Is it ‘a myth’ that the ‘left behind’ have been neglected?

 

Today, Times columnist Clare Foges, a former member of Boris Johnson’s mayoral team and then David Cameron’s speech writer, challenges the narrative that Brexit is down, in large part, to a high-handed and callous establishment’s neglect of the “left behind”, deploring the belief that:

”Those in poor northern constituencies and bleak coastal towns were left trailing in the gold-flecked dust thrown up by the golden chariots that bore the wealthy, the Londoners, the elite onwards — throwing back their heads to laugh heartily and pour some more Bolly down their gullets while failing to give a monkey’s about those in their wake”.

Truly, those in poor northern constituencies and bleak coastal towns were and are left trailing – but the elite do not spend time laughing at them – those people are neglected because they are simply of no interest.

She asserts that the deindustrialised towns have suffered because of globalisation or automation, not because those in government sat on their hands.

But the elite constructed, fostered and continue to be enriched by globalisation and automation – the system which impoverishes many is necessary to their lifestyle. Clare admits that “When you know that you are on the lower rungs of a socio-economic ladder that reaches, at its heights, into the realm of millionaires and sports cars and Maldivian holidays, you may well feel resentful. It must be profoundly demoralising to see swathes of your countrymen and women enjoying seemingly easy success while you struggle”.

She also concedes, “Of course there is serious poverty and inequality in our country, but over the past 20 years in particular governments have tried a thousand different policies to reduce them” but fails to mention the ways – under recent Conservative governments – in which people on low incomes and those in poor health have been harassed, ‘sanctioned’ and deprived of their due allowances, in order to make derisory savings. She adds:

“I don’t deny that the Brexit vote may have been driven in part by resentment. Yet here is the crucial point: just because people have felt cruelly neglected by the powers that be, it doesn’t mean that they actually were . . .  Let us not mistake a failure to revive left-behind areas with wilful neglect. For the most part the much-traduced “establishment” has been well-meaning and hardworking in pursuit of a fairer country.”

Yes, wilful neglect does imply a degree of awareness – the correct term is indifference; ‘left-behind’ people are simply not on the radar of the affluent, preoccupied by “sports cars and Maldivian holidays”. She ends with more burlesque:

“With a more benign and interventionist establishment at the helm, the taxes of rich people could be spread thickly all over the country with no fear that wealth will flee; billions could be borrowed for major infrastructure projects with no damage to our economy; the streets of Grimsby and Oldham would be paved with gold. By giving this impression, we are inviting people to vote for Jeremy Corbyn and his fantasy economics”.

But would those in government circles – who benefit from corporate sinecures, stock exchange speculation and commodity trading – be willing to change the globalised system for one in which government invests in strengthening the economy through regional production and supply chains? Or will they oppose such changes with all their might, to maintain their current privileges?

 

 

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‘Bring back control’ to Brexit donors? Or to representatives of the people?

Today, the Times has published evidence that leading Conservative donors, who spent millions on the Brexit campaign, now believe that Britain may never leave the European Union at all.

This evidence supports Owen Jones’ view of a division in society “between a rapacious elite that has plunged Britain into economic and social crisis on one hand, and a majority that suffers the consequences on the other”.

One named donor was hedge fund manager Crispin Odey, founder of Odey Asset Management and a big financial backer of the campaign to leave the union, who has given more than £870,000 to money to pro-Leave groups, to Conservatives, Ukip and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s North East Somerset constituency in the last general election.

Odey had been betting heavily on a sharp fall in the value of UK government debt in April, according to investor documents seen by the Financial Times.

He revealed yesterday however (in the Times), that he was now betting on the pound to strengthen after Brexit failed, in the expectation that leaving the bloc would hit the UK economy hard.

Jeremy Hosking (below right), a fund manager who donated £1.69 million to the Brexit campaign and has given £375,000 to the Conservatives since 2015, said he was worried that the country would end up with something that was “not a Brexit deal at all”.

Terence Mordaunt, who donated £50,000 to the Brexit campaign and more than £30,000 to the Tories since 2003, said he feared that “we may never get out”.

He said: “I don’t think Theresa May’s deal actually fulfils what was promised in the referendum. It will take a long time and it gives a huge amount of power to Europe in the future. We may never get out.”

Billionaire Peter Hargreaves, who founded the financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown,  gave £3.2 million to the Leave campaign, the second-biggest donation, said: “I have totally given up. I am totally in despair, I don’t think Brexit will happen at all.” 

Government insists that Theresa May’s Brexit deal will give the UK “flexibility”.

Jeremy Corbyn asks:But flexibility for whom?” He suggests: 

  • Flexibility for employers to exploit workers.
  • Flexibility for big corporations to pollute our environment.
  • Flexibility for multinational giants to undercut our neighbours and drive down standards everywhere.

In the Financial Times, lawyer David Allen Green points out some of government‘s actual or planned ‘constitutional trespasses’ over the past three or so years:

  • Theresa May’s government prolonged the current parliamentary session over two years, to avoid a Queen’s Speech on which they could lose a vote.
  • The government packed the standing committees (which scrutinise legislation) with Conservative majorities by procedural sleight of hand.
  • A secretary of state repeatedly misled the House and its committees over the extent and existence of Brexit sector analyses reports.
  • The government deliberately broke the Commons’ “pairing” convention when an opposition MP was on maternity leave so that the government could win a vote.
  • The government committed itself to billions of pounds of public expenditure in a blatant bribe to the Democratic Unionist party for support.
  • The government repeatedly seeks to circumvent or abuse the Sewel convention in its dealings with the devolved administrations.
  • The government seeks to legislate for staggeringly wider “Henry VIII powers” so that it can legislate and even repeal Acts without any recourse to parliament.
  • The government sought to make the Article 50 notification without any parliamentary approval and forced the litigation to go all the way to the Supreme Court (where it lost).
  • The government employed three QCs to oppose the litigation on whether Article 50 could be revoked unilaterally (which it also lost).
  • This government became the first administration in parliamentary history to be held in contempt of parliament following its refusal to publish the full Brexit legal advice issued by the Attorney General.

He ends: “Mr Bercow did more in allowing that vote to “bring back control” than any single leave-supporting MP has done since the referendum. The press should be celebrating that an over-mighty executive was halted and that the people’s representatives got to have their say”.

 

 

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Will government stand by its pledge to wind down coal-fired power generation?

Government has pledged that all UK coal-fired power generation must end by 2025 and it accounted for less than 7% of UK power generation last year. That helped to push down UK carbon emissions to levels last seen in 1890 and to cut greenhouse gases faster than most other developed economies.  

It is startling – in view of the government’s pledge – to learn that coal is still being imported from Russia, Colombia and the United States. GEGB engineers in the 70s complained about the imports of inefficient ‘dirty’ coal from Eastern Europe whilst good quality British coal was being stockpiled.

Muir Dean – one of many open cast mines closed in 2016 

It is even more startling to read that a local coal mining company, Banks Group, which mothballed its Rusha mine in Scotland early because it couldn’t get a good enough price, has applied to extract coal from land behind the sand dunes of Druridge Bay (below). The social, economic and environmental objections received were deemed ‘insignificant’ by Justice Ouseley in the High Court.

The planning application submitted by Banks Group was approved by Northumberland County Council in July 2016. In September the plans were put on hold subject to a government inquiry. In March 2018, the proposal was rejected by the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, citing among other environmental reasons the “very considerable negative impact” the opencasting would have on greenhouse gas emissions and on climate change, as well as on landscape and heritage assets.

The high court over-ruled Sajid Javid’s decision in November and James Brokenshire, the minister for communities and local government, is to re-examine the application.

Gavin Styles, managing director of Banks, had described Mr Javid’s decision as perverse and political: “the government . . . has now demonstrated that it would prefer to source the coal that is essential for a variety of important industries across the UK from Russia or the US, rather than support substantial investment and job creation plans in our region.”

Anne Harris of Coal Action Network, which is fighting Banks’s plans across the north-east, said: “If James Brokenshire approves this scheme at Highthorn, he’s showing the government has no intention of meaningfully following through on the 2025 coal phase-out. It would mean the concerns and opposition of people in the area are being ignored for a coal company that’s trying to grab resources and run.”

All sides have submitted their case to Brokenshire, who will begin his deliberations on Friday.

 

 

 

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Rail passengers need – above all – reliable train services

. . . which are not delayed, cancelled or prematurely terminated

Rail union leaders, politicians and passengers are demonstrating today outside stations including London King’s Cross, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, Norwich and Birmingham as rail fares for the country’s unreliable rail service increase. It is reported that rail fares will increase by an average of 3.1% today, despite punctuality falling to a 13-year low.

The Labour Party is calling for prices to be frozen on the worst-performing routes

Widely quoted Labour research findings are that fares have risen nearly three times faster than wages. Examples of changes to annual season ticket prices include:

:: Brighton → London increasing £148 to £4,844
:: Gloucester → Birmingham increasing £130 to £4,238
:: Manchester → Liverpool increasing £100 to £3,252

Analysis by the Press Association – source not given – has shown that one in seven trains was delayed by at least five minutes in 2018 – the worst performance since September 2005. As Wolmar wrote in August, “Barely a day goes by without another nightmare rail tale . . .” – many relating to scheduled services cancelled by Northern Rail because of disruptions to the ‘new’ timetable introduced in May.

New Year cheer: new carriages and wifi – but no reference to reliability & affordability,

On Radio 4’s Today programme, transport minister Chris Grayling cheerfully promised passengers new trains with more seats, improved accessibility, mobile phone charging points, wifi and air conditioning. The Rail Delivery Group is calling this the “biggest introduction of new trains in decades”. Between now and 2021, 7,000 new vehicles will be introduced by train companies.

Critics of nationalisation should be reminded that Britain’s railways are already state owned

  • Germany’s Deutsche Bahn owns Arriva, operates Chiltern, Cross Country, Wales & Borders, London Overground and Grand Central.
  • Italy’s Trenitalianow runs Essex Thameside
  • French state firm SNCF owns Keolis, which runs numerous franchises in joint ventures. As part of Govia, with Go-Ahead, it operates Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, Southeastern and London Midland; with Amey it runs the Docklands Light Railway.
  • Dutch state rail owns Abellio, wruns ScotRail and Greater Anglia, and Merseyrail.
  • China Hong Kong state owns MTR, which holds the South West Trains franchise with First. MTR will also run Crossrail.
  • Eurostar is owned by France’s SCNF.
  • Heathrow Express is owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, with some investment from ADI Finance 2 Ltd – directors from Spain, Qatar, USA & UK.k

And even right-wing newspapers who had supported the privatisation of rail now regularly report the dramatic failures of the current system.

 

 

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Surprised? Rich and poor in England receive different levels of service from the NHS

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Frequently reported differences in health outcomes are generally ascribed to factors beyond the control of the health service, such as unhealthy lifestyles or poor living conditions. However, research has disclosed that there is a difference in the level of service received by poorer communities.

Though the NHS’s funding formula is designed to provide more money to the neediest areas, an FT article reported last week that – according to data analysed by the Nuffield Trust for the Financial Timessome poorer communities being “left behind” when accessing GP services.

Sarah Neville, Global Pharmaceuticals Editor, summarising the data, reports that rich and poor people in England receive different standards of care from the UK’s universal free health service.

Despite the higher burden of ill health in lower socio-economic groups, there are markedly fewer GPs per head in poorer areas of England than in richer areas

There was an average of 1,869 patients on GP lists for each doctor in the most affluent clinical commissioning groups, compared with 2,125 in the most deprived, according to Nuffield researchers. One in seven people in the poorest areas was unable to get a GP appointment, compared with one in 10 in the richest areas.

As GPs act as the crucial “gatekeeper” to other health services, a delay in seeing a doctor can lead to delays in securing other appropriate treatment. Emergency admissions were nearly 30% higher in the most deprived fifth of CCGs, compared with the least deprived fifth, which could point to delays in securing — or seeking — the right treatment. (See references to Sandwell here)

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said that the new analysis showed there were “concerning discrepancies between the standards of care rich and poor receive from some NHS services”.

NHS England, “more medical treatment isn’t by itself the only answer”:

“ (T)he NHS long-term plan will be setting out new action to tackle inequalities including in access to primary care. But with the root cause of ill health lying in factors such as diet, smoking and exercise, income security, housing, air pollution and social connection, more medical treatment isn’t by itself the only answer.”

Ms Neville concludes that the findings raise questions about how well the 70-year-old National Health Service is meeting its founding principles of equity. They increase pressure on the NHS to outline plans to reduce health inequalities when it publishes its long-awaited spending plan next month.

 

 

“The world’s economy can and must deliver for the common good and the majority of its people”

A year ago, Colin Hines and Jonathon Porritt challenged the “permanent propping up of whole sectors of our economy as a direct result of our failure to train people properly here in the UK”.

They called for the training of enough IT experts, doctors, nurses and carers from our own population to “prevent the shameful theft of such vital staff from the poorer countries which originally paid for their education”.

Mass migration from developing countries deprives those places of the young, enterprising, dynamic citizens they desperately need at home

Dependence on the free movement of peoples as practised in the UK is the opposite of internationalism, since it implies that we will continue to employ workers from other countries in agriculture and service industries and steal doctors, nurses, IT experts etc from poorer countries, rather than train enough of our own.

Many individuals who migrate have experienced multiple stresses that can impact their mental well-being

Professor Dinesh Bhugrah is an authority on the stresses of migration.  Years of research have revealed that the rates of mental illness are increased in some migrant groups. Stresses include the loss of the familiar, including language (especially colloquial and dialect), attitudes, values, loss of cultural norms, religious customs, social structures and support networks.

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Porritt and Hines advocate like former Chancellor Merkel a redoubling of our commitments to improve people’s economic and social prospects in their own countries, tackling the root causes of why people feel they have no choice but to leave family, friends and communities in the first place. 

They advocate the replacement of the so-called free market with an emphasis on rebuilding local economies . . . dramatically lessening the need for people to emigrate in the first case. Hines gives a route to localization in his classic: Localization: a global manifesto, pages 63-67.

The seven basic steps to be introduced, over a suitable transition period are:

  • Reintroduction of protective safeguards for domestic economies (tariffs, quotas etc);
  • a site-here-to-sell-here policy for manufacturing and services domestically or regionally;
  • localising money so that the majority stays within its place of origin;
  • enforcing a local competition policy to eliminate monopolies from the more protected economies;
  • introduction of resource taxes to increase environmental improve­ments and help fund the transition to Protect the Local, Globally;
  • increased democratic involvement both politically and economi­cally to ensure the effectiveness and equity of the movement to more diverse local economies;
  • reorientation of the end goals of aid and trade rules so that they contribute to the rebuilding of local economies and local control, particularly through the global transfer of relevant information and technology.

Since that book was written, a gifted group of people set out the Green New Deal which – though aimed initially at transforming the British economy – is valid for all countries and most urgently needed in the poorest countries from which people feel impelled to emigrate.

Funded by fairer taxes, savings, government expenditure and if necessary green quantitative easing, it addresses the need to develop ‘green energy’ and ‘energy-proofing’ buildings, creating new jobs, a reliable energy supply and slowing down the rate of climate change.

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Likeminded advocates 

Senator Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest person ever to be elected in Congress, now advocate a Green New Deal in the US.

Professor John Roberts, in one of the newsletters posted on http://www.jrmundialist.org/ says: “Increasingly my thoughts return to the overwhelming need for all of us to think (and then act) as world citizens, conscious of a primary loyalty not to our local nationalism but to the human race (however confused and divided) as a whole”.

Jonathon Porritt quotes Alistair Sawday: “I remembered that the skills and the policies to reverse the damage are there; it is a matter of will – and of all of us waking up.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, which has developed the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to transform our world,, urges all to work to “…Narrow the gaps. Bridge the divides. Rebuild trust by bringing people together around common goals. Unity is our path. Our future depends on it.” –

Jeremy Corbyn addressed the General Assembly at the United Nations Geneva headquarters last year. He concluded:

“The world’s economy can and must deliver for the common good and the majority of its people. . . But let us be clear: the long-term answer is genuine international cooperation based on human rights, which confronts the root causes of conflict, persecution and inequality . . . The world demands the UN Security Council responds, becomes more representative and plays the role it was set up to on peace and security. We can live in a more peaceful world. The desire to help create a better life for all burns within us. Governments, civil society, social movements and international organisations can all help realise that goal. We need to redouble our efforts to create a global rules based system that applies to all and works for the many, not the few.

“With solidarity, calm leadership and cooperation we can build a new social and economic system with human rights and justice at its core, deliver climate justice and a better way to live together on this planet, recognise the humanity of refugees and offer them a place of safety. Work for peace, security and understanding. The survival of our common humanity requires nothing less”.

 

 

 

 

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Deliberately down-played? Belatedly, MSM publishes limited accounts of a government-funded thinktank’s dubious activities

On the 2nd December the Daily Record revealed that Gateshead Mills in Fife, which ‘presents’ as a small ‘design and creativity charity’ operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife, has been revealed in leaked documents passed to the Sunday Mail – the sister paper of the Daily Record – as the base for The Institute for Statecraft, whose Integrity Initiative is run by military intelligence specialists and receives £2million from the Foreign Office.

Spokesman Stephen Dalziel said: “It (the IFS) was set up 14 years ago and the Integrity Initiative programme was started three years ago to look at disinformation and malign influence on democratic societies and it just so happens it’s the Russians who are doing most of that at the moment . . .  What we have done is to set up this network across Europe of people who understand what the problem is”.

The Integrity Initiative claims to have built a network of networks of people who operate to counter Russia’s ‘disinformation’. The UK cluster has staff from the Institute for Statecraft, people representing hedge fund interests, think tanks like DEMOS, RUSI, Henry Jackson Society, European Council on Foreign Relations, and Chatham House, as well as from the Ministry of Defence (including EU Joint Headquarters at Northwood), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and several journalists.

The link to the Daily Record article is no longer accessible but one dated a week later – and far less revealing – may be read here. Another article, first seen in NY Herald Tribune, reproduced with permission from the UK Column, presents a fully illustrated and even more revealing  information and – to date – its link works.  

Back to the currently inaccessible Daily Record. The leaks detail Government grant applications and the Foreign Office has now confirmed that they provided substantial funding to the Integrity Initiative. In response to a parliamentary question, Europe Minister Alan Duncan said: “In financial year 2017-18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500. This financial year, the FCO are funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.” A Foreign & Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “The Integrity Initiative is a programme already in the public domain. Our funding helps ensure it can continue producing important work to counter disinformation and other malign influence.”

The investigation has found evidence that the programme’s official Twitter account has been used to attack Corbyn, his strategy and communications director Seumas Milne, the Labour Party and its officials.

Further leaked documents appear to indicate that the Integrity Initiative’s “Spanish cluster” swung into action on hearing that Pedro Banos was to be appointed director of the national security department. The papers detail how the Integrity Initiative alerted “key influencers” around Europe who launched an online campaign against the politician.

The manager of the Integrity Initiative ‘appears to be’ Christopher Donnelly.

A website biography states that he is a reserve officer in the British Army Intelligence Corps who previously headed the British Army’s Soviet Studies Research Centre at Sandhurst. Between 1989 and 2003, he was a special adviser to NATO Secretaries General and was involved in dealing with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and reform of newly emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. He left NATO in 2003 to set up and run the UK Defence Academy’s Advanced Research and Assessment Group. In 2010, he became a director of IFS.

UK column adds many other staff names, including that of the active Andy Pryce.

Pryce had been making statements to the press about Russia (well worth reading in the light of this article), where he was described as ‘Head of Counter Disinformation and Media Development’ at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in September 2017. He is said to have taken part in:

UK column journalist Mike Robinson made a FOI request for more information but this was refused on the basis of ‘national security’ – though he noted that the Freedom of Information act says that national security can only be used as grounds for refusal where intelligence services are involved. The FCO’s response is now under investigation by the Information Commissioner.

Some will want to read more about the Integrity Initiative, which appears to be acting in the way that western governments and media claim Russia is doing.

The UK Column adds other staff names, including:

  • Ben Bradshaw MP, who has been promoting an anti-Russian outlook, including claiming that Russia “interfered” with the Brexit referendum,
  • Sir Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia, and one of the founders of Orbis Business Intelligence, the privatised British intelligence operation which features Christopher Steele, the author of the Trump ‘dodgy dossier’ and
  • Oliver McTernan, a former Senior Adviser at the Club of Madrid and a Visiting Fellow, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University. In 2002, he initiated and participated in the first official high-level post conflict talks between NATO and the government in Belgrade. For 25 years he was Executive Committee Member, Pax Christi International, responsible for the movement’s East-West Dialogue programme during the Soviet period. He is the founder and a director of the St Sergius Trust Fund based in London and Moscow, and was earlier a Roman Catholic priest based in the diocese of Westminster.

David Miller, noted professor of Political Sociology in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, says that serious questions need to be answered:  

“It seems extraordinary that the Foreign Office would be funding a Scottish charity to counter Russian propaganda which, for example, ends up soft-pedalling far-right politicians in the Ukraine because they happen to oppose Putin. It must raise questions with OSCR, the Scottish charity regulator, about breaching charitable rules. It would appear this organisation could have received almost £2million from the FCO, so people have a right to know what’s happening with their money.”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay added: “It would appear that we have a charity registered in Scotland and overseen by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator that is funded by the UK Government and is spewing out political attacks on UK politicians, the Labour Party and the Labour movement. Such clear political attacks and propaganda shouldn’t be coming from any charity. We need to know why the Foreign Office have been funding it.”

 

 

 

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Rewards for failure 34: accountancy firm KPMG


Despite the blow to its reputation from the collapse of its major audit client Carillion in January, the FT reported yesterday that accountancy firm KPMG’s revenues in the UK are rising at their fastest rate for a decade. Its sternly criticised auditing of Carillion is not the only ‘reputational setback’ in the UK and overseas over the past 18 months:

  • In South Africa, it has lost audit clients and faced serious criticism over its work for the billionaire Gupta family over the past two decades.
  • It has also become embroiled in a scandal in the US after it emerged the firm was tipped off about forthcoming regulatory inspections by staff it had hired from the US accounting watchdog.
  • Meanwhile the UK accounting regulator has launched two investigations of KPMG’s work this year, including its audit of outsourcer Carillion
  • and of Conviviality, the drinks supplier.

The Financial Reporting Council is also investigating KPMG’s work for:

  • car manufacturer Rolls-Royce;
  • mattress firm Silent Night;
  • US financial services group BNY Mellon;
  • the Co-operative Bank;
  • and insurer Equity Syndicate Management.

In the face of these investigations, it is amazing to read in the FT report today that KPMG has just been appointed to investigate the delays and cost increases on the Crossrail scheme.

 

 

 

 

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Gove ‘pledges’ cheaper, unlabelled, gene-edited food in his Brave New World

At a time when apprehensions about low-quality food entering the country post Brexit are rising, the Times reports that Michael Gove, the environment secretary has announced that “Britain will lead an agricultural revolution with the use of gene editing”.

In July, after hearing scientific evidence that gene editing “causes many profound mutations and DNA damage”, the European Court of Justice ruled that food resulting from genome editing would be regarded as genetically modified, which is outlawed in Europe.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is underwhelmed

Disregarding this science-based evidence, Gove pledged, at yesterday’s CLA meeting in Westminster, that scientists and farmers would be freed from this European court ruling. The first report seen however, makes no reference to this exciting prospect, whatsoever.

Genome editing, or genome engineering is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted, modified or replaced in a specific location in the genome (genetic material) of a living organism, unlike early genetic engineering techniques that randomly insert genetic material into a host genome.

Support from vested interests

Scientists in the industry, like the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, funded by the government’s Department of Business believe that the technique will lead to crops and animals with higher yields, resistance to disease and the ability to cope with the effects of climate change.

Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association, urged the government to keep the UK aligned with the European court: “Scientific research has long shown that these new gene-editing technologies give rise to similar uncertainties and risks as GM always has. We have always been clear that these new plant breeding techniques are GMOs [genetically modified organisms] and therefore are banned in organic farming and food”.

Bloomberg reports that under the Trump administration, gene-edited foods don’t need to be labelled or regulated and that Zach Luttrell, a principal at industry consultant StraightRow LLC, sees gene-editing as a way to continue lowering costs. 

 

 

 

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Public trust has plunged in recent years as corruption plagues politics

A recent Telegraph investigation (paywall) revealed that senior MPs and peers, including many ministers, have given access to Parliament to spouses involved in lobbying for companies and campaign groups. Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and Sir Kevin Barron, the chairman of the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee (Telegraph, ‘sleaze watchdog’, are among 900 parliamentarians whose partners hold “spouse passes” entitling them to around-the-clock access to the Palace of Westminster despite their work for organisations that lobby MPs and ministers over policies and funding.

Transparency International UK (UKTI) has published a policy paper on politics and report on the Revolving Door.

They note that in recent years politics in the UK has been plagued by corruption scandals and public trust in politicians is plunging.

These scandals have exposed serious fault lines in the UK political system, and have raised particular concerns over the following:

  • The regime for parliamentary expenses
  • Lobbying of politicians by those who can apparently buy access that influences legislation spending priorities or policy decisions;
  • The revolving door between government and resources-resources-business;
  • Political party funding; and
  • Oversight regimes.

They explain that the problem lies when it happens behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny. It can lead politicians in office to steer away from good government. Their decisions can benefit those who fund them. The public interest comes second. Special interests, backed by money, may sway decision-making and undermine democracy.

Opaque lobbying practices backed up by extensive funds at the disposal of interest groups can lead to undue, unfair influence in policies – creating risks for political corruption and undermining public trust in decision-making institutions. We can attribute this factor, in part, to the crisis of confidence in politics we have seen unravel in the UK in recent years, resulting in apathy and low voter turnouts.

TI-UK believes regulation needs to address both those who seek to influence inappropriately and those who are being lobbied:

  • Money should not be a distorting factor in forming policy or gaining access to decision makers.
  • Lobbying on any particular issue or decision should be visible and have an audit trail.

Such information should be presented in a manner that is accessible and comparable for the public, media and civil society to scrutinise.

The report on UK corruption by TI-UK revealed that the British public perceive political parties to be the most corrupt sector in the UK and parliament to be the third most corrupt. It concludes there is a danger that the public will cease to regard decisions made by government and parliament as legitimate and fair; this represents a serious threat to British democracy and ultimately, to the rule of law.

 

 

 

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