Category Archives: Conflict of interest
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?
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”.
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:
- an event called ‘DEMOCRACY AND PROPAGANDA: Can independent media defend universal values?’, said to have been held in the Hilton Hotel in London, though the link advertises a Ukrainian location.. This was organised jointly by the European Endowment for Democracy and the EU Eastern Partnership, which, it turns out, is an FCO programme(link now not working) that “works to counter and reduce the effect of destabilising disinformation”.
- the first round of Ukrainian-British interagency consultationson countering cyber threats held in London in March this year,
- the 2018 EU DisinfoLab, in April and
- in October he took part in the Atlantic Council’s Global Forum on Strategic Communications and Digital Disinformationevent, held in Washington DC. Of note here is that this was a two-day event. Andy Pryce’s contribution came on day two, which has not been made available on video.
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.”
Though Cammell Laird’s Birkenhead shipyard won two contracts this month, worth a total of £619 million, to provide spares, repairs and do maintenance work for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary over10 years, news of plans to axe about 40% of the workforce (290 jobs) by the end of March 2019, was given to union representatives and workers today (11th October).
The Unite union is demanding that Cammell Laird sets out the business case for cuts which will see the loss of vital skills and ‘backdoor casualisation’ of the workforce. It fears that the proposed job losses will undermine the shipyard’s ability to fulfil new contracts.
Unite’s assistant general secretary for shipbuilding, Steve Turner, said: “The loss of jobs at Cammell Laird would see skills gone for a generation and be a further blow to the UK’s shipbuilding industry . . . it is clear that the government must and can do more to support UK shipbuilding jobs. This must include the government stepping in and supporting the retention of skills and jobs while shipyards like Cammell Laird wait for new contracts to come on stream”.
Instead of ‘offshoring’, the government should be handing contracts to build the Royal Navy’s new fleet solid support vessels and a £1.25bn contract for Type 31e frigates (maritime security-focused platforms) to UK shipyards, using British made steel as part of an industrial strategy that supports jobs and communities across our four nations.
Yesterday it was reported that MPs had urged civil servants (defence officials) to pick a UK company for the £1billion contract for three Fleet Solid Support vessels for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Commons Defence Committee chairman and senior Tory MP Julian Lewis feared that foreign firms subsidised by their governments could undercut British rivals.
Penny-wise, pound foolish?
The MoD’s director general for finance told MPs the department’s biggest concern was “what will deliver the greatest value for money”- meaning the lowest bid – a narrow perspective. But as Labour MP John Spellar pointed out, the Treasury would benefit from tax revenue ploughed into public coffers if the work was carried out in the UK – “a significant return” – which would be multiplied by work given to British steel and component manufacturers.
Steve Turner said that a failure to have these ships made in Britain would be ‘a gross betrayal of UK ship workers and regional economies, putting at risk manufacturing skills vital to our country’.
After a year of disasters (documented in detail here), the reinsurance industry travelled to Monte Carlo for its annual get together (8-14 September).
Hurricane Irma was accompanied last year by Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, along with earthquakes in Mexico and wildfires in California. In all, there was $136bn of insured losses from natural and man-made catastrophes in 2017 according to Swiss Re, the third highest on record.
A report, “Climate Change and the Insurance Industry: Taking Action as Risk Managers and Investors”, was written by Maryam Golnaraghi, Director, Extreme Events and Climate Risk research programme for The Geneva Association, which is described as the industry’s leading thinktank.
It notes that following the adoption of the Paris Agreement, there has been a burst of initiatives and activities across a wide range of stakeholders to support the transition to a low-carbon economy (mitigation side).
Latest developments include:
- growing but highly fragmented and in some cases conflicting climate policy and regulatory frameworks at national to local levels and across regions;
- innovation in clean and green technologies, with some gaining market share;
- rising interest in green financing, with efforts to reduce barriers to green investment on the part of shareholders, asset managers, standard-setting bodies and rating agencies, and growing demand for low-carbon commodities.
As well as building financial resilience to extreme events and other physical risks by providing risk information, improving distribution channels and payout mechanisms, Ms Golnaraghi reports that the insurance industry is supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy through its underwriting business, investment strategies and active reduction of its carbon footprint.
There is no reference to this support in the FT’s report of the insurance industry’s response to escalating disasters, summarised as:
- ‘a wave of merger and acquisition activity’ as insurers and reinsurers reconsider their business models,
- some are ‘bulking up’,
- others have decided to get out.
Reinsurance companies should call for immediate greenhouse gas mitigation efforts, as climate change continues to progress and extreme weather is becoming more frequent and dangerous and heed the Environmental Defense Fund warning that if these are not ramped up, last year’s unprecedented disasters may soon become the norm.
The Times reports that incineration has grown from 5.5 million tonnes in 2012/13 to over 10 million in 2016/17 according to government data and since 2010 21 incinerators have been built, almost doubling the number in use, with another 18 under construction.
Cross-party MPs warning of an escalating “incinerator boom” releasing harmful particulates, harmful to public health.
UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), has launched its report with cross-party support from John Grogan MP (Lab), Philip Davies MP (Con), and Lord Tyler (Lib Dem). They called on the Government to introduce an incineration tax.
The research revealed that harmful particles released by incinerators in England last year were equivalent to the emissions of more than a quarter-of-a-million 40-tonne lorries travelling 75,000 miles per year. This exceeds pollution reporting thresholds for particulates, but the report claimed that “due to a loophole” the public is not informed of the emissions.
Despite public resistance, the average incineration rate in the country is rising: about 38%, up from 30% two years earlier.
According to latest figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, about 342,872 tonnes of rubbish, 69% of all waste, ended up in specialist Energy-from-Waste (EfW) power plants as fuel to generate heat and electricity in 2016-2017.
Many communities have resisted incineration with all the means they had and, for many years, Gloucestershire residents did so, in a saga worth recording in full – see one instance.
Following the disclosure of the full contract and Information Tribunal ruling, Community R4C, a not for profit Community Benefit Society, commissioned two consultants not associated with CR4C, and drew on contributions from other independent experts, to provide evidence on the incinerator contract between GCC and UBB. Main findings:
Construction has started, despite this ongoing investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority into the contract held between the county council and Urbaser Balfour Beattie.
Shlomo Dowen, national coordinator of United Kingdom Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), goes to the heart of the matter: “Many councils are locked into long-term waste contracts that encourage the incineration of recyclable and compostable material.”
An online search supports the observation that some councils have already broken free of waste contracts: on the first page of results Ealing, Lancashire CC/Blackpool, Sheffield, Peterborough were named.
Libby Forrest, policy and parliamentary affairs officer at Environmental Services Association, reckons the increase of waste incineration should be celebrated. She said: “Energy from Waste has increased because we are successfully moving away from landfill, which is more damaging to the environment. Energy from Waste saves 200kg of CO₂ per tonne of waste diverted from landfill, and generates low-carbon power far more efficiently than landfill, contributing to renewable energy targets and energy security”.
Jenny Jones (House of Lords) said: “There is a logic to generating energy from the waste that we cannot recycle or reuse, but it is meant to be the last resort option. What we have created instead is a market-driven system of incinerators which constantly need to be fed.”
The frequency of exposures and the political impact of corruption scandals appear to be increasing all over the world, says Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times.
Despite their holier-than-thou aura, he notes that bankers, lawyers, real estate agents and PR firms in the US, UK and EU often share in the proceeds of corruption.
As former US vice-president Joe Biden was reported to have said, at a Defend Democracy conference in Copenhagen, globalisation has deepened rifts, divorced productivity from labour and created less demand for low-skilled labour:
“When people see a system dominated by elites and rigged in favour of the powerful they are much less likely to trust democracy can deliver”.
The most recent example of corruption highlighted on this website follows:
After an initial denial (left, Financial Times), Economia confirmed that in an official response to the French government dated 30 March 2017, a HMRC official noted that Lycamobile is “a large multinational company” with “vast assets at their disposal” and would be “extremely unlikely to agree to having their premises searched”, said the report.
The letter from HMRC to the French government added, “It is of note that they are the biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party led by Prime Minister Theresa May and donated 1.25m Euros to the Prince Charles Trust in 2012”.
This is an ongoing saga: in 2016 Economia noted: “The Tories have come under fire for continuing to accept donations of more than £870,000 from Lycamobile since December, while it was being investigated for tax fraud and money laundering”.
Many senior British politicians have taken bribes and many ministers and civil servants move to lucrative positions with companies who have benefitted from legislation supported by these new colleagues – through the revolving door.
The unspoken ethic:
- In South Africa president Jacob Zuma was compelled to resign because of corruption scandals.
- Dilma Rousseff, the President, was impeached in Brazil in 2016.
- The Atlantic Council, whose largest funders include the United Arab Emirates, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Airbus Group SE, Crescent Petroleum & the Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom describes the ruling United Russia party as the “party of crooks and thieves”.
- Narendra Modi came to power in India with a pledge to crack down on corruption among the elites. He has since abolished about 80% of the country’s currency, in an effort to ruin the black economy.
- In China, President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive has seen more than 100,000 officials arrested.
- Mariano Rajoy has been forced to resign as prime minister of Spain after seven years in office, following a scandal in his political party.
- Malaysia’s ruling party lost power after allegations that the prime minister, Najib Razak, had embezzled vast sums.
Rachman believes that corruption has become more common and also easier to expose:
“The globalisation of business and finance opened up opportunities to make corrupt profits in fast-growing emerging economies.
“Industries that often need official involvement, such as natural resources and infrastructure, are particularly lucrative targets. There are contracts to be awarded and development projects that need official approval. And the money for bribes can always be deposited offshore.
“But such malpractice can be exposed. Strong, independent prosecutors and judges such as Brazil’s Sérgio Moro and South Africa’s Thulisile Madonsela have done heroic work in driving forward anti-corruption investigations. Press freedom in Brazil and South Africa has also been critical in keeping up the pressure on corrupt politicians. Even when the national media are muzzled, the internet provides an alternative medium for airing corruption allegations. The “Panama Papers”, which detailed the offshore financial affairs of many prominent politicians, was the result of an international journalistic project and based on hacked documents”.
He adds that new forms of international co-operation and transparency have also made would-be crooks more vulnerable to exposure. Changes in the Swiss laws on banking secrecy — made under pressure from the US — were crucial to allowing Brazilian prosecutors to uncover the proceeds of corruption. International investigations by the Swiss and Americans also kept up the pressure on Malaysia’s Mr Razak.
Lasting progress, Rachman writes, requires strong institutions that can survive changes in the political climate:
- independent courts and prosecutors with training and resources;
- a press that cannot easily be bought off, jailed or killed;
- efficient civil servants who cannot be fired at the whim of a corrupt boss.
He points out that if any of those elements are removed, corruption seeps back into the system.
The “clean hands” investigations in Italy in the early 1990s swept away many powerful figures — and were seen as a watershed. But Rachman cites the case of Silvio Berlusconi, tried 22 times on charges ranging from tax evasion and bribery to corruption and association with the Cosa Nostra. He was convicted of tax fraud in an Italian court and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment – served as community service – but has now been cleared to stand for election as prime minister once again.#