Category: Democracy

Authoritarians don’t do democracy

gettyimages-1007970946

“A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon.” former President Bill Clinton.

In the US, civil rights groups opposed voter ID laws because, they say, they discriminate against low-income and minority voters — groups that tend to vote Democratic. About 25 percent of eligible black voters and 16 percent of Hispanic voters did not have photo ID, compared with 9 percent of whites, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

The center says many poor voters can’t afford cars or vacations abroad, and thus don’t have driver’s licenses or passports, and will be unfairly burdened by the cost of obtaining birth certificates and travelling to a government agency to secure a photo ID. In a recent opinion condemning Wisconsin’s voter ID law, US Circuit Judge Richard Posner — a President Reagan appointee — compared the laws to the poll tax implemented to stop blacks from voting in the Jim Crow–era South.

“The only reason to impose voter ID laws”, said Posner, “is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.” The available evidence indicates that voting fraud in the US was not a problem. In states such as Texas, citizens could apply for a “free election ID card”, but then have to pay for the official documents that are needed to apply for the cards. 

Voter suppression is an attempt to reduce the number of voters who might vote against a government. The tactics of voter suppression range from seemingly minor changes to make voting difficult or less convenient for some demographic groups, to psychologically and physically intimidating and attacking prospective voters, which is illegal.

Voter suppression works if a significant number of voters are intimidated or disenfranchised.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the US states most likely to enact voting restrictions were states with the highest African-American turnout in the 2008 election.

Gerrymandering isn’t confined to recognisably despotic regimes. The US – “the land of the free” has shown a proclivity towards making democracy conditional. So has the UK.

Any law that presents reduced choice and bureaucratic barriers to voting in elections for the poorest citizens – in this case, it may mean going without food or fuel in order to fulfil the conditions to vote – is not indicative of a functioning democracy.

Yet the wealthiest citizens tend to vote more frequently. Nonvoters are more likely to be poor, young, or from an ethnic background. Some research also indicates they’re more likely to align with the Democratic Party in the states, and the Labour party in the UK.

Currently in the UK, in order to vote, it is compulsory for members of a household to register before every election. The ‘head of the household’ (a Tory anachronism) is obliged to provide their National Insurance number, name other family members of voting age in the household and provide dates of birth for family members. Individual family members then also have to register to vote individually.

Voters must be on the electoral roll in order to vote in national, local or European elections. A fixed address is also required in order for an individual to vote in an election. To provide for persons who are considered ‘transient’, if an individual lacking a fixed address wants to vote, they may register by filling in a ‘Declaration of local connection’ form. This establishes a connection to the area based on the last fixed address someone had, or the place where they spend a substantial amount of their time (e.g. a homeless shelter).

Those eligible to vote are sent a confirmatory polling card with a voter ID number on it. When that is presented at the polling station, citizens’ details are already on a list there, and each person is ticked off once they turn up to vote, after providing their identifying details.

That is effectively a voter ID system, which is already in place. The card is an ID card, which the council issues when they know that you are authentic and eligible to vote.

The UK government has recently announced controversial plans to prevent people from voting unless they can provide photographic identification, prompting accusations it is attempting to “rig the next election”. These are reasonable allegations, on the premise that any barrier placed in front of the democratic right to vote of some groups in a population is discriminatory.

Current proposals by the Conservative Party to require one of several forms of expensive photo ID in order to vote are likely to reduce the turnout of young and poor voters, who are more likely to vote for the Labour party.

The government was previously told to ditch its controversial voter ID policy after new analysis found that it had stopped “thousands” of people voting in local elections in the limited trials in 2017 and 2018. Bearing in mind that this was a limited trial, that number proportionally replicated at a national level would fundamentally damage our democracy.

Charities including Age UK and Liberty have joined forces with groups such as the Electoral Reform Society to demand that the government stop the “dangerous and undemocratic” policy. The LGC analysis suggests that the number of people turned away could have influenced the election result in some areas. In Mid Sussex, 78 people were denied a vote and there were three cases in which a candidate won by less than 25 votes. 

Demanding a rethink of the policy in March last year, a group of 40 charities and academics said Electoral Commission figures showed there were only 28 allegations of impersonation out of almost 45 million votes in 2017, and one conviction.

“Decades of international studies show that restrictive identification requirements are particularly disadvantageous to certain voter groups who are less likely to possess approved ID for a variety of socio-economic and accessibility reasons,” said their letter, sent to the government.

“Voter ID reforms could therefore affect young people, older people, disabled people, transgender and gender non-conforming people, BAME communities and the homeless.”

Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), said last year: “There is anecdotal evidence emerging from the pilot areas that people have been denied their democratic right to vote because of the voter ID requirements.

“Thousands of people were told they could not vote because of “draconian” ID requirements in five local election areas on 3 May 2018, according to analysis by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS). 

Based on figures released by electoral observers at ID trial area polling stations, the ERS estimate 3,981 people were denied a ballot paper across the five pilot areas (1.67 per cent of those who tried to vote).

Voter ID trials took place in Bromley, Woking, Gosport, Watford and Swindon in what the campaigners have branded a “dark day for politics.”

Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Britain prides itself on being a leading democracy – but it is a dark day for politics when thousands of blameless people turn out to vote only to be refused.

“Our estimates, based on evidence gathered by electoral observers, reveal the shocking scale of the problem. These trials have been shown up to be the chaotic, undemocratic mess many predicted.

“This is exactly what we feared: that this draconian measure would result in blameless individuals being disenfranchised.”

The Labour party said the figures proved that the voter ID trial should be “abandoned immediately” and accused the government of frank voter suppression.

In a country without universal, free or cheap access to ID, such a move is dangerous, misguided and profoundly undemocratic. The policy will make it harder for millions of ordinary citizens to vote. A 2015 Electoral Commission report, for example, pointed out that 3.5 million citizens in the UK do not have access to photo ID, while 11 million citizens do not have a passport or driving licence.

The government claims that the introduction of voter ID will tackle fraud and corruption, in particular “personation”. But this is a completely disproportionate response to the extremely rare incidence of personation at the polling station.

Official figures show that of the 266 cases of electoral fraud investigated by police in 2018, personation fraud at the polling station accounted for just eight of the allegations made. No further action was taken for seven of these allegations, and one was locally resolved.

At the last election, several Tory MPs claimed that many young people had voted more than once. However, following over a thousand formal complaints to the Electoral Commission, upon investigation there was no evidence found to substantiate these claims.

Some Conservatives claim very loudly that the Labour party have “double standards” since ID is required to attend Labour party meetings. However, this is a typical Tory diversion strategy. The proof of ID requirement is true of all parties, and a party membership card is issued free of charge to party members.

The request to present membership cards at Labour party meetings is reasonable, in any case, since the Conservatives have a track record of attempting to deceitfully infiltrate Labour party meetings to use illegal entrapment methods to fuel their own smear tactics and propaganda campaigns. 

The Tories have created a hostile environment for disadvantaged voters

We may debate whether election results would be different if the entire population voted, but voting determines more than which candidate or party wins or loses. It ultimately influences which policies elected officials enact and whose interests candidates ignore and acknowledge.

Research in the US  found that nonvoters are more likely, for example, to support a redistribution of wealth, affordable housing and expanded social safety net programmes, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data. Many would-be voters face a range of barriers, including: voter ID laws, registration difficulty, being disabled or having criminal records. Hundreds of thousands of nonvoters want to vote, but can’t.

If you think the government’s new emphasis on further ID documentation for voting is a good idea, well, universal credit and the welfare ‘reforms’ were presented as good ideas. But the Tories are never honest about their real aims, and those aims are invariably much less than as honourable as they try to claim. 

After all, the last group of people who were asked to provide documentation of their ID – which had been placed in the care of the Home Office, under Theresa May – were the Windrush generation citizens. That didn’t end well.

This move for further costly ID evidence is simply another hostile environment designed to ensure that as few people as possible who would most likely vote for the  Labour party will be permitted to do so. Many people with low income can’t afford to drive or pay for/renew their passport.

There will be other as yet unforeseen problems too. The limited trial run at the last election saw thousands of people being turned away without being allowed to vote. At a national level, this would have massive implications for our democracy.

The authoritarianism of the Conservative has become increasingly apparent over the last nine years. From “dark ads”,  the development of hostile environments, grubby organisations that spend all their time smearing the opposition to the misuse of psychological behaviourism to alter and micromanage the perceptions of citizens concerning the government’s draconian austerity policies, to the increased use of secondary legislation, in the form of statutory instruments to sidestep democracy and hammer through very controversial legislation without adequate parliamentary scrutiny.

And of course, authoritarians don’t do rights or democracy. 


 

We don’t make any money from our work. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to continue to provide support for others.

My site is also advert free because I pay for an advert free WordPress plan. 

The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

DonatenowButton

It’s not just the PM, the entire government are authoritarian

AP groups pie renamed-01

Interesting that this YouGov study identifies a proportion of the so-called centrist “moderates” as authoritarian populists, too. It’s something I’ve always suspected, making this group the real extremists within the Labour party. It does explain a lot, and I’d bet my sun hat that those “moderates” are also neoliberals, sharing a significant patch of common ground with the Tories.

Media euphemisms have obscured the truth for almost a decade: the Tories are authoritarians.

The BBC report that Boris Johnson “has no respect for the norms of democratic policy” and that he “misled” the queen”.

The word for that is authoritarianism.

“Authoritarian” was originally a word to describe one more in favour of obedience to authority than personal liberty. I’ve been pointing out since 2012 that the Tories have all the hallmarks of an authoritarian regime. Conservatism has always been an unprincipled apology for the interests of the ruling class and elite. Conservatism has traditionally favoured authoritarian rule.

In the 1980s, the use of a new academic term became common among some political scientists when describing the neoliberal politics of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: “authoritarian populism”. This term was based on the theory that they and their supporters shared a core set of attitudes: cynicism over human rights, anti-immigration, an anti-EU position in Britain, and favouring a strong emphasis on defence as part of wider foreign policy.

Conservatives tend to treat the rule of law with contempt. The Cameron administration hammered the controversial welfare “reforms” through into legislation by citing an archaic law – “commons privilege” – despite the fact it failed to pass through parliament, and no-one wanted the policy implemented. It was imposed, nonetheless.

The government have claimed that the provision of support for citizens from public funds – our social security – presents a “moral hazard” and “perverse incentives”. They used this rationale to cruelly cut people’s lifeline support. Apparently, lining the pockets of rogue multinationals with private profit to prevent people accessing the basic support they have paid into is acceptable, as is handing out millions of pounds of public funds in “tax breaks” to millionaires. 

This is a government that doesn’t care whether citizens can meet their basic survival needs. Over the last decade, we have seen the rise of absolute poverty – where people cannot afford to meet fundamental needs such as the provision of food, heating and shelter. We have seen the rise of unjust, punitive policies and growing inequalities.

We have also witnessed emergent expressions of eugenic and social Darwinist ideology underpinning controversial policies such as the tax credit two-child policy.  Iain Duncan Smith claimed the policy would bring about “behavioural change”, discouraging poor people from having children. This cut is particularly unkind as the result is that the state penalises children on the arbitrary basis of how many brothers and sisters they have – a decision out of their hands. This policy violates the human rights of third and subsequent children within a family.

The Tories have told lie after lie and got away with it. In the Commons, MPs are not permitted by convention to use the word “liar”. But democratic accountability should matter rater more than convention. It’s about time that changed.

Back in 2010, few people recognised the arrival of a new form of authoritarian nationalism in the UK. By 2012, it was pretty plain to some of us. But we were often dismissed as “scaremongers” at the time. 

In 2012, the Conservatives’ Health and Social Care bill was also pushed through legislation at unholy speed. We are still waiting for the government to fulfil the court ruling, and those of the information commissioner regarding the release of the policy  risk register to the public. I put in an Freedom of Information request, asking for the risk register to be placed in the public domain, and was told by government that “it isn’t in the public interest” to see the catastrophic risk assessment of the policy.

We’ve yet to see the full details of a No Deal Brexit risk assessment.

The Trade Union Bill and the Organised Crime and Police Act aimed at curtailing public protest and was a marked attack on civil liberties. The Tories ensured that private companies made profits from their unprecedented cuts to public services. They, and the vulture capitalist corporations that benefited from the Conservatives’ policies wanted to ensure that strike action and democratic protests were stifled.  In short, the Tories have always seen human rights and democratic norms as a political inconvenience – “red tape” – as have the exploitative big business political bed partners. 

Let’s not forget the multiple “grave and systematic” human right violations of disabled people because of  draconian Tory policies. The United Nations investigated the impact of policies, because in 2012, I wrote to the UN and presented evidence subsequently – along with many others. We have submitted empirical evidence of the despotic policy framework that has resulted in human rights violations, and the subsequent suffering of ill and disabled people over several years. The UN report was conclusive.

People have died as a direct consequence of Tory policies, the government should have been removed from office when that finding was reported. Especially when they refused to conduct an inquiry and continued to deny there was any problem with their draconian welfare policy. It seems that the loss of human life is considered rather less serious than telling lies to the queen and suspending parliament to avoid democratic scrutiny. However, all of these events are closely connected. 

The Tories have been avoiding democratic scrutiny since they took office back in 2010. The tactics that this government have used to cling onto power amounts to a tyrannical and despicable misuse of psychology, and in particular, behaviourism. All despots are behaviourists. 

Over the last decade, neoliberals have used what appear to be objective categories of group behaviours and measurement, which seem to fit very neatly with the pre-existing power structure. And reinforce it. Furthermore, the value-laden categories also form the basis of targeted scapegoating and justification narratives, deployed to make very punitive, controversial policies seem somehow reasonable. 

Then there is the utterly woeful performance of the media in holding government to account. That’s because the government ‘brief’ commentators and journalists regarding what they may and may not say – they have ideological control of most of the mainstream media.

0_Iain-Duncan-Smith

Iain Duncan Smith announced in 2012 that he was “monitoring the BBC for “left wing bias”. It was plain back then what was happening. And nothing changed. The Tories do whatever they can get away with. Authoritarianism advances by almost inscrutable degrees – moral and legal boundaries are pushed incrementally. 


Until suddenly, everyone sees it for what it is. But once you hear the jackboots, it’s much too late.

It’s taken a decade of damage and suffering.

We must not let this happen ever again. 


I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

DonatenowButton

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

30 years of plutocracy have brought un-representative democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read my 2013 article here.

Now for more of the same

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

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

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

804-cover-1200

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real culture of entitlement

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

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

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

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

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

My favourite part was this:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cover photo, Image may contain: text

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

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

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

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

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

 That said, perhaps the pitchforks really are coming…

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

 

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


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

DonatenowButton

 

Defending disinformation against democracy: the Integrity Initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t it obvious?

Surveillance capitalism: citizens as a means to an end

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

DonatenowButton

The government prioritises corporate welfare at the expense of social welfare

facade welfare

The welfare ‘reforms’: public policies for private profit

It’s widely assumed that public services are organized and delivered for the benefit of citizens. The reality, however, is very different. The more we scrutinise the role and function of different government departments and programmes, the clearer it becomes that they are being redesigned to bring direct and indirect benefits to private businesses.

In 2014, Aditya Chakrabortty wrote in the Guardian: “[…] as the Tory faithful cheered on George Osborne’s cuts in benefits for the working-age poor, a little story appeared that blew a big hole in the welfare debate. Tucked away in the Guardian last Wednesday, an article revealed that the British government had since 2007 handed Disney almost £170m to make films here. Last year alone the Californian giant took £50m in tax credits. By way of comparison, in April the government will scrap a £347m crisis fund that provides emergency cash for families on the verge of homelessness or starvation.

“Benefits are what we grudgingly hand the poor; the rich are awarded tax breaks. Cut through the euphemisms and the Treasury accounting, however, and you’re left with two forms of welfare. Except that the hundreds given to people sleeping on the street has been deemed unaffordable. Those millions for $150bn Disney, on the other hand, that’s apparently money well spent –whoever coined the phrase “taking the Mickey” must have worked for HM Revenue.”

Ministers have admitted this week that more than 4,500 disabled people were wrongly stripped of their benefits despite having a good reason for missing reassessments. The Department for Work and Pensions has now acknowledged the ‘blunder’ – more than one year after a court ruling that the disability living allowance (DLA) payments should not have been stopped. The grossly unfair withdrawal of support happened when disabled people were being transfered from DLA to the government’s cost cutting replacement benefit, personal independent payments (PIP). Disabled people had their lifeline payments stopped entirely.

“We expect around 4,600 people to gain as a result of this review exercise,” a statement from Sarah Newton to MPs says.

But those disabled people are not “gaining” anything. They are simply being paid what they should have been paid.

The admission was slipped out as MPs left Westminster for their Christmas break, as one of a dozen last-day announcements. The disability equality charity Scope described it as “deplorable”.

The latest mistake comes in the wake of the DWP admitting to £970m of underpayments to people being migrated onto Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) between 2011 and 2014. Ministers were accused of creating a “hostile environment for sick and disabled people” following the blunder, which occurred when claimants were transferred onto the main sickness benefit, ESA.

Both PIP and DLA are designed to help people with the extra costs of disability, or long-term health conditions, yet any award is reluctantly made, and all too often people have to go to court to challenge extremely inaccurate assessment reports and enormously unfair decision-making.

If the British public are to fund corporations, they should expect and demand that those businesses observe certain conditions of basic fairness. It’s difficult, however, to challenge what is hidden from view.

In his article, Chakraborrty discusses the work of Kevin Farnsworth, a senior lecturer in social policy at the University of York, who has spent the best part of a decade studying corporate welfare – delving through Whitehall spreadsheets and others, and poring over Companies House filings. He’s produced the first ever comprehensive audit of the British corporate welfare state.

Chakrabortty says: “Farnsworth has achieved something extraordinary: he has yanked into the open an £85bn subsidy that big business and the government would rather you didn’t know about.

“Thinking over this giant corporate bung, two responses immediately suggest themselves. First, it shows up the stupidity of all those newspaper spreads and BBC discussions constantly demanding “What would you cut?”, like some middlebrow ransom note (“Choose now: or the lollipop lady gets it”). It’s a question you’ll be hearing more and more in the run-up to the election. Perhaps next time, as well as mentioning schools, fire services and benefits, some brave Radio 4 presenter will mention the business coaching and marketing and advocacy services provided by the Department for Business (annual cost: nearly £5bn).”

But it was more a case of “choose now and disabled people still got it.” The cuts to the welfare support for the poorest citizens – paid for by the public FOR the public – were carefully planned and coordinated. Private companies were hired to fulfil a role of  discrediting disabled people’s accounts of their disability, and to engage in very bad report writing, with an ultimate aim of resource gatekeeping. At the same time, legal aid was withdrawn to prevent citizens from accessing justice and seeking redress.

Meanwhile, the government and media constructed a narrative to demonise and condemn the poorest citizens, labelling them as undeserving “scroungers” and would be “fraudsters.”

The state’s costly private gatekeepers of public funds

The government has awarded at least £1.4billion of outsourcing contracts linked to the roll-out of Universal Credit and other welfare reforms since 2012.

As Universal Credit continues to be rolled out, forcing the poorest citizens into debt, food poverty and rent arrears, new data has shown the  private companies that have profited from implementing the government’s social security reforms.

The data, which was obtained by HuffPost UK,  was generated by searching Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) public contract tenders for Universal Credit and related keywords. It reveals the vast sums the DWP has spent carrying out health and disability assessments on disabled people claiming support.

The information has prompted mental health and disability charities to call for the DWP to urgently review the failing system of assessment.

Among the companies that have won contracts are global consultancy giants. Some of the firms’ names are known to the public, but details of the awarded contracts are not.

A huge £595million contract was awarded to American consultancy group Maximus to provide health and disability assessments, the largest single DWP contract related to welfare reform since 2012, according to the data.

Atos and Capita also won contracts totalling £634million to carry out assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), a disability benefit.

Consultancy firm Deloitte was awarded a £750,000 contract for work to support the Universal Credit programme and a £3million deal was signed with IT firm Q-Nomy to develop an appointment booking service for the social security payment, which is intended to simplify working-age benefits.

Recap: “Deloitte were responsible for advising Carillion’s board on risk management and financial controls, failings in the business that proved terminal. Deloitte were either unable to identify effectively to the board the risks associated with their business practices, unwilling to do so, or too readily ignored them.” Frank Field

Another £60,000 contract was awarded for the purchase of MacBooks for Universal Credit to Software Box Limited.

Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at mental health charity Mind, told HuffPost UK: “Despite the vast amounts the government spends on benefits assessments – delivered by companies like Atos, Capita and Maximus – we hear every week from people with mental health problems who get the wrong decision, leaving them without support.

“We’ve long been calling for an overhaul of benefits assessments so that they work for those being put through them. For many people with long-term mental health problems, there’s no need to be put through the stress and pressure of repeated reassessments.”

Geoff Fimister, of the Disability Benefits Consortium, which represents 80 charities, added: “These are very large amounts of public money to be spending on services that are falling short.”

The DWP has awarded 76 separate contracts related to welfare reform since 2012, totalling £1.4billion.

But it is estimated that the true figure will be higher as prior to 2015 some government procurement tenders were not published publicly. This changed from 2015 onwards when new rules under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 meant all tenders had to be made public.

Four of the contracts also show a £0 value and do not include the contract amount.

Tussell’s figures show the DWP has awarded £4.7billion in outsourced contracts across all areas of its work since 2012.

It is clear from the information publicly available that contracts relating to Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) constitute the vast majority of the DWP’s sub-contracting pre-2015. 

But from 2015 onwards, when the data is more robust, this trend was reversed.

Since January 2015, only about 2% (£66million) of DWP contract awards relate to Universal Credit or other welfare reforms of a total £2.8billion bill.

The most valuable contract since 2015 was an £8.2million award to Serco to manage a call centre for claimants of the disability benefit PIP.

The second was a £6million award to Advanced Personnel Management Group to provide healthcare staff to help conduct work capability assessments for Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance. 

Also included are multiple contracts awarded in 2017 regarding Phase 2 of the New Enterprise Allowance scheme, which offers support to those claiming Universal Credit to become self-employed and start businesses.

A contract of £8.2million has been awarded to Serco to deliver a new claims telephony service for Personal Independence Payments.

Gus Tugendhat, founder of Tussell, said: “With the controversial rollout of Universal Credit still very much a work in progress, contract notices analysed by Tussell provide insight into some of the challenges the government is facing, including with IT systems and recruiting healthcare professionals for assessments.

“While the challenges are many, the government deserves credit for its transparency which we hope to see maintained.”

Universal Credit is being introduced to replace six existing benefits with one monthly payment and the government says it is a more streamlined system that will ‘help move people into work.’ 

But it is rather more expensive to deliver.

The DWP said that technical support was vital to carry out a digital delivery on the scale of Universal Credit and said the department operates within strict procurement guidelines to ensure maximum value for money.

The DWP claim that while Universal Credit will cost £1.7billion to deliver, the new system will bring about £8billion a year in economic benefits when fully rolled out. 

A DWP spokeswoman told HuffPost UK: “This is a random selection of some of our contracts spanning six years covering a range of DWP services and benefits, used by hundreds of thousands of people, that offer support to jobseekers to move into work, while having the right care in place for those that cannot work.”

The 10 highest value contracts awarded by DWP linked to Universal Credit and welfare reforms since 2012

  • £595million to Maximus People Services Ltd for health and disability assessment services. 
  • £207million to Atos for Personal Independence Payments assessment service Lot 1 contract extension (Lot numbers refer to different geographical areas)
  • £184million to Atos for Personal Independence Payments assessment service Lot 3
  • £122million to Capita for Personal Independence Payments assessment service contract extension Lot 1
  • £122million to Capita for Personal Independence Payments assessment service contract Extension Lot 2
  • £90million to Atos for a medical services IT contract
  • £8.2million to Serco to deliver a new claims telephony service for Personal Independence Payments
  • £6million to Advanced Personnel Management Group to provide healthcare staff to conduct work capability assessments for Universal Credit and Employment Support Allowance
  • £3.9million to Pinnacle People Limited for Phase 2 of the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme in the north east to support people into self-employment and to start their own businesses
  • £3.3million to Ixion Holdings (Contracts) Limited for Phase 2 of the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme in London and the home counties

Source: Tussell

Farnsworth’s research should have triggered a public debate about the size and uses of the corporate welfare state.

In his article about corporate welfare, Aditya Chakrabortty goes on to say “[…] what you get on the issue is silence. A very congenial silence for the CBI and other business lobby groups, who can urge ministers to cut benefits for the poor harder and faster, knowing their members are still getting their bungs.

“An agreeable silence for Osborne and David Cameron, who still argue that the primary problem in Britain is that the public sector “crowds out” private enterprise, without ever acknowledging how much the public subsidises business.”

Most of all, a silence at the very centre of our democracy.

Personally, I agree with Chakrabortty’s conclusion: I’ll believe we’re getting somewhere when Channel 4 puts on Corporate-Benefits Street – with White Dee replaced by the likes of Amazon founder and inveterate tax-dodger Jeff Bezos, or the sweatshop  king pension-swindling crook, Philip Green.

804-cover-1200


 

I don’t make any money from my work. If you want to, you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.

DonatenowButton

Authoritarian UK government is funding military grade psyops to smear and calumniate HM’s opposition

psyops

From the government’s ALLIED JOINT DOCTRINE FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS WITH UK NATIONAL ELEMENTS, SEPTEMBER 2014 .

On page X of the document, it says: “NATO definition of PSYOPS. Allied Administrative Publication (AAP)-06 defines psychological operations as: planned activities using methods of communication and other means directed at approved audiences in order to influence perceptions, attitudes and behaviour, affecting the achievement of political and military objectives.” [My emphasis].

On page IX, this footnote – The term information strategy (its concept and definition) is not yet endorsed through official NATO policy. Its use here [in the UK], however, reflects current thinking on this subject and is coherent with current policy and doctrine initiatives in areas such as the effects-based approach, strategic communications and information operations.” 

Nudging democracy

The British government is financing a large-scale network that influences political and public opinion in Europe using psyops. A substantial part of it is designed to attack the left, and to promote anti-Russian rhetoric.

Psychological operations (PSYOP) are operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to manage perceptions, to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviours of organizations, groups, and individuals.

Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation.

In June 2015, NSA files published by Glenn Greenwald revealed details of the JTRIG group at British intelligence agency GCHQ covertly manipulating online communities. This is in line with JTRIG’s goal: to “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” enemies by “discrediting” them, planting misinformation and shutting down their communications.

Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, [co-author of “Nudge”], a close political adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a highly controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-independent advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was recently named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).

But the GCHQ documents are the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets. Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies on the internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ itself calls “false flag operations” and emails to people’s families and friends.

Who would possibly trust a government to exercise these powers at all, let alone do so in secret, with virtually no oversight, and outside of any cognizable legal framework?

Now, inevitably, some politicians and academics have reacted with fury to news that a covert Government-funded unit has been systematically and strategically attacking the official opposition in Parliament, and seriously undermining democracy in the UK.  

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

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the hack has had zero substantive coverage in the UK, US or European press, but it was picked up by Russian media. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The documents included in the leak comprised of a handbook, funding information and lists of people organised by ‘cluster’.

iukcluster1

According to the handbook, Integrity Initiative aims to:

“Bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America.”

And it achieves this by organising  a network of clusters acress Europe and North America, which are made up of:

“[…] people who understand the threat posed to Western nations by a flood of disinformation.”

Integrity Initiative claim they have developed a network of people who operate to counter Russia’s ‘disinformation’. This may includes interference in the appointment of someone to a government position, using Twitter attacks to prevent the appointment of Colonel Pedro Baños as director of Spain’s Department of Homeland Security, for example. Yet the same network frequently accuse Russia of ‘meddling’ in the political affairs of other countries, and of being antidemocratic. 

In addition to personel from the Integrity Initiative’s  parent organisation – The Institute for Statecraft – there are people representing  think tanks like DEMOS, RUSI, hedge fund interests, Henry Jackson Society, European Council on Foreign Relations, and Chatham House, as well as from the Ministry of Defence, which includes the EU Joint Headquarters at Northwood, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and several journalists.

uk journos

For example, Andy Pryce, the Foreign Office Head of Counter Disinformation and Media Development, Ben Bradshaw MP, Sir Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia, and a founder of Orbis Business Intelligence, the privatised British intelligence operation which also incudes Christopher Steele, the author of the Trump ‘dodgy dossier’.

It’s interesting that the old trick – slurring British Labour politicians with Russian/communist links – is back in fashion. The fake Zinoviev letter was traced back to British Intelligence services.

With recent declarations by leading Blairites and several Tory figures such as Michael Fallon, who claimed that Labour now represents a ‘security threat to you and your family’, Corbyn faced a media disinformation campaign of truly staggering proportions, and the allegations of ties to Russia played a significant part.

Corbyn reasonably called for de-escalation and de-militarisation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict on several occasions in the past year as a means to achieving a political solution. He has also called for ‘dialogue’. Some may deem that ‘idealistic’, perhaps, but not completely crazy. Russia is, after all a major nuclear state. Personally I prefer his diplomatic approach to the aggressive posturing of the government.

Quite frankly, the Sun, Daily Mail and other right wing propaganda rags have managed two quite remarkable things from this farrago. The first is to make Jeremy Corbyn look better than before. The second is to justify his calls for press regulation.

It turns out that Ben Nimmo, a “senior fellow” at the Institute for Statecraft, co-authored an article with Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute alleged that TV news channel RT broadcast “systematic bias in favour of Corbyn” when he first stood for the Labour leadership. 

The article went on to say the motivation for this was “most likely to be executing the interests of the government which funds it.” Nimmo was also quoted in the Sun newspaper as saying Russia was “supporting Corbyn against his opponents both in the Labour Party and outside it.”

Of course the newspaper used this to support its conspiracy theory that “a twisted Russian cyber campaign which has backed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is aiming to sow division across the UK.” 

The crafty state institute

The Institute for Statecraft was set up, and is currently led by Chris Donnelly  (who, prior to joining NATO in 1989, was for 20 years at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst) and Daniel Lafayeedney (whose military service, legal background and career as an entrepreneur have led him to an “understanding of the importance of the link between business and national security.”) They are supported by a Board of Trustees, Board of Advisers, an Operations Staff, a Strategic Development Team and an extensive network of like minded Fellows, associates and researchers.

Defending disinformation against democracy

The Integrity Initiative’s Orwellian slogan is ‘Defending Democracy Against Disinformation’. On its About page it claims: “We are not a government body but we do work with government departments and agencies who share our aims.” 

The UK defines strategic communication (StratCom) as: “advancing national interests by using all Defence means of communication to influence the attitudes and behaviours of people. It is an MOD-level function that seeks to align words, images and actions by taking direction and guidance from the National Security Council and developing a Strategic Communication Actions and Effects Framework to guide targeting and planning activities.”

“Info Ops is a staff function that analyzes, plans, assesses and integrates information activities to create desired effects on the will, understanding and capability of adversaries, potential adversaries and North Atlantic Council (NAC) approved audiences in support of Alliance mission objectives. PSYOPS, along with other capabilities,
will be coordinated through Info Ops processes guided by the information strategy and within NATO’s StratCom approach.”

The UK defines target audience analysis (TAA) as: “the systematic study of people to enhance understanding and identify accessibility, vulnerability, and susceptibility to behavioural and attitudinal influence.”

In the document dump on November 5, the Anonymous group exposed the UK-based Integrity Initiative’.  The main stated objective is counter-terrorism, and “to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.” The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ programme, so objectivity is, of course, at the forefront of their work… 

However, the secret UK Government-funded propaganda unit allegedly based in Scotland has also been running a campaign on social media, using posts attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. 

The Institute for Statecraft appears to be a small charity operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife. But the explosive leaked documents, which have been passed to the Sunday Mail, reveal the organisation’s Integrity Initiative is funded with £2million of Foreign Office cash and run by military intelligence specialists.

The Conservative group is supposed to counter Russian online propaganda by forming “clusters” of persuaders: friendly journalists and “key influencers” throughout Europe who use social media to hit back against ‘disinformation’.

On the siteDr Shima D Keene writes: “The new security environment is increasingly spawning a variety of asymmetric threats which require immediate attention. Many of these threats are driven by the desire for economic gain, either as an end in itself, or to assist in achieving an ultimate end. Efforts to tackle the economic aspects of these threats have frequently been neglected or, at best, fragmented. This is particularly the case in the international sphere, allowing our adversary to operate in a benign environment.

“Security Economics is the analysis of the economic aspects of human-induced insecurity, such as terrorism and organised crime.

“The Institute’s Security Economics Programme serves to unite existing knowledge while bringing new knowledge to the subject. The multi-disciplinary approach aims to provide new thinking and direction, both strategically and tactically, in order that effective financial warfare strategies can be devised and implemented to tackle the evolving threat environment. Network analysis plays a key part. Activities of the Programme include operational research, policy development, counselling and mentoring in the following subject areas:

  • Threat Finance (Terrorism, Narcotics, Human Trafficking, Proliferation/Weapons of Mass Destruction and Organised Crime)
  • Psychological Operations/Info Ops/ Influence
  • Financial Counter Insurgency
  • Economic Crime (to include Fraud and Money Laundering)
  • Maritime Piracy (Kidnap and Ransom)
  • Cyber crime and associated Technology
  • Forensic Finance/Financial Intelligence
  • Economic Warfare/ Asymmetric Financial Warfare
  • Counter Terrorist Finance/Anti Money laundering (Legislation/Regulation).

A message from the UK Government-funded organisation promotes an article that states: “Unlike Galloway (former MP George Galloway) Corbyn does not scream conspiracy, he implies it,” while another added: “It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem.”

A further message refers to an “alleged British Corbyn supporter” who “wants to vote for Putin”.

It is not just the Labour leader who has been on the receiving end of online attacks. The party’s strategy and communications director, Seumas Milne, was also targeted.

The Integrity Initiative, whose base, allegedly at Gateside Mill, near Auchtermuchty, retweeted a newspaper report that said: “Milne is not a spy – that would be beneath him.

“But what he has done, wittingly or unwittingly, is work with the Kremlin agenda.”

Another retweet promoted a journalist who said: “Just as he supports the Russian bombardment of Syria, Seumas Milne supported the Russian slaughter of Afghanistan, which resulted in more than a million deaths.”

The Integrity Initiative has been accused of supporting Ukrainian politicians who oppose Putin – even when they also have suspected far-right links.

Further leaked documents appear to show a Twitter campaign that resulted in a Spanish politician believed to be friendly to the Kremlin being denied a job.

The organisation’s “Spanish cluster” swung into action on hearing that Pedro Banos was to be appointed director of the national security department.

The papers detail how the Integrity Initiative alerted “key influencers” around Europe who launched an online campaign against the politician.

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

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

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

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

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry expressed the party’s justifiable outrage:

“It is one of the cardinal rules of British public life that official resources should not be used for party political purposes. So, it is simply outrageous that the clearly mis-named ‘Integrity Initiative’ – funded by the Foreign Office to the tune of £2.25 million over the past two years – has routinely been using its Twitter feed to disseminate personal attacks and smears against the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour Party and Labour officials.

“And this cannot be dismissed as something outside the Government’s control, given the application for funding agreed by the Foreign Office last year stated explicitly that it would be used in part to expand “the impact of the Integrity Initiative website…and Twitter/social media accounts.

“So the Government must now answer the following questions: why did the Foreign Office allow public money to be spent on attempting to discredit Her Majesty’s Opposition? Did they know this was happening? If not, why not? And if they did, how on earth can they justify it?”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “It would appear that we have a charity registered in Scotland and overseen by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator that is funded by the UK Government and is spewing out political attacks on UK politicians, the Labour Party and the Labour movement.

“Such clear political attacks and propaganda shouldn’t be coming from any charity. We need to know why the Foreign Office have been funding it.”

The UK’s links with NATO  psyops are well-established – see Countering propaganda: NATO spearheads use of behavioural change sciencefor example. From the article: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

The UK government openly discusses its policy intents regarding ‘behavioural change’, and instituted the Nudge Unit in 2010 to contribute to their behaviourist policy agenda. The behavioural economists from the Unit have contributed significantly to punitive welfare policy, for example.

The programme entailing the use of behavioural change science for NATO was delivered by the UK-based Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL Defence), which has worked for the UK Ministry of Defence and the United States’ Department of Defense for a number of years and is the world’s only company licensed to deliver the Behavioural Dynamics process, and a team of Information Warfare experts drawn from seven nations, called IOTA-Global.

David Miller, a professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, added: “It’s extraordinary that the Foreign Office would be funding a Scottish charity to counter Russian propaganda which ends up attacking Her Majesty’s opposition and soft-pedalling far-right politicians in the Ukraine.

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

Tamsin Shaw, an associate professor of philosophy at New York University, has researched the US military’s funding and use of psychological research for use in torture. She says: “The capacity for this science to be used to manipulate emotions is very well established. This is military-funded technology that has been harnessed by a global plutocracy and is being used to sway elections in ways that people can’t even see, don’t even realise is happening to them.”  

It’s about exploiting existing phenomenon like nationalism and then using it to manipulate people at the margins. To have so much data in the hands of a bunch of international plutocrats to do with it what they will is absolutely chilling.

We are in an information war and billionaires are buying up these companies, which are then employed to go to work in the heart of government. That’s a very worrying situation.”

Mass surveillance, data harvesting and analysis, psychographic profiling and behavioural modification strategies are embedded in the corporate sector and are now very clearly being used in a way that challenges the political canon of liberal democratic societies, where citizens are traditionally defined by principles of self-determination. I’ve spent the past few years writing critically about the neuroliberal turn, and the serious threat it poses to democracy.

The leaked documents show a funding application to the Foreign Office that details the unit’s work.

Further papers reveal a unit in Lithuania which received overseas funding to “support a new hub/cluster creation and to educate cluster leaders and key people in Vilnius in infowar techniques”.

It’s only over recent years that we are getting a glimpse of new behavioural economics discipline evolving into forms of social control that make the frightful 20th-century totalitarianism regimes seem like a primitive and crude method of governance by comparison. This all-pervasive control is elegant and hidden in plain view. It’s a subtle and stealthy form of totalitarianism. Behavioural science and its various applications as a new “cognitive-military complex” – it originated within intelligence and state security agencies.

BeWorks is one example of a company adopting the nudge approach to strategic communications and marketing, they describe themselves as “The first management consulting firm dedicated to the practice of applying behavioral science to strategy, marketing, operations, and policy challenges”, also “harness the powerful insights of behavioral economics to solve your toughest challenges.”

They work for the government, the energy industry, financial service sector, insurance industry and retail sectors, “helping organisations to embed behavioural economics into their culture”. 

The company says: “The team combines leading academics from the fields of cognitive and social psychology, neuroscience, and marketing with management consulting experts. Our multi-disciplinary expertise allows us to arm our clients with the latest in scientific insights coupled with a strategic business lens”.

They also wrote this article among others: How Science Can Help Get Out the VoteThey claim: Our team of scientists and business experts offers a powerful methodology that analyzes and measurably influences the decisions consumers make”. 

They go on to say “Neuromarketing studies, which measure brain activity and other biological indicators, are another way to gauge true emotional reactions instead of relying on how people say they feel. EEG caps and biometric belts are the most common tools used, though other techniques, ranging from reading facial expressions to measuring tiny differences in reaction time, are also used.”

The consequences of governments acting upon citizens to meet political aims, and to align behaviours with a totalising neoliberal ideology, turns democracy completely on its head. We are left with a form of inverted totalitarianism, or facade democracy, where direct methods of oppression are not required, as citizens are far easier to control and better ‘nudged’ when they continue to believe themselves free and autonomous. 

The Foreign Office have not yet responded to a request for comment.

Related

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

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

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

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

 


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

DonatenowButton

Labour’s pledge to reinstate legal aid reflects a democratically accountable and trustworthy party

 

Related image

Yesterday I wrote about the Labour party’s plans to reinstate legal aid, so that people who need to challenge social security decision-making may access legal support to do so. A number of people commented that we shouldn’t need legal aid to challenge the government’s welfare policies, as they should be fit for purpose in the first place.

However, I think that is a measure of how very low public expectations of government have sunk. What the Labour party are offering, to date, is a reformed social security system that does not punish the very people it is meant to support. So far their pledges include scrapping the bedroom tax, the Conservative’s sanction regime, the work capability assessment, the personal independent payment assessment, and a ‘root and branch’ review of the welfare system more generally, to ensure it is fair and adequately supportive.

Social security as it stands does not provide enough support to meet the essential costs of living, which has had some recognisable and catastrophic concsequences. The Labour party’s work on welfare is ongoing, and importantly, it is in consultation with disabled people, allied organisations and academics who have researched the woeful and absolutely unacceptable shortcomings of the current system. The consultations have been ongoing, too, indicating a party that is democratically inclusive, responsive, and is genuine in its claim to meet the needs and best interests of the many. 

The Conservatives have turned justice into a commodity for the very wealthy. Legal support is available, provided people can afford it. That unequal access to justice serves as a buttress for social inequality and political oppression.

Furthermore, a government owes its citizens distributive justice, too: fair policies, just laws, effective means to participate in how we are governed, fairly distributed resources and services, and so on. The Conservatives are unable to understand that justice is the application of the law equally to all citizens of the state, and that in democracies, policies are generally regarded as a mechanism for distributive justice, they are not devices for the withdrawal of justice and increasing oppression.

Similarly, human rights are also universal. That is the whole point of them. However, the Conservatives have also made them increasingly conditional, which has exposed some communities and social groups to increasing political discrimination.

Recently, the Bar Council chair said the rule of law is at risk because of such “political folly and expediency.” Andrew Walker QC also said that justice in the UK is at risk because of political decisions that threaten to undermine the independence of the judiciary, underscoring a deep anger coursing through the legal profession.

Walker used his speech to the Annual Bar and Young Bar Conference last month to say: “In truth, in the last decade, we have been following a course that has set its face against justice, by political design, political folly and political expediency.”

He added “Cuts to legal aid represent “a huge threat to access to justice in our country. If we can no longer deliver access to justice of which we can be proud – even worse, if our systems of family and criminal justice start to fail – then our justice and rule of law are at risk.”

The comments reflect widespread, mounting concern about cuts to the legal system and the impact they are having on access to justice.

Referring to they way the justice system in the UK had taken centuries to evolve, Walker said: “Just because something is longstanding does not mean that it, or the people in it, are unbreakable.”

Many of us raised these concerns when the cuts were first proposed by the government. Access to justice is an absolute constitutional principle. It must not be undermined. Access to justice is a fundamental democratic right, and the chaos and failure unfolding across the legal system as the result of cuts should concern everyone who cares about justice.

The Ministry of Justice is under criminal investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office for having failed to publish its research in full when ordered to, opting instead to publish a short and incomplete summary.  A review of 2012’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) is being carried out. But ministers have already delayed far too long in the face of clear evidence that cuts in the family courts have been harmful.

Official figures show that the proportion of litigants with legal representation fell from 60% in 2012 to 33% in the first quarter of last year, and it is not uncommon for one party in a civil case to be represented by a lawyer while the other is not. Last year one senior family court judge, Mr Justice Bodey, described the current position as “shaming”, while Mr Justice Francis said it was remarkable that the parents of Charlie Gard did not qualify for legal aid in their dispute with their son’s doctors.

Meanwhile, the Law Society began a judicial review of cuts to the fees paid to solicitors for legal aid work, while a strike by barristers, which saw more than 100 chambers refuse to take on new cases, was called off in June only after the government came up with additional funds.

Legal aid began in the UK in the 1940s, along with the rest of the welfare state. In the US, a defendant’s entitlement to a lawyer in a criminal case is enshrined in an amendment to the constitution. While the rules in the UK may lack this constitutional underpinning, people should still be entitled to access to justice – including lawyers paid for with legal aid. Without equal access to justice, human rights frameworks are pretty much redundant. 

In a functioning democracy, regardless of what kind of policies a government puts in place, we must have equal access to justice. Legal aid was part of our post war democratic settlement, and the Conservatives have dismantled most of that. Restricting our access to justice was part of a deliberate and coordinated attack on citizens’ most fundamental rights, in an attempt to prevent people holding the government to account for their devastating welfare ‘reforms’ and cuts to the NHS, among other authoritarian changes the government have made to our society. 

A key point is this. Even when we have a rather more fair, balanced and egalitarian government in office, we must always, nonetheless, have access to justice, so that if or when things go wrong, we can hold that administration to account. In pledging to reinstate legal aid, Labour are not only doing the right thing, they are demonstrating a willingness to be held democratically accountable for their policies and their consequences. That must surely inspire a degree of faith and trust.

These are the essential mechanisms of democracy that we seem to have forgotten over the last eight years. We no longer expect government to act in the best interest of citizens.

However, that is not true of all governments.

I am hopeful that the Labour party’s social security policies will be fit for purpose precisely because Labour plan to reinstate legal aid. It shows that they plan to implement policies that comply with human rights frameworks, and are therefore much less likely to face legal challenges in the first place. Legal aid provides ordinary people with an essential democratic safeguard and demonstrates the Labour party are comfortable with being held accountable should the need arise.

These are the key reasons why I welcome this move.

Legal aid is a fundamental right and a crucial safeguard in a democratic society. Without equal access to justice, we simply cease to be free. 

Related

Labour party pledge to reinstate legal aid, restoring equal access to justice

 


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.

DonatenowButton