Tag: Electoral Commission

The government’s disinformation campaign has been facilitated by a complicit, biased, undemocratic media

Disinformation and new forms of propaganda can take many forms—from the use of false images, misleading headlines, to social media techniques that create an impression of consensus – that the ‘majority’ understands an issue in a certain way (also called ‘bandwaggon technique’). Polling can be misused, for example, to create an illusion of agreement in a population, and to draw on the conformity tendency or ‘herd mentality’ of the public.

Media agenda setting and framing of events may also contribute to the bandwaggon effect, and even subtle cues such as a broadcast presenter’s attitude and language towards election candidates can also influence voters.

For example, the many times we have heard the phrase “… let Jeremy Corbyn in” from broadcast media over the course of this election sends out a message that a Labour government would not be the norm, or the ‘preferred’ outcome of an election. The phrase also references and amplifies Theresa May’s chilling authoritarian comment that the Tories would “never allow [Jeremy Corbyn to be elected as Prime Minister] that to happen”. That is the intended subtext.

Sometimes, journalists quite openly reveal their own clear biases. This blatant lack of impartiality contravenes the UK’s norms of democracy and dismally fails to uphold public interest.

The comments, attitudes, gestures and facial expressions of presenters may also send out cues about party leaders deemed ‘suitability’ for office. Boris Johnson’s avoidance of difficult interviews was not because of cowardice. It was a tactical measure to avoid scrutiny, and to avoid being seen in a negative light. The interviews he did participate in were friendlier than other party leaders. Johnson had an easier time of it, by and large, during the election campaign.

The PM having a friendly selfie moment on This Morning

Johnson was somehow unable to find time to be interviewed by BBC1’s Conservative but nonetheless formidable Andrew Neil. He had no problem squeezing in a breezy and fawning chat with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on ITV.

Can’t imagine why. Informative to see what ‘rigorous scrutiny’ from the British media looks like, however.

The media’s complicity in a strategic disinformation campaign

The case of Jack Williment-Barr, the four-year-old boy (pictured above) who was forced to sleep on a hospital floor as he waited in A&E, has brought public focus on the state of the chronically underfunded NHS just days before the election. The story appeared in the Daily Mirror. But it has also put focus on the other key trend of the election campaign: false and misleading claims that have circulated on social media and been amplified significantly by the mainstream press.

The image of Jack lying on a pile of coats has been at the centre of two major controversial disinformation campaigns. Jack’s story and the shocking image that highlighted the shocking state of the NHS have now been subjected to dishonest political re-edits, twice over. It is inconceivable that these re-edits have originated from anywhere other than the Conservative headquarters.

First, journalists who claimed to have been briefed by ‘senior Conservatives’ misreported that Matt Hancock’s adviser had been punched by one of 100 activists who arrived after the health secretary came to the hospital in an attempt to deal with the ongoing story. It turned out that there was no such punch, and that the adviser had simply accidently walked into the hand of one of the very small number of protesters who were at the hospital. He was pointing at something.

Hancock visited the hospital as a ‘damage management’ exercise following Boris Johnson’s earlier refusal to look at a photo of Jack on the floor of the hospital presented to him by Joe Pike, an ITV journalist. He took the phone from Pike, to avoid a difficult discussion about the government’s chronic underfunding of the NHS.

In the second re-edit, thousands of people shared a story that claimed to prove the photo of Jack was ‘staged’ by ‘Labour activists’, and that his mother had placed him on the floor specifically to take a photo. Once again, the claim was false; once again, it was amplified across social media by key journalists and political editors before any of them had bothered checking the provenance of the claim, or the facts of the case from the hospital itself.

None of this was true.

So Hancock was sent to Leeds General Infirmary, where the original photograph was taken. “Health Secretary has been despatched to Leeds to try to sort this out after PM’s awkward reaction earlier,” the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg tweeted.

Soon after he arrived, reports came from many of the country’s leading political journalists that Hancock’s aide had been attacked. Reports including ITV political editor Robert Peston, Laura Kuenssberg and others. This certainly looked like a very well co-ordinated disinformation campaign.

There were also reports that claimed “100 activists” had arrived and that their journey had been “paid for by the Labour Party.”

Some indicated that they had been told the news by Conservatives, and later indicated that the claims had been checked with “multiple sources.”

That will be just Matt Hancock, then.

It very quickly became clear that all of those claims were false. A video of the incident appeared shortly after that made very clear that there were only a few activists, and that the punch had not actually happened at all. 

Then, the same evening, the second misleading narrative took hold. A flurry of tweets began, boosting two stories that were eerily written using the same wording.

The first and most prominent disinformation item claimed to be sourced from a senior nurse who worked at the hospital, though it got the name of it wrong. It said that the photo had been staged by Jack’s mother, and that he immediately got back on a trolley after it was taken.

The second, which appeared to start slightly later, was credited to a “paediatric nurse.” It used a range of seeming medical jargon to definitively suggest that “no child would be treated in such a way,” and that therefore the image was either fake or misleading.

In both cases, a flurry of accounts took the text of the tweet and re-shared it, oddly, as if it was their own comment. It also made its way onto Twitter, where it was similarly shared without context.

Taken together, the story was shared tens of thousands of times onto different social media sites. Many have suggested that bots have been used.

The original viral post on a medical secretary’s Facebook account said, “I am a nurse myself” and cited a “good friend of mine” at Leeds General. It claimed the boy in the photo “was in fact put there by his mother who then took photos on her mobile phone and then uploaded it to media outlets”. The post dismissed the pictures of the ill boy as “another Momentum propaganda story”, despite the fact the hospital had already apologised for his treatment.

She later claimed her account had been hacked.

It didn’t matter that the hospital had confirmed the incident happened and apologised to the family, or that the nurses who supposedly served as the source for either story were anonymous and almost certainly not real. The story was shared as if it was fact and was amplified by Conservative MPs and senior journalists.

In some cases, those people have taken down those tweets. But worryingly, others are still live, and still being interacted with by readers.

Neither of the claims are remotely factual. Again, the hospital involved has confirmed that the incident happened, and that the event the photograph shows is real.

Responsible and publicly trusted reporters, such as Kuenssberg and Peston have a fundamental duty to make sure the comments they are putting out in the public domain have been verified and fact checked.

The hospital statement had already summed it the situation up – the hospital admitted there was no bed, the expectations of the family fell woefully short of the high standards of the NHS and as such an apology was issued.

The standards of journalism fell woefully short of the high expectations of the UK media. Throughout the election campaign, it’s clearly evident that the mainstream media has demonstrated that we cannot trust it to deliver impartial commentaries or fact checked news. 

However, the BBC did address the despicable misinformation campaign, but not during peak viewing hours: 

 

Laura Kuenssberg’s controversial, possibly illegal comments on the postal vote

Laura Kuenssberg: “the postal votes, of course, have already arrived. The parties, they’re not meant to look at them, but they do kind of get a hint. And, on both sides, people are telling me that the postal votes that are in are looking very grim for Labour…”.

The Electoral Commission says: 1.9 Ballot papers will be kept face down throughout a postal vote opening session. Anyone attending an opening session must not attempt to see how individual ballot papers have been marked. It follows therefore that keeping a tally of how ballot papers have been marked is not allowed.

1.10 In addition, anyone attending a postal vote opening must not attempt to look at identifying marks or numbers on ballot papers, disclose how any particular ballot paper has been marked or pass on any such information gained from the session. Anyone found guilty of breaching these requirements can face an unlimited fine, or may be imprisoned for up to six months.”

In a statement on Twitter, the watchdog said: ‘It may be an offence to communicate any information obtained at postal vote opening sessions, including about votes cast, before a poll has closed. ‘Anyone with information to suggest this has happened should report it immediately to the police.’

Kuenssberg told viewers on Wednesday – with just hours to go before the polling stations opened – that while parties were not supposed to look at voting papers when they were verified – but not counted – at opening sessions, they did “get a hint” of how they were doing and it was not looking good for Labour.

Her comments, however, came across as a statement of fact, rather than a hint.

She said: “The forecast is that it’s going to be wet and cold tomorrow. The postal votes, of course, have already arrived. The parties – they’re not meant to look at it, but they do kind of get a hint – and on both sides people are telling me that the postal votes that are in are looking pretty grim for Labour in a lot of parts of the country.

“Of course, postal voters tend to skew to elderly voters and people who vote early … but the kind of younger generation who we know skew much more to the Labour party, you might expect to turn out to the polls tomorrow. But in this winter election, turnout is just another one of these factors that we just can’t predict.”

Kuenssberg’s remarks, made during an interview on the BBC’s Politics Live programme, was widely shared on social media on the final day of an election campaign that has seen unprecedented criticism of the media. It led to suggestions that she could potentially have breached the Representation of the People Act, which prevents the reporting of how people voted until after polls close.

A spokesperson for the broadcaster made clear they did not believe there were any issues with the on-air comments. “The BBC does not believe it, or its political editor, has breached electoral law,” they said.

Ballot papers are kept face down while votes are opened and it is forbidden to attempt to see how ballots have been marked or to keep a count. Postal votes are not counted until 10pm on the day of the election.

The broadcasting regulator Ofcom has strict electoral rules around broadcasting or publishing the results of votes or opinion polls on election day before 10pm over concerns that doing so could influence voters’ decisions.  

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Waltham Forest council in east London has been scrambling to deliver postal votes that should have been out by last Friday, after an administrative error delayed the process.

The problem affected 1,470 voters in three constituencies, including Chingford and Woodford Green, which Iain Duncan Smith won for the Conservatives with a majority of 2,438 at the last election and which is a key target for Labour.

The council could not say how many voters were affected in each constituency but said all but one form had now been delivered.

It said 1,364 forms had been hand-delivered by the end of Monday and 105 more had been couriered to voters outside London on Tuesday and Wednesday.

A council spokesman said the borough had dealt with 27,993 postal votes for this election. He apologised for the error and said the Electoral Commission had been notified.

He added: “Completed postal votes will get to us if they are posted by last post on Wednesday 11 December. They can also be handed to staff at any polling station in the constituency on the day of the general election.”

Given the context of this error, it’s very easy to see why many people have a growing concern that this election may be rigged.

The fake narratives and lies in the Conservatives’ and Liberal democrats’ social media campaigns

Almost all of the Conservative Party’s recent Facebook adverts promote claims labelled as misleading or untrue by one of the platform’s third-party fact-checking partners, a First Draft investigation has found.

Nearly 90% of the ads posted in the first days of December push figures already challenged by Full Fact, the UK’s leading fact-checking organisation. The non-partisan, independent charity works with the tech giant to assess posts which have been reported as misleading or false by users in the UK.

Facebook recently announced that posts from political organisations and political adverts are exempt from fact-checking, meaning parties and candidates can promote inaccurate claims without scrutiny.

Online ads have become a controversial central theme of elections, where parties can reach voters with micro-targeted messages that are ‘psychographically tailored’ according to the data held on individuals, concerning their postcode, hobbies, site and online buying preferences and other private information collected by data analysts, but these categories are not in public view in the Ad Library. (See: The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign.)

The so-called “dark ads” have emerged as a method of advertising that utilises data obtained by the likes of Facebook and Google, among other platforms to ‘customise’ and tailor messages in political campaigns.

They can be served directly to users of Facebook and via Google’s widely used double-click technology which serves ads to millions of websites, including political ads.

It should not be left to US internet companies to safeguard UK elections. Our election laws are decades out of date, and our next Parliament should take urgent steps to secure the accountability and transparency we need to protect our democracy.

Will Moy, chief executive of Full Fact, told First Draft: “Full Fact plays an independent role in Facebook’s Third Party Fact Checking programme, which doesn’t currently cover ads or content from political figures or parties.

“But Full Fact continues to regularly scrutinise claims by all political parties, including manifestos and debates during this election campaign.”

The Conservatives massively stepped up their ad campaign on Facebook, running almost 7,000 ads and spending more than £50,000 between November 27 and December 3, according to the latest figures from Facebook’s Ad Library.

First Draft accessed the Facebook Ad Library API to download all 6,749 ads from the Conservative Party between December 1 and December 4. Some 88% (5,952) of the most widely promoted ads featured claims about the NHS, income tax cuts, and the Labour Party which had already been labelled misleading or untrue by Full Fact.

Not every ad includes the misleading claim directly in its image or caption. At least 54% (3,646) of the total ads served link to a webpage carrying the misleading claims.

When ITV News asked senior Conservative Michael Gove about the ads, he said: “I’m not aware of any adverts that we publish that have been misleading.”

The central Conservative Party press office have not responded to requests for comment.

A Facebook spokesperson told ITV News: “We don’t believe a private company like Facebook should censor politicians. Our approach is instead to introduce unprecedented levels of transparency so anyone can see every political advert and who it’s from.”

The misleading ads include:

Moy, director of Full Fact, said: “This election candidates and campaigns on all sides are asking voters for their trust. Serious parties and politicians should not be recycling debunked claims or targeting individuals with bad information – we all deserve better than that.”

Facebook, however, expects that the public will somehow determine for themselves the truth of claims made in adverts. It’s a view that is evidently shared by the BBC regarding claims made in party manifestos.

The Liberal Democrats have also been accused of misleading voters ahead of polling day, using inaccurate graphs and leaflets masquerading as local newspapers, which featured in their posted leaflets.

The Lib Dems have also been accused of using misleading graphs in Facebook ads. First Draft found hundreds of Lib Dem Facebook ads use graphs to falsely claim they are the only party to beat Labour, the Conservatives or the SNP “in seats like yours”.

Facebook does not provide data on where the ads have been targeted but some Twitter users have complained that they have received ads which reflect voting pattern statistics that are inaccurate for their constituency.

At least 16.5% of the Lib Dems 7,295 ads since the campaign began feature such claims.

First Draft has not been able to find misleading claims in Facebook adverts from the Labour Party, which has promoted far fewer ads than the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats.

However, Full Fact recently described as “not credible” one claim that the average family would save £6,700 under Labour policies. Labour’s Liz McInnes has used this claim in a Facebook ad.

Fact Check say: “More than three quarters of the supposed “savings” come from just two large costs, rail season tickets and childcare, neither of which comes close to reflecting what an average family actually pays. In England, two fifths of families don’t pay anything for childcare; only 5% of people use a train more than three times a week.

However: “Some of the smaller figures seem fair estimates of savings that might come about if Labour’s policies were implemented, but they overstate the extra costs families have faced since 2010.”

And: “We haven’t seen the workings behind this figure, which Labour says is from a House of Commons Library analysis.”

There’s a world of difference between contested figures and deliberate intent to mislead the public, as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have set out to do.

The Tories’ ambition is a one party state

The Tories have been brazen in their contempt for democratic process and norms. For example, it has been plain from their increasing reliance on statutory instruments (SI) to sidestep debate and voting in the Commons, in order to push through controversial and unpopular draconian policies. 

When the House of Lords overturned Osborne’s nasty raid on the working poor’s tax credits (itself enacted by statutory instrument, in case the Commons vote it down), he reacted with the oblique but unmistakable threat to flood the Lords with so many new Tory peers so that such a defiance of his authority could not be repeated.

The Conservatives’ utter contempt for both international and national human rights legislative frameworks is another worrying symptom of authoritarianism. The UK is the first state to have prompted investigation into how it upholds the human rights of disabled people. The inquiry report concluded that the government have systematically and gravely violated the human rights of disabled people via their punitive policies. The government continue to deny this, and in the meantime, the public has tended to look the other way while ill and disabled people die prematurely through neglect, loss of support and other austerity related cuts that were disproportionately targeted at one of the most vulnerable communities.

The way in which the Tories have treated marginalised communities has expressed clearly their traditional prejudices, leading to direct discrimination and oppressive policies, while those with the least need – the millionaires – have been lavished with tax cuts and other hand outs from our public funds.

The highly controversial welfare ‘reforms’ were hammered through the scrutiny stage into legislative process by Cameron’s claim to an archaic Commons proviso: ‘financial privilege’. The public are still waiting to see the risk register following the Health and Social Care bill, despite the government being ordered to place it in the public domain by the Information Commissioner and the court.

Then there was Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament- normally a standard procedure in the calendar of Parliament, but the prerogative was clearly used for controversial political objectives by the PM.

The prorogation was an improper and unlawful attempt to evade parliamentary scrutiny of Johnson’s Brexit plans in advance of the UK’s departure from the European Union on 31 October 2019; individuals and groups who opposed the prorogation included opposition MPs, UK constitutional law scholars, and John Major, the former Conservative Prime Minister. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, called the decision a “constitutional outrage”.  

Page 48 of the Conservative manifesto

Stefan Enchelmaier, Professor of European Law at the University of Oxford, “almost missed” the mention of the Human Rights Act (HRA) in the Conservative manifesto. Probably, most people have. That is probably the point.

Buried on page 48, the 2019 manifesto contains a single mention of the party’s pledge to “update” the 1998 HRA, which brings the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law. It doesn’t specify what the ‘update’ will look like, or when it will happen (beyond “after Brexit,” which isn’t much of a clue). The language is euphemistic and vague, indicating that the ‘update’ will “ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.” This is not a pledge intended to draw attention.

The attempt at hiding this pledge marks a change. David Cameron’s 2015 manifesto, which also promised the infamous “in-out referendum,” committed—five times over; three in bold—to “scrap” the Human Rights Act (HRA) and introduce a British Bill of fRights. This pledge came despite the failure of the 2010 coalition’s especially set-up Bill of Rights Commission to agree on its content, and by the end of 2015, there was still no British Bill of Rights. In December 2016, it was announced that HRA repeal was delayed until after Brexit; and the 2017 Tory manifesto pledged to remain signed up to the ECHR “for the duration of this parliament.” For now, that is.

During this time, some prominent Conservatives politicised the HRA as “Labour’s.” Others, such as Dominic Grieve defended it.

This is a bit strange given it passed with overwhelming cross-party support in 1998.

Furthermore, the ECHR itself was shaped to a considerable degree by Winston Churchill and Tory lawyer David Maxwell-Fyfe . More recently, the Conservatives have used a narrative of the legal sovereignty issue into the Brexit debate, BUT leaving the EU does not entail leaving the ECHR. They are two different organisations completely.

Tory statements on human rights have often been inflammatory, like Cameron saying he felt “physically sick” at the thought of prisoners’ right to vote. Then there were the lies that were used to portray human rights in a negative light – like the “pet cat” Theresa May said prevented a deportation (in reality, Judge Gleeson had found that the deportee was in a stable relationship, and was therefore allowed to stay under the HRA, and that the couple also kept a cat).

Helen Mountfield, barrister, legal scholar and principal of Mansfield College, Oxford said: “There has really been a populist misrepresentation of what the law is.” She is suggesting that politicians and the populist press have in part intentionally fuelled the perception that the HRA is “a rogue’s charter.”

It’s noteworthy that the Conservatives’ new promise to “update” the HRA is hidden away in a paragraph that,rather worryingly, promises other sorts of constitutional review, including looking at “the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts.” Basically the Tories want to place themselves above the law. It’s usually one of the first acts of a despotic regime when they gain office. Amending existing human rights laws is another

The Tories are being intentionally unclear so that later they can do what they want. Given their past record, we can say that they mean to ‘weaken’ the commitments that we have to the ECHR. Some of Cameron’s plans entailed making human rights ‘relevant’ and relative. It would be down to a minister to decide if a case would be heard, the decision would be on an individual basis. This profoundly undermines the universality of human rights.If only some rights are upheld, it flies in the face of the fundamental principle that everyone has the same fundamental rights

The Tory proposal is likely address when, where and by whom those rights can be enjoyed and who can be held to account for their violation. It won’t be the government.

Whatever the eventual shape of the HRA, the systematic attacks on it are symptomatic of a troubling trend: populist attempts to undermine the perceived legitimacy of the rule of law.

The “Enemies of the People” headline used by the Daily Mail after the case on triggering Article 50 in 2017 demonstrates the government are fine with attacking the independent Judiciary. So this is about destroying the mechanisms of government accountability and operating within the law. It is an attack on our institutions, and the dignity and wellbeing of citizens.

We’ve already seen the government’s utter contempt for the human rights of disabled people and some ethnic communities. Their manifesto promises to confiscate the belongings of Roma, Gypsies and travellers, and to move them from their homes.

The Tories are far worse than ‘anti-progressive.’ They are brutal, cruel authoritarian eugenicists. It’s written between the lines of their narratives of ‘deserving and undeserving’ it’s embedded in their the myth of meritocracy. It drips from their disdain for a public they think can’t spell Pinocchio, or aren’t ‘clever’ enough to escape a burning multi-storey building. They think they are better than others and that gives them the right to rule. On their own terms.

That’s not a democracy, by the way.

Nor is the government’s almost total control over our mainstream media, who no longer serve the public interest.

—–

Related
 

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

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

Leaked document reveals how government are micromanaging public perceptions of the government’s austerity programme

The problem with Jeremy Corbyn? The ranting incoherence of the mass media

Defending disinformation against democracy: the Integrity Initiative

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

The interdependence of the PR industry and neoliberal Conservative governments

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

From Spycatcher and GBH to the Zinoviev letter – an emergent pattern and the real enemy within

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

 
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Update following the election result: Politics and Insight’s independent, measured, authoritative reporting has never been so vital, or in the public interest. These are turbulent, decade-defining times. Whatever lies ahead for us all, I will be with you – investigating, disentangling, analysing and scrutinising, as I have done for the last 9 years. 

More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart. 

My editorial independence means I set my own agenda and present my own research and analyisis.  My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power.

This morning I came across this on Twitter:

John Mann@LordJohnMann
 

I can this morning announce that as government advisor on antisemitism that I will be instigating an investigation this January into the role of the Canary and other websites in the growth of antisemitism in the United Kingdom. https://twitter.com/supergutman/status/1205296902301990912 

Marlon Solomon@supergutman
 

Who’d have guessed that Mendoza – one of the people most responsible for toxifying the British left with racially charged conspiracy theories about Jews – would blame a Jew before anyone else.

Whoever takes control of Labour, from whatever faction, please fuck these people off.

View image on Twitter
3,147 people are talking about this
 
 

Independent journalists are now facing a threat from an authoritarian government, who have successfully managed to distort our mainstream media.

I did expect this promise of a purge on left leaning sites if Boris Johnson was returned to office, but not quite so soon after the event. It’s a case of vote Tory on Thursday, get fascism by Saturday. 

John Mann isn’t by a long stretch the only so-called moderate ex-Labour neoliberal  extremist whipping up McCarthyist hysteria and hate. But he has been strategically placed for a while by the Conservatives to destroy independent sites like mine. He’s a particularly nasty individual.

My first step to fight back in the coming year is to join the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). It is an essential protection, now.

It’s not cheap, especially for someone like me, as I’ve no income from my work. I pay WordPress to keep adverts off my site, too. But I am one of those people who often has to make daily choices about whether to eat or keep warm. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. Like many others in similar circumstances, I am now living in fear for our future under a government that has already systematically and gravely violated the human rights of disabled people, which has resulted in fear, suffering, harm and all too often, premature death.

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going. 

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£435k Brexit donation to DUP wasn’t reported says Electoral Commission

A DUP advertisement that appeared in The Metro A DUP advert that appeared in the Metro

A £435,000 donation to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from a pro-Brexit group was not reported to the Electoral Commission, it has been confirmed. The BBC has reported that Scottish unionist funding organisation Constitutional Research Council (CRC) has been fined £6,000 for failing to report the donation.

Following an investigation, the Electoral Commission ruled that there was “no reasonable excuse” for failing to report it, along with other political contributions.

It was a record fine by the Electoral Commission.

However, the Commission accepted that the donation and its donors were “permissible”.

The DUP received the donation during the Brexit referendum campaign and spent £282,000 of the money on an advert (pictured above) in the Metro newspaper.

A BBC Northern Ireland (NI) Spotlight programme asked questions about whether the DUP incurred joint spending with other EU referendum campaigners but did not declare it under a common plan.

Under Electoral Commission rules, groups are not allowed to work together in order to get around funding limits, but the DUP has denied wrongdoing and insisted it acted within electoral law. It said yesterday that it had nothing to add to previous comments on the matter.

Following the airing of the documentary in June, the Electoral Commission requested further evidence from BBC Spotlight NI but were told there was no other significant information other than what was in the programme. The BBC broadcasted their own investigation.

In August, the Electoral Commission surprisingly announced that there were “no grounds” for an investigation into the issue. However, the UK Electoral Commission – the body tasked with protecting the integrity of our elections – has behaved with all of the intergrity and accountability of the Pro Conservative mainstream media during its ‘investigation’ of this controversial, secret Brexit donation.

Details of the fine were contained in new correspondence from the Electoral Commission released by the Good Law Project, the BBC reported.

The group had been seeking a judicial review over the commission’s refusal not to probe the allegations made on Spotlight.

In October, Court of Appeal judges sitting in the High Court handed down a short further judgment in respect of the Good Law Project’s judicial review of the Electoral Commission. You can read the judgment here.

The High Court rejected the application for permission to appeal advanced by the Electoral Commission and Vote Leave. The donations made by Vote Leave to Darren Grimes to meet his expenses with AggregateIQ were Vote Leave’s referendum expenses, said the High Court, and there was no real prospect of persuading the Court of Appeal otherwise. This has four main consequences.

Firstly, both the High Court and the Electoral Commission have now held that Vote Leave broke the law during the referendum. 

Secondly, it is false – it is no exaggeration to call it a lie – to pretend that the Electoral Commission gave Vote Leave permission to work together with Darren Grimes. Vote Leave relies (you can read its witness statement here) for that assertion on a waiver given by the Electoral Commission. The waiver reads as follows:

However, it only applies if there was no “co-ordinated plan or agreement” between Vote Leave and Darren Grimes. And there was.

Thirdly, the High Court has held that the Electoral Commission misapplied the law during the referendum. The waiver – above – was wrong in principle.

Fourthly, importantly, the Commission was wrong when it gave a waiver to Leave campaigners without giving that waiver to Remain campaigners. And, had it given that waiver to Remain campaigners they, too, would have carried on spending.

Responding to these latest developments, Caroline Lucas MP has called on the Electoral Commission to “urgently reopen its investigation and use its powers to demand concrete evidence of where these significant donations came from.”

“This is about protecting the integrity of our democracy”, she added: “The Electoral Commission itself has already admitted Leave campaigners broke the law ahead of the 2016 referendum. So for them to simply take the DUP and Constitutional Research Council at their word is deeply irresponsible.”

The Good Law Project says: “It is open to the Electoral Commission to ignore the indication from the High Court and ask the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal. However, we can only hope that it will not waste further public money attempting to defend its mishandling of the Referendum.”

The Electoral Commission is apparently reluctant or powerless to enforce the laws of what ought to be democratic events such as referendums and elections.

Yet without a normative, wider, institutionalised accountability and transparency, we have no democracy.


 

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

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

Roger Mullin of the Scottish National Party.

New cash for Conservatives scandal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

letter

Some more context

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Banks Aided Firm At Center Of International Bribery Scandal

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

 HSBC files: Swiss bank hid money for suspected criminals

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

Business dealings of Tory donors could be wiped from official records

Update
One promising result:

vine

And a rather hasty response from the Electoral Commission, which you can view here: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk

 


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TORIES SPENT £114,000 ON FACEBOOK LIKES AND ADS IN JUST ONE MONTH – Political Scrapbook

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone

Article originally posted on Political Scrapbook, 13 Jan, 2014.

They’ve already been 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.

So if you want a flavour of how much cash Tories could be splashing on their bid to retain power, have a look at the document below. It’s a £114,000 invoice from Facebook to the Conservative Party — and that’s for just one month.

The bill (which Scrapbook obtained as part of the spending returns for the Rochester and Strood by-election) is dated 2 December and lists its ‘billing period’ as ‘NOV-14′.

Tory Facebook invoice

The invoice is itemised as follows:

  • “Email Collection New” — £71,147.25
  • “Page likes – Conservatives” — £23,998.82
  • “4040 Likes” — £12,713.38
  • “Kelly Tolhurst for Rochester and Strood” — £3,084.41
  • “Video advertising” — £4,014.35

If this is representative, it means they could be spaffing around £1 million per year on Facebook alone.

The “Let Lynton Lobby Bill” – Grubby Partisan Politics and a Trojan Horse

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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 ambiguous way in which this bill targets anything which may impact on an election is calculated and deliberate. It is a way of intimidating charities, trade unions, religious organisations and all protest groups into remaining silent on important issues (such as protecting the NHS, introducing fair taxation, fighting poverty, public health, education, financial sector reform, civil liberties, human rights, the privatisation agenda) in election years, and this includes European elections and local Council elections too, so it will mean an almost continuous constraint on organisational freedom to comment on politics in any way.

Political blogs may well be at risk of being included too, since they are campaigning entities that potentially attempt to impact the outcome of an election. This is a serious threat to independent politics and an abhorrent authoritarian attempt to silence criticism of the Government, using the threat of fines and imprisonment. Here in the UK, we have a Government very clearly intent on policing critical thinking and opinion.

The National Council For Voluntary Organisations (comprised of a large group of charities) has asked whether this Bill is rushed and badly written or whether it is deliberately intended as a “Trojan horse” in order to curtail the freedom of charities to campaign for their causes. Another 100 charities have also heavily criticised the proposed legislation. There is a broad public consensus that it is indeed calculated and fully intended as a Trojan horse, and it was a view shared widely in Parliament at the hearing of the Bill yesterday.

Trade Unions have reacted in disgust and horror as the scope of the Trojan horse element of the legislation became increasingly clear. Joint cooperation between various unions will be made more difficult to such an extent that the Trade Union Congress will effectively be banned in election years. Another absurd element to the legislation is that the arbitrary spending limit of £390,000 will mean the smaller the Trade Union (or charity, religious group or protest site) the greater their proportional influence will become.

The heads of the main lobbying agencies have attacked the Bill too, claiming that the way the Bill has been designed will mean even less transparency in the lobbying industry and a register of lobbyists with hardly any names on it.

Lansley claimed yesterday that charities raising their concerns about the consequences of the Bill  have “over-reacted”, but that view is not substantiated by the rather lethal analysis from the Electoral Commission, which was sent to every MP. Though it will have to enforce the law, the Commission was not consulted on the Bill. The Commission Chair said it has been given far too much discretion in interpreting “political campaigning”, so its decisions are bound to be challenged in law.

The controls “will be impossible to enforce”, and the Commission warns that the Bill greatly widens the range of activities that count as electoral costs – to include rallies, polling research, events, media work, transport and staffing costs for groups never previously regulated. One big danger for risk-averse charities: “it will not be an organisation’s “intent” but the “effect of the expenditure” that sweeps them into electoral law, so they can never know what might be challenged”. The Commission’s warning should alarm every single MP.

Most damning is the Commission’s statement that it will have serious problems interpreting this law because there is no “clear rationale for many of the changes”. That’s very diplomatic and polite, as most of us can see the rationale all too clearly. The Government has attacked so many people via its draconian policies, many are now suffering the brunt of the austerity cuts: a front for Tory ideology. Many organisations and charities see it as a duty to speak up for the causes that people donate to. Whether that’s for the victims of abuse, the homeless, deprived young offenders or victims of crime, it’s always a fine line – but the Charity Commission already polices their politics, and had already installed William Shawcross, a controversial and somewhat right-wing chair. (Despite his previous support for the Labour Party).

So many agree that the Lobbying  Bill is a thinly disguised crude gerrymander to try and stymie Labour, the Unions and gag the Government’s most dangerous potential critics. As Frances O’Grady said in the Guardian last month, the law means unions will hit the spending limit just by holding an annual conference in election year, leaving them unable to campaign.

Glenda Jackson summarised it all very tidily yesterday when she said: “The Lobbying Bill is a gagging act, and as it stands it will prevent democratic voices being heard. It’s a step backwards from the codes of conduct and sanctions that already exist”. 

Nick Clegg is a prime mover on this Bill, as minister in charge of constitutional reform, and Dennis Skinner humorously and astutely pointed out during the debate yesterday that: “The Liberal Democrats support the lobbying bill because they do not want students campaigning against them over tuition fees in 2015.”

Labour shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle called the bill “one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve seen any government produce in a very long time”. Referring to Andrew Lansley’s former role as health secretary, she added: “I think the last bill this bad might even have been the Health and Social Care Act, and your fingerprints were all over that one too”.

Although the Chair of the Electoral Commission said that regulators could be forced to take legal action against community groups and activists due to “confusion over their new role”, I don’t think there is any “confusion”.

The Tories are well known historically for their liking for “Gagging Acts”. Paine’s “Rights of Man” reached several hundred thousand readers and in May 1792, the Government reacted with a Royal Proclamation against “seditious writing”. There were Tory-organised local demonstrations of loyalty, including over 300 ritualised burnings of Tom Paine. The Government rushed in the further ‘Gagging Acts’ to tighten the treason statute and to ban large political meetings. A huge petitioning campaign followed, with loyalists expressing support and reformers protesting against the restriction, but the Bills were passed anyway.

In 1819, Lord Liverpool and his Tory Government responded to public outcry regarding the Peterloo Massacre by introducing the extremely oppressive Six Acts, which included gagging the “radical” press, and suppression of rights to public meetings. On the 23rd November, 1819, Lord Sidmouth, the Government ‘s Home Secretary, announced details of what later became  the Six Acts. By the 30th December,1819, Parliament had debated and passed the six measures that it hoped would suppress further dissent. There are examples of the Tory tendency for oppressive responses to dissent and criticism littered throughout history.

What we learned from this is that British political culture can be changed fundamentally in the course of resisting authoritarian efforts such as these, and now, we really must do so again.

Lobbying is simply the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the Government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Lobbying is done by many different types of people and organised groups, including individuals in the private sector, corporations, fellow legislators, Government officials, or advocacy/interest groups.

Although lobbying is often spoken of with contempt, when the implication is that people with inordinate socio-economic power are corrupting the law in order to serve their own interests, another side of lobbying is making sure that the interests of others are duly defended against others’ corruption, or even simply making sure that minority interests are fairly defended against a tyranny of the majority. So there can be elements of power struggles to establish justice involved. Lobbying is therefore a crucial and very valuable part of democracy. Problems arise when some lobbyists are given priority, and come to influence Government policy-making more than others.

Before he became prime minister, Cameron predicted that secret corporate lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen”, adding: “We all know how it works.” As a former lobbyist himself, he certainly did – and he still does.

Cameron’s own election adviser, Lynton Crosby, is a lobbyist for tobacco, alcohol, oil and gas companies. Which is why the prime minister came under attack for dropping curbs on cigarette packaging and alcohol pricing. Then there is Beecroft, the head of the private equity group that administers the high profile barely legal loan shark operation Wonga. The Wonga business model is to prey on the poor, vulnerable and absolutely desperate by offering them exploitative loans at eye-watering interest rates of 5,853% APR. Tellingly, even in the globally renowned haven of free-marketeering – the United States – such outrageous loans are illegal, but in the UK the Tory party are defiantly resisting efforts to regulate the so-called Payday lending sector and introduce maximum APRs.

Cameron’s party treasurer Peter Cruddas resigned after offering access to Cameron for a £250,000 party donation. His defence secretary, Liam Fox, resigned over his relationship with the lobbyist Adam Werritty. Political lobbyists were paid thousands of pounds to help broker a meeting with Liam Fox through Adam Werrity. Bell Pottinger were secretly filmed boasting about its access to the heart of Government, including its ability to persuade Cameron to speak to the Chinese premier on their behalf as well as its exclusive access to figures like William Hague. Let’s not lose sight of the scandals that have prompted this partly diversionary grubby, oppressively partisan policy from the Tories.

Last year the Tory party website openly offered donors the opportunity to attend events where Cameron was present, inviting supporters to join the “premier supporter group”, the Leader’s Group, whose annual membership costs a mere £50,000. (Here is the list of members). So signing up to the group will leave many free to buy direct access to the Prime Minister, other politicians and their advisers.

It’s worth considering that lobbying alone doesn’t begin to cover the extent of corporate influence on Government. The Tory party finds over half of its income from bankers, hedge fund and private equity financiers. Peers who have made six-figure donations have been rewarded with Government jobs. There’s a corruption that is eating our democracy and eroding our public life, and it’s perpetrated not just by lobbyists, but by the politicians, civil servants, bankers and corporate advisers who have increasingly come to swap jobs, favours and insider information, and inevitably come to see their interests as mutual and interchangeable.

The Bill won’t prevent lobbyists walking the corridors of power and speaking in parliamentary debates on the subject on which they work as lobbyists –  those such as David Howell, for example, in the news yet again today. George Osborne’s father-in-law was accused of a conflict of interest last night after it emerged he is being paid by a Japanese high-speed rail firm with commercial interests in the UK at the same time as having top-level access to the Foreign Office as William Hague’s personal adviser.He is being paid as a “European consultant” to JR Central, a train company which could be a bidder for multimillion-pound contracts connected to the controversial HS2 rail line.

At least 142 peers linked to companies involved and invested in private healthcare were able to vote on last year’s Health Bill that opened the way to sweeping and corrosive outsourcing and privatisation.  Recently, the Tory MP Patrick Mercer resigned the party whip when details of yet another lobbying scandal emerged.

The Tories have normalised corruption and made it almost entirely legal. Our democracy and civic life are now profoundly compromised as a result of corporate and financial power “colonising” the State.

So against this backdrop of their own sleaze, the Tories responded with the anti-democratic Lobbying Bill. If the Tories were had a an ounce of honesty about their anti-democratic intentions, it would be called the “Protection of Corporate Lobbying and Silencing of Legitimate Political Debate and Criticism Bill”.

Or the “Let Lynton Lobby” Bill, as Angela Eagle has dubbed it. The Bill had not been presented to the Select Committee in full until the day before recess, it emerged yesterday. The Electoral Commission hadn’t see the draft either. Cameron is also attempting to limit judicial review. If Select Committees are excluded from the legislative process, a case can be challenged under judicial review as that means the legislation is being created on an undemocratic and procedurally unfair basis. Select Committees are part of the constitutional area of law making, they simply cannot be ignored.

The withholding of key details of drafted Bills from Select Committees means that effective and organised challenging from the opposition is stifled, too. We most certainly have an authoritarian Government that arrived unannounced and unauthorised, one that has very clearly spent some time out of Office rather vindictively planning an attack on civil society, reversing the gains of our post-war settlement, and preemptively dismantling the means of redress. The contents of the Lobbying Bill highlight this further. This was a carefully calculated move, and such tactics have become increasingly common since this Government took Office. It would be an enormous mistake, if not academic dishonesty, to pretend that we now live in a liberal democracy.

The Government has left a large loophole in this legislation that allows the likes of Crosby to get around being on the register. When was the last lobbying scandal we read about that involved Oxfam, Vox Political, or the Durham Miners Gala? The Lobbying Bill won’t do a thing to stop the revolving doors between Government and corporate interests (Wonga being a high profile example of this), and neither will it prevent corporate interest parties being invited to actually write Government legislation on their behalf.

Recent freedom of information requests reveal that Treasury officials met fracking industry representatives 19 times in the last 10 months about their generous tax breaks, yet the public are denied any further details of that lobbying on the grounds that it could prejudice commercial interests,” said Green MP Caroline Lucas. “Is the Leader of the House not ashamed that this Bill will drastically curtail the ability of charities to campaign in the public interest on issues such as fuel poverty and energy but do nothing to curb such secretive corporate influencing? The Bill does nothing to prevent lobbyists working directly for commercial concerns from approaching government ministers and trying to influence them”.

Part three of the Bill centres on trade union membership records, Angela Eagle and Caroline Lucas agreed that there appears to be no policy motive for the introduction of this new law other than as a vehicle for cheap, partisan attacks on the trade unionsof which only a minority are actually affiliated to the Labour party. During a belated consultation meeting with the TUC – it took place after the Bill had been published – Department for Business, Innovation and Skills officials could cast no light on why part three exists at all.

Nor were they able to explain the origin of these proposals beyond their oft-repeated mantra that the provisions contained in part three: “It came out of a high level meeting between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. I think that revelation tells us all we need to know about the grubby, partisan nature of the measures “ – Caroline Lucas

The contents of this Bill are all about stifling essential democratic debate, and stymying legitimate criticism of the Government, and that in itself is actually frightening. But it’s also important not to lose sight of how this Draft has progressed, or rather, has been sneaked along to a second hearing. As I stated, the Lobbying Bill was NOT presented to the Parliamentary Committee in full until 1 day before recess. In fact the  Committee was presented initially with only the Consultation, and with no details of the Bill, for scrutiny. There has been NO pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill.

T
his Bill has been entirely deviously constructed by a spiteful and self-serving, anti-democratic Government. That this same Government no longer deems it necessary to be accountable for its policies, and is by-passing democratic processes and legal safeguards, is frankly terrifying. We really do have an oppressive, authoritarian Government. Consider how likely is it that will this Bill will affect the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp UK and the Daily Mail Group, because they spend a huge amount amount per day, and much of the content of the press is highly political in nature.

Surely if charities and trade unions are going to have their freedom of speech curtailed to just £390,000 worth of influence, the mainstream press must be curtailed in the same way. Of course that won’t happen because the Tories are quite happy to have the baying right-wing press supporting their every step towards absolute tyranny. The press will most likely be exempt, because the Tories wouldn’t want to interfere with the (particular) “freedom” of the press. (Unless of course they object to specific information being made accessible to the public, in which case, they may demand that particular newspapers smash up their hard drives, whilst government officials intimidate the families of journalists by arresting them under “anti-terrorism” legislation.)

How did we get here? How could we be facing such tyrannical constraints on our most fundamental liberties, and it has happened so very quickly, too.

Paulo Freire said “Men and women develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality but as a reality in the process of transformation.” – Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

This insight offers us – and all of those who experience subordination through any imposed regime – a path through which we come to understand what it means to be a moving, shared cultural voice in a Society that is being constructed by the tyranny of a few to hold us still and in place like an object.

It is a learning process that always involves pain and hope; a process through which, as forced cultural jugglers, we can come to, cooperatively and subjectivity, organising and transcending our object position in a Society that hosts us, yet is becoming alien. It’s up to us to reclaim it, to make it our own. And to rebuild if we have to. I believe that history is built upon possibilities and human potential. We simply cannot allow this Government to foreclose and reduce that.

More reading:
Petition against Bill.
Independent – Report calls for withdrawal of Government’s lobbying reforms.
Owen Jones: Under the disguise of fixing lobbying this bill will crush democratic protest.
Mike Siver: Free speech is under threat.

 

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A big thank you to Robert Livingstone for his superb art work