Category: Civil Liberties

The Peterloo Massacre

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1819 Peterloo Massacre was normal, not exceptional.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orator Hunt stated: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HC Deb 24 November 1819 vol 41 cc228-301

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Shelley wrote:

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

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

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

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

 

Picture: The Skelmanthorpe Flag. Anonymous.

Image © Kirklees Museums & Galleries

British Medical Association proposals deemed passive ‘euthanasia by stealth’ for disabled people with degenerative illnesses

Image result for euthanasia 

The British Medical Association have put forward proposals in response to legal test cases in which judges ruled that qualified NHS staff and officials no longer required a court’s permission to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration from those patients who are incapacitated and unable to communicate or feed themselves.

The Supreme Court justices’ decision in July supported the right of doctors to withdraw life-sustaining nutrition on their own authority, provided they had the explicit permission of the patient’s family or, where no family existed, medical proxy. If there is a disagreement and the decision is finely balanced, an application should still be made to the Court Of Protection. 

The Court of Protection is the specialist court for all issues relating to people who lack capacity to make specific decisions. The court can make decisions and appoint deputies to make decisions about someone’s property and financial affairs or their healthcare and personal welfare.

Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (which is also currently being re-written by the government), the court has the power to:

• make decisions about the personal welfare or property and financial affairs of people who lack the capacity to make such decisions themselves;
• make declarations about a person’s capacity to make a decision;
• make decisions in relation to serious medical treatment cases, which relate to providing, withdrawing or withholding treatment to a person who lacks capacity;
• authorise deprivation of liberty in relation to a person’s care and residence arrangements;
• appoint a deputy to make ongoing decisions on behalf of a person who lacks capacity, in relation to either the person’s personal welfare or property and financial affairs; and
• make decisions about a Lasting Power of Attorney or Enduring Power of Attorney, including whether the power is valid, objections to registration, the scope of the  attorney’s powers and the removal of attorney’s powers

According to the draft proposals currently being circulated by the British Medical Association (BMA), doctors should be granted the authority to end the lives not only of those patients who are near death or in vegetative or minimally conscious states but also “the much larger group of patients who have multiple co-morbidities, frailty or degenerative neurological conditions.”  

This also includes stroke patients and those with “rapidly progressing brain injury.”   

However, on the NHS site, it says: “In most cases, a minimally conscious state isn’t usually considered to be permanent until it’s lasted several years. 

“It’s impossible to predict the chances of someone in a state of impaired consciousness improving.” 

“Supportive treatment is used to give the best chance of natural improvement. 

“This can involve:

  • providing nutrition through a feeding tube 
  • making sure the person is moved regularly so they don’t develop pressure ulcers
  • gently exercising their joints to prevent them becoming tight
  • keeping their skin clean
  • managing their bowel and bladder (for example, using a tube known as a catheter to drain the bladder)
  • keeping their teeth and mouth clean
  • offering opportunities for periods of meaningful activity – such as listening to music or watching television, being shown pictures or hearing family members talking.” 

And importantly: “It’s impossible to predict the chances of someone in a state of impaired consciousness improving.”

The authors of the BMA document say: “Due to the degenerative nature of their condition, these patients are on an expected downward trajectory and will inevitably die, usually as a result of their underlying condition, although perhaps not imminently and could, potentially, go on living for many years.”

In the Executive Summary of the BMA document, it says that no second opinion need be obtained unless there is ‘reasonable doubt about the diagnosis or prognosis, or where the healthcare team has limited experience of the condition in question’ [ …] ‘it is not necessary to wait until (investigations) have been completed’ if there is not ‘sufficient evidence’ that they will ‘affect the outcome of the best interests assessment’ 

Nutrition and hydration delivered by tubes is currently legally defined as ‘medical treatment’ and not ‘basic ‘care’.  

There have been a number of legal developments that change the way such decisions about life-prolonging treatments are made, in addition to the recent court judgments and the government’s radical withdrawal of the Court of Protection’s Practice Direction 9E which addresses protections concerning serious medical treatment.

The direction was effectively abolished by the Ministry of Justice  and the changes came into effect last December. The Court of Protection in English law is a superior court of record created under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It has jurisdiction over the property, financial affairs and personal welfare of people who lack mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. 

As the changes to protections were introduced via secondary legislation – a negative resolution statutory instrument – there was very little parliamentary scrutiny. Furthermore, as the instrument is subject to negative resolution procedure no statement regarding implications in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights was required from government ministers, nor was public consultation deemed necessary. An Impact Assessment has not been prepared for this instrument. 

The fact that the UK government had already made amendments to safeguarding laws to accommodate these proposals, which took effect last December, and now plan to make it easier to remove people’s liberty under the Mental Health Act without public consultation, has caused deep unease. In the latest proposed changes to the Mental Health Act, the government seems to think it is appropriate to consider restrictions of people’s liberties as part of their overall ‘care package.’

Picture

The Law Society has issued a rather damning briefing on the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill 2018 that moved to a Lords committee stage, early last month.

In their briefing, the society say: “While agreeing that simplification is needed and acknowledging that there are resource constraints, these constraints are “insufficient justification for not implementing fully the safeguards recommended by the Law Commission.” 

It is in light of the most recent change in legislation that the British Medical Association (BMA) put forward  proposals that mean doctors may be permitted to end the lives of patients who may otherwise have survived for years, by the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration, without the need to go to court. While this reduces substantial cost to the NHS in terms of legal fees and in the prolonged treatment for some patients, not everyone is comfortable with these developments.

Writing critically about the legislation changes last year, Mohamed Y Rady and Joseph L. Verheijde say:

“(1) starvation and dehydration is certain to cause death without the presence of concurrent life-limiting disease or life-threatening illness and (2) the dying process by starvation and dehydration can last two to three weeks and can be distressful to both patients and their families. We disagree with the legal and clinical stipulation (post-Bland [a legal case]) that assisted nutrition and hydration (ANH) is medical treatment. Instead, as adopted in many other jurisdictions, we hold that ANH constitutes ‘a basic compassionate care service rendered to disabled persons’. 

“We think that court oversight is of practical importance for the safety of the general public and the protection of vulnerable disabled persons in society.

“We outline our rationale for advocating that court oversight should not be limited to Vegative State/Minimal Conscious State but should include any person.”

The authors added:  “The clinical guidelines have distinguished only three levels of disorders of consciousness (DOC) (coma, Vegative State (VG), and Minimal Conscious State (MCS) based on clinical assessment for the presence or absence of awareness and wakefulness. However, the diagnostic accuracy of the guidelines’ criteria and definitions of the three levels of DOC has not been validated scientifically. Cohort studies suggest that the rate of clinical misdiagnosis in VS is at least 41% and this error rate has not declined over the past 15 years.

“Incorrect diagnosis can result in a fatal outcome because of premature withdrawal of medical care and ANH. The clinical guidelines have not yet acknowledged the relevance of contemporary neuroscience advances to increase the diagnostic accuracy and expand on the available therapeutic options in DOC. Incorrect diagnosis and/or withholding of therapy in DOC violates the trust of families in the transparency and truthfulness of clinicians who are making life and death decisions on behalf of their loved ones.

“The clinical guidelines have recommended that a neurological diagnosis and prognosis should be made at least within four weeks after the onset of prolonged DOC to determine futility of continued medical care and ANH (Royal College of Physicians of London. Under these circumstances, we propose that court oversight can provide an additional safeguard by including independent neuroscience experts to confirm the clinical diagnosis and prognosis of DOC and to ensure that the decision-making processes are well-informed and as rigorous as possible. Life and death decisions in DOC should be supported by contemporary neuroscience, among other considerations, and not be based on outdated clinical guidelines.”

In summary, the authors propose that until such time as we have greater clarity and understanding about the disorders of consciousness, and about the legal and ethical principles to be applied, there remains a need for independent oversight and that applications to the court should continue to be obligatory in all cases where the withdrawal of ANH is proposed, at least for the time being.

Their paper can be read in full here.

The BMA proposals to withdraw nutrition and hydration tubes have also been condemned as ‘euthanasia by stealth’.

Dr Peter Saunders, from the group Care Not Killing, said: “This is a recipe for euthanasia by stealth, but all in the name of autonomy and best interests – the very worst kind of doctor paternalism justified on the grounds that the patient would have wanted it.

“There are conceivably tens of thousands of patients in England and Wales who are vulnerable to the use and abuse of this guidance.

“It will be almost impossible to work out what has happened in a given case and there are no legal mechanisms in place for bringing abusers to justice.”

The landmark Bland ruling set down that artificial nutrition and hydration by tube are not normal feeding but ‘medical treatment’. It also said that it might not be in a patient’s best interests to be treated, and if medical treatment is not in the best interests of a patient who cannot speak for themselves, it can be stopped. Tony Bland, a Liverpool football supporter was just twenty-two when he suffered severe brain damage in the crush at Hillsborough football stadium in April 1989. The court ruled that he should be allowed to die.

The BMA document was circulated, however, in June. This follows after a court ruling in 2017, which concluded that there was no requirement for court approval before removing patients’ nutrition and hydration tubes.

More recently in July, the country’s highest appeal court, the Supreme Court, ruled in the test case of a patient known only as ‘Y’ that doctors can decide a patient should die without reference to a court.

A spokesman for the BMA said that decisions surrounding the withdrawal of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) presented “clinical, ethical and legal challenges.” 

He added: “Following a number of legal developments, the BMA has been working with the Royal College of Physicians and the General Medical Council to produce guidance on best practice for health professionals when facing decisions about CANH.

“CANH is a form of medical treatment. The aim of medical treatment is not simply to prolong life at all costs, and the courts have been clear that in some circumstances it will not be in the best interests of the individual patients to receive it.

“Those making these decisions must do so in full dialogue with families to determine what is right for the individual patient, and of course, when there is any disagreement the court still has an important role to play.”

These proposals come at a time when health care has been subjected to increasing rationing. 

The BMA document says that the decisions on removing nutrition and hydration tubes should be taken by consultants for hospital patients, or GPs for those in nursing or residential homes or living in their own homes. It was suggested that families or friends should be consulted, usually through ‘best interests meetings’ set up to decide whether it would be better for a patient to live or die. However, the BMA suggested that family and friends should not have the final say on the matter.

In the Executive Summary, the BMA say that no second opinion need be obtained unless there is ‘reasonable doubt about the diagnosis or prognosis, or where the healthcare team has limited experience of the condition in question’ [ …] ‘it is not necessary to wait until (investigations) have been completed’ if there is not ‘sufficient evidence’ that they will ‘affect the outcome of the best interests assessment’ 

Shockingly, the BMA also propose that when patients die after the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration tubes, this should not be mentioned on death certificates. Instead only the underlying original condition should be given.

Professor Patrick Pullicino, from East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust, said that this directs doctors to falsify death certificates. It tells doctors to put down the pre-existing condition and not that they died of dehydration. It will totally conceal the statistics of patients who are being dehydrated to death.”

Understandably, doctors and campaigners who are opposed to euthanasia and the deliberate termination of life by medical staff have condemned the proposals.

Pullicino, who is the consultant that helped expose the controversial hospital deaths under the discredited Liverpool Care Pathway, said the BMA plan was ‘terrible’. 

He added: “It codifies current practices of withdrawing food and fluid at the end of life and thereby encourages it.

“It facilitates the extension of end-of-life pathways to people with neurological diseases who are not dying, which is a very negative thing because there are a lot of disabled neurological patients.

“It perpetuates the myth of ‘best interests’, which has been shown to be erroneous and reflective of members’ views and not of the real best interests of the patients.”

I agree. My inital thoughts are that we need to guarantee people with disabilities have access to high quality palliative care. We need to have a process which reviews every incidence of proposed euthanasia, and that panel needs to include people with disabilities. We need to ensure that family members and service providers or anyone else who will benefit financially cannot abuse any application for end of life withdrawal of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration.

We also need to ensure the absolute transparency and accountability of decision-makers, which must include an accurate and honest record of cause of death on death certificates. Coroners have a duty to prevent future deaths, where medical mistakes have been made.

There is no clear definition of ‘degenerative diseases’ in the BMA document. Some illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus and other autoimmune mediated diseases, for example, may be progressive. Several of these illnesses may affect the neurological system. Most of the treatments for this group of disorders are experimental. People can improve over time, with or without some treatments, following periods of being critical ill. Many of the treatments are only prescribed as a last resort, as they are prohibitively expensive (biologics in particular) especially at a time of heavy NHS funding cuts. The outcomes of these diseases are widely variable from one person to the next. People may have indefinite remissions after years of being seriously ill. 

Even if these types of disease are not currently included in the BMA guidelines, complications or co-morbidities and frailty arising over the course of an illness may be.  

What guarantee do we have that the categories won’t expand over time?

The legislative changes have been couched in terms of ‘saving money’. The purpose of the NHS is to save lives. Everyone has the basic right to life, that must not be contingent on the ideological preferences of a ‘small state’ neoliberal government. ‘Best interests’ are not an political category, nor are they open to ideological interpretation. 

The UK government’s brand of ideological paternalism towards poor people claiming welfare support, for example, involves the removal of the means of meeting basic survival needs as a punishment in the form of sanctions, also considered to be in people’s ‘best interests’.

Unemployment itself has been redefined as a psychological or character disorder over the last few years, and the welfare state has become a political environment for administering discipline, which has shifted it away from the original purpose of providing basic support and alleviating poverty. Behavioural economics has contributed to bolstering this perspective by pathologising people who need support from publicly funded public services via claims of ‘cognitive deficits’ of poor people, rather than acknowledging the structural explanations of poverty.  Perish the thought that a socioeconomic system founded on competition would foster inequality. 

In healthcare there has been a shift towards ‘behavioural medicine’ too, apparent in the controversial PACE trial and a general emphasis on people’s ‘lifestyle choices,’ and personal responsibility. However these are extremely overly simplistic ideolological narratives that have not emerged because of robust empirical evidence. Public services were not originally designed to punish poor people who need them. Yet the withdrawal of the means of citizens meeting their basic survival needs seems to have become normalised. Pathologising and punishing people who need the support of public services has somehow become acceptable. 

The increasing rationing of treatments within the NHS and the neoliberal logic underpinning this is also a cause for concern. People who need support from any public service are subjected to increasing conditionality and rationing in an era of neoliberal austerity.

A spokesman for the BMA said that decisions surrounding the withdrawal of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) presented “clinical, ethical and legal challenges.” 

He added: “Following a number of legal developments, the BMA has been working with the Royal College of Physicians and the General Medical Council to produce guidance on best practice for health professionals when facing decisions about CANH.

“CANH is a form of medical treatment. The aim of medical treatment is not simply to prolong life at all costs, and the courts have been clear that in some circumstances it will not be in the best interests of the individual patients to receive it.

Those making these decisions must do so in full dialogue with families to determine what is right for the individual patient, and of course, when there is any disagreement the court still has an important role to play.

“We shared the draft guidance in confidence with legal and health professionals and organisations and patient support groups to seek their views. The final version will reflect last month’s Supreme Court judgment when it is published this year.” 

The guidance says it is based on the current legal position which it defines as follows:

  • Clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) – essentially food and fluids by a fine tube through the nose or through the skin into the stomach – is a form of medical treatment
  • Treatment should only be provided when it is in a patient’s ‘best interests’
  • Decision makers should start from the presumption that it is in a patient’s best interests to receive life-sustaining treatment but that presumption may be overturned in individual cases
  • All decisions should be made in accordance with the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (which the government is proposing to amend).

The 77-page ‘confidential’ document, which is currently out for ‘consultation’ (although only to a few selected individuals), has been prepared by the BMA in conjunction with the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the doctors’ regulatory authority, the General Medical Council (GMC). It will not be open for public consultation at any point before publication later in the autumn.

The draft guidance, which builds on case and statute law and on previous practice guidelines, has huge implications for the care of some of the most vulnerable people in England and Wales.

However, it does not permit assisted dying – which is when a patient wants to end their life. British parliaments have consistently refused to legalise active euthanasia or assisted suicide for people with a quality of life they would not find ‘acceptable’ or would not ‘have wanted’. The BMA is proposing that doctors, not patients should make the choice to end a life, and that to end lives by starvation and dehydration, rather than with a lethal injection, is somehow perfectly acceptable.

So acceptable in fact that the BMA propose starvation and dehydration or withdrawal of care (or treatment if you wish) should be left off the death certificate, suggesting instead that the ‘underlying medical condition’ should be recorded as the cause of death. This suggestion does not inspire confidence in transparency and accountability concerning such fundamentally irreversible medical decisions, since the record of death hides errors in judgment and diagnoses, prevents scrutiny and prevents coroners from fulfilling the mandatory obligation to ‘prevent future deaths’ in the case of medical incompetence, negligence, abuse, deceit and error.

 


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More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy

The Conservative Party are facing another investigation from the Electoral Commission following evidenced allegations that they operated a secret call centre during the general election campaign, breaching electoral law, an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News has revealed. 

An undercover reporter working for Channel 4 News secured work at Blue Telecoms, a company in Neath, South Wales. In an area plagued by unemployment and low wages, the call centre hired up to a hundred people on zero-hours contracts. For weeks, they contacted thousands of potential voters in marginal seats across the UK. 

The hired callers were told to say they were working for a market research company called “Axe Research”. No such company is registered in England and Wales. Furthermore, callers were instructed to say that the call centre was situated in Cardiff, rather than Neath.

The investigation has uncovered underhand and potentially unlawful practices at the centre, in calls made on behalf of the Conservative Party. These allegations include:

Paid canvassing on behalf of Conservative election candidates – illegal under election law.

● Political cold calling to prohibited numbers

● Misleading calls claiming to be from an “independent market research company” which does not appear to exist

The Conservative Party have admitted it had commissioned Blue Telecoms to carry out “market research and direct marketing calls” during the campaign, and insisted the calls were legal.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Political parties of all colours pay for market research and direct marketing calls. All the scripts supplied by the party for these calls are compliant with data protection and information law.”

Under the Representation of the People Act, it is illegal to employ someone “for payment or promise of payment as a canvasser for the purpose of promoting or procuring a candidate’s election”.

Call centre employees working on behalf of the party used a script that certainly appeared to canvass for support on film, rather than conduct market research. On the day of the election, call centre employees contacted voters to promote individual candidates.

Anya Proops, a QC specialising in information law, told Channel 4 that political parties had to ensure that third parties working on their behalf followed the law.

“It’s an illegal practice, it’s prohibited under the legislation and in so far as it’s something which has tainted the overall result in favour of a political candidate, then it can void that result.” 

Blue Telecoms is run by Sascha Lopez. He told The Guardian: “In relation to the Conservative party project, I am unable to comment on the content of the scripts or calls to TPS [Telephone Preference Service] numbers, as the scripts and lists of who to call and when to call were given to us by Conservative campaign HQ in London and were not influenced by my team.”

However, a whistleblower at the call centre told Channel 4 News that they had been making potentially unlawful phone calls to voters. 

Undecided voters were fed key Conservative campaign messages, including references to the Brexit negotiations and warnings about a hung parliament.

On the day that voters went to the polls, undecided voters were told that: “the election result in your marginal constituency is going to be very close between Theresa May’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. Callers were also recorded quoting media articles that were pro-Conservative. Operating from a script, the staff claimed they were carrying out calls for “market research” and “polling”. 

One caller is recorded saying: “It was reported in the Daily Mirror in September last year that Jeremy Corbyn is not concerned about the numbers of people coming to live in the UK and it was reported on Sky News this year that Theresa May has restated her pledge to reduce net Migration.”

People were then asked: “Just thinking about these reports in the media and the reports that you live in a marginal constituency that may determine who is prime minister. So does knowing that you live in a marginal constituency that will determine who is prime minister for the Brexit negotiations, does that make you a lot more likely to vote for Theresa May’s Conservative candidate or a little more likely to vote for Theresa May’s Conservative candidate, or are you still unsure, or does it not make a difference?”

The broadcaster’s evidence suggests that on the day of the election, staff called voters in 10 marginal seats, including Bridgend, Gower, Clwyd South and Wrexham.

As the election campaign started, the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, wrote to all the major political parties reminding them of the law around telephone calls and data protection. She said that calling voters to promote a political party was “direct marketing” and was regulated by law.

A week before the election, the same call centre staff started saying they were calling on behalf of Theresa May’s Conservatives.

The Conservative party said the call centre was conducting “market research” on its behalf, and was not canvassing for votes. The call centre confirmed it was employed by the party, but has so far denied canvassing on its behalf. 

The Channel 4 undercover reporter has captured evidence that certainly seems to refute that claim. 

The use of ‘big data’ and psychographic targeting

Teams of statisticians and behavioural psychologists who subscribe to the burgeoning practice of “psycho­graphic targeting” have designed their own version of a Myers-Briggs personality test. The original test explores “the basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgement.”

The test data is supplemented by recent issue surveys, and information from online surveilance, together they are used to categorise political supporters, who then receive psychologically tailored canvassing messages, social media targeting, phone calls and doorstep visits. The micro-targeting of voters has been around for a while, but the Conservative operation has deepened the intensity of the effort and the use of vast resources of psychological data.

This is the campaign approach from a government that claims to advocate a “small state” and “minimal interventions”. However the methods being used which entail the manipulation and management of public perceptions and voting behaviours resemble those of authoritarian regimes, not a healthy liberal democracy. 

Authoritarian propagandists attempt to convey power by defining reality. The reality they portray is usually very simple. The account of reality is offered with the primary goal of switching voters’ value systems to align with the authoritarian value system.

This whole approach is the logical conclusion of the libertarian paternalists‘ “behavioural change” agenda that has been embedded in policies designed by the nudge unit since 2010 in the UK. The political misuse of psychology has been disguised as some kind of technocratic “fix” for a failing neoliberal paradigm, and paraded as neutral “science”. However, its role as an authoritarian prop for an ideological imposition on the population has always been apparent to some of us, especially given the more visible evidence of political narratives and the stage management of our democracy via an extremely manipulative mainstream media over recent years.

The Conservatives’ behaviour change agenda is designed to align citizen’s perceptions and behaviours with neoliberal ideology and the interests of the state. However, in democratic societies, governments are traditionally elected to reflect and meet public needs. The use of “behaviour change” policy involves the state acting upon individuals, and instructing them how they must be. This is profoundly undemocratic. In fact it turns democracy completely on its head. 

A dark message for democracy

Political “dark” advertising that is only seen by its intended recipients is a much greater cause for concern than “fake news” in the spread of misinformation, because it is invisible to everyone but the person being targeted. This means that the individually tailored messages are not open to public scrutiny, nor are they fact checked.

A further problem is that no-one is monitoring the impact of the tailored messages and the potential to cause harm to individuals. The dark adverts are designed to exploit people’s psychological vulnerabilities, using personality profiling, which is controversial in itself. Intentionally generating and manipulating fear and anxiety to influence political outcomes isn’t a new thing. Despots have been using fear and slightly less subtle types of citizen “behaviour change” programmes for a long time. 

The right wing media’s blatant propaganda approach to election campaigning on behalf of the Tories had already contributed significantly to a serious erosion of democratic norms in the UK, the undermining of public trust, to such an extent that profoundly anti-democratic alternatives suddenly seem perfectly acceptable here.

The reality is that often, authoritarians construct an incongruent, flimsy and meaningless language of democracy in order to erect a fact proof screen around an undemocratic reality.  They offer a lot of glittering generalities to the public. However, those apparently incoherent, meaningless slogans are especially designed to signal intents to groups from which the government wants to gain approval. Dog whistling and wedge issues are used extensively by the right.  

Dog whistling is closely associated with a broader wedge strategy, whereby the political party introduces a divisive or controversial social issue into a campaign, aligning its own stance with the dissenting faction of its opponent party, with the goal of causing vitriolic debate inside the opposing party, defection of its supporters, and the legitimising of sentiment which had previously been considered inappropriate. Political campaigns use wedge issues to exploit tension within a targeted population, and undermine unity. 

In light of this, it’s hardly a shocking revelation that an authoritarian government is also using highly tailored and underhanded “dark adverts” to target individuals online, on the basis of information gathered about them and then applied to a process of extensive psychological profiling in order to influence voting behaviours, and the election outcome.

UK voters are being targeted with highly specific and manipulative messages in an attempt to influence their vote.

The shadowy world of online political advertising has until recently gone largely unmonitored, despite the huge power and reach of Facebook and despite social media messaging now thought to have contributed to the election of Donald Trump and the Vote Leave victory.

The new forms of psychological electioneering are invisible to all but the individual people they are designed to reach and influence. 

During the EU referendum, Vote Leave spent a whopping 98 per cent of its £6.8m budget on digital advertising, mostly via Facebook. In the 2015 election, the Conservatives spent £1.2m on digital campaigning, compared with Labour’s £160,000. This meant that the Conservatives reached 17 million people per week, while Labour reached only 16 million in their best month. Facebook claimed that the Conservatives had been able to serve adverts to 80 cent of the site’s users in key marginals. It also boasted that the company “played a part on a highly targeted campaign, helping the Conservatives to speak to the right people over and over again.”

The private companies and individuals who are stage managing our democracy

Dr Simon Moores, visiting lecturer in the applied sciences and computing department at Canterbury Christ Church University and a technology ambassador under the Blair government, said the Information Commisioners Office’s recent decision to shine a light on the use of big data in politics was timely. He said:

“A rapid convergence in the data mining, algorithmic and granular analytics capabilities of companies like Cambridge Analytica and Facebook is creating powerful, unregulated and opaque ‘intelligence platforms’. In turn, these can have enormous influence to affect what we learn, how we feel, and how we vote. The algorithms they may produce are frequently hidden from scrutiny and we see only the results of any insights they might choose to publish.”

He goes on to say: ”They were using 40-50,000 different variants of an ad every day that were continuously measuring responses and then adapting and evolving based on that response.”

Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) is a British behavioural science company. The SCL Group, that once advised Nato on so-called “psy-ops”, is a private British behavioural research and strategic communication company. The company describes itself as “global election management agency”.  SCL’s approach to propaganda is based upon a methodology developed by the associated Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDI). Nigel Oakes founded the latter and also set up Strategic Communication Laboratories and using the new methodology from BDI, ran election campaigns and national communication campaigns for a broad variety of international governments. BDI say: “The goal of the BDI is to establish Behavioural Dynamics as a discipline for the study of group behaviour change.”

There isn’t much information around about BDI‘s connection with military operations, though links with NATO are well-established – see Countering propaganda: NATO spearheads use of behavioural change science, for example. From the article: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

SCL on the other hand, has a clearly defined defence and military division who: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

SCL has different “verticals” in politics, military and commercial operations. All of those operations are based on the same methodology (Target Audience Analysis) and, as far as can be discerned from the outside, SCL and affiliates have very obscure corporate structures with confusing ownership.

In the United States, SCL has gained public recognition mainly though its affiliated corporation Cambridge Analytica (CA). It was created in 2013 as an offshoot of its British parent company (the SCL Group,) to participate in US politics. In 2014, CA was involved in 44 US political races. Their site says: Cambridge Analytica uses data to change audience behavior.” 

And:

PERSUASION

“More effectively engage and persuade voters using specially tailored language and visual ad combinations crafted with insights gleaned from behavioral understandings of your electorate.”

And: “Leveraging CA’s massive team of data scientists and academics, CA is able to provide optimal audience segments based on big data and psychographic modeling. Then, using a sophisticated electronic data delivery system, CA is able to provide TV advertising campaign data that may be used to inform media buyers about shows that have the highest concentrations of target audiences and the least amount of waste; all of which leading to higher media ROI [return on investment] and more voter conversions.”

The company is heavily funded by the family of Robert Mercer, an American hedge-fund billionaire. I’ve mentioned Mercer in a previous article about the right’s undue influence on the media and on voting behaviour. Mercer made his money as a pioneer in the field of Computational Linguistics.

Mercer later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets. 

One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees’ money, is the most successful in the world – generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns – all Republican – and another $50m to non-profits – all right wing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is trying to reshape the world according to his personal interests, beliefs, wishes and wont. He is an advocate of the neoliberal right, who seek to combine a market economy and economic deregulation with the traditional right wing beliefs in patriotism, élitism, and law and order, delivered within an authoritarian framework. Mercer is known for his anti-welfare and right libertarian views.

To give you a flavour of Mercer’s interests, you only need to follow the money trail: he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute, and he likes to disrupt the mainstream media. In this aim, he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, self-declared “economic nationalist”, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its paranoid, anti-progressive mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his pet media projects. He has also worked as vice president of Cambridge Analytica‘s board, the private data-analytics that is owned largely by the Mercer family

Mercer and his family are major donors to Conservative political causes such as Breitbart News. He is the principal benefactor of the Make America Number 1 political action committee (Super PAC). Around 2012, Mercer reportedly invested $5 million in the British data science company, the SCL Group. Most political campaigns run highly sophisticated micro-targeting efforts to locate voters. SCL promised much more, claiming to be able to manipulate voter behaviour through psychographic modeling. This was precisely the kind of work Mercer values.

SCL claimed to be able to formulate complex psychological profiles of voters. These, say the company, would be used to tailor the most persuasive possible message, acting on that voter’s personality traits, hopes or fears.

Of course Mercer was a major supporter of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president and Brexit in the UK. Mercer donated the services of the data analytics company Cambridge Analytica to Nigel Farage and UKIP. The company was able to “advise” and influence Leave.eu through harvesting data from people’s Facebook profiles in order to target them with individualised persuasive messages to vote for Brexit. However, Leave.eu did not inform the UK electoral commission of the donation, contrary to the law which demands that all donations valued over £7,500 must be reported. 

When SCL Elections formed Cambridge Analytica in 2013, the company hired researchers from Cambridge University, hence the name. CA collects data on voters using sources such as demographics, consumer behaviour, internet activity, and other public and private sources. CA is using psychological data derived from millions of Facebook users, largely without users’ permission or knowledge. The company is also trying to change people’s perceptions and behaviours without their consent.

The company maintains offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and London.

Cambridge Analytica claim to predict not just peoples’ voting intentions and preferences, but also their personality types. The company is proprietorial about its precise methods, but says large-scale research into personality types, based on hundreds of thousands of interviews with citizens, enables them to chart voters against five main personality types – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. With its head office in London, the company is “A global election management agency, skilled in applying behavioural modeling and microtargeting solutions to political campaigns.”

The marketisation of democracy: the highest bidder wins all, while claiming to speak for the “ordinary person”

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist and the intellectual force behind his nationalist agenda, said in February that the new administration is locked in an unending battle against the media and other globalist forces to “deconstruct” an “outdated system of governance”. Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post writes:

“’They’re going to continue to fight,’” Bannon said of the media, which he repeatedly described as ‘the opposition party,’ and other forces he sees as standing in the president’s way. ‘If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.’

Atop Trump’s agenda, Bannon said, was the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state’ — meaning a system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president and his advisers believe stymie economic growth and infringe upon one’s sovereignty.

For those who doubted Trump-Bannon’s determination to destroy the liberal international order that has kept world war at bay and promoted global prosperity since the end of World War II, this will come as a rude awakening. Bannon’s simultaneous attack on the media suggests that it is not simply about trade or immigration policy.”

So data technology, surveilance, psychology and social media and manipulative messaging campaigns are being combined in a powerful new way to sway opinions and win elections without people’s knowledge. In essence, a new, dark, subliminal propaganda war is being waged against citizens by those who wield power, serving the narrow interests of those who do and who are funded by a hidden few who want to weild power also.

Lynton Crosby has been a close advisor in the Conservative election campaigns of Australia, Canada and the UK, and is well known for his racist dog whistling and wedge strategies, influential at an international level.

“In a campaign, what you try to do is either change or reinforce some perceptions that people have in order to influence their behaviour,” says Crosby. 

Crosby’s emphasis is on “below the radar” campaigning, and the targeting of marginal constituencies with highly localised campaigning, latching on to local issues and personalities. To find such divisive and potentially diversionary issues, Crosby’s business partner Mark Textor runs focus groups to find which social groups to target with what questions. Crosby is said to focus on delivering simple messages, targeting marginal constituencies and the use of lots of polls and data. 

 Lynton Crosby, second left, at the party’s annual conference in 2015 with, from left, Lord Feldman, Jim Messina (former Obama campaign chief also hired by the Tories) and then party chairman Grant Shapps. Photograph: David Hartley/Rex

“In a campaign, what you try to do is either change or reinforce some perceptions that people have in order to influence their behaviour,” Crosby says.

Their site commentary highlights whose “democratic” interests Crosby and Textor serve:

“We combine decades of experience in research, political campaigns, strategic communications, media, and corporate intelligence to deliver winning strategies at the highest levels of business and government.

Having worked on successful election campaigns across four continents, we understand the need for timely, actionable intelligence, so our clients can focus the right message and resources on their most persuadable ‘swing voters’ to get the results they want.”

Note the reference to “behaviour changing messages”.

textor

Crosby Textor also claim that: “the team are specialists in advising major companies in how to position themselves to ensure they are integral to government decision-making.”

It was Crosby that created the campaign for the Conservatives with the slogan “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”: a series of posters, billboards, TV commercials and direct mail pieces with messages such as “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration” and “how would you feel if a bloke on early release attacked your daughter?” focused on hot-button issues like “dirty” hospitals, landgrabs by “gypsies” and restraints on police behaviour.

In April 2016, Mayor of London and Conservative, MP Boris Johnson, was accused of “dog whistle racism” by Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and Labour MP John McDonnell, when Johnson suggested US President Barack Obama held a grudge against the United Kingdom due to his “ancestral dislike of the British Empire” as a result of his “part-Kenyan” heritage after Obama expressed his support for the UK to vote to remain in the European Union ahead of the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Crosby also tried to link Sadiq Khan with terrorist organisations –  the Conservative mayoral candidate’s campaign, was run by Crosby Textor

Mark Textor, co-founder of the private company, was mentored by the late Richard Wirthlin, a pollster who was chief strategist to US President Ronald Reagan. Someone else with past connections to the Wirthlin Group is Kellyanne Conway, President Trump’s election campaign manager and now counsellor to the president, serving alongside Steve Bannon, assistant to the President and White House chief strategist.

All singing from the same crib sheet.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Conway has been embroiled in a series of controversies, including using the phrase “alternative facts, making reference to a “Bowling Green massacre” which never occurred, (Conway “cited” it as justification for a travel and immigration ban from seven Muslim-majority countries enacted by Trump), claiming Michael Flynn had the full confidence of the president hours before he was dismissed, and publicly endorsing commercial products associated with the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump. As a result, a number of media outlets have called her credibility into question, with some refusing her requests for one-on-one interviews.

When such manipulative tactics are exposed from time to time, it’s like a curtain shifting temporarily to give you a glimpse into another dimension, populated by billionaires and a handful of mercenary henchmen who drew up the machinations of a war being waged on democracies, in order to terraform political landscapes to suit the dystopic interests of one percent of the global population, at the expense of the needs of the ninety nine percent. You would be forgiven for thinking that the world and the media are being run almost exclusively by a small number of elitist, pan-nationalist aliens. It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s a reality.

Jim Messina is a political adviser who was the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011 and served as the campaign manager for Obama’s highly successful 2012 re-election campaign. Messina was hired as a campaign strategy adviser to the UK Conservative Party in August 2013. Messina operated from the US during the 2015 general election campaign. He has made statements about his personal admiration for David Cameron. Theresa May has also added him to her team of strategists. 

Gone are the days when it was expected that the public decided who to vote for because of the policies on offer from each party. Now the government focuses on the use of private political masters of the dark campaign arts, who use “political-voter surveillance” techniques, along with a combative and emotional approach to messaging, rather than a rational and reasonable one, and a level of cunning that most definitely treads around the very outer edges of ethics. 

One of Messina’s key strategic methods is finding and targeting swing voters through the meticulous gathering and monitoring of voter information using private polls, and the use of social media “targeting”.  He uses social networking techniques and social media, having sought and received advice from top names in the tech world including Steve Jobs.

Messina uses micro-targeting based on online data. His approach is based on the in-depth psychometrically profiling of people, using publicly available data, including their Facebook “likes” and group memberships. This information is used to create effective and directed digital dark advertising to target millions of voters and manipulate their psychological tendencies and play to their traits.  

Messina has developed a private consulting firm –The Messina Group, which “works with organizations in the private, public, and social sectors to achieve their strategic goals.” The company has an office in London, on Old Park Lane. It says on the site says:

“Using state of the art data and analytics, The Messina Group can harness and amplify the reach of your social network. We accurately model your organization’s likely supporter, voter, or consumer, and – by overlaying that with your existing social media base – we can develop a targeted list of potential new supporters. This targeted, person-to-person sharing is the future of advertising in a fundamentally digital and social world. The Messina Group will ensure that your organization is ahead of the competition.” 

One tactic integrated in this method is aimed at generating a bandwaggon effect, which I have discussed at length elsewhere. The bandwagon effect occurs in voting: some people vote for those candidates or parties who are likely to succeed (or are proclaimed as such by the media). The bandwagon propaganda technique has been applied to situations involving majority opinion, such as political outcomes, where people alter their opinions to the majority view. 

Such a shift in opinion can occur because individuals draw inferences from the decisions of others, which shapes an informational cascade. A cascade develops when people “abandon their own information in favour of inferences based on earlier people’s actions, regardless of how irrational that may be. Bandwaggon propaganda draws on our natural tendency towards social conformity.

During the 2015 general election, the government were accused of trying to “buy the general election” by quietly raising the legal spending limit by £6.2 million to £32.7m in the face of concerns from the Electoral Commission over “undue influence”. The party has reportedly amassed a war chest of more than £70 million. The change to the law on candidates’ election spending, passed without parliamentary debate.

A new project called Who Targets Me, has been attempting to address the lack of transparency of targeted election messaging, by recruiting social media users to share information on what political adverts they are seeing.

It says on their site: “Analysing the aggregated data will allow us to draw out insights about exactly which demographics are being targeted and the exact media and language that campaigners are using to influence your vote.”

In an effort to do something about the lack of transparency, Who Targets Me built a browser extension for Facebook users to download that will then report live to that individual when a political advert is being targeted at them. It also tracks that information in its database. You can sign up to be a Who Targets Me volunteer here.

Given the instability of the government, following the general election delivering a hung parliament, it’s likely that political advertising will continue. You will need to use the Chrome browser and install the Who Targets Me extension.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has already launched a wide-ranging investigation over possible breaches of UK data laws. The Conservatives have so far refused to supply examples of adverts the party is sending to individual voters on Facebook, despite the growing concern over unregulated online election activity.

One problem is money. There are no spending limits on digital advertising and, put simply, the more you spend the more people you reach. Until now, that means it is primarily the wealthier, Conservative campaigns that have benefited.

Another is that psychological influences are different from transparent attempts at rational, reasoned and material persuasion, because they operate outside of conscious awareness. Hiding in plain sight, they trigger involuntary emotive responses in the human subconscious that most people are powerless to resist – and that happens even when they know they’re being influenced. Much of the material being used to “persuade” is dishonest, and aimed at simply smearing the opposition and generating irrational and unfounded fears, rather than open discussion, about political and socioeconomic alternatives to neoliberalism and social conservatism. 

Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of the public’s beliefs an behaviours and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions to maintain a profoundly unbalanced, increasingly pathological and authoritarian status quo. Such tactics deployed in manufacturing consensus are widely used, and combined, they also serve to reduce public expectation of opposition and in doing so establish diktats: it’s a way of mandating acceptance of ideology, policies or laws by presenting them as if they are the only viable alternative.

There is a much needed public debate to be had about the distinction between political “persuasion” and “manipulation”.

And another about undue political influence. In their summary of electoral offences, the electoral commission says: “A person may also be guilty of undue influence if they impede or prevent any voter from freely exercising their right to vote – even where the attempt is unsuccessful.

Also: “It is an illegal practice to make or publish a false statement of fact about the personal character or conduct of a candidate in order to affect the return of a candidate at an election.”

“Certain offences relate specifically to election campaign publicity material. Election campaign publicity material must contain an imprint, not resemble a poll card and not contain a false statement as to the personal character or conduct of another candidate.”

The Conservatives have certainly taken advantage of our basic tendency to be more motivated by the threat of something presented and subsequently perceived as “bad” than by the presented opportunity for examining positive alternatives.

This is not just a story about the political and commercial misuse of social psychology and data analytics. It has to be understood in the context of a military contractor using military strategies on a civilian population. The public.

David Miller, a professor of sociology at Bath University and an authority in psyops and propaganda, says it is “an extraordinary scandal that this should be anywhere near a democracy. It should be clear to voters where information is coming from, and if it’s not transparent or open where it’s coming from, it raises the question of whether we are actually living in a democracy or not.”

Related:

Social media is being used to stage manage our democracy using nudge-based strategies

EXPOSED: CONSERVATIVES IN HOUSE ‘SURVEY’ TEAM

The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked

Negative campaigning, emotions and political participation

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberalism

What I don’t understand about Conservatism

‘Tory Election Fraud’ Investigation Sees Conservatives Fined £70,000 By Electoral Commission

Political polls, think tanks and propaganda: the antidemocratic writing on the wall

Strategies and motives for resistance to persuasion: an integrative framework

How To Use 10 Psychological Theories To Persuade People

CONTROVERSIAL GCHQ UNIT ENGAGED IN DOMESTIC LAW ENFORCEMENT, ONLINE PROPAGANDA, PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwauld

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


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Social media is being used to stage manage our democracy using nudge-based strategies

 

Image result for Online propaganda

A study from the University of Oxford, published this month, has concluded what many of us already know: bots, shills and trolls are working together to spread propaganda and disinformation, disrupt discussions, discredit individuals and are attempting to manipulate social media users’ political views.

The report warns: “Computational propaganda is one of the most powerful new tools against democracy.” 

The Oxford Internet Institute says that computational propaganda is the use of algorithms, automation, and human curation to purposefully distribute misleading information over social media networks. Social media are actively used as a tool for public opinion manipulation in diverse ways and on various topics.

Bots and trolls work to stifle authentic and reasoned debate between people in favour of a social network populated by (usually aggressive) argument and soundbites and they can simply make online measures of social support, such as the number of  “likes” (which can, of course, be bought), look larger  – crucial in creating the illusion of consensus and encouraging a bandwaggon effect.

In democracies, social media are actively used for computational propaganda, through broad efforts at opinion manipulation and by targeted experiments on particular segments of the public (which is antidemocratic in itself). This strategy isn’t so far removed from the “big data” approach, where individuals are targeted in election campaigns to receive personal messages that are highly tailored, designed to appeal to certain categories of “personality types” as discerned by the use of extensive data mining and psychological profiling techniques. 

The report also says that “In every country we found civil society groups trying, but struggling, to protect themselves and respond to active disinformation campaigns.” 

The research team involved 12 researchers across nine countries who, altogether, interviewed 65 experts, analyzed tens of millions posts on seven different social media platforms during scores of elections, political crises, and national security incidents.

They say that in democracies, individual users design and operate fake and highly automated social media accounts. Political candidates, campaigns and lobbyists rent larger networks of accounts for purpose-built campaigns while governments assign public resources to the creation, experimentation and use of such accounts.

Ultimately the presence of bots, shils and trolls on social media is a right-wing bid to stage manage our democracy, in much the same way that the biggest proportion of the rabidly right-wing corporate media has, until recently.

The report describes online propaganda as a “phenomenon that encompasses recent digital misinformation and manipulation efforts”, which “involves learning from and mimicking real people so as to manipulate public opinion across a diverse range of platforms and device networks”.

According to the report, bots “played a small but strategic role” in shaping Twitter conversations during the EU referendum last year. Bots work most effectively and powerfully when working together with trolls.

Political bots, social media bots used for political manipulation, are also effective tools for strengthening online propaganda and hate campaigns. One person, or a small group of people, can use an army of political bots on Twitter to give the illusion of large-scale consensus. Bots are increasingly being used for malicious activities associated with spamming and harassment.

According to the report authors: “The family of hashtags associated with the argument for leaving the EU dominated, while less than one percent of sampled accounts generated almost a third of all the messages.”

Political bots, built to look and act like real citizens, are being deployed in determined anti-democratic efforts to silence oppostion and to push official state messaging. Political campaigners, and their supporters, deploy political bots – and computational propaganda more broadly – during elections in attempts to sway the vote and defame critics. 

Anonymous political actors harness key elements of computational propaganda such as false news reports, coordinated disinformation campaigns, and troll mobs to attack human rights defenders civil society groups, and independent commentators and journalists.

The report warns “Computational propaganda is one of the most powerful new tools against democracy.” Facebook in particular has attracted a great deal of criticism in recent months, due to the rise and promotion of fake news.

Mark Zuckerberg initially denied that false stories spread through the social network had an effect on the US Presidential election, but changed his stance soon after.

The University of Oxford report says social media sites need to redesign themselves in order to regain trust.

The role of Intelligence Services in the deployment of psy-ops

 

In 2015, Glenn Greenwauld published a series of documents from the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG). He says that though its existence was secret until 2014, JTRIG quickly developed a distinctive profile in the public understanding, after documents from the National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the unit had engaged in “dirty tricks” like deploying sexual “honey traps” designed to discredit targets, launching denial-of-service attacks to shut down internet chat rooms, pushing veiled propaganda onto social networks and generally warping discourse online. 

JTRIG’s tactics include seeding propaganda on social media, impersonating people online, and creating false blog posts to discredit targets.

A fascinating and must-read 42-page document from 2011 is particularly revealing, detailing JTRIG’s activities. It provides the most comprehensive and sweeping insight to date into the scope of this unit’s extreme methods. Entitled “Behavioral Science Support for JTRIG’s Effects and Online HUMINT [Human Intelligence] Operations,” it describes the types of targets on which the unit focuses, the psychological and behavioral research it commissions and exploits, and its future organizational aspirations.

The document is authored by a psychologist, Mandeep K. Dhami, a professor of  “Decision Psychology”. Dhami has provided advice on how JTRIG can improve its approach and attain “desired outcomes”, for example, by applying behavioural theories and research around persuasive communication, compliance, obedience, conformity, and the creation of trust and distrust.

Among other things, the document lays out tactics that the agency uses to manipulate public opinion, its scientific and psychological research into how human thinking and behaviour can be profiled and influenced, and the broad range of targets that are traditionally the province of law enforcement rather than intelligence agencies.

Since the general election in the UK, there has been a noticably massive increase in right-wing trolling presence and activity on Twitter. Most of the activity is directed towards discrediting Jeremy Corbyn. It’s very easy to spot a troll. They make outrageous claims that often read like tabloid headlines, resort quickly to personal attacks and attempts to discredit and smear when you disagree, and they never debate reasonably or evidence their comments.

In my experience, some, however, may initially engage reasonably, make a few concessions to evidenced debate, then suddenly show their true colours, by moving the goalposts of the debate constantly to include more disinformation, and by becoming aggressive, very personal and exceedingly irrational. My own management strategy is to address the claims made with a little evidence and fact, and block unhesitantly when it invariably turns ugly. 

The Oxford University research report concludes: “For democracies, we should assume that encouraging people to vote is a good thing. Promoting political news and information from reputable outlets is crucial. Ultimately, designing for democracy, in systematic ways, will help restore trust in social media systems. 

Computational propaganda is now one of the most powerful tools against democracy. Social media firms may not be creating this nasty content, but they are the platform for it. 

“They need to significantly redesign themselves if democracy is going to survive social media.”


Further reading

From the Intercept:

THE “CUBAN TWITTER” SCAM IS A DROP IN THE INTERNET PROPAGANDA BUCKET 

CONTROVERSIAL GCHQ UNIT ENGAGED IN DOMESTIC LAW ENFORCEMENT, ONLINE PROPAGANDA, PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwauld

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

The media need a nudge: the government using ‘behavioural science’ to manipulate the public isn’t a recent development, nudging has been happening since 2010

 

Image result for online intelligence propaganda operations


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Peaceful anti-fox hunting protester arrested for ‘breaching the peace’ at Welsh Tory manifesto launch

With thanks to B Heard Media

A protester was arrested for “breaching the peace” and dragged away by the police from a peaceful protest, as the prime minister’s car arrived in Wrexham before the launch of the Welsh Conservative manifesto

Connor was dragged to the ground by police as May’s motorcade swept past. Blowing a horn, he attempted to move towards the car with a banner before he was pounced on, tackled and dragged away, surrounded by hordes of photographers and journalists. A journalist and fellow campaigners asked if he was under arrest, an officer said: “Yes, he’s under arrest.” Pressed on what charge, he replied: “Breach of the peace.”

Connor was dragged along the floor, whilst shouting “This is the fascist state that we are living in under Theresa May’s regime.” 

He told reporters who were present that he was protesting about the “repeal of the foxhunting Act, fracking, austerity, “state therapy”,  – the lot”.

“I’ve not done nothing wrong,” he added.

Another demonstrator told police that Connor, who appeared to have a Merseyside accent, had “done nothing wrong” and described their response as a farce.

Theresa May has said she would give Conservative MPs a free vote on the ban, most likely meaning that in a planned and highly regressive move, the ban will be lifted if the party wins the number of seats it seems to expect to. 

 25-year-old Connor was later released without charge.

Superintendent Nick Evans claims: “Our policing operation today was proportionate and necessary.” 

Article 11 Right to protest and freedom of association

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. This is a right closely linked to the right to freedom of expression. The right to peaceful protest in the UK is expressly guaranteed under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

It provides a means for public expression and is one of the key foundations of a democratic society.

The right applies to protest marches and demonstrations, press conferences, public and private meetings, counter-demonstrations, “sit-ins”, motionless protests etc.

The right only applies to peaceful gatherings and does not protect intentionally violent protest.

This was not a violent protest.

There may be interference with the right to protest if the authorities prevent a demonstration from going ahead; halt a demonstration; take steps in advance of a demonstration in order to disrupt it; and store personal information on people because of their involvement in a demonstration.

The right to peaceful assembly cannot be interfered with merely because there is disagreement with the views of the protesters or because it is likely to be inconvenient and cause a nuisance or there might be tension and heated exchange between opposing groups.

There is a positive obligation on the State to take reasonable steps to facilitate the right to freedom of assembly, and to protect participants in peaceful demonstrations from disruption by others.

The rights to free speech and protest, along with the right to form and join associations or groups, are found in Articles 10 and 11 of the UK Human Rights Act 1998.

These rights can be limited by law to protect the interests of others, but only when the limitation is proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.

So, for example:

  • the right to free speech will not protect a person who tries to spread hateful lies against another but it will protect fair comment;
  • the right to protest won’t protect violent gatherings but it will protect peaceful protest.

In recent years we have seen a variety of measures introduced that undermine the right to protest and freedom of speech:

  • Laws that were explicitly intended to combat anti-social behaviour, terrorism and serious crime are routinely used against legitimate protesters;
  • Broadly drafted anti-terrorism offences of ‘encouragement’ and ‘glorification’ of terrorism threaten to make careless talk a crime;
  • Membership of certain organisations can be banned under anti-terror laws even if the organisation is non-violent and political;
  • Hate speech laws have been extended in a piecemeal way to ban ever-expanding categories of speech;
  • Broad anti-terrorism powers of stop and search have been used to harass and stifle peaceful protesters;
  • Protest around Parliament has been severely restricted by laws limiting and overly regulating the right to assemble and protest around Parliament.

Another Conservative government will undermine both the right to protest and disassemble our human rights more generally.

 


 

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But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Noam Chomsky endorses Jeremy Corbyn. Here’s why

Image result for Noam Chomsky

Professor Noam Chomsky has urged the British electorate to vote for Labour. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, earlier this month, Chomsky stated: “If I were a voter in Britain, I would vote for him.”

The linguist, cognitive academic and philosophical anarchist endorsed Jeremy Corbyn, and observes that the Labour Party would be doing far better in opinion polls if it were not for the “bitter” hostility of the mainstream media.

As Chomsky is world renowned for being a major critic of neoliberalism, it comes as no surprise that he supports a candidate who would reverse the radical socioeconomic reforms that Britain has gone through since the Thatcher era.

He said there were a lot of factors involved, but insisted that Labour would not be trailing the Conservatives so heavily in the polls if the media was more open to Corbyn’s agenda.  He said: “If he had a fair treatment from the media – that would make a big difference.” 

Asked what motivation he thought newspapers had to oppose Corbyn, Chomsky said the Labour leader had, like Bernie Sanders in the US, broken out of the “elite, liberal consensus” that he claimed was “pretty conservative”.

It’s potentially a fresh and hopeful view from the Overton window, if only we would open the curtains.

The academic, who was in Britain to deliver a lecture at the University of Reading on what he believes is the deteriorating state of western democracy, says that voters had turned to the Conservatives in recent years because of “an absence of anything else”.

He said: “The shift in the Labour party under [Tony] Blair made it a pale image of the Conservatives which, given the nature of the policies and their very visible results, had very little appeal for good reasons.”

He added that Labour had needed to “reconstruct itself” in the interests of working people, with concerns about human and civil rights at its core, arguing that such a programme could appeal to the majority of people. As a human rights activist, I have to agree.

Chomsky said that the future must lie with the left of the party. “The constituency of the Labour party, the new participants, the Momentum group and so on … if there is to be a serious future for the Labour party that is where it is in my opinion,” he said.

The comments came as Chomsky prepared to deliver a university lecture entitled Racing for the precipice: is the human experiment doomed?

He told the Guardian that he believed people had created a “perfect storm” in which the key defence against the existential threats of climate change and the nuclear age were being radically weakened.

“Each of those is a major threat to survival, a threat that the human species has never faced before, and the third element of this pincer is that the socio-economic programmes, particularly in the last generation, but the political culture generally has undermined the one potential defence against these threats,” he said.

Chomsky described the defence as a “functioning democratic society with engaged, informed citizens deliberating and reaching measures to deal with and overcome the threats”. 

He said that neoliberal policies are the reason for the breakdown in democracy, they had transferred power from public institutions to markets and deregulated financial institutions while failing to benefit ordinary people. 

It’s certainly true that neoliberalism is incompatible with democracy and human rights frameworks.

He said: “In 2007 right before the great crash, when there was euphoria about what was called the ‘great moderation’, the wonderful economy, at that point the real wages of working people were lower – literally lower – than they had been in 1979 when the neoliberal programmes began. You had a similar phenomenon in England.”

Chomsky said that the disillusionment that followed gave rise to the surge of anti-establishment movements – including Donald Trump and Brexit, but also Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France and the rise of Corbyn and Sanders. 

He said: The Sanders achievement was maybe the most surprising and significant aspect of the November election. Sanders broke from a century of history of pretty much bought elections. That is a reflection of the decline of how political institutions are perceived.”

But he said the positions that the US senator, who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, had taken would not have surprised Dwight Eisenhower, who was US president in the 1950s.

“[Eisenhower] said no one belongs in a political system who questions the right of workers to organise freely, to form powerful unions. Sanders called it a political revolution but it was to a large extent an effort to return to the new deal policies that were the basis for the great growth period of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Chomsky believes that Corbyn stands in the same tradition.

The media is the massage

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 pro-establishment 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.

Last year, research by YouGov found that the British media is the most right wing in Europe. Readers also ranked the British press as the most biased in all of the seven countries surveyed.

Noam Chomsky: I would vote for Jeremy Corbyn (extended interview) – BBC Newsnight

Noam Chomsky’s 8-Point Rationale for Voting for the “Lesser Evil” Candidate

Although this was written about the American political system, it applies equally well to the UK one.

Chomsky says: “Critics of “lesser evil voting” (LEV) should consider that their footing on the high ground may not be as secure as they often take for granted. 

Generally associated with the religious left, secular leftists implicitly invoke it when they reject LEV on the grounds that “a lesser of two evils is still evil.” Leaving aside the obvious rejoinder that this is exactly the point of lesser evil voting – i.e. to do less evil, what needs to be challenged is the assumption that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences. 

The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.

Leaving aside the obvious rejoinder that this is exactly the point of lesser evil voting-i.e. to do less evil, what needs to be challenged is the assumption that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences, specifically those outlined in 4). The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.

While some would suggest extending the critique by noting that the politics of moral witness can become indistinguishable from narcissistic self-agrandizement, this is substantially more harsh than what was intended and harsher than what is merited. That said, those reflexively denouncing advocates of LEV on a supposed “moral” basis should consider that their footing on the high ground may not be as secure as they often take for granted to be the case.

A third criticism of LEV equates it with a passive acquiescence to the bipartisan status quo under the guise of pragmatism, usually deriving from those who have lost the appetite for radical change. It is surely the case that some of those endorsing LEV are doing so in bad faith-cynical functionaries whose objective is to promote capitulation to a system which they are invested in protecting. Others supporting LEV, however, can hardly be reasonably accused of having made their peace with the establishment.

Their concern, as alluded to in 6) and 7) inheres in the awareness that frivolous and poorly considered electoral decisions impose a cost, their memories extending to the ultra-left faction of the peace movement having minimized the comparative dangers of the Nixon presidency during the 1968 elections. The result was six years of senseless death and destruction in Southeast Asia and also a predictable fracture of the left setting it up for its ultimate collapse during the backlash decades to follow.

The broader lesson to be drawn is not to shy away from confronting the dominance of the political system under the management of the two major parties. Rather, challenges to it need to be issued with a full awareness of their possible consequences.

This includes the recognition that far right victories not only impose terrible suffering on the most vulnerable segments of society but also function as a powerful weapon in the hands of the establishment center, which, now in opposition can posture as the “reasonable” alternative. A Trump presidency, should it materialize, will undermine the burgeoning movement centered around the Sanders campaign, particularly if it is perceived as having minimized the dangers posed by the far right.

A more general conclusion to be derived from this recognition is that this sort of cost/benefit strategic accounting is fundamental to any politics which is serious about radical change. Those on the left who ignore it, or dismiss it as irrelevant are engaging in political fantasy and are an obstacle to, rather than ally of, the movement which now seems to be materializing.

Finally, it should be understood that the reigning doctrinal system recognizes the role presidential elections perform in diverting the left from actions which have the potential to be effective in advancing its agenda. These include developing organizations committed to extra-political means, most notably street protest, but also competing for office in potentially winnable races. The left should devote the minimum of time necessary to exercise the LEV choice then immediately return to pursuing goals which are not timed to the national electoral cycle.

*****

1) Voting should not be viewed as a form of personal self-expression or moral judgement directed in retaliation towards major party candidates who fail to reflect our values, or of a corrupt system designed to limit choices to those acceptable to corporate elites.

2) The exclusive consequence of the act of voting in 2016 will be (if in a contested “swing state”) to marginally increase or decrease the chance of one of the major party candidates winning.

3) One of these candidates, Trump, denies the existence of global warming, calls for increasing use of fossil fuels, dismantling of environmental regulations and refuses assistance to India and other developing nations as called for in the Paris agreement, the combination of which could, in four years, take us to a catastrophic tipping point. Trump has also pledged to deport 11 million Mexican immigrants, offered to provide for the defense of supporters who have assaulted African American protestors at his rallies, stated his “openness to using nuclear weapons”, supports a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and regards “the police in this country as absolutely mistreated and misunderstood” while having “done an unbelievable job of keeping law and order.” Trump has also pledged to increase military spending while cutting taxes on the rich, hence shredding what remains of the social welfare “safety net” despite pretenses.

4) The suffering which these and other similarly extremist policies and attitudes will impose on marginalized and already oppressed populations has a high probability of being significantly greater than that which will result from a Clinton presidency.

5) 4) should constitute sufficient basis to voting for Clinton where a vote is potentially consequential-namely, in a contested, “swing” state.

6) However, the left should also recognize that, should Trump win based on its failure to support Clinton, it will repeatedly face the accusation (based in fact), that it lacks concern for those sure to be most victimized by a Trump administration.

7) Often this charge will emanate from establishment operatives who will use it as a bad faith justification for defeating challenges to corporate hegemony either in the Democratic Party or outside of it. They will ensure that it will be widely circulated in mainstream media channels with the result that many of those who would otherwise be sympathetic to a left challenge will find it a convincing reason to maintain their ties with the political establishment rather than breaking with it, as they must.

8) Conclusion: by dismissing a “lesser evil” electoral logic and thereby increasing the potential for Clinton’s defeat the left will undermine what should be at the core of what it claims to be attempting to achieve.”

 
 —
 

Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books are Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, 2016) and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (Seven Stories Press, 2017). His website is www.chomsky.info.

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

Daily Mail crush the saboteurs
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith invents the heroic historical figure Comrade Ogilvy, who had “no aim in life except the defeat of the Eurasian enemy and the hunting-down of spies, saboteurs, thought-criminals, and traitors generally”. Theresa May’s world, too, seems to have shrunk to one in which the greatest enemies are the enemies within and democracy must be democratically eliminated for the good of the people.” Steven Poole.

The Daily Mail headline calling those who oppose the government “saboteurs” is the kind of oppressive tactic and despotic language that is commonly used in totalitarian regimes and by dictators. It’s not the kind of media headline expected in liberal democracies, where opposition to the status quo is necessary for the best interests of the country and essential for any meaningful democratic exchange.

Dr. Lawrence Britt examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to overlook some of the parallels with the increasingly authoritarian characteristics of our own right wing government here in the UK. Fascism is an authoritarian and nationalistic right wing system of government and social organisation, though not all authoritarian governments are fascist. However, the two terms are quite often used interchangeably. 

Controlled mass media is one example of a key defining feature of authoritarianism, with “news” being directly controlled and manipulated by the government, by regulation, or via sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship is very common. There is often an identifiable obsession with “National Security” – along with fear being used as a “motivational tool” by the government on the public, and also, as a justification for greater degrees of censorship.

The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”. However, unlike the United States, Britain has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom

The right to freedom of expression is fundamental to a functioning democracy – information and ideas help to inform political debate and are essential to public accountability and transparency in government.

Just to clarify, I don’t, however, condone any incitements of hatred. This is not the same thing as free speech. In fact hate speech is designed to close discussion down by intimidating and silencing targeted social groups. In the Uk, several statutes criminalize hate speech against several categories of persons. The statutes forbid communication which is hateful, threatening, or abusive, and which targets a person on account of disability, ethnic or national origin, nationality (including citizenship), race, religion, sexual orientation, or skin colour. 

Yet just last year, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) criticised the  right wing Daily Mail and the Sun for “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

The ECRI report said hate speech was a serious problem, including against Roma, gypsies and travellers, as well as “unscrupulous press reporting” targeting the LGBT community. 

The report also concluded that some reporting on immigration, terrorism and the refugee crisis was “contributing to creating an atmosphere of hostility and rejection”.

It cited Katie Hopkins’ infamous column in The Sun, where she likened refugees to “cockroaches” and sparked a blistering response from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the same newspaper’s debunked claim over “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”. It seems that the tabloids have confused their frequent incitements to hatred, their many contributions to growing social prejudice and hate speech with free speech.

We have witnessed the political right and the tabloids using rhetoric that has increasingly transformed a global economic crisis into an apparently ethno-political one, and this also extends to include the general scapegoating and vilification of other groups and communities that have historically been the victims of prejudice and social exclusion: the poorest citizens, unemployed and disabled people. These far-right rhetorical flourishes define and portray the putative “outsider” as an economic threat. This is then used to justify active political discrimination and exclusion of the constitutive Other. 

Only some people have the right to freely express themselves, apparently.

Freedom of expression is a universal human right. It is not the prerogative of the politician. Nor is it the privilege of the journalist. In their day-to-day work, journalists are simply exercising every citizen’s right to free speech.

This includes the right to communicate and to express oneself in any medium, including through words, pictures, images and actions (including through public protest and demonstrations).

However, the UK government is more generally failing to live up to its human rights obligations. Social groups with protected characteristics, such as disabled people and asylum seekers, have fared very badly over the past few years. The tabloids have preempted draconian Conservative policies which target those social groups with extensive stigmatising and scapegoating campaigns. This is another indication of the Conservative’s radical authoritarian turn. 

The News Media Association (NMA) say: “Threats to press freedom include attempts to strip back journalistic exemptions under the EU and UK data protection legislation, efforts to water down Freedom of Information legislation which the NMA is campaigning against, new court reporting restrictions, a review of the D-Notice Committee, strengthening police powers to obtain journalistic material, the use of RIPA powers to uncover journalists’ sources, and the continuing campaign to introduce jail sentences for breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Journalists in the UK are also subject to a wide range of legal restrictions which inhibit freedom of expression. These include the libel laws, official secrets and anti-terrorism legislation, the law of contempt and other legal restrictions on court reporting, the law of confidence and development of privacy actions, intellectual property laws, legislation regulating public order, trespass, harassment, anti-discrimination and obscenity.

There is some special provision for journalism and other literary and artistic activities, chiefly intended as protection against prior restraint, in the data protection and human rights legislation. There are some additional, judicial safeguards requiring court orders or judicial consent before the police can gain access to journalistic material or instigate surveillance in certain circumstances, but, in practice, the law provides limited protection to journalistic material and sources.”

The new proposed Espionage Act and a data disclosure law.

The UK government are proposing to change the four Official Secrets Acts, which date back to 1911. They want them scrapped and replaced with a “modernised” Espionage Act and a data disclosure law.

However, the Conservatives have been accused of “criminalising public interest journalism” as it plans to increase the number of years for the “leaking of state secrets” from 2 years to 14, in the first “overhaul” of the Official Secrets Act for over 100 years.

Under the proposals, which were published in February, officials who leak “sensitive information” about the British economy that damages national security could also be jailed. Currently, official secrets legislation is limited to breaches which jeopardise security, intelligence defence, confidential information and international relations.

The government released the proposals citing the “new reality” of the 21st-century internet and national security dangers as justification for a more “robust” system of prosecution.

The recommendations centre around the Official Secrets Act (1989) which governs how public servants in government and the military must keep government information secret and out of publication.

Journalists and civil liberties groups have warned that the threshold for the increased sentence has been lowered and that journalists and whistleblowers acting in the public interest will be effectively gagged. 

In the new government recommendations, the threshold for being prosecuted for revealing state secrets will be changed from “having caused definite damage” to the likelihood of causing damage to national interests. The Law Commission also stated that a defendant should be prevented from making a defence that they believed they were working in the public interest. 

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: “The ramifications of these recommendations are huge for journalists and freedom of the press. Journalists face being criminalised for simply doing their job and the public’s right to know will be severely curtailed by these proposals. The union will respond robustly to the Law Commission’s consultation on changes to the Official Secrets Act.

“The National Union of Journalists is also concerned that the Digital Economy Bill, now in Parliament, threatens to undermine journalists sharing information in the public interest.” 

“This union is deeply concerned at yet another attempt by the UK government to curtail the media. The Investigatory Powers Act has put journalists’ sources at risk now that a large number of authorities have the power to intercept reporter’s’ emails, mobile phone and computer records.

“We have plenty of evidence that some police forces routinely used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to get their hands on journalists’ records without their knowledge. The NUJ is also concerned that the Digital Economy Bill, now in Parliament, threatens to undermine journalists sharing information in the public interest.”

The consultation on the UK Government’s new proposals closed earlier this month. Organisations such as Amnesty have submitted their statements and expressed their opposition. 

Campaigners say the bill would make any investigation of government culpability harder and lower the amount of accountability in the civil service, military and government.

From the consultation document: “Chapter 6 – Freedom of Expression Enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, freedom of expression is a fundamental right. We consider whether compliance with Article 10 requires the introduction of a statutory public interest defence for those who make unauthorised disclosure. Our conclusion is that Article 10 does not require the introduction of a statutory public interest defence. Our view accords with that the House of Lord in R v Shayler.” 

Once you hear the jackboots…

Three years ago, I wrote an article  – Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late – which discussed the unannounced visit by government national security agents to smash computer hard drives at the Guardian newspaper offices, though it hit the news unsurprisingly quietly, when Edward Snowden exposed a gross abuse of power and revealed mass surveillance programmes by American and British secret policing agencies (NSA and GCHQ) last year. (More detailed information here).

David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, Guardian interviewer of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, was held for nine 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.”

My article also outlined another extraordinary and vicious attack on The Guardian, instigated by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communications chief and senior government spin doctor, Richard Caseby, who called for the newspaper to be “blackballed” and prevented from joining the new press regulatory body, because “day after day it gets its facts wrong.” Remarkably, “ineptitude or ideology” were to blame for what he deemed “mistakes” in the paper’s coverage of the DWP’s cuts to benefits. He called for the broadsheet to be kept out of the new Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), set up after the Leveson Inquiry into media standards. 

As a former journalist at the establishment-directed Sun and The Sunday Times, Caseby certainly has an axe to grind against the paper that revealed how those right wing papers’ stablemate, the News Of The World, had hacked the voicemail of murdered teenager Millie Dowler, sparking the phone hacking scandal that forced Rupert Murdoch to close the tabloid down.

In connection with Murdoch’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry “into the ethics of the British press,” editor of Newsweek International, Tunku Varadarajan, referred to him as “the man whose name is synonymous with unethical newspapers.”

Not a shred of concern was raised about any of this or Murdoch’s nasty and corrupt myth production industry, and right wing scapegoating empire, coming from our government, a point worth reflecting on for a moment. Miliband said the phone-hacking was not just a media scandal, but it was a symbol of what was wrong with British politics.

He called for cross-party agreement on new media ownership laws that would cut Murdoch’s current market share, arguing that he has “too much power over British public life.He said: “If you want to minimise the abuses of power, then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.”  I completely agree.

Those that criticise the unscrupulous right wing status quo, on the other hand, are being increasingly filtered out from the media, or censored. Yet journalists are regarded as “democracy’s watchdogs” and the protection of their sources is the “cornerstone of freedom of the press.” And freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy. Although enshrined in such terms by the European Court of Human Rights, these democratic safeguarding principles are being attacked in an increasingly open manner all over the world, including in the democratic countries that first proclaimed them.

The erosion of democracy and the Press Freedom Index

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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are a collective of journalists who study freedom of the press at a comparative and international level. RSF publish an annual Press Freedom Index (PFI), which provides a ranking for every country, calculated to indicate how much governments restrict the media. The UK has been consistently in low position (the higher the score, the lower the ranking) for the last five years, this year it dropped lower still, highlighting an increasing intrusion of the government on and restriction of the freedom of the press.

This won’t surprise many, especially given the numerous public announcements in the press by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith over the last few years regarding the government’s “monitoring” of the BBC and other media for “left wing bias”. We have a media with a very heavy weighted right wing bias, yet any criticism of government policy reduces our government to shrieking hysterically that the communists have been infiltrating the establishment. It’s a curious fact that authoritarians project their rigidity, insecurities and micro-controlling tendencies onto everyone else.

I’m sure Chris Patten, Rhona Fairhead and Sir David Cecil Clementi, successive government appointed chairpersons of the BBC Trustto act as the ultimate decision makers regarding the BBC’s strategic direction, are just the kind of people who are not tied to political ideologies and corporate interests. After all, everyone knows what a veritable hotbed of communism Chris Patten secretly nurtured. (Sorry, my tongue appears to be momentarily stuck to my cheek).

That the UK government felt the need to announce even more surveillance of the BBC indicates a creeping and considerable degree of authoritarianism, and worryingly, it demonstrates how supremely unconcerned and utterly without shame they are in building a public bonfire to burn what remains of media impartiality in the UK. 

The current RSF report says that the decline in respect for media freedom in democracies is not new. It was already noticeable in previous Indexes. But what is striking in this year’s Index is the growing scale and the nature of the violations seen.

The erosion of democracy and subsequent muting of the media isn’t a problem peculiar to the UK, it’s happening on a global scale. The RSF report says:

“Most of the movement in the World Press Freedom Index unveiled today by Reporters Without Borders is indicative of a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests.”

“Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests.”

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

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

Framing and tilting the media: asking the million dollar questions

Robert Mercier is the plutocrat and right wing US computer scientist and media “strategist” at the heart of a US-based multimillion-dollar propaganda network, who expresses an “unwavering commitment to neutralising left wing bias in the news, media and popular culture”. He funded the setting up of Breitbart and has close links to Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. See: Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media.

It is a very troubling development, give the US had a global reputation for promoting a strong free press, protected by the First Amendment. This said, it’s certainly not a recent development that political leaders of western so-called democratic countries have intervened directly in an attempt to modify and direct media reporting. The US is ranked at 43 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. 

RSF now ranks the UK 40th in the index; a fall from 38th place in 2016. The Nordic countries have the most favourable PFI ranking, with Norway being at the top, followed by Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. It’s an indictment of both UK and US claims to democracy and freedom of the media that three former Soviet countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania rank more highly. The British press were also outranked by Uruguay, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Namibia, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago.

RSF’s report says: “Media freedom has never been so threatened and RSF’s “global indicator” has never been so high (3872). This measure of the overall level of media freedom constraints and violations worldwide has risen 14% in the span of five years. In the past year, nearly two thirds (62.2%) of the countries measured have registered a deterioration in their situation, while the number of countries where the media freedom situation was “good” or “fairly good” fell by 2.3%.”

“It was also in late 2016 that the United Kingdom (down 2 places at 40th) adopted a new law extending the surveillance powers of the British intelligence agencies. Dubbed the “Snoopers’ Charter,” the Investigatory Powers Act put the UK in the unenviable position of having adopted “the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history”, with a law that lacks sufficient protection mechanisms for journalists and their sources. Even more alarming, in early 2017, the Law Commission put forward a proposal for a new ‘Espionage Act’ that would allow the courts to imprison journalists and others for up to 14 years for obtaining leaked information.”

It goes on to say: “The past year also saw a continuation in the trend for media ownership to become concentrated in ever fewer hands, which is exacerbating the media’s dependence on political and economic power holders.”

“A heavy-handed approach towards the press – often in the name of national security – has resulted in the UK slipping down the [PFI]. Parliament adopted the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history, the Investigatory Powers Act… posing a serious threat to investigative journalism. Even more alarming, the Law Commission’s proposal for a new ‘Espionage Act’ would make it easy to classify journalists as ‘spies’ and jail them for up to 14 years for simply obtaining leaked information.”

The extensive report also warns that:

“Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests.”

“It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism.” (RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire).

“The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments, and reporting in the privately owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests. Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests. Guaranteeing the public’s right to independent and reliable news and information is essential if humankind’s problems, both local and global, are to be solved.”

The press freedom map below is a visual overview of the situation in each country in the Index. The darker the colour, the worse the PFI ranking. 

The mass media are often referred to as the fourth branch of government because of the power they wield and the oversight function they exercise. However, democracy requires the active participation of citizens. Ideally, the media should encourage citizens to engage in the business of governance by informing, educating and mobilising the public.

The notion of the media as a watchdog, as a guardian of public interest, and as a conduit between governors and the governed was once deeply ingrained. The reality, however, is that the media in democracies are failing to live up to this ideal. They are hobbled by stringent and often repressive laws, monopolistic ownership, and too often, the threat of brute force. State controls are not the only constraints. Balanced and impartial reporting is difficult to sustain in a context of neoliberalism because of competitive media markets that put a premium on the superficial and sensational.

Moreover, the media are manipulated and used as proxies in the battle between political groups, in the process sowing divisiveness rather than consensus, hate speech instead of sober debate, and suspicion rather than social trust. The media significantly contribute to public cynicism and democratic decay.

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.

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Last year, research by YouGov found that the British media is the most right wing in Europe. Readers also ranked the British press as the most biased in all of the seven countries surveyed.

On average British people are more likely than any other country to see the media as skewed towards the right (26% compared to 23% for Finland and 19% for France). Britain’s media is viewed as having a right wing bias, most of all on the subject of economics (net 15 points to the right).

The media have recently portrayed Jeremy Corbyn as both a pacifist and as someone with a paradoxical tendency to “love terrorists”, but then logic and accuracy have never been apparent in most media attacks of the left. (See the Zinoviev letter, for a historic example). 

You know the world is in big trouble when diplomacy and negotiation skills are considered a “threat” to security. It seems that the establishment prefer bombing civilians to get other governments to comply with their wishes. I know which is probably going to contribute to keeping peace the most, and it isn’t “humanitarian” bombing. 

The “poor relations” between nuclear powers has contributed to an atmosphere that “lends itself to the onset of crisis,” according to a very worrying report by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. The report goes on to say: “The rise in cyber warfare and hacking has left the technical vulnerabilities of nuclear weapons systems exposed to risk from states and terrorist groups.

Nuclear deterrence works—up until the time it will prove not to work. The risk is inherent and, when luck runs out, the results will be catastrophic.

The report went on to say: “The more arms produced, particularly in countries with unstable societies, the more potential exists for terrorist acquisition and use of nuclear weapons.”

The UN report comes as Donald Trump of the US and Vladmir Putin of Russia have both indicated support for expanding their country’s nuclear weapon arsenals. 

Deterrence is at the “greatest risk of breaking down” in North Korea and between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The report also stated an expressed concern over tensions between the West and Russia, which have grown since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. President Putin has maintained Russia would use nuclear weapons if it felt sufficiently threatened.

You know, I think diplomatic skill is a far better quality to look for in a leader, speaking from the perspective of a civilian, in these troubled times. 

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In most newspapers, including even The Daily Mirror and The Independent, Labour voices that are unreasonably anti-Corbyn outweigh those that are pro-Corbyn. Corbyn’s voice is often absent in the narratives and reporting on him, and when it is present it is often presented in a highly distorted way. 

We all want and need a strong and a critical media, a watchdog of the powers that be, but maybe we do not need an “attack dog” who kills off anyone who dares challenge the status quo and dares to suggest we need a different kind of politics.

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Ed Miliband eating a bacon butty on Channel four’s The Last Leg

The coming of epistemological totalitarianism in the UK

Epistemology relates to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion. In the UK, our “knowledge” is being framed by the right wing media. The media doesn’t exactly tell us how to think, but it does tell us what to think about, by a selective agenda of topics and the framing of public debate.

The UK establishment news media are highly centralised and dominated by elites who serve and maintain the status quo and who detest democracy.

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In 2015, I wroteOne particularly successful way of neutralising opposition to an ideology is to ensure that only those ideas that are consistent with that ideology saturate the media and are presented as orthodoxy, to “naturalise” them. The Conservative election campaigns are a thoroughly dispiriting and ruthless masterclass in media control.

Communication in the media is geared towards establishing a dominant paradigm and maintaining an illusion of a consensus. This ultimately serves to reduce democratic choices. Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of your beliefs and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions and maintaining a profoundly unbalanced, pathological status quo.

Presenting an alternative narrative is difficult because the Tories have not only framed all of the issues to be given public priority – they set and stage-manage the media agenda – they have also almost completely dominated the narrative; they construct and manage the political lexicon and now treat words associated with the left, such as welfare, trade unionism, collective bargaining, like semantic landmines, generating explosions of right wing scorn, derision and ridicule. This form of linguistic totalitarianism discredits any opposition before it even arises.

Words like cooperation, inclusion, mutual aid, reciprocity, equality, nationalisation, redistribution – collective values – are simply dismissed as mere anachronisms that need to be stricken from public conversation and exiled from our collective consciousness, whilst all the time enforcing their own bland language of an anti-democratic political doxa. The political manufacturing of a culture of anti-intellectualism extends this aim, too.”

The London School of Economics (LSE) media and communications department undertook a research project, aiming at contributing to the ongoing public debate regarding the role of mainstream media and of journalists in a media-saturated democracy. In Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: From “Watchdog” to “Attackdog”, the research team say:

“We set out to recognise and acknowledge the legitimate role of the press to critique and challenge the powers that be, which is often encapsulated by the metaphor of the watchdog. Our systematic content analysis of a representative sample of newspaper articles published in 8 national newspapers between 1 September and 1 November 2015, however, shows that the press reacted in a highly transgressive manner to the new leader of the opposition, hence our reference to the attackdog metaphor.

Our analysis shows that Corbyn was thoroughly delegitimised as a political actor from the moment he became a prominent candidate and even more so after he was elected as party leader, with a strong mandate. This process of delegitimisation occurred in several ways: 1) through lack of or distortion of voice; 2) through ridicule, scorn and personal attacks; and 3) through association, mainly with terrorism.

All this raises, in our view, a number of pressing ethical questions regarding the role of the media in a democracy. Certainly, democracies need their media to challenge power and offer robust debate, but when this transgresses into an antagonism that undermines legitimate political voices that dare to contest the current status quo, then it is not democracy that is served.”

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See Cameron ridiculed for hypocrisy and quoting Corbyn out of context.

According to the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), newspapers are obliged to “make a clear distinction between comment, conjecture and fact and this has not been applied to media discussion of Jeremy Corbyn, by and large.

You can download the full LSE report here.

Also worth a read: How many of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies do you actually disagree with?

More recently, I explored the role of intentionally deceitful political language and rhetoric in another article  which highlights the role that the media play in shaping our public life. 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, and draconian policies.

Campaigners against social injustice are labeled “extremist” and politicians on the left who stand up against prejudice and discrimination are labeled “saboteurs”, “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. It also serves to further discredit the narrative of the left.

However, 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 commonly use a nudge technique called “social norming” – a Behavioural Insights Team variant of the bandwaggon propaganda technique – particularly for General Election campaigning. It’s about manipulating a false sense of consensus, and normalising Conservative ideology. It’s also about prompting behavioural change, and as such, this method is a blatant attempt to influence the voting behaviours of the public, by suggesting that many others have already “joined” the Conservative “cause” and are happier or better off for doing so. The technique uses societal pressures to play on several basic emotional elements of human nature.

Oh, and then there is the basic technique of telling lies, of course.

Social norming is an appeal to emotional needs to fit in and belong, and also, to be on the side that wins. It has a kind of self fulfilling prophecy element to it, too. It’s used in advertising – words like “everyone” and “most people” or “many” are used a lot to sell brands and imply a popularity of certain products that usually isn’t real.

Political slogans like “a country that works for everyone” and the previous “all in it together” are examples of poor attempts at social norming. It’s aimed at shifting our normative framework to accommodate the status quo, too, regardless of how the accounts don’t tally with reality. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

With this in mind, we need to think about how the conventional political polls are run, who runs them and for what and whose purpose.

I wouldn’t dream of telling you who to vote for in the coming General Election. However, I will ask that you please very carefully consider what you vote for. 

Independent media organisations like Novara Media, Evolve Politics, Media Diversified, Media Lens, CommonSpace, The Canary, Bella Caledonia, Real Media, The Dorset Eye, Welfare Weekly, Scisco Media, Ekklesia, STRIKE! magazine, The Bristol Cable, Now Then, the Manchester Mule, and many others are taking the fight to the establishment. The new independent media have freedom from institutional dependencies, and in particular, from the influence of government and corporate interests.

Independent media includes any form of autonomous media project that is free from institutional dependencies.

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

The independent media collectively reflect a model that is democratic, prefigurative, often collaborative and that has a mutually supportive approach to public interest and conscience-based, as opposed to market-based, media.

We are a collection of diligent witnesses writing a collective, qualitative social testimony, marking and evidencing an era of especially historic political upheavals on a global scale.

The Canary says that independent media “have been ably assisted by an array of skilled and committed bloggers like Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, Pride’s Purge and Politics and Insights (Kitty S Jones) to name but a few.” (Takes a small bow). I would add THE SKWAWKBOX to the list, too.

Related

Don’t buy the lie. To oppose the government is not sabotage –  video by Paul Mason

The bias in our mainstream media makes a lot more sense when you see who owns and runs it – Kerry-Anne Mendoza

We need to talk about the mainstream media and the election. Because a disaster is looming – Steve Topple

BBC’s Stephen Sackur accuses Tories of spreading propaganda about Jeremy Corbyn, and of being unaccountable and undemocratic

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberism 

Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

Through the looking glass darkly: the Conservatives are colonising progressive rhetoric

Hypernormalisation – Adam Curtis

Politics and Insights condemns George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard in joint independent media statement


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Urgent: UK-US trade inquiry and consultation quietly launched by select committee, deadline for submissions this Monday

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A Commons Select Committee launched a public inquiry on 2 February. The International Trade Committee invited the public to send their views regarding the upcoming UK-US trade deal. The Committee will use those ideas to form recommendations for the government’s approach to the deal. 

However, in addition to the fact that the inquiry wasn’t widely publicised, the time scale given for responding is less than a month. The deadline for written submissions is (unbelievably) Monday 27 February 2017

The Conservatives wholly endorsed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would have enshrined the rights of corporations under International Law, and restrict future governments in overturning the changes through the threat of expensive legal action. These are the largest trade agreements in history, and yet they are NOT open for review, debate or amendment by Parliaments or the public.

The agreements would have shifted the balance of power between corporations and the state – effectively creating a corporatocracy. It would have NO democratic foundation or restraint whatsoever. The main thrust of the agreement was that corporations will be able to actively exploit their increased rights through the TPP and TTIP to extend the interests of the corporation, which is mostly to maximise their profits.

Human rights and public interests certainly would not have been a government priority. Six hundred US corporate advisors have had input into the TTIP. The draft text was not made available to the public, press or policy makers. The level of secrecy around the trade agreement was unparalleled. The majority of US Congress were also kept in the dark while representatives of US corporations were consulted and privy to the details.

A major concern for many of us was that many of the regulations likely to be affected under TTIP are designed to protect our health and the environment by setting safe levels of pesticides in food and chemicals in our toiletries and household cleaning products for example. These safeguards will be eroded or eliminated, potentially exposing people to greater risks of unsafe, unregulated commercial goods to support the interests of multinationals.

The infamous TTIP (and the EU-Canada trade deal CETA) provide likely blueprints for future trade deals. So we also have a good idea of what kind of potential dangers for our public services, such as the NHS, lie ahead. Trump, like the Conservative government here in the UK, is a strong advocate of deregulation and “free market competition” – which effectively means that (even more) of our public services are at risk of being sold off to big multinational companies.

The Conservative privatisation programme has been an unmitigated failure. We have witnessed scandalous price rigging, massive job losses and job insecurity, decreased wages and poorer working conditions, profoundly decreased standards in service delivery, disempowerment of our unions, and above all, at terrible cost to many citizens. But then the Conservatives will always swing policy towards benefiting private companies and not the public, as we know. In Britain, privatisation is primarily driven by the neoliberal New Right’s ideological motives, to “roll back the frontiers of the State” and to “increase efficiency”. 

SumOfUs – a global campaign that fights for people over profits, and is committed to curbing the growing power of corporations – have drafted six key demands for a better, more just trade deal with the aim of “letting Theresa May know right from the start that we won’t let her turn Brexit into a corporate takeover.” 

The SumOfUs community has urged the UK government to uphold the following principles in negotiating a trade agreement with the US: 

1. Labour, climate and human rights agreements and how they’re implemented in UK law should take precedence over the trade agreement.

2. Violations of human rights, workers’ rights and environmental protection should be sanctionable, and those sanctions meaningful and effective. 

3. Negotiations need to happen transparently and inclusively. Text proposals as well as consolidated treaty texts need to be published to allow for public scrutiny and robust debate. Corporations must not be granted privileged access.

4. No special rights for investors. The deal should not enable US corporations to sue the UK over policy in the public interest that threatens their profits.

5. All public services must be exempt and protected from corporate takeover. 

6. No race to the bottom on regulation – all laws should be harmonised to the highest standard and should always allow a party to go beyond the levels of protections agreed upon.

You can visit SumOfUs site to add your name to their message to the International Trade Committee, and endorse the six outlined principles. 

The inquiry is to examine the potential for a UK-US trade agreement, the opportunities and challenges any agreement might present and the implications for the production and sale of goods and services on both sides of the Atlantic. It will make recommendations to the Government on how it should approach trade relations with the US. 

Interested organisations or individuals are invited to submit written evidence to the Committee. (Quickly.)

Terms of reference

The Committee is particularly interested in the following:

  • what the UK’s priorities and objectives should be in negotiating any such agreement;
  • the possible impacts (positive and negative) on specific sectors of the UK economy from such an agreement;
  • the extent to which any agreement could and should open up markets in services, including public services; 
  • the extent to which any agreement could and should open up markets in public procurement;
  • how any agreement should approach regulation, including regulatory harmonisation;
  • what dispute-resolution mechanism should form part of any such agreement; and
  • what involvement, if any, the UK should seek to have in the North American Free Trade Area or any future regional free trade agreement involving the USA.

Send a written submission to the International Trade Committee

Update: The deadline for written submissions is extended to Tuesday 7 March 2017. Written evidence should be submitted via the inquiry page, so you will still have to act quickly to have your say.

Chair’s comments

On launching the inquiry, Committee Chair Angus MacNeil MP commented:

“It seems highly likely that a trade deal with the US will be this Government’s first step in their attempts to reshape the UK’s economic relationship with the rest of the world. This will be a tough test. The UK will be entering negotiations led by a newly formed department. They may feel the need for a deal to show the rest of the world, and domestic audience, that the UK is open for business. And any outline agreement could impact on how our negotiations progress with the EU. 

The US might not be expected to offer many concessions, either. In his first days in office, President Trump has not shied away from implementing his campaign pledges, no matter how radical. How will his pledge to buy American and hire American sit with his aim to negotiate a deal “very quickly” with the UK? Is the President’s desire to prove his reputation for winning in deals bad news for a UK wanting some form of equal partnership?

Most importantly, this is a necessary inquiry as we must move beyond the showmanship and controversy that will no doubt be a feature of this process, and drill down to the detail of what is proposed. What should be the UK’s red lines? What sectors could win and lose? Will access to public services be on the table? 

Crucially, we want to explore how far Ministers should be prepared to go to get the marquee deal they are after.”

Related

A UK trade deal with Trump? Be careful what you wish for

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From the Zinoviev letter to the Labour party coup – the real enemy within

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Last September I wrote about an unusually unbiased BBC World News interview with Crispin Blunt (pictured above), the (then) Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The interview highlighted an ongoing crisis of democracy and reflects a broader, longstanding and insidious establishment conflict with the Labour party. Blunt told Stephen Sackur during the interview that the government is not under any obligation to share intelligence information with the (then) new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

His comments came just days after a senior serving general, scaremongering anonymously in the Sunday Timessaid Corbyn’s victory had been greeted with “wholesale dismay” in the army. The general said that any plans to scrap Trident, pull out of Nato or announce “any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces” will meet fierce opposition. His hint that some in the military planned an illegal seizure of the state if Corbyn wins the next General Election is particularly extraordinary. He said the army would “use whatever means possible, fair or foul to maintain security.”

A coup d’état is an anachronistic and violent method of political engineering that ordinarily happens only in one-party fascist, totalitarian and despotic states, it’s not an event you would expect to see used as a threat in a so-called first world liberal democracy.

Regardless of how far-fetched the threats may seem, that a general feels it’s okay to threaten a coup or “mutiny” against a future left wing government using the mainstream right-wing press as a mouthpiece is a cause for some concern. It’s a symptom of how oppressive the establishment have become, and how apparently acceptable it is to attack, discredit and threaten anyone who presents a challenge and an alternative perspective to the status quo.  

The nameless, gutless and anti-democratic general’s comments reminded me of the Zinoviev letter, and the other subversive plots in the 1960s and 1970s that were engineered by the establishment using the military and intelligence services to destabilise Harold Wilson’s government.

The Labour leader has said that as far as the party is concerned, the UK’s role in Nato is a matter for discussion for the shadow cabinet, the party at large and most importantly, the public. Emily Thornberry announced that there will be a public consultation regarding the value of the UK nuclear deterrent. That is, after all, the democratic thing to do.

The anonymous general claimed that there would be “mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny” if Corbyn became [democratically elected as] prime minister.

The threat, regardless of its authenticity, is undoubtedly part of a broader strategy of tension, designed purposefully to create public alarm – to portray the left as a threat to the well-being of society – and it has continued to reverberate around the media; used as part of an arsenal of pro-establishment, anti-progressive propaganda to discredit Corbyn and the left.  

Mr Blunt told BBC Hardtalk Stephen Sackur that the serving general’s opinion was “inappropriate”, did not reflect the view of the government and that if Jeremy Corbyn were elected prime minister the army like everyone else would have to carry out the instructions of the elected government. 

In the meantime, Blunt said that it was a matter for the government to decide how much access to “privileged information” the leader of the opposition had. There would be no point in passing on such information if it would not “achieve consensus.”

In other words, the government don’t want a critical and democratic dialogue about potential military decisions. They are refusing to include anyone else in crucial political decision-making processes.

Sackur said that as soon as Corbyn was elected, the Conservatives “issued propaganda” suggesting that Corbyn is a threat to national security. He also pointed directly to the government’s fundamental lack of accountability, transparency and democracy in the unprecedented move to refuse to share military and intelligence information, which is conventionally shared with the leader of the opposition.

Blunt simply confirmed Stephen Sackur’s point about the government’s lack of democracy, accountability and transparency. Sackur exposed the rank hypocrisy of a government that claims to be democratic, yet does not tolerate parties with differing views, nor does it invite or engage in dialogue and critical debate, choosing instead to exercise totalitarian control over what ought to be democratic decision-making, the will and thoughts of others, including the public that a government is meant to serve.

 

Perhaps a coup in the event of a left wing win in 2020 isn’t so far-fetched in the current oppressive political climate.

You can see the Hardtalk interview here, which is still up on the BBC iPlayer: http://bbc.in/1WgxmXF

From the Zinoviev letter to GBH and Spycatcher: the real enemy within

A scene from Alan Bleasdale’s perceptive GBH, a much misunderstood, darkly comedic series from 1991. Some commentators in the mainstream media at the time portrayed GBH as an indication that Bleasdale had shifted to the right, claiming that he was attempting to discredit the militant left. Many drew purposeful and convenient parallels with Derek Hatton and one of the central characters, Michael Murray.

However, for me there was a deeper, important and far more sinister message, which was not part of the mainstream conversation. Bleasdale’s central theme is an infiltation of the Labour party by MI5, ordered by the Conservative government at the time. Their aim was to recruit, manipulate and indoctrinate local “young bulls” with quasi left wing ideology to have them assist, unknowingly, in destablising and discrediting the Labour party in its entirety.

It’s certainly true that the far right, racism and social conflict always bloom and flourish under Conservative governments.

Fueling social tensions, MI5 agents provocateurs were prepared to use the ethnic communities to foster social division, in the hope of causing riots and ultimately, the hardened right wing thugs (MI5 were eventually revealed as the real thugs here) dismissed the minority groups as collateral damage, a callous, calculated move that was deemed necessary to destroy the Labour party.

MI5 staged a series of violent racist assaults on the city’s ethnic minorities, using hired local hardcases posing as police officers. They “made things happen.” Ultimately to preserve the status quo. In the drama, it’s eventually revealed that the plot to destablise the left involves Britain’s entire intelligence community.

Many felt that Bleasdale was portraying the end of socialism, but if he was, it was ultimately at the hand of the Tories – the real enemy within – not the militant left.

It’s not such a far-fetched “conspiracy theory”, especially in light of other developments, such as Peter Wright’s Spycatcher and Seamas Milne’s work The enemy Within.

The Zinoviev letter – one of the greatest but almost forgotten British political scandals of last century – was forged by a MI6 agent’s source and almost certainly leaked by MI6 or MI5 officers to the Conservative Party, according to an official report published in 1999.

Britain’s most senior security and intelligence officials discussed the smearing of the Labour party just as it was emerging as a major political force according to previously secret documents.

The potential repercussions of attempts by the intelligence agencies to damage the Labour party were debated at length by the little-known Secret Service Committee, later research – now released at the National Archives – shows.

Of course it was not the only time Britain’s intelligence agencies were implicated in attempts to destabilise a Labour government. A group of right wing intelligence officers attempted to destabilise Harold Wilson’s administrations in the 1960s and 70s.

One newly released document at the National Archives is a minute of the Secret Service Committee, dated 11 March 1927. It quotes Sir William Tyrrell, top official at the Foreign Office, referring to a conversation he had with the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, about politically inspired leaks by the police special branch as well as the security and intelligence agencies.

Baldwin’s main concern, said Tyrrell, was the fear that the political work done at Scotland Yard might at any moment give rise to a scandal, owing to the Labour party obtaining some “plausible pretext to complain that a government department was being employed for party politics.”

On 8 October, 1924, Britain’s first Labour government lost a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. The next day the Foreign Office was evidently sent a copy of a letter, purportedly originally sent from Grigori Zinoviev, the president of Comintern, addressed to the central committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The letter urged the party to stir up the British proletariat and the military in preparation for class war.

On 25 October the letter appeared in the heavily Conservative-biased Daily Mail just four days before the election. The political and diplomatic repercussions were immense.

The Daily Mail published a series of sensationalist headlines:

  • Civil War Plot by Socialists’ Masters
  • Moscow Order to Our Reds
  • Great Plot Disclosed Yesterday
  • Paralyse the Army and Navy
  • Mr. MacDonald Would Lend Russia Our Money

Here is the entire Zinoviev letter:

Very secret

Executive Committee, Third Communist International.

To the Central Committee, British Communist Party.

Presidium, September 15, 1924. Moscow.

Dear Comrades,

The time is approaching for the Parliament of England to consider the Treaty concluded between the Governments of Great Britain and the S.S.S.R. for the purpose of ratification. The fierce campaign raised by the British bourgeoisie around the question shows that the majority of the same, together with reactionary circles, are against the Treaty for the purpose of breaking off an agreement consolidating the ties between the proletariats of the two countries leading to the restoration of normal relations between England and the S.S.S.R.

The proletariat of Great Britain, which pronounced its weighty word when danger threatened of a break-off of the past negotiations, and compelled the Government of MacDonald to conclude the treaty, must show the greatest possible energy in the further struggle for ratification and against the endeavours of British capitalists to compel Parliament to annul it.

It is indispensable to stir up the masses of the British proletariat to bring into movement the army of unemployed proletarians whose position can be improved only after a loan has been granted to the S.S.S.R. for the restoration of her economics and when business collaboration between the British and Russian proletariats has been put in order. It is imperative that the group in the Labour Party sympathising with the Treaty should bring increased pressure to bear upon the Government and Parliamentary circles in favour of the ratification of the Treaty.

Keep close observation over the leaders of the Labour Party, because these may easily be found in the leading strings of the bourgeoisie. The foreign policy of the Labour Party as it is, already represents an inferior copy of the policy of the Curzon Government. Organize a campaign of disclosure of the foreign policy of MacDonald.

The I.K.K.I. (Executive Committee, Third [Communist] International) will willingly place at your disposal the wide material in its possession regarding the activities of British Imperialism in the Middle and Far East. In the meanwhile, however, strain every nerve in the struggle for the ratification of the Treaty, in favour of a continuation of negotiations regarding the regulation of relations between the S.S.S.R. and England.

A settlement of relations between the two countries will assist in the revolutionising of the international and British proletariat not less than a successful rising in any of the working districts of England, as the establishment of close contact between the British and Russian proletariat, the exchange of delegations and workers, etc., will make it possible for us to extend and develop the propaganda of ideas of Leninism in England and the Colonies.

Armed warfare must be preceded by a struggle against the inclinations to compromise which are embedded among the majority of British workmen, against the ideas of evolution and peaceful extermination of capitalism. Only then will it be possible to count upon complete success of an armed insurrection. In Ireland and the Colonies the case is different; there is a national question, and this represents too great a factor for success for us to waste time on a prolonged preparation of the working class.

But even in England, as other countries, where the workers are politically developed, events themselves may more rapidly revolutionise the working masses than propaganda. For instance, a strike movement, repressions by the Government etc.

From your last report it is evident that agitation-propaganda work in the army is weak, in the navy a very little better. Your explanation that the quality of the members attracted justifies the quantity is right in principle, nevertheless it would be desirable to have cells in all the units of the troops, particularly among those quartered in the large centres of the country, and also among factories working on munitions and at military store depots. We request that the most particular attention be paid to these latter.

In the event of danger of war, with the aid of the latter and in contact with the transport workers, it is possible to paralyse all the military preparations of the bourgeoisie, and make a start in turning an imperialist war into a class war. Now more than ever we should be on our guard.

Attempts at intervention in China show that world imperialism is still full of vigour and is once more making endeavours to restore its shaken position and cause a new war, which as its final objective is to bring about the break-up of the Russian Proletariat and the suppression of the budding world revolution, and further would lead to the enslavement of the colonial peoples. ‘Danger of War’, ‘The Bourgeoisie seek War’, ‘Capital fresh Markets’ – these are the slogans which you must familiarise the masses with, with which you must go to work into the mass of the proletariat. These slogans will open to you the doors of comprehension of the masses, will help you to capture them and march under the banner of Communism.

The Military Section of the British Communist Party, so far as we are aware, further suffers from a lack of specialists, the future directors of the British Red Army.

It is time you thought of forming such a group, which together with the leaders, might be in the event of an outbreak of active strife, the brain of the military organisation of the party.

Go attentively through the lists of the military ‘cells’ detailing from them the more energetic and capable men, turn attention to the more talented military specialists who have for one reason or another, left the Service and hold Socialist views. Attract them into the ranks of the Communist Party if they desire honestly to serve the proletariat and desire in the future to direct not the blind mechanical forces in the service of the bourgeoisie, but a national army.

Form a directing operative head of the Military Section.

Do not put this off to a future moment, which may be pregnant with events and catch you unprepared.

Desiring you all success, both in organisation and in your struggle.

With Communist Greetings,

President of the Presidium of the I.K.K.I.

ZINOVIEV

Member of the Presidium: McMANUS

Secretary: KUUSINEN

Some historians say that the letter aided the Conservative party in hastening the collapse of the Liberal party which led to a decisive Conservative victory. Curiously, a now familiar tactic.

Others say the letter was an example of Conservative deceit, which in 1924, enabled Britain’s Conservative party to cheat their way to a general election victory. Personally, I’m inclined to believe the latter. It’s not as if the Conservatives have a history of democratic engagement, transparency, accountability and honesty, after all.

The letter came at a sensitive time in relations between Britain and the Soviet Union, due to the Conservative opposition to the parliamentary ratification of the Anglo-Soviet trade agreement of 8 August 1924.

The publication of the letter was severely embarrassing to Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald and his Labour party. The chance of a victory was dashed as the spectre of internal revolution and a government oblivious to the “red peril” dominated the public consciousness, via the media.

MacDonald’s attempts to establish doubt regarding the authenticity of the letter were catastrophically in vain, hampered by the document’s widespread acceptance amongst Tory government officials. MacDonald told his Cabinet he “felt like a man sewn in a sack and thrown into the sea.”

New light on the scandal which triggered the fall of the first Labour government in 1924 is shed in a study by Gill Bennett, chief historian at the Foreign Office, commissioned by Robin Cook in 1998.

Bennett’s investigation implicates Desmond Morton, an MI6 officer and close friend of Churchill who appointed him personal assistant during the second world war, and also points to Major Joseph Ball, an MI5 officer who joined Conservative Central Office in 1926. Ball later went on to be one of the earliest spin doctors – for the Tories.

The exact route of the forged letter to the Daily Mail will probably never be known. There were other possible conduits, including Stewart Menzies, a future head of MI6 who, according to MI6 files, admitted sending a copy to the Mail.

In summary, the letter was purported to be from Grigori Zinoviev, president of the Comintern, the internal communist organisation, called on British communists to mobilise “sympathetic forces” in the Labour party to support an Anglo-Soviet treaty (including a loan to the Bolshevik government) and to encourage “agitation-propaganda” in the armed forces.

As stated, on 25 October, 1924, just four days before the election, the Mail splashed headlines across its front page claiming: Civil War Plot by Socialists’ Masters: Moscow Orders To Our Reds; Great Plot Disclosed. Labour lost the election by a landslide.

Bennett said the letter “probably was leaked from SIS [the Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6] by somebody to the Conservative Party Central Office.” She named Major Ball and Mr Morton, who was responsible for assessing agents’ reports.

“I have my doubts as to whether he thought it was genuine but [Morton] treated it as if it was,” she said.

She described MI6 as being at the centre of the scandal, although it was impossible to say whether the head of MI6, Admiral Hugh Sinclair, was involved.

Bennett also said there was “no evidence of a conspiracy” in what she called “the institutional sense.”

But there was no evidence that refuted such a conspiracy either. The security and intelligence community at the time consisted of a “very, very incestuous circle, an elite network” who went to school together. Their allegiances, she says in her report, “lay firmly in the Conservative camp.”

Bennett had full access to secret files held by MI6 (though some have been destroyed) and MI5. She also saw Soviet archives in Moscow before writing her 128-page study. The files show the forged Zinoviev letter was widely circulated, including to senior army officers, to inflict maximum damage on the Labour government.

She found no evidence to identify the name of the forger. The report says there is no hard evidence that MI6 agents in Riga were directly responsible – though it is known they had close contacts with White Russians – or that the letter was commissioned in response to British intelligence services’ “uneasiness about its prospects under a re-elected Labour government.”

The report does not tie up loose ends. But by putting a huge amount of material into the public domain, it at least allows people to make up their own minds. Important questions remain, and may always go unanswered – such as who actually forged the letter.

However, if Bennett is right in her suggestion that MI6 chiefs did not set up the forgery, her report claims that MI6 deceived the Foreign Office by asserting it did know who the source was – a deception it used to insist, wrongly, that the Zinoviev letter was genuine.

Bennett claims that we cannot conclude the scandal brought down Ramsay Macdonald’s government, which had already lost a confidence vote and Liberal support on which it depended was disappearing.

“In electoral terms,” she says, “the impact of the Zinoviev letter on Labour was more psychological than measurable.”

I don’t agree.

Firstly, I think that it’s a fairly safe and balanced conclusion that the Intelligence Services lack diversity, with a strong tendency to recruit staunch establishmentarians. The impact was calculated to be measurable. Secondly, the media has always exercised enormously heavy influence on voters, I find it a little odd that such a connection was deemed insignificant. Especially given the wide use of black propaganda, very evident at the time.

Besides, this isn’t an isolated event, and there does appear to be an established relationship between Conservative governments and the secret services staging persistent attempts at “destabilising,” discrediting and smearing the left. And the media.

Fast-forward to more recent events, and low and behold, the mainstream media are still feeding us the fear-mongering and pseudo-warnings of an “evil Communist threat.” Last year we heard how the late Ralph Miliband “influenced” his son, “Red Ed,”  with the media claiming that the then Labour leader’s policies are founded on a “legacy of evil” and a “poisonous creed.” That’s once again according to the very pro-establishment, corrupt Daily Mail, of course. (See also: Tory Fascist Lie Machine The Daily Mail Has Met Its Match.) Same old tactics.

Miliband had established the International Anti-Austerity Alliance to challenge the neoliberal consensus, his progressive tax proposals and promise to implement the Leveson recommendations chafed the establishment’s ass.

The Comintern and Soviet government vehemently and consistently denied the authenticity of the document. Grigori Zinoviev issued a denial on 27 October 1924 (two days before the election), which was finally published in the December 1924 issue of The Communist Review, considerably well after the MacDonald government had fallen.

Zinoviev declared:

“The letter of 15th September, 1924, which has been attributed to me, is from the first to the last word, a forgery. Let us take the heading. The organisation of which I am the president never describes itself officially as the “Executive Committee of the Third Communist International”; the official name is “Executive Committee of the Communist International.” Equally incorrect is the signature, “The Chairman of the Presidium.” The forger has shown himself to be very stupid in his choice of the date. On the 15th of September, 1924, I was taking a holiday in Kislovodsk, and, therefore, could not have signed any official letter. […]

It is not difficult to understand why some of the leaders of the Liberal-Conservative bloc had recourse to such methods as the forging of documents. Apparently they seriously thought they would be able, at the last minute before the elections, to create confusion in the ranks of those electors who sincerely sympathise with the Treaty between England and the Soviet Union. It is much more difficult to understand why the English Foreign Office, which is still under the control of the Prime Minister, MacDonald, did not refrain from making use of such a white-guardist forgery.”

Peter Wright, a former MI5 officer, showed in Spycatcher – a candid autobiography – how elements in his agency worked against the Wilson government in the 1970s.

Despite the Thatcher government’s attempts to prevent publication, the book gained worldwide attention. MI5’s own archives have shown there was a “permanent file” on the Labour leader throughout his time in office. He is the only serving prime minister to have a permanent Secret Service file.

MI5 opened the dossier in 1945 when Mr Wilson became an MP after communist civil servants suggested he had similar “political sympathies.”

His file was so secret that he was given the pseudonym Norman John Worthington.

Sir Michael Hanley, MI5 director general from 1972, went to even greater lengths to conceal its existence by removing it from the central index, meaning any search would result in a “no trace.”

Personal permission from Sir Michael was required to access it.

This is backed up by corroborating interviews with senior figures at the time.

These events unfolded at a time when the establishment, from the intelligence services down to parts of Fleet Street, were paranoid about the “threat of communism.” So paranoid it seems they were prepared to believe a prime minister of Britain was an active Soviet spy.

At a time of continuing Cold War tensions, industrial unrest was rife, the country had suffered power cuts and a three-day working week and in 1975 the government was being warned privately that the consequences would be severe if it could not curb inflation.

Whilst some on the hard left believed revolution was imminent, former military figures, angry at the extent of union control, were building private armies, in preparation for the coming conflict, according to the then BBC investigative journalist Barrie Penrose. (Penrose co-authored The Pencourt File with another journalist, Roger Courtiour.)

Meetings with Wilson were secretly recorded in 1976 by both the journalists (Penrose and Courtiour) weeks after his shock departure from Number 10.

“Wilson spoke darkly of two military coups which he said had been planned to overthrow his government in the late 1960s and in the mid 1970s,” Penrose writes.

Wilson told the journalists they “should investigate the forces that are threatening democratic countries like Britain.”

In his book, Peter Wright also tells of a plot to force Wilson’s resignation by MI5 agents who were convinced he was a Communist spy. Wright’s account is often dismissed as an exaggeration, but fresh evidence of plots surfaced in 2006.

Penrose says that witnesses confirm such plotting “wasn’t in the fevered imagination of an embittered ex-PM.”

Writing about the drama documentary The Plot Against Harold Wilson, shown on BBC Two at 21:00 on Thursday 16 March, 2006, Penrose concludes:

“You may ask, at the end of the programme, how much of it can be believed. My view now, as it was then, is that Wilson was right in his fears…. in answer to the question ‘how close did we come to a military government’ I can only say – closer than we’d ever be content to think.”


Harold Wilson, Aneurin Bevan, Ian Mikardo, Tom Driberg and Barbara Castle of the Keep Left Group (1951)

Chris Mullins, a former Foreign Office minister and author, writes:

“By the time A Very British Coup was published, in 1982, the political climate was even more propitious. Prompted by the imminent arrival of cruise missiles, CND demonstrations were attracting crowds in excess of 200,000. The establishment was getting so twitchy that, as we later learned, Michael Heseltine had set up a special unit in the Ministry of Defence to counter the impact of CND.

The US was getting twitchy too. When A Very British Coup was published I was editor of the political weekly Tribune, and we were selling the book by mail order through the paper. A few days after the first advert appeared we were intrigued to receive an order from the US embassy. We duly dispatched a copy and waited to see what would happen next. We did not have to wait long.

An invitation arrived to lunch with the minister, the most important man at the embassy after the ambassador. He even sent his bullet-proof Cadillac to Tribune’s modest headquarters in Gray’s Inn Road to convey me to his mansion in Kensington.

At first I assumed that I was one of a number of guests, but no: there was just the minister, two of his colleagues, an Asian butler and myself.

“Why are you interested in a minnow like me?” I inquired.

“I reckon,” he drawled, “that you are among the top 1,000 opinion formers in the country.”

“Well, I must be about number 999.”

“The other 999 have been here too.”

A year or two later I received from an anonymous source an envelope posted in Brussels. It contained an internal US state department memorandum addressed to US diplomats in London listing a number of questions they were to put to “authorised contacts” in London regarding the balance of power within the Labour party and opinion regarding the US bases in general and the impending arrival of cruise missiles in particular. Although, in retrospect, we can see they had no cause for concern, there is no doubt that alarm bells were ringing in Washington.

A Very British Coup attracted attention elsewhere too. It was helpfully denounced in the correspondence columns of the Times, and as a result sales in Hatchards of Piccadilly almost matched those at the leftwing bookshop Collets. (When it comes to selling books, a high-profile denunciation is worth half a dozen friendly reviews and I have always done my best to organise one).

Thereafter interest might have faded, but for events conspiring to make it topical. In August 1985 the Observer revealed that an MI5 officer, Brigadier Ronnie Stoneham, was to be found in room 105 at Broadcasting House. His job? Stamping upturned Christmas trees on the personnel files of BBC employees he deemed to be unsuitable for promotion. Students of A Very British Coup will know that my head of MI5, Sir Peregrine Craddock, was also vetting BBC employees. What’s more, he also had a spy on the general council of CND – and in due course the MI5 defector Cathy Massiter revealed that there had indeed been such a spy. His name was Harry Newton.

Finally, in 1987 Peter Wright, a retired MI5 officer, caused a sensation with his claim that he and a group of MI5 colleagues had plotted to undermine the Wilson government. Suddenly the possibility that the British establishment might conspire with its friends across the Atlantic to destabilise the elected government could no longer be dismissed as leftwing paranoia.”

The Enemy Within

Margaret Thatcher branded Arthur Scargill and the other leaders of the 1984-5 miners’ strike the enemy within. With the publication of Seumas Milne’s bestselling book a decade later, the full irony of that accusation became clear. There was an enemy within. But it was not the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) that was out to subvert liberty. It was the secret services of the British state – operating inside the NUM itself.

Seumas Milne reveals the astonishing lengths to which the government and its intelligence machine were prepared to go to destroy the power of Britain’s miners’ union. Using phoney bank deposits, staged cash drops, forged documents, agents provocateurs and unrelenting surveillance, MI5 and police Special Branch set out to discredit Scargill and other miners’ leaders.

Now we know that the Tory prime minister intended to extend the charge of seditious insurrection, not only to left wing Labour councils in Liverpool and London resisting cuts in services, but against the Labour party as a whole.

Planted tales of corruption were seized on by the media and both Tory and Labour politicians in what became an unprecedentedly savage smear campaign. This is one of the UK’s most important post-war class confrontations. We are currently facing another in the form of a battle for the heart and soul of the Labour party – Corbyn has come to represent for many among the working classes that very heart and soul, still beating strongly under a gangrened body of neoliberal apologists and class traitors.. 

Milne has highlighted the continuing threat posed by the security services to democracy today.

Milne describes the Conservative government’s systematic resort to anti-democratic measures to break the resistance of Britain’s most powerful union: from the use of the police and security services to infiltrate and undermine the miners’ union to the manipulation of the courts and media to discredit and tie the hands of its leaders.

He says:

“A decade after the strike, I called the book I wrote about that secret war against the miners “The Enemy Within”, because the phrase turned out to have multiple layers of meaning. As the evidence has piled up with each new edition, the charge that Thatcher laid at the door of the National Union of Mineworkers can in fact be seen to fit her own government’s use of the secret state far better.

It wasn’t just the militarised police occupation of the coalfields; the 11,000 arrests, deaths, police assaults, mass jailings and sackings; the roadblocks, fitups and false prosecutions – most infamously at the Orgreave coking plant where an orgy of police violence in June 1984 was followed by a failed attempt to prosecute 95 miners for riot on the basis of false evidence.

It’s that under the prime minister’s guidance, MI5, police Special Branch, GCHQ and the NSA were mobilised not only to spy on the NUM on an industrial scale, but to employ agents provocateurs at the highest level of the union, dirty tricks, slush funds, false allegations, forgeries, phoney cash deposits and multiple secretly sponsored legal actions to break the defence of the mining communities.

In the years since, Thatcher and her former ministers and intelligence mandarins have defended such covert action by insisting the NUM leaders were “subversive” because they wanted to bring down the government. Which of course they did – but “legitimately,” as Scargill remarked recently, by bringing about a general election – as took place in the wake of the successful coal strike of 1974.

In reality, as 50 MPs declared when some of these revelations first surfaced, Thatcher’s government and its security apparatus were themselves guilty of the mass “subversion of democratic liberties”. And, as the large-scale malpractices of police undercover units have driven home in the past couple of years, their successors are still at it today.”


The insidious threat to democracy is still very real, hidden in plain view. And plain clothes.

File:MI5 crest and logo.png

See also:

Wilson, MI5 and the rise of Thatcher – Lobster

Bugger – Adam Curtis

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwald

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

Think the idea of UK leftie movements being infiltrated is all a conspiracy theory? Here are some of the times it’s actually happened – Raphael Schlembach


 

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