Tag: Channel 4

Conservatives for hire: cashing in on Brexit

Lord Lansley, Peter Lilley and Andrew Mitchell

Andrew Lansley, Peter Lilley and Andrew Mitchell

Three former Conservative Cabinet ministers have been secretly filmed and exposed trying to sell information on Britain’s exit from the European Union. The former cabinet ministers have denied any wrongdoing despite being caught on camera offering to receive money in exchange for advising a fictitious Chinese company. 

Andrew Lansley, Peter Lilley, and Andrew Mitchell were caught trying to profit from providing “intelligence” on Brexit negotiations to a Chinese companyaccording to a joint investigation by the Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches.

The Sunday Times was tipped off by sources within Whitehall that Brexit had triggered a “lobbying frenzy,” as businesses are eager to get information about the negotiations. Undercover reporters then invited a number of former ministers to interviews for a job on the advisory board of ‘Tianfen’, a fake Chinese company.

Lansley, who served as health secretary when David Cameron was prime minister, was filmed being offered tens of thousands of pounds for information and “intelligence” on Brexit. He also said the deal could be kept secret from authorities if he was employed through his wife’s PR company, Low Europe, to avoid scrutiny.

He said: “If you have a contract with Low then basically I come with Low. So if you had a contract separately with me it would have to appear separately on the transparency register as a contract with you. But if it’s with Low then its covered by the Low contract.” 

Low says it’s core strategy “is to attract business primarily from clients who have pan-national projects in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.” Lansley is employed by the company, which has recently moved from the UK to Brussels.

On their site, Low say of Lansley: “He has extensive experience of managing reputational issues by communicating through the media; a wide knowledge of how the media works; and a large network of media contacts at the most senior levels.” However, he was clearly complacent regarding the risk of exposure via investigative journalists. 

Peter Lilley, who was the Tory party’s deputy leader between 1998 and 1999, also expressed interest in approaching key ministers for Tianfen. He told the undercover reporters that he sits on two advisory groups with influence over the Brexit process.

The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, who was the international development secretary in Cameron’s government, was willing to give paid advice to the company for £6,000 a day and said he would work up to 10 weeks a year. The Times reported he already gets paid nearly £75,000 for his job as an MP. “My constituents don’t mind what I’m paid,” he said while being filmed.

Lansley said he was already making €5,000 a day (around £4384) by giving Brexit advice to his pharmaceutical clients. He spoke about his connections at the top of government, such as Prime Minister Theresa May and Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade.

However, he appeared to draw the line at lobbying the Government directly, saying conversations had to “follow the rules”. However,  he did offer introductions to senior Brexit figures.

Lansley said in a statement that he always kept his outside interests separate to his Lord’s duties. 

Lilley revealed his “good relationships” with Liam Fox and David Davis, and said he was happy to have chats with them on behalf of Tianfen. Last week, he denied being asked or agreeing to have private conversations with any ministers on behalf of Tianfen, and any suggestion the company would get insider information was “wholly misplaced.”

Mitchell said he could advise the owner of the company on Brexit, by drawing on his business experience and inner knowledge of government. He said last week that all of his outside interests were fully declared on the Commons register.

In total, the Times has discovered that more than 20 politicians are making money out of Brexit.

The Channel 4 documentary was initially pulled from transmission last week amid a string of complaints from the three men, prompting an emergency review involving Channel 4’s chief executive, Alex Mahon, and the director of television, Ian Katz.

Lilley accused Channel 4 of a “tawdry attempt at entrapment” and insisted he had done nothing wrong. Mitchell said he was “totally innocent” and suggested that he had launched his own investigation and alerted MI5 after suspecting the approach was fake.

The final decision to delay transmission, by Channel 4 and the Sunday Times, had been taken because of warnings about the potential impact of airing the programme on the health of Lansley, who is currently being treated for cancer.

However, by this time, the former ministers had also briefed their version of events to  the Mail on Sunday last week. That front page account outlined how the three former ministers were asked to come to the Mayfair property and were greeted by a woman named Fei Liu, who claimed she represented “Chinese millionaires.”

Sir Alistair Graham, former chair of the committee on standards in public life, said the behaviour displayed in the footage was unacceptable. “To take advantage of this difficult time and confusion to make extra money doesn’t demonstrate a great deal of concern for the public interest,” he said.

The first of the Nolan principles of public life is that “holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest” and the second is that “holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.”

Lansley has said: “I made it clear in these meetings, which took place while I was undergoing cancer treatment, that I would apply the terms of the House of Lords code in any business relationship; and that this would be written into any contract that I entered into.

“No privileged access, insider information, lobbying activity, parliamentary advice or services were offered,” he claimed.

The code of conduct for MPs clearly states that “information which members receive in confidence in the course of their parliamentary duties should be used only in connection with those duties. Such information must never be used for the purpose of financial gain”.

However, Lilley insists that he was not referring to any confidential information – and does not possess any. “That I am a member of groups with experts who express views on Brexit was relevant only to show that I am engaging in the many ways that Brexit can benefit Britain,” he told Channel 4.

He insisted: “I have not undertaken any venture which would involve me breaking the codes of conduct referenced nor the Nolan principles. I repeatedly made it crystal clear I would not use confidential information. I possess no such information. If I did I wouldn’t make it available to anyone.”

A Channel 4 spokesman said: This investigation raises important questions about transparency and accountability in public life. We are continuing to work on the film [Politicians for hire: cashing in on Brexit], which will be broadcast soon.”

Meanwhile, outraged Peter Lilley has referred Channel 4 to Ofcom, making a lengthy complaint about the planned Dispatches documentary, which you can read here.


Related 

A reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the UK Coalition have exempted themselves

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

● Political cold calling to prohibited numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The use of ‘big data’ and psychographic targeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dark message for democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The private companies and individuals who are stage managing our democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

PERSUASION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note the reference to “behaviour changing messages”.

textor

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

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

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

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

All singing from the same crib sheet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related:

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

EXPOSED: CONSERVATIVES IN HOUSE ‘SURVEY’ TEAM

The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked

Negative campaigning, emotions and political participation

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberalism

What I don’t understand about Conservatism

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

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

Strategies and motives for resistance to persuasion: an integrative framework

How To Use 10 Psychological Theories To Persuade People

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

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

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


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. 

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Inflicting suffering on those in need is now at the heart of our benefits system – Frances Ryan

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)The main part of this article was originally published in the Guardian on 10 March and was written by Frances Ryan.

I tend to think I am beyond shock at the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) now. The expectation that this government is capable of morality or even basic competence was lost some time ago, somewhere between enacting policy that pushes people already in poverty into losing their homes and denying deaf, blind eight-year-olds disability benefits. Still, Dispatches’ Benefits Britain investigation was painful viewing.

During seven weeks of undercover work at a universal credit contact centre in Bolton, Channel 4 journalists witnessed a farcical mess of centralised IT failure. But what really stood out were the underhand tactics DWP staff were found to use against claimants: from deliberately withholding hardship payments from people struggling after having their benefits sanctioned, to hiding the flexible fund put in place to pay for clothes or a bus fare they needed to help them get a job.

What Dispatches showed is not an isolated incident, a black spot polluting an otherwise untarnished record. It is an example of both attitude and action that runs through the entire system: the growing conditionality on benefits, the withholding of emergency help, all the way back to how benefits are assessed.

As of last week, there is quantitative evidence that the notorious fit-for-work tests are inflicting damage to disabled people’s bodies (not to mention the impact on their minds). Yes, we have now reached a point where the benefit system is making disabled and chronically ill people sicker. Over 60% of disabled people going through the work capability assessment – designed by the DWP and sold off to private firms – report being in pain afterwards. Others said their condition was made worse or their recovery delayed. One claimant surveyed, who has progressive rheumatoid arthritis, said she left her appointment “feeling absolutely awful and suffered a lot of pain in the following days.” She went on to have a stroke a few weeks later.

It might be worth remembering that this is an assessment that is meant to help people – one million people are due to go through the process this year – if only because those orchestrating it appear to have forgotten. It is the same cavalier attitude to the vulnerable that means claimants have killed themselves after being spat out by the benefit system, as if desperation and distress means nothing.

We are sliding back to the notion that suffering helps the soul, that the underclass – be it the unemployed, the disabled, or chronically ill – need to be trained in order to behave. And, as almost a secondary consequence, their punishment cuts the welfare bill down. A bonus all round.

The ideology of a small state or the belief that benefits build dependency are crass, irrelevant details to what at its core is simply a decision about how to treat a human being. This is particularly damning when one person has all the power and the other is forced through economic necessity to take whatever humiliation or pain they are given. To do that to someone – let alone hundreds of thousands – is no accident. It is a conscious decision, that has been made over and over again by this government.

scroll2I wrote this last year:

Here are two articles about the terrible, extremely harsh and punitive consequences of the governments’ historically regressive, ethically challenging benefit sanctions regime. This is a very cruel and limited application of operant conditioning: the government are applying punishment to vulnerable people who need the support of lifeline benefits to meet their fundamental survival needs, under the guise of “paternalistic libertarianism.”

The punishments are applied most frequently to the most vulnerable people. Our welfare system was designed to support people, but under the Tory-led Coalition, it has been transformed into an administration that is run on unethical principles, akin to the Milgram experiment, with the difference that the punishments used are real, and decisions to punish welfare claimants are resulting in very real and terrible consequences.

It’s a biological fact that when people cannot meet their basic survival needs – food, fuel and shelter – they will die. Everybody understands this, no matter how well-insulated by personal wealth they may be.

The government understands this.

The welfare “reforms” are harming people, and are causing deaths. Full article – Benefit sanctions are not fair and are not helping people into work.

Related

Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich, Human Rights and infrahumanisation

Techniques of neutralisation – a framework of prejudice

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down – a summary of the implications of Nudge theory

 

385294_195107567306966_1850351962_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for the memes.

 

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.

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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 increasingly authoritarian characteristics of our own right wing government here in the UK.

Controlled mass media is one example of such a defining feature of fascism, with “news” being directly controlled and manipulated by the government, by regulation, or via sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship is very common. And then there is an obsession with “National Security” –  with fear being used as a “motivational tool” by the government on the public.

In June 2013, a visit by Government national security agents to smash computer hard drives at the Guardian newspaper offices hit the news surprisingly 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 9 hours at Heathrow Airport and questioned under the Terrorism Act. Officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. 

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

Absolutely. Since when was investigative journalism a crime?

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

This certainly raised critically important legal and ethical issues, for those involved in journalism, especially if some kinds of journalism can be so easily placed at risk of being politically conflated with terrorism.

Once again, the mild and left wing/liberal Guardian is under attack by our Tory-led government. In an extraordinary and vicious attack on The Guardian newspaper, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communications chief and senior government spin doctor, Richard Caseby, has 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 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 prompted Rupert Murdoch to close the tabloid down.

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Richard Caseby, pictured when giving evidence to MPs as managing editor of The Sun.

In July 2011 it emerged that Cameron met key executives of Murdoch’s News Corporation 26 times during the 14 months that Cameron had served as Prime Minister. It was also reported that Murdoch had given Cameron a personal guarantee that there would be no risk attached to hiring Andy Coulson, the former editor of News of the World, as the Conservative Party’s communication director in 2007. This was in spite of Coulson having resigned as editor over phone hacking by a reporter. Cameron chose to take Murdoch’s advice, despite warnings from Nick Clegg, Lord Ashdown and the Guardian. Coulson resigned his post in 2011 and was later arrested and questioned on allegations of further criminal activity at the News of the World, specifically regarding the News International phone hacking scandal.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons served a summons on Murdoch, his son James, and his former CEO Rebekah Brooks to testify before a committee on 19 July. After an initial refusal, the Murdochs confirmed they would attend after the committee issued them a summons to Parliament. The day before the committee, the website of the News Corporation publication the Sun was “hacked”, and a false story was posted on the front page claiming that Murdoch had died. Murdoch described the day of the committee “the most humble day of my life.”  He argued that since he ran a global business of 53,000 employees and that the News of the World was “just 1%” of this, he was not ultimately responsible for what went on at the tabloid. 

On 1 May 2012, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee issued a report stating that Murdoch was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”

On 3 July 2013 Exaro and Channel 4 news broke the story of a secretly recorded tape. It had been recorded by Sun journalists, and in it Murdoch can be heard telling them that the whole investigation was “one big fuss over nothing”, and that he, or his successors, would “take care” of any journalists who went to prison.

He said: “Why are the police behaving in this way? It’s the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing.” Murdoch believes that he doesn’t have to be accountable. His initial refusal to testify, despite being summonsed, is extraordinarily indifferent and arrogant.

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 raised about any of this or Murdoch’s nasty and corrupt myth 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.” 

Meanwhile, Iain Duncan  Smith is “monitoring” the BBC for any “left wing bias”. Gosh, I just bet that took the jolly well-known ardent commie Chris Patten by complete surprise…

The BBC Trust said that a programme called the “Future of Welfare”, written and presented by John Humphrys, breached its rules on impartiality and accuracy. It found that the programme had failed to back up with statistics claims that there was a “healthy supply of jobs”.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, defended Humphrys as a “robust broadcaster” and said the documentary was “thoughtful and intelligent”. And perhaps most importantly, it endorsed the Governments’ punitive and callous welfare  “reforms.”

Duncan Smith was infuriated by the BBC’s coverage of the ruling, which he felt gave “too much airtime to campaigners.” Too much for what, exactly, we have to wonder. Perish the thought that anyone may dare to poke at the half-timbered facade of Tory ideology – Duncan Smiths’ rhetoric is a painful parody of fact that loudly dismisses – and intentionally obscures – the private despair and ruined lives of so many of those least able to speak up for themselves.

He said: “I have just watched reporting on the BBC about the Government winning a High Court judgement on the Spare Room Subsidy (that’s the Bedroom Tax to you and I) that once again has left me absolutely staggered at the blatant Left-wing bias within the coverage. And yet the BBC Trust criticise John Humphrys’s programme, which was thoughtful, intelligent and born out of the “real” life experience of individuals.”  The same Duncan Smith, who chooses to deny the all too painful and impoverished real life experiences his policies have inflicted on many. He prefers to lie them away from public attention. Or dismiss them as merely “anecdotal”.

Duncan Smith’s credibility doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny here, as someone attempting to verify “accuracy” and er…  statistical claims. Ah, yes. The Department of Work and Pensions – Iain Duncan Smiths’ Department – has a long track record of misusing statistics, making unsubstantiated inferences and stigmatising claimants, and it’s clear these are tactics used to attempt to vindicate further welfare cuts. In fact several minsters, including Cameron, have been officially rebuked by the Office of National Statistics for telling lies, and in Duncan Smith’s case – on at least 3 occasions this past 12 months despite warnings regarding his dishonest claims in the media, as well as in parliament. 

So considering all of this, it was with some incredulity that I read Caseby’s comments in the Huff Post earlier: “Should the new IPSO members accept (editor Alan Rusbridger) as a johnny-come-lately? No, rather he should be blackballed. Sorry, but the Guardian isn’t fit to become a member of IPSO until it starts valuing accuracy.”

And: “In the end, of course, it’s IPSO’s decision. But should the new standards body be so gracious as to invite him in, I guess I’ll be waiting to lodge the first complaint.” He said an MP had complained to the Office for National Statistics over The Guardian’s reporting of its data. I bet that was said without a trace of irony, too.

So, if alleged (and improbable) benefits inaccuracies “should get [The] Guardian blackballed,” what is this spin doctor’s recommendation for the perpetual propagandarising, lying, right wing media and a lying government minister’s serial offensive “benefits inaccuracies”?

Oh … of course, this is Iain Duncan Smiths’ relatively new pet guard dog.

An interesting choice of word from Caseby – “blackballing”, which is a rejection in a traditional form of secret ballot, where a white ball ballot constitutes a vote in support and a black ball signifies opposition. This system is typically used where a club (or Lodge) rules provide that, rather than a majority of the votes, one or two objections are sufficient to defeat a proposition. Since the seventeenth century, these rules have commonly applied to elections to membership of many gentlemen’s clubs and similar institutions such as in Freemasonry. It’s an apt term because of its association with conservatism, tradition and secrecy. 

In contrast, and unlike many whistleblowers who remain anonymous, Edward Snowden chose to be open and go public. Snowdens’ sole motive for leaking the documents was, in his words, “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”  He believes that the global public is due an explanation of the motives of those who act outside of the democratic process.

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

I think that the process of dismantling democracy started in May 2010 here in the UK, and has been advancing incrementally ever since, almost undetected at first, because of pervasive government secrecy and a partly complicit, dominant right wing media.

But once you hear the jackboots, it’s far too late.

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With big thanks to Robert Livingstone

Related 

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill is a calculated and partisan move to insulate Tory policies and records from public and political scrutiny, and to stifle democracy. The Government’s Lobbying Bill has been criticised by bloggers and campaigners from right across the political spectrum, with the likes of Owen Jones and Guido Fawkes united in agreement over this issue: that the Bill is a “Gagging Act”. Five Conservatives – Douglas Carswell, Philip Davies, David Davis, Zac Goldsmith and David Nuttall – voted against the Bill, whilst others also expressed concerns.

The Bill will treat charities, think tanks, community groups and activists of every hue as “political parties”. From small groups addressing local matters to big national organisations, all equally risk being silenced in the year before a general election, to avoid falling under electoral law. Any organisation spending £5,000 a year and expressing an opinion on anything remotely political must register with the Electoral Commission. Since most aspects of our public life are political, (and a substantial proportion of our private life has been increasingly politicised under this authoritarian government) this stifles much essential debate in election years when voters should be hearing and evaluating policy choices.

The ‘Let Lynton Lobby Bill’: Grubby Partisan Politics and a Trojan Horse 

 


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

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