Lobbying 48: new MP taken aback by lobbying pressure

Source: Ars Notoria, ‘Wilderness years for the Labour Left’, by Paul Halas* (extracts & an added passage from the Coventry Telegraph)

When she first entered Parliament last year, the MP for Coventry South, Zarah Sultana, was taken aback by the volume of lobbying pressure she was immediately subjected to. This included gifts: a food hamper from Heathrow, alongside a letter setting out the benefits of a third runway at the airport, a gift box from Google, a gift box from Sky and beer from a brewery.

She spoke in a parliamentary debate on tax avoidance on the issue this week, criticising what she sees as efforts by big business to lobby MPs and “buy influence”, ending:

“The super-rich do not spend their money on MPs out of generosity and out of the goodness of their hearts – they want something in return. Let us be honest: this wealth is used to buy influence in this House; to get this place to serve their interests and not the interests of our constituents.”

Paul comments that a few hampers from transport groups and Heathrow Airport are small beer, but of course they’re only opening gambits in a much bigger game and the tiny tip of a vast and for the most part utterly amoral iceberg.

The corporate sector has always tried to buy influence and favours from politicians, and of course it usually succeeds. If it didn’t, hundreds of potential lobbyists would’ve had to find more wholesome employment. The usual procedure is to reward politicians – from all parties – for services rendered with cushy, highly paid non-executive directorships or “consultant” roles in high power corporations as soon as they step down from their political roles. All done very discreetly, nudge nudge, wink wink, that’s the way of the world.

The piranhas lie in wait

That has always been the way in politics, so commonplace that apart from the occasional outburst of pique the public is pretty accepting that it’s normal procedure. What is not appreciated, however, is the extent to which elements from “the Establishment”, or the “dark state” – whatever one wants call them – hold influence over the political process.

Little by little it’s becoming obvious that the political process is not only no longer being controlled by democratic means, in fact it’s no longer following its own rules. The Judiciary is losing its independence, the Civil Service is in the hands of a right-wing cabal and Parliament, already the plaything of a supine, talentless Tory Cabinet, is increasingly bypassed and made irrelevant. This has not come about by accident; it’s a process that has been taking place over decades.

Who is the “Establishment”? Who are the shady figures that pull the strings of our political and economic system?

They are a chosen few political grandees from past and present, from all parties. They are media tycoons, top civil servants, they are lords and ladies, minor royalty, top civil servants, bankers, hedge fund managers, industrialists, an oligarchy of powerful influential people who don’t want us to know what they’re doing. They come from the UK, from the USA, from Canada, from elsewhere in Europe, from the wider world of capitalism. They are a network of organisations and think-tanks that exist to covertly promote and propagate a worldwide neoliberal consensus which guarantees an ever-increasing concentration of power and wealth.

This tangle of highly influential groups is truly international and embedded in the politics and economics of several countries.

They don’t just lobby, they set the agenda. They pay little heed to the need for sustainability or equality, because the dogma central to their existence doesn’t recognise that the planet has limited resources and populations have breaking points. This runaway neoliberal monster has no moderator.

In amongst all Sir Keir Starmer’s ties with the establishment I’ll mention just one.

He’s a member of the Trilateral Commission. It’s so important it should be mentioned again and again. This select group was founded in 1972 by David Rockefeller and exists to promote establishment hegemony worldwide. It wields great power. That a Labour Party leader is part of such organisation should be unthinkable.

For the past half century the UK has oscillated between Labour and the Conservatives, with neither proving too much of a threat to the Establishment, or Dark State, or whatever one wants to call these charmers. Meanwhile the influence of Parliament has been diminished, the state has been shrunk, the Judiciary diminished and traduced, social services and the health service ravaged and inequality has grown ever greater. Power has never been further from the people. And all the while the majority of the population have been convinced to look elsewhere for people to blame for their increasingly restricted and impoverished lives.

The one fly in the establishment ointment was Jeremy Corbyn. Under his watch we were promised a government that would roll back the neoliberal tide. That would put a cap on corporate greed and reverse inequality. No wonder he had to go. He nearly made it in 2017; the Establishment was going to make bloody sure there would be no repeat of the fright it had been given.

Paul hopes that the Labour Party will be able to emerge from the wilderness = and another leader who’s unafraid to confront the Establishment would be a boon. He ends: “Could Zarah Sultana be the answer?”

Paul Halas is a writer of Jewish heritage whose escape from 1970s hippidom was the discovery that he could invent stories. He spent forty years contributing to various Disney magazines and books, as well as a variety of non-Disney comics, books and animated films. His retirement from commercial writing coincided with Jeremy Corbyn becoming the Labour Party leader. He is a self-described Corbynista. As a result he has been a Labour activist for the past five years – and most of his current writing is political. He is currently hoping to find something funny to write about.

 

 

 

 

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Government subsidies and advice for farmers? Or simply legislation ensuring a fair price?

Judith Evans reports in the Financial Times that Downing Street is concerned about the potential for struggling farms to be pushed into bankruptcy, according to one person briefed on the situation.

Research from Defra showed that subsidies make up 61 per cent of profit for the average English farm, while almost one-fifth of farms would be unable to meet production costs without subsidy payments, once depreciation is taken into account. Based on 85,000 farms that claim EU-style payments in England, this amounts to 16,150 farms unable to make ends meet.

A spokesperson for Defra said: “As we phase out direct payments ahead of the full rollout [of the new scheme] in 2024, we will offer financial assistance to help farmers prepare, and invest in ways to improve their productivity and manage the environment sustainably.”

Farmers view with foreboding the administrative burden of multiple new systems which have often led to delays to pay-outs such as those which dogged the Countryside Stewardship scheme.

 

 

 

 

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Civil Service 1: Britain’s failures have been ‘collective, multilayered, and deadly’

There have been several critical references of late to the work of the British civil service*, though one correspondent wrote firmly, “It’s the civil service that keeps the country running!”

An excoriating article by the London correspondent of The Atlantic points out: “Britain has the worst overall COVID-19 death toll in Europe, with more than 46,000 dead according to official figures, while also suffering the Continent’s second-worst “excess death” tally per capita, more than double that in France and eight times higher than Germany’s”. Specifically:

  • It did not protect its oldest and most vulnerable, who died in nursing homes in appalling numbers.
  • It allowed the disease to spread throughout the country rather than isolating it in one area.
  • It failed to close its borders in good time,
  • abandoned contact tracing too early,
  • set targets that were missed,
  • designed government programs that didn’t work,
  • and somehow contrived to let the three most senior figures overseeing its pandemic response, including the prime minister, catch the very virus they were fighting.

“Now it faces the worst recession of any developed country, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and is once again taking a gamble by easing its lockdown at a relatively early stage”. The author Tom McTague (right), a London-based staff writer at The Atlantic, continues:

“Yet this was not simply an issue of political leadership, inept or otherwise. Even if the prime minister did make serious mistakes, the country’s issues run far deeper.

“The British government as a whole made poorer decisions, based on poorer advice, founded on poorer evidence, supplied by poorer testing”.

The inevitable consequence was that it achieved poorer results than almost any of its peers. It failed in its preparation, its diagnosis, and its treatment”.

McTague points out that it is not just in the ‘big calls’ that Johnson, his scientific advisers and the system were found wanting, but in day-to-day governance as well: the ability to get children back to school, open restaurants, protect the economy, and roll out a working contact-tracing system. He adds:

“As prime minister, Johnson must accept that Britain’s failures are his as well. Still, the difficult truth is that the country’s failures clearly go beyond Johnson. They were collective, multilayered, and deadly. The most difficult question about all this is also the simplest: Why?”

To try to answer that question, McTague spoke with leading politicians, three scientific experts. half a dozen influential officials working in Downing Street and the NHS; and specialists associated with the government’s response, including professors of epidemiology, mathematics, history, and psychology but only Ian Boyd, a professor of biology and member of SAGE (left), was willing to speak on record.

A picture of a country with systemic weaknesses, a poorly governed and fragile country, emerged from these conversations. Britain believed it was stronger than it was and is now paying the price for failures (listed in McTague’s 15 page article) that have built up for years

He examined the government’s handling of the Covid epidemic in detail, comparing it with the response of Asian countries and the performance of other European governments, concluding that the system was hardwired for a crisis that did not come, and could not adapt quickly enough to the one that did:

“Institutional weaknesses of state capacity and advice were not corrected by political judgment, and political weaknesses were not corrected by institutional strength”

After a review of the condition of the NHS (“an engine of bewildering complexity, whose lines of responsibility, control, and accountability are unintelligible to voters and even to most politicians”) and a reference to the Nightingale Hospitals he continued:

“In effect, Britain was rigorously building capacity to help the NHS cope, but releasing potentially infected elderly, and vulnerable, patients in the process. By late June, more than 19,000 people had died in care homes from COVID-19. Separate excess-death data suggest that the figure may be considerably higher. According to a report by the International Long-Term Care Policy Network, a London-based research body, Britain has recorded more deaths from COVID-19 as a percentage of its nursing-home population than any other country in Europe, apart from Spain”.

Professor Boyd (left) summarises: “The reality is, there has been a major systemic failure . . . We need a complete revamp of our government structure because it’s not fit for purpose anymore . . . its problems run far deeper than whichever crop of politicians is in charge.

“The really important question is whether the state, in its current form, is structurally capable of delivering on the big-picture items that are coming, whether pandemics or climate change or anything else.”# 

*Wikipedia says that the civil service is a sector of government composed mainly of career bureaucrats hired on professional merit rather than appointed or elected, whose institutional tenure typically survives transitions of political leadership. A civil servant is employed by a government department or agency and answers to the government, not a political party. Workers in QUANGOs may also be classed as civil servants for the purpose of statistics and possibly for their terms and conditions.

 

 

 

 

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Civil service 2: Should the functions of quangos pass to local authorities?

The UK’s coalition government announced the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ in 2011

Hundreds of publicly funded government agencies were to disappear, improving accountability and reducing costs.  The Hansard Society reported in 2017, however, that in the five years since the Public Bodies Act came into effect, ‘the proposed bonfire of the quangos has failed to ignite’.

In fact, according to a National Audit Office report from March 2014, 285 public bodies were abolished, apparently saving over £2.6bn, but 184 new organisations were created at the same time, 66 of whom are companies in which the government owns some or all of the shares.

A ‘shake-up of top jobs’ across the civil service, overseen by Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove was reported in June

Recent departures include those of Sir Mark Sedwill, cabinet secretary, head of the civil service and national security adviser, Sir Philip Rutnam, a former permanent secretary at the Home Office and Sir Simon McDonald, the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office.

These arm’s-length bodies become closed little worlds, invested with great power, hard to hold to account, fiercely unwilling to take blame

In a recent article, former MEP Daniel Hannan recaps:

Clandestine migrants from France are able to enter the country without fear of deportation, but tourists making the same journey are subjected to two weeks of house arrest. Play by the rules, fill out the forms correctly and give your real name, and the system will pursue you. Break into the country illicitly and you’ll eventually be given leave to remain. Is this deliberate policy? Of course not. Every Home Secretary, Labour and Conservative, has sought to toughen our border controls . . .

“Our exams are run by Ofqual. (“Keep the politicians out of the picture!”) Our healthcare system is removed from political oversight. (“Hands off our NHS!”) Our epidemic preparedness is left to Public Health England. (“Listen to the experts!”)”

Charles Moore cites NHS England as being ‘the most glaring example of responsibility swerved’: “It employs 1.2 million people, making it the largest public-sector employer in Europe. Its chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, is accountable for more than £120 billion of annual spending. Yet he has been almost invisible to the public since Covid-19 hit the fan. We have little idea whether he did right or wrong. We have to listen to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, instead”

Hannan continues: “How, then, did we react when these public bodies got it wrong”?

  • Did we pursue Ofqual, with its armies of directors, strategists and press officers, over the failure of its exam algorithms?
  • Did we complain about the NHS’s calamitous decision to send unscreened patients into care homes in readiness for a tidal wave that never came?
  • Did we demand to know why, as late as March, PHE was still mainly fretting about unhealthy meals?

Of course not. With a neat mental sidestep, we suddenly called these agencies “the government” and directed our rage at the politicians.

Hannan ends: “Tthe pandemic has highlighted the need to overhaul the government machine; it is now an urgent national priority.

“Almost every minister who has struggled through the past six months now grasps what has gone wrong. self-appointed and self-sustaining, quangos pursue their own priorities even when they flatly contradict the Cabinet’s stated objectives, but that then proves useless when called on to discharge its designated functions.

He proposes that, where possible, the functions of quangos should pass, not to MPs, but to local authorities. Let county and metropolitan authorities raise the bulk of their own revenue. Let them reassume primary responsibility for the relief of poverty. Let them – or perhaps the elected police commissioners – set local sentencing guidelines. Give residents a direct say through local referendums.

 

 

 

 

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Civil service 3: Are Whitehall mandarins ‘woke Sir Humphreys’?

A ‘shake-up of top jobs’ across the civil service, overseen by Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove was reported in June

Recent departures include those of Sir Mark Sedwill, cabinet secretary, head of the civil service and national security adviser, Sir Philip Rutnam, a former permanent secretary at the Home Office and Sir Simon McDonald, the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office.

In theory, government ministers answer to Parliament for their departments and protect them from attack. In return, civil servants make sure that what ministers want gets done. The practice, however, now departs very markedly from the theory, according to Charles Moore.

Too many civil servants have embraced activist causes

It is increasingly common for a department to declare its own view on an issue which goes beyond government policy (and sometimes even contradicts it).

Recently, the Tory peer, Emma Nicholson, alerted by complaints from many parents, began to protest to the Department for Education about its new materials for the Relationship and Sex Education, guidelines which become compulsory next month. Some of these “factsheets”, promoted by lobby groups with the help of departmental money, advise schools that they must, in the interest of transgender rights, institute mixed-sex lavatories. Breast binders, padded trousers, puberty blockers, cross hormones and surgery are all advocated.

The Trans Inclusion Toolkit being pushed to schools, Moore continues, sounds as if it does the job all too literally. The hard-to-believe detail of some of its material described by him is not reproduced here.

Another document for schools – an “inclusive package for ALL young people” – is  by the Proud Trust, an LGBT organisation and backed with money from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport,

“What due diligence have they done on the organisation Black Lives Matter?” asks Moore. “It is a lazy assumption that, just because of its title, BLM must be right, and that taxpayers’ money should be spent in its cause. The mandarins are allowing HR departments to be used as a battering ram for political activism”.

He concludes that these trends suggest that the present Government is right to try to recall the public service to its chief duty, which is to stop striking attitudes and to make policy work. Hence the coming reorganisation of the Cabinet Office, the search for a new Cabinet Secretary and a new head of the Foreign Office – and the quiet but firm moves against all these woke Sir Humphreys.

 

 

 

 

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Civil service 4: shake-up of public administration is no substitute for intelligent and decisive policy choices

A Financial Times editorial states: “Responsibility for mishaps during Mr Johnson’s first year in office has resided primarily in Downing Street, not the wider civil service”.

Summary

The country’s civil service sometimes faces the challenges of the digital age within a framework designed in the 19th century.

The fiasco over exam results, on top of the UK’s poor handling of coronavirus, has revealed how much the machinery of government is creaking.

The FT editorial board sees responsibility for the mistakes behind Britain’s particularly heavy death toll resting above all with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the cabinet. because the big decisions — delaying the lockdown, initially scrapping track and trace procedures, and discharging large numbers of the elderly from hospitals to care homes — belonged to ministers.

They did, however, concede that Whitehall, and the agencies that report to it, were not as adroit as they might have been in managing the virus fight, adding “Mr Johnson’s plans to overhaul the machine should therefore attract support. The civil service needs greater diversity and new skills, and clearer routes between policy formulation and implementation”.

They warn that change needs to come with adequate resources and that reforms should respect the system’s renowned independence and political impartiality.

Mr Johnson is advised by the editorial board to publish a blueprint for his proposed reforms, clearly delineating any new lines of responsibility between the prime minister’s office, the cabinet and the civil service and warned:

“The prime minister cannot afford to rely . . . on a shake-up of public administration as a substitute for intelligent and decisive policy choices . . . With Covid-19 still simmering, the economy in recession and the end of the Brexit transition period only months away, what Britain needs above all else is a consistent display of political competence”.

 

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 26: postcode lottery for people with life-threatening health conditions intensifies

Complaints from Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Middlesex, Berkshire and Wiltshire

Two years ago in its annual report the Care Quality Commission (CQC) reported that patients in England are increasingly being subjected to “care injustice” in which they can access no or poor quality hospital, mental health and social care services. “Some people can easily access good care, while others cannot access the services they need, experience ‘disjointed’ care or only have access to providers with poor services”.

In June cancer care in England faced major disruption during the pandemic with big drops in numbers being seen following urgent referrals by GPs (BBC).

The Times reported in August that the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 has fallen 96% since the peak of the pandemic, according to official data   Hospital staff are now treating just 700 coronavirus patients a day in England, compared to about 17,000 a day during the middle of April, according to NHS England.

Despite this freed capacity, some hospitals which did not have a single coronavirus patient on their wards, have still been refusing admission to patients assessed by their GPs as being in need of urgent attention.

Currently there are alarming letters in the press and interviews with people on radio who have life-threatening health conditions and are being denied appointments or treatment – and many with painful but not life-threatening conditions are not being treated. In September alone . . .

A woman in Rodborough, often in great pain, whose dentist is baffled by her condition, has tried to get a hospital appointment with no success and a man from Lyndhurst also writes: “my dentist cannot give me an appointment to have a very painful tooth with an abscess removed”.

A writer from Melbourn in Hampshire wrote: “I am one of the thousands waiting for surgery – in my case a new knee. To say that I am in agony is no exaggeration, and the pain is not restricted to the knee. The other knee is rapidly going the same way My surgeon, in whom I have the utmost faith, tells me his hands are tied and that it has been decreed that no elective surgery is to be carried out on the over-70s – on safety grounds”. She asks:

“How can a civilised country treat its senior citizens in this way? I was a useful member of the community. Now I am a wretched creature dragging myself around on two sticks, frequently in tears. It cannot be right”.

“What is happening with the NHS?” asks a man from Barton-on-Sea, Hampshire: “Last Tuesday, I spent four hours driving for a face-to-face consultation with an oral surgeon, only to be told that the unit would not be operational for surgery until 2021.

The Health Service Journal reported in April that official figures state 40.9 per cent of acute beds were unoccupied — about four times the normal number.

“The hospital was empty, with staff in scrubs standing about doing nothing. The consultation lasted all of 10 minutes, of which 20 seconds involved a physical examination. The rest of the time, the surgeon was apologising for the unit effectively being shut down.”

After giving details of her experience in France, a Harrow doctor asks: “How are the French managing to provide this level of service while Britain’s GPs are barely functioning?”

A councillor from Streatley, Berkshire, writes, “Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, is deluding himself that the NHS is back in action (Letters, September 5). Are cancer patients, or those waiting for hip replacements, who write letters about delays, and the many patients across the country complaining about half-closed GP surgeries, all making it up?”

“It would appear that the current motto of the NHS is: ‘If it is not the virus, we are not interested.’ How lamentable” writes a man from Chippenham, Wiltshire.

Far better news from Lancashire, Somerset and Durham

In the Preston area – despite quite high levels of coronavirus infection – a man who suddenly had difficulty in swallowing is to have a biopsy today.

Writing from Dulverton in Somerset, Julia recently spent a week in hospital after becoming seriously ill during the night: “I was taken by ambulance to A&E, where treatment was immediate and first-class. Four major scans daily blood tests and two follow-up scans were given next week though the hospital was completely full”.

A Sunderland surgeon writes: “My oral and maxillofacial unit is working almost as before the pandemic, though clinics are running at a reduced number to allow cleaning between patients. I see no reason to close down surgical services for almost four months. Providing that appropriate precautions are taken where necessary, services can function well”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who often advocates a simple consistent approach to messages, should also start working to ensure consistent health care throughout the country.

 

 

 

 

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Whistleblowers 15, Assange – motivation and procedures: “this cannot be called a fair trial”

As a Bournville contact has written, “This case is vital to the liberty of all who tell the truth anywhere in the world”.

Following the world-wide condemnation of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, is a judicial form of silencing being attempted in Britain?

The conduct of Julian Assange’s US extradition hearing will convey a threat to journalists and whistleblowers – worldwide from publishing war crimes, human rights abuses, environmental destruction by governments or exposing the terms of trade treaties’ secret negotiations.

We read:

  • Assange was prevented from seeing his lawyers for six months.
  • His court papers have been taken away.
  • The keys of his computer were glued down.
  • A new US indictment was served without warning or explanation “at the 11th hour . . . abnormal, unfair and liable to create real injustice” (defence lawyer Mark Summers).
  • The defence team was not allowed sufficient time to gather evidence relating to the new indictment.
  • Assange was not allowed to see his QC Edward Fitzgerald for six months.
  • He is not allowed to sit and confer with them in court – the usual procedure.
  • Judge Baraitser rules that he must remain in a bullet-proof glass-encased dock, with imperfect acoustics.
  • At an earlier hearing, The Australian reported, Mark Summers said the system meant “we rise every 10 minutes, tramp down to a cell, get instructions then come up and go through security before re-entering the courtroom”.

Corporate/commercial/financial/political considerations

NBC, the news division of the American broadcast television network NBC, reports that on Monday, the U.K.’s National Union of Journalists renewed its call for the British government to dismiss the extradition request – but notes that the case comes at a delicate time for transatlantic relations as the U.K. is keen to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S. after leaving the European Union, adding a statement from the union:

“If this extradition is allowed, it will send a clear signal that journalists and publishers are at risk whenever their work discomforts the United States government.”

Peter Oborne in the Press Gazette highlights that ‘there has been scarcely a word in the mainstream British media in his defence’. He points out: ‘The British authorities have it within their power to refuse this extradition. Indeed, more than 160 legal experts wrote to the UK government last month, claiming they are obliged by international law to refuse the US request. He ends by saying that the fact that the US is an ally of Britain is perhaps one reason why but comments that this should make no difference as far as the British media is concerned, adding:

“The US is asserting the right to prosecute a non-US citizen, not living in the US, not publishing in the US, under US laws that deny the right to a public interest defence.

“This case could have a devastating, chilling effect on journalism and the UK government has the ability to prevent this happening. Future generations will never forgive the current generation of journalists unless we raise our game and fight to stop the extradition of Julian Assange”.

The campaign website: https://www.Dontextraditeassange.com

 

 

 

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Whistleblowers 15: Will Julian Assange get a fair hearing?

In 2018, MEP Molly Scott Cato’s support for the proposal for a new EU directive to protect whistleblowers, was reported on this site. It followed twelve general articles which focussed on brave individuals who suffered for revealing unwelcome truths.

Number 15, Julian Assange, faces 18 charges under the US Espionage Act for the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files detailing aspects of US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. His partner, Stella Moris, delivered an 80,000-strong petition opposing his extradition to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office.

Assange has been criticised for allegedly working in the interests of Russia charges which he has denied (read more here). However, during the extradition hearing at the Old Bailey, human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith pointed out that the content of the website published by Wikileaks* had:

  • helped to end a secret US assassination programme – “a targeted assassination programme” by the US military in Afghanistan and Pakistan”
  • freed unlawfully detained prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, was told today.
  • helped to stop drone strikes in Pakistan
  • and provided evidence currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court.

He explained that the leaked documents had enabled him to win legal actions on behalf of “a number of innocent people in detention” at the US-run detention camp”.abd revealed the “torture, rendition and murder” carried out by the US government.

Before the proceedings commenced, 40 civic society groups were promised remote access to the court’s proceedings via a video link, but presiding judge Venessa Baraitser revoked that permission on Monday, citing fears that the “integrity of the court” could be compromised if the feed was streamed elsewhere.

Reporters Without Borders campaigns director Rebecca Vincent said: “We have never faced such extensive barriers in attempting to monitor any other case in any other country as we have with the proceedings in the UK in respect of Julian Assange. This is extremely worrying in a case of such tremendous public interest.”

*Wikileaks published, or co-published with the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel, between 2006 and 2010, classified US military material which gave authentic information about the involvement of US military in avoidable civilian deaths, the secret use of drone strikes in Yemen and other subjects referred to  above (bullet points).

 

 

 

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Lobbying 47: Policy Exchange – the lobby group most used by the British government  

46 posts on this site have the term ‘lobbying’ in their titles, and there are possibly hundreds more with references to lobbying or an allied phenomenon – the revolving door. The lobbyists’ efforts were usually directed at influencing political decisions in a way which would maintain or increase the profits of their company or industry paymasters.

The first one in 2009, recorded Baron Haskins of Skidby reproving Prince Charles. It opens: “On Radio 4‘s PM programme, arch-lobbyist Christopher Haskins criticised Prince Charles for openly lobbying and campaigning, saying that this gives him an ‘undue advantage’. (Ed: 5.9.20: BBC audio link has not been maintained). A few of the lobbying advantages enjoyed by Lord Haskins are recorded here . . . “

George Monbiot recently focussed on lobbyists whose primary aim is political instead of commercial, though they are probably very well remunerated.

After an interesting history of political lobbying he singled out the lobby group that Boris Johnson’s government uses most – Policy Exchange. It was founded in 2002 by the Conservative MPs Francis Maude and Archie Norman, and Nick Boles, who later also became a Tory MP. Its first chairman was Michael Gove.

It appears to Monbiot that Policy Exchange has played a crucial role in shifting power away from rival institutions and into the Prime Minister’s office. For several years it has been building a case for curtailing the judiciary. It provided the ammunition for the government’s current attack on judicial review.

Judicial review enables citizens to sue the government to uphold the law. It was the process Gina Miller used in 2016 to oblige Theresa May to seek parliamentary approval for Article 50, that began the Brexit process, and to overturn Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament last year.

Policy Exchange calls such rulings “judicial overreach”. It claims that they threaten the sovereignty of Parliament and the separation of powers between government and judiciary. Monbiot thinks that they do the opposite. The law is legislation passed by Parliament and interpreted by the courts. The government has now appointed a former Conservative Minister, Lord Faulks, to examine judicial review, along the lines suggested by Policy Exchange.

The lobby group has led the public attacks against what it calls the “chilling effects” of leftwing views in academia. Its recent report on academic freedom was found by Jonathan Portes, who found it riddled with basic statistical errors and mistaken assumptions.

The thinktank’s proposals for changing the planning system, that involve a massive removal of power from local authorities, have been adopted wholesale by the government. One of the authors of this scheme, Jack Airey, has moved from Policy Exchange to Downing Street, as a special adviser.

Last year, Policy Exchange published an article that claimed Extinction Rebellion is led by dangerous extremists. Would this owe anything to its funding by the power company Drax, the trade association Energy UK and the gas companies E.On and Cadent, whose fossil fuel investments are threatened by environmental activism?

Policy Exchange is listed by WhoFundsYou as among the most opaque thinktanks with regard to some of its funding sources in the UK, even though it is a registered charity.

Monbiot ends: “By such means, political life is steadily undermined, until little remains but authority and obedience to the Prime Minister. Without strong civic institutions, society loses its power. From the point of view of global capital, that’s mission accomplished”.

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