Category: Ethical journalism

From a nerve agent attack to a nuclear threat in 3 days – the very worrying collapse of international diplomacy

Image result for skripal poisoning


Another Russian exile, Nikolai Glushkov, who was close friends with the late oligarch Boris Berezovsky has been found dead, aged 68, in his London home.

Counter terrorism officers are leading the inquiry into his death. They have said  that there was no evidence to link it to events in Salisbury, though it has been treated as ‘suspicious’. So far this year, deaths registered for men aged 65-74 in England and Wales have averaged 1,179 a week (according to the Office for National Statistics data).

Amber Rudd, the home secretary, decided to announce an inquiry into allegations of Kremlin links to 14 other deaths in Britain in the past two decades. 

The prime minister was said to be confident last night that she had succeeded in rallying key European and US allies before a meeting of the National Security Council to be followed by a statement to the Commons this afternoon. 

One very worrying comment in the Times caught my eye: “On Monday the prime minister cleared the way in a statement to MPs for a cyberattack on Russia as she challenged President Putin to explain how a ‘Russian’ toxin came to be used on British soil.” However, Robert Hannigan, the former director of GCHQ, warned against a cyber-offensive because of the likelihood of escalation.

“Starting a cyberconflict is not in anyone’s interests,” he said. “We need to be sure that anything we do is consistent with our values.”  

That the prime minister felt such a blatant act of aggression and provocation was appropriate at all is VERY concerning, given the fact that she has refused to share the evidence that her allegations are based on with Russia, and has refused to permit Russia to contribute to an inquiry. 

Earlier this year, defence think tank Chatham House warned that US, British and other nuclear weapons systems are increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks. The threat has received scant attention so far from those involved in nuclear military planning and the procurement of weapons.

It blames this partly on failure to keep up with fast-moving  technological advances, lack of skilled staff and the slowness of institutional change.

“Nuclear weapons systems were developed before the advancement of computer technology and little consideration was given to potential cyber vulnerabilities. As a result, current nuclear strategy often overlooks the widespread use of digital technology in nuclear systems,” the authors of the study said.

Nuclear weapons systems are vulnerable and at risk from hostile states, criminal groups and terrorist organisations exploiting cyber vulnerabities. The report goes on to say:

At times of heightened tension, cyber attacks on nuclear weapons systems could cause an escalation, which results in their use.

“Inadvertent nuclear launches could stem from an unwitting reliance on false information and data. Moreover, a system that is compromised cannot be trusted in decision-making.”

At best, cyber insecurity in nuclear weapons systems is likely to undermine trust and confidence in military capabilities and in the nuclear weapons infrastructure.

“At worst, cyber attacks could lead to deliberate misinformation and the inadvertent launch of nuclear weapons.

“In times of crisis, loss of confidence in nuclear weapons capabilities would factor into decision-making and could undermine beliefs in nuclear deterrence – particularly in extending nuclear deterrence to allied countries.”

The report, titled Cybersecurity of Nuclear Weapons Systems: Threats, Vulnerabilities and Consequences, said the issue required “urgent attention” from the governments of nuclear-armed states and those that could be affected by the use of nuclear weapons.

Chatham House also urged governments to be open about their discussions, adding: “After all, it is the public that will pay the ultimate price for complacency regarding cyber security of nuclear weapons systems.”

Counter terrorism policing statement

The UK’s head of counter-terrorism policing has issued a statement regarding the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. Neil Basu, speaking at Scotland Yard, said:

“We are exploring all investigative avenues. This includes extensive CCTV footage from across the city and over 380 exhibits so far.

In particularly I’m appealing for anyone who saw Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Sergei’s car which is a red BMW with a registration plate: HD09 WAO, in the Salisbury area between approximately 1pm and 1.45pm on Sunday 4 March.

The police are going to continue to see a great deal of police activity in and around city, including potentially more cordons being erected. But please don’t be alarmed. It is necessary as part of this major investigation. In truth it may last many weeks.

It is a painstaking operation to identify anyone of interest and eliminate them or include them, but at this stage we are not declaring person of interest or a suspect at this time.”

No mention of ‘the Russians’, then.

Novichok nerve agents 

Image result for skripal poisoning

It was certainly a nerve agent that was used in the attack on the Skripals. The raw materials to make such chemical weapons are inexpensive and generally not difficult to obtain. 

Novichok nerve agents – also known as the “N-series” – were secretly developed by the former Soviet Union beginning in the 1970s. They followed the “G-series” of nerve agents made by Germany in the 1930s and the “V-series” made by the UK in the 1950s. Novichok means “newbie” in Russian. There are no previous reports of the Novichok nerve agents being used in battle or assassinations. However, Andrei Zheleznyakov, a Russian scientist involved in their development, reportedly died not long after being exposed to a small amount that leaked out of a rubber tube in the laboratory.  

The scant details that we know about these agents are largely based on reports from Russian chemist Vil Mirzayanov, who exposed the Russian chemical weapon development programme in 1991. However, he never gave any formulae or protocols for synthesis of this deadly class of chemical agents that he referred to. 

Nerve agents are made from two precursor chemicals that are mixed together just before use. These precursors could be made at pesticide or fertiliser manufacturers without arousing any suspicion at all, as this class of chemical weapon is made with organophosphates as a key component. Some insecticides, including carbamates organophosphates such as dichlorvos, malathion and parathion, are nerve agents. At high enough doses, acute toxicity and death can occur through the same mechanism as other nerve agents. 

As binary chemical weapons are those which contain the toxic agent in its inactive state in the form of chemical precursors, which are significantly less toxic than the agent itself. Using precursors improves the safety of storing, transporting, and disposing of the weapon. Commonly, when used, the barrier between the two precursors is removed. These compounds then react to form the intended toxic agent. 

The Russians created two main types of Novichok nerve agent – A-230 and A-232.  We know these are chemicals that also contain carbon and phosphorus like the G-series nerve agents – which includes sarin, tabun, soman, and cyclosarin, and the V-series – which includes VX, VR, VE, VG and VM. However, their exact structures have allegedly remained a mystery in the West. 

As stated, A-232 (also called Novichok-5) is an organophosphate, like many pesticides. Phosphates are not listed among the controlled chemicals on the Chemical Weapons Convention lists. The Novichok class of agents were reportedly developed in an attempt to circumvent the Chemical Weapons Treaty (chemical weapons are banned on the basis of chemical structure and therefore a new chemical agent is not subject to past treaties). Novichoks have reportedly been engineered to be undetectable by standard detection equipment and to defeat even standard chemical protective gear, it has been said.

According to Mirzayanov, both the Novichoks are binary agents, meaning they are made from two precursor chemicals that are mixed together just before use  He also said that many of the less potent derivatives were reported in the open literature as new organophosphate insecticides, so that the secret chemical weapons programme could be disguised as legitimate pesticide research. Mirzayanov confirmed that Novichoks all feature an organophosphorus core.

Nerve agents are a class of organic chemicals that disrupt the mechanisms by which nerves transfer messages to organs. The disruption is caused by the blocking of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that catalyses the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitterNerve agents attack the nervous system, muscles are prevented from relaxing, so they spasm are effectively paralysed. This includes the heart and the muscles used for breathing. Because of this, the first symptoms usually appear within seconds of exposure and death can occur via asphyxiation or cardiac arrest in a few minutes. 

Initial symptoms may be excessive sweating, a runny nose, tightness in the chest, and constriction of the pupils. Soon after, the victim will have difficulty breathing and will experience nausea, involuntary, excessive salivation and fluid accumulation and sometimes, blistering, in the lungs – often producing frothing at the mouth – burning, watering and sometimes blistering eyes, gastrointestinal pain and vomiting. This phase is followed by initially myoclonic jerks (muscle jerks) followed by status epilepticus – type epileptic seizure. The effects of nerve agents are long-lasting and increase with continued exposure. Survivors of nerve agent poisoning almost invariably suffer chronic neurological damage and related psychiatric effects. 

Atropine and related anticholinergic drugs act as antidotes to nerve agent poisoning because they block acetylcholine receptors, but of course, they are poisonous in their own right. Pralidoxime chloride, also known as 2-PAM chloride, is less toxic but it works more slowly than other antidotes.

No standard test exists for Novichoks. It’s possible to detect exposure to nerve agents more generally by checking blood samples to monitor any significant decrease of activity of an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. However, UK intelligence agencies must have knowledge of the exact Novichok structures, otherwise they would not have been able to detect a match, as claimed. 

It is generally considered impossible to cure people who are exposed to it. Novichok is reported to be 5–8 times more lethal than VX nerve agent and effects are very rapid, usually within 30 seconds to 2 minutes. How it was deployed in the attack on the Skripals remains unclear.

At the moment, there is no evidence that Russia was not respecting the treaty that has come to the attention of the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons). Russia has previously destroyed quite a large amount of its chemical weapons stock – more than 400,000 tons. 

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said during a televised press conference earlier that Russia was not responsible for the poisoning and demanded that Britain seek to mediate the case under the chemical weapons convention. 

He said: “We have already made our statement on this case. Russia is ready to cooperate in accordance with the convention to ban chemical weapons if the United Kingdom will deign to fulfil its obligations according to the same convention.”

Lavrov also remarked that under the convention, Russia would have 10 days to reply to an official accusation by the UK over the use of a banned substance within its borders.

Russia summoned the UK’s ambassador to Moscow to protest against accusations that it ordered last week’s nerve agent attack in Salisbury and to warn that any British sanctions against Russia would be answered in kind. 

The prime minister said in parliament on Monday that the UK would consider punitive measures if Russia did not meet a (rather unreasonable) deadline of the end of Tuesday to explain itself. Possibilities include revoking the broadcast licence of the Russian state-funded broadcaster RT, expulsions of diplomats, or greater scrutiny of Russian investments in the UK.

The Russian foreign ministry said: “Any threats to adopt ‘sanctions’ toward the Russian Federation would not remain without a response.”

Among other measures, Moscow is ready to ban all British media outlets if London revokes the state-funded Russia Today’s right to broadcast in Britain, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry said on national television on Tuesday evening.

Not a single British media outlet will work in our country if they close Russia Today,” Maria Zakharova said. 

A foreign ministry statement said it had summoned Laurie Bristow, the British ambassador, to also declare that Russia would not comply with Theresa May’s demand that it explain its role until the Russian government had been given samples of the nerve agent that left the Skripals critically ill.

“Without this, any statements by London are senseless,” the ministry said in the statement given to journalists.

Meanwhile, May is preparing to chair a meeting of the national security council after the midnight deadline she set Moscow passed.

The prime minister is said to be preparing to set out a range of reprisals against the Russian state, including calls for fresh sanctions, visa bans and crackdowns on Russian money in the UK. She is expected to set out plans to build a coalition of international support – from the European Union, NATO and even the United Nations. However, given Brexit, Europe’s response is quite likely to be limited when it comes to practical support and retaliation.

Until Tuesday evening, Donald Trump had remained silent over the Kremlin’s “probable role”. However, he has since told Theresa May in a phone call earlier today that his support is conditional on the facts supporting her case. Downing Street said Trump had agreed that “the Russian government must provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used”.

The problem with the ultimatum is that there is a possibility the nerve agent did not come from Russia. 

Only one senior member of Trump’s administration had acknowledged that Russia may be responsible: Rex Tillerson. On Tuesday, however, Trump fired Tillerson as secretary of state, possibly underlining that May is likely to receive little or no help from the US. Not that Trump’s brand of ‘diplomacy’ would be of any value to us, things are fraught enough without any further bragging about big red buttons.

The Russian Embassy have said that “Britain must comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention which stipulates joint investigation into the incident, for which Moscow is ready.”

That seems fair, but the UK government have refused to permit such a joint investigation so far.

The Russian Embassy said Moscow will only respond once it is given access to samples of the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals. Again, the UK government has refused. There will have to be a degree of negotiation to escape the current impasse, otherwise the situation will simply escalate into one of increasing hostilities, provocation, retaliation, retaliation and more retaliation. This is the signposted, short and deadly road to war. 

Is the UK government playing provocation roulette with Russia?

The complete breakdown of diplomatic relationships has already led, it is reported, to a warning issued from Russia that the UK should not threaten a nuclear power last night, as tensions mounted ahead of an announcement today of measures against the Kremlin.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, was quoted as saying “one should not threaten a nuclear armed country.” 

Russia Slams UK PM’s ’Circus in Parliament’ on Skripal Poisoning Case

Maria Zakharova

There are many things that world leaders should not do or say. History is littered with the destruction and devastation of precious, ordinary human lives caused by the disregard and lack of conscience of those in positions of power. But that doesn’t ever seem to stop them, and always, it seems, to our utter surprise and horror.

There has been a dangerous escalation in both rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons and military strategy recently. For example, Vladimir Putin’s state of the union address earlier this month, showed a mock-up missile seemingly heading for the coast of Florida. Last year the British government disclosed that under certain (undefined) circumstances, nuclear strikes would be considered, even if our nation wasn’t under direct nuclear threat.  

Donald Trump has pledged to “spend freely” on upgrading the American nuclear arsenal. Last month, a review of nuclear “posture” set out plans to develop new “low-yield” nuclear weapons and for the first time consider nuclear strikes in response to non-nuclear threats – such as a devastating cyber attack. Russia has long possessed smaller nuclear weapons, with a military doctrine that conceives of their tactical use to counter conventional threats.

However we are witnessing a departure from a deterrence policy towards first strike posturing at a global level that could significantly lower the threshold for nuclear war.

Nuclear weapons protect no-one. They reflect an era of leaders who regard the lives of others as somehow expendable, including their own citizens. This disregard for the lives of others by those in positions of power and privilege shapes so much human suffering, it reflects everything that is wrong in the world.

“Cutting edge nuclear deterrence”, according to Trump’s most recent posture statement, apparently requires “tailored strategies” and “flexible capabilities.” These are not new concepts. They sound reasonable enough. Until we see that the flip side of deterrence is detonation. Tailored strategies and flexible capabilities require assigning nuclear weapons to “targets.” You can reason that most targets will probably be military  bases or ports and so on. At first. However, even one nuclear detonation will release radioactive material that will inevitably travel to densely populated areas, unconstrained.

The logic and cohesion of nuclear posture reviews break down when we shift from the declaration part to the operational level of nuclear deterrence. What are the humanitarian consequences of targeting plans for nuclear weapons? And how is escalation to be controlled once the nuclear threshold is crossed? See?

Because nuclear orthodoxy cannot withstand public scrutiny, especially on the fundamental questions of humanitarian consequences and escalation control, citizens in nuclear states seek refuge underneath the warm, comfort blanket statements of deterrence. Our personal comfort depends on presuming that deterrence is somehow robust and safe.

However it is fragile.

Recently I have written about the elements of human error, such as misinterpretation of mundane events such as solar flares, moon rises, intelligence miscalculation, and near accidents – the close calls we have somehow managed to survive so far. These events demonstrate what a fine margin of error there is and just how fragile the boundary actually is between deterrence and the sudden blinding, instant, searing heat followed by an utterly devastating blast and a mushroom cloud composed in part from the dust of corpses and crushed buildings,

It should be unthinkable for any person in a position of power to make such a horrific threat. Not so long ago, it would have been, in the age of ‘nuclear deterrence.’ But now we have the leaders of superpower states casually hint at first strikes, mentioning their nuclear buttons and arsenals whenever they feel like blowing off steam. 

In the event of a nuclear exchange, the UK government will be cowering in underground fallout shelters, as no doubt will Trump and the Russian officials. If that wasn’t so, I think perhaps they may hesitate before posturing so aggressively and potentially, catastrophically, while bargaining and bullying with lives of respective populations.


I did some further research following on from this observation I made: “No standard test exists for Novichoks. It’s possible to detect exposure to nerve agents more generally by checking blood samples to monitor any significant decrease of activity of an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. However, UK intelligence agencies must have knowledge of the exact Novichok structures, otherwise they would not have been able to detect a match, as claimed. 

I came across Craig Murray’s latest article on novichok, which also makes similar and some addition observations.

In summary, he says:

1) Porton Down has acknowledged in publications it has never seen any Russian “novichoks”. The UK government has absolutely no “fingerprint” information that can safely attribute this substance to Russia.
2) Until now, neither Porton Down nor the world’s experts at the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were convinced “Novichoks” even exist.
3) The UK is refusing to provide a sample to the OPCW.
4) “Novichoks” were specifically designed to be able to be manufactured from common ingredients on any scientific bench. The Americans dismantled and studied the facility that allegedly developed them. It is completely untrue only the Russians could make them, if anybody can.
5) The “Novichok” programme was in Uzbekistan not in Russia. Its legacy was inherited by the Americans during their alliance with Karimov, not by the Russians.

You can read Craig’s full article here.


PM says ‘highly likely’ Russia is responsible for nerve agent attack, without any conclusive evidence

From the age of nuclear ‘deterrence’ to an era of first-strike posturing – a creeping escalation



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There is NO record on Corbyn – Ministry for State Security of East Germany

The following is an important press statement from the Federal Commissioner of Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic, concerning the recent allegations made against Jeremy Corbyn:

Government Site Builder (Link to homepage)

For immediate release

Currently there is a debate in Great Britain about a possible documentation of activities of the Labour politician Jeremy Corbyn in the Stasi records. The Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records (BStU) usually only releases information with connection to a person to journalists and researchers when records document an official or unofficial collaboration with the Ministry of State Security. Otherwise there is no further disclosure. But because speculations have risen because of this policy in the case of Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, the BStU for this case makes the following statement:

The most recent researches in the written records of the Ministry for State Security of East Germany have not produced any records or any other information on Jeremy Corbyn or Diane Abbott.

Dagmar Hovestädt
press spokeswoman BStU

Photo of BStU-spokesperson Dagmar Hovestädt.

Over the past week the right-wing gutter press have published a series of completely false and ridiculous smears, claiming that Labour politicians are ‘traitors’ and  attempting to link them with Soviet bloc spies. Of course this is part of a broader strategy of tensiondesigned purposefully to create public alarm – to portray the left as a threat to the wellbeing and security of our society – and it has continued to reverberate around the media; used as part of an arsenal of pro-establishment, anti-progressive propaganda to discredit Corbyn and the left.

It’s a long-standing propaganda strategy from the right wing Westminster media bubble. 

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

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

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

The publication of the fake letter was severely embarrassing to Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald and his Labour party. The chance of a victory was dashed as the manufactured spectre of internal revolution and a government oblivious to the “red peril” dominated the public consciousness, via the media. The Daily Mail published a series of sensationalist headlines, such as:

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

The more things change, the more they stay the same for the pro-establishment media mouthpieces. Of course this is propaganda, not journalism. The letter was confirmed as a forgery as well as a filthy, deceitful propaganda pre-election campaign. However, it was too late, as the damage was done to the Labour Party and affected the General Election outcome in 1924.

Jan Sarkocy, a former Czech spy who worked for the Statni Bezpecnost (StB) secret police during the Cold War, claims he met Jeremy Corbyn a number of times in 1986 and 1987 – including twice in the House of Commons and once in the Islington North MP’s constituency office. 

Svetlana Ptáčníková, who heads the Czech Security Forces Archive – which holds documents relating to StB spies and their contacts, also says the story about Corbyn isn’t true.

Mr. Corbyn was neither registered [by the StB] as a collaborator, nor does this [his alleged collaboration] stem from archive documents,” she told Czech News agency CTK.

 Ptáčníková, who heads the Czech Security Forces Archive that keeps documents of the now defunct StB, said that The Sun’s headline branding Corbyn a communist spy definitely does not correspond to reality.

Mr Corbyn was neither registered [by the StB] as a collaborator, nor does this [his collaboration] stem from archive documents,” Ptacnikova said.

On the contrary, the Czech archive keepers, who are studying the relevant files, have found signs showing that the StB tried hard to prevent Corbyn from uncovering the real identity of the Czechoslovak official he was meeting, Ptáčníková said. Dymic was a secretary at the embassy in London and he was meeting Corbyn in his capacity as a diplomat. He was expelled from Britain in 1989.

In a supreme act of self harm to his credibility, Sarkocy, who now lives in the Slovakian capital Bratislava, went on to claim that he personally organised the Live Aid concern in 1985, which he said was “funded by Czechoslovakia”.

Sarkocy, who operated under the name Jan Dymic, claims there were more than 10 meetings between the two.

He claims that the Labour MP was a “paid informant”, known by the codename Agent Cob (how very original), who passed on information as part of a process of “conscious cooperation”. However, records show there were only 3 meetings.

Czech authorities have also confirmed the meetings, but say that Corbyn was not an informant. There are signs that Czechoslovakian intelligence officials made attempts to hide Sarkocy’s true identity from the Labour MP, they said.

Furthermore, the Czech Prime Minister has described the spy who made the claims as “totally untrustworthy”.

Conservative MPs have ludicrously called on Corbyn to release his Stasi file, compiled by the east German secret police. The German authorities responsible for the Stasi archive confirmed on Tuesday that they had found no documents on Corbyn. (See opening paragraphs) and this included all files that can’t be released publicly for privacy protection reasons, spokesman Matthias Dziomba said.

Sarkocy has also made claims that Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis cooperated with the Czechoslovakian secret police – a charge Babis has long denied and which is the subject of a long running court case.

“Mr Sarkocy is lying,” Mr Babis told Czech tabloid CTK. “He is an absolutely untrustworthy person and I am shocked that Czech media consider him a relevant source of information.”

Sarkocy’s other claims have also remained completely unsubstantiated.

A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said: “The claim that he was an agent, asset or informer for any intelligence agency is entirely false and a ridiculous smear.

Like other MPs, Jeremy has met diplomats from many countries. In the 1980s he met a Czech diplomat, who did not go by the name of Jan Dymic, for a cup of tea in the House of Commons.

“Jeremy neither had nor offered any privileged information to this or any other diplomat.

“During the Cold War, intelligence officers notoriously claimed to superiors to have recruited people they had merely met. The existence of these bogus claims does not make them in any way true.”

A Labour Party spokesman dismissed Sarkocy as “a fantasist, whose claims are entirely false and becoming more absurd by the day”.

These ridiculous smears should be given no credence whatsoever,” he added.

Ken Livingstone, also claimed to have been involved in said he had “no recollection of meeting anyone from the Czech embassy” and dismissed the claims as a “tissue of lies”.

John McDonnell, it was claimed had met with a KGB agent also strongly denied this allegation.

He said: “These are ridiculous and false allegations. I have never met any Czechoslovak or Soviet agent, nor visited the Soviet or Russian embassy and have only visited Guildford once in my life, which was last year for a Labour Party public meeting.”

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, has dismissed the claims. In a strongly worded attack on the newspapers reporting them, he said: “This journalism is not worth the paper it’s printed on. The only thing these articles reveal is just how concerned some tax dodging media barons are about a Labour government.

In an era when the traditional press is fighting for survival newspapers should be upping their journalistic standards not falling onto the wrong side of the fake news divide.

“These irresponsible scurrilous stories do a disservice to the titles they are printed in and undermine the British newspaper industry during a very febrile time. For newspapers to have a brighter future than they look to now, proprietors must focus on ensuring their publication’s long term health and reputation, rather than on cheap political attacks.”

Corbyn is telling the truth

Communist-era files from the intelligence agency of Czechoslovakia provide no evidence whatsoever that Corbyn was ever a spy or agent of influence, say experts and academic researchers who have reviewed the papers on Tuesday.

Radek Schovánek, an analyst with the defence ministry of the Czech Republic – which emerged, along with Slovakia, from the peaceful breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993 – has spent 25 years researching documents filed by the now-defunct spy service. He told the Guardian the suspicions against Corbyn were unfounded, and the claims of Ján Sarkocy, a former intelligence officer expelled from Britain in 1989, to have signed the Labour leader up were false. 

Schovánek said Sarkocy’s assertions were at odds with the security files, which represented the definitive record on agents and contacts, and made no reference to Corbyn as a recruited agent, or to McDonnell or Livingstone.

Asked if he was calling the ex-intelligence officer, now living near the Slovakian capital Bratislava, a liar, Schovánek said: “When you compare the documents which he had written and signed himself with what he is saying today, based on that he is a liar. He signed a list of documents in the UK which said Corbyn was an intelligence contact, not an agent.”

Schovánek, 54, who secretly smuggled banned books from the west into Czechoslovakia during the cold war, said he felt compelled to speak out on Corbyn’s behalf, despite strongly disagreeing with the Labour leader’s left wing politics.

“I personally don’t like Corbyn. I’m Roman Catholic and conservative, but I think we have to defend people against a lie,” he said.

Daniela Richterová, a politics and international studies researcher at the University of Warwick, said the files showed the Labour leader was never a “source”. “We know how the process of arranging a collaboration works,” she said. There was “no evidence” Corbyn was recruited during four meetings with Sarcozy, she added.

These accounts resonate with Darren G Lilleker, associate professor at Bournemouth University and author of the 2004 book Against The Cold War: The History and Political Traditions of Pro-Sovietism in the British Labour Party, 1945-1989.

Lilleker said Corbyn was not among those Labour MPs who were sympathetic to the Soviet Union. “He was against both sides, the US and the Soviet Union, seeing them both as a danger to world peace.”

Conservatives are telling lies

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has demanded an apology and a donation to charity from a Conservative MP who claimed the Labour leader sold British secrets to “communist spies”. 

Ben Bradley, a Tory party vice-chairman, made the claim in a Twitter message which he subsequently deleted. Corbyn has branded newspaper allegations that he met with a communist spy during the Cold War “increasingly wild and entirely false”. Quite properly so.  

red brad

Lawyers acting for the Labour leader note that while the tweet has been removed, “serious harm has been caused by the libellous statement”.

In a four-page letter to the Mansfield MP, they demand that Mr Bradley:

  •  Confirms in writing that the defamatory statement will not be repeated in any form; 
  •  Tweets an apology and asks followers to retweet it;
  •  Makes a donation to a charity of Mr Corbyn’s choice in lieu of damages;
  •  And pays Mr Corbyn’s legal costs.

In Corbyn’s response to the right wing lies (see video below), he says:

“In the last few days The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph and The Express have gone a little bit James Bond.”

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

He goes on to say: We’ve got news for the billionaire, tax exile press barons: Change is coming.”

Quite right. It’s long overdue. It’s time we stopped permitting the one-party gutter press to stage-manage our democracy.


Andrew Neil, on the Daily Politics show today, accused the Conservatives  of “outrageous smears” and peddling “outright lies” about Jeremy Corbyn, as he dismantled Tory Brexit minister Steve Baker and handed him his ass over claims the Labour leader was connected to a communist spy. 

The video can be found here on the Huff Post, and it’s well worth watching.

Here is a copy of the letter to Ben Bradley from Corbyn’s solictor:

Dear Mr Bradley


We act for the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP.

This is a Letter of Claim for the purposes of the Pre-action Protocol for Defamation. The prospective Claimant is our client, the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP. The prospective Defendant is you, Mr Ben Bradley MP.

Yesterday, 19 February 2018, you published the following tweet on your Twitter account, Ben Bradley MP (@bbradleymp):

“Corbyn sold British secrets to communist spies…get some perspective mate!! Your priorities are a bit awry! # AreYouSerious”

Your statement that our client sold British secrets to communist spies is untrue. The inference that our client, whom you know to be the Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition and the Leader of the Labour Party, had engaged in criminal acts of treachery and spying could not be more seriously harmful of a British citizen, let alone such a prominent politician. As the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party you are fully aware of the serious harm that was caused or was likely to be caused to our client’s reputation by your defamatory statement.

The natural and ordinary meaning of your words is that our client engaged in criminal activity at the most serious level. For example, espionage and serious breaches of the Official Secrets Act 1911; that he acted in a manner which was/is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom; that he colluded with representatives of the secret services of foreign states to the detriment of the national interests of the United Kingdom, putting its citizens and its allies at serious risk of harm by passing confidential secret information to foreign agents/intelligence officers. Furthermore the natural and ordinary meaning of your words is that our client made financial gain for such criminal acts and espionage.

Our client’s reputation has been or is likely to be seriously harmed by your publication of the offending tweet and by re-tweets. Furthermore, your tweet has been quoted in full in the Guardian newspaper, the Mirror newspaper, the Huffington Post, Sky News, the Mail Online and has been paraphrased in other national print newspapers, and online, which is unsurprising given your own high profile within the Conservative Party and your status as an MP.

Our client instructed us yesterday evening and we advised his office to put out an immediate statement notifying you and others of the fact that he had taken legal advice and that the tweet should be deleted from your Twitter account. We note that you have removed the tweet but nevertheless serious harm has been caused by your libellous statement.

Next Steps

Our client requires you to immediately agree to take the following steps:

1. Provide a written undertaking, in terms to be agreed with us, that you will not repeat the defamatory statement identified above in your offending tweet or utter or publish any allegations/statements to similar effect about our client on Twitter or on any other social media platform or in any other form both written and oral.

2. Immediately agree to publish on your Twitter account an apology, in terms to be agreed with us, and with the additional statement that you will ask your followers to retweet your apology.

3. Agree to pay a sum of money direct to a charity of our client’s choice, in lieu of damages payable to our client for the injury you have caused to his reputation and also for the embarrassment and distress caused to him by your defamatory statement. We invite your proposals by return with regard to the amount that you will pay which we would expect to be substantial, as our client’s attitude towards the level of payment will take into account the speed with which you make sensible proposals or not. Our client does not seek any personal financial benefit from this litigation and if you force him to issue proceedings and recover substantial damages through the courts he will donate the damages to a charity of his choice.

4. Pay our client’s legal costs incurred in relation to this matter. If you delay the resolution of this case our client will commence legal proceedings against you in the High Court and our client will seek from you not only his basic legal costs but also a success fee (as our client has agreed a Conditional Fee Agreement which provides for a success fee) and payment of an after the event insurance premium. If proceedings are commenced legal costs payable by you will increase significantly, especially if the matter proceeds to a full trial. Your swift agreement to the matters set out in the numbered paragraphs above will assist you in limiting your exposure to our client’s legal costs. Any failure by you to respond swiftly will undoubtedly mean that our client’s legal costs will increase significantly.

We look forward to your immediate and positive response. If there is any delay our client reserves the right to commence legal proceedings against you for damages and ancillary relief for defamation without further notice. In that event, our client will rely on the terms of this letter and the lack of an adequate response, by drawing your conduct to the attention of the Court.

Please indicate if you intend to nominate solicitors to accept service of proceedings on your behalf, should you seek to defend this claim.

Finally, Jeremy Corbyn was actually in Derbyshire when ex-Czech spy claims they met in London, leader’s records show.


I don’t make any money from my work. 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. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 


Atos’s PR company director wants me to phone him about one of my articles

Image result for atos healthcare controversy

Atos don’t provide medical assessments for disabled people needing to claim support: they provide ‘functional’ assessments, as ‘disability analysts’, who ‘focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t.’

I wrote an article recently, which was published by Welfare Weekly, about the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessments. 

The editor of Welfare Weekly, Steven Preece, forwarded an email to me regarding my article, marked ‘high importance’. It said:

Subject: Atos FAO Sue Jones
Importance: High

Hi there, 

Please could you ask Sue Jones to give me a quick ring on 0141 221 0707 re the article in the link below. We represent Atos and I’d like to have a quick chat about a couple of point in the article which are inaccurate. 

Apologies for the email but I couldn’t find any numbers to call Sue directly. 


Lindsay McGarvie

Firstly, having been through 3 Atos assessments and a subsequent tribunal, I think it’s absolutely priceless to be lectured about ‘inaccuracies’ from a ‘representative’ of Atos. 

Secondly, I never ring people I don’t know, regardless of the reasons they may give me to do so. I did some research regarding who the person that wants to contact me actually is.

The email was from someone working with a PR company called 3X1. Atos are one of their clientsLindsay McGarvie was political editor at the Sunday Mail, and reporter for the Daily Mail, before moving into PR in 2005. He’s now a director of 3X1.

So, the director of Atos’s PR company wants to discuss my articles that are critical of Atos. The one in question was written while I watched the work and pensions select committee’s evidence session, then I read two articles in the Mirror. I wonder if Mr McGarvie has contacted the Mirror, too. After all, their two articles on the inquiry combined said pretty much the same as mine.

According to his LinkedIn profile, McGarvie’s specialisms include:

– Strategic public affairs counsel
– Reputation management
– Devising and implementing proactive PR and public affairs campaigns
– Media Training
– Digital communications

PR practitioners build and protect the reputation of their clients, whether they are individuals or organisations. Companies whose profits or reputation have been damaged can claim for ‘defamation’. Non-trading corporations can also claim where they can prove that their fiscal situation has been affected, or their property damaged. However, Atos’s reputation was damaged long before my article was written. That is because of  widespread  criticism of their ethics, standards and performance, not because of writers such as me.

3X1 is not the only PR company referring visitors to read my articles.

PR is concerned with persuasion, selling products, persons, governments and policies, corporations, and other institutions. In addition to marketing products, PR has been variously used to attract investments, influence legislation, raise companies’ public profiles, put a positive spin on policies, disasters, undermine citizens campaigns, gain public support for conducting warfare, and to change the public perception of repressive regimes.

Edelman Intelligence and Westbourne, for example, are engaged in rebuttal campaigns and multimedia astroturfing projects to protect corporate interests:

“Monitoring of opposition groups is common: one lobbyist from agency Edelman talks of the need for “360-degree monitoring” of the internet, complete with online “listening posts … so they can pick up the first warning signals” of activist activity. “The person making a lot of noise is probably not the influential one, you’ve got to find the influential one,” he says. Rebuttal campaigns are frequently employed: “exhausting, but crucial,” says Westbourne.” From The truth about lobbying: 10 ways big business controls government

Edelman Intelligence is among the world’s largest PR companies and either their staff or their clients have been quietly visiting my own WordPress site over this last year, the link shows they were referred to my site from Edelman’s own social media monitoring command centre. I’ve contacted the company to ask why, but have yet to receive a response. I’m not a paying client so it’s highly unlikely that the visits are in connection with promoting my best interests.

Cision are another PR company that provide social media ‘monitoring’ and I have had visits to my site from theirs. The company offers three web-based packages: the ‘CisionMarketing Suite’, the ‘Public Relations Suite’ and a ‘Government Relations and Political Action Committee Suite’. The Cision ‘Public Relations Suite’ allows users to distribute press releases, access a database of bloggers and journalists, and monitor and analyze news and social media sites. Designing responses to influential critical voices and general ‘image management’ is one of the things that PR is all about. 

The company’s ‘Government Relations Suite’ manages government contacts, analyzes lobbying activity, facilitates communication with elected officials and provides PAC compliance software for filing reports to the FEC and state elections commissions (US).

Some PR organisations claim that critical bloggers are ‘bullies’

“I often wonder what it is about social media that makes people anti-social. Perhaps the empty dialogue box creates a discomfort similar to silence in a crowded room. Maybe it is the need for instant gratification and peer recognition that comes from outing a company’s poor service. Or, it could be that the Internet provides a safe venue for bullies to vent with minimal repercussions. Whatever the reason, people talking badly about companies create a lot of drama and headaches for corporate leaders.”

As a public interest writer with a strong interest in social justice, equality, imbalances of power relationships, policy, human rights and as a strong advocate of democracy, I believe that ‘outing’ a company’s poor service is necessary to prevent citizens from suffering distress and harm and to hold those with power to account. I’m not motivated by profit – I don’t earn anything from my work. However, I’m motivated by a strong sense of ethical duty and solidarity with my fellow citizens. I want to see big businesses (and governments, for that matter) act in a socially responsible manner. I think it’s a reasonable public expectation that companies actually earn their profits by providing a service which does not cause harm to anyone.

My experience of ‘bullying’ comes from the other direction, from the top down – from powerful business groups and organisations that simply want to silence lone critical voices. Now THAT is bullying. Furthermore, our responses to being bullied are also being micromanaged.

Calling critics ‘bullies’ is a PR stunt in itself.

It’s an oppressive tactic commonly used (by bullies) over recent years by those in positions of power, from the top down. 

I won’t apologise for writing critical articles or holding my informed opinions. I always research and produce evidence throughout the articles I write. That’s not to say I never make mistakes. However, if there is an injustice being done, I will say so.

And I will keep on saying so. 

I have written more than one critical article about government policy aimed at cutting the lifeline support of disabled people, and of Atos, who are employed by the state to implement the cuts via the Work Capability Assessment. Because there is a significant and catastrophically damaging injustice being done to disabled people.

Last year, the United Nations verified that the UK  government have systematically violated the rights of disabled people. Resistance to the injustice of austerity cuts that are targeted at disabled people disproportionately – and among them, at some of our most vulnerable citizens – begins at the raw, weary and often fearful front lines of those impacted first and impacted the hardest: disabled people. 

Disabled people have been forced to pay nine times more than the average citizen to reduce the budget deficit and people with high or complex support needs have been forced to pay 19 times more. From the despotic Bedroom Tax, cuts to Employment and Support Allowance and the closing of the Independent Living Fund, it has been a relentless political assault on one of the most disadvantaged social groups.

The government have contracted private companies to deliver the cuts.

The UK has become the first country in the world to use the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities to be investigated forgrave and systemic violations’ of disabled peoples’ rights and it is telling that the government has since denied the findings of the inquiry, refused to make public the findings and refused to listen to the accounts of disabled citizens.

I was among those involved in contacting the United Nations in 2012 and have submitted evidence regularly since, regarding the impact of government policies on disabled people. 

Atos have played a part in these events and have made a hefty profit from their role. No amount of PR work will convince me that Atos have disabled people’s best interests at heart. I have experienced 3 assessments delivered by Atos, myself. I was told I was ‘fit for work’ after I had taken the painful decision to leave a profession that I loved because I was much too unwell to work. I then had to face a Tribunal. The stress of that exacerbated my illness. I won the appeal. However within 3 months following the successful Tribunal I was sent by the Department for Work and Pensions for another Atos assessment. I collapsed during the subsequent interview. Even the doctor whocarried out the re-assessment stated that I should never have been made to go through it gain so soon after winning my appeal. It’s very difficult to believe that this kind of ordeal is unintended.

People have died within a short time after being told they are fit for work. They clearly weren’t. My friend and fellow campaigner Karen Sherlock is among those people who are simultaneously ‘fit for work’ and dead. She died in fear and despair because the system failed her – because a cruel government refused to listen and powerful men and women refused to act.

My friend Lottie Ryan had a brain tumour. The Department for Work and Pensions sent her a letter demanding that she attend a work related interview or face having her lifeline support cut. She couldn’t even feed herself at this point in time because of the advanced stage of her cancer. She was dying, but that didn’t stop the government from trying to coerce her into work. Now THAT is more than bullying. It’s despotic, savage state persecution.

There are many more disabled citizens’ accounts like these.

I don’t need repressive tactics or ‘reputation management’ strategies flung at me. My aim (and that of many other fellow campaigners) is to ensure that people recognise the systematic political oppression of some social groups in the UK. It’s real. Disabled people are living in fear of a bureaucratic brown envelope arriving through their letterbox. They live in fear every time the government claims they want to ‘help’ and ‘support’ them into work – by cutting their lifeline support even further. 

So, I will continue to criticise. I will continue to speak out and to do my best to raise public awareness of what is happening in what was once a civilised and democratic society. 

I’m far from alone. Atos have been the subject of widespread criticism in the media, among campaign groups, charities, the National Audit Office, Atos ex-employees and whistle blowers, and opposition MPs. Must be hard work having to contact all of those people about ‘inaccuracies’. 

If I’ve made a couple of points that are ‘inaccurate’, then there is a comments section beneath the article in question to accommodate some transparent debate and dialogue. Leave your comment and evidence there, Mr McGarvie. 

My phone number is reserved for my friends, family and people who I trust not to intimidate me.  


I have had four visits to my site today originating from Edelman Intelligence. I know this because on my site’s stats page, referrers are listed, such as Facebook, Twitter, search engines and so on. You can click on the link provided and it shows you were site visitors have come from

Additionally, a listed app called meltwater showed up. Outside Insight is Meltwater’s  Media Intelligence and Social Media Monitoring tool. Their site describes this service: ‘PR professionals lean on Meltwater’s product suite to help them boost their brand’s position and demonstrate their ROI (Return on Investment).

One of the most valuable things that legitimate criticism tells companies is that they have an audience that cares. The worst outcome in public relations isn’t mismanaging criticism or anger; it’s apathy and indifference. Criticism tells you that something is wrong, if you have enough visibility to warrant feedback.

It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that PR is located within local, social, political, cultural, economic and historical contexts. PR approaches often lack critical thinking and analysis needed to improve ethics and societal impact.  

Companies need to understand and listen to audiences as well as evaluate the results of campaigns, in order to identify more ethical, sustainable and socially beneficial ways of practising public relations. However, in the UK, there are few regulations that govern PR firms. That is why public feedback is so important.

In democracies, publics need and demand information about what companies, organisations and governments are doing. Inequities in power and influence, lack of transparency, or negative or harmful societal impacts affect every citizen, potentially.

However, provided it is conducted ethically, public relations may be a legitimate part of free speech which fosters diversity of viewpoints and facilitates democratic dialogue in society.

In short, PR companies and their clients need to listen to ordinary citizens like you and me, rather than simply refusing to accept a viewpoint. One of the most oppressive tactics that has arisen this past few years is the now habitual political dismissal of citizens’ experiences and accounts, as ‘anecdotal evidence’ of the harm that government policies are inflicting on people. Instead of denying the experiences of others, and engaging in techniques of neutralisation, the corporate sector and government need to engage with us using an open and dialogic approach to resolving the growing conflict of interest presented by the private sector profit incentive and the need for ensuring public safety and democratic inclusion.


Reputation launderers: the London PR firms with their own image problems

What you need to know about Atos assessments


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and 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. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.





Jeremy Corbyn and Noam Chomsky receive the prestigious international MacBride Peace Prize


Jeremy Corbyn was awarded the Sean MacBride Peace Prize along with Noam Chomsky and Japanese anti-military base activists, yet the award received no coverage in the British media. It was International Human Rights day today. Corbyn made an outstanding speech in Geneva, but the UK media unbelievably appear to have vetoed what ought to have been headline news.

So it’s been left to a handful independent journalists and writers like me to report this event.

The International Peace Bureau presents the prestigious Sean MacBride Peace Prize to individuals, organisations or movements for their work for peace, disarmament and human rights. 

Sean MacBride was a founding member of Amnesty International, a hugely well-known and successful charity that was set up by “ordinary people from across the world standing up for humanity and human rights.” MacBride was also a prominent Irish MP who participated in many international organisations including the United Nations and the Council of Europe as well as Amnesty International. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974, the Lenin Peace Prize for 1975–1976 and the UNESCO Silver Medal for Service in 1980. He was Secretary-General of the International Commission of Jurists from 1963 to 1971. Following this, he was also elected Chair (1968–1974) and later President (1974–1985) of the International Peace Bureau in Geneva. He was Vice-President of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation and President of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. He had many other key roles.

Despite the significance of such an award being handed to a mainstream British politician, the only media platforms to report the story were independent ones such as EvolvePolitics, The Canary, The Skwawkbox and Vox Political.

As Skwawkbox commented: “Had Theresa May or any other establishment lackey been awarded with a prestigious International Peace Award, can you seriously imagine the entire media would ignore it?”

Corbyn was this year’s recipient, along with renowned scholar Noam Chomsky and the All Okinawa Council Against Henoko New Base. He received his award in Geneva on Friday. 

Noam Chomsky was recognised “for his tireless commitment to peace, his strong critiques to U.S. foreign policy, and his anti-imperialism. Professor Chomsky has been properly described as ‘a genuine people’s hero, an inspiration for struggles all over the world for that basic decency known as freedom’, as ‘one of the greatest and most radical public thinkers of our time’, ‘one of the most significant challengers of unjust power and delusions’, and as a ‘guru’ for the world’s anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement. In recent years, in addition to his continuing contributions to the fields of linguistics, philosophy and cognitive science, his critiques have focused on the U.S. post-9-11 ‘War on Terror’ which has provided cover for a continuation of U.S. imperial policies, and the imperative of addressing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and climate change.” 

Corbyn was recognised and honoured for his “sustained and powerful political work for disarmament and peace.” His longtime work with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK and the Stop the War Campaign was commended, along with his outstanding work for peace as a politician more generally. The award is presented jointly by the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and the World Democratic Forum. The reasons for the award are described on the IPB’s website. It says:

“As a member of parliament in the UK he has, for 34 years continually taken that work for justice, peace and disarmament to the political arena both in and outside of Parliament. He has ceaselessly stood by the principles, which he has held for so long, to ensure true security and well-being for all – for his constituents, for the citizens of the UK and for the people of the world. Now, as leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition he continues to carry his personal principles into his political life – stating openly that he could not press the nuclear button and arguing strongly for a re-orientation of priorities – to cut military spending and spend instead on health, welfare and education.”

You can watch his speech here:

You can read Corbyn’s outstanding speech here

In 2013, Corbyn was also given The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award. This is a leader who has unwavering principles and he has shown a deep and lasting commitment to peace and human rights.

Jeremy Corbyn receiving The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 

Corbyn has always preferred a diplomatic approach to conflict. The biased media made a big issue of that during general election campaigning earlier this year, with some of the right wing rags wearing away the proverbial barrel to label him a “terrorist sympathiser”. 

Despite the fact the Labour leader said several times during televised interviews that he condemns “all bombing”, journalists, political editors and correspondents seemed to nonetheless feel an inexplicable need to constantly ask if he would “denounce” IRA terrorism.

Meanwhile, Conservatives have been permitted to peddle untruths and manipulate half-truths unchecked. It was almost as if Lynton Crosby, the high priest of divisive politics, dead cats and dog whistles, had widely distributed a crib sheet of a limited range of limited questions to be repeated over and over, such as this one, to divert everyone from any discussion whatsoever about policies or anything remotely meaningful. 

The so-called “impartial” national media are pretty disgusting for allowing this to happen without any critical thought or investigation whatsoever. They permitted no genuine facilitation of democratic debate. You know, those things that journalists are actually paid to do. 

Consequently the run-up to the general election this year saw an absolutely disgusting media manipulation and misrepresentation of Corbyn’s integrity. 

It is possible to feel sympathy for ALL of the deaths and those family and loved ones left behind, in such a tragic, violent and seemingly relentless ethno-nationalist conflict. It’s possible to recognise that all of civilian deaths are an outrage and tragic. It’s possible to recognise the pain of their loved ones and families left behind. It’s also possible to condemn the acts of terrorism that left english civilians dead, too. It’s possible to honour ALL of those people who were killed in the conflict. I know I do.

Human lives are equally precious and have equal worth. It’s a mark of Corbyn’s insighfulness, maturity and integrity that he recognises this. History has a scattering of despots who committed atrocities and genocide, because they refused to consider all people as human beings. It seems some people never learn, though. Holding this perspective does not mean that we cannot also condemn acts of despicable terrorism. 

The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 brought lasting peace. History demonstrated that Corbyn’s approach was the right one. So we need to ask ourselves why it is that Theresa May, her party, and the media are so fixated on events that happened over 20 years ago. For the record, Margaret Thatcher held secret meetings with the IRA to negotiate peace.

Despite being known for her unyielding stance against the IRA during the Troubles, released documents show Thatcher made secret concessions, and that in May 1985 a member of her Cabinet approved a Royal Prerogative of Mercy for Donal Donnelly, who had fled prison 25 years earlier, after being convicted for his membership of the IRA. It seems the media had forgotten this detail in the run-up to the general election.

John Major also had established links with the IRA to negotiate peace.

It’s reasonable to expect governments to explore diplomatic solutions in conflicts in order to keep citizens safe. It’s also reasonable to expect governments to be honest. The Conservatives haven’t been that.

Jermy Corbyn, however, has been consistently open and honest.

Well done and congratulations, Jeremy Corbyn!

This is a very well-deserved award and a measure of his hard work, integrity, honesty, ethics and principles.


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Dangerous electrical faults were historically ignored at Glenfell Tower


Image result for Pictures of Grenfell UK

The Grenfell Tower fire is thought to have been started by a fridge catching fire. You may well wonder how on earth that could happen.

Fridges are notoriously extremely flammable and give off toxic fumes when they burn. Many house fires start with appliance faults, especially fridge freezers. It’s possible the fridge was faulty, of course.

London Fire Service have highlighted the dangers of fridge freezers previously, and have called on manufacturers to make them safer. There is, on average, one fridge freezer fire a week in the capital and the service has been lobbying the industry to make their fridges and freezers more fire resistant for the some years.  

However, there is a record of longstanding electrical faults which had resulted in surges to electrical appliances and light fittings in the Kensington Tower block, creating a huge fire risk, which had been repeatedly reported and repeatedly ignored by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

The fire service had reportedly been called out to the initial fridge fire that is thought to have started the inferno, and it was successfuly dealt with. However, fire service workers soon realised with horror that the outside of the building was on fire. Whether the fridge was faulty, or whether it exploded because of an electrical fault, it is in no way the fault of the resident that the fridge caused a fire, and that the outside of the building caught fire. He had also alerted his neighbours about the fire inside his flat after calling the fire brigade.

This account gives more credence to the theory that the flammable cladding, used to make the building look better, somehow was ignited by the fridge fire, which then caused the fire to rage with such ferocity throughout the entire tower block. This should not have happened, since each flat is a self-contained concete unit, designed to contain fire. But the fire raged inside of the tower as well as on the outside.

It is also thought that fitted sprinklers would have helped to contain the fire. None had been fitted when the refurbishment was completed. There was also only one escape route, down a single staircase. 

Arnold Tarling, fire safety expert, told Panorama: “This building has been taken from a safe building where fire could not possibly spread across the surface of the building from flat to flat to one which was a death trap.”

He has previously said: “Had it been left alone it would never have burned like this.”

Philip Hammond has said the type of material used in the cladding is illegal in the UK.

Tarling, a surveyor and fire protection specialist, gave a TV interview in which he broke down as he spoke of warning three years ago of the threat posed by the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower, after he had learned of the tragedy. 

In a recent interview, Tarling said of Hammond’s comments:

“It’s b*llocks, frankly. I don’t blame him [Hammond] for being wrong as he’ll be going on information given to him by aides, but it’s simply not true.

The regulations are incredibly convoluted and unclear, but essentially the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower was perfectly legal, under current legislation, because the exterior of the cladding panels was non-flammable. Under Appendix A of the Building Regulations 2010 fire safety documentonly the outward-facing surface needs to be fire-resistant.

Those advising Hammond will be relying on calling the cladding panels ‘insulation’, which has different rules – but even in that section, it says ‘See Appendix A’ and takes you back to the same rule.

The law is complicated and badly constructed, but under it those panels were legal to use even though they’re known to be dangerous.

The material in those ‘sandwich’ panels was polyethylene, which is classified under the regulations as a ‘thermoplastic’, because it softens at below 200°C – in fact, it’s liquid at 120°C, barely above the temperature of boiling water. You couldn’t make a kettle out of it because it would collapse, but you can legally use it as a building material under current legislation.”

Tarling warned the government of the dangers posed in using the type of cladding that is likely to be responsible for the Grenfell conflagration. Tests are now to be carried out on around 600 high rises across England to see if cladding fitted to the outside is safe, the government said, following concerns raised about the safety of other buildings. So far, samples from three tower blocks – one in London and two thought to be elsewhere – were found to be combustible. More test results are expected to be made public within days.

Today, on the BBC’s Breakfast programme, Tarling spoke of a “firewall” between government and experts, who have raised concern about the discrepancy between fire safety regulation and building regulation for years. He mentioned that the polyurethane insulating material used both inside the cladding, and inside the wallspaces of some tower blocks releases highly toxic hydrogen cyanide gas when it burns. Some furnishings also release this gas when burned, too. It was confirmed by medical staff that survivors who were being treated for smoke inhalation also needed treatment for hydrogen cyanide poisioning. Carbon monoxide is often produced in quantity during residential fires, too, and both gases present a significant threat to life, in addition to the fire itself.

He also mentioned the exposed gas pipes, which had been relocated outside of the flats in the refurbishment, placed in the stairwell – the only escape route. 

Like all high-rises, the Grenfell tower was originally designed to keep a fire contained in the flat where it started and keep the escape route – the stairway – protected.

Witnesses say that the corridors and staircases became smoke-logged. If there is a single fire in a single flat, if the building “works properly”, there should be virtually no smoke in the corridor and no smoke in the stairwell. If there is smoke, it suggests there is something wrong with the compartmentation of the building. It may be that the refurbishment changed the internal design of the tower, so that the fire wasn’t contained inside the building, which burned as ferociously as the outside.

Image result for Inside grenfell

The electical faults

So far, there has been no comment about the cause of the fridge explosion.

The residents’ organisation, Grenfell Action Group, has long criticised the fire safety standards of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation which manages around 9,400 properties.

This included the lack of notices to tenants about what to do in the event of a fire, piles of rubbish being dumped, and concerns over where boilers and gas pipes were placed. In its blog it warned that “catastrophe” was inevitable and “only a matter of time”. A local councillor, Judith Blakeman, who sits on the tenant management organisation, raised concerns in March about the National Grid installation of gas risers or pipes in the stairwell as part of the refurbishment. She was assured by the landlord that they would be boxed in with “fire-rated” protection, but this does not appear to have been done. It is known that work was still being done to box in the gas pipes running along floors. The London fire brigade said last Thursday morning they had not been able to put out the flames until they had isolated a ruptured gas main in the block. Residents also voiced fears about the relocating of boilers into hallways during the refurbishment.

KCTMO has two current enforcement notices from the London Fire Brigade, for Hazelwood Tower and for Adair Tower, where a fire required the evacuation of 50 residents. The notices highlight a string of safety failures by the company. 

I found the following very troubling historical record of electrical faults, power surges and serious damage, as a result, to tenants’ electrical appliances and light fittings, on the Grenfell Action Group’s blog site:

“In May 2013 a serious electrical fault causing multiple power surges at Grenfell Tower posed a major fire risk to residents many of whom witnessed smoke coming from light fittings and other electrical appliances, some of which actually exploded. Despite the fact that these highly alarming incidents were reported to the TMO on 11th May no effective action was taken until the problems escalated out of control on 29th May 2013.

The power surges had been ongoing for 18 days with multiple reports by residents of electrical appliances catching fire and sometimes exploding, but multiple reports to the TMO by Grenfell Tower residents were treated with a dismissive and sceptical attitude. When electrical engineers were sent to investigate they insisted that the apparent smoking of electrical appliances was probably caused by steam from water dripping onto the appliances. Residents found these dismissive theories deeply insulting and we believe they demonstrated a shockingly blasé and complacent attitude by the TMO and its agents.

Consequently no effective action was taken until a near catastrophic incident occurred on the weekend of Sunday 29th May which affected multiple households and damaged many electrical appliances beyond repair. On that Sunday there were severe power surges throughout the night that continued through the following morning. A flood of calls from Grenfell Tower residents to the TMO out-of-hours emergency repairs service finally prompted the TMO to order a more thorough investigation of the power surge issue. They installed specialised metering equipment that soon revealed that there were indeed serious power surges which were subsequently traced to arcing in a damaged mains power cable supplying Grenfell Tower. The cause of the damage, they claimed, was unknown. The mains cable was subsequently repaired and surge protection was later added.

The resident groups, having been vindicated at last, were furious at the complacency and negligence of the TMO responses throughout the 18 days of the power surge ordeal. They appealed to the RBKC Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee and it was agreed that representatives from Grenfell Tower would attend the meeting of the Committee on 16th July 2013 to report and discuss their concerns. The TMO also attended the meeting and presented their own report which contradicted the residents accounts of what had occurred and downplayed the seriousness of the matter and the fire risk involved.

Robert Black, the CEO of the TMO, also alleged that the Grenfell Action Group and other local stakeholders, such as the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association, had made misleading statements on our blog and in round robin emails. When we later challenged him to substantiate these allegations by specifying which of the statements he believed to be misleading he declined to do so and failed to provide any evidence for this and other derogatory statements he had made to the Scrutiny Committee.

When the residents groups were eventually able to study the minutes of the meeting and the report that was submitted by the TMO we were horrified to discover that the Scrutiny Committee had chosen to accept the TMO version of events and had given little creedence to the explicit health and safety concerns highlighted earlier by the resident groups in an email to the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee on 9th July.

Incidentally the Committee Report, submitted several weeks after the incident, included the following remarks:

“It is too early to say whether the problem has been fully resolved and where responsibility lies for the cause. It is possible that the fault that has been rectified is not the primary cause.”

Grenfell Tower residents were never informed whether the primary cause of the electrical problem was ever identified.

Source: Grenfell Action Group.


“[…] They had woken to find smoke issuing from various electrical appliances in their homes, including the light fixtures, and descended in panic to the estate office to demand help and assistance.  Emergency electricians who attended later in the day were finally, it seems, able to identify the source of the problem. An emergency temporary electrical by-pass supply has been provided and the necessary follow–up works will be carried out in the near future.

It is very clear at this stage that the electrical supply to Grenfell Tower has been in a very dangerous condition for several weeks. It is equally clear that the authorities had been repeatedly warned of this  but had failed to react with sufficient urgency and had failed to take adequate remedial measures.

As evidence of this we present the extract below from an email sent on 13th May by Shah Ahmed,  Chair of the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association, to Robert Black at TMO and various RBKC councillors and TMO officers:

Continuous Power Surges in Grenfell Tower

There have been two weeks of power surges in the building, most notably in the early hours of the morning and throughout the evening and night time. Electronic apparatus are seriously affected by these surges. Computers are turned on and off, lights continually flicker becoming very dim and extremely bright in the space of a few seconds.

On 11th May 2013 at 9:05pm we had numerous power surges in the space of a minute, and in that process my computer and monitor literally exploded with smoke seeping out from the back and the smell of burnt electronics filled our entire computer. My monitor also fused at the same time. When I called the TMO out of hours service the standard textbook response was given to us that I was the first one to report such a problem and I was made to feel like a fool reporting such an issue, which resulted in years of data being lost forever.

Please note if the power surges continue at Grenfell Tower, it would be very dangerous and costly because it is interfering with electric and electronic items in the household, including the telephone line, television, fridge, washing machine, computer etc”.


  • Grenfell Tower residents are demanding an emergency meeting with RBKC and TMO officers to fully explain what went wrong with the electrical supply, and why the TMO failed to respond with appropriate urgency. This meeting should be arranged as a matter of urgency.
  • Officers attending the meeting should be prepared to explain why electrical engineers who ordered the planned power cut in Grenfell Tower between 08:30-17:30 on Saturday 18th May failed to identify and rectify a serious and dangerous fault in the electrical supply at that time.
  • A single staircase with no natural light is the only emergency exit route from Grenfell Tower. The emergency lighting system in that stairwell should be thoroughly checked to ensure that neither the system itself, nor any of the individual battery packs, has been damaged by the power surges of recent weeks. If there is damage it should be immediately repaired as a matter of urgency.
  • A number of electrical appliances belonging to Grenfell Tower residents were damaged or destroyed by power surges in recent weeks, although the amount off such damage and the number of victims is not yet known. On the face of it either the TMO or its electrical contractors would appear to be liable, but so far the TMO has denied any liability. Liability for this damage must be ascertained as soon as possible and all residents whose property was damaged should be fully compensated, including those whose refrigerated food was spoilt during the planned power cut on 18th May.

RBKC councillors please take careful note of the above. We feel very strongly that there needs to be much closer scrutiny by TMO Technical Services Officers of the performance of contractors, particularly those supplying essential and emergency services, and much closer scrutiny by RBKC scrutiny committees of the TMO and its service delivery arrangements and monitoring.”



David Dimbleby says Jeremy Corbyn is treated unfairly by a biased right wing press

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David Dimbleby has confirmed what many of us already knew – that Jeremy Corbyn has been treated unfairly and misrepresented by the media.

Dimbleby will be interviewing both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May for a Question Time special on Thursday. Dimbleby said that most British newspapers show a right wing bias and complained of their “lazy pessimism”.

He said: “I don’t think anyone could say that Corbyn has had a fair deal at the hands of the press, in a way that the Labour party did when it was more to the centre, but then we generally have a rightwing press.”

He also suggested the Labour leader has more support among the public than he does among the parliamentary Labour party.

He went on to say: “My own prediction is that, contrary to the scepticism and lazy pessimism of the newspapers and the British media, it’s going to be a really fascinating night, and it will drive home some messages about our political system and the political appeal of different parties that no amount of polling or reading the papers will tell us.”

Just four months ago, the BBC Trust found a BBC political editor inaccurately reported Jeremy Corbyn’s views about shoot-to-kill policies in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris. 

The broadcaster’s regulator concluded that Laura Kuenssbergs report for the News at Six in November 2015 breached the broadcaster’s impartiality and accuracy guidelines, in a ruling that triggered an angry response from the corporation’s director of news. 

The News at Six item included a clip of Jeremy Corbyn saying: “I am not happy with a shoot-to-kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counterproductive.”

Kuenssberg had presented the clip as Corbyn’s response to a question put to him on whether he would be “happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack”, but the Trust concluded that Corbyn had been speaking in a different context.

The Labour leader had acually been responding to a question about whether he would be happy to order police or military “to shoot to kill” on Britain’s streets – and not specifically regarding a Paris-style terrorist attack in the UK. 

The Trust agreed with the complainant that the news report misrepresented the Labour leader’s views on the use of lethal force and that it had wrongly suggested he was against the additional security measures which the item had said the government was proposing. The Trust also found that the inaccuracy was “compounded” when Kuenssberg went on to claim that Corbyn’s message “couldn’t be more different” to that of the prime minister, who was about to publish anti-terrorism proposals. 

The Trust agreed with the complainant, pointing out that accuracy in any one programme rather than the entire output was particularly important when dealing “with a critical question at a time of extreme national concern”.

The news item was edited to mislead the public. It’s a curious thing that the Conservatives have frequently used the very same tactic of deliberately misquoting Corbyn to misrepresent his views in their election campaign. It’s time there were tighter laws on this kind of nasty manipulation of pubic perceptions and opinion. 

It was agreed that: “According to this high standard [of accuracy], the report had not been duly accurate in how it framed the extract it used from Mr Corbyn’s interview.”

Inaccurate portrayals like this have become normalised by the media and the government.

However, it isn’t just the way that responses are mispresented that is problematic. The framing of issues is also heavily biased, reflecting the permitted success of the Conservatives and a predominantly right wing press to shape the entire news agenda. What we hear and read is a long way from impartiality and accuracy. 

BBC’s Steven Sackur has said that as soon as Corbyn was elected, the Conservatives “issued propaganda” suggesting that Corbyn is a “threat” to national security. He also pointed directly to the government’s fundamental lack of accountability, transparency and democracy in the unprecedented move to refuse to share military and intelligence information in 2015, which is conventionally shared with the leader of the opposition.

“National security” is a theme that has run through the Conservatives campaigns and media commentary since. It works because it generates fear. It’s the political use of psychological manipulation at its very worst, as it presents an “enemy” for the public to vote against, rather than something inspiring to vote for. 

The Conservative party always emphasise and distort issues of national defense and magnifies our perception of threat, whether of foreign aggressors, immigrants, terrorists, or “invading” ideologies like Socialism (see the Zinoviev letter, for example). They reduce and present the world as a frightening place, and justify authoritarian policies to remedy the perceived threats. This is then used to portray the party as “strong”, and any opposition as “weak”. 

The Conservatives, with the cooperation of most of the media, are using this strategy of tension, designed intentionally to create public alarm – to portray the left as a “threat” to the wellbeing of society – and it reverberates around the media, to be used as part of an arsenal of pro-establishment, anti-progressive propaganda to discredit Corbyn. That is before he even has an opportunity to put the record straight. Yet even a glance through the Labour manifesto shows that this “threat” patently untrue.

The media does not engage the public, instead there is a pre-determined, biased and right wing agenda being imposed and then presented as a consensus. The media is   contributing significantly to public cynicism and alienation and sowing divisiveness. We are witnessing the erosion of the media’s role of watchdog, as a guardian of public interest, and as a conduit between the governing and the governed. We are witnessing the mainstreaming of democratic decay.



Election coverage alert 30 May: Distorted debates, vacuous interviewing techniques and more fake news in the Telegraph – 

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


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. 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.






A few personal thoughts following the devastating terrorist attack in Manchester

Like many others, I am shocked and horrified at the events in Manchester last night. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering of those people at the Arena who were witnesses or directly affected by such an unthinkable, utterly senseless and despicable act of terrorism – one that resulted in the terrible and senseless murder of at least 22 people, while injuring at least 120 others, many of whom were children and young people – and my thoughts are very much with the victims and their families at this incredibly painful and difficult time.

I’m suspending my own political campaigning, as a mark of respect for those we have lost, for those still coming to terms with this brutal and tragic event, and because it’s a time of bewilderment, shock and anguish for our nation. Terrorism is calculated to generate a much wider degree of national hurt and international anxiety in the longer term, in addition to the immediate horror of those targeted victims that it so brutally and despicably claims.

It was in the most horrific and atrocious circumstances that the people of Greater Manchester showed the world how much humanity and generosity they have – how much they care for each other. Many were prepared to go out of their way to help those in need. Bless those many who have helped out, offering food and water, warm drinks, offering lifts, putting people up. That reflects the kindness, good will, spirit and solidarity of Manchester. And I’ve heard some tremendously heartening stories of doctors and nurses going into work to support and police officers, ambulance workers giving up their days off, turning up to help those in need. 

Among those rushing to help was a brave homeless man – Chris Parker – who has spoken of the moment when a woman died in his arms after he rushed inside Manchester Arena to help the victims of the terrorist attack. He was in the foyer at the time of the attack and was knocked to the floor with the force of the explosion, despite this, he ran inside the building to help the victims.

As  said of the strong community spirit in Manchester: Together we stand strong in these difficult times.” 

It’s a time of national unity, solidarity, and of hugging your own family a little closer than usual – a time of drawing together in defiance of the hurt and confusion inflicted on us by those who would damage our society.

Burnham, the newly elected mayor of Greater Manchester, spoke very well following the catastrophic event – as did local commentator Mohammed Shafiq, who was very mindful of the need for a Muslim voice of condemnation of terrorism.

Poet Tony Walsh added his voice in tribute to the spirit of Mancunians and the history of the city:

Watch Tony Walsh’s passionate recital of his powerful poem for Manchester – “This is The Place” – at the vigil held in Manchester this evening.

Yet in the face of pleas for unity, there inevitably comes the opportunist politicking, those willing to search for scapegoats, which makes social unity so much harder to achieve. Those toxic voices that are known for their divisive rhetoric have already used these terrible events and the tragedies of others to stir up emotions and extend a socially corrosive brand of nationalism – the public peddling of indecency to their own pecuniary or political advantage. We need to take the media megaphone from those who use it to inflame social tensions, ethnic nationalism and drive rage-led ideologies.

Hugh Muir says in the Guardian: “There is all-pervasive incivility in this angry age of illiberalism and social media – that, as democrats, we have to stomach. There are those who would attack us with bombs and knives. We expect nothing from them but nihilism and brutality. But a society undermined from within at a time of crisis needs champions unequivocally prepared to protect it. We elect and employ such people. It is their job, and they should leave no doubt that they will do it.”

The article – The rule of law applies to everyone. Even hate peddlers like Katie Hopkins  is well worth a read. He’s talking a lot of sense at a time when a senseless and despicable act has led to widespread uncomprehending horror and national uncertainty. 

We mustn’t let this catastrophic event lead to further catastrophic social divisions, by allowing established right wing demagogues to stir up and direct national anger and hatred. We must not permit such people to use other people’s grief as an opportunity to further their own political agenda.

, writing for the Intercept, voices a perspective I also share: “Then there is Tommy Robinson, former leader of the far-right English Defence League (think of a British Richard Spencer but, again, with a lesser intellect and a long history of criminality and violence). Robinson arrived in Manchester on Tuesday to accuse British Muslim residents of that city of being “enemy combatants.” They want to “kill you, maim you and destroy you,” he told his YouTube audience of fellow far-right bigots.

You can almost hear them cheering in Raqqa. ISIS wants to drive a wedge between Muslim communities and wider Western society; it wants to pit Muslims against non-Muslims. Nor is this a secret: The group’s leaders have admitted as much in their own publications. More than two years ago, in February 2015, the ISIS online magazine, Dabiq, made clear that one of the main goals of the group’s brutal attacks in the West was to destroy the gray zone — of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims — and provoke a backlash. “The Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize and adopt the [infidel] religion … or they … [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.”

This ISIS grand plan has always required the (perhaps unwitting) support of the group’s useful idiots in the West, the Islamophobes, whose harsh rhetoric and actions help drive marginalized and alienated Muslims into the wide open arms of the jihadists.”

Robinson’s bigotry isn’t confined to Muslims. He also likes to direct abuse at people if they are remotely politically left leaning. Especially women. I’ve had first hand experience of his apparently indefatigable inclination to incite hatred and subsequent schadenfreude, as apparently, I’m a “leftist”.  It’s all our fault, he claims. He also likes to give out people’s personal and social media account details on a very widely shared and malicious meme that invites the far right in its entirety to say what they think of a so-called quote (that wasn’t). Of course these “thoughts” included death threats, rape threats, threats from Combat 18, and threats directed at my children. For someone who objects such a lot about his own “free speech” being “restricted”, he sure puts considerable effort into trying to shut other people up with low-life threats and intimidation. He also likes to get others to do his dirtiest work. 

Mehdi goes on to say: “As my colleague Murtaza Hussain has observed, it is “perverse and counterproductive to lump [the West’s Muslims] together with ISIS and blame them for the group’s actions.” To do so is to “grant the Islamic State a propaganda coup, implicitly endorsing the group’s narrative of Muslims and Westerners collectively at war with one another.”  (See the full article – Reactions to Manchester Bombing Show How Anti-Muslim Bigots Are “Useful Idiots” for ISIS.)

A little of what I know about Manchester

I’m from Greater Manchester, though in the olden days of my childhood, my hometown – Bolton – was situated in Lancashire. Manchester is a city I have spent a lot of time in: it’s a city I love. Manchester is just 10 or 15 minutes away from Bolton on the train.

I used to work in the district of Chorlton. I spent my teen years going to concerts and gigs around the city. I saw many bands and performers in Manchester over the years, from Jon Otway and John Cooper Clarke to Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Hawkwind, PIL, Elvis Costello, A Certain Ratio and so many others. My own band – Oh no, it’s them again – played gigs around the city, once supporting the Salford Jets at the Gallery.

Over recent years, I have taken colleagues down to Manchester just for a night out. We stayed at the local Premier Inn. I was back in Manchester last October, speaking at a psychology conference in Ardwick Green (north). Afterwards I visited and stayed with my son in my home town, Bolton. It’s always been a unique, warm and wonderful city, people are always very friendly and helpful there. 

I’m horrified and shocked at the events of last night, and feel so very sorry for those who were there, the terrible and heartwrenching loss of life, the injured young people and adults. My thoughts are with those families, and my heart goes out to them. 

How you can help 

I used to work for Victim Support in the early 1990s.  This excellent organisation are providing immediate emotional and practical local support to victims and witnesses of the Manchester attack. You can contact Victim Support’s national support line on 0808 168 9111 or, if you live in Greater Manchester, call 0161 200 1950.

Greater Manchester police have issued a new casualty bureau emergency number for people trying to trace loved ones from last night’s attack: 0800 096 0095.

Greater Manchester Police are also appealing for any images or footage from last night that you believe can assist them. Please upload these to or

Many people have sent messages of support and comfort; the community spirit in the city region has shone through at this very sad time. If sharing information, please be sure to only share trusted information and follow @gmpolice on Twitter and Facebook for reliable updates and information.

A relief fund has been organised by Manchester City Council and the British Red Cross, you can donate here:

Peterloo Massacre.png
Painting showing the Peterloo Massacre – part of the history of Manchester – by Richard Carlile. The politically directed massacre, which happened at a public protest highlighting the poor socioeconomic conditions for many at the time, and was part of the fight for universal suffrage, which led directly to the foundation of The Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet imperialism, how very Conservative.

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

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

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

Implications for social media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stuff of nightmares.



I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. Successive Conservative chancellors have left me in increasing poverty. 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. 



Millions of pounds originating from HSBC have been laundered directly to the Conservatives, say claims

Roger Mullin of the Scottish National Party.

New cash for Conservatives scandal

Roger Mullin, MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, has called for an investigation after it was disclosed that “£5 million of HSBC loans were laundered directly to Conservative HQ.” He isn’t alone.

It appears that evidence has emerged of organised, very substantial and ongoing donations made by IPGL – a private holding company – and other subsidiaries, controlled by Michael Spencer, to the Conservative Party, totalling at least £5.3m, representing a “huge percentage of annual turnover”. 

Michael Spencer’s interdealer broker ICAP was fined for its role in the Libor scandal. The Conservative Party resisted calls from the opposition to return £4.6m donations ICAP and Michael Spencer made during the period of the Libor Scandal when Spencer was also Treasurer of the Party.

Campaigners and other opposition MPs such as Labour’s John Mann, who serves on the Treasury Select Committee, have raised these issues, and many allege that such donations wouldn’t have been possible without HSBC’s financial support of IPGL.

The allegations were first raised by Fionn Travers-Smith of Move Your Money at the Annual General Meeting of HSBC Holdings PLC on 28 April. He said:

Not only does this raise questions about HSBCs role in public life, the level of influence that you hold over government, and your own refusal to discuss the possibility of corruption and undue influence at last year’s AGM – but it also raises questions over whether you have contravened your own policies on being politically neutral.

 HSBC’s Douglas Flint responded to the allegations by evading the issues raised, and said “We are politically neutral” and “we’re not going to talk about individual companies at all.” 

Joel Benjamin from Debt Resistance UK questioned these claims of neutrality given deputy chairman of HSBC, Simon Robertson’s £700k donations to George Osborne and the Conservative Party.

In their AGM notice, released in March, HSBC said to its shareholders: “HSBC has a long standing policy not to make any political donations or to incur political expenditure including in the UK or the rest of the EU within the ordinary meaning of those words.

“We have no intention of altering this policy. However, the definitions of political donations and political expenditure used in the UK Companies Act are very wide. As a result, they may cover activities that are an accepted part of engaging with our stakeholders to ensure that issues and concerns affecting our operations are considered and addressed, but which would not ordinarily be considered as political donations or political expenditure.

“As a result, the Directors have concluded that it would be prudent to seek authority from our shareholders to allow them to make political donations and incur political expenditure of up to £200,000 in aggregate in the period up until next year’s AGM. In common with many other UK companies, this is purely a precautionary measure. The authorities sought are not designed to influence public support for any political party, or political outcome; they are simply to ensure that the Group does not inadvertently breach the UK Companies Act.”

As the law stands, a UK-incorporated company must not make a political donation to a political organisation or incur any political expenditure without shareholder approval or, if the company is a subsidiary, the approval of its UK holding company. Directors could incur personal liability if authorisation is not obtained. Nor must it influence public opinion regarding candidates or political outcomes in elections and referendums.

Presumably, the three senior HSBC bank figures who have donated £875,000 to the Conservative party in recent years have done so without shareholder approval. 

Below is Roger Mullin’s last letter as current MP,  parliament is now Dissolved until after the General Election. Mullin posted a copy of the letter on Twitter earlier today.


Some more context

In 2012, the US government was persuaded by our government not to pursue criminal charges against HSBC for allowing rogue states, terrorists and drug dealers to launder millions of dollars after George Osborne and the UK banking regulator intervened to warn that prosecuting Britain’s biggest bank could lead to a “national and global financial disaster”. Instead of facing a prosecution, the bank were given the option to pay a record $1.92bn (£1.4bn) fine

The House financial services committee report said the UK interventions “played a significant role in ultimately persuading the DoJ [Department of Justice] not to prosecute HSBC”. 

The report revealed that Osborne wrote to Ben Bernanke, who was then the Federal Reserve chairman, and Timothy Geithner, the then treasury secretary, to warn that prosecuting a “systemically important financial institution” like HSBC “could lead to [financial] contagion” and pose “very serious implications for financial and economic stability, particularly in Europe and Asia”.

In 2015, it came to light that there are long-standing links between the scandal-hit HSBC and the Conservative Party, after Electoral Commission records showed three senior bank figures have donated £875,000 to the party in recent years. It was revealed that HSBC’s deputy chairman, Sir Simon Robertson, has made 24 separate donations totalling £717,500 in the last nine years.

As a point of interest, the links go much further back, as David Cameron’s great great grandfather, Sir Ewen Cameron, became principal agent to the Calcutta branch of HSBC, following which he acted as manager of its Shanghai branch, where he served until 1890.

Further revelations emerged that the bank allegedly helped wealthy individuals evade tax through Swiss accounts. It was also revealed that HSBC’s deputy chairman, Sir Simon Robertson, has made 24 separate donations totalling £717,500 in the last nine years.

He gave 17 donations to the Conservative Central Office between 2002 and 2014, and four totalling £100,000 to George Osborne between 2006 and 2009. The other three went to the party in East Hampshire. Robertson, who was knighted in 2010, is reported to have a personal wealth of £10m.

Conservative donors, peers and a high-profile MP are listed among the wealthy who legally held accounts in Switzerland with HSBC’s private bank, for a wide variety of reasons. Their ranks include Zac Goldsmith, former MP for Richmond Park, plus his brother, the financier Ben Goldsmith, and a Swiss resident, German-born automotive heir Georg von Opel, who has donated six-figure sums to the government in the past two years.

Peers named in the HSBC files include Lord Sterling of Plaistow, the P&O shipping and ports entrepreneur who was ennobled by Margaret Thatcher, and Lord Fink, who was also a party treasurer under David Cameron and has given £3m to the Conservatives.

Zac Goldsmith has, with his brother Ben and their mother Lady Annabel, donated over £500,000 in cash and in kind to the Conservatives.

Big Banks Aided Firm At Center Of International Bribery Scandal

Cash for Conservatives Exposes the HSBC Dirty Money running the Tory Party – DEBT RESISTANCE UK

 HSBC files: Swiss bank hid money for suspected criminals

The British HSBC bribery and corruption cover-up – Nicholas Wilson

Business dealings of Tory donors could be wiped from official records

One promising result:


And a rather hasty response from the Electoral Commission, which you can view here:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new proposed Espionage Act and a data disclosure law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once you hear the jackboots…

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

David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, Guardian interviewer of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, was held for nine hours at Heathrow Airport and questioned under the Terrorism Act. Officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. This was a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process, and as Greenwald said: “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The erosion of democracy and the Press Freedom Index

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Framing and tilting the media: asking the million dollar questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The extensive report also warns that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

The coming of epistemological totalitarianism in the UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can download the full LSE report here.

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

More recently, I explored the role of intentionally deceitful political language and rhetoric in another article  which highlights the role that the media play in shaping our public life. Media manipulation involves a series of related techniques in which partisans create images or arguments that favour their own particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies, psychological manipulations, deception, linguistic, rhetorical and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or alternative perspectives by simply crowding them out. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberism 

Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

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

Hypernormalisation – Adam Curtis

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

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