Tag: Margaret Thatcher

Prime minister phones union leaders in desperate attempt to peddle her Brexit deal

theresa may on phone

Theresa May has taken the completely unprecedented move for a Conservative PM of telephoning union leaders, including Unite’s Len McCluskey, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, to lobby support for her Brexit plans ahead of next week’s Commons showdown. 

I think he gave her pleading a swerve.

She also called Tim Roache, the general secretary of the GMB union. It was the first time she had spoken to either man since she became Prime Minister in 2016, indicating her desperation. Downing Street has also confirmed that she plans to call other union leaders, thought to include Unison’s Dave Prentis, in the run-up to Tuesday’s “meaningful vote” on her Brexit blueprint.

I’m sure the draconian policies designed to stifle trade union freedoms, which took our country down a dark path, will have been forgotten by now. We’ve all really valued the big move away from freedom and towards greater control for the state over our lives over the last eight years. Who could possibly object to state micromanagement and such authoritarian attacks on unions and collective bargaining, diminishing citizen freedoms that are not theirs to give away.

The EU Social Charter of Rights was intentionally excluded by May’s government from the Withdrawal Bill. Many Conservatives see Brexit as an opportunity for more deregulation and ‘cutting red tape.’ Priti Patel, for example, said: “If we could just halve the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3bn boost to the economy.”

A boost for whom?

When Conservatives talk of a boost to the economy, they are usually referring a boost in private profits that comes at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Back in 1984, Margaret Thatcher reached the absurd conclusion it wasn’t possible for someone to be in a union and be loyal to their country. Consequently, GCHQ employees in Cheltenham were denied their basic rights and could no longer have the protection of a union at work. Fourteen workers who refused to give up their union membership cards were unceremoniously sacked.

In 2013, the coalition government introduced fees for taking cases to employment tribunals, claiming it would cut “weak and unnecessary cases”. This not only limited access to justice for some of the most vulnerable citizens in our society, it also gave some of the most unscrupulous bosses free reign exploit people, to abuse health and safety and employment law, knowing there was little chance of being called to account.  In July 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the Tribunal fees were unlawful and the government was forced to reimburse all those who had paid them. This is a prime example of a vindictive government policy which hurt employees.

In 2015, when the Conservatives were elected with an overall majority, they attacked the trade unions and their right to organise and strike. The right to strike is a fundamental freedom in our democracy.

Now the Conservatives have the brass neck to treat worker’s rights as a mere bargaining chip to get their own way. A means to an end, nothing more. I’m pleased to say that Roache gave her a scornful rebuff to her bargaining bid. He said: “I represent 620,000 working people and it’s about time their voices were heard. After nearly three years I’m glad the Prime Minister finally picked up the phone.

“As you would expect, I was very clear about GMB’s position – the deal on the table isn’t good enough and non-binding assurances on workers’ rights won’t cut it.”

“If the deal genuinely did the the job for GMB members, our union would support it, but it doesn’t,” he added.

Both unions came out against her deal, saying her efforts to woo them were nowhere near enough to get their support. 

May’s approach is all the more surprising because of her previous lack of engagement with the TUC’s Frances O’Grady, revealing last year that she had only met the PM once since she came to power.

The PM has also launched an attempt to sell the merits of her withdrawal agreement to Labour backbenchers in an apparent recognition that she needs to reach out to opposition MPs to avert a very heavy defeat. The government is also preparing to back an amendment tabled by Labour MPs John Mann, Caroline Flint, Lisa Nandy and Gareth Snell to give stronger guarantees that EU workers’ rights and environmental safeguards are enshrined in British law.

Mann met the PM last night along with others, including Flint and Snell, to discuss working together.

It’s rather late in the day for the PM to suddenly declare her concern for worker’s rights. The Conservatives have spent the last eight years destroying people’s job security, and any opportunity for worker’s to exercise collective bargaining. People claiming social security, for example, are coerced into accepting any employment, regardless of pay or conditions, otherwise they face sanction – the withdrawal of their lifeline support, which is barely enough, as it is, to meet basic living costs. 

May has gone out of her way to meet small groups of Labour MPs from strongly Leave-supporting constituencies. Nandy, the MP for Wigan, told the BBC that the PM would only win backing for her agreement if she negotiated with the majority of MPs opposed to no deal or a hard Brexit.

“That’s the importance of what happened this week. Finally there seems to be a recognition from the Conservative leadership that they are going to have to do that,” she said.

Downing Street described May’s contact with union leaders as “constructive” and denied that the move was a sign of desperation.

A spokeswoman said: “It’s part of her ongoing engagement with leaders from across the United Kingdom.”

She added: “The PM speaks to leaders across a range of industries, business groups, and has done that consistently throughout this process and today she spoke to a couple of union leaders and there will be further engagement in the days ahead.”

The news comes as a fresh analysis from the BBC indicates that the PM could face a whopping 228 vote loss. 

 

Related

The link between Trade Unionism and equality 

 


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Rationing and resource gatekeeping in the NHS is the consequence of privatisation

People march through London to mark 70 years of the NHS

People march through London yesterday to mark 70 years of the NHS.

Gatekeeping has become a watchword within our public services over the past seven years. It’s being driven by the government’s deep affection for neoliberal dogma, the drive for never-ending ‘efficiency savings’ and the Conservatives’ lean, mean austerity machine. Perish the thought that the public may actually need to use the public services that they have funded through their contributions to the Treasury, in good faith. 

In the NHS, even the resource gatekeepers have gatekeepers, those receptionists standing sentry at the end of the telephone, and in general practices, who ration access to the GPs so assiduously we patients often get better before we’ve managed to arrange an appointment. Or ended up at an Accident and Emergency Department.

Only a service dedicated to keeping the public and service providers apart could have devised a system so utterly demeaning. It turns patients into supplicants and receptionists into bouncers who make decisions they are unlikely to be qualified to make, neither being roles to which any of us aspired.

Now, it has been decided that the NHS needs to scrap more medical procedures, including injections for back pain, surgery to help snorers and knee arthroscopies for arthritis, which form part of an initial list of 17 operations that will be discontinued completely or highly restricted by NHS England as many of these problems “get better without treatment.”

I can assure you that arthritis of the knee, or anywhere else for that matter, doesn’t tend to get better. Medical interventions can help patients with ‘managing’ the condition, however. 

Varicose vein surgery and tonsil removal also feature on the list of routine operations to be axed as part of NHS England’s drive to cease “outdated” and “ineffective” treatments.

The latest round of rationing is hoped to save £200m a year by reducing “risky” or “unnecessary” procedures. Patients are to be told they have a responsibility to the NHS not to request “useless treatment.”

However, complications from varicose veins, for example, include leg ulcers which require more costly specialist treatment to help them heal. 

Steve Powis, the medical director of NHS England, said: I’m confident there is more to be done”, adding that the list of 17 operations formed “the first stage” of rooting out futile treatments that are believed to cost taxpayers £2bn a year.

“We are also going to ask ‘Are there other procedures and treatments we should add to the list?’. Additions could include general anaesthetics for hip and shoulder dislocations and brain scans for patients with migraines.

Hip and shoulder dislocations are notoriously excruciating, as is the process of having the joint relocated, though the latter is short-lived. It’s particularly brutal to leave patients without pain relief, and especially children.

The reason why brain scans are often very important when people develop migraine symptoms is that they can determine whether the severe headaches are caused by something more serious, such as a subarachnoid haemorrhage (which happened to me) or a tumour (which happened to my mother). Sometimes ‘migraines’ are something else.
Powis added: “We have to spend taxpayers’ money wisely. Therefore, if we are spending money on procedures that are not effective, that is money we could spend on new treatments that are clinically effective and would provide benefits to patients. It’s absolutely correct that, in getting more efficient, one component of that is to make sure we are not undertaking unnecessary procedures.”

The rationing comes as the government prepares to raise taxes and ditch an increase to the personal income tax allowance to pay for NHS funding plans. According to proposals, £20.5bn of extra funding would be set aside for the health service by 2023. In a speech at the Royal Free hospital in London a fortnight ago, Theresa May said tax rises were inevitable.

However, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that this additional measure will ensure the public has value and adequate health care for their money. 

The prime minister said: “As a country, taxpayers will need to contribute a bit more.But we will do that in a fair and balanced way. And we want to listen to people about how we do that, and the chancellor will bring forward the full set of proposals before the spending review.”

Here are the 17 treatments NHS England may axe

Four procedures will only be offered at the request of a patient:

  • Snoring surgery
  • Dilation and curettage for heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Knee arthroscopies for osteoarthritis
  • Injections for non-specific back pain

A further 13 treatments will only be offered when certain conditions are met:

  • Breast reduction
  • Removal of benign skin lesions
  • Grommets for glue ear
  • Tonsillectomy
  • Haemorrhoid surgery
  • Hysterectomy for heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Removal of lesions on eyelids
  • Removal of bone spurs for shoulder pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome release
  • Dupuytren’s contracture release
  • Excision of small, non cancerous lumps on the wrist called ganglia
  • Trigger finger release
  • Varicose vein surgery

Some of these procedures do improve the quality of people’s lives. I’m wondering how this sits with the government’s drive to push people with disabilities and medical conditions into work.

Although it was announced recently that the NHS is to hire 300 employment coaches to find patients jobs to “keep them out of hospital.” It’s what the government probably calls the ‘two birds and one bullet’ approach.

A man with a birthday placard as thousands of people march to mark 70 years of the NHS

Yesterday, tens of thousands of people marched through London to mark the NHS’s 70th anniversary and demand an end to government cuts and further privatisation of the health service. Bearing placards reading “Cuts leave scars”, “For people not profit” and “Democracy or corporate power” demonstrators moved down Whitehall on Saturday afternoon to the chant of “Whose NHS? Our NHS”.

The protesters stopped outside Downing Street to demand Theresa May’s resignation en route to the stage where they were greeted by a choir singing “the NHS needs saving, don’t let them break it”. Shortly after, Jeremy Corbyn addressed the crowd – organisers said there were about 40,000 people present – demanding an end to privatisation, the closure of the internal market, for staff to no longer be subcontracted to private companies and for social care to be properly funded.

Corbyn said: “There have been huge attacks on our NHS over many years,” he said. “The Tories voted against the original legislation and have always sought to privatise it and continue an internal market.

“Paying money out to private health contractors, the profits of which could and sometimes do, end up in tax havens around the world.

“Think it through, you and I pay our taxes because we want a health service for everybody, I don’t pay my taxes for someone to rip off the public and squirrel the profits away.”

I absolutely agree. 

A brief history of the travailing NHS under Conservative governments

The government has failed to adequately fund the NHS since taking office as part of the coalition in 2010, and has overseen a decline in the once widely admired public health service, as a way to privatise it by stealth. 

The Tories have utilised a spin technique that carry Thatcher’s fingerprints – it’s called ‘don’t show your hand.’

Image result for nhs safe in our hands

Jeremy Hunt and the Conservatives insist the NHS is ‘safe in our hands’

Chris Riddell 16.08.09

The direction of travel was set 25 years ago by the NHS review announced by Margaret Thatcher on the BBC Panorama programme in January 1988. The Conservatives have a poor track record with the NHS. Thatcher ushered in the NHS internal market, the mechanism that introduced what many in the health service still revile: competition.

Health authorities ceased to run hospitals but instead “purchased” care from hospitals who had to compete with others to provide it and became independent, self-governing trusts. The stated aim was to ‘increase efficiency’ and ‘eliminate waste’ through competition. Yet by the time John Major was prime minister, we saw the crisis deepen, with the postcode lottery and patients parked on hospital trolleys in hospital corridors for hours on end, waiting to see a worn out, overworked doctor.  

In order to assess the impact of Thatcher’s legacy on healthcare, it’s essential to appreciate that NHS market reforms began on her watch. Even the apparently relatively minor step of outsourcing hospital cleaning services was to cast a dark shadow over hospital care decades later. Putting cleaning services out to competitive tender meant that the job of cleaning wards went to the lowest bidder – often to companies that used casual, untrained staff, supplied by job centres. The contrast between the high quality of surgical treatment and the dirtiness of wards became notorious. The level of hospital-acquired infections grew steadily, including those caused by  ‘superbugs’  including MRSA. 

A study published by the Health Service Journal laid the blame for the rise of antibiotic resistant infections on poor hygiene standards; finding hospitals full of rubbish, uncollected left-over food in canteens and dirty linen strewn over bedroom floors. The impact outsourcing has had on cleaning services has been a constant source of tension since those early reforms. While trade unions and medical professionals have consistently argued against it, business leaders have always rejected any connection between outsourcing, infection rates, and declining standards.

Public sector outsourcing is central to the present government’s ideological strategy, despite the evidence that is now stacked against it being genuinely ‘competitive’. Since 2010, the number of large contracts awarded has increased by over 47% with tens of thousands of workers in various sectors – health, defence and IT – being transferred to corporate employers like Serco, Capita and G4S. The UK’s public sector has become the largest outsourcing market in the world, accounting for around 80% of all public sector contracting in Europe. These multinationals are not particularly interested in competition; they’re interested in profit and being in a monopoly position where they can dominate the market. Despite the wake of scandals that follows these companies, growth in the public sector outsourcing market shows no signs of slowing and the government shows no signs of learning from these events. 

Thatcher wanted to introduce even more radical changes – such as a shift to an insurance based healthcare model, with ‘health stamps’ for the poor – but in a busy decade, it seems that her battles with trade unions and left-wing Labour councils took priority.

It was under Thatcher’s administration that the climate of austerity began within the NHS. 

Then there was the Black Report into health inequalities, published in 1980 after a failed attempt by the  Conservatives to block its publication, noted that health inequalities in the UK were linked to socio-economic factors such as income, housing and conditions of work. The government rejected the report’s findings and recommendations.

Conservatives published a policy book called Direct Democracy in 2005. It claimed that the NHS was “no longer relevant”, and a system was proposed whereby patients were funded “either through the tax system or by way of universal insurance, to purchase health care from the provider of their choice” – with the poor having their contributions “supplemented or paid for by the state”. The authors included the current health secretary Jeremy Hunt. 

Against a backdrop of austerity and public cuts, healthcare facilities are continuing to contract out their facilities management and clinical services. But, the practice remains deeply controversial and the consequences are becoming more visible. 

Thatcher’s competitive tendering was introduced for cleaning, catering and other ancillary non-medical services, and were extended by the Tories in the ’90s under the NHS and Community Care Act – the first piece of legislation to introduce an internal market into the provision of healthcare. This was followed by the Private Finance Initiative (PFIs) in 1992 under the Major government.  Lansley’s reforms – premised on ‘increasing the diversity of providers in the management of the NHS’ – represent only the culmination of this legacy.

A centrally funded health service has demonstrated its a major contribution to reducing health inequality, by permitting healthcare practitioners and policy makers to design services and deliver care based on need, not the profit incentive. An increasingly privatised NHS has simply led to rationing and inadequate healthcare.

The biggest single contribution to health inequality is social inequality, a problem that has deteriorated significantly in the wake of the Conservative agenda of combined economic austerity and welfare reform.

Image result for hands up NHS
Image courtesy of Robert Livingstone 

 

Related

The Coalition has deliberately financially trashed the NHS to justify its privatisation

Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper

Private bill to introduce further charges to patients for healthcare services is due for second reading today

Labour challenge government about ‘shocking’ rise in coroner warnings over NHS patient deaths

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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

The comment below is from Marcus Moore, a former fellow BBC scriptwriter who has worked for the last three decades as a freelance writer, theatre practitioner and arts consultant. It’s a summary of how Conservatives have corrupted the BBC

The Duke of Hazzard – a flashback to the Thatcher era

I also used to write scripts for the BBC’s Community Programme Unit when I was very young, green and unreservedly creative. I witnessed Marmaduke Hussey’s appointment as Chairman of the BBC’s Board of Governors in 1986, following the death of Stuart Young. His appointment – which was not so much about cleaning out the Augean stables, but rather more about downsizing and refurbishing them – was thanks in part to his close connections to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party. He “steered” the corporation through a period when there was pressure from the Conservative government to do so – it was being heavily criticised for its perceived left wing bias.

Conservatives always make this claim, Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith more recently in 2012, set about “monitoring” the BBC for “left wing bias”. For Conservatives, the more things change, the more they must be made to stay the same.   

What we are left with is reporting that is simply structured along the lines of government announcements. That’s not analysis and news, it is a publicly funded PR and strategic communcations service for an authoritarian government, which clearly sidesteps public interests and any idea of democratic accountability.

September 1986 Hussey received a call from the then home secretary, Douglas Hurd, offering him the chairmanship of the BBC governors.

The corporation was  under constant attack from right wing politicians such as Norman Tebbit and Jeffrey Archer and apparently a constant goad to Margaret Thatcher, infuriated daily by the alleged “pinkoes” running the Today programme.

Only those close to the newspaper business had heard of this former chief executive of Times newspapers, he was notable for leading the company into a confrontation with the trade unions, with the support of William Rees-Mogg, then editor of The Times. They decided on a “big bang” solution, shutting down the newspapers in an effort to bring the unions to heel. Convinced that such shock tactics would cause almost instant capitulation, Hussey and his colleagues had devised no strategy on how to proceed if that did not happen. The closure lasted 50 weeks and, when the papers did finally return, the basic issues remained unresolved. The confrontation ended in ignominious defeat, and eventually, to the acquisition of The Times and Sunday Times by Rupert Murdoch. 

An anonymous briefer at Conservative Central Office said at the time that Hussey’s job was “to make it bloody clear” that change was urgently required; he was “to get in there and sort it out”. Hurd subsequently denied issuing a brief, telling Hussey he would find out what he had to do when he got to the BBC. All the same, Duke went in the BBC awaiting further instructions. 

Within three months of joining the BBC, he had forced the resignation of the director-general, Alasdair Milne – father of Guardian journalist and Corbyn advisor, Seumas Milne – following a series of rows between the BBC and the Conservative government. Milne wasn’t a socialist by any means, but he had represented the more independent spirit of BBC programme making at that time. 

In the 1990s, Hussey also ended up in conflict with director general John Birt over his management style and Panorama’s controversial interview with Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995. It was said that Thatcher had installed Hussey to “sort out” the BBC. Such is the language of authoritarians who don’t like to be held to account. 

Those of a less constrained New Right Conservative view saw Hussey as an illiberal Frankenstein and John Birt as his pet monster. They were devastated by the chairman’s lack of interest or skill in intellectual argument and his readiness to make big decisions on a basis of ignorance or prejudice. Conservative through and through.

Toeing the party line: Conservative bias

In 2016, a study by Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies revealed that the BBC has a “high dependency” on the Conservative Party for statistics. The study was used by the BBC Trust to conduct a report called Making Sense of Statistics, and confirmed that the Conservatives are responsible for three-quarters of the statistics that the BBC receives (and thus presents to the public) from political sources. This is extremely problematic as the Conservatives have been formally rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority on many occasions for using misleading or manufactured statistical data to justify ideologically driven policies, which reflect a neoliberal hegemony.

The BBC Trust report once again calls the impartiality of the BBC into question, and states that the corporation should not be so content with reporting statistics “straight from a press release”. It also concluded that the BBC has failed to “go beyond the headlines”.  The report went on to say: 

“The content analysis demonstrates that there is an especially high number of political figures providing statistical information on BBC [output],” said the report. “And Conservative politicians represented nearly three-quarters (73%) of these statistical references.

And that:

“BBC journalists need the confidence and skills to go beyond headlines, and to challenge misleading claims.”

“It is reasonable to expect the BBC to cover statements which the UK or devolved governments make. […] However, as Cardiff’s content analysis points out, it does make it vital that those statements are challenged where necessary so that the impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of political affairs is not affected.”

The analysis by Cardiff University found that there were “many instances” where quotes and statistics given to the broadcaster from the Conservative government were simply reported with a complete failure to fact-check and scrutinise the information or even question and challenge it on “any fundamental level”. The Conservatives are effectively handing the BBC a script to read from.

At the same time, the Government has perpetuated a myth that the BBC has a “left wing bias”. It’s a claim that has allowed the Conservatives and right wing to police the corporation and set the wider political agenda. For its part, the BBC has become fearful of crossing certain lines, and so remains generally complaint, and toes the party line.

Many of BBC journalists have Conservative party connections and most of its panelists are from the neoliberal centre right. They not only fail to comprehend and appreciate Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-neoliberalism and promise of policies that provide long overdue priority and support for ordinary citizens, they seem to loathe and fear it. 

The BBC’s political output has long had more than its fair share of Conservatives in prominent roles – none more so than Andrew Neil, who previously worked for the Conservative’s Research Department and who now chairs the holding company that owns the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator. It is unusual for any broadcaster, whether left or right wing, to dominate political coverage as much as Neil does on the BBC, who fronts the weekday Daily Politics show and presents his own programmes on Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings.

The appointment of Robbie Gibb as May’s director of communications was unsurprising; he was treading a well-worn path, after all. May’s predecessor David Cameron appointed the then head of BBC TV News, Craig Oliver, to be his director of communications and before him the then Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, appointed Guto Hari, a BBC political correspondent, to head of his media team. 

The news that two BBC men were lined up for those positions came at a time when the BBC faces unprecedented criticism from the left for its heavy Conservative bias. Quite properly so. While the Labour party naturally expect negative reporting from a press that is overwhelmingly aligned to the Conservatives and owned by billionaires, many of us have been shocked and appalled by the poor, inaccurate and often hostile coverage the party have received from the BBC, which is now seen as a pro-status quo, pro-establishment organisation.

A succession of senior BBC journalists have accepted that the Corporation’s political coverage struggles to escape the Westminster bubble, which is perhaps one reason why the BBC’s coverage of the last two general elections and the Brexit referendum failed to adequately reflect the national mood (though the BBC was far from being alone in this failing).

The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, has been a particular focus of criticism from Labour party supporters, and was found to have breached the BBC’s impartiality rules in an early and important report on Corbyn. This was intentional, and designed to mislead the public. The broadcaster’s regulator concluded that a Kuenssberg report for the News at Six programme in November 2015 breached the broadcaster’s impartiality and accuracy guidelines, in a ruling that triggered an unreasonably angry response from the corporation’s director of news. 

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

The person who made the complaint is not named, but clarified that it was from neither Corbyn nor “anyone else on his behalf”. The complaint said that the news report misrepresented the Labour leader’s views on the use of lethal force and that it had wrongly suggested he was against the additional security measures which the item had said the Government was proposing. The Trust found that the inaccuracy was “compounded” when Kuenssberg went on to state that Corbyn’s message “couldn’t be more different” to that of the prime minister, who was about to publish anti-terrorism proposals.

Kuenssberg had disgracefully presented that as Corbyn’s response to a question put to him on whether he would be “happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack”, but as the Trust also concluded, Corbyn had been speaking in a different context. Kuenssberg intentionally edited an interview to give the incorrect impression that Corbyn disagreed with the use of firearms by police in incidents such as that month’s terrorist attacks in Paris. His purported answer to a question as broadcast in the report was in fact his reply to a more general (unbroadcast) question, not specifically about that terrorist attack.  The Trust said that accuracy was particularly important when dealing “with a critical question at a time of extreme national concern.”

It’s impossible to see this as anything other than an attempt to deliberately mislead the public regarding Corbyn’s views. That she wasn’t dismissed indicates just how little the BBC prioritizes and values accuracy, genuine “objectivity” and “impartiality”.  Furthermore, the doctored interview was not taken down from the BBC‘s site for some time, with Conservative MPs continuing to Tweet it.

Sir Michael Lyons, who chaired the BBC Trust from 2007 to 2011 and is a former Labour councillor, said that there had been “some quite extraordinary attacks on the elected leader of the Labour party”.

In 2016, he told the BBC’s The World at One: “I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality on this.

All I’m voicing is the anxiety that has been expressed publicly by others … We had here a charter review process which has been littered with wild kites flown which, we can’t see the string is held by the secretary of state, but the suspicion is that actually it’s people very close to him.

His own comments have suggested that he might be blessed by a future without the BBC. Is the BBC strong enough to withstand a challenge to its integrity and impartiality?”

Lyons said there were “very real suspicions that ministers want to get much closer to the BBC, and that is not in anybody’s interests”. Corbyn told grassroots supporters that it was necessary for Labour to use social media to communicate with the public, because right wing media were censoring political debate in an unprecedented assault on the party. He is absolutely right. 

The commodification of politics and the PR narrative

Vance Packard’s influential 1957 polemic, The Hidden Persuaders, described how “political hucksters” were now treating voters as spectator-consumers, not much  interested in politics or its content, able to be roused only by controversy, stunts and personality. This approach seemed justified, Packard wrote, “by the growing evidence that voters could not be depended on to be rational. There seemed to be a strong illogical or non-logical element in their behaviour, both individually and in masses” (Packard 2007). 

As Packard discovered in his research, this had been happily accepted by the commercial world which was abreast of the new approach – and which was exporting its techniques to the political communicators. He quotes an editorial in an early 1956 edition of the  magazine The Nation’s Business, published by the US Chamber of Commerce, which reported: Both parties will merchandise their candidates and issues by the same methods that business has developed to sell goods […] no flag-waving faithfuls will parade the streets. Instead corps of volunteers will ring doorbells and telephones […] radio spot announcements and ads will repeat phrases with a planned intensity. Billboards will push slogans of proven power […] candidates need […] to look ‘sincerely at the TV camera’. (Packard 2007).

It was an early intimation of the replacement of political parties (the “faithfuls”) by public relations, a movement which has since advanced. Politics has been reduced to brand, reputation management and ‘strategic communications’.  

More recently, the Leveson inquiry concluded that politicians “developed too close a relationship with the Press in a way which has not been in the public interest.” Public relations professionals are charged with organising media space, engagements and ensuring that their political candidate’s public profile stays positive. 

Image result for BBC bias

In its election manifesto in 2010 the Conservative party promised to give the National Audit Office “full access” to the BBC‘s accounts in order to make the corporation more accountable for the way it spends the licence fee.

Jeremy Hunt said that the BBC Trust, which replaced the corporation’s board of governors in 2007, had to change and that the Tories were considering “ripping up the charter” ahead of its expiration in 2016 to achieve its plan.

The encroaching government influence on the BBC became more visible to the public in 2016, when the then culture secretary was accused of attempting to “bend the BBC to his political will” after it emerged he planned to have the government directly appoint most members of a new body to run the corporation. 

Despite the early rhetoric about abolishing the trust, the then Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said he would only act “within the envelope set by the Royal Charter”, so major changes were not possible until the Charter expired after the end of 2016.  Hunt had instead expressed his support for changing the name of the Trust and installing a new non-executive chairman on the BBC’s Executive Board. 

The proposal to scrap the Trust was officially presented to Parliament as part of a charter review white paper on 12 May 2016. Governance of the BBC was transferred to the new BBC Board in April 2017. Sir David Clementi became the new Chairman of the Board.

John Whittingdale said only two or three members of a 13-strong unitary board, which would replace the ‘discredited’ BBC Trust model, would be BBC executives while the rest would be government appointees.

In 2016, the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, had already flagged his concerns about the Clementi proposals for replacing the BBC trust with the unitary board. In a speech , Lord Hall pointed out that unlike any previous governing body, the unitary board would set the editorial direction of the whole BBC. Neither the trust nor its predecessor – the BBC governors who oversaw the corporation from its founding until 2005 – had such powers.

Hall warned: “It will make key decisions on programmes and services, and it will work with me – as editor in chief – on how we manage our impartial journalism. It doesn’t feel to me that these tasks should be undertaken by government-appointed board members. The BBC is one of the world’s great public service broadcasters – not a state broadcaster. A strong, sustainable BBC needs new safeguards for independence, not yet more erosion.” 

It’s another symptom of how oppressive the government has become, and how apparently acceptable it is to attack, discredit and threaten anyone who eve looks as though they may presents a challenge and an alternative perspective to the status quo.  

Churnalism and the PR-isation of the news and public affairs

One time BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston – regarded as being among the most authoritative journalists in the UK – publicly lamented his profession’s increasingly “hideous and degrading” reliance on PR material. 

“When I worked on the Sunday Telegraph a decade ago, the fax machine was strategically placed above the waste paper basket so that press releases went straight into what we called the round filing cabinet. Now newspapers are filled with reports based on spurious PR generated surveys and polls, simply to save time and money … More disturbing, perhaps, PRs seem to have become more powerful and effective as gatekeepers and minders of businesses, celebrities and public or semipublic figures … today’s PR industry has become much more machinelike, controlled – and in its slightly chilling way – professional (Peston 2014).

Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism and former Daily Mirror editor, reports similar tensions when he writes, in 2012, that “if the current trends [of more PR practitioners] continue, we will end up without the essential ‘media filter’ [of journalism] that … acts at its best on behalf of a public deluged with self interested public relations material”. He continues: “What we’re talking about here … is an assault on democracy”.

Both of these sentiments capture a zeitgeist of the state of journalism and PR in neoliberal democracies such as the UK and USA, and represent an issue that has moved up academic, public and professional agendas of concern in the last 10-15 years. This is commonly described as ‘churnalism’, which is characterised by a swelling PR industry, blurring job roles and a growing colonization of PR mindsets amongst journalists.

Here, churnalism – the use of unchecked PR material in news – is an outcome of the broader process of structural and professional change, and conflicting interests. PRs want the best possible news coverage for their paying clients, the occupational ideals of journalism are inter alia, “focus on truth, social reporting and democratic education”. Or at least they were.

Add to that the neoliberal turn: an economic model that has led to the marketisation of news and in turn, of journalism practices. What we witness is less original investigation, and more reactive journalism by way of writing up agency copy or PR material. The now habitual incorporation of media releases and other PR material into the news by journalists is not a new phenomenon, but the change in the scale and regularity in which this is now happening is.

A number of recent studies in the UK and US have established the success of PR practitioners in placing subsidies with news media to influence the media agenda, in turn influencing public opinion and the public agenda. There is significant political power to be exercised in both agenda setting and in the framing of news. Power is present in conceptions of agenda-building in media narratives and public discourse. 

There is a climate of growing concern about ascendant PR and a journalism in crisis. It should be of central concern that there has been a rapidly growing influence of PR and ‘communication’ professionals in the newsgathering and reporting process, and the onsequent diminution of editorial independence and watchdog journalism in the UK.

Studies describe government and political press officers as “increasingly assertive in their relationships with journalists”, not just in terms of information management, but often, to the point of manipulation and aggression.

In truth, the BBC struggles to maintain independence from governments, who set the terms under which it operates, they appoint its most senior figures, who in future will be directly involved in day-to-day managerial decision making, and they set the level of the licence fee, which is the BBC’s major source of income. So given this context within which the BBC operates, it hardly amounts to independence in any substantive sense.

Critics can also point to a number of senior BBC figures with known Conservative associations. The Today presenter and former political editor, Nick Robinson, is a former president of Oxford University’s Conservative Association. James Harding, who as director of news has reputedly centralised the BBC’s news operations, is a former editor of The Times, and the BBC’s high profile political presenter, Andrew Neil, is well known as a right-winger, having briefly worked for the Conservative Party before making his name in Murdoch enterprises.

Robbie Gibb, the frontrunner to be the Tories’ new Alastair Campbell, is Andrew Neil’s editor at the Daily Politics. He is also the brother of Tory Minister Nicholas Gibb. Two  senior Tory Ministers are also ex-BBC: Chris Grayling and Michael Gove.

Then there are the declared interests of the Westminster bubble journalists. For example, Andrew Gimson, who is contributing editor of Conservative Home, is a commentator for the BBC, Associated Newspapers, the New Statesman, and he is also an associate  consultant for a PR and political lobbyist consultancy, Lodestone Communications. He specialises in interviewing Cabinet ministers and other Conservative politicians, and wrote Boris Johnson’s biography.  He started his career in the Conservative Research Department and has served as Deputy Editor of the Spectator, political columnist at the Independent on Sunday, and Berlin correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

BBC political editor/commentator Laura Kuenssberg’s declared interests are: Journalism for The House Magazine. Speaking for Credit Suisse and Ernst and Young (registered July 2017). Chaired events for Intelligence Squared (debate/think tank) and Mischon (law firm), speaking for Healthcare Management Association (membership organisation) and JP Morgan (bank) (registered March 2018). 

Timothy Shipman of the Sunday Times, and also commentator for Sky News, BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics, Radio 5 Live, LBC and Talk Radio. Paper Reviewer for BBC News Channel.  Freelance journalism for The Spectator and the New Statesman. Under contract to Kirby Jones, a speaker agency, for public speaking. Fees received from the following for speaking engagements, most arranged via Kirby JonesArtemis Asset management, Association of British Insurers, Axon Moore, Bain & Co, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, British Bookmaker’s Association, Housing 2017, Independent Schools Bursar’s Association, the Legatum Institute, Oakhill Communications, Owen James Group, Policy Connect, Portland Communications, the Publishers Association, Westminster Policy Institute.

Then there is Andrew Neil. His declared interests are as follows: Chairman, Press Holdings Media Group (The Spectator, Spectator Health, Life, Money and Australia; and Apollo, the international arts magazine). Chairman, ITP Magazine Group (Dubai). Chairman, The Addison Club (London). Director, Glenburn Enterprises Limited (provides media and consultancy services). Fees for speaking at, hosting or chairing an event were received from the following organisations: IBC (annual trade fair for global broadcasters); Credit Services Association (industry body for credit services and debt collection); Jefferies (investment bank); Pega Systems (Boston-based software provider); KPMG (global financial services); Construction News (publication for the construction industry); British Growth Fund (provides long-term capital to fast-growing UK companies); Association of Pension Providers (trade body for pensions industry); Retail Motor Industry Association (represents vehicle dealers); Chairman’s Group (private association of company chairmen); HSBC (global bank); White & Case (city law firm); Aberdeen Asset Management (global asset management); Exponent (private equity company); Christie & Co (property advisory service); Mayer Brown (global law firm); Titlestone (property finance company); Knight Frank (global estate agent); EY (global accountancy and consultancy service); Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (trade body which provides support for procurement and supply management); Pipeline Industries Guild (trade body for pipeline industries); SES (European satellite provider); Barnet Waddington (provider of actuarial, administration and consultancy services); Digital TV Group (association of digital TV broadcasters); BNP Paribas (global banking group); Philadelphia Committee on Foreign Relations (group of private individuals based in Greater Philadelphia area interested in foreign policy); Raymond Jones (financial services company); Incisive Media (information and events business). (Registered June 2017).

Holders of photo-identity passes as lobby journalists accredited to the Parliamentary Press Gallery or for parliamentary broadcasting are required to register:

Any occupation or employment for which you receive over £760 from the same source in the course of a calendar year, if that occupation or employment is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by your pass.’

When the global financial system went into meltdown, BBC interviews were dominated by City voices such as stockbrokers and hedge fund managers, rather than critics of a sector that had plunged the country into disaster. It’s not much of a surprise, however, in view of some of the listed interests of BBC personnel. 

A certain kind of political-economic ‘common sense’ is constructed and negotiated amongst the political-media elite. The fact that this elite often share common private interests is also problematic. This raises serious questions about the capacity of the media to hold the government to account, to understand contemporary democratic politics, let alone entertain the idea of public interests. 

Recent BBC coverage of the local elections was essentially a one party state broadcast. Labour were presented as “failing” to take seats. Yet the figures tell us a different story. While the results could have been better for Labour, the party did not do badly at all. Labour gained 77 seats and the Conservatives lost 33 seats overall.

There is no demarcation between corporate, media and government interests. Nick  Robinson, former president of Oxford University’s Conservative Association, Kuenssberg and Neil are often held as the conspicuous examples of those promoting neoliberal-Conservative norms. However, those interests are reflected throughout the BBC’s reporting, including those who regularly make editorial decisions, which as study after study has shown, overwhelmingly defers to officialdom and upholds powerful private interests at the expense of public interests. The revolving door between consultancy/strategic communcations/ PR companies, the media and the Government indicates the existence of a set of shared narrow norms and an ideological crib sheet.

The narrowly shared understanding of ‘politics’ among an elite of Conservative politicians, big business, the communications and PR industry, news  makersand opinion shapers is not only enormously unrepresentative of the public, but it also displays an increasingly tenuous grasp on broader democratic political reality. 

Image result for BBC bias

The BBC was accused of “extreme bias” after it featured the altered image of Jeremy Corbyn against the Kremlin skyline during a segment about escalating tensions between the UK and Russia on Newsnight, despite presenter Evan Davies’ attempts to justify its use. The Labour leader was depicted wearing a Russian Bolshevik cap against a red-tinted backdrop of the St. Basil’s Cathedral while Ayesha Hazarika, former special advisor to Ed Milliband, and Corbyn ally Chris Williamson MP, were being interviewed about the Government’s response to the Skripal poisoning.

The BBC backdrop embeds a codified message to viewers that is almost subliminal, especially as it was presented on the same day that newspapers like the Daily Mail ran with such headlines as ‘CORBYN, THE KREMLIN STOOGE’.

The image that the BBC claimed to have used and not edited, was taken in 2016 and if you compare the two, there is certainly a red hue that has been applied along with lowerng the contrast and tightening the aspect ratio, which make Corbyn’s clothes appear darker.

This changes the look of the hat he is wearing, which makes it look more like a Russian ushanka hat, whilst there are noticeable differences in the ‘Newsnight’ image and an ushanka, to those who aren’t paying a massive amount of attention to the backdrop or are unable to see a comparison, it would certainly look like one on first look.

The BBC have rejected the criticisms of their programme while acknowledging they did edit the image, by saying that they previously did a similar mock up of Gavin Williamson on the same programme. 

However, it is the context and framing that matters, as I am sure the BBC is very much aware.

Recently, the BBC disclosed a shocking revelation, in an article titled:The vetting files: How the BBC kept out ‘subversives’’ .  Left wing individuals were actively vetted by MI5 and barred from holding positions of influence within the Corporation.

The article says that the purpose of the MI5 vetting candidates for political roles within the BBC was to prevent the formation of a left wing government, stating: “The fear was that ‘evilly disposed’ engineers might sabotage the network at a critical time, or that conspirators might “discredit” the BBC so that ‘the way could be made clear for a left-wing government’”.

Portraying Her Majesty’s opposition as “subversives”  and “conspirators” has some profound implications for democracy.  However, it is still happening – the Labour party are portrayed by the incumbents as pathological, rather than as an essential mechanism of a wider functioning democracy.

For decades the BBC denied that job applicants were subject to political vetting by MI5. But in fact vetting began in the early days of the BBC and “continued until the 1990s”. Paul Reynolds, the first journalist to see all the BBC‘s vetting files, tells the story of the long relationship between the corporation and the Security Service.

“Policy: keep head down and stonewall all questions.” So wrote a senior BBC official in early 1985, not long before the Observer exposed so many details of the work done in Room 105 Broadcasting House that there was no point continuing to hide it.

By that stage, a policy of flatly denying the existence of political vetting – not just stonewalling, but if necessary lying – had been in place for five decades.

As early as 1933 a BBC executive, Col Alan Dawnay, had begun holding meetings to exchange information with the head of MI5, Sir Vernon Kell, at Dawnay’s flat in Eaton Terrace, Chelsea. It was an era of political radicalism and both sides deemed the BBC in need of “assistance in regard to ‘communist’ activities”. 

Vetting file

“Formalities” was the code word for the vetting system

A memo from 1984 gives a run-down of organisations on the banned list. On the left, there were the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Militant Tendency. By this stage there were also concerns about movements on the far right – the National Front and the British National Party.

A banned applicant did not need to be a member of these organisations – association was enough.

Over the years, some BBC executives worried about the “deceptive” statements they had to make – even to an inquisitive MP on one occasion. But when MI5 suggested scaling back the number of jobs subject to vetting, the BBC argued against such a move. Though there were some opponents of vetting within the corporation, they had little influence until the Cold War began to thaw in the 1980s

These revelations completely dismantle the idea that the BBC has ever been a passive, impartial, politically neutral entity. 

Of course, as I’ve outlines, the undue political influence on the BBC becomes clear when we investigate the backgrounds of prominent and influential BBC political figures. There’s arecurring pattern, with direct links to the Conservative party. 

Owen Jones says The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.”  

The Intellgience services have always worked to prevent a Labour government. Who could forget the fake Zinoviev letter, which was engineered by the establishment using the military and intelligence services to destabilise the first Labour government. 

Britain’s most senior security and intelligence officials discussed the smearing of the Labour party just as it was emerging as a major political force according to previously secret documents. The potential repercussions of attempts by the intelligence agencies to damage the Labour party were debated at length by the little-known Secret Service Committee, later research – now released at the National Archives – shows.

Noam Chomsky once said: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” It’s going down.

Dr Lawrence Britt wrote about the defining features of authoritarianism, fascism and totalitarianism. He outlined that among the key characteristics of a fundamnetal shift away from democracy is political censorship through a controlled mass media. He says that the media is either directly controlled by the Government, or indirectly controlled by government regulation, sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. 

It’s a very sobering thought that the British Broadcasting Corporation currently fulfils all of those criteria. 

Democracy has been profoundly compromised and corrupted by its colonisation. Lobbyists, professional private interest propagandists, corporate and financial power have merged with the state, and are all singing from the same crib sheet.

 

Related

The BBC’s disgraceful attempt at a McCarthyist-style shaping of public perceptions and flouting impartiality rule

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

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

From the Zinoviev letter to the Labour party coup – the real enemy within

 


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The DUP: history and controversy

Former DUP leader, Peter Robinson, (left) in paramilitary uniform, 1986.

The following story, first published in the Irish Times on 16 May, is of a massive donation to the DUP, which reads like a John le Carré novel – but voters need facts, not fiction.

What connects Brexit, the DUP, dark money and a Saudi prince? By Fintan O’Toole

If Northern Ireland were a normal democracy, the election campaign would be dominated by a single question: how did the Democratic Unionist Party end up advancing the cause of a united Ireland through its support for Brexit? More specifically: what role did dark money play in that extraordinary decision? This story has all the makings of a John le Carré thriller but democracy on this island needs facts, not fiction. 

To recap briefly: two days before the Brexit referendum last June, the Metro freesheet in London and other British cities came wrapped in a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. Bizarrely, it was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. At the time, the DUP refused to say what the ads cost or where the money came from. 

We’ve since learned that the Metro wraparound cost a staggering £282,000 (€330,000) – surely the biggest single campaign expense in the history of Irish politics. For context, the DUP had spent about £90,000 (€106,000) on its entire campaign for the previous month’s assembly elections. But this was not all: the DUP eventually admitted that this spending came from a much larger donation of £425,622 (€530,000) from a mysterious organisation, the Constitutional Research Council

Mystery

The mystery is not why someone seeking to influence the Brexit vote would want to do so through the DUP. Disgracefully, Northern Ireland is exempt from the UK’s requirements for the sources of large donations to be declared. The mystery, rather, is who were the ultimate sources of this money and why was it so important to keep their identities secret. 

The Constitutional Research Council is headed by a Scottish conservative activist of apparently modest means, Richard Cook. It has no legal status, membership list or public presence and there is no reason to believe that Cook himself had half a million euro to throw around. But the DUP has been remarkably incurious about where the money ultimately came from. Peter Geoghegan (sometimes of this parish) and Adam Ramsay of the excellent openDemocracy website did some digging and what they’ve come up with is, to put it mildly, intriguing. 

What they found is that Richard Cook has a history of involvement with a very senior and powerful member of the Saudi royal family, who also happens to have been a former director of the Saudi intelligence agency. In April 2013, Cook jointly founded a company called Five Star Investments with Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz al Saud. The prince, whose address is given as a royal palace in Jeddah, is listed on the company’s initial registration as the holder of 75 per cent of the shares. Cook had 5 per cent. The other 20 per cent of the shares belonged to a man called Peter Haestrup, a Danish national with an address in Wiltshire, whose own colourful history we must leave aside for reasons of space. 

No casual investor 

Prince Nawwaf, who died in 2015, was no casual investor. He had been Saudi minister for finance, government spokesman and diplomatic fixer before becoming head of intelligence. His son, Mohammed bin Nawwaf, has, moreover, been the Saudi ambassador to both the UK and Ireland since 2005. When Five Star was set up in 2013, Prince Nawwaf was 80, had suffered a stroke and used a wheelchair. It seems rather remarkable that he was going into business with a very minor and obscure Scottish conservative activist. But we have no idea what that business was. Five Star never filed accounts. In August 2014, the Companies Office in Edinburgh threatened to strike it off and in December it was indeed dissolved. 

It may be entirely co-incidental that the man who channelled £425,622 to the DUP had such extremely high level Saudi connections. We simply don’t know. We also don’t know whether the current Saudi ambassador had any knowledge of his father’s connection to Richard Cook. But here’s the thing: the DUP claims not to know either. And that is at best reckless and at worst illegal. 

Arlene Foster told the BBC in late February that she did not even know how much the mystery donor had given the party. Then the party, under pressure, revealed the amount, but insisted that ascribing the donation to Cook’s Constitutional Research Council was enough and people should stop asking questions. Then, in early March, Jeffrey Donaldson told openDemocracy that the DUP did not need to know the true source of the money. 

But this is simply untrue. The UK electoral commission is clear: “a donation of more than £500 cannot be accepted… if the donation is from a source that cannot be identified”. The legal onus is on the DUP to establish that the real donor was entitled to put money into a UK political campaign. If it can’t do that, it has to repay the £425,622. Since it has not done so, we have to assume it knows the true source is not, for example, a foreign government – which would be illegal. 

The DUP has harmed Northern Ireland and endangered the union it exists to protect. How much did the lure of dark money influence that crazy decision? Any self-respecting voter would want to know.

Related
Fintan O’Toole: Church control of hospitals maintains myth of charity

 

New Tory logo

So, who are the DUP? – Kitty S Jones

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is more closely ideologically aligned to the Conservatives than previous coalition partners the Lib Dems, who have ruled themselves out of propping up any minority government. But who are they?

The DUP is a right-wing unionist political party in Northern Ireland. It was founded by Ian Paisley in 1971, at the height of the Troubles, who led the party for the next 37 years. Now led by Arlene Foster, it is the party with the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and is the fifth-largest party in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. Following the 2017 general election, the party has agreed to support a Conservative minority government, following a hung parliament, on a case-by-case basis on matters of “mutual concern”. The DUP have historic links with the Loyalist terrorists.

As social conservatives, they are a party that arose in part to oppose the civil rights movement and nationalism in Northern Ireland. 

Conservatives and the DUP have ties that go back many years. When Enoch Powell was expelled from the Conservative party for his extreme racism and highly divisive politics, he moved to Northern Ireland. 

As a unionist, Powell accused the Heath government of undermining the Government at Stormont. He opposed the abolition of the devolved Parliament in 1972. Following his departure from the Conservatives, Powell was recruited by the Ulster Unionists to stand in the seat of South Down, winning it in the second election of 1974. He continued to serve as an MP in Northern Ireland during some of the worst years of the Troubles. Powell strongly opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which gave Dublin a formal say in the running of Northern Ireland for the first time. In a heated exchange in the House of Commons on 14 November 1985, the day before the agreement was signed, Powell accused Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of “treachery”. 

In 1997, Lady Thatcher said Powell was right to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement, as she spoke of her regret over the deal.

He believed the only way to stop the IRA was for Northern Ireland to be an integral part of the United Kingdom, governed in the same as its other constituent parts. 

His campaign manager was Jeffrey Donaldson. Donaldson said, “I worked alongside two of the greatest names in Unionism in the 20th century.

“Between 1982 and 1984 I worked as Enoch Powell’s constituency agent, successfully spearheading Mr. Powell’s election campaigns of 1983 and 1986.”

Donaldson is the longest serving of the DUP’s MPs.

Ian Paisley pictured with the Red Beret of the Ulster Resistance at a rally in Ballymena, attended by Peter Robinson and Alan Wright Ulster Clubs Chairman.  Pacemaker Press Intl

Ian Paisley pictured with the Red Beret of the Ulster Resistance at a rally in Ballymena, attended by Peter Robinson and Alan Wright Ulster Clubs Chairman.

Despite the fact that the British government claimed neutrality and deployed military forces to Northern Ireland simply to “maintain law and order” during the Troubles, the British security forces focused on republican paramilitaries and activists, and the Ballast investigation by the Police Ombudsman confirmed that British forces colluded on several occasions with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and furthermore obstructed the course of justice when claims of collusion and murder were investigated. 

It’s often a forgotten detail that the British Army shot dead thirteen unarmed male civilians at a proscribed anti-internment rally in Derry, on 30 January, 1972 (“Bloody Sunday”). A fourteenth man died of his injuries some months later and more than fourteen other civilians were wounded. The march had been organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). 

This was one of the most prominent events that occurred during the Northern Irish Conflict as it was recorded as the largest number of people killed in a single incident during the period.

Bloody Sunday greatly increased the hostility of Catholics and Irish nationalists towards the British military and government while significantly elevating tensions during the Northern Irish Conflict. As a result, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gained more support, especially through rising numbers of recruits in the local areas.

Government files declassified in 2015 show that the government thought the DUP may have used the Ulster Resistance as “shock troops” during protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The DUP is firmly opposed to the extension of abortion rights to Northern Ireland. Their leader, Arlene Foster, last year vowed to maintain the province’s ban on abortion, except where the life of the woman is at risk.

Official party policy does not provide an exception from their position on abortion even for victims of  rape. The closest they’ve come to concession on the issue was leader Arlene Foster agreeing to “carefully consider” a High Court ruling that said banning abortion for rape victims was against British and European human rights laws.

DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr said gay relationships were “offensive and obnoxious” in 2005 and in 2007 said he was “pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism”.

The party blocked gay marriage law despite it winning approval by Northern Ireland’s parliament in 2015. They used a legal tool to prevent same-sex unions passing it to law after it passed a knife-edge vote in the Assembly. 

Gay marriage divisions threatened to derail this year’s power-sharing talks in Stormont when the DUP refused to back down. 

The DUP’s former environment minister described climate change as a “con.” There are also creationists within the party.

Ulster Resistance Flag.JPG
Ulster Resistance Flag ‘C’ Division, bearing the Red Hand of Ulster emblem

During the Troubles, the DUP opposed attempts to resolve the conflict that would involve sharing power with Irish nationalists/republicans, and rejected attempts to involve the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland affairs. It campaigned against the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974, the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. In the 1980s, the party moved to create a paramilitary movement, which culminated in the Ulster Resistance.

Back in March, an election was triggered in Northern Ireland. The DUP had slumped in public opinion polls after it emerged that they are linked to a major financial scandal. The Renewable Heat Incentive, known locally as the Cash For Ash scandal, was set up under DUP politician Arlene Foster, and appears to have been badly mismanaged, resulting in a loss of some £400 million to the Northern Irish taxpayer.  

After Foster refused to stand down, Sinn Fein walked away from the power-sharing agreement, thereby triggering the election. 

Foster said she was willing to support a public inquiry into a botched green energy scheme that will cost taxpayers up to £500m and has triggered the current political crisis.

But the Democratic Unionist party leader said she was not afraid of elections to a new Northern Ireland assembly, while acknowledging that any campaign would be rancorous and “brutal”.

Lord Hain said today that the Conservatives have not been neutral regarding Northern Ireland (NI) since Cameron’s government, and have been headed towards “backroom deals” with the DUP for some time. This has all served to undermine the Balance of Powers at Stormont, and risks jeopardising the peace process in NI. As it is, the Assembly, estabished in 1998 following the Good Friday Agreement, is in crisis and has been for months.

The proposed DUP alliance will not help that situation one bit, nor can the Conservatives claim any neutrality in any interventions, since they are so dependent on the DUP to prop them up, permitting them stay in office. But it is power for the sake of power, rather such an alliance serving the national interest.

Northern Ireland’s political settlement is currently teetering on the edge of collapse. If that is to be prevented, somehow the DUP and Sinn Fein need to reach an agreement, re-establishing the Balance of Powers and they probably need support, to be encouraged into doing so. If the British Government is in a formal arrangement with the DUP that will, to put it mildly, greatly complicate the process. How can the Northern Ireland Minister possibly appear to be neutral in any negotiations?  To risk peace in Northern Ireland for the sake clinging onto power is despicable.

 Article 1 (v) of the Good Friday Agreement commits the “sovereign government” to exercise its power with “rigorous impartiality.” 

As says: “Only by quibbling over the precise meaning of “sovereign government” can a deal between the DUP and the sovereign government in Westminster be understood as anything other than a breach of the Good Friday Agreement.  The spirit of the agreement is abundantly clear: Britain is meant to be impartial between the Northern Ireland parties. It is not acceptable to be Perfidious Albion just to let a broken Prime Minister stagger on for a few more months.  By even contemplating this deal Mrs May is playing with a blow-torch in a petrol station.”

 


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The Government’s brutal cuts to disability support isn’t ‘increasing spending’, Chancellor, but handing out tax cuts to the rich is

Chancellor George Osborne

 

2 wrag

Source: Hansard

Context

Many of us recognised in 2012, when the welfare “reforms” and other cuts to public services that support the poorest citizens were forced through parliament despite considerable opposition, using only the “financial privilege” of the Commons as a justification, that the Conservatives are on an ideological crusade, which flies in the face of public needs, democracy and sound economics, to shrink the welfare state and privatise our essential services.

In a wealth transfer from the poorest to the very rich, we have witnessed the profits of public services being privatised, but the losses have been socialised – entailing a process of economic enclosure for the wealthiest, whilst the burden of losses have been placed on the poorest social groups and our most vulnerable citizens – largely those who are ill, disabled and elderly. The Conservative’s justification narratives regarding their draconian policies, targeting the poorest social groups, have led to media scapegoating, social outgrouping, persistent political denial of the aims and consequences of policies and reflect a wider process of political disenfranchisement of the poorest citizens, especially sick and disabled people.

That the cuts are ideologically driven, and have nothing whatsoever to do with economic necessity, was demonstrated only too well by the National Audit Office (NAO) report earlier this year. The NAO scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The report indicates how public services are being appropriated for purely private benefit.

The audit report in January concluded that the Department for Work and Pension’s spending on contracts for disability benefit assessments is expected to double in 2016/17 compared with 2014/15. The government’s flagship welfare-cut scheme will be actually spending more money on the assessments conducted by private companies than it is saving in reductions to the benefits bill.

From the report:

£1.6 billion
Estimated cost of contracted-out health and disability assessments over three years, 2015 to 2018

£0.4 billion
Latest expected reduction in annual disability benefit spending.

This summary reflects staggering economic incompetence, a flagrant, politically motivated waste of tax payers money and even worse, the higher spending has not created a competent or ethical assessment framework, nor is it improving the lives of sick and disabled people. Some people are dying after being wrongly assessed as “fit for work” and having their lifeline benefits brutally withdrawn. Maximus is certainly not helping the government to serve even the most basic needs of sick and disabled people.

However, Maximus is serving the private needs of a “small state” doctrinaire neoliberal government, and making lots of private profit whilst it does so. The Conservatives are systematically dismantling the UK’s social security system, not because there is an empirically justifiable reason or economic need to do so, but because the government has purely ideological, anticollectivist, antidemocratic, profoundly uncivilising prescriptions and longstanding prejudices.

Last week I wrote about the £30 a week Employmen Support Allowance (ESA) work related activity group (WRAG) cuts, which the Government have forced through the legislative process, despite meeting with widespread opposition, the government claim that it is their financial privilege to do so. Yesterday I wrote about the brutal cuts that are planned for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) for sick and disabled people, which are aimed at saving money by reducing eligibility for the support. The cut, it is estimated, will affect at least 640,000 disabled people by 2020, who may lose up to £150 a week. This is money that provides essential support for people who need help to prepare food, use the toilet or dress themselves, amongst other things, and to maintain a degree of dignity and independence.

The cuts to ESA and Personal Independent Payments (PIP) take place in the context of a Tory manifesto that included a pledge not to cut disability benefits. In fact in March last year, the Prime Minister signalled that the Conservatives will protect disabled claimants from welfare cuts in the next parliament (this one). Cameron said the Conservatives would not “undermine” PIP, which was introduced under the Coalition to save money by “targeting those most in need.” Now it seems those most in need are not the ones originally defined as such.

At the time he told BBC Breakfast: “We’ve replaced one benefit – Disability Living Allowance – with a new benefit – Personal Independence Payment – it’s working well, it is also going to lead to some savings over time and we haven’t created that benefit in order to undermine it. We want to enhance it and safeguard it.”

Semantic thrifts: being Conservative with the truth

Only a Conservative minister would claim that taking money from sick and disabled people is somehow “fair,” or about “helping”, “supporting” or insultingly, “incentivising” sick and disabled people who have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors and the state via the work capability assessment to work.

The Tories all too frequently employ such semantic shifts and euphemism – linguistic strategies – as an integral part of a wider range of techniques of neutralisation that are used, for example, to provide linguistic relief from conscience and to suspend moral constraint – to silence both “inner protest” and public objections – to the political violation of social and moral norms; to justify acts that cause harm to others whilst also denying there is any subsequent harm being inflicted; to deny the target’s and casualties’ accounts and experiences of political acts of harm, and to neutralise remorse felt by themselves or other witnesses.

Media discourse has often preempted the Conservative austerity cuts, resulting in the identification, stereotyping and scapegoating of the groups in advance of the targeted, discriminatory policies. Media discourse is being used as a vehicle for the government to push their ideological agenda forward without meeting legitimate criticism, public scrutiny and without due regard for essential democratic processes and safeguards.

The five neutralisation techniques identified by Gresham Sykes and David Matza are: denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victims, appeal to higher loyalties, and condemnation of condemners.

The really critical part of Sykes and Matza’s argument is that rationalisations precede immoral, cruel or controversial acts and are a key factor in making deviant behaviour possible (amongst delinquents, the mafia or Conservative ministers). As such, the rationalisations betray intent.

The cuts of £120 a month to the disability benefit Employment Support Allowance  are also claimed to be “fair.” and “supportive.” Though I have yet to hear a coherent and rational  explanation of how this can possibly be the case. Ministers claimed that people subjected to the ESA Work Related Activity Group cuts could claim PIP if they required support with extra living costs, but now we are told that PIP is to be cut, too.

Osborne’s techniques of neutralisation: calling a cut “increased spending”

The chancellor has defended his decision to use the cuts in disability benefits to fund tax breaks for the wealthy. On the Andrew Marr show yesterday, he was questioned about his decision to cut PIP, currently made to over 640,000 disabled people in a bid to save at least £1.2 billion. Many severely disabled people are facing a cut of up to £150 a week under the new reduced eligibility assessment criteria.

Controversially, the cuts to disability benefits will fund tax cuts for the most affluent – the top 7% of earners. The Chancellor is set to raise the threshold at which people start paying 40p tax, in a move that will probably see  many wealthier people pulled out of the higher rate of income tax, in the coming budget. Mr Osborne says he wants to “accelerate progress” towards the Conservative’s manifesto pledge of raising the threshold for the 40p rate to £50,000 in 2020, it is understood. The average annual income in the UK is around £27,000. 

Andrew Marr said: You’re taking money out of the pockets of some of the most vulnerable people in this country, disabled people. These are the people who can least afford the sacrifice, the people with the weakest shoulders.

And you’re changing the rules to hit them. Is that really your priority?”

Osborne ludicrously claimed that the Conservative government was “increasing spending on disabled people”, he said: “Controlling welfare bills is part of what you need to do if you’re a secure country confronting the problems in the world.”

But as Marr pointed out, the cuts to ESA and PIP show an intended substantial reduction on government spending to essential support for disabled people.

From January 2017, the cut to PIP is likely to hit sick and disabled people who face fundamental barriers to health and essential basic care. The cut, it is estimated, will affect at least 640,000 disabled people by 2020.

Andrew Marr went on to say: “At the same time as you’re raising thresholds to help middle-class tax payers, it’s going to seem a very callous set of priorities.”

However, Mr Osborne maintained that the brutal and uncivilised cuts were “necessary to improve the economic conditions in the UK”. He said: “Yes, times are tough. The fiscal situation is a difficult one. All Western countries are not productive enough.”

You can see the interview here:


Austerity and premature mortality

Since 2011, a year after the government began their austerity programme, mortality rates have increased rapidly. Advisers to Public Health England (PHE) have warned that the 4-year trend may be the worst since World War II.

Data from the Office of National Statistics shows a 5.4% (27,000) increase in deaths in the past year alone, prompting calls for an urgent investigation. The year-on-year rise, to a total of 528,340 deaths, is the highest since 1968.

PHE said the elderly were bearing the worst of Tory austerity cuts, with women suffering disproportionately, though this is partly because they live longer, however, it is also due to a growing crisis in the NHS and cuts to social care. Professor Danny Dorling, from Oxford University, an advisor to PHE on older age life expectancy, said:

“When we look at 2015, we are not just looking at one bad year. We have seen excessive mortality – especially among women – since 2012.”

Figures show that the number of deaths had been falling steadily until 2011, a year after the government began their austerity programme, when deaths rates began to increase rapidly.

Professor Dorling cited Tory austerity as the biggest cause:

“I suspect the largest factor here is cuts to social services – to meals on wheels, to visits to the elderly.”

Empirical research published two years ago demonstrated the high a cost the country paid in terms of health and wellbeing for the Thatcher administration’s economic and social policies. The study, which looked at material from existing research and data from the Office for National Statistics, illustrates that Thatcherism resulted in the unnecessary and unjust premature deaths of British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and a widespread degradation of wellbeing. Co-author and researcher Professor Clare Bambra from the Wolfson Research Institute of Health and Wellbeing said that deaths from violence and suicide all increased substantially during the Thatcher era in comparison with other countries. Regional inequalities in life expectancy between north and south were also exacerbated, as were health inequalities between the richest and poorest in British society.

Professor Bambra also says that the welfare cuts implemented by Thatcher’s governments led to a rise in poverty rates from 6.7% in 1975 to 12% by 1985; poverty is well known to be one of the major causes of ill health and mortality. Income inequality also increased in the Thatcher period, as the richest 0.01% of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average by 1990. Other research (The Spirit Level) indicates that income inequality is internationally associated with higher mortality and morbidity.

Welfare reform minister, Lord Freud, refused to monitor the number of people who take their own lives as a result of the £120-a-month cut planned for those people in the work related activity group (WRAG), claiming employment and support allowance from April 2017. Concerns were raised in the House of Lords last week, when Baroness Meacher, amongst others, warned that for the most vulnerable, the cut was “terrifying” and bound to lead to increased debt.

Condemning the truly callous and terrible actions of the Treasury, she urged ministers to monitor the number of suicides in the year after the change comes in, adding: “I am certain there will be people who cannot face the debt and the loss of their home, who will take their lives.”

Many people have died as a consequence of the welfare “reforms.”

Not only have the government failed to carry out an impact assessment regarding the cuts, Lord Freud said that the impact, potential increase in deaths and suicides won’t be monitored, apart from “privately” because individual details can’t be shared and because that isn’t a “useful approach”.

He went on to say “We have recently produced a large analysis on this, which I will send to the noble Baroness. That analysis makes it absolutely clear that you cannot make these causal links between the likelihood of dying – however you die – and the fact that someone is claiming benefit.”

Actually, a political refusal to investigate an established correlation between the welfare “reforms” and an increase in the mortality statistics of those hit the hardest by the cuts – sick and disabled people – is not the same thing as there being no causal link. Often, correlation implies causality and therefore such established links require further investigation. It is not possible to disprove a causal link without further investigation.

Whilst the government continue to deny there is a causal link between their welfare policies, austerity measures and an increase in premature deaths and suicides, they cannot deny there is a clear correlation establised, which warrants further research and political accountability.

Then they came for the ESA Support Group …

Despite the fact that this government face a UN inquiry into grave and systematic abuses of the human rights of disabled people, the blatant attacks on a social group with legally protected characteristics continues and the Conservatives continue to target disabled people for a disproportionately large and unfair burden of austerity cuts.

A government advisor, who is a specialist in labour economics and econometrics, has proposed scrapping all ESA sickness and disability benefits. Matthew Oakley, a senior researcher at the Social Market Foundation, recently published a report entitled Closing the gap: creating a framework for tackling the disability employment gap in the UK, in which he proposes abolishing the ESA Support Group. To meet extra living costs because of disability, Oakley says that existing spending on PIP and the Support Group element of ESA should be brought together to finance a new extra costs benefit. Eligibility for this benefit should be determined on the basis of need, with an assessment replacing the WCA and PIP assessment. The Conservative definition of “the basis of need” seems to be an ever-shrinking category.

Oakely also suggests considering a “role that a form of privately run social insurance could play in both increasing benefit generosity and improving the support that individuals get to manage their conditions and move back to work.”

I’m sure the private company Unum would jump at the opportunity. Steeped in controversy, with a wake of scandals that entailed the company denying people their disabilty insurance, in 2004, Unum entered into a regulatory settlement agreement (RSA) with insurance regulators in over 40 US states. The settlement related to Unum’s handling of disability claims and required the company “to make significant changes in corporate governance, implement revisions to claim procedures and provide for a full re-examination of both reassessed claims and disability insurance claim decisions.

The company is the top disability insurer in both the United States and United Kingdom. By coincidence, the  company has been involved with the UK’s controversial Welfare Reform Bill, advising the government on how to cut spending, particularly on disability support. What could possibly go right?

It’s difficult to see how someone with a serious, chronic and often progressive illness, (which most people in the ESA Support Group have) can actually “manage” their illness and “move back into work.” The use of the extremely misinformed, patronising and very misleading term manage implies that very ill people actually have some kind of choice in the matter. For people with Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis, cancer and kidney failure, for example, mind over matter doesn’t fix those problems, positive thinking and sheer will power cannot cure these illnesses sadly. Nor does benefit conditionality and being coerced into work by callously insensitive and medically ignorant assessors, advisors and ministers.

The Reform think tank has also recently proposed scrapping what is left of the disability benefit support system, in their report Working welfare: a radically new approach to sickness and disability benefits and has called for the government to set a single rate for all out of work benefits and reform the way sick and disabled people are assessed. 

Reform says the government should cut the weekly support paid to 1.3 million sick and disabled people in the ESA Support Group from £131 to £73. This is the same amount that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants receive. However, those people placed in the Support Group after assessement have been deemed by the state as unlikely to be able to work again. It would therefore be very difficult to justify this proposed cut.

Yet the authors of the report doggedly insist that having a higher rate of weekly benefit for extremely sick and disabled people encourages them “to stay on sickness benefits rather than move into work.”

The report recommended savings which result from removing the disability-related additions to the standard allowance should be reinvested in support services and extra costs benefits – PIP. However, as outlined, the government have ensured that eligibility for that support is rapidly contracting, with the ever-shrinking political and economic re-interpretation of medically defined sickness and disability categories and a significant reduction in what the government deem to be a legitimate exemption from being “incentivised” into hard work.

The current United Nations investigation into the systematic and gross violations of the rights of disabled people in the UK because of the Conservative welfare “reforms” is a clear indication that there is no longer any political commitment to supporting disabled people in this country, with the Independent Living Fund being scrapped by this government, ESA for the work related activiy group (WRAG) cut back, PIP is becoming increasingly very difficult to access, and now there are threats to the ESA Support Group. The Conservative’s actions have led to breaches in the CONVENTION on the RIGHTS of PERSONS with DISABILITIES – CRPD articles 4, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, and especially 19, 20, 27 and 29 (at the very least.) There are also probable violations of articles 22, 23, 25, 30, 31.

The investigation began before the latest round of cuts to ESA and PIP were announced.

 

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Reverse the ESA disability benefit cut: sign the petition

Extend the PIP consultation & stop cuts to supporting terminally ill & disabled: sign the petition

 

Related

A tale of two suicides and a very undemocratic, inconsistent government

Paternalistic Libertarianism and Freud’s comments in context

Let’s keep the job centre out of GP surgeries and the DWP out of our confidential medical records

Conservative governments are bad for your health

Research finds strong correlation between Work Capability Assessment and suicide

Benefits Assessor: How Long Are You Likely To Have Parkinson’s?

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Osbornomics – the self-perpetuating omnishambles that we can’t escape

Chancellor George Osborne

 

Osborne’s targeted austerity measures, based entirely on Conservative small state ideology, rather than economic necessity, have established an economic trap. It’s a vicious cycle, because tax cuts to the wealthy, and low, stagnated wages reduce Treasury income, thus increasing the deficit – which is the gap between Treasury income and what is needed for spending. His solution? Cut spending and public services. Again and again.

Yet this is clearly not working. Reducing spending means shrinking the economy further. The services that the state provides – education, healthcare, social security, housing, for example – also contribute to our wellbeing and raise our standard of living. Of course reducing consumer spending also serves to deflate the economy further.

Meanwhile our overall debt has increased. It’s a strategy doomed to failure all round, and it certainly exposes the lie that the financial burden of paying the deficit is shared and that “those with the broadest shoulders” carry the largest burden. Those experiencing the worst of the cuts are the poorest.

I’m not sure if the Conservatives have massively understated the damage that spending cuts inflict on a weak economy because they don’t understand that this is the case or because they don’t actually care. But you would think that the evidence after five years would have prompted a rethink, if it were the former case.

The initial economic research that was held up to support austerity measures has since been thoroughly discredited. Widely touted statistical results were, it turned out, based on highly dubious assumptions and procedures and a few outright mathematical errors –  it didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

The textbook answer to recession was and still is fiscal expansion: increasing government spending both to create jobs directly and to put money in consumers’ pockets to stimulate the economy. Fiscal stimulus measures should continue until economies had recovered. John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1937: “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the Treasury.”

You really can’t cut your way out of a shrinking economy. Austerity and spending cuts are actually intrinsic to New Right and neoliberal ideology. Margaret Thatcher radically cut public spending, created recession and generally messed up, but Cameron’s government have gone much further than she dared.

 

proper Blond

 

Conservatives have manipulated the general public’s lack of understanding about basic economics, and lied about the “dangers” of debt and deficits in order to radically reduce the welfare state and justify cuts to people’s lifeline benefits, cuts to public services such as the national health service, social care, legal aid, and to councils, for example.

The Tories have also set about reversing all of the social gains of our post-war settlement, in fact. It’s something they have always hated. They have persistently denied that higher spending might actually be beneficial to the majority of UK citizens. Austerity has been paraded as the only possibility, as “economically necessary” but that’s utter tosh.

Gordon Brown said today that when the worst of the global recession hit, his government protected the most vulnerable social groups – including children. He’s right, we didn’t need austerity back then, in the throes of the global crisis. Brown put in place a package of expansionary fiscal measures, and we were in recovery by the last quarter of 2009.

The Conservatives put us straight back into recession and lost our Fitch and Moody international credit ratings to boot. Something that George Osborne pledged he would maintain as a priority, back in 2010.

 

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And the national debt is growing, not shrinking.

uk debt

 

Economic competence is measured by our social conditions and the living standards of citizens far more than by dry numbers and the ideological commitments of government. Austerity is failing millions, who have witnessed the biggest fall in living standards since before the war.

And if a political strategy is failing and damaging people’s lives, as austerity clearly is, then it’s time to change that strategy.

Related

The word “Tories” is an abbreviation of “tall stories”

The Great Debt Lie and the Myth of the Structural Deficit

Osborne’s Autumn statement reflects the Tory ambition to reduce State provision to rubble

Tory dogma and hypocrisy: the “big state”, bureaucracy, austerity and “freedom”

The BBC expose a chasm between what the Coalition plan to do and what they want to disclose

Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor

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

File:MI5 crest and logo.png

A scene from Alan Bleasdale’s perceptive GBH, a much misunderstood, darkly comedic series from 1991. Some felt that Bleasdale was attempting to discredit the militant left, but what he portrayed is an infiltation of the Labour Party by MI5, ordered by the Conservative government at the time. Their aim was to recruit, manipulate and indoctrinate local “young bulls” with quasi left-wing ideology to have them assist, unknowingly, in destablising and discrediting the Labour Party in its entirety.

The far-right, racism and social conflict always bloom and flourish under Conservative governments.

Fueling social tensions, MI5 agents provocateurs were prepared to use the ethnic communities to foster social division, in the hope of causing riots and ultimately, the hardened right-wing thugs (MI5 were eventually revealed as the real thugs here) dismissed the minority groups as collateral damage, a callous, calculated move that was deemed necessary to destroy the Labour Party.

MI5 staged a series of violent racist assaults on the city’s ethnic minorities, using hired local hardcases posing as police officers. They “made things happen.” Ultimately to preserve the status quo. In the drama, it’s eventually revealed that the plot to destablise the Left involves Britain’s entire intelligence community.

Many felt that Bleasdale was portraying the end of socialism, but if he was, it was ultimately at the hand of the Tories – the real enemy within – not the militant left.

I watched the mini series again recently, and it made me think of the Zinoviev letter – one of the greatest but almost forgotten British political scandals of last century – it was forged by a MI6 agent’s source and almost certainly leaked by MI6 or MI5 officers to the Conservative Party, according to an official report published in 1999.

Britain’s most senior security and intelligence officials discussed the smearing of the Labour party just as it was emerging as a major political force according to previously secret documents.

The potential repercussions of attempts by the intelligence agencies to damage the Labour party were debated at length by the little-known Secret Service Committee, later research – now released at the National Archives – shows.

Of course it was not the only time Britain’s intelligence agencies were implicated in attempts to destabilise a Labour government. A group of right-wing intelligence officers attempted to destabilise Harold Wilson’s administrations in the 1960s and 70s.

One newly released document at the National Archives is a minute of the Secret Service Committee, dated 11 March 1927. It quotes Sir William Tyrrell, top official at the Foreign Office, referring to a conversation he had with the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, about politically inspired leaks by the police special branch as well as the security and intelligence agencies.

Baldwin’s main concern, said Tyrrell, was the fear that the political work done at Scotland Yard might at any moment give rise to a scandal, owing to the Labour party obtaining some “plausible pretext to complain that a government department was being employed for party politics.”

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

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

The Daily Mail published a series of sensationalist headlines:

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

Here is the entire Zinoviev letter:

Very secret

Executive Committee, Third Communist International.

To the Central Committee, British Communist Party.

Presidium, September 15, 1924. Moscow.

Dear Comrades,

The time is approaching for the Parliament of England to consider the Treaty concluded between the Governments of Great Britain and the S.S.S.R. for the purpose of ratification. The fierce campaign raised by the British bourgeoisie around the question shows that the majority of the same, together with reactionary circles, are against the Treaty for the purpose of breaking off an agreement consolidating the ties between the proletariats of the two countries leading to the restoration of normal relations between England and the S.S.S.R.

The proletariat of Great Britain, which pronounced its weighty word when danger threatened of a break-off of the past negotiations, and compelled the Government of MacDonald to conclude the treaty, must show the greatest possible energy in the further struggle for ratification and against the endeavours of British capitalists to compel Parliament to annul it.

It is indispensable to stir up the masses of the British proletariat to bring into movement the army of unemployed proletarians whose position can be improved only after a loan has been granted to the S.S.S.R. for the restoration of her economics and when business collaboration between the British and Russian proletariats has been put in order. It is imperative that the group in the Labour Party sympathising with the Treaty should bring increased pressure to bear upon the Government and Parliamentary circles in favour of the ratification of the Treaty.

Keep close observation over the leaders of the Labour Party, because these may easily be found in the leading strings of the bourgeoisie. The foreign policy of the Labour Party as it is, already represents an inferior copy of the policy of the Curzon Government. Organize a campaign of disclosure of the foreign policy of MacDonald.

The I.K.K.I. (Executive Committee, Third [Communist] International) will willingly place at your disposal the wide material in its possession regarding the activities of British Imperialism in the Middle and Far East. In the meanwhile, however, strain every nerve in the struggle for the ratification of the Treaty, in favour of a continuation of negotiations regarding the regulation of relations between the S.S.S.R. and England. A settlement of relations between the two countries will assist in the revolutionising of the international and British proletariat not less than a successful rising in any of the working districts of England, as the establishment of close contact between the British and Russian proletariat, the exchange of delegations and workers, etc., will make it possible for us to extend and develop the propaganda of ideas of Leninism in England and the Colonies. Armed warfare must be preceded by a struggle against the inclinations to compromise which are embedded among the majority of British workmen, against the ideas of evolution and peaceful extermination of capitalism. Only then will it be possible to count upon complete success of an armed insurrection. In Ireland and the Colonies the case is different; there is a national question, and this represents too great a factor for success for us to waste time on a prolonged preparation of the working class.

But even in England, as other countries, where the workers are politically developed, events themselves may more rapidly revolutionise the working masses than propaganda. For instance, a strike movement, repressions by the Government etc.

From your last report it is evident that agitation-propaganda work in the army is weak, in the navy a very little better. Your explanation that the quality of the members attracted justifies the quantity is right in principle, nevertheless it would be desirable to have cells in all the units of the troops, particularly among those quartered in the large centres of the country, and also among factories working on munitions and at military store depots. We request that the most particular attention be paid to these latter.

In the event of danger of war, with the aid of the latter and in contact with the transport workers, it is possible to paralyse all the military preparations of the bourgeoisie, and make a start in turning an imperialist war into a class war. Now more than ever we should be on our guard. Attempts at intervention in China show that world imperialism is still full of vigour and is once more making endeavours to restore its shaken position and cause a new war, which as its final objective is to bring about the break-up of the Russian Proletariat and the suppression of the budding world revolution, and further would lead to the enslavement of the colonial peoples. ‘Danger of War’, ‘The Bourgeoisie seek War’, ‘Capital fresh Markets’ – these are the slogans which you must familiarise the masses with, with which you must go to work into the mass of the proletariat. These slogans will open to you the doors of comprehension of the masses, will help you to capture them and march under the banner of Communism.

The Military Section of the British Communist Party, so far as we are aware, further suffers from a lack of specialists, the future directors of the British Red Army.

It is time you thought of forming such a group, which together with the leaders, might be in the event of an outbreak of active strife, the brain of the military organisation of the party.

Go attentively through the lists of the military ‘cells’ detailing from them the more energetic and capable men, turn attention to the more talented military specialists who have for one reason or another, left the Service and hold Socialist views. Attract them into the ranks of the Communist Party if they desire honestly to serve the proletariat and desire in the future to direct not the blind mechanical forces in the service of the bourgeoisie, but a national army.

Form a directing operative head of the Military Section.

Do not put this off to a future moment, which may be pregnant with events and catch you unprepared.

Desiring you all success, both in organisation and in your struggle.

With Communist Greetings,

President of the Presidium of the I.K.K.I.

ZINOVIEV

Member of the Presidium: McMANUS

Secretary: KUUSINEN

Some historians say that the letter aided the Conservative party in hastening the collapse of the Liberal party which led to a decisive Conservative victory. Curiously, a now familiar tactic.

Others say the letter was an example of Conservative deceit, which in 1924, enabled Britain’s Conservative party to cheat their way to a general election victory. Personally, I’m inclined to believe the latter. It’s not as if the Conservatives have a history of democratic engagement, transparency, accountability and honesty, after all.

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

The publication of the letter was severely embarrassing to Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald and his Labour party. The chance of a victory was dashed as the spectre of internal revolution and a government oblivious to the red peril dominated the public consciousness, via the media.

MacDonald’s attempts to establish doubt regarding the authenticity of the letter were catastrophically in vain, hampered by the document’s widespread acceptance amongst Tory government officials. MacDonald told his Cabinet he “felt like a man sewn in a sack and thrown into the sea.”

New light on the scandal which triggered the fall of the first Labour government in 1924 is shed in a study by Gill Bennett, chief historian at the Foreign Office, commissioned by Robin Cook in 1998.

Bennett’s investigation implicates Desmond Morton, an MI6 officer and close friend of Churchill who appointed him personal assistant during the second world war, and also points to Major Joseph Ball, an MI5 officer who joined Conservative Central Office in 1926. Ball later went on to be one of the earliest spin doctors – for the Tories.

The exact route of the forged letter to the Daily Mail will probably never be known. There were other possible conduits, including Stewart Menzies, a future head of MI6 who, according to MI6 files, admitted sending a copy to the Mail.

In summary, the letter was purported to be from Grigori Zinoviev, president of the Comintern, the internal communist organisation, called on British communists to mobilise “sympathetic forces” in the Labour Party to support an Anglo-Soviet treaty (including a loan to the Bolshevik government) and to encourage “agitation-propaganda” in the armed forces.

As stated, on October 25, 1924, just four days before the election, the Mail splashed headlines across its front page claiming: Civil War Plot by Socialists’ Masters: Moscow Orders To Our Reds; Great Plot Disclosed. Labour lost the election by a landslide.

Ms Bennett said the letter “probably was leaked from SIS [the Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6] by somebody to the Conservative Party Central Office.” She named Major Ball and Mr Morton, who was responsible for assessing agents’ reports.

“I have my doubts as to whether he thought it was genuine but [Morton] treated it as if it was,” she said.

She described MI6 as being at the centre of the scandal, although it was impossible to say whether the head of MI6, Admiral Hugh Sinclair, was involved.

Ms Bennett also said there was “no evidence of a conspiracy” in what she called “the institutional sense.”

But there was no evidence that refuted such a conspiracy either. The security and intelligence community at the time consisted of a “very, very incestuous circle, an elite network” who went to school together. Their allegiances, she says in her report, “lay firmly in the Conservative camp.”

Ms Bennett had full access to secret files held by MI6 (though some have been destroyed) and MI5. She also saw Soviet archives in Moscow before writing her 128-page study. The files show the forged Zinoviev letter was widely circulated, including to senior army officers, to inflict maximum damage on the Labour government.

She found no evidence to identify the name of the forger. The report says there is no hard evidence that MI6 agents in Riga were directly responsible – though it is known they had close contacts with White Russians – or that the letter was commissioned in response to British intelligence services’ “uneasiness about its prospects under a re-elected Labour government.”

The report does not tie up loose ends. But by putting a huge amount of material into the public domain, it at least allows people to make up their own minds. Important questions remain, and may always go unanswered – such as who actually forged the letter.

However, if Ms Bennett is right in her suggestion that MI6 chiefs did not set up the forgery, her report claims that MI6 deceived the Foreign Office by asserting it did know who the source was – a deception it used to insist, wrongly, that the Zinoviev letter was genuine.

Ms Bennett claims that we cannot conclude the scandal brought down Ramsay Macdonald’s government, which had already lost a confidence vote and Liberal support on which it depended was disappearing.

“In electoral terms,” she says, “the impact of the Zinoviev letter on Labour was more psychological than measurable.”

I don’t agree.

The media has always exercised enormously heavy influence on voters, I find it a little odd that such a connection was deemed insignificant. Especially given the wide use of black propaganda, very evident at the time.

Besides, this isn’t an isolated event, and there does appear to be an established relationship between Conservative governments and the Secret Service staging persistent attempts at “destabilising,” discrediting and smearing the left. And the media.

Fast-forward to more recent events, and low and behold, the mainstream media are still feeding us the fear-mongering and pseudo-warnings of an “evil Communist threat” in the form of Ralph Miliband, and his “influence” on his son, “Red Ed,” claiming that the Labour leader’s policies are founded on a “legacy of evil” and a “poisonous creed.” That’s once again according to the very pro-establishment, corrupt Daily Mail, of course. (See also: Tory Fascist Lie Machine The Daily Mail Has Met Its Match.) Same old tactics.

The Comintern and Soviet government vehemently and consistently denied the authenticity of the document. Grigori Zinoviev issued a denial on 27 October 1924 (two days before the election), which was finally published in the December 1924 issue of The Communist Review, considerably well after the MacDonald government had fallen.

Zinoviev declared:

“The letter of 15th September, 1924, which has been attributed to me, is from the first to the last word, a forgery. Let us take the heading. The organisation of which I am the president never describes itself officially as the “Executive Committee of the Third Communist International”; the official name is “Executive Committee of the Communist International.” Equally incorrect is the signature, “The Chairman of the Presidium.” The forger has shown himself to be very stupid in his choice of the date. On the 15th of September, 1924, I was taking a holiday in Kislovodsk, and, therefore, could not have signed any official letter. […]

It is not difficult to understand why some of the leaders of the Liberal-Conservative bloc had recourse to such methods as the forging of documents. Apparently they seriously thought they would be able, at the last minute before the elections, to create confusion in the ranks of those electors who sincerely sympathise with the Treaty between England and the Soviet Union. It is much more difficult to understand why the English Foreign Office, which is still under the control of the Prime Minister, MacDonald, did not refrain from making use of such a white-guardist forgery.”

 

Bugger, secret service spies are “weirdos who have created a completely mad version of the world that they then impose on the rest of us.” Adam Curtis

Sounds like a very Conservative mindset to me. I think that it’s a fairly safe and balanced conclusion that the Intelligence Services lack diversity, with a strong tendency to recruit staunch establishmentarians.

Again, the Zinoviev letter is by no means the only attempt by the security and intelligence services to destabilised a Labour government.

Peter Wright, a former MI5 officer, showed in Spycatcher, a candid autobiography, how elements in his agency worked against the Wilson government in the 1970s.

Despite the Thatcher government’s attempts to prevent publication, the book gained worldwide attention. MI5’s own archives have shown there was a “permanent file” on the Labour leader throughout his time in office. He is the only serving prime minister to have a permanent Secret Service file.

MI5 opened the dossier in 1945 when Mr Wilson became an MP after communist civil servants suggested he had similar “political sympathies.”

His file was so secret that he was given the pseudonym Norman John Worthington.

Sir Michael Hanley, MI5 director general from 1972, went to even greater lengths to conceal its existence by removing it from the central index, meaning any search would result in a “no trace.”

Personal permission from Sir Michael was required to access it.

This is backed up by corroborating interviews with senior figures at the time.

These events unfolded at a time when the establishment, from the intelligence services down to parts of Fleet Street, were paranoid about the “threat of communism.” So paranoid it seems, they were prepared to believe a prime minister of Britain was an active Soviet spy.

At a time of continuing Cold War tensions, industrial unrest was rife, the country had suffered power cuts and a three-day working week and in 1975 the government was being warned privately that the consequences would be severe if it could not curb inflation.

Whilst some on the hard left believed revolution was imminent, former military figures, angry at the extent of union control, were building private armies, in preparation for the coming conflict, according to the then BBC investigative journalist Barrie Penrose. (Penrose co-authored The Pencourt File with another journalist, Roger Courtiour.)

Meetings with Wilson were secretly recorded in 1976 by both the journalists (Penrose and Courtiour) weeks after his shock departure from Number 10.

“Wilson spoke darkly of two military coups which he said had been planned to overthrow his government in the late 1960s and in the mid 1970s,” Penrose writes.

Wilson told the journalists they “should investigate the forces that are threatening democratic countries like Britain.”

In his book, Peter Wright also tells of a plot to force Wilson’s resignation by MI5 agents who were convinced he was a Communist spy. Wright’s account is often dismissed as an exaggeration, but fresh evidence of plots surfaced in 2006.

Penrose says that witnesses confirm such plotting “wasn’t in the fevered imagination of an embittered ex-PM.”

Writing about the drama documentary The Plot Against Harold Wilson, shown on BBC Two at 21:00 on Thursday 16 March, 2006, Penrose concludes:

“You may ask, at the end of the programme, how much of it can be believed. My view now, as it was then, is that Wilson was right in his fears…. in answer to the question ‘how close did we come to a military government’ I can only say – closer than we’d ever be content to think.”


Harold Wilson, Aneurin Bevan, Ian Mikardo, Tom Driberg and Barbara Castle of the Keep Left Group (1951)


A very British Coup

Chris Mullins, a former Foreign Office minister and author, writes:

“By the time A Very British Coup was published, in 1982, the political climate was even more propitious. Prompted by the imminent arrival of cruise missiles, CND demonstrations were attracting crowds in excess of 200,000. The establishment was getting so twitchy that, as we later learned, Michael Heseltine had set up a special unit in the Ministry of Defence to counter the impact of CND.

The US was getting twitchy too. When A Very British Coup was published I was editor of the political weekly Tribune, and we were selling the book by mail order through the paper. A few days after the first advert appeared we were intrigued to receive an order from the US embassy. We duly dispatched a copy and waited to see what would happen next. We did not have to wait long.

An invitation arrived to lunch with the minister, the most important man at the embassy after the ambassador. He even sent his bullet-proof Cadillac to Tribune’s modest headquarters in Gray’s Inn Road to convey me to his mansion in Kensington.

At first I assumed that I was one of a number of guests, but no: there was just the minister, two of his colleagues, an Asian butler and myself.

“Why are you interested in a minnow like me?” I inquired.

“I reckon,” he drawled, “that you are among the top 1,000 opinion formers in the country.”

“Well, I must be about number 999.”

“The other 999 have been here too.”

A year or two later I received from an anonymous source an envelope posted in Brussels. It contained an internal US state department memorandum addressed to US diplomats in London listing a number of questions they were to put to “authorised contacts” in London regarding the balance of power within the Labour party and opinion regarding the US bases in general and the impending arrival of cruise missiles in particular. Although, in retrospect, we can see they had no cause for concern, there is no doubt that alarm bells were ringing in Washington.

A Very British Coup attracted attention elsewhere too. It was helpfully denounced in the correspondence columns of the Times, and as a result sales in Hatchards of Piccadilly almost matched those at the leftwing bookshop Collets. (When it comes to selling books, a high-profile denunciation is worth half a dozen friendly reviews and I have always done my best to organise one).

Thereafter interest might have faded, but for events conspiring to make it topical. In August 1985 the Observer revealed that an MI5 officer, Brigadier Ronnie Stoneham, was to be found in room 105 at Broadcasting House. His job? Stamping upturned Christmas trees on the personnel files of BBC employees he deemed to be unsuitable for promotion. Students of A Very British Coup will know that my head of MI5, Sir Peregrine Craddock, was also vetting BBC employees. What’s more, he also had a spy on the general council of CND – and in due course the MI5 defector Cathy Massiter revealed that there had indeed been such a spy. His name was Harry Newton.

Finally, in 1987 Peter Wright, a retired MI5 officer, caused a sensation with his claim that he and a group of MI5 colleagues had plotted to undermine the Wilson government. Suddenly the possibility that the British establishment might conspire with its friends across the Atlantic to destabilise the elected government could no longer be dismissed as leftwing paranoia.”

The Enemy Within.

Margaret Thatcher branded Arthur Scargill and the other leaders of the 1984-5 miners’ strike the enemy within. With the publication of Seumas Milne’s bestselling book a decade later, the full irony of that accusation became clear. There was an enemy within. But it was not the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) that was out to subvert liberty. It was the secret services of the British state – operating inside the NUM itself.

Seumas Milne reveals the astonishing lengths to which the government and its intelligence machine were prepared to go to destroy the power of Britain’s miners’ union. Using phoney bank deposits, staged cash drops, forged documents, agents provocateurs and unrelenting surveillance, MI5 and police Special Branch set out to discredit Scargill and other miners’ leaders.

Now we know that the Tory prime minister intended to extend the charge of seditious insurrection, not only to leftwing Labour councils in Liverpool and London resisting cuts in services, but against the Labour party as a whole.

Planted tales of corruption were seized on by the media and both Tory and Labour politicians in what became an unprecedentedly savage smear campaign. This is one of the UK’s most important postwar class confrontations.

Seumas Milne has highlighted the continuing threat posed by the security services to democracy today.

Milne describes the Conservative government’s systematic resort to anti-democratic measures to break the resistance of Britain’s most powerful union: from the use of the police and security services to infiltrate and undermine the miners’ union to the manipulation of the courts and media to discredit and tie the hands of its leaders.

He says:

“A decade after the strike, I called the book I wrote about that secret war against the miners The Enemy Within, because the phrase turned out to have multiple layers of meaning. As the evidence has piled up with each new edition, the charge that Thatcher laid at the door of the National Union of Mineworkers can in fact be seen to fit her own government’s use of the secret state far better.

It wasn’t just the militarised police occupation of the coalfields; the 11,000 arrests, deaths, police assaults, mass jailings and sackings; the roadblocks, fitups and false prosecutions – most infamously at the Orgreave coking plant where an orgy of police violence in June 1984 was followed by a failed attempt to prosecute 95 miners for riot on the basis of false evidence.

It’s that under the prime minister’s guidance, MI5, police Special Branch, GCHQ and the NSA were mobilised not only to spy on the NUM on an industrial scale, but to employ agents provocateurs at the highest level of the union, dirty tricks, slush funds, false allegations, forgeries, phoney cash deposits and multiple secretly sponsored legal actions to break the defence of the mining communities.

In the years since, Thatcher and her former ministers and intelligence mandarins have defended such covert action by insisting the NUM leaders were “subversive” because they wanted to bring down the government. Which of course they did – but “legitimately,” as Scargill remarked recently, by bringing about a general election – as took place in the wake of the successful coal strike of 1974.

In reality, as 50 MPs declared when some of these revelations first surfaced, Thatcher’s government and its security apparatus were themselves guilty of the mass “subversion of democratic liberties”. And, as the large-scale malpractices of police undercover units have driven home in the past couple of years, their successors are still at it today.”

See also:

Wilson, MI5 and the rise of Thatcher – Lobster

Bugger – Adam Curtis

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

Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research – Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman

inconImage courtesy of Robert Livingstone

 


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