Category: Ethical journalism

Jeremy Corbyn’s calm decency is the best antidote to the Conservatives’ perpetual politics of spite


Yesterday I wrote two articles about the Conservative’s latest grotesque dead cat strategy. The second was concerning an email I got in the early hours from the Conservative Party’s Vice Chair, Helen Whatley, which gave the whole series of  ever-complicit mainstream media commentaries and events in parliament a staged and an “integrity Initiative” kind of feel to it. I wrote a very angry and swift response. The bloomin’ cheek and brass neck of the Tories, asking ME to join their party to “show” Jeremy Corbyn. Needless to say I told them exactly what I thought of their psyop-styled invitation.

The Conservatives turned parliament into a spite-riddled pantomine yesterday, despite the fact that a homeless man who had collapsed outside the houses of parliament died hours before. He is the second homeless person to die after falling ill outside parliament this year. True to form, the heartless government refused to see this as a wake-up call, and instead, unabashed, they indulged in disrespectful and vindictive performances to attack  HMs opposition leader.

Data released on Thursday by the Office for National Statistics shows nearly 600 homeless people were found dead on the streets or in temporary accommodation in England and Wales in 2017. They are the first official government figures and show a 24% increase in deaths over five years.

Deaths have risen every year since 2014, increasing from 482 to 597 last year, according to the figures. The average age of a rough sleeper at death was 44 among men and 42 for women. Eighty-four percent of the homeless people who died were men. London and the north-west had the highest mortality of homeless people in England and Wales.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses a demonstration against nuclear weapons this year.

The trials, tribulations and triumphs of Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn has done more to increase his party’s vote share since Clement Attlee in 1945. Corbyn has remained calm, measured, rational and reasonable despite the general hatred directed at him by the Conservatives, from some of the ‘moderate’ left and of course, the far-right. Despite being targeted by truly evil and relentless propaganda and smear campaigns which a amplified by the media, he has, nonetheless seen considerable electoral success in spite of it all.

A whistleblower, Peter Francis, revealed in 2015 that the Special Branch were ordered to put Corbyn under surveillance, and they compiled secret files on the political activities of Corbyn and nine other MPs, even after they had been elected to the House of Commons. Francis disclosed that he had read the files on the 10 MPs while he worked for the Metropolitan Police’s special branch.

He added that he had personally collected information on Corbyn, and two other MPs, while he was working undercover infiltrating anti-racist groups in the 1990s.

In March 2015, Francis named the other Labour MPs whom police had kept files on – Harriet Harman, Diane Abbott, Joan Ruddock, Peter Hain, Dennis Skinner, Jack Straw, Ken Livingstone and the late Bernie Grant and Tony Benn.

The revelations prompted criticism from some of the MPs who swiftly went to the Commons and demanded answers from the police. (This is a transcript of the parliamentary debate, and Guardian articles here and here).

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has told MPs that the revelations were “extremely serious”, warning: “This matter will not go away”.

Hain, a former cabinet minister, (here) wanted to know why he was being watched by the police when he was an MP, adding that the revelations raised “fundamental questions about parliamentary sovereignty”. Two politicians have established that the police maintained files on their political activities in recent years. Neither of them – Jenny Jones, a Green Party peer, and Ian Driver, a Kent councillor who stood against ex UKIP leader Nigel Farage at this year’s general election – have a criminal record. 

The police were unable to say how many elected progressive politicians have been monitored by its ‘domestic extremism’ unit (whose formal name has been the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit.)

It’s an utter outrage, and clearly demonstrates the sheer unaccountability and contempt for democracy that the establishment have and hold. Yet the despicable prop and propaganda mouthpiece for a profoundly antidemocratic establishment, the Daily Telegraph, reported that undercover police officers had monitored Jeremy Corbyn for two decades. It was claimed that he had been put under surveillance “amid fears that he was attempting to undermine democracy.

It was part of a barrage of stories from the rightwing press intended to damage his attempt to win the election.

But those of us with more sceptical (and less cynical) minds are asking a different question – why were the police spying on an elected MP who has been committed to nonviolent protest? 

As Corbyn has previously said: “I am a democratically elected person and it turns out I was put under surveil­lance for a long time because I campaigned on human rights issues and was involved in justice campaigns.”

Meanwhile, the Conservatives see universal human rights as an inconvenience to be  disregarded for those who can’t afford the privilege. They think social justice is about property rights, the right for employers to exploit workers, the right for the state to coerce ill and disabled people into exploitatively low paid jobs, regardless of whether or not they are well enough to work. 

It’s high time the UK public asked itself what kind of leader isthe best kind for the majority. Authoritarian leaders seem to conventionally appeal to historically stereotypical notions of “strength”, but who genuinely believes that this bunch of arrogant, sneering, narcissistic bunch of public school bullies has any real strength? And why does anyone imagine they give a toss about the majority of people’s lives? 

It’s time for us to emancipate ourselves from the conventional, overbearing authority, hierarchy and other forms of centralised, commanding domination of government. A collaborative, facilitating kind of leadership and political organisation is the only one with which we can genuinely engage and be engaged.

I’ve spent quite a bit of the last few years reflecting on the baleful influence of shadowy pressures coming from the establishment – ‘the permanent state’ – who quite simply will go to any lengths to prevent a thoroughly decent democratic socialist who means what he says, to be Prime Minister. 

And that in itself shows just what a flimsy facade democracy has become, serving as little more than a fact-proof screen erected around a very nasty long standing authoritarianism embedded in a deepest, darkest state. It’s time to knock it down and rebuild an accountable responsive government that serves the people, rather than simply enduring one that thinks we should serve it.

I’ll leave you with Jeremy Corbyn’s comment on yesterday’s shenanigans in parliament.

 


I don’t make any money from my work.  If you want to, you can help me keep going by making a donation to support me in continuing to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to continue to provide support and advice to others affected by the Conservative’s punitive welfare ‘reforms’.

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Paypal claim I am a ‘politically exposed person’ and have restricted my account

I logged into my paypal account and had the following message, completely out of the blue:

paypal limitation

I clicked on the PEP questions and got this:

politically exposed

I answered no because I don’t hold a position of political office, or ‘public trust’ and I’m not ‘associated’ with or related to someone in the public trust or polical office.  

I am, however, a member of a political party, like many other citizens. I have also been known to meet with MPs to raise and discuss issues with them. That does not make me a ‘politically exposed person.’

I briefly researched what a ‘politically exposed person’ is: “In financial regulation, “politically exposed person” (PEP) is a term describing someone who has been entrusted with a prominent public function. A PEP generally presents a higher risk for potential involvement in bribery and corruption by virtue of their position and the influence that they may hold.”

And: “While there is no global definition of a PEP, most countries have based their definition on the 2003 Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) standard, as for example the Swiss financial market regulator in 2011, which quoted it as “the international standard.” 

The FATF’s latest definition of politically exposed persons (PEP), revised from 2003, is as follows

  • Foreign PEPs: individuals who are or have been entrusted with prominent public functions by a foreign country, for example Heads of state or Heads of government, senior politicians, senior government, judicial or military officials, senior executives of state owned corporations, important political party officials.
  • Domestic PEPs: individuals who are or have been entrusted domestically with prominent public functions, for example Heads of State or of government, senior politicians, senior government, judicial or military officials, senior executives of state owned corporations, important political party officials. (Not all countries subscribe to the concept of domestic PEPs with respect to regulatory requirements/application of due diligence. For example, US law, specifically Section 312 of the USA Patriot Act and its implementing regulations provide for enhanced due diligence for SFPFs (Senior Foreign Political Figure) only, defined as: “a current or former senior official in the executive, legislative, administrative, military, or judicial branches of a ‘foreign’ government…a senior official of a major ‘foreign’ political party; and a senior executive of a ‘foreign’ government-owned commercial enterprise.)
  • Persons who are or have been entrusted with a prominent function by a state owned enterprise or an international organisation refers to members of senior management, i.e. directors, deputy directors and members of the board or equivalent functions.

Requirements for a PEP apply to family members or close associates, any individual publicly known, or known by the financial institution to be a close personal or professional associate.

None of these criteria apply to me.

As of January 2015 the UK’s PEP definition is identical to the 2003 FATF definition, i.e. without the 2012 update to include domestic PEPs; It is found in the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 Section 14(5)[9] A politically exposed person is considered any individual who fits any of the criteria listed below:

  • A foreign person who has held any time in the preceding year a prominent public function outside the United Kingdom, in a state or international institution
  • Members of courts of auditors or of the boards of central banks
  • Ambassadors, chargés d’affaires and high-ranking officers in the armed forces
  • Members of the administrative, management or supervisory bodies of state-owned enterprises
  • Heads of state, heads of government, ministers and deputy or assistant ministers
  • Members of parliaments
  • Members of supreme courts, constitutional courts or of other high-level judicial bodies

The definition explicitly excludes middle-ranking or more junior officials.

Apparently there are business screening tools available to “Screen your prospective clients against extensive global PEP lists.”  

There are a number of companies advertising for regulatory, financial and reputational risk screening.

‘Due diligence to uncover PEPs can be time consuming and requires the checking of names, dates of birth, national identification numbers and photos of clients against a reputable database of known PEPs, which usually contains over one million profiles.’

I should add at this point that I have this week had sudden inexplicable finance related problems. One is with a catalogue I have credit with (I needed a new cooker at the time, and other household items, which I have bought on credit) who have suddenly doubled the annual interest rate on my account, and justified this by claiming a ‘risk’ had come to light. They wouldn’t tell me what the ‘new risk’ was. I don’t have any other credit accounts, luckily, and have used the catalogue only when I have needed to replace essential household items for my family.

It’s probably unrelated, but I’m also suddenly battling with the council regarding an underpayment. They did reimburse me the amount last month thatthey had been deducting by mistake from my housing benefit over the last year. But now the council have this week retrospectively claimed that some of that money was Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP), and want more than half of the money they reimbursed me back.

The DHP, which I didn’t actually claim from the dates they say, was only awarded on the date I received the notification for the decision to reimbuse me the amount I was underpaid, and mysteriously backdated over a year. They are now claiming they paid that money at the time my rent was reduced for the reason the council claimed was behind the mistaken deductions. The deductions happened because the council decided without telling me that my son no longer lived at home. He was at university, but returned home out of term times. Legally that means he still lives at home. As it happens, he had eft university anyway and returned home permanently, for much of the period concerned.

The Council are now claiming – a month after this was sorted out and I was paid for the period of underpayment concerned that they had awarded DHP at the time, because they understood my son had left home. The period they claim they paid me for was last year. A notification for that didn’t arrive until I got a letter telling me the council had made a mistake and were going to reimburse me. The DHP notification letter was among the documents of how my benefit had been worked out. The letter thanked me for making a claim – that I never made for that period –  which I thought was odd at the time.

It’s bureaucratic bullshit that reminds me of the Thatcher era, when the DHSS kept ‘losing’ my ‘file’ and not paying me my unemployment benefit at a time when I was a lone parent with a baby, fleeing domestic violence, staying in a women’s aid refuge  – and a political activist. At that time, I had some major and inexplicable problems accessing any support that other people take for granted.

I do have to wonder how I could possibly even remotely be considered to be a ‘politically exposed person,’  given the definition. I have very little money. I don’t get a huge amount of donations on my site. The current balance on my Paypal site is £3.46.

This week I have had a few more donations than average because of an appeal for support to replace my laptop, which is broken, but that could not reasonably be considered a trigger for the current restriction on my account or of any suspicion of ‘corruption’.

The most I have ever had on my paypal balance is £100, minus the money that Paypal deduct. I often don’t check my balance for a week at a time or longer, because on average, I generally do not have very much on my balance.

I don’t get paid for the work I do. I would love to make a living from research and writing, but have been unable to so far. That won’t stop me from continuing doing what I do, though, providing I can stay connected to the internet, of course. 

People donate sometimes. Those donations of course are entirely voluntary, and they support me in researching and writing independent articles, as well as providing help for people who desperately need support. I support people with their PIP and ESA assessments, reviews and appeals. I also support people who contact me because they are profoundly distressed by of the consequences of government austerity policies. 

If simply being a person who cares very much about injustice, human rights, inequality and increasing poverty, and about how our society is organised makes me a ‘politically exposed person’, well, so be it.

 

Update

I contacted Paypal today and went through some security checks with them. I asked why I had been suspected of being a ‘politically exposed person’ and they replied that the company is obliged to carry out monitoring and checks. I asked them why they had decided they needed to carry out monitoring and checks on me, specifically, and they said they ‘could not say why’.

My account restrictions have now been lifted.


 

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 support others.

Until the issues on my account with Paypal have been resolved, I won’t be using their donation button. But you can contact me directly if you want to make a donation.

 

Depression and time out

DSCN3314.JPG

With Alex Cunningham, Debbie Abrahams and my good friend Gail Ward at the Disability Equality Roadshow a couple of years ago. 

I don’t often talk about myself in my posts. I write about government policies, their socioeconomic consequences, their often devastating impacts on fellow citizens and critical, evidenced exploration of the ideological narratives that underpin them. In particular I write about welfare policies.  

I began campaigning and writing critically about the implications of the Coalition’s controversial Welfare Reform Bill in 2012, prior to it passing into law. It was clear that poor, unemployed and disabled citizens were being politically targeted with cuts of unprecedented intensity to their lifeline income. Social security was calculated originally to provide for essentials only. The cuts, strict conditionality, work fare and sanctions have left many citizens without enough money to cover basic survival needs such as food, fuel and shelter.

I messaged every single peer in 2012 to tell them why the welfare reform bil must not happen, and although many agreed, Cameron pushed this controversial bill through parliament, using the ‘financial privilege of the Commons to override criticism and challenge.

The punitive, regressive welfare reforms transformed social security from being a publicly funded social safety net into a ‘hostile environment’ concerned with administrating work discipline. It struck me that the policy details are very authoritarian and reflect certain traditional Conservative prejudices concerning the characteristics of the poorest citizens. These prejudices have been embodied in extremely discriminatory and oppressive policies. 

These coercive policies are offensive to basic ethical principles, undermine democracy and the fundamental universality of basic human rights, by making them conditional for the poorest citizens with the greatest need for protection from political abuse. Austerity was an ideological choice among several more humane ones. Austerity is a central feature of neoliberalism.

Having gone through the controversial Work Capability Assessment in 2011, when I had to give up my social work because I was too ill to continue in my post, followed by the distressing appeal process, some of my first pieces of work were aimed at providing support for other people going through the same process. I used information that an Atos whistleblower provided to help others navigate the fundamentally unfair assessment for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which is based on a biased process, weighted specifically towards finding justification for ending a claim for support and finding disabled or ill people ‘fit for work’.  

My own experience of the Work Capability Assessment was so terrible that I couldn’t face claiming PIP for 6 years. I finally did last year, with support from my local council, who had also provided some adaptations and aids in my home because of the growing extent of my disability. The experience of the PIP assessment was as terrible as I had anticipated.

I also co-run a group on Facebook to support other people going through ESA and PIP claims, assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals. Many of the people we support are experiencing profound psychological distress, anxiety and so many are having suicidal thoughts. Lots of people contact us for psychological and emotional support, and sometimes it feels very overwhelming to see such widescale and profound distress and harm that people are experiencing because of cruel government policies.

Many concerns have been raised regarding the reliability of the assessment in practice, the harmful effects of wrong decisions on vulnerable citizens and even its value-for-money. I submitted evidence to a United Nations’ inquiry from 2012 onwards, which concluded in 2016 that the government’s welfare policies have systematically violated the human rights of disabled people.  

My main aim is to share information, evidence, analysis and insight and to raise awareness of the unjust impacts of neoliberal welfare policies as widely as possible with citizens, politicians, professionals, academics and allied organisations. This has included speaking at conferences about the consequences of neoliberalism and the welfare reforms, meeting regularly with opposition welfare ministers (Conservative ministers have consistently refused to engage); contributing to the design of opposition welfare policies where I can, in addition to writing blogs.  

I’ve been asked a few times to do interviews on TV, and I try to get out to protests but often I’m simply not well enough to do so. My illness – lupus – affects all of my joints, tendons, periodically causing inflammation and pain, affecting my mobility. It also affects my nerves, blood cells, lungs, brain, my gut and my ability to fight infection. I catch a cold and end up with pneumonia.

I often have low platelet counts – autoimmune thrombocytopenia, which is a bleeding disorder. That seriously limits what I can do, sometimes. I’ve also developed a sensitivity to flickering lights, which causes partial seizures and other problems. That’s problematic because it restricts where I can go – shopping areas for example, are often a nightmare and my clubbing days are long over. I’ve always been an outgoing person, but over recent years, my increasing physical vulnerability has left me a little agoraphobic, too. But I do my best. I’m a person that seems to prefer working ‘behind the scenes’ – ideas and scripts. I once worked for the BBC many years ago as a script writer. I was given some acting roles for some of the comedy sketches I had written. I hated the acting, but loved the creative side of my work. It’s not that I couldn’t act – apparently I could and kept getting asked to do it – but I don’t like that kind of being on stage thing, it makes me very uncomfortable. 

Another part of my illness is neurological, and that means I have cognitive problems and depression. Lupus can also sometimes lead to psychosis. All of this said, simply being chronicallly and seriously ill can cause depression because of the constant need to adapt to progressive and ever-expanding symptoms.

Over the last 2 weeks I’ve written several particularly nightmarish articles about nightmarish policies, policy proposals and serial acts more generally of a nightmarish and utterly indifferent, unresponsive government. 

I’m currently in utter despair about the state of the UK and the fact that we have an extremely authoritarian government chiseling away at democracy and our fundamental human rights. The writing and the support work I do can sometimes feel relentless and overwhelming, and those of us supporting others don’t have a professional debrief session. We should probably address that and work together supporting each other a little more. But most of us probably seldom get time to stop and think about it.

I’m going to have to take some time out to deal with serious depression and exhaustion. In the meantime, would you please share my articles, because as depressing as they are, people in the UK need to know the way the wind is blowing.

I also want to say thank you for everyone who has supported my work over the past few difficult years, and those who have very frequently shared it. Also, thank you for all of the feedback you have given, which has kept me going.

I will be back as soon as I’m feeling more myself.

Thank you,
Sue x

dis-eq-roadshowGail Ward and me working with Debbie Abrahams and others


Here are my last few articles:

Welfare sanctions are killing people with chronic illnesses such as type 1 diabetes

Why private landlords are calling for ‘major overhaul’ of Universal Credit, many refuse to let properties to ‘high risk’ universal credit claimants

The Centre for Social Justice say Brexit is ‘an opportunity’ to introduce private insurance schemes to replace contribution-based social security

The government’s shameful lack of progress on disability rights in the UK – new report update and submission to the UNCRPD Committee

Concerns about the impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled people in update report to UNCRPD

Damian Hinds rebuked for misusing statistics and being conservative with the truth

Government plans to use your phone and online data to police your lifestyle and predict ‘threats’ to your health

Government changes to Mental Capacity Act threatens human rights of vulnerable citizens

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

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

Meet Liam and Michelle. It’s time to listen to the voices of homeless people about the fatal flaws of Universal Credit

Disability campaigners & organisations meet with Labour ministers to discuss devastating impacts of government’s draconian disability policies

I had a spot on message from my friend Hubert, who sometimes shares his excellet posts on this site.

He says this: “This is the long term outcome of Tory Policies: the systematic destruction of people for no real reason. In the words of Jarvis Cocker, fuck the morals does it make any money. In her blog, Kitty Jones asks for Readers to share her writings. Not just this blog but all of her blogs.

As a Writer and Researcher, Kitty Jones is providing analytical, researched articles that are frequently expose stories a year before the mainstream media. These are articles that outrage and upset and depress because they are not pandering to the egos of narrow partisan interests. They are setting out the truth, the facts, the consequences of policies.

Which is depressing. Because Government Policy for almost a decade has been grinding destruction. The destruction of sharing between people who think about consequences. The destruction of sharing between people who care about others. The destruction of sharing of aspirations, utopias and ideals. The grinding destruction of the society that they do not believe in.

The core of changing that is sharing this. Sharing the ideas and research that can transform the world. Becaust the truth is, Government Policy is to create a hostile environment to everybody who is not “one of us”. Yet, some people, like Kitty Jones manage to carry on doing and researching and writing. Sharing her work is just one way to stop that hostile environment from spreading.

Please go to the blog and read. Then cut and paste the url from the address bar of your browser and share one of Kitty Jones’s articles. Please. Thank you.”

He added “Because you actually are making a difference. So it does look grim, but we still have visions like yours. 🙂

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I write because it’s something I can do. We each do what we can, when we can and in our own way. 

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

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‘As Jews, we reject the myth that it’s antisemitic to call Israel racist’

Image result for antisemitism

Despite Theresa May’s claims that the Conservative party had adopted the full definition of antisemitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), thei party rulebook mentions neither antisemitism nor the IHRA’s definition.

A worldwide coalition of 40 Jewish groups from 15 different countries has issued a joint statement condemning attempts to stifle criticism of Israel with false accusations of antisemitism. The statement has been published in the Independent.

The statement is timely, as the UK Labour Party is currently facing pressure to adopt the full guidelines accompanying a definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Labour adopted the 38-word definition long ago.  They include two controversial examples of antisemitism, which are directly connected to criticism of Israel. 

The guidelines have already been used to target organisations campaigning for Palestinian rights. Supporters of Israel have called on government to stop the annual “Israeli Apartheid Week” on university campuses on the grounds that it breaches the IHRA. The guidelines suggest that “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” could itself be racist. Secondly, it’s claimed that “applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected of any other democratic nation” is potentially antisemitic. 

However, antiracist principles must surely permit us to legitimately criticise Israel for its  discriminatory policies, whether its segregated road network, its dual justice system, or the “Jewish nation state” bill passed on Wednesday, which entrenches ethnic inequality in law.

Maliciously or perversely labelling critics of this ethnic-based discrimination as “antisemitic” also silences Palestinians who object to Israel’s historic and ongoing commandeering and occupation of their land, and who are experiencing violations of their fundamental human rights as a consequence.

One of the key principles of the IHRA guidelines is that it is the victim of racist (or antisemitic) words and behaviour who has the right to say this is unacceptable and must stop, not the perpetrator. The problem is that has given rise to people insisting that they have experienced antisemitism, when it has been quite clear that they haven’t. On more than one occasion, the alleged perpetrator has not been given space to defend themselves against individuals who have used this principle in malice.

Palestinians have collectively called for solidarity through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement  until their fundamental human rights are observed and upheld, including the right of return for refugees to their homeland. 

Supporters of Israel have already used the idea of “double standards” to attack the BDS movement. Supporters of Israel claim that unless all nations that violate human rights are boycotted, there must be some antisemitic intent underpinning calls for BDS. Of course this isn’t a reasonable argument.

The IHRA definition states that holding Jewish people collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel is antisemitic. I agree. However, this at least recognises the potential for a state to act in ways that may attract international criticism, such as ethnic discrimination.

The “double standards” clause, however, and some interpretations of “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” – bearing in mind that Israel has expanded beyond internationally agreed boundaries – may be used to exempt Israel from international norms and human rights obligations.

There is a world of difference between denying Jewish people “the right to nationhood” and recognising that Israel is systematically denying Palestinians the right to nationhood. We must ensure that antiracism guidelines are not used to permit and excuse other forms of racism, too. Human rights are, after all, universal.

Another problem is that our own government offers military, financial and diplomatic support to Israel and are therefore deeply complicit in Israel’s human rights violations. Implementing a boycott strategy in the UK therefore is no different in terms of motivation as the boycott of South Africa was – on which BDS is modelled – which helped to bring an end to apartheid there.

In conclusion to their letter, the authors say: BDS is indeed working, as worried pro-Israel groups themselves acknowledged last year. Due to the success of the movement, a global response by Israel’s supporters is in full swing, with legislation to repress the boycott initiated in many countries.

“What is happening in the UK is but one example of attempts to redefine antisemitism to include criticism of Israel. In the US, the Antisemitism Awareness Act does the same.

“As Jews who support the BDS movement, which is based on universal human rights principles and opposition to all racisms, we find it distressing that some imply Jewish communities are unanimous in their support of the IHRA. 

On the contrary, we believe that by dangerously conflating opposition to Israel’s discriminatory policies with anti-Jewish racism, IHRA politicises and harms the fight against antisemitism as well as the struggle for justice for Palestinians.

We take the threat of antisemitism seriously. Indeed, from our own histories we are all too aware of the dangers of increasingly racist governments and political parties. The rise in antisemitic discourse and attacks worldwide is part of that broader trend.

“In such urgent times, it is more important than ever to distinguish between legitimate critiques of unjust Israeli policies and “hostility to Jews as Jews”, as leading expert Brian Klug defines antisemitism.

“It is profoundly wrong to label the Labour party “antisemitic” for refraining to adopt IHRA guidelines in their entirety. Criticising Israeli policies – or indeed the tenets of Zionism – must be allowed to be part of political debate. That’s why Labour’s national executive committee has found aspects of the IHRA guidelines wanting.

Leading lawyer Hugh Tomlinson QC has criticised the IHRA on these grounds. Civil liberties champions Liberty recently cautioned public bodies that it could constitute a threat to freedom of expression. Tellingly, even US lawyer Kenneth Stern – a key figure in crafting early incarnations of the IHRA – has warned that it could “encourage punishments of legitimate expressions of political opinion.

“Last weekend, two Palestinian teenagers in Gaza were killed by an Israeli air strike. Since the beginning of the Great Return March protests on 30 March, more than 130 people have been killed – including 25 children. These are just the most recent examples of why we call for a non-violent boycott of Israel until it complies with international law.

With Jewish and Israeli organisations across the globe that have varying approaches to the BDS movement, we stand united against harmful definitions of antisemitism and together for human rights and the freedom to protest.”

Authors: Richard Kuper, who co-founded the UK-based Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Rebecca Vilkomerson, who is director of US-based Jewish Voice for Peace.

 

Related

Marginalisation of left leaning Jewish groups demonstrates political exploitation of the antisemitism controversy by the right wing

Antisemitism and the Labour party – a deeper look (cont) – Jewish Voice for Labour.

The Conservative code of conduct does not at any point mention the word “antisemitism” or spell out a definition of antisemitism, IHRA-approved or otherwise.

 


Please let’s help Peter to maintain his mobility and independence

Peter Nicholls's Profile Photo, Image may contain: 1 person

This is Peter, I’ve known him for a few years, through our mutual campaigning on Facebook to raise awareness of issues that affect disabled people.

Peter also has multiple health conditions – ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, chronic depression, painful nerve entrapments, and arthritic wear in his neck. These conditions leave him exhausted and debilitated for much of the time. Even doing the most simple tasks can severely exhaust him. Not only is Peter’s mobility substantially restricted at all times, there are many days when he is not even able to leave his bed due to profound fatigue,  a lack of energy and physical strength. He is unable to work, due to my impact of his health conditions.

For seven years, Peter received Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and then Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Under both awards, Peter also qualified for the enhanced mobility component. This meant that he could use this part of his lifefine benefit to lease a mobility car from the Motability scheme.

However, Peter was reassessed in January and despite the fact that Peter’s conditions are chronic, the assessor surprisingly decided that he now needs a lower level of support. This meant that Peter’s income was immediately cut by £50 per week.

Peter has appealed unsuccessfully through the Mandatory Reconsideration process, and is now going appeal the Department for Work and Pension’s decision at a tribunal court. However, the wait for appeals is currently long, and Peter has been told that his won’t likely happen until after Christmas 2018. In the mean time, Motability are taking back his car as they are no longer getting payments from the benefit agency.

The loss of income is becoming a struggle, but Peter tells me that the loss of his mobility car is absolutely devastating. He says: “A car gives someone like me freedom, it is autonomous mobility. I have no idea how I’m going to cope. Getting to and from bus stops is very hard. Buses end up causing me such pain and harm, that I cannot do anything once I’ve been on a journey. Taxis might be ok for one or two trips per week, but the cost soon becomes intolerable, and they restrict getting out of the house to just 2 or 3 times a week.

He added “I am appealing with the support of Disability Solutions West Midlands. They have an excellent record of overturning 90% of decisions on appeal, and on the evidence, they say my case is a good one. Therefore, once I finally get my appeal heard it is very likely I will have everything reinstated.”

Meanwhile, Peter is hoping to use crowd fund support to help him buy a car to help him over the difficulties and barriers he faces over the next six months or so. Without this support, Peter will be effectively housebound and unable to do everyday things, such as shopping, visiting the doctor and hospital, visiting friends, going for coffee or enjoying the outdoors. All of these things are vital his ongoing therapy, and basic inclusion in his community and wider society. 

Thousands of disabled people have already lost their specialist Motability vehicles because of the cruel Conservative cuts to PIP, and sadly, many more are likely to be affected. 

Personal Independence Payment is a non means tested benefit for people with a long-term health condition or impairment, whether physical, sensory, mental, cognitive, intellectual, or any combination of these. It is an essential financial support towards the extra costs that ill and disabled people face, to help them lead as full, active and independent lives as possible.

However, I’ve written at length about how the assessment process is unfit for purpose, and is creating distress and causing harm to disabled people. See for example: Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective, which discusses how, prior to the introduction of PIP, Esther McVey stated that of the initial 560,000 claimants to be reassessed by October 2015, 330,000 of these are targeted to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced.

Of course the ever-shrinking category of “those with the greatest need” simply reflects a government that has made a partisan political decision to cut disabled people’s essential income to fund a financial gift to the wealthiest citizens. There is no justification for this decision, nor is it “fair.”

That article also discusses government guidelines for PIP assessors or ‘health care professionals’. The PIP assessment is geared towards looking for “inconsistencies” in “functional limitations”. For example, if you say you can’t sit unaided for half an hour, but then say that you watch soaps on TV, it will be assumed you sit unaided for at least half an hour to watch TV, and that will be classed as a “discrepancy between the reported need and the actual needs of the claimant.”

The whole assessment is set up and designed to look for “inconsistencies.” In other words, the assessor is looking for any excuse to justify a decision that you are not among those in “greatest need” for a PIP award. The entire process happens within a framework of reducing welfare costs, after all. This makes a mockery of the government’s fondness for using the word “objective.”

As someone who went through a PIP assessment last year, I know how harrowing and utterly unfair they can be. I was awarded basic rate. I was one point short of an enhanced level award. In a report concerning the decision, I was told that because I had a degree (I graduated in 1996, Master’s in 2007), because I worked as a social worker (until becoming too ill to work in 2010), and because I had a driving licence in 1993 (I can no longer drive because of flicker induced seizures), I had “no evident cognitive difficulties” caused by my conditions. It seemed inconceivable to the assessor that my illness, which arose after I graduated, has caused cognitive difficulties since 2010. 

Assessors use any irrational and outrageous excuse they can to award the lowest amount possible.

I manage my health care and hospital appointments, shopping and so on because my son and other family members support me by taking me themselves.  I’ve been unable to drive for a few years now.

However, Peter depends on his motability vehicle to get out to appointments, to shop and to meet friends. Without his car he will be trapped in the house, and the loss will cause him hardship and distress. That’s why I thought a crowdfund appeal would be  appropriate. 

The appeal is to raise £1,500 to help replace the loss of PIP payments and replace or keep Peter’s essential mobility car, so he can stay mobile and remain able to leave the house. 

Please add your support for Peter here at Just Giving (Click).

 

 

 

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

influence

Media Intelligence Partners’ lobbying aims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The UK Policy Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media Intelligence Partners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grassroots Out

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

Leave Means Leave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related

Conservatives for hire: cashing in on Brexit

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

Calibrating Academy- Hubert Huzzah

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

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

 


 

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

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

media networks on Twitter

Media network community, from The University of Exeter’s study – Different News for Different Views: Political News-sharing Communities on Social Media Through the UK General Election in 2015

In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, an annual report produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Britain was judged to have been in 40th place. This compared to Norway and Sweden at the top of the index, with the UK placed below Trinidad and Tobago and only just ahead of Taiwan. The United States is also trailing, to the dismay of US media organisations, at 45 on the list (with North Korea in bottom place, at 180). 

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

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

Britain’s ranking, from the World Press Freedom Index 2018

The recent report has drawn attention to several issues that may have contributed to the UK’s place in the ranking. It says: “A continued heavy-handed approach towards the press (often in the name of national security) has resulted in the UK keeping its status as one of the worst-ranked Western European countries in the World Press Freedom Index.” 

 

Related 

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

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

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberism 

Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I write because I must. 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.

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