Tag: Lynton Crosby

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

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I wrote an article about Cambridge Analytica, the commodification of voter decision making and the marketisation of democracy, along with previous articles about western government strategies for subverting democracy. I have also extensively criticised governments’ use of ‘behavioural economics, and the authoritarian neuroliberal turn more generally. 

Within the neoliberal framework, it seems that anything which may be commodified and marketised is, including our consummer preferences, Facebook likes, behaviours, emotions, subconscious inclinations, cognitive habits, perceptions and decisions. If companies like Cambridge Analytica could mine and sell our souls, they would do so in much they same way they did their own collective conscience.

The CEO of Cambridge Analytica has been suspended, Alexander Nix, has been suspended. However, Nix is a symptom of a problem, rather than being the problem itself. 

Cambridge Analytica is just the tip of a very dirty, subterranean iceberg. It’s worth keeping in mind that without paying clients, among which are governments, antidemocratic companies like this would not thrive and profit. The extensive Public Relations (PR) and ‘strategic communications’ industry, along with the ‘behavioural economics’ technocrats, are all working on sustaining power relations and extending corporate and right wing political interests. 

The hidden persuaders behind the Conservative government

During last year’s general election, the government used a number of companies that bear a lot of similarity to Cambridge Analytic during their election campaign.

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From the Crosby Textor Group site

The government used data from Experian (paid £683,636.34),
Reed Consultancy (paid £178,558.03),
G
oogle Analytics  (paid £1,020,232.17),
Facebook 
(paid £3,177,416.68),

Twitter was paid £56,504.32, to “research, canvass and advertise” their party ‘brand’. And £76,800 was spent advertising through Express Newspapers.

Another company that the Conservatives used for their campaign, paying them £120,000 for market research and canvassing, is OutraJim Messina is the executive director, and the team includes Lynton Crosby.

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However, Crosby Textor (listed as CTF) also earned £4,037,400 for market research/canvassing.

The Messina Group Inc were also paid £544,153.57 for transport, advertising, market research and canvassing. This company uses data analytics and ‘intelligence’ services. The company conducts “Targeted Ads Programs [….] ensuring precise targeting via Facebook, geo-targeting, zipcodes, IP addresses, and other tactics”.

Crosby and Messina made staggering amounts of money from the Conservative’s election campaign, using three separate, listed companies between them.

The company also says:

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Apparently, the Messina Group are in a strategic partnership’ with Outra, “serving as one of Outra’s primary advisors on data, analytics, and ‘customer engagement’.”

(See also: World leaders across 5 continents trust TMG with the highest stakes in politics.)

British electoral law forbids co-ordination between different campaign groups, which must all comply with strict spending limits. If they plan tactics or co-ordinate together, the organisations must share a cap on spending.

Combobulate Limited, which is listed as a management consultancy, earned £43,200 for research/canvassing and for ‘unsolicited material to electors’.

The director is listed as Nicholas Jack Walton Mason, also listed as the director of Uplifting DataMason is also listed as Director of Mason Investment Consultants Limited, which was dissolved via compulsory strike-off . However, I couldn’t find an information site for Combobulate, the only site I found bizarrely took me here. I can’t find any other website.

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Another similar company, An Abundance Limited, which is listed as a ‘behaviour change’ agency, were paid £2,400 for market research and canvassing by the Conservatives in the run-up to the election. 

Populus Data Solutions, who say they provide “state of the art data capture”, were paid £196,452 for research/canvasing and ‘unsolicited material to electors’. This company have also developed the use of biometrics – facial coding in particular.

St Ives management services (SIMS) were paid £3,556,030.91, for research/canvasing, ‘unsolicited material to electors’, advertising, overheads and general administration, media and rallies, and manifesto material.

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Edmonds Elder Ltda digital consultancy, were paid £156,240.00 for advertising. The site  says the company also provides services in vague sounding ‘government affairs’ “We use cutting-edge digital techniques to help government affairs teams make the case for their policy and regulatory positions – harnessing support from communities across the country to ensure a positive outcome.”   

Craig Elder is also the Conservative party’s digital director. Tom Edmonds was the Conservative party’s ‘creative director’ between 2013 and 2015.

Hines Digital  who is a partner of Edmonds Elder Ltd, is a conservative digital agency that builds strong brands, huge email lists, and big league fundraising revenue for our clients, helping conservative campaigns & causes, and companies, achieve their goals.”

It says on the site that “Hines worked with conservative campaigns & causes in fifteen U.S. states and nine countries.” The company designed the ‘digital infrastructure’ of Theresa May’s leadership campaign launch in 2016, they built her website (but aren’t listed in election expenses.) Hines says: 

That timely initial website launch proved invaluable. Approximately 35% of her overall email list signed up on that first day, a significant shot in the arm on Day One made possible because her team — led in part by our partners at Edmonds Elder—was prepared to capitalize on the day’s earned media through effective online organizing.

Overall, the initial holding page saw a 18% conversion rate on day one — meaning nearly 1/5 people who visited the website signed up to join the campaign. That’s a fantastic response to a site optimized for supporter recruitment.”

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And“We are experts at identifying people online – and targeting them to drive the activity your organisation needs.”

With political adverts that are targeted and ‘dark’, which aren’t fact checked as only the person targeted gets to see them. 

Walker Media Limited are a digital marketing and media company, they facilitate Facebook adverts and campaigns, among other services. They were paid £798,610.21 from the Conservatives’ election campaign. One of their other social media marketing campaigns listed on their site is for “The Outdoor and Hunting Industry”.

Simon Davis serves as the Chief Executive Officer at Walker Media Holdings Limited and Blue 449. Davis served as Managing Director of Walker Media at M&C Saatchi plc, a global PR and advertising company, who have worked for the Conservatives before, designing campaign posters and anti-Labour adverts – including the controversial ‘New Labour, New Danger’ one in particular.

There are a few subsidaries of this company which include “harnessing data to find, engage and convert customers efficiently through digital media.” M&C Saatchi acquired the online media ‘intelligence agency’ Human Digital, whose “innovative approach marries rich behavioural insight with robust metrics.”

Under the 1998 Data Protection Act, it can be illegal to process ‘sensitive’ data – a category that includes ‘political opinions’ – without explicit consent from the individuals concerned, though consent is only one of a number of conditions under which sensitive personal data may be legally processed. Despite numerous attempts to contact Conservative HQ last week, the party refused to say if they used any data, modelling or insight gathered during either the election or the referendum campaigns.

There is a whole submerged world of actors making huge profits from data mining and analytics, ‘targeted audience segmentation’, behaviour change techniques, ‘strategic communications and political lobbying. Much of the PR industry is built upon the same territory of interests: financial profit, maintaining power relations and supporting the vested interests of the privileged class. The subterranean operations of the surveillance and persuasion industry and citizen manipulation has become the establishment’s normative tool of authoritarian control, and it is hidden in plain view.

Blue Telecoms were paid £375,882.56 for ‘unsolicited material to electors’ and ‘advertising’. It says on their site that Blue Telecoms is a trading name for Direct Market Solutions Ltd. The company director is Sascha Lopez , a businessman who stood as a local council candidate for the Tories in the 2017 local elections. He is also an active director of the Lopez Group, although that company’s accounts are very overdue, there is an active proposal to strike off on the government’s Companies House page. If directors are late in filing their company accounts, and don’t reply to warnings from Companies House, their company can be struck-off the Companies House register and therefore cease to exist. Other companies he was active in have been liquidated (3) and dissolved (2).

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

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

● Political cold calling to prohibited numbers

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

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

The government is attempting to align citizen perceptions, decisions and behaviours with the desired outcomes of the government, turning democracy on its head

The internet has rapidly become an environment in which citizens and populations are being sorted, profiled, typed, categorised, ranked and “managed”, based on data mining  mass surveillance and psycho-profiling.

It was only a matter of time before the powerful tools of digital tracking and corporate surveillance, including techniques designed for  manipulating opinions and behaviours, shifted from the realm of PR, product and service marketing to politics and voter targeting. The markets for personal data have always been markets for behavioural control also. And markets of behavioural control are composed of those who sell opportunities to influence behaviour for profit and those who purchase such opportunities.  

Daily Mail article showing that Theresa May wanted to work with Cambridge Analytica back in 2016

Profit-seeking private PR companies are paid to brand, market, engineer a following, build trust and credibility and generally sell the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organisation (such as a business, government agency, the media) and the public.

Most of these companies use ‘behavioural science’ strategies (a euphemism for psychological warfare) to do so. It’s a dark world where governments pay to be advised not to talk about “capitalism,” but instead discuss “economic freedom” , “business friendly policies” or the “free market”. Austerity is simply translated into “balancing the budget” or “living within our means”. The political coercion of sick and disabled people to look for work by cutting their lifeline support is “equality and social justice” or “helping to move them closer to employment”. Propaganda and deception is “strategic communications” and “PR”. Psychological coercion is “behavioural science”. The democratic opposition are described as “virtue signallers”, “snowflakes”, “marxists”, “militants” and “the hard left.” 

Chris Wylie on Cambridge Analytica, microsurveilance, information weapons and the politics of psychological warfare.

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

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The revolving door of mutually exclusive political and corporate favour operates by keeping up the spin.

The company at the centre of the Facebook data breach has boasted of using honey traps, fake news campaigns and operations with ex-spies to swing election campaigns around the world, the recent Channel 4 investigation has revealed. 

Executives from Cambridge Analytica spoke to undercover reporters from Channel 4 News about the “dark arts” used by the company to “help” clients, which included entrapping rival candidates in fake bribery stings and hiring prostitutes to seduce them.

In one filmed exchange, the company chief executive, Alexander Nix, is recorded telling reporters: “It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they’re believed.”

The excellent Channel 4 News investigation, broadcast on Monday, despite threats of legal action from the company, comes two days after the Observer reported that Cambridge Analytica had unauthorised access to tens of millions of Facebook profiles in one of the social media company’s biggest data breaches. 

Nix detailed the deception, glorified propaganda techniques, entrapment and other dirty tricks that the company would be prepared to pull for money behind the scenes to help its clients. When the Channel 4 reporter asked if Cambridge Analytica could offer investigations into the damaging secrets of rivals, Nix said it worked with former spies from Britain and Israel to look for political dirt. He also volunteered that his team were ready to go further than an ‘investigation’. 

“Oh, we do a lot more than that,” Nix said. Deep digging is interesting, but you know equally effective can be just to go and speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that’s too good to be true and make sure that that’s video recorded.

“You know these sort of tactics are very effective, instantly having video evidence of corruption.”

Nix suggested one possible scenario, in which the managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s political division, Mark Turnbull, would pose as a wealthy developer looking to exchange campaign finance for land. “I’m a master of disguise,” Turnbull said.

Another option, Nix suggested, would be to create a sex scandal. “Send some girls around to the candidate’s house, we have lots of history of things,” he told the reporter. “We could bring some Ukrainians in on holiday with us, you know what I’m saying.

Facebook’s own little investigation

Facebook in CA s office

Facebook seems to have missed its opportunity to get a handle on the Cambridge Analytica scandal, having been told to stay out of its offices by the UK Information Commissioners Office.

Digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg was hired by Facebook yesterday “to conduct a comprehensive audit of Cambridge Analytica,” according to a Facebook announcement. Apparently the private company at the centre of the scandal was happy to give Facebook full access to its servers and systems but the UK Information Commissioners Office (ICO), which is ‘sponsored by the governmental department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, apparently had other ideas.

On 7 March, my office issued a Demand for Access to records and data in the hands of Cambridge Analytica,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

Cambridge Analytica has not responded by the deadline provided; therefore, we are seeking a warrant to obtain information and access to systems and evidence related to our investigation.

On 19 March, Facebook announced that it will stand down its search of Cambridge Analytica’s premises at our request. Such a search would potentially compromise a regulatory investigation.”

It’s not known how long Facebook, via its proxies, had access to Cambridge A’nalytica‘s files and how much investigating it managed to do, but being kicked out by the ICO is presumably a major inconvenience.

The Information Commissioner, Denham, has criticised Cambridge Analytica for being “uncooperative” with her investigation, and she confirmed that the watchdog will apply for a warrant to examine the company’s activities.

Someone is currently editing the information about Cambridge Analytica on  Wikipedia: re-writing history

CA editing wiki

The Conservative election guru Lynton Crosby had his staff engage in an ‘edit-war’ to delete details of his links with the tobacco industry and his election strategies from Wikipedia. Channel 4 News investigation found that substantial sections were removed from the Wikipedia page of Lynton Crosby, an Australian political strategist, by staff at the Crosby Textor consultancy firm that he co-founded. On 15 July 2013, accounts linked to Crosby Textor staff deleted multiple times sections on the controversy when the Conservative party dropped its policy for plain cigarette packaging. 

In 2015, Wikipedia also blocked a user account on suspicions that it was being used by the Conservative party chairman, Grant Shapps, “or someone acting on his behalf” to edit his own page along with the entries of Conservative rivals and political opponents.

The online encyclopedia, where pages are edited and created by readers, had tracked the changes made by a user calledContribsxthought to be a sock puppet who had systematically removed embarrassing references on Shapps’ Wikipedia page about the Tory chairman’s business activities as Michael Green, the self-styled millionaire web marketer.

wayback machine

Screenshot from The Wayback Machine – an initiative of the Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Other projects include Open Library and archive-it.org.

A sharp-eyed friend, Hubert Huzzah, has spotted that there are currently lots of edits and re-writes on the Cambridge Analytica entry page on Wikipedia. Curiously, it is also possible to trace a Wikipedia edit in a linked reference being deleted on another website. It seems that in editing Wikipedia someone (or a group), is somehow then using what they have edited to take down the information “in the wild”.

It appears that the availability of the information is being removed more generally elsewhere on other sites.

What seems evident is that someone has gone through the links in the Wikipedia article and removed them from the Wikipedia article. It’s possible to simply cut and paste the link into a browser and go to the original. But quite a number of the originals now do not exist. Or they exist with different content.

Here is a snapshot of the Wikipedia entry from 3 January, 2018.

This is one taken on 19 March 2018 (one of five)

And another today (one of ten)It’s reasonable to expect the page to be updated, but you can see from some of the edits that this is rather more that a simple updating of information. 

It’s something of a Winston Smith moment…

The bottom line

It is fundamentally wrong for private companies and authoritarian governments to use alter public information, use personal information, data mining, psychological profiling, targeted ‘strategic communications’ (a euphemism for propaganda) , ‘behavioural science’, ‘social science insights’ and military grade psyops – in short, deception – in order to manipulate citizens’ decision-making, perceptions and behaviours in order to profit and maintain their power.

All of this has profound and dark implications for democracy, or at least what is left of it. Totalitarians throughout history have sought to change the perceptions, decisions and behaviours of populations. These are the intentions and actions of tyrants.

Governments in so-called democratic nations are assumed to seek to be elected or remain in office on the basis of the preferences of voters, their accountable policies and their capacity for public representation – based on those meritocratic principles that they preach to everyone else.

The fact that governments are paying – using taxpayers’ money – to attempt to manipulate the electorate – regardless of whether or not the methodologies used actually work – speaks volumes about government intentions, their lack of transparency, their disregard of citizens’ agency, their disdain for human rights, lack of respect for civil liberties and utter contempt for anything remotely resembling democratic accountability.

The Channel 4 News exposé  of Cambridge Analytica

 


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Dead cat conditioning, attention deficit and the social order

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Last week I wrote about hundreds of people dying of malnutrition in the UK over this past twelve months alone, as a consequence of government policies. I wrote about how our universities are no longer permitting free speech and critical thinking, and how dissenting academics have taken to blogging, using pseudonyms and writing anonymous letters because of the repressive political developments in the UK.  I am now about to write another piece on how our Human Rights Act is to be scrapped and replaced by a Conservative Bill of Frights.

The Labour party needs to be collectively opposing the government and addressing these pressing, socially calamitous issues, raising public awareness regarding the profound damage that this authoritarian government are inflicting on our society and drafting remedial policy outlines which extend social justice and equality. 

In the Labour Party Forum – a Facebook group for party members – I was told that my post about the implications of the Government Higher Education white paper, along with an analysis of the illogic of neoliberalism and its consequences is “irrelevant” to the Labour party.

There is a problem with that. 

If the Labour party is to reach out and persuade the electorate that they have an alternative which is better than the current government, they will need to recognise and to fully understand issues that are affecting the wider public. In the Labour Party forum, every single post (except mine) is about about the leadership debate. But being engaged with what is culturally popular isn’t always in our best interests.

The comments from members are dripping with bad feeling, oozing impotent anger and bleeding bitterness. The party infighting is clearly visible on every thread, the hostility is palpable, and all of this in a group that was once united in fighting the real enemy of ordinary people: the Tories. The old, easy camaraderie among members has seeped away.  Cooperation has plummeted sickeningly down the chasms of division. Fallen socialist values, lying broken. Many who claim they are fighting for a “socialist party” seem to have forgotten to practice what they preach. 

I do understand the anger that many feel in the face of a neoliberal, right wing establishment openly demonstrating a hegemonic stranglehold via the media, with endless streams of poisonous propaganda. We witness overt claims, subtexts and a level of perpetual subliminal messaging about who is fit to lead our country and who isn’t. The attacks on Corbyn in particular highlight just how the powers that be in the UK  have ensured that alternatives to the status quo never become established as a part of our mainstream conceptual and linguistic universe. The media write them out. There is a war going on, for sure. But this is nothing new.

The roots of our current crisis of democracy and class warfare go back a long way, and many of these have been embedded deeply in the changes to Britain’s sociopolitical economy since the Thatcher era. Neoliberalism is a doxa, it didn’t come into being as a means of social and economic organisation because it works: it became mainstreamed “common sense” because the establishment won. 

I gave an interview last year to Phil, who is a very public sociologist on the All That Is Solid site, outlining my own position on developments within the Labour party. Since then, I have written just two articles about party ideology, values and the leadership issues. I do write regularly about ideology, propaganda and the techniques of persuasion that are used by the establishment and media to maintain the status quo. This is an issue that extends well beyond the arising claustrophobic parochialism of Labour party disunity, leadership battles and current disarray. 

The media is the message

Social control is maintained in part by the use of a strategy of distraction, which is designed to divert public attention from important issues and changes determined by the political and economic elites, using a technique of flooding continuous diversions and insignificant information. Distraction strategy is also used to prevent public interest in essential knowledge that is then used to exercise control, whilst ensuring those being controlled are also completely disarmed.  The media maintain public attention, and divert it away from real social and economic problems. The public become an audience captivated by matters of no real importance. I’m probably loosely paraphrasing Noam Chomsky, here. 

From within the Westminster playpen, originating from the likes of Conservative babysitter, Lynton Crosby, the dead cat strategy is basically deployed as a major distraction tactic, usually entailing insulting diversion from a government’s political controversies and failings. So when, for example, the government are investigated by the United Nations for contravening basic human rights, they will scream that the opposition leader is somehow a threat to our national security. 

Everyone will gasp, clutch their brand of indignation and moral panic, and bang on about that for the rest of the week. The fact that democracy is gone for a burton, or human rights are being sidestepped and people are dying because of austerity policies is buried under a pile of furry corpses piling up on the allegoric political table, whilst commentators across the land discuss Jeremy Corbyn’s tweed jacket and beard. 

Then there is the age-old strategy of dīvide et īmpera. Every person on the left of the political spectrum knows what “divide and rule” means. It refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures, undermines democracy, and especially prevents smaller power groups from organising, collaborating, cooperating and forming alliances, by creating rivalries, fostering discord, distrust and enmity among the groups. Hello.

Thing is, despite these strategies being common knowledge, this hasn’t stopped many Labour party supporters using the disgracefully unreliable and establishment-collaborative media to present their own personal preferences. The Labour Pary Forum is filled with trivial articles about Owen Smith, this, Jeremy Corbyn, that and Tom Watson, the other, the comment threads full of screaming  indignation and neatly blinkered participants.

Socialist politics is supposed to be conscientious, and rather more about the social, not the personal.

This week, we see  the Independent, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Huffington Post, Politics Home, the London Economic, Channel four, amongst many others, report an audience booing the mention of a perceived political rival at a rally comprised of his opponent’s supporters. I’m all for freedom of speech, but for crying out loud, why and how is this by now mind-numbing tittle tattle considered to be NEWS? And even more importantly, why do social media campaigners think it is?

Don’t look away now

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Only a matter of weeks ago, a Labour MP was murdered by a far right fanatic, because of her political work, and because we are a distracted society that permits a right wing authoritarian othering and outgrouping demagoguery.

But now there are no ripples on the pond.

How can so many people seemingly forget such a horror? It’s almost as if this outrageous, politically motivated murder was a normal event, expected and accepted. Why are we allowing an ideology-driven and opportunistic establishment to divide our society into hierarchies of human worth and value? There’s an underpinning message in policies and political rhetoric that some lives are worth more than others; it’s has crept in unchecked, almost unnoticed, and we have allowed that to happen because we look the other way. In fact many of us seem quite determined to look the other way.

It’s not only migrants that are being politically and socially outgrouped. Disabled people are experiencing an unprecedented increase in hate crime and people are dying of malnutrition in the 5th wealthiest nation of the world. People are dying because of a government’s policies here in the UK. Prejudices are flourishing, violence growing. This is the kind of society we have become. Yet many people are still not paying attention. We are being conditioned not to look and not to see.

Whilst so many people are so happily distracted and so easily diverted by the most trivial details, our democracy is being quietly dismantled, the social gains of our post-war settlement have been almost erased from history, our human rights are being sidelined and re-written to shift the balance of obligation and responsibility from the state to the individual. Such profoundly damaging developments with such dire and toxic implications for our country ought to be recognised and challenged. Citizens are dying prematurely because of class contingent Conservative policies in a post-welfare, low waged Britain.

Those of us who reject austerity and neoliberalism are not “Trot entryists” , “revolutionaries” , “militants” or “extremists”. We are simply people who see beyond prejudiced ideologies and doxas. We recognise neoliberalism only works for 1% of the population. Furthermore, I am certain that in a world where people paid attention, instead of being distracted by mainstreamed, dominant narratives and  the mind-numbingly mediocre, homogenenised X factor culture, almost everyone else would recognise this, too.

I support Corbyn. Not because I invest in a superficial cult of personality type of politics. Not because I see a Corbyn-led Labour party as an end in itself. I have always maintained that a Labour government would simply mark a viable starting point  – the means – for a concerted campaign for social justice and equality.

I support Corbyn because I object to the destruction of people’s lives and the dismantling of protective civilised and civilising social structures because of a neoliberal and social Darwinist politics that invariably creates, through class contingent policies, inequality and social injustice – a few winners and many losers, the latter are then blamed by the state for the faults that are actually intrinsic to the system and extended by the state. I believe that in democracies, governments are elected to meet public needs, we don’t elect them to manipulate public perceptions and nudge us into meeting political and narrow, economic needs. I also believe that progress won’t happen unless we actively participate in democratic processes and work to extend them. Democracy (rather like intelligence) isn’t something we have: it’s something we must DO.

 The current infighting will kill the Labour movement. Vote for Corbyn, (or don’t), but there’s no need for the endless and insular justifications of your voting choice. Let’s keep some perspective and deal with what we NEED to – the  much bigger picture –  instead of impotently bickering among ourselves about a single issue. Socialism is surely all about a vision of the kind of society that is just and fair for the majority; it’s not about personal preferences and narrowly individualist perspectives.

Right now, the establishment have got us exactly where they want us. Their corporate media mouthpieces have made sure of that. The infighting, meanwhile, is destroying the Labour movement from within. 

But we can resist dead cats, Conservative bouncing bomb propaganda and such blatant techniques of persuasion… really, we can do so much better than this.

We won’t do so if we ignore the wider social realities and policy impacts being shaped by an authoritarian government.

sociologyexchangecouk-shared-resource-5-728It’s time to fight back

 

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Sometimes people are not fit for work, and that includes MPs, Mr Jackson.

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Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, has claimed that Labour MP Simon Danczuk has been “stitched up” by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour Party. He commented after Mr Danczuk was suspended from the Labour Party pending an investigation into allegations that he sent sexually explicit text messages to a 17-year-old girl.

Posting on Twitter, Jackson said: “Simon Danczuk has obviously been foolish but he’s also been stitched up like a kipper by the Corbyn cronies in UK Labour.” 

Asked why he believed this to be the case, Mr Jackson replied: “Maybe the haste with which he’s been suspended for what appears to be something that is not a criminal offence if stupid.”

“Given he’s had some mental health issues, [the] more compassionate thing would be to have given him space and return to the issue next week.”

It is a serious cause for concern that this MP doesn’t know that it IS a criminal offence for an adult to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 18, if the older person holds a position of trust and power, as such sexual activity is an abuse of the position of trust. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides this specific legal protection.

Danczuk allegedly exchanged a number of sexually explicit text messages with a 17-year-old girl, it has been reported.

Mr Danczuk, who is 49, sent the messages to Sophena Houlihan after she asked him for a job.

She said: “At the time I played along with it, but now I feel like he duped me. I was keen for a career in politics and he is a very high-profile MP and I was in awe of him.”

Mr Danczuk allegedly asked Miss Houlihan to meet at the Labour Party conference and reportedly suggested that she join him on a trip to Spain. He told her that he was “horny”.

It’s absolutely disgraceful that MPs, regardless of their party politics, think it is in any way acceptable to use their position of trust and power to attempt to justify exploitative or sexually predatory behaviours.

However , a lifelong Conservative supporter, felt that it is Mr Danczuk who is the victim of impropriety, and all because of his mere “foolishness.” She overlooked his serial objectification of women and sexist tendencies, then. She tweeted: “Ironic when we were supposed to be introduced to “kinder” politics! Hypocrites. JC et al dangerous.”

Sure. Some people will go to any lengths to divert attention and discredit the opposition leader, no matter how dogmatic, incoherent and ridiculous this shows them up to be. Or misogynistic, for that matter.

I can just see the headlines in the Sun now: Dangerous Jeremy Corbyn supporters made me become a stalking horse and then they turned me into a disgraceful, stalking sexual predator.

If Mr Danczuk is experiencing mental health problems, he deserves support and has my sympathies. However, the situation that has arisen doesn’t just raise issues that are simply about how “kindly” he is treated: it is also important to establish whether or not he is fit for his post and to ensure that he does not pose a risk to members of the public, as well as himself. Suspending Mr Danczuk is not “dangerous” at all, in fact it is the only reasonable and compassionate thing to do.

Last year, Danczuk saidWhen it comes to Mental Health Problems, being in work can be something that really helps. I know that keeping busy and being motivated certainly works for me.”

However, sometimes, people are simply too ill to work. We have an unhealthy political culture and a government that has persistently refused to accept that sometimes, people are very ill and severely incapacitated. We have witnessed an extended, perpetuated, prejudice-driven political moralising and vicious stigmatisation of people who are ill and out of work, presumably so that the unprecedented, uncivilised cuts to essential support for disabled people have a façade of political justification, at least. But certainly not a respectable, legitimate one.

In fact this government have rather horribly and deceitfully normalised coercing people to work, regardless of their physical or mental illness, and regardless of the extent to which a person is disabled. Furthermore, it is regardless of the potentially devastating consequences for the person who is ill, AND the people that they work with or come into contact with.

Sometimes people need to take time out to recover, and should feel that they are permitted to do so without being judged and punished by the state. And sometimes, people are too ill, and no longer fit for their role. Consideration of these issues is compassionate and kind.

Nobody would expect a person who suffers blackouts to drive a bus or bin waggon if they thought through the potentially devastating consequences. But political, cultural, psychological and financial coercion is being used to force people to work – the government continues to cut welfare, which was calculated to cover only the costs of meeting basic needs. Cruel sanctions and strict, inflexible, often unreasonable behavioural conditions are being imposed on lifeline benefit receipt, adversely affecting some of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens; unemployed and disabled people are stigmatised in the media – all of this is done with an utterly callous disregard of a person’s capacity to work, or the availabilty of appropriate and suitable employment opportunities, and this can have tragic consequences.

This is a government that champions outgrouping and scapegoating already socially marginalised groups. It isn’t likely that they will listen to reason, because traditional Tory prejudices concerning minoritized groups are historically established and deeply embedded in Conservative ideological grammar.

The Conservatives value the use of lies and deceit to get their own way. How fitting that the man who brought truly democratic and liberal values into Conservative electioneering, fostering a respect for diversity and championing equal opportunities, (stop laughing) has finally been awarded a knighthood for his highly salaried dastardy. The lizard of Oz, the kidder for kidders that kidded thousands, did declare war on the Scottish, he is very well known for his dogwhistle racism, but surely divided and prejudiced nations and ever-sinking standards of living are a price well worth paying when we have another Tory government. Hurrah!

The cult of Lyntonism is a by-product of the micro-managerialism, totalitarian tendencies and the widespread use of techniques of persuasion usually reserved for the advertising industry, that has infected the New Right, “libertarian paternalist” Conservative Party. You know, I always thought there is something very pre-war Berlin about the Crosby crocodile smile.

I keep forgeting that this is 2016, and that we live in a first-world liberal democracy. Don’t we?


Happy New year all.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Update: Mr Stewart Jackson has blocked my Twitter account, surprisingly. It’s good to know how much Tory MPs value democratic exchange, reasoned discussion, transparency and accountability…

Blocked


Further news: Simon Danczuk Investigated Over Historic Rape Allegation By Lancashire Police


The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left.

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The speech-writer for David Cameron in the run-up to the 2010 general election, Ian Birrellseems to have finger in every lie on behalf of the Tories. He’s the contributing editor of The Mail on Sunday, whilst writing columns regularly in several other papers. He’s been published in The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Daily Mail, The Financial Times, The Times, The Observer, The London Evening Standard, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, Prospect, New Statesman and The Spectator.

On the 2nd January, Birrell cobbled together a somewhat strange and hugely speculative article in the Guardianclaiming that “a Tory-Labour unity coalition may be the only way forward after 7 May” and the two parties have more in common with each other than with the insurgents. A national government would prevent a constitutional crisis.”

There are no quotes or citations, just an unsubstantiated comment: “But most people in Westminster privately predict a hung parliament.”

As I said, entirely speculative, seemingly without an aim.

Birrell also claims there was “a brief flicker of unity” between the parties during the Scottish referendum. That’s a neat side-stepping of the fundamental fact that Labour, like most socialists, have always been internationalists, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Tories’ position on Scottish independence at all, and everything to do with Labour’s core values. It’s also a claim frequently made by the Scottish Nationalists –  Labour “sided with the Tories.” Anyone would think that the Scottish National Party want to undermine support for the Labour Party in Scotland…

There is of course a subtext to Birrell’s article. It is a piece of propaganda. The subtext is “the mainstream political parties are all the same.”

The “allthesame” myth came straight from Tory HQ. The BBC’s Tory correspondent Nick Robinson admitted live on air that Cameron’s best chance of winning the next election is if people believe politicians are “all the same.” That is very clearly not the case. I think this is a major ploy aimed at propagandarising an exclusively class-based identity politics, to target and fragment the “working class left.”

It purposefully excludes other social groups and also sets them against each other, for example, working class unemployed people attacking migrants – it really is divisive, anti-democratic, and quite deliberately flies in the face of Labour’s equality and diversity principles. That’s the problem with identity politics: it tends to enhance a further sense of social segregation, fragmentation and it isn’t remotely inclusive.

Of course it also enhances the tropes “outoftouch” and  “allthesame.” It’s a clever strategy, because it attacks Labour’s equality and inclusive principles – the very reason why the Labour movement happened in the first place – and places restriction on who ought to be included.

Think of that divisive strategy 1) in terms of equality; 2) in terms of appealing to the electorate; 3) in terms of policy. Note how it imposes limits and is reductive.

It also demoralises and confuses people.

The Tories set this strategy up in the media, UKIP have extended it further and the minority rival parties, including the Green Party and the Scottish National Party have utilised the same rhetoric tool: all of these parties frequently use the term “liblabcon”for example. That’s a sort of cognitive shortcut to what has been tacitly accepted, apparently, as a “common sense” view that partisanship amongst the mainstream parties is dead. I’ve written at length about this process of “normalisation” –  how social conservatism and neoliberalism have been absorbed culturally, and how this serves to naturalise the dominance of the Right and stifle the rationale for critical debate here – Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man.

Be prepared for much more of this propaganda tactic: the Right are engaged in an all out war.

Firstly they know that Ed Miliband has edited their script, abandoning the free-market fundamentalist consensus established by Thatcherism in favour of social democracy.

Secondly, the right-wing media barons who set the terms of what is deemed politically palatable in Britain have never forgiven Ed Miliband for his endorsement of Leveson, which they believe is an unacceptable threat to their power.

Thirdly, they know Labour under Ed Miliband may well actually win the 2015 election.

It doesn’t take much effort to work out that the two main parties in competition have nothing in common at all. They debate oppositionally in parliament. Cameron attacks Miliband at every opportunity and on a very personal level, quite often. It’s plain, if you listen to the parliamentary debates, that neither man can stand what the other represents.

And how would the Tories and Labour reconcile their fundamental differences regarding human rights, the European Convention On Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Union? How about the bedroom tax? The National Health Service? Taxation? The welfare reforms? Equality? These are issues on which the two rival parties will never be able reach a consensus.

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It’s quite difficult to assert that there are significant differences between the parties, because of the constant repetition of the “allthesame” lie. It has become almost like a comforting, lulling mantra and a shortcut from cognitive dissonance. People often get quite angry when confronted with evidence that challenges this soundbite. But policies provide very good evidence, they are scripted from ideologies and are statements of a party’s intentions.

Ed Miliband has been cautious in making policy promises and has said that he won’t pledge anything that he may not be able to deliver. Here are Labour’s key policies to date, each has been costed and evidenced.

The thing about policies that have been passed into law is that they can be verified on the Parliamentary website and elsewhere. How many of you reading this think that Blair was a “Thatcherite”? I’m not a Blairite. I do like Miliband, who is a very different leader than Blair was. Miliband denounced New Labour in 2010. His stance on Syria in 2013 draws a clean line under the Blair approach. Yet Blair is still being used as a stick to hit the Labour Party with.

The claims made in lying articles in the media and the often inaccurate and distorted claims of fringe party supporters are based on a propaganda technique called transfer and association, which is a method of projecting negative (or positive) qualities of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organisation) to another in order to discredit it (or sometimes, to make the second more acceptable, this tactic is used in advertising a lot.)

It evokes an emotional response, which stimulates the target to identify with recognised authorities. But that stick is hitting a closed door now. Newsflash: Blair hasn’t been party leader for some years.

I worked on compiling a list of New Labour’s policies, and despite Blair’s faults, there really were some outstanding achievements, such as the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, various animal welfare laws, Every Child Matters and the Good Friday Agreement. I have listed New Labour’s achievements with a comparable list of the Coalition’s “memorable” moments, too. If you hated Blair, and see him as some sort of high priest of neoliberalism, it’s probably even more important that you read this. I promise it will help you to understand cognitive dissonance, at the very least, and perhaps to appreciate the importance of evidence and critical thinking: Political parties – there are very BIG differences in their policies.

And this, for some balance and perspective: Thatcher, Mad Cow Disease and her other failings, the Blair detour and déjà entendu, Mr Cameron.

The “allthesame” lie is a way of neutralising opposition to dominant ideas. It’s a way of disguising partisanship and of manipulating and reducing democratic choices. It’s nothing less than a political micro-management of your beliefs and decision-making.

It also reduces public expectation of opposition and in doing so it establishes diktats: it’s a way of mandating acceptance of ideology, policies or laws by presenting them as if they are the only viable alternative. And those that refuse to accept the diktats are enticed by the marginal parties who offer much, safe in the knowledge that they won’t have to rationalise, evidence, cost or deliver those promises. This also plays a part in diluting viable opposition, because the smaller parties tend to employ the same strategy to gain credibility and support – negative campaigning and repeated lies and soundbites.

Lynton Crosby, who has declared that his role is to destroy the Labour Party, rather than promote the Conservatives, based on any notion of merit, is also all about such a targeted “divide and rule” strategy. This is a right wing tactic of cultivating and manipulating apostasy amongst support for the opposition. It’s a very evident ploy in the media, too, with articles about Labour screaming headlines that don’t match content, and the Sun, Mail and Telegraph in particular blatantly lying about Labour’s policy intentions regularly.

Propaganda isn’t always obvious, and that’s how it works. We need to be very mindful of this.

Ultimately, the only party that will gain from any of this negative campaigning approach and divisive propaganda is the Tories. And that is who we should be collectively opposing.

The Tories launched their election campaign a couple of days ago, and already, it’s obvious that the entire campaign is founded on attempting to undermine Labour’s  credibility by telling lies about their economic management – The Tory election strategy is more of the same: Tories being conservative with the truth.

Contrast the Conservative with the truth approach I’ve discussed here with Miliband’s consistently genuine approach to politics – Ed Miliband: Labour election campaign will be one of hope, not falsehood.  

Whatever party you support and regardless of whether or not we agree on the issues I raise, my key aim, whenever I write, is to inspire a sense of responsibility and some critical thinking. That helps to reliably inform our decision-making.

I won’t apologise to my critics for being a Labour Party supporter, but I will always provide evidence and analysis to support and justify my own views and I will always be happy to engage in dialogue, provided that it’s a respectful and polite exchange. No party is above criticism, quite rightly so, as politics has to be an accountable, reflective and responsive process. That’s what democracy is about.

There is, however, a big difference between genuine criticism, on the one hand and propaganda and lies on the other, which are being masqueraded as “criticism.” If debate isn’t established on a genuine, critical exploration of evidence and establishing truths, then it’s not debate: it’s simply indoctrination.

Related

Don’t believe everything you think: it’s almost election time.

From  Psycho-Linguistics to the Politics of Psychopathy. Part 1: Propaganda

Ed Miliband is the biggest threat to the status quo we’ve seen for decades.

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

The moment Ed Miliband said he’ll bring socialism back to Downing Street.

Ed Miliband’s policy pledges at a glance

Miliband is an excellent leader, and here’s why.

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down: mind the Mindspace.

403898_365377090198492_976131366_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes.

Cameron’s ‘divine inspiration’ came from Max Weber, not God

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The Department of Work and Pensions announce that they are to be re-named the
“Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”. The government have released a statement that although they favoured the strappado, a variety of other methods of trial by ordeal will be used in addition to replace the Work Capability Assessment. Iain Duncan Smith has called for the introduction of dunking – a form of water ordeal and divination – to determine who is disabled enough to build the HS2.

Conservatives have reassured the appalled public by explaining that really, the old English word ordǣl,”  simply means a “judgement or verdict”, so not to worry, as pretending that a word means something else is a magick formula used for ensuring public compliance and conformity. Lynton Crosby has been announced as the new Pontifex Maximus of such formulae. Previous successes include the words “fair”, “reform” and the phrase “making work pay” in the context of the Tory’s neoliberal cunning stunts known collectively as the misnamed “welfare reforms.”

I can see where Cameron thinks he’s coming from with his recent claims of “divine inspiration”. Cameron’s social policies may certainly be regarded as a codified version of the Malleus Malificarum (The Hammer of the Witches).

His ideology is founded on principles similar to those found in Commentarius de Maleficius. There are some uncanny similarities between such legal treatises on witchcraft and the Tory Welfare “Reform” Act, especially regarding the establishing of entitlement to benefits.

“Christians are now the most persecuted religion around the world. We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever we can,” says the Prime Minister.

Contrary to what you said, Christians have often been the persecutors, rather than the persecuted, Mr Cameron.

witch-hunt is a search for witches or evidence of witchcraft, often involving carefully manufactured public moral panics. This is a manipulated intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order. Or in this case, that mythical beast of burden – the right-wing tax payer. Tories are moral entrepreneurs, who have despicably used the media to transform the poorest and most vulnerable social groups into folk devils. Conservatives have always created social tension and ensured that criticism and disagreement are difficult because the matter at the centre of such controversies are taboo.

The right-wing media have aided and abetted the Tories, who have long operated as agents of moral indignation. I can see a very clear, common framework of reference for prejudice and persecution here, Mr Cameron.

Proofs of practising witchcraft in Commentarius de Maleficius read a lot like Techniques of Neutralisation, (Sykes and Matza). The first “proof” is the identification of the “diabolical mark”. Usually, this was a mole or a birthmark. If no such mark was visible, the examiner would claim to have found an invisible mark. Or invent statistics. It seems using physical characteristics as an opportunity and excuse to persecute a social group is no new thing then, in the name of “God”, Mr Cameron. As you know.

The “diabolical pact” was an alleged pact with Satan to perform evil acts in return for rewards. Benefit “Fraud” is the new diabolical pact. Thus spake the grand inquisitor Iain “de Torquemáda”  Duncan Smith.

Mr Duncan Smith claims to know of many invisible families with generations of witches, and feels the need produce imaginary statistics and to take measures to “prevent” this invisible culture of entitlement. To be afraid during the interrogatories is a sure sign of guilt.

This is called being Condemned by the condemners – it’s a formula ensuring an abdication of all responsibility for behaviour, and instead the condemned point to the people condemning them: they  are the problem, not us. What they have done “wrong” excuses persecution, appalling and unforgivable political behaviour and policies. 

Mr Cameron, in 1540: Antonio Venegas de Figueroa, Bishop of Pamplona, sent a circular to the priests in his diocese, explaining that witchcraft was a false belief. He recommended medical treatment for those accused of witchcraft, and blamed the ignorance of the people for their confusion of witchcraft with medical conditions. Didn’t you get the memo?

…..For the extraordinarily evil and cruel are always with us.

Manly P Hall

Satirical swipes aside, Cameron’s deluded and quite alarming declaration that “divine inspiration was at work when it came to drafting a key concept for Conservative Party policy” is founded on the Tory affinity with hierarchies and social stratification – and this is reflected in the appeal to “higher authority”. Of course, much of our religious organisation is extremely hierarchical too. This is Cameron’s version of psychobabble, a warped and inverted idea of noblesse oblige, he’s clearly close to meltdown.

And what utter moral cowardice, Cameron’s claim is an attempt to endorse Tory policy by partially disowning responsibility for it himself. It’s obvious that Tory policies have not arisen from anything remotely resembling an “intelligent design”, from a christian deity or otherwise.

Marx said that: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opiate of the people”.  Yes, and for Cameron and his ilk, social control and moral codification is an attractive feature of religion. And aligning with a doctrine that makes a virtue of virtue, Cameron is attempting to add legitimacy to his unchristian and uncharitable “reforms”.

The Puritan work ethic has long considered indispensable for right wing political ideologues. Protestantism offers a concept of the worldly “calling,” and gives worldly activity a religious character. 

Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is a study of the relationship between the ethics of ascetic Protestantism, (which embodies values such as thrift, self help, and hard work) and the emergence of the spirit of modern capitalism.

Weber observed a correlation between being Protestant and being involved in business, and went on to explore religion as a potential cause of modern economic conditions. He concluded that the modern spirit of capitalism sees profit as an end in itself, and pursuing profit as virtuous.

Calvinism promoted the idea that profit and material success as signs and cues of God’s favour. Other religious groups, such as the Pietists, Methodists, and the Baptist sects had similar attitudes, but to a lesser degree. Weber proposed that that this new attitude broke down the traditional economic system, paving the way for modern capitalism, and once capitalism emerged, the ethic took on a life of its own. We are now locked into the spirit of capitalism.

Weber doesn’t exactly argue that Protestantism caused the capitalist spirit, but rather, that they are correlated. He also acknowledges the converse: that capitalism itself had an impact on the development of the religious ideas. It’s a teleology (a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes) that would appeal to Cameron for obvious reasons.

Cameron clearly hasn’t spotted the gaping contradictions in what he claims. His cognitive dissonance arises from the fact that while he claims to hold true a predestination doctrine – that God has ordained all that will happen, especially with regard to the salvation of some and not others, (particularly associated with the teachings of St Augustine of Hippo and of Calvin), this contradicts Cameron’s beliefs that are evident in his “reforms” for the poor – which are based on the premise that the poor are responsible for their own circumstances, and may be “helped”, coerced, sanctioned and legislated into somehow different “choices” and circumstances.

Cameron fails to reconcile his apparent belief in predestiny with his punitive, welfare “reforms” apparently designed to coerce socially “responsible” ctizens into work.

You can’t argue from a perspective of predetermination that only poor people are responsible for their actions and situations of poverty – that only poor people have a degree of free will – and then go on to formulate punitive policies based on notions of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor people, and a redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest. With a straight face.  

The stunning hypocrisy and incoherence of Cameron’s claim to “divine inspiration” for such uncharitable, unkind, inhumane, persecutory and malevolent deeds as the welfare “reforms”, when empathy and compassion are so widely regarded to be central to Christianity, amongst a diverse range of religions and world-views, demonstrates only too well that Cameron lacks the integrity, depth, basic empathy and regard for others that is crucially required of a leader.

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  Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Frack off Lord Howell, you greedy, Tory, nasty, NIMBY snob.

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Some views of the “vast uninhabited desolate areas” from around County Durham, in the North East.

“Fracking should be carried out in the North East of England, where there are large, ‘desolate areas'”, a former energy secretary Lord Howell of Guildford has said. He argued there was “‘plenty of room’ for developments and less concern than was the case over ‘beautiful natural areas'”.

That comment reveals an utter ignorant thug. This is someone with traditional Conservative prejudices towards the north, as well as a greedy and hell bent inclination towards environmental vandalism and ecological devastation, and all for nothing more than base greed and profit. The man has never seen County Durham, clearly, or Teesdale, with our spectacular Durham Dales and many other areas of exceptional beauty and remarkable, precious wildlife.

Oh ho! The Land of Prince Bishops, and indeed most of the North East is a long-standing haven of Labour Party voters, and the North/South schism is never more clear and manifest than when we have a Tory (or Tory-led) Government. Well the contempt is reciprocated. Now then, you braying, greedy wolf, go yelp at the moon. And no, there’s no shale gas up there, Mr Howl. Get thee gone, loutish man, and shut thy prattling, greedy, gawping, gormless gob. Or, perish t’ thought, I will go find t’ very angry northern whippets, and let them all loose on you.

Seriously, the Tories, along with their network of unholy business alliances, are selling England by the pound. And the rest of the UK.

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Lord Howell is the father-in-law of Chancellor George Osborne, and was also the minister in the Foreign Office responsible for international energy policy between 2010 and 2013. George Osborne’s planned new shale gas allowance will more than halve the tax due on a proportion – which will be determined following consultation – of income from production in order to “encourage” exploration of the unconventional and controversial energy resource in the UK. Howell and his sponsors stand to gain substantially from this enormous tax break for the fracking industry.

Howell’s comments were so crass and churlish that a Government spokesman with a damage limitation mission piped up instantly that: “Lord Howell is not a minister and does not speak for the Government. He has not been a Government adviser since April 2013.” Howell may have “provoked gasps of shock” in the House of Lords when he said the gas production method could be safely carried out in the North East without environmental impact, but his attitude of prejudice towards “the North” is a commonly held one within the current Cabinet, and this was so within the Thatcher Cabinet: he was the energy secretary from 1979 to 1981.

I’ve always known that Tories hold deeply bigoted and vulgar views of me and my friends in the North. Never mind, I’ll let you into a little secret: I’m not so keen on the Tories, either.

Natalie Bennett said of the crude comments Howl made: “His casual Nimbyism is breath-taking – and his view of the North East deeply disturbing.We know that governments have long neglected regional development policy, and allowed a greatly excessive concentration of the economy on the South East, and this is a demonstration of the attitudes behind that”. Environmental campaigners reacted to the Tory peer’s comments with fury.

North Eastern Labour MPs also expressed their shock at Lord Howell’s comments. Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, told the Huffington Post UK: It is a revealing insight into the attitudes this Government of posh boys from the home counties try to hide – the north east is a long, long way away and not near where our kind of people live”.  What a namby pamby NIMBY.

Shale gas is a resource with huge potential to broaden the UK’s energy mix, we want to create the right conditions for industry to explore and unlock that potential in a way that allows communities to share in the benefits.

This new tax regime, which I want to make the most generous for shale in the world, will contribute to that. I want Britain to be a leader of the shale gas revolution – because it has the potential to create thousands of jobs and keep energy bills low for millions of people”. George Osborne

So if fracking is such a great, risk-free deal that will create employment, keep our energy bills low, meet our demands for fuel for at least the next 25 years, and grace our communities as claimed, why would this “revolution” require the added incentive of a huge tax hand-out to the fracking industry, George?

Some serious concerns about the safety of fracking

Documented widespread groundwater contamination has occurred from seepage of the stored water, from fracking, from unlined surface ponds in America. Water companies in the UK have expressed concern that the fracking process could contaminate drinking water aquifers that lie above shale gas reserves. 

UK water companies have warned shale gas fracking should not be allowed to compromise public health as the Chancellor unveiled his plans for the generous handout of a tax relief regime for the industry. There has been a call for a large scale impact assessments from Water UK policy and business adviser Dr Jim Marshall.

Government “advisors”, however, have said that fracking is “safe”, despite the evidence to the contrary, and that it is “essential to making the UK more energy self-sufficient.”

However, the British Geological Survey (BGS), which has played a key role in advising the UK Government, is partly funded by companies involved in the hydraulic fracturing industry, including Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, BG Group and Schlumberger. The BGS’s close financial ties to industry raises some serious concerns about the impartiality of the BGS report commissioned by the UK Government.

It ought to be of major concern that at least two other Conservative Peers, and two crossbenchers in the House of Lords have vested financial interests in fracking  – Lord Browne, (the former chief executive of BP and director of Cuadrilla Resource Holdings Ltd, appointed by Frances Maude to the Cabinet Office in 2010) Lord Green (of the HSBC scandal), Lord Howell (of the handouts from the boys scandal) and Baroness Hogg, (a director at BG Group, who expects to earn nearly $300 million from fracking operations in the US this year.) – each have financial interests in the fracking industry, and each holds either ministerial or executive rank at some of Whitehall’s most powerful departments: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.

David Cameron has already come under renewed pressure to sack his party’s elections adviser Lynton Crosby earlier this month, as environmental activists expressed serious concerns about his links to the fracking industry.

Crosby’s lobbying firm, Crosby Textor, represents the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, an oil and gas lobby group campaigning aggressively for fracking. The association’s chief operating officer, Stedman Ellis, has made headlines in recent months for his outspoken criticism of anti-fracking campaigners, telling one Australian paper: “The opportunity provided by shale gas is too important to be jeopardised by political scare campaigns run by activist groups.”

One has to wonder how many more of these transparent conflicts of interests is it going to take before Crosby has to step away from his role in Government?

And what a tangled web they weave…

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 With thanks to Paul Mobbs

Fracking – which is short for “hydraulic fracturing” – involves drilling deep under ground and involves the release of a high-pressure mix of water, sand and hundreds of chemicals to crack rocks and release gas stored inside.

Widespread fracking has not started in the UK yet, but Cuadrilla began exploratory drilling in Lancashire in 2011 and many other possible sites have been identified. The exploratory drilling triggered earth tremors.

The fracking process itself is a “mini-earthquake”, as it involves the breaking of rock strata deep inside of the earth to release gas. Many people, (myself included) are very legitimately opposed to fracking because of the potential for devastating environmental impacts, including contamination of ground water, depletion of fresh water, risks to air quality, the migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, surface contamination from spills and flow-back, and the serious subsequent health effects of these. For these reasons hydraulic fracturing has come under international scrutiny, with some countries suspending or prohibiting it. However, some of those countries, including most notably the United Kingdom, have recently lifted their bans.

Substantial evidence from the States reveals that fracking is an extremely risky process that affects the water we drink, air we breathe, food we eat, our wildlife and climate – a significant air pollutant from fracking is methane, a greenhouse gas that traps 20 to 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than does carbon dioxide, and causes chaotic weather systems through the process of global warming.

While some claim that the cost is worth the benefits if it means we can transition away from fossil fuels, it has been shown that the “footprint” of shale gas is actually 20 percent higher than coal. Studies reveal that fracking poses a grave risk to public health, researchers examined 353 out of 994 fracking chemicals identified in hydraulic fracking operation, including lethal radioactive contaminants.

They found over 75% of the 353 chemicals affected the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, 52% affected the nervous system, 40% affected the immune system and kidney system, and 46% affected the cardiocascular system and blood. That’s a serious concern.

Then there is the established link between fracking and earthquakes.

It’s worth seeing the documentary Gasland by Josh Fox, which is about the devastating impact and ill effects of fracking. It won the Special Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Gasland also provides a wealth of evidence, and records the socio-economic and environmental destruction caused by fracking. Some of the most striking images in the documentary are the clips of people setting fire to their contaminated tap water.

There are also some heartbreaking scenes of animals suffering, and of people’s livelihoods, well-being and health being destroyed by this undemocratically unregulated industry.

So, to Mr Howl, the greedy thug of a man who wants to make a buck from environmental vandalism and ecological devastation, and as ever with the Tories, a profit at the expense of wildlife and human well-being, I have this to say: It is patently clear to us that fracking plans in the UK are being steam-rolled out, on the back of vested interests in Government and lobbying from fossil fuel giants. First came the huge tax breaks for companies involved in shale gas exploration.

Then the announcement of new planning guidance making it harder to protect the environment from drilling.

Fracking is being hailed by the Government as the solution to all of our energy needs, despite evidence to the contrary. We know that although it may well be good for your own bank account, fracking is very bad for people, ecology and the environment. Cuadrilla’s UK operation was put on hold after causing tremors (small earthquakes), buthe report by the UK Government’s advisers published in April 2012 gave the green light to fracking, despite acknowledging the link between the process and the earthquakes in Lancashire in 2011.

We know that the Government “advisory report” was funded in part by companies involved in the hydraulic fracturing industry, including Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, BG Group and Schlumberger, and that raises some serious concerns about the impartiality of the report commissioned by the UK Government. (See also Frackademic scandals)

We say NO to fracking here in the North East. So expect a bloody big fight from us.

Further Reading:

Three lords and one Baroness: fracking interests inside the government

The White report: consideration of Radiation in Hazardous Waste Produced from Horizontal Hydrofracking

Global bans on fracking

Osborn accused over gas lobbyist father-in-law

GOVERNMENT ADVISORS SPONSORED BY FRACKING INDUSTRY

Hydraulic Fracturing Poses Substantial Water Pollution Risks, Analysts Say

Taxpayers’ bill of £1million to police West Sussex anti-fracking protests

Resource Efficiency, Harmful Substances and Hazardous Waste: Global Environment Alert Service

E-Petition to make Hydralic fracturing / fracking illegal in the UK

Tom Greatrex, the shadow Energy Minister, is demanding a full-scale government investigation into the controversial “fracking”

List of the harmed

Josh Fox’s Gasland  documetary in full

Please Sign Petition To End To Police Aggression When Arresting Peaceful Protesters

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Sussex Police arrested peaceful anti-fracking protesters in Balcombe using physical violence and restraint methods, designed to inflict pain and incapacitate people. Sussex Police claim on their website that the arrests were peaceful. There is significant photographic evidence that unnecessary force was used. This isn’t acceptable in a peaceful democracy.

(Take a look at the picture. The Dokko is a specific pressure point, located where the jaw and skull meet. In most people, this point is just under the outer ledge of the earlobe at the base of the ear. Pressure points are specific sensitive areas that may be exploited to cause excruciating pain, and the military and police are increasingly using this technique on peaceful protesters.)

This petition is a call for a formal investigation into the police behaviour and for disciplinary action to be taken against those who used violence against the people they arrested. We need an end to Police aggression when arresting peaceful protesters. Here is some video evidence.

 

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Picture courtesy of  Robert Livingstone 

 


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