ways that benefit the state and that do not benefit those citizens being manipulated and coerced to fulfil the aims of the policy makers.

2, 3, 4 and 5 also undermine collective bargaining, since people are being coerced to take any work available, rather than suitable, secure work with acceptable pay and working conditions. This puts a downward pressure on wages.

6.  “Worklessness” = a made up word that disguises job precarity, unemployment and underemployment, because of government, economic and labour market failure, followed by political scapegoating and widespread, brutal cultural bullying of the poorest citizens.

7. “Extremists”= peaceful campaigners who object to social injustice, anyone else who doesn’t support the neoliberal status quo, authoritarianism, inequality, growing poverty and human rights abuses.

8. “Hard working strivers” = compliant and exploited citizens whose consumerism and systematic oppression keeps Tory donor big businesses in profit. As an imposed ideal, the work ethic also props up injustices like work fare, political scapegoating and prejudice directed at people who lose their jobs and need social security.

9. “Democracy” = authoritarianism, so that means it’s whatever the Tories say it is.

It entails policies which engineer a set of changes with huge distributional consequences: tax credit and benefit cuts will mean low-income working families with children will become significantly worse off, while wealthier families stand to gain a lot as a result of increases in the personal allowance and higher rate tax threshold, for example. 

Recent analysis by the Resolution Foundation shows four fifths of the gains from income tax cuts go to the most affluent half of households, while the poorest third of households will shoulder two-thirds of the government’s benefit cuts. This is an extraordinary indictment on a government that claims to have “fairness” and “social justice” at its heart.

10. “Progressive”= extremely regressive, almost feudal.

11. “Behavioural change”= to separate citizens from the prospects of material progress and to condition them to accept both the status quo and the short straw of neoliberal ” market forces”, cunningly disguised as invisible bootstraps.

12. “Policy” = a method of siphoning money from the poorest citizens and public services into corporate and millionaires’ bank accounts, while punishing the poorest citizens as they are robbed, by telling all and sundry it’s their own fault that they are poor. Usually involves an element of character divination and quack “cures” for “faulty” people. Often justified by an implied “trickle down” of wealth.

Neoliberal policies require a political framework of authoritarianism as they don’t benefit most people, and strip our public assets. A lot of neoliberalism is about governments kidding people that neoliberalism doesn’t cause massive inequalities, poverty, and the removal of publicly funded social support mechanisms.

While the state shrinks radically in terms of what it provides for ordinary people to meet their needs, it paradoxically develops a massive and increasingly bureaucratic order to deceive ordinary people and to impose an authoritarian rule and control citizen perceptions and behaviours, allowing the government to keep on imposing ruthless scorched earth neoliberal policies so that a few very, very wealthy folk can get even wealthier whilst everyone else becomes increasingly miserable and struggles in meeting their basic survival needs.

13.  “Supply side economics” = founded on the mythical “trickle down” and the side-splittingly comedic idea that reducing taxes for the wealthiest will increase Treasury revenue. Usually, it’s hiked VAT and another raid on disabled people’s lifeline support that does that.

The economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, “Mr. David Stockman has said that supply-side economics was merely a cover for the trickle-down approach to economic policy – what an older and less elegant generation called the horse-and-sparrow theory: If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.” This basically means the majority of the population are fed a pile of horsesh*t.

14. “Free market”= economic Darwinism, the triumph of rogue multinationals and predatory capitalism, which brings about the commodification of every single basic human need so a few corporations can make sustained, massive profits, while everyone else is dispossessed by the government. 

15. “Big society” = oppressive bureaucratic state that is enforcing the systematic dismantling of the social gains we made with our post-war settlement. It also means privatisation and cutting public services down to Victorian size, but excluding the gin houses. So, in a nutshell, no support but lots of authoritarian surveilance, control and punishment from the government, who continue to spend the public’s taxes on funding tax cuts to millionaires, reducing corporate tax, letting big companies off from their obligations, bailing out banks that cause global recessions and subsidising those hard done by big businesses. 

16. “Work experience” = free labour, exploitation opportunities and big profits for the government’s corporate sponsors. Also part of a wider plan to dismantle welfare and to undermine trade unions and collective bargaining.

17. “The law” = whatever the Tories say it is. If they don’t like it, they simply ignore or re-write it.

18. “Cutting the deficit” = it means to probably more than double it, but it’s also a smokescreen for a strong neoliberal programme of austerity and redistributing public wealth into a few private bank accounts, mostly offshore.

19. “Fair” = whatever the Tories say it is. Usually, Conservative “fairness” entails taking money from the poorest citizens, raiding public funds and handing it out to very wealthy people and providing rogue companies with contracts to help them do so.

Ethically bankrupt companies such as Atos, G4S and Maximus also generally cost the public billions more than they promise to save.

20. “Social justice” = rather like Augusto Pinochet’s bureaucratic authoritarianism: huge and growing social inequality, absolute poverty and harsh financial penalties for many people, such as those who are economically inactive because they are too ill to work, and those who have exploitative employers paying them a pittance. Sanctions and welfare conditionality are held to be “fair” and about Conservative “social justice”.

Low taxes for stingy and disproportionately resentful millionaires, who have gained the most from society but don’t feel like giving anything back, is also considered by the Conservatives as “social justice”. Poor and disabled people experiencing harm, distress and dying because of the Conservative austerity cuts is also included in this definition, as are aggressive government denials of “causal links” between blatantly draconian policies and any human suffering whatsoever. Apparently punitive policy that imposes starvation and destitution on the poorest people is in their best interest.

21. “Causal relationship/cause and effect” = whatever the Tories say it is. Anything that challenges Conservative discourse is generally dismissed as “anecdotal”. However the government make up statistics to “empirically support” their own anecdotal narrative and dogma.

22. “Small state”= massively bureaucratic administration aimed at incredibly intrusive and controlling state interventions in the intimate areas of our lives, such as decision-making, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. These technocratic interventions inevitably reduce the autonomy and remove the liberties of the poorest citizens, whilst those in positions of power, making the decisions, are not held accountable for the consequences of their abysmal, callous and usually very greedy choices.

The Behavioural Insights Team, at the heart of the Cabinet, are contributing to formulating policies to save the government money and to make a lot of profit from that. Their aim is to distract the public and “change the behaviours” of mostly poor citizens, providing both a prop and justification for failing neoliberal policies which result in widespread poverty, precarity and massive social inequalities. Welfare conditionality and sanctions, for example, are forms of punitive behavioural “correction” for the assumed character deficits and “faulty” psychology of people who are not wealthy. It seems the government think with impeccable logic that people can be punished out of being poor, by making them more poor in order to stop them being poor.

Meanwhile those who damaged the economy are left to continue making hefty profits from economy-damaging behaviours, because the government decided to make poor people pay for those “mistakes” via austerity measures instead. The behaviour change agenda sends out the message that it is individuals who somehow “choose” to be poor (yes, really), rather than poverty being an inevitable feature of an economic system that is weighted towards rewarding wealthy citizens while increasingly dispossessing the majority of ordinary citizens.

23. “We are all in it together” = it’s everyone for themselves, unless you are poor. The wealthy get socialism and special handshakes, the poor get laissez faire, the work ethic via operant conditioning, Samuel Smiles’ Victorian moralising bibles: Thrift and Self help, and a liberal dose of Malthusian miserablism.

24. “British values” = extremely divided society with a high level of social prejudice, inequality, absolute poverty and human rights abuses.

Used to redefine working class interests by the establishment, designed as a pressure cooker type of diversionary release for oppressed blue-collar workers, by offering them one “opportunity” to democratically register their alienation, anger and fear because of deteriorating social conditions and political disenfranchisement, via the populist Brexit campaign, while maintaining neoliberal hegemony and ensuring an ever-downward pressure on labour conditions, wages and collective bargaining.

25. “Integrated healthcare” = a combination of savage cuts, homeopathy, cognitive behavioural therapy, “pulling yourself together” and being told that “work is a health outcome” a lot. It’s failure precedes and contributes to justifying privatisation.

26. “Truthfully” = I want you to think I am being honest, but I am not. It’s a delivery style rather than being about actual truth content.

27. “Objectively”= the status quo; ideologically driven, more dogma to follow. Anti-intellectualism.

28. “Safe in our hands” = we fully intend to privatise all public services to make profit for big business and ourselves.

29. “Work is a health outcome” = the creation of an opportunity for big business to exploit sick and disabled people by politically coercing them into low paid, insecure work via punitive policies (euphemistically called “welfare conditionality”), and to build a desperate reserve army of labour, thus driving wages down further whilst simultaneously dismantling the welfare state and the NHS.

30. “Transparency” = corruption and authoritarianism.

euphemisms
Picture courtesy of Tom Pride.


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