Category Archives: Democracy undermined
Based in London, UK Policy Group is a research consultancy with affiliates in Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley, which ‘brings clients the tactics and techniques of professional political campaigns’. https://ukpolicy.co.uk/about/ . It was founded last year by Matt Rhoades, Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign manager, and Joe Pounder, a former research director for the Republican National Committee. The pair also run a Washington-based public affairs company. UKPG’s staff includes former senior Tory advisers among its leadership team, including ex-director of policy and research Andrew Goodfellow and former staff from the Conservatives’ research department and media monitoring unit.
“Now the internet kids are coming of age, vetting must be taken more seriously,” Mr Goodfellow said in a post on the UKPG website.
As part of its broader corporate offering to British clients, UKPG offers vetting and due diligence services to high net-worth individuals who are considering becoming political candidates or donors. It can dig into a client’s past to show what a journalist or the cabinet office might uncover if they were to enter the political sphere or were nominated for a gong. UKPG also aims to explain to clients how some idiosyncrasies, such as unusual tax arrangements, might be interpreted in the press.
A classic Murdoch-Times headline: ‘How Tories could unleash US attack dogs to dig up dirt on Labour’
Lucy Fisher reports that this “opposition research” firm with links to Republican party figures and a controversial American campaign group has been hired by the Conservatives.
Their mission: “building up files on left-wing politicians that could potentially be deployed in attack campaigns ahead of elections”.
Ms Fisher continues “While both the Conservatives and Labour Party have in-house research units and media monitoring capabilities, the move to outsource these tasks signals an escalation in aggressive negative campaigning”.
Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) already has sizeable files on Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott so UKPG is “understood to be concentrating on creating opposition research books on figures such as Sir Keir Starmer, and other potential leadership candidates, who have received less scrutiny”.
Tamasin Cave of Spinwatch has branded opposition research tactics “anti-democratic”, arguing that “the free flow of opinions and debate; a robust political opposition; and a healthy media” can be undermined by it.
David Duckworth approved this move but added, “But there is risk if Labour do the same”
Hello Campers: On the other hand looking at the chart spending ££££££ to secure a ‘win’ regardless of ethics/morality/whatever looks as if it works (although not a lot).
Leicht Betrunkener Max: I guess good policies are too hard to come by these days
Mr. Robert Colledge: The same way all Murdoch papers do. Papers subbed by rich non-domiciled billionaire, have an interest in a grateful Tory party. All that money has to buy some influence…Remember It was the Sun that won it! The trouble is that the majority of the press are owned by rich non-domiciled magnates, they have no scruples about being impartial and even handed. Corbyn gets this more than anyone. It undermines democracy as we need more pluralism.
Bertierussell: If they did hire US companies and it became public it might not prove to be such a good idea. It’s just possible that the Tories have more dirt that can be dug up and when that sort of thing gets going it’s hard to stop it. Most organisations struggle to keep things secret; it’s almost as if saying “this is something we don’t want in the public domain” spurs on leakers and whistle blowers.
Tony Sutton: Won’t the Tories ever learn that negative campaigning costs them votes. Cameron and Co lost the referendum thanks to Project Fear and May lost her majority because she offered nothing more than “Corbyn is a commie and I’m strong and stable” The electorate are sick of negativity, back biting, point scoring & smears and are just waiting for a moderate party with well thought out, properly costed policies that will drag politics from the gutter.
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.#
UK aviation policy is primarily predicated on the requirements of airport operators, major airlines and the Treasury – the needs of passengers come last says Steve Beauchampé in The Birmingham Press.
The government’s long-awaited – and unsurprising – decision to proceed with construction of a third runway at London Heathrow is fundamentally flawed, supported with redundant arguments and highly questionable financial assessments. If the UK had a comprehensive and comprehensible national aviation strategy Heathrow would not be operating at anything like 95% of capacity.
That it does so is the result of a system that essentially forces millions of UK passengers per annum to travel long distances, often in arduous and stressful conditions, to use both Heathrow and London’s two other main airports (Gatwick and Stansted) at great cost both to themselves and the environment. rather than utilising their local airports, many of which are working to a fraction of their capability.
Birmingham International Airport handled 12.9m passengers in 2017 but could cope with around double that number. Meanwhile, Nottingham East Midlands welcomed a paltry 4.88m whilst major population centres such as in the North East, South West, South Wales and along the south coast are all but bereft of decent flight choices. This is not only down to the London-centric approach which blights so many activities in the UK, but the failure of successive governments to challenge and take on the vested interests of London airports and the major airlines.
Two key arguments put forward in favour of a third runway at Heathrow are particularly fallacious
The first is that Heathrow must continue developing as a ‘hub’ airport, competing for passengers not with Birmingham, Manchester or even Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, but with Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dublin and increasingly Dubai!
So a third (and later probably fourth and fifth) runway at Heathrow is essentially required to allow the airport’s operator Heathrow Airport Holdings to attract passengers who will never leave the airport environs but whose visit is solely to transfer from one aeroplane to another, Great news for HAH, who enjoy increased landing fees as a result, and good news for the Treasury, who collect airport tax each time that a passenger takes a flight.
But it is hardly good news for UK travellers who are not being provided with flights from their local airports to the locations that they want and at a time when they want to fly. Indeed the hub strategy encourages those in the north of England, Northern Island and Scotland to take domestic flights to Heathrow and then transfer planes to reach their ultimate destination.
Yet hub airports may soon be an outdated concept, with technological improvements meaning that modern aeroplanes will be able to fly further (and faster) without the need to refuel (it’s already possible to fly non-stop from London to Sydney). Point-to-point flying seems more likely to be the way ahead.
The second argument in favour of Heathrow runway expansion is that many airlines do not want to fly out of the UK’s ‘regional’ airports (with the possible exception of Manchester, which handled 27.7m passengers in 2017) and would be unwilling to give up valuable landing slots at Heathrow.
But this argument is unacceptable. We would not tolerate train operators refusing to serve smaller stations nor bus companies running services only on main routes. To combat this attitude the number of slots available at Heathrow needs to be limited rather than endlessly expanded, whilst the national airport strategy that Conservative MP and anti-Heathrow Runway 3 campaigner Justine Greening called for earlier this week should focus on ways to create an environment which encourages airlines to relocate services outside of London and the South East.
This is particularly apposite given that both Birmingham and Manchester airports will be stops on the HS2 network by 2030. And whilst there is a real risk that limiting slots at Heathrow will result in some airlines pulling routes and services out of the UK altogether, the country is a large enough aviation market to offer sufficient paths to profit that most such withdrawals will likely be less than crucial and, in some cases, perhaps temporary.
In agreeing to support Heathrow’s third runway the government have committed to paying £2.6bn in compensation to those communities near to the airport that will be destroyed or significantly affected by the project. To which can be added an estimated £10bn in public funding for the new infrastructure and environmental measures required to support the expansion.
How much better to invest this money throughout the UK to create a national airport infrastructure to meet the needs of the travelling public, and one befitting the world’s fifth largest economy.
Drone footage and satellite images have recently revealed that thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being kept at some sites in outdoor pens, known as corrals, sometimes surrounded by walls, fences or straw bales. Although the cattle will have spent time grazing in fields prior to fattening, some will be confined in pens for around a quarter of their lives, until they are slaughtered. Disease spreads easily in such conditions and traces of the medication needed to prevent or treat the animals will be present in the meat offered for human consumption.
Who owns these companies? Who are the directors? Do they donate to party funds?
Why are there no official records held by DEFRA on how many intensive beef units are in operation?
Government regulations say that an environmental permit is needed if you operate any of the following:
-an industrial facility,
-or other business that produces potentially harmful substances, eg:
-a landfill site, a large chicken farm, a food factory
Why is government not requiring an environmental permit before their construction – and indeed consulting those in their neighbourhood?
A small section of a group of intensive units photographed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism/ Guardian
Though environment secretary Michael Gove said, in a parliamentary statement. “I do not want to see, and we will not have, US-style farming in this country”, it’s here.
The Guardian and Bureau last year revealed that 800 poultry and pig “mega farms” have appeared in the British countryside in recent years, some housing more than a million chickens or about 20,000 pigs.
Following the revelations, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, pledged that Brexit would not be allowed to result in the spread of US-style agribusiness.
Readers who want to know the extent of this problem and the location of megafarms for dairy, pigs and poultry, may find this information by looking at the interactive maps produced by Compassion in World Farming: The snapshots show information about intensive pig rearing in Gloucestershire, where the writer lives.
A Moseley reader draws attention to research by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism establishing that the UK is now home to a number of industrial-scale fattening units with herds of up to 3,000 cattle at a time. Sites in Kent, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were identified, the largest farms fattening up to 6,000 cattle a year.
The practice of intensive beef farming in the UK has not previously been widely acknowledged – and these findings raise questions over the future of British farming.
Richard Young, Policy Director at the Sustainable Food Trust, said: “Keeping large number of cattle together in intensive conditions removes all justification for rearing them and for consumers to eat red meat…
“More than two-thirds of UK farmland is under grass for sound environmental reasons and the major justifications for keeping cattle and eating red meat are that they produce high quality protein and healthy fats from land that is not suitable for growing crops.”
George Monbiot recently pointed out that the Commons report on the Carillion fiasco is one of the most damning assessments of corporate behaviour parliament has ever published. It trounces the company’s executives and board and laments the weakness of the regulators.
But, as Prem Sikka said in his April article, it scarcely touches the structural causes that make gluttony a perennial feature of corporate life.
Both agree that the problem begins with an issue the report does not once mention: the extreme nature of limited liability. Sikka points out that this system, under which executives are only financially accountable for the value of their investment, has also benefited frauds and led to the self-enrichment of executives at the expense of workers, consumers, creditors, pensioners and citizens.
Monbiot adds that the current model of limited liability allowed the directors and executives of Carillion to rack up a pension deficit of £2.6 billion, leaving the 27,000 members of its schemes to be rescued by the state fund (which is financed by a levy on your pension – if you have one). The owners of the company were permitted to walk away from the £2 billion owed to its suppliers and subcontractors. (Left: the former Carillion chief executive Keith Cochrane in Westminster after appearing before the Commons work and pensions select committee)
Monbiot continues: “There is no way that fossil fuel companies could pay for the climate breakdown they cause. There is no way that car companies could meet the health costs of air pollution. Their business models rely on dumping their costs on other people. Were they not protected by the extreme form of limited liability that prevails today, they would be obliged to switch to clean technologies”.
So what is to be done?
Prem Sikka (right) proposes that the bearers of unlimited risks and liabilities should be given rights to control the day-to-day governance and direction of companies.
He advocates including employees and citizen/consumers on company boards – because both ultimately have to bear the financial, health, social and psychological costs associated with environmental damage, pollution, poor products, industrial accidents, loss of jobs, pensions and savings. Through seats on company boards, they could secure a fairer distribution of income, challenge discrimination, curb asset-stripping and influence investment, training and innovation.
Across the 28 European Union countries (plus Norway), most have a statutory requirement for employee representation on company boards – unlike the UK, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Malta and Romania.
George Monbiot proposes a radical reassessment of limited liability.
He points out that a recent paper by the US law professor Michael Simkovic proposes that companies should pay a fee for this indemnity, calibrated to the level of risk they impose on society. He adds, significantly, that as numerous leaks show, companies tend to be far more aware of the risks they inflict than either governments or the rest of society. Various estimates put the cost that businesses dump on society at somewhere between 4% and 20% of GDP
His own ‘tentative’ and ingenious proposal is that any manager earning more than a certain amount – say £200,000 – would have half their total remuneration placed in an escrow account, which is controlled not by the company but by an external agency. The deferred half of their income would not become payable until the agency judged that the company had met the targets it set on pension provision, workers’ pay, the treatment of suppliers and contractors and wider social and environmental performance. This judgement should draw on mandatory social and environmental reporting, assessed by independent auditors.
If they miss their targets, the executives would lose part or all of the deferred sum. In other words, they would pay for any disasters they impose on others. To ensure it isn’t captured by corporate interests, the agency would be funded by the income it confiscates.
Monbiot then says “I know that, at best, they address only part of the problem” and asks, “Are these the right solutions?
- support them,
- oppose them
- or suggest better ideas.
He ends: “Should corporations in their current form exist at all? Is capitalism compatible with life on earth?”
Mark Shapiro, a reader living in California, draws attention to the work of Emily Knowles, leading the Oxford Research Group’s Remote Warfare Programme.
Yet RWP’s research suggests that there is a rising trend of secretive military commitments in areas where the UK is not considered to be at war.
- A precedent has been set for the use of armed drones to carry out targeted strikes in regions where parliament has not authorised military engagement.
- The use of Special Forces to carry out covert operations bypasses the need for parliamentary authorisation or notification.
- By providing behind-the-scenes support, UK troops can be involved in military combat without the government having to declare engagement in offensive missions.
Relying on such tactics to counter threats allows the government to avoid the usual parliamentary oversight required in the deployment of conventional troops.
“As modern concepts of warfare continue to evolve, I believe it’s vital that government policy keeps pace and is open to debate.
“That is why my team is working to promote greater transparency around remote warfare and uphold the scrutiny that is so pivotal to a healthy democracy”.
Remote Control’s 2017 report by Emily and Abigail Watson, ‘All quiet on the ISIS front: British secret warfare in an information age’ (Mar 2017), tracks the UK’s secretive but growing military commitments abroad by analysing the rise in the use of drones for targeted killing, the use of Special Forces, and the provision of capabilities such as intelligence and embedded troops to allied forces.
The deniability of these operations brings a flexibility, which can create opportunities when it comes to dealing with fluid and complex security threats.
However, it questions the notion that greater secrecy is always better strategy, in an age when leaks of information are seemingly inevitable, demand for political accountability is high, and trust in politicians and the wider expert community is low.
Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, has admitted that on March 26th, a British airstrike killed a motorcyclist who rode into its path in Syria by chance. It is the first confirmation of a civilian casualty by UK forces in the fight against Islamic State.
The unintentional death, described by Williamson as “deeply regrettable”, was confirmed during post-strike analyses of drone footage and other imagery.
The official position of the Ministry of Defence until yesterday’s announcement had been that it had seen no evidence of UK airstrikes causing civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.
A source within the US-led coalition against Isis, however, told the BBC that he had seen evidence that British airstrikes had caused civilian casualties “on several occasions”. “To suggest they have not, as has been done, is nonsense,” the source added.
The coalition has begun an investigation and will issue a report. The airstrike was by a Reaper drone, remotely operated by pilots in the UK or at an airbase in the United States.
The defence secretary admits that RAF jets and drones have conducted more than 1,600 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and Airwars, a group that has been monitoring civilian casualties, claimed it was likely that between 1,066 and 1,579 civilians had died in the fighting in Mosul. The US and Australia have accepted responsibility for civilian casualties. The coalition has admitted causing just over 350 civilian deaths in Mosul.
The deaths, in particular those of women and children, have helped to turn local populations against coalition forces and fuel insurgencies.
A Wimbledon reader sends news that Amnesty International has cited another civilian death: 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family’s fields with her
grandchildren in Waziristan, northwest Pakistan. ’Out of nowhere’, she was hit during a double drone strike led by the US. Mamana is one of hundreds of civilians accidentally killed by US drone strikes. Strikes that the UK has been playing a crucial part in.
Despite the lack of coverage in many newspapers and on TV bulletins, a petition has been set up, calling for the UK government to launch a full public inquiry into its role in the US’s expanding drones programme:
To join this call for a full public inquiry into Britain’s role in the US’s expanding drones programme, go to https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/uk-stop-helping-deadly-and-secret-us-drone-strikes
Media 86: today, BBC news bulletins misled the public: Windrush documents were destroyed during Mrs May’s term as Home Secretary
An archive of landing slips documenting Windrush era arrivals was destroyed in 2010 under the Conservative coalition government when Theresa May was Home Secretary.
Theresa May told MPs during today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, that the decision to do so was taken under a Labour government in 2009.
A former Home Office employee informed a Guardian journalist that thousands of landing card slips recording Windrush immigrants’ arrival dates in the UK, stored in the basement of a government tower block were destroyed in 2010, despite staff warnings that the move would make it harder to check the records of older Caribbean-born residents experiencing residency difficulties.
The BBC, though informed of this by Sky journalist Beth Rigby, repeated the PM’s statement which gave the impression that a Labour government had destroyed this archive, several times over a period of five hours.
The BBC has form: a few examples, there are many more:
2017 – The BBC breached accuracy and impartiality rules with a News At Six report by Laura Kuenssberg on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, its governing body has ruled. The complaints were in fact rejected three times by the BBC itself before the matter was escalated to the Trust.
2017 – Constructive criticism of the BBC’s general election coverage