Category: Conservatives

Opposition parties call for emergency legislation to protect Universal Credit claimants from impacts of Covid-19

RU Ready UC

Both Labour and the SNP have called on the Prime Minister to provide emergency legislation to protect workers’ rights and ensure people receiving Universal Credit do not face sanctions if they are unable to make an appointment due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In Prime Minister’s Questions, Ian Blackford MP asked that while the Governor of the Bank of England suggested a ‘financial bridge’ may be available to assist markets through any economic volatility, would there will also be a ‘financial bridge’ for ordinary workers and those on social security.

He said statutory pay must be in line with the Living Wage, and Universal Credit claimants must not face sanctions if they need to self isolate through becoming ill.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also urged the Prime Minister to ensure that workers and benefit claimants are protected from hardship, should they need to self-isolate and are unable to work or attend Jobcentre appointments.

Boris Johnson announced during PMQ’s that rules on statutory sick pay will be changed to allow Coronavirus patients to claim from the first day of their sickness.

But with many workers such as freelancers and the self-employed ineligible for sick-pay, opposition parties warned that those affected may be forced to choose between their health and financial security.

Commenting, SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford MP said: “All of us must provide clear, calm and practical leadership in the days ahead.

“In the past few days Scotland’s First Minister, the Scottish Government and the Westminster government have been working closely to put plans in place to protect all of our people. 

“Of course, people are worried about their health, but there are also millions of workers who are worried about the consequences for their incomes, their job security and their families. 

“What they require from this Prime Minister is specific guarantees.

“While the Prime Minister confirmed that statutory sick pay will be available from day 1, millions of workers are not eligible because they do not meet the earnings threshold and it is not available for the self employed or those on zero-hours contracts.

“The payments must also be in line with the Living Wage. Small businesses must also be supported”.

Meanwhile, Labour MP and shadow Chancellor John McDonnell accused the Chancellor Rishi Sunak of failing to act over the threat the Coronavirus poses to the economy.

“There is no sense of urgency from the Chancellor in his response to the potential economic impacts of coronavirus,” said Labour’s Shadow Chancellor.

“We cannot wait another week until the budget to have a plan published. People, businesses and the markets need clarity now that the government has a comprehensive economic plan in place.”

We awaited a detailed economic plan but the sum total of economic thinking in the Government’s coronavirus action plan is a restatement of existing HMRC policy.”

“The Chancellor has failed to outline how he will respond to potential consequences for production, consumption, and GDP, or provide support for vulnerable workers.”

He continued: “The public will be disappointed that the Chancellor does not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation facing the economy, and he must urgently issue a plan from a Treasury perspective of the kind that Labour published on Monday.”

Many self employed people who don’t qualify for sick pay have been told to claim Universal Credit if they become ill and need to self isolate. There has been little assurance from the Government regarding how it will mitigate the five week waiting period for those people, at a time when they are vulnerable, and can hardly visit food banks under the circumstances. 

People may also be expected to meet job centre staff in person, with ID documents in order to activate their Universal Credit claim, which is problematic if you are ill or self-isolating. 

Universal Credit isn’t fit for purpose at the best of times, how on earth can people trust the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure people aren’t left without money for food and essentials for their families for weeks on end?

Because lets face it, that has become the established norm over the last eight years.

UC-graphic-1

 


 

 

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COVID-19 reveals the unacceptably indifferent political attitude towards 20% of the population

 

 

 

Thirteen new patients were diagnosed with the coronavirus on yesterday.

The latest cases included 12 more in England and the first patient in Scotland, meaning the virus has now reached all four parts of the UK. A health worker at an NHS cancer centre in Middlesex is also among the new cases. Another is a staff member at Wimbledon College in south-west London, which has closed for deep cleaning. 

Three of the new cases in England were linked to a man from Surrey, who was the first patient to not have been abroad recently and was instead infected within the UK. This indicates that the virus has been under the radar within the UK, possibly for a matter of weeks.

Boris Johnson has warned today that the spread of coronavirus in the UK “looks likely” to become more significant in the coming days, after chairing an emergency Cobra meeting to discuss the government’s response to the outbreak, earlier. Health secretary Matt Hancock has warned it is now “inevitable” the deadly virus would “become endemic” in the UK.

Meanwhile, the global death toll from the disease has passed 3,000, with more than 80,000 cases worldwide. Several countries in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas have banned large gatherings and imposed stricter travel restrictions in an attempt to limit infections.

The first death from coronavirus (COVID-19) in the US was an eyeopener. Apparently, no-one is sure if it happened to a man or a woman. Donald Trump says a woman died who was “at risk anyway”. Other sources say it was a man. It shows the profound lack of sympathy, and a fundamental lack of concern and respect for people who have a medical condition and vulnerability to infection in neoliberal economies. Many people in the UK have known for some time that the UK government regards disabled and ill people as a ‘disposable’ reserve army of labor.

This virus has thrown the political indifference to ill, disabled and ‘economically inactive’ citizens into sharp relief.

The indifference is embedded within public attitudes in our society, too. I’ve seen many other people comment that ‘most people only get mild symptoms’ and ‘it’s not worth worrying about’. It’s just ‘scaremongering’ and ‘panic’ over nothing. 

It isn’t, unless you happen to have a co-morbid condition. And those with only ‘mild’ symptoms unfortunately pass the virus to people who are ‘at risk’. Those who are lucky enough to be unconcerned about the virus should at least care about those who have reason to be very worried. 

The government have so far refused to consider closing schools, because children seem to be at low risk of getting very ill with COVID-19 infection. However, they do get the infection and they pass it on to others – teachers, parents and grandparents. This means the virus won’t be effectively contained once it becomes transmitted within communities – and it will. In fact it has already happened. One man in Surrey has become ill, and has not travelled. No-one knows how he got the virus. 

In China, it became apparent that many people had been infected before it came to the attention of the health authorities. It had already spread widely within communities. Because this is a virus that frequently causes symptoms very similar to mild flu or a common cold in healthy, young people, it’s very easily transmitted from person to person. This means it can easily go under the radar for a while. Italian scientists believe the virus was circulating there unnoticed for weeks, too.

There are also concerns about the impact of the virus on the economy. We have a work culture that encourages people to turn up to work with colds and other conditions, which is then shared around the workforce. It’s a culture that doesn’t facilitate consideration that some people are more vulnerable to serious complications from viral infections. The government are currently considering “the balance between public safety and economic and social impacts”, weighing it against the possible benefit of closing schools, stopping public transport, and activities involving large gatherings of people.

For the government so far, it’s business as usual.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) are now advising elderly people and those with chronic health conditions to ‘avoid crowded areas’ to reduce their risk.

So who is at risk of serious complications from the coronavirus?

How many people in the UK and US have asthma? All of those people are ‘at risk’. How many people have diabetes, autoimmune illnesses, lung disease, heart disease or other underlying health conditions? Those people are all at risk.

How many are people taking immune suppressants, steroids or chemotherapy for illnesses or cancer? Those people are at risk.

How many people need an annual ‘flu shot? All of those people are at risk.

That’s a lot of people.

And among those are people in your own families, or your friends  neighbours.

The virus kills susceptible people because it causes pneumonia, respiratory distress and sometimes, sepsis. 

In 2017 I caught ‘flu. Within four days I developed pneumonia and sepsis and almost died. I was so unwell with the ‘flu that I hadn’t recognised how seriously ill I had become, until I tried to get out of bed for a glass of water. By the time the paramedics arrived, I was already in septic shock. The prognosis following tess and an X ray were not good.

I survived and recovered only because I got a prompt diagnosis and prompt treatment, which included intensive care, IV antibiotics and fluids, anticoagulant injections and oxygen support until my lungs recovered. The reason I got so ill with ‘flu, doctors told me, is primarily because I have an autoimmune condition – lupus. I also have asthma, which is also considered a co-morbid condition.

I am certainly ‘at high risk’ from the coronavirus.

The NHS is overstretched. It has already been said that in the event of an epidemic, the NHS would need to “prioritise access to some services in an ethically appropriate way”. That basically means that NHS staff  will have to make difficult choices as to who has access to treatment and who is left to die.

High Alert Coronavirus Prevention In Bali

Getty Images.

At the moment, people are being told to avoid turning up at hospitals and GP surgeries, in efforts to contain the virus. Nonetheless, a man who recently returned from Italy feeling unwell with a fever waited four days for a call back from NHS 111 clinicians. Dean Hall works on IT projects involving the British Army and he told the BBC he is concerned should he have the coronavirus he might have spread it to military personnel about to deploy.

Others said the advice line gave them confusing, conflicting guidance.

The NHS said that despite high demand, all calls were being answered and the service was hiring extra call handlers. If the demand is high at this stage, imagine how strained things will become if the rates of infection rise and begin to affect whole communities.

“Anyone with concerns about coronavirus should call NHS 111 and – while the service is understandably busy and people may have to wait longer than usual – all calls are being responded to thanks to hard-working NHS staff,” a spokeswoman said.

BBC health editor Hugh Pym said that some calls are coming from people who have visited places outside the list of countries at risk from the virus, adding to the pressures.

However, that we don’t know how many people within the UK have been infected. In the countries currently badly affected, the virus had spread quite widely under the radar for weeks before health authorities were alerted to individual cases who needed medical support.

Carole Timms, a nurse from Shropshire who works in care homes, told the BBC that she and a friend were given contradictory advice when they returned from Venice on 20 February. Although they had no symptoms, Timms told NHS 111 she was concerned about the risk to her patients and was told to self-isolate.

But her friend, who works in a college with adults with disabilities, was told it was not necessary. That advice was changed when Timms pointed out the discrepancy.

“If she had just phoned on her own, she would happily have gone back to work when possibly she shouldn’t. Or maybe I’d have got that other advice,” Timms said.

Iwona Dunsford from Milton Keynes said she contacted NHS 111 for testing after she returned from Dusseldorf feeling unwell with a cough and cold – although the city is not considered on the list of high-risk areas for the virus.

She was advised to go to Milton Keynes hospital, but the hospital referred her back to the 111 advice service. Then she was sent to a chemist instead, but the chemist referred her to the hospital.

“I’m OK, but what about the people who are in a worse condition than me? On the TV we’re told that the UK is well prepared for this,” Dunford said. 

Clearly we are not all singing from the same hymn sheet.

In Scotland, Alan Kelly said public health authorities initially told him to get tested after he developed flu symptoms following a trip to Milan on 14 February.

But they changed their mind when the government advice for travellers to Italy was updated, because it said only those coming back after 19 February were a concern.

“Surely the prudent thing to do would be to test people with symptoms who have been in the high risk area?” he said.

Yet the government claims that the UK is prepared for all eventualities and is working on containing any outbreaks. That involves spotting cases quickly, isolating them and identifying contacts people have had to stop any spread. This is being done by Public Health England’s (PHE) nine regional teams. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own arrangements.

Clearly this isn’t being well co-ordinated on the front line.

It gets worse

The NHS is not prepared for a serious epidemic of COVID-19 in the UK.

Ministers have recently revealed in a parliamentary answers session that there are just 15 available beds for adult extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment at five centres across England. The government said this could be increased in an emergency. There were 30 such beds in total available during the 2018-19 winter flu season. That’s not anywhere near enough to cope with a pandemic. 

It was also revealed that since the beginning of February there have been just eight “high-consequence infectious disease” beds and around 500 “infectious disease” beds.

For most of last week, there were roughly 3,700 adult critical care beds in England, of which about 80% were occupied. This left 670 such beds free at the peak of occupancy.

However, a NHS England document prepared in November 2017 reveals the system will struggle to cope if more than 28 patients need the treatment, describing that situation as black/critical. That isn’t anywhere near the 20% of the population who may need medical care.

It suggests that if no beds are available “within the designated and surge capacity” in the UK, they might have to be sourced from other countries. However, other countries will also be under strain and are unlikely to have ‘spare’ machines.

The government have also discussed bringing retired medical staff back into service to deal with the virus. 

So we have to question the readiness of the NHS to deal with a sharp escalation of coronavirus cases following years of cutbacks and increasing health care rationing.


Answering a Labour MP’s question on Thursday about coronavirus preparedness, Jo Churchill, a health minister, said: “Since April 2013, NHS England has commissioned a total of 15 adult respiratory extra corporeal membrane oxygenation beds from five providers in England, with further provision in Scotland. In periods of high demand, capacity can be increased.”

ECMO treatment is used in the most severe cases of respiratory failure when other treatments are not working. It uses an artificial lung located outside the body to put oxygen into a patient’s blood and continuously pump this blood into and around their body. It has been used to treat COVID-19 cases in China, which is ordering more machines from Germany, according to state media. 

The document suggests that if no beds are available “within the designated and surge capacity” in the UK, they might have to be sourced from other countries, for example, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. But as I stated, many other countries are either dealing with or preparing for the epidemic. It’s unlikely that there will be a surplus of medical equipment anywhere.

While making no assessment of numbers, Professor Chris Whitty, who is Chief Medical Officer for England, Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care and head of the National Institute for Health Research, said that if there was a global pandemic it would be impossible for the UK to escape. If that happened, it could mean that the NHS would have to “prioritise access to some services in an ethically appropriate way”, according to the government’s 2011 plan. This could involve postponing non-emergency operations and ultimately, if the outbreak was unremitting, “treating only emergency patients.”

He also said: “Delay is the next stage of what we need to do because if we are going to get an outbreak in the UK – this is an if, not a when – but if we do, putting it back in time into the summer period, away from winter pressures on the NHS, buying us a bit more time to understand the virus better, possibly having some seasonal advantage, is a big advantage.”

When asked how many people in the UK could die, Prof Whitty refused to answer, saying it was difficult to put a true figure on the death rate in China, which “could be less than the 1 per cent reported”. However, it is highly unlikely that China would overstate the mortality rate from the virus. 

Over recent years it has become very clear that privately financed health systems fail far too many citizens. Market failures lead to exploitation of ‘healthcare consumers’, an under-investment in public health services and where poorer members of society are systematically excluded from the health care system.

I’ve had severe pneumonia and sepsis once, and that makes it rather more likely I will have both again, though of course, it’s not inevitably because of this particular coronavirus. However, one of the biggest causes of death in people with lupus is pneumonia and sepsis.

The government and NHS simply do not have the facilities to contain many more than a few hundred people. In the event of mass transmissions, responses, according to the government, will be co-ordinated by the government’s Cobra committee and 43 local “resilience forums” in England and Wales. These include Public Health England officials, the NHS, local councils and the emergency services.

Resilience? The power of positive thinking isn’t going to prevent the virus spreading, or some people getting seriously ill.

What we need is an honest government, access to speedy, responsive healthcare, sufficient hospital beds, sufficient numbers of medical staff, ventilators, oxygen cylinders and medications.

I think I will be staying home voluntarily for a while, as much as I possibly can. I will also be investing in some basic medical provisions to try and address any serious symptoms myself, to buy a little time in the event of getting the infection, because I think it’s highly likely that I will have to wait quite a while for access to medical support, should I really need it.

And probably, so will many others, if the worst happens.

Further information

Symptoms:

The infection seems to typically start with a fever, followed by a dry cough.

After a week, it leads to shortness of breath and some patients will require hospital treatment. Some people who have chronic medical conditions may develop pneumonia and some may also develop an abnormally aggressive immune response to the virus (sepsis), which is a medical emergency. Septic shock – caused by plummeting blood pressure – can rapidly lead to multiple organ failure and death.

corona symptoms


Source: The World Health Organisation (WHO)

cov19

Reducing risk

Because it’s a new illness, health specialists do not yet know exactly how coronavirus spreads from person to person. However, similar viruses are spread in cough and sneeze droplets, shaking hands, touching a person who is infected or by touching a hard surface that is contaminated with the virus. Corona viruses generally can survive on surfaces for up to nine days, depending on temperature and humidity. 

At temperatures of around 4°C or 39.2oF, certain versions of the coronavirus could remain viable for up to 28 days. At temperatures of 30–40°C (86–104°F), coronaviruses tended to persist for a shorter time. They also tend to survive significantly longer in an environment with 50% humidity than 30% humidity, according to some studies. However, others have contradicted these findings and demonstrated that the viruses thrive best in low humidity.

Disinfect kitchen work surfaces, door handles and other areas that are touched a lot by family members, including taps and the toilet.

cough_etiquette_short_640_3x-nc
Source: NHS


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

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

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DWP destroyed reports linking benefit sanctions and cuts with suicide

errol

Errol Graham, who starved to death in 2018, following his social security support being cancelled by the Department for Work and Pensions. He left a heartbreaking letter which described his circumstances leading up to his death. His family found the letter after he died, weighing less than five stone.

Department for Work and pensions (DWP) officials have admitted that up to 50 reviews into deaths following harsh social security cuts and sanctions have been destroyed.

The government has been accused of a ‘cover-up’ after destroying the reports which link suicides to sanctions and peoples’ benefits being stopped. Around 50 reviews into deaths following the loss of social security payments before 2015 have been shredded, officials have blamed data protection laws. 

However, the data watchdog has said there was absolutely no requirement to destroy the reports by any particular date and that a “public interest” exemption could have been used.

The Department would have known that. 

Labour MP Stephen Timms, the chairman of the Commons work and pensions committee, agreed it was a possible cover-up, saying: “I’m very sympathetic with that”

Timms, who said his committee would demand answers about the shredded reports, pointed out a scathing National Audit Office report (NAO) had warned the DWP was unable to show it was learning lessons.

Having been “very secretive”, it was now “very reluctantly” becoming more open, he said – but “trying to keep things as hush-hush as possible – and it’s not good enough”.

“It all underlines a lack of seriousness by the department about putting things right when they go wrong.”

The NAO investigation into the information DWP collects on deaths by suicide of social security claimants found that the department has internally reviewed 69 cases in which “alleged department activity” may have been among the reasons for such death. However, it said ‘gaps in reporting’ meant the actual figure was likely to be higher. The report said  said the department did not seek to draw trends from the findings of internal reviews, meaning that “systemic issues which might be brought to light through these reviews could be missed.”

Timms added: “The law does not specify five years or six years and this kind of information should be held for longer,” in response to the DWP’s claim that data rules required the destruction of old investigations.

“In any case, the lessons learned from these reviews, there’s no reason why they should be destroyed. They should be kept and progress on implementing improvements monitored.”

A freedom of information (FoI) response to a campaigner revealed that up to 49 secret reviews carried out before 2015 were destroyed.

More than 100 have taken place over the last decade, amid growing concern over deaths linked to harsh benefit cuts and sanctions introduced by the Conservatives.

Labour MP Debbie Abrahams fought back tears in the Commons as she read out a list of 24 people who died after problems with their benefits, this week.

Regarding the 69 reviews since 2015, she told ministers: “This is just the tip of the iceberg. We do not even know the actual number of people who have taken their own life as a result of what they went through.”

In a statement, the DWP said: “We take these reviews extremely seriously and ensure cases are investigated and concluded and any lessons learned.”

However, that is clearly untrue. In fact the department and government ministers have consistently denied a ‘causal link’ between their policies and an increasing mortality rate, while also refusing to allow an independent investigation into the deaths.

The NAO criticised the DWP for lacking clear guidance on when a case should be investigated and for not having any “robust record” of contact from coroners about suicide cases, which it said meant some cases flagged up by coroners may not have resulted in an internal review being initiated.

It’s worse than disgraceful that people are dying because of  draconian policies and the actions of a system that should be supporting them. 

Many of us have called for the DWP to be held accountable through robust independent inquiry and regulation. The department has shown a consistent lack of transparency when reporting on systematic problems that have put people at risk, and has refused to open itself up to meaningful independent scrutiny.

Earlier this month, I reported that the DWP has been accused of altering disability assessment reports, to reduce or end peoples’ lifeline support. It was alleged that officials within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have edited or entirely removed thousands of work capability assessment reports submitted by privately contracted ‘independent’ healthcare professionals. This is another indication of the complete lack of transparency around DWP decision making.

The consequences of this government’s draconian social security policies

Many people have died since the welfare ‘reforms’ were hammered through parliament, despite wide opposition. 

Relatives of a man who starved to death after his social security was cut are taking legal action against the DWP.

Errol Graham’s family said they hoped the case would overhaul the system “to better protect vulnerable claimants”.

Errol’s daughter-in-law Alison Turner has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the DWP, arguing the termination of benefits for someone in Mr Graham’s circumstances were unlawful.

She also argues secretive investigations and reviews being conducted by the DWP into benefit-related deaths are unlawful and must be reformed.

Errol Graham weighed just four-and-a-half stone when his body was found by bailiffs who had knocked down his front door to evict him. He had just a couple of out-of-date tins of fish left in his flat, because the DWP had wrongly stopped his ESA. He starved to death, and his rent support had been stopped as a consequence of his ESA claim being ended. The DWP failed to follow safeguarding rules in their haste to end his claim. He was also denied PIP, which left him without any income whatsoever. 

DWP civil servants had failed to seek further medical evidence from his GP, just as in many other tragic cases that have sparked repeated calls for an independent inquiry into links between the deaths of claimants and the actions and failings of the DWP. The government have consistently refused to acknowledge a correlation between their actions and the death of disabled people, so have no intention of investigating the evidence. 

Assistant coroner Dr Elizabeth Didcock, who heard the inquest, was told that the DWP stopped Graham’s ESA entitlement – and backdated that decision to the previous month – after making two unsuccessful visits to his home to ask why he had not attended a face-to-face work capability assessment (WCA) on 31 August 2017. The inquest heard that it was standard DWP procedure to go ahead with stopping the benefits of a claimant marked on the system as vulnerable after two failed safeguarding visits.

However, the DWP (somehow) managed to stop an ESA payment that had been due to be credited to his bank account on 17 October, the same day officials made the second unsuccessful safeguarding visit.

DWP’s own rules state that it should make both safeguarding visits before stopping the benefits of a vulnerable claimant.

Because Errol lost his ESA entitlement, his housing benefit was also stopped. His family says he had also been found ineligible for PIP. Deprived of all financial support, experiencing significant mental distress and unable or unwilling to seek help, he slowly starved to death. He was 57. His body was discovered on 20 June 2018 when bailiffs arrived at his Nottingham council flat to evict him for non-payment of rent. 

His benefits had been stopped even though he had been receiving incapacity benefit, and then ESA, for many years as a result of enduring mental illness and distress that had led to him being sectioned. Errol was clearly extremely vulnerable.

He had also told the DWP on an ESA form three years earlier that he could not cope with “unexpected changes”, adding: “Upsets my life completely. Feel under threat and upset…”

He added: “Cannot deal with social situations. Keep myself to myself. Do not engage with strangers. Have no social life. Feel anxiety and panic in new situations.”

The assistant coroner said: “There simply is not sufficient evidence as to how he was functioning, however, it is likely that his mental health was poor at this time – he does not appear to be having contact with other people, and he did not seek help from his GP or support agencies as he had done previously.”

She concluded in the narrative verdict, delivered last June, that the “safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it”.

Those ‘holes’ are a consequence of deliberate, ideologically driven anti-welfare policies. They have intended consequences. The government assumes that people treated unfairly will appeal wrong decisions. Firstly, many people are far too ill to cope with the stress of that process. Secondly, it should never be primarily the role of courts to allocate social security fairly. That is the official role and purpose of the DWP.  However, the government department is clearly failing to fulfil its role. This is because the neoliberal ideology that drives austerity policies is incompatible with the central principles of social security. 

She continued: “He needed the DWP to obtain more evidence [from his GP] at the time his ESA was stopped, to make a more informed decision about him, particularly following the failed safeguarding visits.”

She said that a consultant psychiatrist had told the inquest “that Errol was vulnerable to life stressors” and that it was “likely that this loss of income, and housing, were the final and devastating stressors, that had a significant effect on his mental health”.

But she decided not to write a regulation 28 report demanding changes to DWP’s safeguarding procedures to “prevent future deaths” because the department insisted that it was already completing a review of its safeguarding, which was supposed to finish last autumn.

The DWP had promised her it would “listen to clients and to those representing them, and… ensure that the DWP was focused on support and safety for vulnerable people”.

Dr Didcock insisted that this commitment “must be converted into robust policy and guidance for DWP staff” and that the DWP must ensure that “all evidence that can reasonably be gathered is put together about a client, before a benefit is ceased”.

Disability News Service also highlights that the death of Errol Graham closely mirrors other tragedies caused by the DWP’s repeated refusal to make significant improvements to its safeguarding policies and practices.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said the network was “absolutely devastated and saddened beyond words to hear of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Graham”.

She said: “We are enraged that the DWP continues to treat the lives of people who live with mental distress as disposable.

“This level of cruelty is outside of anything that would happen in a civilised society.

“The fact that Mr Graham had not responded to attempts to contact him following his failure to attend the work capability assessment (WCA) should have raised alarm bells over his safety, but instead the DWP took the opportunity to stop his social security entitlements.”

And there’s the truth: the government have created a hostile environment for disabled people that is heavily weighted towards preventing successful claims, taking its lessons from rogue multinational insurance companies such as Unum, who have systematically employed strategies to pay out insurance only as the last resort, rather than on the basis of need. 

Furthermore, the DWP and Conservative ministers have consistently demonstrated a refusal to acknowledge the widespread distress, harm and death that their policies are causing, despite many challenges to their narrative of denial. Nor is it likely the government will address the complete lack of honesty, transparency and accountability operating at the centre of the DWP, of their own volition.

The government’s indifference and lack of remorse related to the clear correlation between policy and increased mortality is extremely worrying.

That is why we must continue to campaign, raise awareness and stand up for ill, disabled and vulnerable citizens in the UK. 

Errol's letter

Errol Graham’s letter, which was released through his daughter-in-law’s lawyers, Leigh Day , is a moving window into the world of someone with severe mental illness trying to cope with the hostile environment imposed on vulnerable citizens because of government policies. (Picture from the Mirror).

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

DonatenowButton

 

Eugenicist adviser leaves eugenicist government of ‘misfits and weirdos’

In 2016, I wrote a critique of a very controversial book called The Welfare Trait: How State Benefits Affect Personality, by Adam Perkins, a lecturer in neurobiology. He claimed that generous welfare states create an “employment–resistant personality profile”, and that social security is “warping the personality profile of the population”. This, he argued, is because children of claimants ‘inherit’ the personality trait. He also stated his concern that people with ‘desirable’ traits of ‘solid citizenship’ were having fewer children than those in receipt of welfare, a view threaded though other works he produced. 

The Adam Smith Institute had posted a gushing endorsement of the throwback eugenic text. However, the review was removed after Perkins’ book met a wall of criticism from many of us. Andy Fugard, for example, pointed out Perkins’ inappropriate and inept application of statistical techniques and flawed methodology more generally, and the misreporting of results.

I wrote more than one critical article about the essentialism, ideological bias and other issues raised in Perkins’ book.

Nothing is ever really removed from the internet, so I have updated my article with a hyperlink to an archived copy of the review. It was written by none other than Andrew Sabisky. His eugenic credentials were already archived, hidden in plain view, in 2016.

I’ve been writing critically about the re-emergence of eugenic beliefs in the UK for the last decade, and warning of the consequences. 

The current controversy around Sabisky

Sabisky

The prime minister came under increasing pressure to sack Sabisky, after it emerged he had said that young people from poor backgrounds should undergo compulsory contraception to prevent “a permanent underclass”. Sabisky isn’t the only government advisor who holds the eugenic belief, like Perkins, that selective breeding in human populations will promote ‘desirable’ characteristics. 

Sabisky has since resigned. But the government have so far refused to condemn his eugenic comments.

The controversial government ex-adviser also claimed that rich people are more intelligent than poor people. He told an interviewer: “Eugenics are about selecting ‘for’ good things.” Speaking to Schools Week in 2016, Sabiski also said: “Intelligence is largely inherited and correlates with better outcomes: physical health, income, lower mental illness.”

If that deterministic argument were true, the government would have no grounds for formulating policies to punish poor people for their ‘irresponsible choices’. Because people wouldn’t have any choices to make. Having enough money to meet your fundamental survival needs ‘correlates’ with better outcomes’, too. There’s a whole history of empirical evidence to verify that, and none that demonstrates inherited IQ is or ought to be the reason why some people have wealth and power and other people are starving and destitute.

In the same interview, Sabisky proposed giving all children modafinil, a highly risky ‘mind-enhancing’ drug that cuts the need for sleep by two-thirds, even at the cost of “a dead kid once a year”. Why would ANYONE do that? The drug is known to cause Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare and life threatening condition, often caused by an unpredictable adverse reaction to certain medications. 

The syndrome often begins with flu-like symptoms, followed by a red or purple rash that spreads and forms blisters. The affected skin eventually dies and peels off. Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a medical emergency that requires treatment in hospital, often in intensive care or a burns unit. This scary government advisor is clearly riding the fabled rubber bicycle. He lacks coherence, but he makes up for it with his brazen advocacy of despotism. 

The Conservatives have always been fond of Charles Murray’s ranting white supremicism, I’m sure Sabisky fits right in with the elitists in power. Murray, an American sociologist, exhumed social Darwinism and gave the bones of it originally to Bush and Thatcher to re-cast in the form of a poverty of political responsibility and the ideology of blame. Murray’s culture of poverty theory popularised notions on the right that poverty is caused by an individual’s personal deficits; that the poor have earned their position in society; the poor deserve to be poor because this is a reflection of their lack of qualities, poor character and level of abilities.

Of course, this perspective also assumes that the opposite is true: wealthy and “successful” people are so because they are more talented, motivated and less lazy, and are thus more deserving. This is a view shared by most Conservatives.

Sabisky is merely a symptom, not the whole disease.

Just like the widely discredited social Darwinism of the Victorian era, proposed by the likes of Conservative sociologist Herbert Spencer, (who originally coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” and not Darwin, as is widely held) these resurrected ideas have a considerable degree of popularity in upper-class and elite Conservative circles, where such perspectives provide a justification for privilege in the context of a population that is becoming increasingly impoverished. In addition, poor communities are seen as socialising environments where values such as fatalism are transmitted from generation to “workshy” generation.  

Perish the thought that government policies, which shift public funds to private, well-filled bank accounts under the guise of austerity may be a key cause of growing poverty and inequality. The Tories have taken a lot for nothing in return.

Boris Johnson also claims rich people are more intelligent than others. And so does Dominic Cummings, who recently called to sign up “misfits and weirdos” to help him “transform government.” This is a government that so utterly despises ‘ordinary working people’. The same people the government needs the vote from to stay in power. The vote is gained through dishonesty, dividing the population, using diversionary scapegoats and ‘enemies of the people’ to ensure people direct their anger at others rather than at a government whose policies have created the massive inequalities and increasing absolute poverty that the public are angry about.  

Who can forget the “unpleasant, careless elitism” of Boris Johnson, displayed in 2014, when he mocked the 16% “of our species” with an IQ below 85 and called for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130. This flawed, deterministic, eugenic view of people is shared by many in the Tory party, who fail to recognise that IQ tests reveal only how well people perform IQ tests.

A third of wealthy people inherited their wealth, they didn’t earn it by having alleged fabulous personality traits. In act from what I have seen over the last decade, being very rich is correlated with a malignant superiority complex, a malicious contempt for the public and ‘ordinary people, an obscene and obsessive hoarding trait and a psychopathic level of ruthlessness, manipulation, dishonesty, indifference, lack of empathy and a lacking of compassion. 

Johnson made the remarks about the ‘virtues’ of ruthless greed during a speech in honour of Margaret Thatcher, declaring that inequality was essential to foster “the spirit of envy” and hailing greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”

Downing Street has declined to say which policy area Sabisky is working in, but confirmed he was a contractor working on ‘specific projects’ rather than in the team of permanent advisers. The government have refused to comment on the controversy provoked by his recruitment. I bet Dominic Cummings has urged the party to remain silent. After all, it doesn’t pay to dig a hole even deeper when you want to escape it without being noticed.

Downing Street have also previously declined to comment on eugenic comments written by Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings. His comments, in a 237-page essay written in 2013, were disclosed by the Guardian long before Cummings was installed in Downing Street.

cummings-gove

and:

cummings-herit

The bottom line is that this is how the entire government thinks. The Conservative’s culture of entitlement is propagated by the employment of arrogant like-minded strategic ‘advisors’ that design justification narratives to prop up the elite, to protect the balance of power and to present polished lies and excuses regarding draconian policies aimed at disempowering and dispossessing the bulk of the population. That is the current status quo.

Sabisky demonstrates all too well that bigots are gifted with a multi-tasking trait, when he also controversially claimed that women’s sport is is more comparable to the Paralympics than it is to men’s.

This deep black hole of human kindness also suggested more black people are “close to mental retardation”. Crass misogyny, crass prejudice towards disabled people. Class prejudice.

sabisky

It gets worse. Sabisky’s comments on Reddit, according to the National Scot newspaper, include ‘advice’ given to a correspondent on ‘rewiring’ his Mormon wife into “39 flavours of slut on command”: Under the username thedovelamenting, Sabisky responds by urging him to try to “rewire” her brain “to the point where she no longer, consciously or subconsciously sees a conflict between a good Christian woman and serving you up 39 flavours of slut on command.” There were other similar comments from his account.

It’s reported that Sabisky deleted the posts after being contacted for comment.

Sabisky is profiled on ResearchGate as being a member of University College London (UCL) in the Department of Psychology and Human Development.  

His presence at the secret Intelligence conferences held on UCL grounds is unsurprising, given it is mostly attended by scientifically semi-literate cranks, who are white supremacists pretending to be something else – not just ‘weird’, but ignorant and bigoted. Sabisky is listed as a speaker at the second Conference on Intelligence in 2015, on ‘The efficacy of early childhood interventions in improving cognitive outcomes’. That is when he first proposed the ‘intervention’ of mass-medicating children with modafinil.

Speakers at the conferences had included blogger Emil Kirkegaard, who has advocated the rape of sleeping children by paedophiles as a way to relieve “urges” (he later said he did not support the legalisation of paedophilia but advocated “frank discussion of paedophilia-related issues”), and Richard Lynn, who has a long-term association with Mankind Quarterly, a journal that has been criticised for support eugenics . 

The conferences had been booked, as external events, by UCL lecturer Dr James Thompson, and held in secret, until Toby Young – who has previously written about “progressive eugenics” – attended one and after being told not to write about it, wrote about it. Sabisky, like Cummings, has no formal training or record of study in the disciplines that they both claim to understand. Earlier this month Johnson claimed that his government “will be governed by science and not by mumbo-jumbo”.

The Tories are absolute masters of mumbo-jumbo and pseudocscientific bullshit. To date, the government have propped up justification of draconian policies on the scaffold of pseudoscience, with no evidence to support their policy decisions. Or their superiority complex.

The Conservatives are only interested in weaponising such pseudoscientific nonsense for political gain and power. The role of advisors like Cummings and Sabisky is to break down traditional ethical boundaries and push the public towards compliance with the government’s  ill intent.

Sabisky, who calls himself a “super-forecaster”, has also ridiculed the “net zero” climate change target. I think he’s more of a far right super-authoritarian, neoliberal numpty, personally.

Sabisky wrote on Cummings’s website in 2014: “One way to get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass would be to legally enforce universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty.

“Vaccination laws give it a precedent, I would argue.”

Super-authoritarian, as I said.

In another blogpost, discussing female genital mutilation, he claimed: “It is still unclear to what extent FGM represents a serious risk to young girls, raised in the UK, of certain minority group origins. Much of the hue and cry looks more like a moral panic.”

Seems like the master of creating folk devils and generating moral panic about population ‘traits’ is a self serving, rank hypocrite.

Jon Trickett, Labour’s Cabinet Office spokesman, said: “There are really no words to describe Boris Johnson’s appointment, as one of his senior advisers, of a man who is on record as supporting the forced sterilisation of people he considers not worthy.

“He must of course be removed from this position immediately.” 

Cummings, once senior adviser to the UK Secretary of State for Education, provoked a a lot of complaints by allegedly claiming that “a child’s performance has more to do with genetic makeup than the standard of his or her education.” In response, he insisted that he had “warned of the dangers of public debates being confused by misunderstanding of such technical terms.” He’s a technocrat who thinks we should re-model our society based on his theories of bullshit and lip curling, supremacist pseudoscience.

Now, Cummings’ eugenic approach is dangerously affecting public policy, imposed by an emboldened authoritarian government that blatantly makes eugenic association of genes with intelligence, intelligence with worth, and worth with the right to rule.

Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Biology, a detailed analysis of Cummings’ comments in New Scientist, concluding:

“Whatever intelligence is, these failures show that to hunt for it in the genes is an endeavour driven more by ideological commitment than either biological or social scientific judgement. To suggest that identifying such genes will enable schools to develop personalised educational programmes to match them, as Cummings does, is sheer fantasy, perhaps masking a desire to return to the old days of the 11 plus. Heritability neither defines nor limits educability.”

Intelligence isn’t something you have, it is something you must do. All an IQ test can demonstrate is how good someone is at performing IQ tests. 

The eugenics of indifference

One of humanity’s greatest assets is our diversity. History shows us that the results of elitist ‘selective breeding’, narrowing the gene pool has been provably disastrous – from the “Habsburg jaw”, incapacitating disabilities amongst the rulers of ancient Egypt to Prince Waldemar of Prussia’s death from his wounds on a battlefield in 1945having bled to death because inherited haemophilia from Queen Victoria’s genetic line.

Hitler’s operationalization of eugenics with such terrible consequences convinced post war societies that such steps were inhumane, unethical, and totally unacceptable. Universal human rights were drafted, so that such events as the Holocaust would never happen again. 

Suella Fernandez and fellow MP John Penrose opposed the EU Charter of Rights because, among other things, it disallows eugenics. The Conservatives have imposed two eugenic policies on the poorest citizens: the restriction of child tax credits and universal credit to only the first two children in a family, and the other being the benefits cap, which discriminates against larger families. Both policies were explicitly designed to “change the behaviours” of poorer families, to stop them having ‘too many’ children. It seems that Perkins’ book persuaded a small scientifically illiterate but very technocratic minority, after all. 

Ministers promoted the policy, along with the benefit cap, to make households ‘take responsibility’, by teaching them that “children cost money” and discouraging them from having a third child, and from assuming that a mythically discrete class of people – ‘the taxpayer’ – will ‘let you avoid the consequences of such choices others have to make’. Presumably by ‘funding’ welfare – a state provision that is and always has been funded by the public for the public. Most people who claim financial support have worked and paid into the social security system, many move in and out of insecure, low paid jobs. 

Working families on low wages have been hardest hit by the policy changes.  

The hardworking taxpayer myth is founded on a false dichotomy, since it is estimated that around 70% of households claim benefits of one kind or another at some point in their lives. In the current climate of poor pay, poor working conditions, job insecurity, and high living costs, the myth of an all pervasive welfare-dependent something for nothing culture is being used to foster prejudice and resentment towards those unfortunate enough to be out of work. It also serves to bolster right-wing justification narratives that are entirely ideologically driven, which are aimed at dismantling the welfare state, while concurrently undermining public support for it.

Infrahumanisation

A few years back, one Tory councillor called for the extermination of gypsies. In their manifesto last year, the government have pledged to target the Roma, gypsy and travelling community, to confiscate their belonging and drive them from their homes and off their land.  

More than one Tory MP has called for illegal and discriminatory levels of pay for disabled people. Apparently we aren’t worth paying the minimum wage. A Conservative deputy mayor said, unforgivably, that the “best thing for disabled children is the guillotine.

And who could forget Ben Bradley, the Tories’ youth supremo for ill-advised blog posts advocating vasectomies for the unemployed, more recently.

These weren’t “slips”, it’s patently clear that the Conservatives believe these comments are acceptable, and we need only look at the discriminatory nature of policies such as the legal aid bill, the wider welfare “reforms” and research the consequences of austerity for the most economically vulnerable citizens – those with the “least broad shoulders” –  to understand that these comments reflect how Conservatives think.

This is a government that is using public prejudice to justify massive socio-economic inequalities and their own policies that are creating a steeply hierarchical society based on social Darwinist survival of the fittest neoliberal “small state” principles.

The Tory creation of socio-economic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of vulnerable social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the Tories’ welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and provision.

The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of libertarian paternalism) all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision and public services, and nudging the public to accept the destruction of the social gains of our post war democratic settlement .

Hannah Arendt wrote extensively about totalitarian regimes, in particular Nazism and Stalinism, which she distinguishes from Italian Fascism, because Hitler and Stalin sought to eliminate all restraints upon the power of the State and furthermore, they sought to dominate and control every aspect of everyone’s life. There are parallels here, especially when one considers the continued attempts at dismantling democratic processes and safeguards since 2010, and the introduction of behaviourist strategies (nudge, for example) to align public perceptions and behaviours with politically designed outcomes, without the public’s consent.

Many policies are aimed at ‘incentivising’ certain behaviours and perceptions of citizens, using psychology, particularly behaviourism, to align them with political and defined economic goals. Citizens are increasingly seen by government as a means to an end.

Jacque-Philippe Leyens coined the term infrahumanisation to distinguish a form of dehumanisation from the more extreme kind associated with genocide.

However, I don’t regard one form of dehumanisation as being discrete from another, since studies show consistently that it tends to escalate when social prejudice increases. It’s a process involving accumulation.

According to infrahumanisation theory, the denial of uniquely human emotions and qualities to an outgroup is reflective of a tacit belief that they are less human than the ingroup

Disabled people, poor people, homeless people and welfare claimants are the frequently outgrouped. It is these most stigmatised groups that some people seem to have the most difficulty imagining having the same uniquely human qualities as they do. This removes the “infrahumanised” group from the bonds, moral protection and obligations of our community, because outgrouping de-empathises us.

This would explain why some people attempt to justify the cuts, which clearly fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable citizens. This may be why fighting the austerity cuts is much more difficult than simply fighting myths and political propaganda. I think the government are very aware of the infrahumanisation tendency among groups and are manipulating it to create and sustain division, because growing social inequality generates a political necessity for social prejudices to use as justification narratives.

During a debate in the House of Lords, David Freud described the changing number of disabled people likely to receive the employment and support allowance as a “bulge of, effectively, stock.  Not people, but stock.

After an outraged response, this was actually transcribed by Hansard as stopped”, rendering the sentence meaningless.  He is not the only person in the Department for Work and Pensions who uses this profoundly dehumanising term. The government website describes disabled people entering the government’s work programme for between three and six months as 3/6Mth stock.

This dehumanised stock are a source of profit for the companies running the programme. The Department’s delivery plan also recommends using  credit reference agency data to cleanse the stock of fraud and error”.

Cleanse the stock. Horrific, dehumanising language.

This type of linguistic downgrading of human life requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising socio-political system using a dehumanising language, and it is becoming familiar and pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives.

Until someone like Johnson, Sabisky, Cummings or Freud pushes our boundaries of decency a little too far. Then we suddenly see it, and wonder how such oppressive, prejudiced and discriminatory comments could ever be deemed acceptable and how anyone could possibly think they would get away with such blatantly offensive rhetoric without being challenged.

It’s because they have got away with less blatantly offensive comments previously: it’s just that they pushed more gently and so we didn’t see.

It’s also the case that the government distorts people’s perceptions of the  aims of their policies by using techniques of neutralisationAn example of this method of normalising prejudice is the use of the words “incentivise” and “help” in the context of benefit sanctions, which as we know are intentionally extremely punitive, and people have died as a consequence of having their lifeline support withdrawn.

As Gordon Allport’s scale of prejudice indicates, hate speech and incitement to violence and ultimately, genocide, start from often subliminal expressions of prejudice and subtle dehumanisation, which escalate. Germany didn’t wake up one morning to find Hitler had arranged the murder of millions of people. It happened by a process of almost inscrutable advances, as many knew it would, and was happening while they knew about it. And many opposed it, too.

The dignity and equal worth of every human being is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equal worth of all human beings.

As a so-called civilised society, so should we.

Allport's ladder


 

Boris Johnson Leaves For PMQs

Here’s a list of some of the controversial things Boris Johnson has said:

In August 2018, he wrote a column in the Telegraph opposing Denmark’s ban on burqas and niqabs in public spaces, though he still believed it was “absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.” 

He added that if a constituent came to his surgery wearing a burqa or niqab, he would “feel fully entitled to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly” and added female students who turn up to school or university “looking like a bank robber” should be asked to uncover their faces.

He told LBC: “Keeping numbers high on the streets is certainly important. But it depends where you spend the money and where you deploy the officers.

“And one comment I would make is I think an awful lot of money and an awful lot of police time now goes into these historic offences and all this mullarkey.

“You know, £60m I saw was being spaffed up a wall on some investigation into historic child abuse.”

In 2002, Johnson wrote in the Telegraph: “It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-wearing picaninnies.”

The word “picaninnies” is a racist term used to describe black children.

In the same column he also talked about then prime minister Tony Blair, and wrote: “They say he is shortly off to the Congo. No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and their tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.”

Johnson later apologised for these comments.

Writing for The Spectator in 2002, he suggested: “The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore.”

“Consider Uganda, pearl of Africa, as an example of the British record. The British planted coffee and cotton and tobacco, and they were broadly right. If left to their own devices, the natives would rely on nothing but the instant carbohydrate gratification of the plantain.

“The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.”

He has been criticised for allowing a number of articles deemed racist by some, to make it on to the website, including one article about racial eugenics that said “orientals” had “larger brains and higher IQ scores” while “blacks are at the other pole.”

Johnson was force to apologise for comments he made about the country in 2006: “For 10 years we in the Tory party have become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing, and so it is with a happy amazement that we watch as the madness engulfs the Labour Party.”

After then US president Obama removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval office, Johnson wrote a column in The Sun in which he claimed the move was “a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British Empire – of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.”

He was accused of racism for this comment, unsurprisingly. 

In May 2004 he wrote a column for the Telegraph about obesity titled: “Face it: it’s all your own fat fault.”

When he became the new foreign secretary, Johnson inaugurated his new position by penning a poem about Erdogan after an attempted coup in Turkey that left more than 161 people dead.

In the poem that indicated Johnson’s woeful lack of diplomacy, he called the president a “wankerer” had wrote that he “sowed his wild oats with the help of a goat.”

There’s something missing from Boris Johnson. He has no moral boundaries, empathy or remorse.


 

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

protest pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The impact of Conservative policy on free speech in universities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Left wing terrorist

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

718 XR leaked doc

Part of the leaked document.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

Footnote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They got their own way.

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

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

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

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

63606308539839586285265400_revolving-door-1

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


 

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

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Woman with rare heart condition that causes unpredictable multiple health problems is denied PIP

gail

Gail Ward. Photo: Facebook

A woman with a rare heart condition, which can cause her to collapse unpredictably at any moment, has spoken about her battle with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to get the support she desperately needs.

Gail Ward was told that she did not qualify for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), despite living with the potentially life-threatening heart condition called Prinzmetal’s angina, a rare form of angina where attacks can occur even when she is resting. Remarkably, Gail was told by the DWP that she doesn’t qualify for PIP.

Prinzmetal’s angina can cause arteries in the heart to spasm during times of stress or cold weather, which severely limits a person’s independence and can also be life-threatening. It causes cardiac arrhythmias and can lead to heart attack if the blood flow to the heart deprives the organ of oxygen. The condition may sometimes arise when someone already has a serious form of Raynaud’s phenomemon, where the blood supply to the extremities is closed down because of cold or stress, causing a painful spasm. But it is a relatively rare condition.

Gail, who many of my readers will know, is also a respected disability rights campaigner. She had been claiming Disability Living Allowance for 20 years, but after being ordered to attend a mandatory reassessment for PIP, she was told that her support would stop because she ‘failed to meet the qualifying criteria.’

Gail told the Chronicle Live about her condition: “It occurs when you are resting and you don’t get any warning. It is not like normal angina.

“I can be in the sitting room having a conversation and the next minute I have collapsed.

“I need to wear a pendant bracelet in case I collapse but sometimes I don’t even get to press that.

“It has such an impact on my life. If I have a severe attack I could not even put a sentence together but find that if I rest up it allows the body to repair itself.”

Gail, who also has arthritis and hip dysplasia, among other health problems, say’s that living with the condition leaves her feeling tired and drained and that this has been exacerbated by her battle with the DWP.

She appealed the DWP’s decision. After waiting 15 months for her case to be heard at a social security tribunal, Gail was told that her appeal had been successful and that her benefits would be reinstated.

Commenting on her own experience and that of other people who struggle to get the support they are entitled to, Gail said: “Disabled people are losing their mobility cars, losing disability entitlement when they are moving to PIP.

“It is a different criteria. It is basically about what you can and can’t do. It is a disability analysis, not a medical.”

In 2013, the government began to rollout PIP for adults to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA). One of the purposes of PIP was to reduce spending, with the intention of costing 20% less. Therefore, the conditions to satisfy in order to be entitled to the support were made stricter.

Gail is right. The assessments are not remotely ‘medical’ in nature, and the evidence from doctors employed within the NHS, including diagnosis and details of symptoms, are often ignored. Instead, the DWP contracted assessments are geared towards “objective” snapshot accounts of how someone’s disability affects their day to day living.

It also emphasises the professional gap between NHS medical professionals and the “health professional” employed by the state to carry out these functional capacity assessments in the context of a neoliberal welfare state, and medical health professionals, whose wider work is generally not directly linked to the politically defined conditionality of welfare support.

That said, PIP is a non-means tested support to help people maintain as much independence as they can, whether in work or not. It stands to reason that someone who is too ill to work will need more support because of their loss of earnings. 

Gail said: “People with severe disabilities are losing their DLA after being on it for 20 or 30 years.”

She added: “I would like the DWP to clarify why they refuse to address poor quality assessor report failings and decision maker decisions, which put disabled people at risk of financial hardship.

“I would like answers as to why the DWP stop the mobility component money from date of applying.

“I applied in July 2018 but the assessment was in October 2018, yet if a claimant is successful the mobility component is paid from decision date.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support they’re entitled to.

“Decisions to award PIP are based on all of the evidence available to us at the time.

“Ms Ward has been awarded the enhanced rates to PIP for daily living and mobility after additional evidence was provided.

“She continued to be supported with Employment Support Allowance while awaiting the outcome of her PIP tribunal.”

This standard response doesn’t offer any explanation as to why the DWP decided that someone who they have already deemed more than once as not being well enough to work somehow failed to qualify for Personal Independence Payment.

Gail was subjected to a loss of income, her motability entitlement and high levels of stress for almost a year and a half. It’s a well known fact that stress exacerbates illness, and particularly her heart condition.

Furthermore, it is the decision of the ‘health professional’ (HP) to “determine whether any additional evidence needs to be gathered from health or other professionals supporting the claimant.”

Often at the appeal stage, it turns out HPs frequently decide not to ask for further evidence.  The DWP must take all medical evidence into account when making a decision about PIP claims. Yet the DWP say: “In many cases, appeals are granted because further medical evidence is provided.” 

This indicates that people are having to go to court, often waiting months for their appeal to be heard, because of deliberately under-informed, poorly evidenced DWP decisions. 

Furthermore, it says in the government guidance to GPs: “Your patient should complete the forms to support their [PIP] claim using information that they have to hand, and should not ask you for information to help them do this, or to complete the forms yourself.” “

After all this time, you would expect that this problem would have been addressed, especially given that the person who suffers as a consequence is always the ill and disabled person. 

Anyone would think this is part of a broader enduring government strategy to ensure as few people as possible are awarded the disability support they are entitled to. After all, it takes immense strength for someone who is very ill to fight unfair decisions at tribunal, and not everyone does so.

Many die while awaiting the outcome of their claim for PIP.  Up to January 2019, more than 17,000 people died while waiting to hear whether their claim had been successful, it emerged.

Among those were people with terminal conditions, but who did not meet the government’s strict ‘six month’ rule – people can only be ‘fast tracked’ for support if they are expected to die within six months. However, doctors cannot predict the precise timing of terminally ill people’s demise. Many campaigners have been pushing for this restriction to be lifted, because it’s irrational, inhumane and unreasonable. 

Ministers have been accused of “failing people at the most vulnerable point in their lives” after the figures revealed 17,070 disability claimants have died while waiting for decisions on their PIP claims since 2013.

One in four (4,330) of those who died were suffering from a form of cancer, while 270 had anxiety or depressive disorders. In more than half of cases (9,020), the main disability was not even recorded.

Last year, shadow disabilities Marsha de Cordova accused the government of allowing a “cruel and callous” PIP assessment process to create a “hostile environment for disabled people”.  

She is absolutely right.


 

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

How Britain voted 2019 age-01

Voting preferences according to age in the 2019 general election.

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

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

George Monbiot’s view

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Mclauchlin’s view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Britain voted 2019 education level-01


Educational attainment and voting preferences in the last general election.


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PM having a friendly selfie moment on This Morning

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

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

The media’s complicity in a strategic disinformation campaign

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

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

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

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

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

None of this was true.

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

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

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

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

That will be just Matt Hancock, then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She later claimed her account had been hacked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The misleading ads include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tories’ ambition is a one party state

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Page 48 of the Conservative manifesto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not a democracy, by the way.

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

—–

Related
 

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

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

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

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

Defending disinformation against democracy: the Integrity Initiative

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

The interdependence of the PR industry and neoliberal Conservative governments

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

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

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

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

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

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

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

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

This morning I came across this on Twitter:

John Mann@LordJohnMann
 

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

Marlon Solomon@supergutman
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DonatenowButton

 

Yer Ma Votes Labour And Is Real.

Yer Ma Votes Labour

First, there was a genuine story. A small child was left on the ground in a hospital in Leeds. Nobody disputes this fact. This is the same pattern that has happened throughout the Campaign: some verifiable fact becomes the anchor for a huge press story about the fact. The fact is never denied. But the story around the story becomes the story and obscures the fact. The fact is that a small child was left on the ground in a hospital in Leeds.

The fact is that Matt Hancock lives in his West Suffolk parliamentary constituency. Sheree Jenner, the Secretary of Doctor Alistair NL Hepburn exists. Doctor Hepburn has a Private Practice and has appeared in press release with Theresa May in Suffolk. The same Suffolk as Matt Hancock is a Member of Parliament for. Again these are facts. They do not explain how Sheree Jenner-Hepburn was invented.

Sheree Hepburn was given an award alongside with Doctor Hepburn, in 2013, by The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. They appeared in the Worthing Herald with Theresa May. Sheree Hepburn exists. Sheree Hepburn, Phlebotomist, The Barn Surgery, Ferring exists. Alongside Doctor Clare Farrer – GP, the Barn Surgery. This, still, does not bring anybody any closer to knowing how Sheree Jenner-Hepburn was invented.

It is possible that the Secretary of Doctor Hepburn and the Phlebotomist are the same person. It is also possible that the names were put together. A fake identity. Which is the kind of thing that Leveson heard about from Facebook Director Lord Allan in 2012. It was the kind of thing that the then Culture Secretary Matt Hancock was exposed to on a daily basis.

Matt Hancock quoted a 2016 report by Sir Joseph Pilling that concluded IPSO had “largely complied with Leveson’s recommendations and that was part of the case for no Leveson Two. Hancock declared the Government-led public inquiry into press regulation found two thirds of direct respondents were against reopening the Leveson Inquiry versus one eighth who were in favour. The inquiry received some 174,000 respondents – both direct and indirect – on the matter of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. Section 40 would have forced newspapers not signed up to a Royal Charter regulator to pay both sides’ legal fees in privacy and libel battles, win or lose. Matt Hancock said commencing it would “exacerbate the problems the press face rather than solve them”. The Government decided not to commence Section 40 – despite having passed the law.

What relevance does that have to Sheree Jenner-Hepburn? Quite simply, Sheree Jenner-Hepburn would have been liable for the story told. Here comes the genius part: Matt Hancock was at the centre of the process. Matt Hancock understands the implications and processes around the existence of faked identities such as Sheree Jenner-Hepburn. The concerning process of two real identities being merged and used for Journalistic ends amounts to digital identity fraud. Like a deepfake image but with people.

Matt Hancock is no stranger to the possibilities of digital wrongdoing. In 2018 Matt Hancock he, apparently, endorsed a mobile phone health app marketed by subscription health service company Babylon. Justin Madders wrote to Theresa May accusing Hancock of repeatedly endorsing Babylon’s digital products contrary to ministerial guidelines: that ministers should not “normally accept invitations to act as patrons of, or otherwise offer support to, pressure groups or organisations dependent in whole or in part on government funding”. Matt Hancock also launched his own smartphone app in 2018. Privacy rights group Big Brother Watch found the app collect its users’ photographs, friend details, check-ins, and contact information. While he had previously said the NHS would face “no privatisation on my watch”, Matt Hancock criticised in April 2019 for allowing 21 NHS contracts worth £127m to be tendered before supporting the illegal prorogation of Parliament as Cabinet Minister to Boris Johnson.

None of this explains how Sheree Jenner-Hepburn was invented. To understand that, you simply need to read the message communicated. First, Sheree Jenner-Hepburn is ambiguous and nebulous. She is a senior nurse, a Urology Nurse, a Phlebotomist, in Leeds or in perhaps Suffolk. She is, it seems everywhere and nowhere, somebody and nobody. Which is a significant problem with online identities: knowing what they are for.

Identity online has a purely functional aspect that does not exist in real life. Some people will create a user identity for, say, a discount offers site. They give a unique email that they never use, because they do not want to deal with the endless spam from the discount offers site. This is a purely functional user identity. A throwaway. Once it has achieved the objective it is discarded. Which is the kind of behaviour of Sheree Jenner-Hepburn.

When you see the use of Sheree Jenner-Hepburn, you see that the sole purpose is to give authenticity to a single story. It gives a node in the social graph of Facebook to hang a story onto. Which then allows the story to be rapidly shared. The story is a well composed piece of text:

“Very interesting. A good friend of mine is a senior nursing sister at Leeds Hospital- the boy shown on the floor by the media was in fact put there by his mother who then took photos on her mobile phone and uploaded it to media outlets before he climbed back into his trolley. He was on a hospital trolley in the paediatric A&E having been seen within 20 minutes. I am a nurse myself and am so pissed off with fake news, yes the NHS is a mess mainly caused by people misusing it and lack of elderly care. Think of the nurses and Doctors who are doing their jobs instead of constantly slagging them off. another Momentum Propaganda story. Disgraceful.”

Interestingly, a Deep Learning Algorithm was used to check the text. It is characterised as 24.5% Lawsuit. Which firmly places it into the kind of language Conservative Party and Brexit Party Activists have been using. It has a sentence structure that classifies as 30% Press Release. Which suggests it is a text designed for reuse and remixing. It has a sentiment of 90.5% negativity. Which suggests it is a criticism of someone or other. The Deep Learning Algorithm also points out that every sentence is an “opinion unit”. Which means this was not a casual post but the posting of someone literate enough to edit carefully. A Journalist or English Graduate. The analysis also suggests this is 100% not urgent – which seems at odds with the Lawsuit characterisation. The Keywords extracted from the text are also revealing:

“good friend”, “friend of mine”, “senior nursing sister”, “mobile phone”, “media outlet”, “paediatric a&e”, “nurse”, “fake news”, “elderly care”, “momentum propaganda story”

The keywords are not about the fact that first, there was a genuine story. A small child was left on the ground in a hospital in Leeds. The keywords are about “friendship”,

“nurses”, “media”, “fake news”, and “propaganda”. As if someone needed to create a story.

The Deep Learning Algorithm classified it as 74% Bad Movie with 38.4% profanity. Which is not to say swearing – just that the language is so negative as to be abusive. The Deep Learning Algorithm did one final trick: it summarised the text as follows:

“A good friend of mine is a senior nursing sister at Leeds Hospital. The boy shown on the floor by the media was in fact put there by his mother who then took photos on her mobile phone and uploaded it to media outlets before he climbed back into his trolley.”

Which is the story that Sheree Jenner-Hepburn was invented to tell. Perhaps not that exact story, necessarily. But, like Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey, or Bella Swan in Twilight, the purely functional user identity serves the purpose of allowing someone to project themselves into the character. To fill out the gaps with their own sympathies and experiences. Which reflects in the way it is shared. People are sharing it to women.

Which achieves something miraculous for the Brexit Party and the Conservative Party. The characteristics of Sheree Jenner-Hepburn being everywhere and nowhere facilitates projection and empathy from the reader. Which reinforces and emphasises the final message of the story: ” another Momentum Propaganda story. Disgraceful.

It is the kind of propaganda that Big Data facilitates. There are several definite facts. There was a small child left on the floor in a Leeds Hospital. The story – the post by Sheree Jenner-Hepburn – leads away from that fact. It creates a little friend of a friend story that can be rapidly propagated. Even if it is debunked by someone saying that the Sheree Jenner-Hepburn social media account was hacked, the well crafted little novel will be shared by networks of “low follower” accounts. The actual story becomes a rumour. The tail end of the story is that Labour faked the story.

Which is exactly what the Conservative Party claimed. That Matt Hancock arrived at the Leeds Hospital only to be met by hundreds of Labour Activists who had been taken there by Taxi and who then assaulted a Special Adviser. This was the amplification of the story that follows on. Having got the Attention of the Audience the next step is to get the Interest. The Interest being in hundreds of Labour Supporters – Momentum according to the friend of a friend story – protesting at a Hospital. Which largely ignores the fact that hundreds of people arriving in Taxis would require at least forty taxis. You can only get five people in a Taxi and hundreds implies at least two hundred people which suggests forty taxis. That would have blocked up the entrance to the Hospital in a very visible way. There are 4946 Private Hire and Taxi Cabs in Leeds according to Leeds Council Website. So the number of taxis is not implausible just not practical. Where were they: Matt Hancock would have been delayed by that number of vehicles at a hospital. It is a simple logistical conclusion. The events would have been physically different if the story were to hold up.

Which is where the story unfolded. Because the video images from the Hospital did not show a gridlocked road. It showed a Ministerial Car and a Protection Officer who walked into a loudly shouting man on a bicycle. Which begs a question: did the Protection Officer not hear the loudly shouting man or were they simply to busy making sure the Minister was safely driving away. The story descends into farce. The Protection Officer was portrayed as a Special Adviser – and there is no reason to believe either description – who was assaulted. That would have taken the Interest and transformed it into Desire. The simple story progression from Attention to Interest to Desire to Action being a narrative driven marketing funnel. The problem was, that after all the investment of time someone pointed out this was not true. Which meant that Desire suddenly became discovering the underlying story. At which point Sheree Jenner-Hepburn needed to cease to exist.

Obligingly Sheree Jenner-Hepburn deleted her social media accounts almost immediately. Which does not end the identity. Now it is possible for Sheree Jenner-Hepburn to claim the account was hacked and that they were not responsible for the story. Which is a way to revitalise the authenticity of the identity. Now the Attention to Interest to Desire to Action funnel can be used to demand a crack down on vague malevolent entities who are attacking Conservatives. The alleged Assault at the Hospital, the Hacking, the whole story allows people – women in particular – to feel vulnerable and threatened because of a child. Which is a dog whistle technique: fear for children. Fear Assault. Fear Hackers. Fear.

All of this is “common sense”. Sheree Jenner-Hepburn appeals to “common sense”. Even if she does not exist. She is a marketing funnel which directs you towards the one impulse: to Act. To ask yourself “What would Sheree Jenner-Hepburn do?”. It might be more productive to ask what your mother would have done. Which would give you a much more grounded answer. One rooted in your own experience. An answer that is not about “Attention, Interest, Desire, Action” Marketing funnels but about what you know the world wants: Leveson Two and the continuation of the investigation into faking news for power and profit.

Picture: Yer Ma Votes Labour. Mikey Gannon.

 


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Prospectus For A Failed State

Article 48

Vote Leave’s Leader has claimed that Labour would “rig” a second EU referendum to ensure that Remain won. Based on their experience of Referendum Fraud, the Leader of Vote Leave, Boris Johnson, alleged that “millions” of additional voters who could be expected to vote against Brexit would be added to the electoral roll for any rerun vote. Perhaps it is one time he speaks the truth: he does have form for Electoral Offences.

Speaking during a visit to a factory in Matlock, Derbyshire, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson denounced as “bizarre” putting Brexit to a public vote. Branding David Cameron and Theresa May with the accolade of being bizarre tories seems more appropriate to the Left rather than the Hard Right of Johnson and his Special Advisor, Cummings.

“We would have six months or a year for another referendum campaign on this weird deal he wants to do, and I think people will be outraged by the whole thing,” said Johnson. Which seems odd. We are approaching half a decade of chaos due to Mister Johnson’s Referendum. Untangling the mess cannot be bizarre unless the whole thing is a smoke screen for some ulterior scam.

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson wants the Electorate, “To think it’s going to be rigged in some way by getting millions more voters who would be very likely to vote one way rather than the other”, with as much evidence as he had for 76 Million Turkish Citizens coming to the UK if Brexit did not happen within six months. Claims which helped to lead to the Leave EU campaign being fined for Electoral Offences.

As the leader of the Vote Leave Campaign, Boris Johnson faces prosecution for illegal overspending. Having failed to inform the Authorities in 2016, Johnson is now revealing the depth of his experience in Electoral Offences. By being honest now, he might well be seeking to plea bargain at a later date.

Running a legally binding Referendum instead of an advisory Referendum would, according to Boris Johnson, “cause a great deal of public disquiet” despite the legally binding nature of the proposed Referendum, Johnson claims, “I don’t think it’s the right way forward.” Johnson’s response to simple matters of Democracy are concerning.

The connection of Johnson to the controversial “Voter Services” firm Idox is not well known. The Idox experts advised on the Individual Voter Registration Scheme. Although it is unclear without a public enquiry, initial estimates suggest up to one in three Voters fell off the Electoral Register with the introduction of the Scheme. Director of Idox, former Conservative Minister Peter Lilley was not available for comment. The connection to Johnson is, like the connection to convicted Electoral Fraudster, Dame Shirley Porter, unexplained.

Mr Johnson’s shocking confession is similar to that of his senior aide Dominic Cummings. Cummings suggested that Jeremy Corbyn would join Nicola Sturgeon in a hung parliament to “cheat” a third referendum. The decade long Hung Parliament of Cameron-May-Johnson is a testament to the control that Parliamentary deadlock gives to the Government. The Liberal-Democrat-Conservative (Condem) and the Conservative-DUP (Condem-up) Coalitions have allowed a decade of control over controversial policies that have resulted in the death of 130,000 people denied benefits. By promoting Hung Parliaments, Johnson would benefit by remaining in Government.

In a blogpost, the former Vote Leave Supremo wrote: “If this Corbyn-Sturgeon alliance takes control, their official policy is to give millions of EU citizens the vote in the second referendum.” It is unclear if the Vote Leave Supremo sees the extension of the Franchise as a way to end the paralysis of extremist Coalitions or if the Supremo is publically catastrophising about the collapse of Party Membership. It is even unclear if the Supremo is Dominic Cummings or Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

The Supremo remarked, “They don’t plan to lose again and they’ve literally written into their manifesto that they will cheat the second referendum.” Which is, perhaps a Freudian slip about the notorious Article 48 on Page 48 of the Conservative Party. A policy that would allow Boris Johnson to overrule any court for any reason. It is this kind of hidden and obscured policy that has contributed to the resignation of Senior Diplomat Alexandra Hall Hall.

The resignation of Hall Hall comes as leaked internal documents show customs checks and controls between Great Britain and Northern Ireland are necessary for the “Get Brexit Done” policy. In her resignation Hall Hall described how the Government’s approach had made British Diplomats’ positions abroad untenable. Comments such as, “It makes our job to promote democracy and the rule of law that much harder, if we are not seen to be upholding these core values at home,” and, “behaviour towards our institutions, which, were it happening in another country, we would almost certainly as diplomats have received instructions to register our concern”. The “Get Brexit Done” policy is a prospectus for a failed state and an increasingly vocal international diplomatic community is voicing concern. Diplomats simply do not wish to represent failed states abroad.

Senior Member of Parliament Ian Lucas revealed that he has seen correspondence obtained during the parliamentary inquiry into disinformation and democracy which showed Dominic Cummings, told the Electoral Commission that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, knew of the overspend by the Vote Leave. A key event in the collapse of democratic accountability.

It has been confirmed that prosecutors have received a file of evidence from the Metropolitan Police that could lead to criminal charges against members of the Johnson and Cummings Campaign. After nearly 16 months of investigating Vote Leave, the Metropolitan Police handed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service and sought “early investigative advice” on how to develop the Case. It could all vanish into a black hole. Especially if Article 48 on Page 48 becomes law.

Veteran MP Lucas, sat on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee inquiry into fake news and has revealed that correspondence raised serious questions over Johnson’s judgement: “Johnson and Gove both knew about the illegal payments to BeLeave.” The Parliamentary Enquiry revealed that “We finally forced the Electoral Commission to hand over its correspondence with Dominic Cummings.” What they discovered was shocking, “it’s there in black and white. It’s Cummings himself saying this.”

 

Picture: Caricature of Chancellor Heinrich Brüning who, on July 18, 1930, used Article §48 to adopt his tax program and dissolve the Reichstag. (Cover of Ulk (July 11, 1930))

 


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