Tag: Dominic Cummings

Prospectus For A Failed State

Article 48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 


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Leave Director admitted the Brexit referendum was won by lying to the public

Buried in a 19,800 word Spectator essay written by former online editor and Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings is an admission: The Brexit referendum was won by lying to the public.

The piece, found here, is well worth reading but also falls victim to classic “mansplaining” (explaining something in a condescending or patronizing way) of a complex issue with many words wasted on prose that most politicians would be proud of, working around the subject rather than delving in to the heart of it.

Of course, that’s for a very good reason, because at the heart of the vote to leave the European Union is an entanglement of lies and propagandist sensationalism that even the most brave souls wouldn’t dare admit to.

There is the admission that the NHS wouldn’t really take back our £350 million EU fee, and that immigration wouldn’t really be capped, and that standards of living wouldn’t really change if we left the EU. All of which are matters that the general public voted on, and all are incorrect.

And so to the damning paragraph that outs the Leave Campaign for what it was:

“Pundits and MPs kept saying ‘why isn’t Leave arguing about the economy and living standards’. They did not realise that for millions of people, £350m/NHS was about the economy and living standards – that’s why it was so effective. It was clearly the most effective argument not only with the crucial swing fifth but with almost every demographic. Even with UKIP voters it was level-pegging with immigration. Would we have won without immigration? No. Would we have won without £350m/NHS? All our research and the close result strongly suggests No. Would we have won by spending our time talking about trade and the Single Market? No way.”

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Brexit, dirty campaigning, the TTIP and a case for Remain

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“We cannot be content with the state of the EU as it stands. But that does not mean walking away, but staying to fight together for a better Europe.”  Jeremy Corbyn, Statement to The Guardian, 28 July 2015.

Despite his reservations, and a desire to see progressive reform within the European Union, Mr Corbyn strongly supports the Remain campaign. He has been very clear about his views, and he has presented powerful arguments to support his position. He says:

“I have seen first-hand jobs, investment, workers’ rights and environmental protection that being part of the EU helps secure for working people. That’s why, despite its faults, I believe it’s best we vote to stay and work with our friends to make the changes Europe needs.”

It was therefore something of a surprise to see the Leave campaign use a quote with such malicious intent from Mr Corbyn, that was so outdated and out of context, to deliberately mislead people into thinking that the Labour leader supports Brexit.

This post was sponsored on Facebook, and came up more than once in my feed: Stand with Jeremy Corbyn.  

The site is promoted by Matthew Elliot, the founder and former Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance and Big Brother Watch. He also acted as Campaign Director for the successful NOtoAV campaign in the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum. He is the Founder and was the Chief Executive of Business for Britain, and is now the Chief Executive of the Vote Leave Campaign Committee, having founded and been the chief executive of the main Vote Leave.

Elliott also founded the Politics and Economics Research Trust (PERT) in 2004. Labour MP and former Shadow Minister for Europe, Emma Reynolds, raised significant questions about the affairs of the TPA and PERT, she wrote to the Charity Commission and said that “PERT may be in breach of charities legally binding commitments to preserve their independence, specifically regarding political activity and the delivery of charitable objectives.”

Of £532,000 PERT paid out in grants in 2014, £300,000 went to the TPA and £205,000 to Business for Britain, both of which are Eurosceptic. £10,000 went to Global Britain, which has campaigned for Brexit. Charitable trusts are not allowed to be used for political purposes under British charity law.

There were some pretty grubby tricks employed during November 2015, when the group established a fake company in order to gain entry to a speech being given by the Prime Minister at the Confederation of British Industry where they heckled him and held banners stating “CBI = voice of Brussels.” Dominic Cummings, campaign director of Leave, subsequently stated:

“You think it is nasty? You ain’t seen nothing yet. These guys have failed the country, they are going to be under the magnifying glass. Tough shit … It is going to be tough”.

The campaign group also stated their intention to target and disrupt meetings of pro-EU organisations and companies. In a letter to the Electoral Commission, Eric Pickles, the former Conservative cabinet minister, said he believed Vote Leave had disqualified itself from lead status in the referendum (which entitles the campaign to public funding) after it pledged to run a “nasty” campaign against opponents.

The European referendum, some have argued, is more important than any general election, because it will potentially change Britain’s relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. There’s a lot of grand and quaint imperialist talk from the Leave camp about power, sovereignty and Britain’s “place in the world.” But it’s a clever sales pitch, nonetheless, as it harnesses the public restiveness, which reflects a broader disquiet with social democracy in the UK. 

I have to agree with Michael Sandel’s comment, in his excellent interview in today’s New Stateman with Jason Crowley: “A big part of the debate has been about economics – jobs and trade and prosperity – but my hunch is that voters will decide less on economics than on culture and ­questions of identity and belonging.”

The Right have always been strongly inclined towards socioeconomic outgrouping, creating categories of others, using stigma and scapegoating techniques to formulate justification narratives for policy that is purposefully designed to impose gross social inequalities. This alienates already marginalised groups, fragments social identities, and of course, breaks social solidarity. It’s therefore no surprise that immigration and othering have been the focus of a substantial part of the Brexit campaign.

He goes on to say: “Social democracy is in desperate need of reinvigoration, because it has over the past several decades lost its moral and civic energy and purpose. It’s become a largely managerial and technocratic orientation to politics. It’s lost its ability to inspire working people, and its vision, its moral and civic vision, has faltered. So for two generations after the Second World War, social democracy did have an animating vision, which was to create and to deepen and to articulate welfare states, and to moderate and provide a counterbalance to the power of unfettered market capitalism.

“This was the raison d’être of social democracy, and it was connected to a larger purpose, which was to empower those who were not at the top of the class system, to empower working people and ordinary men and women, and also to nurture a sense of solidarity and an understanding of citizenship that enabled the entire society to say we are all in this together. But over the past, well, three or four decades, this sense of purpose has been lost, and I think it begins with the Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher era.”   

Yes, the transatlantic neoliberal turn. The commentary throughout the article is coherent and compelling, and well worth the read.

Leaving the EU would mean the UK giving up its place and influence in Europe, turning back the clock and retreating from the established global power networks of the 21st century. It would also legitimize the Conservatives’ crusade against what remains of a political settlement based on an inclusive, multicultural democracy. Without a level of international scrutiny and legal safeguards, I believe that this Conservative governments’ already evident authoritarian inclinations would be held under rather less constraint. 

The Labour Party, except for a small handful of eurosceptics, is now firmly pro-Europe  – we are, after all, internationalists – despite the fact that leader Jeremy Corbyn has in the past questioned whether the EU structure delivers more for business than it does workers. The Scottish National Party, most of the Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Welsh nationalists Plaid Cmyru are firmly placed with the ‘In’ camp. 

Jeremy Corbyn has said that David Cameron must not have a carte blanche to negotiate away workers’ rights as part of his desired EU reform package, ahead of the in-out referendum. However, Corbyn knows for sure that workers’ rights will not be stronger if the UK ends up outside the EU. 

It was the New Labour Government who ended the Tories’ opt-out on EU social policy (the “social chapter” as it was then called) back in 1998. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) have also staunchly defended workers’ rights in the EU over the last two decades. Now Cameron is aiming to undermine such positive EU employment laws in the UK, as the Tories successfully did back in the 1990s with an across-the-board opt-out. This said, Cameron’s “re-negotiation” has been pretty quickly sidelined. 

A Labour government could easily opt back into any areas that the Tories did succeed in opting-out of, as long as the UK is still an EU member state. The real attack on workers’ rights would inevitably happen if the UK left the EU. Then it would be straightforward for the Tory government to repeal other directives protecting workers’ rights. And they would – obligations to implement EU laws would cease, and so leaving the EU would reduce rather than help workers’ rights. And joining the EU again in the future would be very difficult – it would require a new referendum and fresh negotiations with Brussels, at the very least.

One final point. Some on the Left have said that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a reason for them to vote to leave the EU.  I can understand this, because the TTIP will lead to a large-scale transfer of democratic power to multinationals. It is a blueprint for deregulation and privatisation. 

The Left Leave group argue that the deal promotes the privatisation of the NHS, and that leaving the EU would mean avoiding TTIP and hence save Britain’s free healthcare system. However, TTIP would still have a strong influence on the UK economy. Once outside the EU, the UK would be unable to stop the TTIP, or shape it. TTIP would create a transatlantic marketspace that would influence British firms and the UK economy by aligning regulation in the US and EU.  

Britain would need to stop trading with both the EU and the US to escape the TTIP’s regulations. The EU, like the US, would most likely remain an important trading partner for the UK in the event of a success for the Brexit campaign. Brexit is premised on extreme free trade agreements coupled with looser regulation to make us more “competitive.” 

The TTIP deal was supposed to be signed by now – but together, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group and Europe’s people have seriously stalled things. Would it really be possible to stop such a move if we couldn’t link up with campaigners across Europe? If being in the EU has brought us TTIP, it has also brought us the means to stop it. Labour MEPs fought hard to secure support within the EU to get the toxic Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause removed from the TTIP at the negotiating table last year. 

This was an excellent achievement by our own Labour MEPs within the broader S&D group. The ISDS contradicts principles of democratic accountability and would potentially allow one government to bind another for decades to come. Unlike the great majority of other treaties, investment treaties have very long minimum lifespans ranging up to 30 years. 

Much debate has arisen concerning the impact of controversial ISDS on the capacity of governments to implement reforms and legislative and policy programs related to public health, environmental protection, labour and human rights. 

In the UK, we already have a highly corporatised Government. We have witnessed scandalous price-rigging, and massive job losses, decreased standards in service delivery and a disempowerment of our Unions. This is because the Tories will always swing policy towards profiting private companies and not towards meeting public needs, as we know. 

In Britain, privatisation was primarily driven by Tory neoliberal ideological motives, to “roll back the frontiers of the State.” 

This Conservative government has done everything possible to push the most extreme version of TTIP, just as they’ve fought against pretty much every financial regulation, from bankers bonuses to a financial transaction tax. Cameron has his own programme of stripping away laws that direct big business towards reasonable behaviours and standards, no matter how important those laws are for safeguarding people and our environment.

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Related

Three excellent articles: –

EU debate: what are the real choices? – Red Pepper

The energy of the Brexiteers and Trump is born of the failure of elites Michael Sandel / Jason Cowley

#BREXIT ANTI-IMMIGRATION ARGUMENT CONTINUES WAR AGAINST POOR – Rupert Dreyfus/Consented

 


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Adam Perkins, Conservative narratives and neuroliberalism

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Eugenics in a ball gown

I had a little discussion with Richard Murphy yesterday, and I mentioned that the right-wing libertarian think tank, the Adam Smith Institute, (ASI) has endorsed the controversial work of Adam Perkins – The Welfare Trait.” The ASI has been the impetus behind Conservative policy agendas and was the primary intellectual drive behind the privatisation of state-owned industries during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, and alongside the Centre for Policy Studies and Institute of Economic Affairs, advanced a neoliberal approach towards public policy on privatisation, taxation, education, and healthcare, and have advocated the replacement of much of the welfare state by private insurance schemes.

Professor Richard Murphy, a widely respected political economist and commentator, has written an excellent article: The Adam Smith Institute is now willing to argue that those on benefits are genetically different to the rest of us on the Tax Research UK site, which I urge you to read. 

He says “What you see in this is the deliberate construction of an argument that those on benefits are genetically different from other people. The consequences that follow are inevitable and were all too apparent in the 1930s. And this comes from a UK think tank much beloved for Tory politicians.”

The Adam Smith Institute say this in their review of Adam Perkins’s book:

“With praiseworthy boldness, Perkins gets off the fence and recommends concrete policy solutions for the problems that he identifies, arguing that governments should try to adjust the generosity of welfare payments to the point where habitual claimants do not have greater fertility than those customarily employed. The book no doubt went to press before the Chancellor announced plans to limit child tax credits to a household’s first two children, but such a measure is very much in the spirit of this bullet-biting book. The explicit targeting of fertility as a goal of welfare policy, however, goes beyond current government policy. Perkins perhaps should also have argued for measures to boost the fertility of those with pro-social personalities, such as deregulation of the childcare and housing markets to cut the costs of sustainable family formation.”

And: “Over time, therefore, the work motivation of the general population is lowered. This occurs through both genetic and environmental channels. Personality traits are substantially heritable (meaning that a decent percentage of the variation in these traits is due to naturally occurring genetic variation). Given this fact, habitual welfare claimants with employment-resistant personalities are likely to have offspring with similar personalities.”

Personality disorder or simply maintaining the social order?

Two things concern me immediately. Firstly, there is no causal link established between welfare provision and “personality disorder” or “traits”, bearing in mind that the “employment-resistant personality” is an entirely made-up category and does not feature as a clinical classification in either the ICD-10 section on mental and behavioural disorders, or in the DSM-5. Nor is employment status currently part of any clinical diagnostic criteria. Personality disorders are defined by experiences and behaviours that differ from societal norms and expectations.

Personality disorder (and mental illness) categories are therefore culturally and historically relative. Diagnostic criteria and categories are always open to sociopolitical and economic definition, highly subjective judgments, and are particularly prone to political abuse.

Drapetomania” for example, was a pseudoscientific definition of a mental illness that labelled slaves who fled captivity in the 1800s. Samuel A. Cartwright, who invented the category, also prescribed a remedy. He said: “with proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many Negroes have of running away can be almost entirely prevented. In the case of slaves “sulky and dissatisfied without cause” – apparently a warning sign of their imminent flight – Cartwright prescribed “whipping the devil out of them” as a “preventative measure.” As a further “remedy” for this “disease”, doctors also made running a physical impossibility by prescribing the removal of both big toes. Such abusive application of psychiatry and the medicalisation of distress and rational responses to ethnic degradation and dehumanisation is part of the edifice of scientific racism.

The classification of homosexuality as a mental illness was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1974, and was replaced by the subsequent categories of “sexual orientation disturbance” and then “ego-dystonic homosexuality,” the latter was not deleted from the manual until 1987. Medicalising and stigmatising the experiences, behaviours and beliefs of marginalised social groups, and attempting to discredit and invalidate those group’s collective experiences is a key feature of political and cultural oppression.

Personality traits are notoriously difficult to measure reliably, and it is often far easier to agree on the behaviours that typify a disorder than on the reasons why they occur. As it is, there is debate as to whether or not personality disorders are an objective disorder, a clinical disease, or simply expressions of human distress and ways of coping. At the very least, there are implications regarding diagnoses that raise important questions about context, which include political and social issues such as inequality, poverty, class struggle, oppression, abuse, stigma, scapegoating and other structural impositions.

An over-reliance on a fixed set of behavioural indicators, some have argued, undermines validity, leaving personality disorder categories prone to “construct drift,” as the diagnostic criteria simply don’t provide adequate coverage of the construct they were designed to measure. There are no physical tests that can be carried out to diagnose someone with a personality disorder – there is no single, reliable diagnostic tool such as a blood test, brain scan or genetic test. Diagnosis depends on subjective judgment rather than objective measurement.

A diagnosis of personality disorder is potentially very damaging and creates further problems for individuals by undermining their sense of self, denying their identity, experience and locating the problems, regardless of their origin and who is responsible for them, in themselves. This is in addition to exposing people to stigma and discrimination, both within the mental health system, quite often, and more broadly within our society. Medicalising and stigmatising human distress permits society to look the other way, losing sight of an individual’s social needs, experiences and context. It also alienates the stigmatised individual, and enforces social conformity, compliance and cultural homogeneity.

It may be argued that the concept of personality disorder obscures wider social issues of neglect, poverty, inequality, power relationships, oppression and abuse by focusing on the labelling of the individual. Rather than being concerned with the impact and prevalence of these issues, public outrage is focussed on containing and controlling people who challenge normative consensus and who are perceived to be dangerous. Because there is no objective test to make a diagnosis, this makes the basis of such diagnosis very questionable and highlights the propensity for its political and punitive usage. The “diagnosis” of many political dissidents in the Soviet Union with “sluggish schizophrenia” who were subsequently subjected to inhumane “treatments” led to questions about such diagnoses and punitive regimes through stigma, labeling, dehumanisation, coercion and oppression, for example.

Secondly, to recommend such specific policies on the basis of this essentially eugenic argument betrays Perkins’s intention to provide a pseudoscientific prop for the libertarian paternalist (with the emphasis being on paternalist) brand of neoliberalism and New Right antiwelfarism.

The taken-for-granted assumption that the work ethic and paid labor (regardless of its quality) may define a person’s worth is also very problematic, as it objectifies human subjects, reducing people to being little more than neoliberal commodities. Or a disposable reserve army of labor, at the mercy of “free market” requirements, if you prefer.

The government is currently at the centre of a United Nations inquiry into abuses of the human rights of sick and disabled people, and is also in breach of the rights of women and children, because of their anti-humanist, draconian welfare “reforms”. Human rights are the bedrock of democracy. The fact that some social groups are experiencing political discrimination and the failure of a government in a wealthy first-world liberal democracy to observe what are meant to be universal human rights ought to be cause for concern.

The rise of neoeugenics

Holocaust documention has highlighted that the medicalisation of social problems and systematic euthanasia of people in German mental institutions in the 1930s provided the institutional, procedural, and doctrinal origins of the genocide of the 1940s. Eugenics in Germany was founded on notions of “scientific progress,” and was about ensuring mental, racial and genetic “hygiene” and “improving” the German race, which ultimately led to eliminativist attitudes towards politically defined “impure” others.

Eugenics is a theory of the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a particular population. It encourages the reproduction of persons with socially defined “desirable genetic qualities” and discourages the reproduction of persons with socially defined “undesirable genetic qualities.” Taken to its most extreme form, eugenics supports the extermination of some groups who some others consider to be “undesirable” population.

One example of eugenic policy is the recent limiting of tax credit support for children in poorer families to two children only. Iain Duncan Smith said that this is to encourage “behavioural change” to prevent poorer families having “too many” children.

Eugenics is widely considered as a movement that endorses human rights violations of some social groups. At the very least, eugenic policy entails violations of privacy, the right to found a family, the right to freedom from discrimination, the right to socioeconomic security and social protection, and at worst, violations of the right to life.

I have frequently referred to Gordon Allport in my writing. He was a social psychologist who studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. Allport’s important work reminds us of the lessons learned from politically-directed human atrocities and the parts of our collective history it seems we would prefer to forget.

In his research of how the Holocaust happened, Allport describes sociopolitical processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrates how the unthinkable becomes tenable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards politically defined others, all of which advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.

The process always begins with political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as “undesirable” and as the Other: an “enemy” or a social “burden” in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, extermination of the group being targeted.

Othering is recognised in social psychology as part of an outgrouping process that demarcates those that are thought to be different from oneself or the mainstream, most often using stigmatising to generate public moral outrage. It tends to reinforce and reproduce positions of domination and subordination. Othering historically draws on essentialising explanations, culturalist explanations, behavioural explanations, genetic explanations and racialising explanations.

Hate crime, eugenics and Allport’s ladder

In the UK, much of the media is certainly being used by the right-wing as an outlet for blatant political propaganda, and much of it is manifested as a pathological persuasion to hate others. We are bombarded with anti-muslim rhetoric, “poverty porn”, headlines that condemn people needing social security as “workshy” and “scroungers.” The political scapegoating narrative directed at sick and disabled people has resulted in a steep rise in hate crimes directed at that group. By 2012, hate crime incidents against disabled people had risen to record levels, and has continued to climb ever since, rising by a further 41% last year alone. We are certainly climbing Allport’s ladder of prejudice.

A freedom of information request to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) discloses that between 2010 and 2015 the government closed 1,041,219 alleged cases of benefit fraud put forward by the public. Insufficient or no evidence of fraud was discovered in 887,468 of these. In 2015 alone, of the 153,038 cases closed by the DWP’s Fraud and Error Service, 132,772 led to no action. People can use an online form on the DWP website to anonymously report “suspects,” listing their eye colour, piercings, scars, tattoos and other details they deem relevant. Suspicions can also be logged through the DWP benefit fraud hotline.

The inaccurate reports throws into question multiple government advertising campaigns, claiming that the public has a “role” in identifying “benefit cheats”. Television adverts, social media posts, letters and radio campaigns have been used to warn claimants about fraudulently claiming benefits. Government statistics show fraudulent claims accounted for 0.7% – or £1.2bn – of total benefit expenditure in the financial year 2012-2013. Some of that figure may also contain a proportion of DWP errors. An estimated £1.6bn was underpaid to claimants by the DWP. Yet people’s neighbours are being encouraged to engage in a McCarthy-style reporting of suspected benefit fraud. And a significant proportion of the public are reporting innocent citizens.

There is considerable incongruence between cases of genuine fraud and public perception: an Ipsos Mori survey in 2013 found the public believed 24% of benefits were fraudulently claimed – 34 times greater than the level seen in official statistics.

The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of paternalistic libertarianism) all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision.

The mainstream media has been complicit in the process of constructing folk devils: establishing stigmatised, deviant welfare stereotypes and in engaging prejudice and generating moral outrage from the public:

“If working people ever get to discover where their tax money really ends up, at a time when they find it tough enough to feed their own families, let alone those of workshy scroungers, then that’ll be the end of the line for our welfare state gravy train.” James Delingpole 2014

Poverty cannot be explained away by reference to simple narratives of the workshy scrounger as Delingpole claims, no matter how much he would like to apply such simplistic, blunt, stigmatising, dehumanising labels that originated from the Nazis (see arbeitssheu.)

The Conservatives have strongly authoritarian tendencies, and that is most evident in their anti-democratic approach to policy, human rights, equality, social inclusion and processes of government accountability.

Conservative policies are entirely ideologically driven. It is a government that is manipulating public prejudice to justify massive socioeconomic inequalities and their own policies which are creating a steeply hierarchical society based on social Darwinist survival of the wealthiest “libertarian” principles. We have a government that frequently uses words like workshy to describe vulnerable social groups.

Conservative narrative and eugenics

This is a government intentionally scapegoating poor, unemployed, disabled people and migrants. A few years ago, a Tory councillor said that “the best thing for disabled children is the guillotine.” More recently, another Tory councillor called for the extermination of gypsies, more than one Tory (for example, Lord Freud, Philip Davies) have called for illegal and discriminatory levels of pay for disabled people, claiming that we are not worth a minimum wage to employers.

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

Occasionally such narrative is misjudged, pushing a little too far against the boundaries of an established idiom of moral outrage, and so meets with public resistance. When this happens, it tends to expose the fault lines of political ideology and psychosocial manipulation, revealing the intentional political creation of folk devils and an extending climate of prejudice.

In EdgbastonKeith Joseph, (1974) announced to the world that:

“The balance of our population, our human stock is threatened … a high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world and bring them up. They are born to mothers who were first pregnant in adolescence in social classes 4 and 5. Many of these girls are unmarried, many are deserted or divorced or soon will be. Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment.”

And in 2010, the former deputy chairman of Conservative Party, Lord Howard Flight, told the London Evening Standard:

“We’re going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it’s jolly expensive. But for those on benefits, there is every incentive. Well, that’s not very sensible.”

In 2013, Dominic Cummings, a senior adviser to the UK Secretary of State for Education, provoked a flurry of complaints about his eugenicist approach, claiming that “a child’s performance has more to do with genetic makeup than the standard of his or her education.”

Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Biology, offered a more detailed analysis in New Scientist, concluding:

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

Pseudoscience has long been used to attempt to define and explain social problems. Lysenkoism is an excellent example. (The term Lysenkoism is used metaphorically to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, most often related to political objectives. This criticism may apply equally to either ideologically-driven “nature” and “nurture” arguments.)

Eugenics uses the cover and credibility of science to blame the casualities of socioeconomic systems for their own problems and justify an existing social power and wealth hierarchy. It’s no coincidence that eugenicists and their wealthy supporters also share a mutual antipathy for political progressivism, trade unionism, collectivism, notions of altruism and of co-operation and class struggle.

It isn’t what it ought to be

Adam Perkins wrote a book that attempts to link neurobiology with psychiatry, personality and behavioural epigenetics, Lamarkian evolution, economics, politics and social policy. Having made an impulsive inferential leap across a number of chasmic logical gaps from neurobiology and evolution into the realms of social policy and political science, seemingly unfazed by disciplinary tensions between the natural and social sciences, particularly the considerable scope for paradigmatic incommensurability, he then made a highly politicised complaint that people are criticising his work on the grounds of his highly biased libertarian paternalist framework, highly partisan New Right social Conservatism and neoliberal antiwelfarist discourse. 

The problem of discrete disciplinary discursive practices and idiomatic language habits, each presenting the problem of complex internal rules of interpretation, was seemingly sidestepped by Perkins, who transported himself across distinct spheres of meaning simply on leaps of semantic faith to doggedly pursue and reach his neuroliberal antiwelfarist destination. He seems to have missed the critical domain and central controversies of each discipline throughout his journey.

Perhaps he had a theory-laden spirit guide.

Einstein once famously said: “The theory tells you what you may observe.”

On reading Perkins’s central thesis, the is/ought distinction immediately came to mind: moral conclusions – statements of what “ought” to be – cannot be deduced from non-moral premises. In other words, just because someone claims to have knowledge of how the world is or how groups of people are – and how mice are, for that matter, since Perkins shows a tendency to conflate mice behaviour with human behaviour – (descriptive statements), this doesn’t automatically prove or demonstrate that he or she knows how the world ought to be (prescriptive statements).

There is a considerable logical gap between the unsupported claim that welfare is somehow “creating” some new kind of personality disorder, called “the employment-resistant personality”, and advocating the withdrawal of support calculated to meet only the basic physiological needs of individuals – social security benefits only cover the costs of food, fuel and shelter.

Whilst Perkins’s book conveniently fits with Conservative small state ideology, behaviourist narratives, and “culture of dependency” rhetoric, there has never been evidence to support any of the claims that the welfare state creates social problems or psychological pathologies. Historically, such claims tend to reflect partisan interests and establish dominant moral agendas aimed at culturally isolating social groups, discrediting and spoiling their identities, micromanaging dissent, and then such discourses are used in simply justifying crass inqualities and hierarchies of human worth that have been politically defined and established.

It’s truly remarkable that whenever we have a Conservative government, we suddenly witness media coverage of an unprecedented rise in the numbers of poor people who have suddenly seemingly developed a considerable range of personal “ineptitudes” and character “flaws.” Under the Thatcher administration, we witnessed Charles Murray’s discredited pseudoscientific account of “bad” and “good” folk-types taking shape in discriminatory policy and prejudiced political rhetoric.

Social Darwinism has always placed different classes and races in hierarchies and arrayed them in terms of socially constructed notions of “inferiority” and “superiority.” Charles Murray’s controversial work The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life presents another example of a discredited right-wing ideological architect, funded by the right-wing, who was then used to prop up an authoritarian Conservative antiwelfarist dogma that was also paraded as “science.” Murray had considerable influence on the New Right Thatcher and Reagan governments. Critics were often dismissed, on the basis that they were identified with “censorious political correctness,” which of course was simply a right-wing attempt to close down genuine debate and stifle criticism. The Bell Curve was part of a wider campaign to justify inequality, racism, sexism, and provided a key theme in Conservative arguments for antiwelfarism and anti-immigration policies.

A recent comprehensive international study of social safety nets from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard economists refutes the Conservative “scrounger” stereotype and dependency rhetoric. Abhijit Banerjee, Rema Hanna, Gabriel Kreindler, and Benjamin Olken re-analyzed data from seven randomized experiments evaluating cash programs in poor countries and found “no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discourage work.”

The phrase “welfare dependency” was designed to intentionally divert attention from political prejudice, discrimation via policies and to disperse public sympathies towards the poorest citizens. It is used to justify inequality.

Adam Perkins does nothing to consider, isolate and explore confounding variables regarding the behaviours and responses of people needing social security support. He claims our current level of support is too high. I beg to differ. Empirical evidence clearly indicates it is set much too low to meet people’s physiological needs fully. Poverty affects people’s mental health as well as their physical health. There is a weight of empirical evidence confirming that food deprivation and income insecurity is profoundly psychologically harmful as much as it is physiologically damaging. (See the Minnesota semistarvation experiment, for example.) Describing people’s anger, despondency and distress at their circumstances as “antisocial” is profoundly oppressive. The draconian policies that contribute to creating those circumstances are antisocial, not the people impacted by those policies.

If people can’t meet their basic survival needs, it is extremely unlikely that they will either have the capability or motivation to meet higher level psychosocial needs, including social obligations and responsibilities to find work and meet increasingly Kafkaesque welfare conditionality requirements.

However, people claiming social security support have worked and contributed to society. Most, according to research, are desperate to find work. Most do. It is not the same people year in year out that claim support. There is no discrete class of economic freeriders and “tax payers.” The new and harsh welfare conditionality regime tends to push people into insecure, low paid employment, which establishes a revolving door of work and welfare through no fault of those caught up in it.

There is a clear relationship between human needs, human rights, and social justice. Needs are an important concept that guide empowerment based practices and the concept is intrinsic to social justice. Furthermore, the meeting of physiological and safety needs of citizens ought to be the very foundation of economic justice as well as the development of a democratic society.

The Conservatives (and Perkins) claim that the social security system, which supports the casualties of neoliberal free markets, have somehow created those casualties. But we know that the competitive, market choice-driven Tory policies create a few haves and many have-nots.

As I’ve pointed out many times before, such political rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t “create” them. But if Conservatives must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for others.

Inequality is a fundamental element of the same meritocracy script that neoliberals so often pull from the top pockets of their bespoke suits. It’s the big contradiction in the smug meritocrat’s competitive individualism narrative. This is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such competitive economic dogmas to manifest without restraint, there are always winners and losers. Inequality is a central feature of neoliberalism and social Conservatism, and its cause therefore cannot be located within individuals.

It’s hardly “fair”, therefore, to leave the casualties of competition facing destitution and starvation, with a hefty, cruel and patronising barrage of calculated psychopolicical scapegoating, politically-directed cultural blamestorming, and a coercive, punitive behaviourist approach to the casualities of inbuilt, systemic, inevitable and pre-designated sentences of economic exclusion and poverty.

That would be regressive, uncivilised, profoundly antidemocratic and tyrannical.

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This work was cited and referenced in Challenging the politics of early intervention: Who’s ‘saving’ children and why, by Val Gillies and Rosalind Edwards, here.

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