Category Archives: Democracy undermined

Media 81: The great mainstream switch-off?

The general message:

“I avoid the news; I just don’t switch on.“

Anecdotal evidence from many encountered indicates a growing intolerance of TV, the Murdoch press in particular and radio, which constantly focus on the latest man-made or natural disaster and the actions of the corrupt or callous – a tiny minority.

Online headlines presented by the Murdoch Times today:

  • Mike Ashley (above) ‘drank 12 pints and vomited at meeting’
  • No 10 ‘buried terror report to protect Saudi Arabians’
  • Border Force makes record seizure of guns
  • Venus in tears as car crash casts a shadow over first-round
  • May’s pork barrel tactics demean our politics
  • City gripped by sub-prime lending fears
  • Pay row leaves Bank of England facing its first strike in 50 years
  • Rise in high-risk dependency on alcohol among those seeking help.

If you want something better go to Redbrick, and read the thoughtful offerings of students at Birmingham University: http://www.redbrick.me/comment which offer a more balanced view of life around them.

A revulsion from the continual diet of news focussing on the thankfully rare instances of disaster and cruelty is growing. A reaction from hardier souls is to actually read these newspapers and listen to or watch the news because ‘You’ve got to know what’s going on’ – apparently oblivious of the fact that what is presented is often far from being the truth – see our Secret State category for more on that subject – the 18th here.

A report about the first scientific study into the effect of TV news reports confirmed the obvious: that broadcasts of reports of famine, violence, poverty and crime leave viewers considerably depressed  – and happy stories of Lottery winners and “miracle” recoveries (equally rare) do not.

Psychologist, Prof Graham Davey (University of Sussex), who conducted the study with colleague, Dr Wendy Johnston (University of Edinburgh), said: “We found that negatively balanced material does change people’s moods in a negative way, and this could have other knock on effects, such as making people worry more about their own problems.”

The writer’s unscientific findings were that was that the people I met actually felt that they’d had ‘the best of it’ and were worried about the future for their children and more so for their grandchildren.

The Positive News Journal aspires to redress the balance

And it does this occasionally – see the link to this list above: ‘From political upheaval to natural disasters, the first three months of 2017 have seen many challenges. But behind the headlines, there are signs of progress and possibility. Here are 20 of our favourites’. So often, however, the reports come from far afield only two items in the list from Britain – and many will not feel that they are relevant to daily life here.

Amongst the writer’s websites which cover political corruption, growing food insecurity, chemical and nuclear dangers and illegal killing by armed drones is one – Antidote to Gloom – which is more happily received.

This week random visitors from America topped the list (left) who actively sought news relating to the first link:

Recent headlines:

Occasionally thanks are emailed by Antidote readers whose spirits have been lifted by a respite from the current destructive news-diet.

Time for change in our media as well as our politics.

 

 

 

 

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Wimbledon warns Corbynieres: “No politics, we’re British’, Professor Freedman offers reassurance

The Telegraph reports that AELTC appears to anticipate ‘displays of Corbynmania’, during this year’s event.

Sharing mainstream alarm at the unprecedented scenes witnessed at last month’s Glastonbury festival, the All England Lawn Tennis Club, a private members’ club which hosts the Wimbledon Championships, hopes that warning notices, “No political slogans!”, on display at the entrance gates will be taken to heart by Corbyn’s supporters and other political activists.

This is a continuing manifestation of a threatened establishment – a general right-wing demonisation of Corbyn.

Corbyn is the norm – in tune with European heads of state

A more stable response comes from many well-informed commentators who explain that Corbyn’s ‘extremist’ ideas are actually in line with mainstream European policy and practice (above: European Socialist heads of state).

In the Financial Times, Des Freedman, Professor of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London, has remonstrated with economist Tim Harford, author of the latest two epithets, who accused Corbyn of ‘scapegoating’ and ’xenophobia’ (re requisition of empty foreign-owned property to house the Grenfell survivors).

Freedman believes that this ‘unwarranted criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the (Grenfell Tower) tragedy should be placed in the context of the 2016 FT report ‘s finding of some 9,169 vacant flats and houses in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, adding:

“It is not “xenophobic” to suggest that these homes could be usefully occupied by those who actually need somewhere to live. It is simply common sense”.

 

*Des Freedman Professor of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London

 

 

 

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Broken Britain 5: Martin Wolf annotated. Plus a lesson from Delhi

Extracts with bracketed comments = original text here, may be subject to paywall

In the Financial Times, Wolf asks: “Why has the appeal of populist ideas grown in western countries? Is this a temporary phenomenon?”

He continues: “What, first of all, is a populist?” And answers:

  • The abiding characteristic of populism is its division of the world into a virtuous (powerless) people on the one hand, and corrupt elites . . . on the other.
  • Populists distrust (corrupted) institutions, especially those that constrain the “will of the people”, such as courts, independent media, the bureaucracy and fiscal or monetary rules.
  • Populists reject credentialed experts (funded to serve vested interests). They are also suspicious of free markets and free trade (misnomers – so-called free traders erect tariff barriers whenever they can).
  • Rightwing populists believe certain ethnicities are “the people” and identify foreigners as the enemy. They are economic nationalists (but keen exporters and speculators) and support traditional (discriminatory & inhumane) social values.
  • Populists (left and right) put their trust in charismatic leaders
  • Leftwing populists identify workers as “the people” and (only the uncaring) rich as the enemy. They also believe in state ownership of property (if there were ever to be an honestly run state)

Wolf asks why these sets of ideas have become more potent (because central control, corruption and deprivation is increasing alarmingly). He refers to a Harvard study which considers immigration a cultural shift but argues that it can also be reasonably viewed as an economic one (because it’s cheaper to import subservient low-cost labour than to educate one’s own citizens)

What has changed recently?

“The answer is the financial crisis and consequent economic shocks. These not only had huge costs. They also damaged confidence in — and so the legitimacy of — financial and policymaking elites.

“These emperors turned out to be naked” (Correct).

He thinks that the results of past political follies have still to unfold:

  • The divorce of the UK from the EU remains a process with unfathomable results.
  • So, too, is the election of President Trump. The end of US leadership is a potentially devastating event.
  • Some of the long-term sources of fragility, cultural and economic, including high inequality and low labour force participation of prime-aged workers in the US, are still with us today.
  • The pressures for sustained high immigration continue.
  • The fiscal pressures from ageing are also likely to increase.

Wolf’s remedy the economic anxieties can and must be addressed: we must recognise and address the anger that causes populism. He continues: “populism is an enemy of good government (the status quo) and even of democracy (which has yet to be achieved)”.

Aam Aadmi (the Common Man’s Party) originated in the India Against Corruption (‘anti-graft’) movement. It claimed that the common people of India remain unheard and unseen except when it suits the politicians. It stresses self-governance, community building and decentralisation; advocating government directly accountable to the people instead of higher officials. It was formally launched on 26 November 2012 and won 67 of the 70 seats in the Delhi state assembly elections in 2015.

IMHO, as one correspondent often opens, building a stable democracy will require:

  1. proportional representation in which the votes cast reflect the true support for all participating parties and independent candidates;
  2. the attraction of parliamentary candidates with a track record of public service, offering only the national average wage, supplemented by basic London accommodation where needed and travel/secretarial expenses.
  3. and the clear understanding that after election these MPs (and their families) should acquire no shares or non-executive directorships.

And “self-governance, community building and decentralisation; advocating government directly accountable to the people instead of higher officials”.

 

 

 

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Revolving Doors 39: NAO calls to order politicians supporting nuclear power

Today the National Audit Office – the public spending watchdog – recommends that the government reconsider whether more nuclear plants are needed and reproves ministers for failing to consider alternative ways of the costs of the Hinkley nuclear power plant, which could have halved the overall cost to households.

The NAO found that the case for building Hinkley Point had weakened while the government negotiated the final deal, partly because alternative low-carbon sources of power, such as wind and solar, became cheaper.

The plant is under construction in Somerset and is due to open in 2025, supplying 7% of Britain’s electricity. However, the NAO report recommends that the government produce a “plan B” to fill the gap in power generation if the project is delayed or cancelled. It notes that projects using the same reactor design in France, Finland and China “have been beset by delays and cost overruns”.

Note senior politicians or members of their families lobbying for the nuclear industry

  • Three former Labour Energy Ministers (John Hutton, Helen Liddell, Brian Wilson)
  • Gordon Brown’s brother worked as head lobbyist for EDF
  • Jack Cunningham chaired Transatlantic Nuclear Energy Forum
  • Labour Minister Yvette Cooper’s dad was chair of nuclear lobbyists The Nuclear Industry Association.
  • Ed Davey, Lib Dem energy minister’s brother worked for a nuclear lobbyist. When failed to be re-elected went to work for the same nuclear lobbying firm as his brother.
  • Lord Clement Jones who was Nick Clegg’s General Election Party Treasurer was a nuclear industry lobbyist.
  • Tory Peer Lady Maitland is board member of nuclear lobbyist Sovereign Strategy.
  • • Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s press spokesperson, has been nuclear lobbyist for over 25 years.
  • Tory Peer Lord Jenkin was a paid consultant to nuclear industry.
  • Tory MEP Giles Chichester is president of nuclear lobbyists EEF

Comment from a Times reader who has long held significant reservations about Corbyn and McDonnell, ”Putting aside their sixth form foreign policy, I’m just about willing to give Labour a shot. If we’re going to have somebody (botching) the public finances I’d rather they did it out of well-meaning innumeracy – with some good ideas like a National Education Service & renationalised railways . . . “

 

Other nuclear industry lobbyists including politicians, journalists, academics and lobbyists are listed here: http://powerbase.info/index.php/Category:Individuals_linked_to_the_push_for_nuclear

 

 

 

 

 

Revolving Doors 38: beware corporate management of HS2

Open corruption in the UK in the form of “brown envelopes” is rare. We weave a subtler web, unholy alliances in which those already wealthy entrench their position – and that of friends and family – with high salaries from consultancy and non-executive directorships supporting some political or corporate interest.

The revolving door between HS2 and CH2M

An earlier post on this website covered the report that Roy Hill, managing director of the US headquartered engineering company CH2M, had been seconded to HS2 acting chief executive on a temporary basis.

Mr Hill had worked at HS2’s offices in Canary Wharf for CH2M between 2012 and 2014 after the company won the role of development partner carrying out preparatory work.

CH2M further entrenched?

In Gill Plimmer’s FT article (February 2017) readers were reminded that Mark Thurston, an executive at CH2M, has now been appointed chief executive of HS2 Ltd, replacing the aforementioned Roy Hill. He will take over in March.

However, after a competitor threatened legal action (conflict of interest), in March this year CH2M handed back the contract to design the second phase of the £56bn HS2 — extending the London-Birmingham link on to Manchester and building a branch from the Midlands to Leeds.

HS2 fortified by lobbying consultancies MHP and Westbourne Communications

MHP employees: former politicians and civil servants/government advisers, including:

  • Jane Wilson (public relations, civil service adviser), managing director, corporate affairs team. Former chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and reviewer for the Department for Education.
  • Charles Clarke Former Labour Party MP, hired to ‘provide advice to its team’.
  • Edward Davey – former secretary of state for energy and climate change until May 2015.

Westbourne Communications co-founded and run by Conservative James Bethell, the 5th Baron Bethell. Other environmentally damaging causes supported include fracking and extending Birmingham airport. As Transport secretary, Philip Hammond attended the launch of Westbourne’s Campaign for High Speed Rail, when rail companies were asked to pay £10,000 each to a fund. At a dinner organised by Westbourne in November 2012, transport minister Simon Burns said the campaign’s efforts were “greatly appreciated”. HS2 champion Lord Adonis has also spoken at the firm’s events. Westbourne provided the secretariat and press office for the all-party group for high-speed rail, paid for by rail and commercial interests: TSSABruntwoodSouth West TrainsAbellioEurotunnel and Core Cities. With the passing of the HS2 bill (first phase) this APPG has now been disbanded.

The records of potential HS2 suppliers also need to be scrutinised

The president and managing director of Alstom Transport UK & Ireland, which was bidding to provide HS2 trains, stepped down over corruption allegations relating to the supply of trains to the Budapest Metro. Other legal actions facing the company relate to bribery allegations in connection with transport contracts in New Delhi, Tunis, Lithuania and Warsaw.#

 

 

 

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Grenfell Tower: a tragic tale of double standards – two-nation politics

On Nicky Campbell’s Radio 5 phone-in a listener described a city where – at one extreme – her care-worker son earns £17,000 a year, whilst George Osborne gets £200,000 for delivering one speech.

“In Harrods they have sprinklers to protect china dogs

Noting the lack of attention to the repeated and recorded complaints made by the Grenfell Tower residents she asserted that had they come from the affluent area of Kensington they would have been quickly addressed and added a searing afterthought: “In Harrods they have sprinklers to protect china dogs” – but as London MP Harriet Harmon noted, the government has been cutting the money to councils. If you cut money to councils, you can’t put in sprinklers

Campbell’s caller also denounced the proposals made by developers referring to the burnt tower as being a orime brownfield site, insisting that the residents should be rehoused in the same area during the rebuilding process instead of being sent to outlying areas or even different parts of the country; as they work hard in lowly paid jobs they should not also have to spend time and money travelling long distances to work.

A tale of a divided nation – and of two cities

Following a link sent by Felicity Arbuthnot we read the words of Jeremy Corbyn, (seen here with a local resident seeking a 12-year-old girl missing after the Grenfell Tower blaze): “Kensington is a tale of two cities – it is among the wealthiest parts of this country but the ward where this took place is one of the poorest”.

Like the Radio 5 caller he emphasised that residents must be re-housed, using requisition of empty properties if necessary, in the same neighbourhood, adding:

“The judge-led public inquiry must be speedy and all residents should have access to legal aid and the support they need”.

 

 

 

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Media 79: mainstream media are not reporting Barclay’s announcement on Third Energy fracking project

Fracking: Five pages were searched and all witnessed to publicity from campaigning groups – a snapshot of the first page may be seen below.

Not ‘commercially viable’? Fracking: environmentally, socially and financially a bad investment

Third Energy, a Barclays subsidiary, which had a licence to frack just south of the North York Moors national park has “not become a profitable investment”. This is due to local opposition, which delays companies’ progress, according to Barclay’s chairman John McFarlane, speaking at the bank’s annual general meeting.

Barclays’ has now announced that it will sell its stake in fracking company Third Energy “in due course”.

Steve Mason of local campaign group Frack Free Ryedale said in a press release: “Clearly fracking is a bad investment environmentally, socially and financially. Where is the long term future of this industry? Why would you put money into an industry that is increasingly rejected by communities and could get banned at anytime?”

 

 

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Conservative party chairman advises: “Don’t vote tactically”

Conservative Party chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin has warned that voting for either the Green Party or the Liberal Democrats would lead to votes for Jeremy Corbyn

As the New York Times summarises, tactical voting is a response to a British electoral system in which millions of minority voices can be ‘drowned out’.  

Tactical2017 is a progressive grassroots campaign that encourages the millions of voters who voted for progressive parties in 2015 to put party loyalties to one side, unite with and vote for, the progressive candidate who has the best chance to avoid the consequences of five more years of a Conservative government in Britain.

  • Already we’ve seen £22bn of unnecessary, ideological cuts to the NHS bring our health service to its knees, with 91 GP surgeries being forced to close in 2016 from a lack of funding and resources.
  • 1 in 8 working Britons now live in poverty, with food bank usage in areas where the government’s inhumane welfare reforms have been introduced up by 16.85%.
  • We’ve seen a real-terms wage drop of 10%, an explosion in the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts, and the most unaffordable house prices in history.
  • the while, Britain’s ultra-rich have received £4.4bn of tax breaks, taken from cuts to Personal Independence Payments for the disabled.
  • All this from a party that claims to be the party of economic responsibility, while simultaneously creating more debt than every Labour government in history combined.

It’s not too late to do this in your constituency if you follow this advice: https://www.tactical2017.com/?utm_source=spreadsheet. 

Individual campaign

Claire Wright (independent) announced her intention to stand against sitting MP Hugo Swire in the snap general election on June 8. Tactical 2017 endorsed her as the only candidate who can defeat the Conservatives.

This follows bookmaker’s odds of 9/2 from William Hill, who confirmed that they see Ms Wright as the official opposition in the constituency and makes her the only non-aligned candidate to get support from the organisation.

Read more in Devon Live.

Campaigning organisations

Though many are taking this action for social and humanitarian reasons others, some in organisations such as Open Britain are actively targeting marginal seats with tactical voting campaigns, to block “destructive” hard Brexit proposal.

Gina Miller, the pro-EU campaigner who won a court challenge over article 50, has launched a tactical voting initiative called Best For Britain that supports election candidates opposed to hard Brexit. Ms. Miller said that Best for Britain was also drawing lessons from the election of Justin Trudeau as prime minister of Canada, which was helped by tactical voting among supporters of three center and left parties.

See their gallery of sixteen Champions (six pictured below): the first set of parliamentary candidates the campaign has endorsed in the general election. “If tactical voting is successful in electing MPs with strong principles who are willing to hold the government to account, hard or extreme Brexit has more chance of being averted.” These people are ready to fight extreme Brexit, are fighting a winnable seat and have an immaculate track record.

Compass also argues that “only a Progressive Alliance can stop the Tories and cocreate the new politics,” while More United — a movement set up after the killing last year of the Labour lawmaker Jo Cox — aims to increase the number of lawmakers “elected to fight for a more united, less divided Britain.”

Dr. Kathryn Simpson, lecturer in politics and public services at Manchester Metropolitan University, thinks that 48 percenters of Remain may be geared towards tactical voting and adds that if the 18 to 24-year-old group – who are largely opposed to Brexit – come out to vote, this may help to sway the success of tactical voting.

And Colin Hines, a Progressive Alliance supporter, calls in the Guardian for a voice like that of Lynton Crosby, “hectoring our side to repeat endlessly that the weak and wobbly Tories’ pro-austerity, coalition of cruelty must be constrained, and most importantly, keep it simple”. He ends:

 

Vote ABC – Anything But Conservative.

 

 

 

 

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Incinerators 6: FOI reveals the surprising truth about the Javelin Park incinerator contract

News of the long campaign against the proposed Javelin Park incinerator was read by many visitors to this site in 2013 and 2015.

This year, campaigners obtained a copy of the contract, after using freedom of Information rules, and the monitoring officer at Gloucestershire County Council has now been asked to investigate whether the leader and his deputy exaggerated the cost of backing out of a plan to commission a £500m waste incinerator.

A resident of the county was contacted and replied that she had read about the discovery in the Gloucester Citizen, which republished an account from Gloucestershire Live, but neither account may now be found online. A search reveals no mainstream media reference to the subject.

Public Sector Blogs drew on an account by Tim Davies, co-founder of Open Data Services Co-operative, co-director of Practical Participation, affiliate at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society:

“The claim made to council on 18th Feb 2015 that it could cost £60m – £100m to cancel the contract appears to be based on calculations from officers, and/or Ernst and Young which have not been published by the authority (perhaps another EIR or FOIA request will be needed here…). The Tribunal ruling refers in Paragraph 27 to a document from Ernst and Young presented to Cabinet in November 2015. However campaigners reading the unredacted contract cannot find the substantiation for the cancellation costs being so high before the facility is operational. It appears breakage before the plant is in operation could cost substantially less than the break-points once it is up and running – and possibly even lower than the £30m the Council has subsequently committed from reserves to cover shortfalls in the project”.

Community R4C, a community-led project promoting a circular economy in Gloucestershire, which published local media accounts of the recent discovery here, has now gone to the council’s external auditor, Grant Thornton. With the help of the Environmental Law Foundation, a case has been put together which, it believes, shows the Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) contract is not value-for-money. It has also approached the Competition and Markets Authority, claiming that Gloucestershire’s contract breaks competition law.

A contributor to Private Eye magazine reports that environmental law expert Raymond Purdy, a senior fellow at Oxford University, has complained about the way Gloucestershire council leader Mark Hawthorne and deputy Ray Theodoulou presented financial details to a crucial meeting. As Tim Davies noted above, it was claimed that to opt out of the contract already signed with UBB would potentially cost £100m.

ELF elaborates: “The contract, originally signed in 2013 and then renegotiated in 2015, for the £500 million incinerator was awarded to Urbaser Balfour Beatty although details on pricing and information on termination were only made public following an Information Tribunal ruling in March this year (2017). In light of this information, and after seeking assistance from Counsel through ELF member, Duncan Sinclair of 39 Essex Chambers, R4C lodged a complaint with the CMA on 21st March that the Javelin Park contract breaches the Competition Act 1998. R4C believe that the exclusive contract is anti-competitive and prevents technological innovation, imposing a huge financial burden for years to come. They state that:

  • the price paid by GCC for waste disposal for a minimum amount is 10 times the next tranche, thereby creating ‘de facto’ exclusivity and foreclosing the market for waste treatment (including eliminating incentives to recycle/move higher up the waste hierarchy);
  • there are excessive termination costs thereby enforcing the ‘lock-in’; and
  • the 25-year contract prevents newer, cheaper and more efficient/environmentally friendly alternatives developing to the detriment of consumers in terms of not only price but also their interest in the environment (both local and more broadly).

If the complaint is upheld there would be serious consequences for Gloucestershire County Council and the residents they are elected to represent.

 

 

 

 

Broken Britain 4: being sold piecemeal to foreign governments and companies

In April, Peter Hitchens eloquently described the way this country is being sold to foreign governments and companies:

“I don’t think any other nation would put up with this. Why do we? The most ridiculous is the way our trains – devastated by John Major’s mad privatisation scheme – are falling into the hands of foreign state railways. So, while the Government cannot bear to have railways run by the British state, it is happy to have them run by the German, Dutch, French or even Hong Kong state systems . . . in this country that invented the railway and once exported equipment and skills around the world.”(Right: Private profit from public loss: NIPSA 2013)

Hitchens summarises:

  • Privatised railways’ jaws are clamped firmly to the public teat; when they fail they can just stroll away from the mess they have made.
  • British Rail’s trains were faster and more comfortable. It looked after its track far better and – given the money – it would never have made the mess its successors are now making of electrifying the Great Western line, which is years behind schedule, partly abandoned and vastly over budget.
  • In the 20 years to 2013, state subsidies to the rail sector roughly tripled in real terms, while fares continued to rise.
  • My trains are almost always late, frequently very badly so.
  • But they get more expensive all the time.
  • those responsible are protected from us by call centres and unresponsive websites, which only talk to us when they want to.

Finally Hitchens adds: “Last week it emerged that SNCF is bidding to operate HS2, a pointless vanity line that should have been cancelled long ago but which the Government is too weak to abandon. So we might be hiring a foreign state railway to run a service we don’t even need, while Britain is full of sizeable towns with no railway station, which could be linked to the national system for a tiny part of the cost of HS2 . . . The idea that our rulers have any idea what they are doing, or can be trusted with our national future, is a joke. They’re just hoping the bailiffs don’t turn up before the Election. But if they do, what have we got left to sell, to pay our bills?”

Hines argues that the Treaty of Rome needs transforming into a ‘Treaty of Home’ that will allow peoples to protect what they hold dear

Rupert Read has described Colin Hines’ ‘feisty clarion call’ for a change of direction away from acquiescence in the deregulated world that spawned the financial crisis and towards protection of nature, workers, localities and sovereignty, resisting rootless international capital.

As Read says, Hines’ policy of Progressive Protectionism will surely be part of a socially and environmentally viable future: crucial thought-leadership away from the political dead-end of globalisationist fantasy.

 

 

Read’s review (text here) will be published in the Ecologist, May/June issue, see Contents https://reader.exacteditions.com/issues/55993/spread/5