Author: Kitty S Jones

I’m a political activist with a strong interest in human rights. I’m also a strongly principled socialist. Much of my campaign work is in support of people with disability. I am also disabled: I have an autoimmune illness called lupus, with a sometimes life-threatening complication – a bleeding disorder called thrombocytopenia. Sometimes I long to go back to being the person I was before 2010. The Coalition claimed that the last government left a “mess”, but I remember being very well-sheltered from the consequences of the global banking crisis by the last government – enough to flourish and be myself. Now many of us are finding that our potential as human beings is being damaged and stifled because we are essentially focused on a struggle to survive, at a time of austerity cuts and welfare “reforms”. Maslow was right about basic needs and motivation: it’s impossible to achieve and fulfil our potential if we cannot meet our most fundamental survival needs adequately. What kind of government inflicts a framework of punishment via its policies on disadvantaged citizens? This is a government that tells us with a straight face that taking income from poor people will "incentivise" and "help" them into work. I have yet to hear of a case when a poor person was relieved of their poverty by being made even more poor. The Tories like hierarchical ranking in terms status and human worth. They like to decide who is “deserving” and “undeserving” of political consideration and inclusion. They like to impose an artificial framework of previously debunked Social Darwinism: a Tory rhetoric of division, where some people matter more than others. How do we, as conscientious campaigners, help the wider public see that there are no divisions based on some moral measurement, or character-type: there are simply people struggling and suffering in poverty, who are being dehumanised by a callous, vindictive Tory government that believes, and always has, that the only token of our human worth is wealth? Governments and all parties on the right have a terrible tradition of scapegoating those least able to fight back, blaming the powerless for all of the shortcomings of right-wing policies. The media have been complicit in this process, making “others” responsible for the consequences of Tory-led policies, yet these cruelly dehumanised social groups are the targeted casualties of those policies. I set up, and administrate support groups for ill and disabled people, those going through the disability benefits process, and provide support for many people being adversely affected by the terrible, cruel and distressing consequences of the Governments’ draconian “reforms”. In such bleak times, we tend to find that the only thing we really have of value is each other. It’s always worth remembering that none of us are alone. I don’t write because I enjoy it: most of the topics I post are depressing to research, and there’s an element of constantly having to face and reflect the relentless worst of current socio-political events. Nor do I get paid for articles and I’m not remotely famous. I’m an ordinary, struggling disabled person. But I am accurate, insightful and reflective, I can research and I can analyse. I write because I feel I must. To reflect what is happening, and to try and raise public awareness of the impact of Tory policies, especially on the most vulnerable and poorest citizens. Because we need this to change. All of us, regardless of whether or not you are currently affected by cuts, because the persecution and harm currently being inflicted on others taints us all as a society. I feel that the mainstream media has become increasingly unreliable over the past five years, reflecting a triumph for the dominant narrative of ultra social conservatism and neoliberalism. We certainly need to challenge this and re-frame the presented debates, too. The media tend to set the agenda and establish priorities, which often divert us from much more pressing social issues. Independent bloggers have a role as witnesses; recording events and experiences, gathering evidence, insights and truths that are accessible to as many people and organisations as possible. We have an undemocratic media and a government that reflect the interests of a minority – the wealthy and powerful 1%. We must constantly challenge that. Authoritarian Governments arise and flourish when a population disengages from political processes, and becomes passive, conformist and alienated from fundamental decision-making. I’m not a writer that aims for being popular or one that seeks agreement from an audience. But I do hope that my work finds resonance with people reading it. I’ve been labelled “controversial” on more than one occasion, and a “scaremonger.” But regardless of agreement, if any of my work inspires critical thinking, and invites reasoned debate, well, that’s good enough for me. “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all” – Elie Wiesel I write to raise awareness, share information and to inspire and promote positive change where I can. I’ve never been able to be indifferent. We need to unite in the face of a government that is purposefully sowing seeds of division. Every human life has equal worth. We all deserve dignity and democratic inclusion. If we want to see positive social change, we also have to be the change we want to see. That means treating each other with equal respect and moving out of the Tory framework of ranks, counts and social taxonomy. We have to rebuild solidarity in the face of deliberate political attempts to undermine it. Divide and rule was always a Tory strategy. We need to fight back. This is an authoritarian government that is hell-bent on destroying all of the gains of our post-war settlement: dismantling the institutions, public services, civil rights and eroding the democratic norms that made the UK a developed, civilised and civilising country. Like many others, I do what I can, when I can, and in my own way. This blog is one way of reaching people. Please help me to reach more by sharing posts. Thanks. Kitty, 2012

The NHS is to hire 300 employment coaches to find patients jobs to “keep them out of hospital.”

Image result for cognitive therapy for unemployed protests

The government has a problem with the public actually using public services

The government announced the creation of the Joint Health and Work Unit and the Health and Work Service in 2015/16, both with a clear remit to cut benefits and “get people into work.” Given that mental health is a main cause for long-term sickness absence in the UK, a key aspect of this policy is to provide mental health services that get people back into work.

There has already been an attempt to provide mental health services for people who claim social security support, which includes a heavily resisted pilot to put therapists into job centresAnother heavily opposed government proposal was announced as part of the  health and work pilot programme to put job coaches in GP surgeries
The proposals have been widely held to be profoundly anti-therapeutic, potentially very damaging and professionally unethical. 

With such a narrow objective, the delivery will invariably be driven by an ideological agenda, politically motivated outcomes and meeting limited targets, rather than being focused on the wellbeing of individuals who need support and who may be vulnerable. I also discovered almost by chance back in 2015 that the Nudge Unit team have been working with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health to trial social experiments aimed at finding ways of: “preventing people from falling out of the jobs market and going onto Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).” 

“These include GPs prescribing a work coach, and a health and work passport to collate employment and health information. These emerged from research with people on ESA, and are now being tested with local teams of Jobcentres, GPs and employers.”  Source: Matthew Hancock’s conference speech: The Future of Public Services

GPs have raised their own concerns about sharing patient data with the Department for Work and Pensions – and quite properly so. Pulse reported that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) planned to extract information from GP records, including the number of Med3s or so-called “fit notes” issued by each practice and the number of patients recorded as “unfit” or “maybe fit” for work, in an intrusive move described by GP leaders as amounting to “state snooping.”

Part of the reason for this renewed government attack on sick and disabled people is that the government’s flagship fit note scheme, which replaced sick notes five years ago in thehope it would see GPs sending thousands more employees back to workto reduce sickness-related absence, despite GPs having expressed doubts since before its launch, has predicably failed.

The key reason for the failure is that employers did not take responsibility for working with employees and GPs seriously, and more than half (59%) of employers said they felt unable to support employees by making all of the legally required workplace adjustments for those who had fit notes signed as “may be fit for work.” Rather than address this issue with employers, the government has decided instead to simply coerce patients back into work without essential support.

Another reason for the failure of this scheme is that most people who need time off from work are ill and genuinely cannot return to work until they have recovered. Regardless of the government’s concern for the business and state costs of sick leave, people cannot be simply ushered out of illness and into work by the state to “contribute to the economy.” When a GP says a person is “unfit for work”, they generally ARE unfit for work, regardless of whether the government likes that or not.

The government have planned to merge health and employment services, and are now attempting to redefine work as a clinical outcome. Unemployment has been stigmatised and politically redefined as a psychological disorder, the government claims somewhat incoherently that the “cure” for unemployment due to illness and disability, and sickness absence from work, is work.

The latest strand of this ideological anti-welfare crusade was recently announced: the NHS is to hire 300 employment coaches who will find patients jobs to “keep them out of hospital.” The Individual Placement and Support services (IPS) is aimed at ‘supporting’ people with severe mental illness to seek work and ‘hold down a job’. Job coaches will offer assistance on CVs, interview techniques and are expected to work with 20,000 people by 2021. Pilot schemes running in Sussex, Bradford, Northampton and some London boroughs suggest that the coaches manage to find work for at least a quarter of users. The scheme is to be extended nationwide. 

The roll out of mental health employment specialists across the country is based on  analysis of the pilots, which is claimed to show that 2,300 patients have been helped into work in the last year. However, the longer term consequences of the programme are not known, and it is uncertain if there will be any meaningful monitoring regarding efficacy, safeguarding and the uncovering of unintended consequences and risks to participants.

It is held that those in work tend to be in better health, visit their GP less and are less likely to need hospital treatment. The government has assumed that there is a causal relationship expressed in this common sense finding, and make an inferential leap with the claim that “work is a health outcome”.

However, support for this premise is not universal. Some concerns which have been reasonably raised are commonly about the extent to which people will be ‘pushed’ into work they are not able or ready to do, or into bad quality work that is harmful to them, under the misguided notion that any work will be good for them in the long run. 

Of course it may equally be the case that people in better health work because they can, and have less need for healthcare services simply because they are relatively well, rather than because they work. 

Undoubtedly there are some people who may be able to work and who want to, but struggle to find suitable employment without adequate support. This section of the population may also face the lack of knowledge, attitudes and prejudices of potential employers regarding their conditions as a further barrier to gaining appropriate employment. The scheme will be ideal for supporting this group. That is, however, only provided that engagement with the service is voluntary, and does not become mandatory. 

It must also be acknowledged that there are some people who are simply too ill to work. Again, it’s a serious concern that this group may be pressured and coerced to find employment, which may prove to be detrimental to their wellbeing. Furthermore, placing them in work may present unacceptable risk to both themselves and others. How can we possibly know in advance about the longer term risks presented by the impact of an illness, and the potential effects of some medications in the workplace? If something goes catastrophically wrong as a consequence of someone taking up work when they are too unwell to work, who will hold the responsibility for the consequences?

In the current political context where the public are told “work is the route out of poverty” and “work is a health outcome”, people feel obliged to try to work, when they believe they can. But what happens when they are wrong in that belief? Who is responsible, for example, when someone has a loss of consciousness or an episode of altered awareness, caused by a condition or medication, while operating machinery, at the wheel of a taxi, bus or refuse waggon? 

Harry Clarke, who believed that he was fit for work, suffered a loss of consciousness on 22 December 2014 while at the wheel of a moving refuse lorry in Glasgow city centre, resulting in six deaths and leaving 15 people injured. Following numerous warnings from the court about his right to remain silent, Clarke refused to answer key questions about numerous doctors visits and medical tests for dizziness, fainting, vertigo, heart problems, tension headaches, operations on hands and knee pain dating back to 1976. However, one of the biggest revelations of the inquiry was Clarke’s lengthy medical history, which showed he had suffered episodes of dizziness and fainting for decades prior to the tragic crash.

Yet during an inquiry about the case, a health care professional who assessed the Glasgow bin lorry crash driver for the renewal of his HGV licence in 2011 would have deemed him only “temporarily unfit to drive” if she had known he had fainted the year before the accident. Furthermore, Clarke’s conditions would probably not have made him eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Dr Joanne Willox told the inquiry panel at Glasgow Sheriff Court that she saw Mr Clarke on 6 December 2011 at the request of his employer Glasgow City Council to complete a HGV renewal application form with him which was to be submitted to the DVLA. 

Dr Willox, an occupational medical adviser for the private company Bupa, on behalf of Glasgow City Council, did not have access to his medical records. She could have requested the records with the patient’s consent if she considered it necessary, though this was not the normal practice and it may have taken time to get the records.

She said it would have been “helpful” to have the records. The inquiry revealed that Clarke had a history of fainting and dizziness, and had in fact previously suffered a similar episode while at the wheel of a stationary bus, in 2010.

The horrific case highlights several issues, not least that employment of people with unpredictable or undiagnosed medical conditions does not only pose a threat to the person, but it may potentially be contrary to public safety, too. It also highlights that a privately contracted occupational health professional who had no knowledge of Clarke’s medical history, was unsuitably tasked to make a judgement about his potential ability to work as a refuse waggon driver. Employing people who are ill and later found to be unfit for the role is potentially in contravention of the Health and Safety at Work Act. 

Another horrific example of the dangers presented by placing trust in unqualified bureaucrats and the state – who have ideological interests that often lie in conflict with those of patients – to make decisions about citizens’ health and welfare arose when a manager at Birkenhead Benefit Centre in Liverpool wrote a letter, addressed to a GP, regarding a seriously ill patient. It said:

We have decided your patient is capable of work from and including January 10, 2016.

“This means you do not have to give your patient more medical certificates for employment and support allowance purposes unless they appeal against this decision.

“You may need to again if their condition worsens significantly, or they have a new medical condition.” (My emphasis)

The job centre manager was wrong. The the ‘health care professional, assessing the patient on behalf of the private company contracted to carry out the ESA assessment, on behalf of the government, was wrong. 

The patient, James Harrison, had been declared “fit for work” and the letter stated that he should not get further medical certificates. However, 10 months after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contacted his doctor without telling him, James died, aged 55.

He was clearly not fit for work.

James’ grieving daughter, Abbie, said: “It’s a disgrace that managers at the Jobcentre, who know nothing about medicine, should interfere in any way in the relationship between a doctor and a patient.

“They have no place at all telling a doctor what they should or shouldn’t give a patient. It has nothing to do with them.

“When the Jobcentre starts to get involved in telling doctors about the health of their patients, that’s a really slippery slope.” (See Jobcentre tells GP to stop issuing sick notes to patient assessed as ‘fit for work’ and he died.)

It has become very evident over recent years that the labour market is not delivering an adequate income for many citizens is and despite “record levels of employment”, the problem seems to be getting bigger. The government’s answer to the problem has been to extend punishment those on low pay, rather than tackle employers who pay exploitative, low wages.

The neoliberal narrative and Conservative antiwelfarism

Some of the underpinning language used to justify this approach also troubles me, as it is clearly couched in economic terms. It’s about cutting costs, propping up the economy as a whole and “rewarding” tax payers. Here, it is implied that people who are ill are somehow a burden on tax payers. However, most people who become ill have also worked and contributed to the Treasury. Furthermore, people who aren’t in employment also pay taxes, too, be it VAT, council tax, or a range of other stealth taxes from which even the poorest citizens are no longer exempted. 

Claire Murdoch, NHS England national mental health director, said: “Helping people with mental ill health to find and keep a job is good for individual wellbeing and good for the health of our economy. Tackling severe mental illness is not just about getting medication and treatment right, but ensuring people can recover to live independently with their condition, including the reward and satisfaction of getting and keeping a job.

In our 70th year, mental health is one of the NHS’ top priorities, and ensuring services are integrated, so people get whole-person care, means our patients get better outcomes and taxpayers are rewarded as treatment is more efficient. One in seven of us will go through mental ill health whilst at work, so delivering a safety net, to help people back in to work when they fall ill, will minimise harm and make our country’s workforce more productive.”

NHS England say: “As part of patients’ care and support package, work coaches in NHS Individual Placement and Support (IPS) services, offer advice about finding a job, help them to prepare for an interview and can speak with potential employers about how someone’s condition can be managed so that they can work effectively while staying in good health.

“The trained specialists also improve the health of people with severe mental illness, reducing the need for urgent hospital admissions and GP appointments. Research shows that type of support can free up as much as £6,000 per patient, which can be invested in other frontline care.”

Again, the language is loaded, it’s a narrative with a scattering of casual cost-cutting phrases and prioritises a ‘productive workforce.’ There isn’t any discussion regarding the claim to ‘minimise harm’, it seems to be assumed that work in itself will take care of that. It’s also a little worrying that employers and work coaches are to be included in the ‘management’ of employees’ illnesses. When I am ill, I don’t want the advice or ‘management’ of a boss or a work coach, I want impartial medical diagnosis, treatment and advice from my doctor, not a ‘nudge’ or trite armchair psychology and pseudoscientific platitudes from the state.

It’s difficult to see how someone with a serious, chronic or progressive illness, can actually ‘manage’ their illness and ‘move back into work.’ The use of the extremely misinformed, patronising and very misleading term manage implies that very ill people actually have some kind of choice in the matter.

Implicit in this narrative is the idea that illness is caused by deviant behaviours. The ‘cure’ therefore, is to simply address and remedy the faulty behaviours. 

The sick role and the resurrection of Talcott Parsons: disciplining disabled people

There is a lack of coherence within the narratives of contemporary Conservative governance, which is simultaneously neoliberal – grounded in free market principles and the ideal of a small, ‘non-intrusive’ state – and paternalism – which is founded on an authoritarian, large, extremely intrusive state, which is designed to tell people what is best for them and nudging citizens’ behaviours towards government defined policy outcomes.

The tension between neoliberalism and paternalism which outlines current policy approaches to disability and employment policy is filled with ambiguity, inconsistency and contradiction in its definition and understanding of the subject, the nature of the ‘problem’ and the policy ‘solutions’. On the one hand, neoliberalism is a doctrine that demands the withdrawal of social support mechanisms such as welfare, health care and public services, on the other, paternalism is based on state interventions designed to extend politically defined ‘optimal outcomes’.

These apparently contradictory narratives have been embodied in discipline of behavioural economics, which is largely aimed at enforcing the alignment of public expectations, attitudes and behaviours with neoliberal outcomes. It’s a prop for  dogma and the status quo. Behavioural economics is concerned with reducing citizens’ expectations of social provision, while enforcing self reliance, and with providing justification narratives for neoliberal policies. 

I have written critical accounts of this somewhat draconian Conservative neoliberal paternalism on more than one occasion. The Conservatives place emphasis on highlighting the obligations of citizens, rather than on their rights, and this is why the work of Talcott Parsons in the early 1950s is especially appealing to them. 

Behavioural medicine was partly influenced by Talcott Parsons’ The Social System, 1951, and his work regarding the sick role, in which he analysed in a framework of citizen’s roles, social obligations, reciprocities and behaviours within a wider capitalist society, with an analysis of rights and obligations during sick leave. From this perspective, the sick role is considered to be sanctioned deviance, which disturbs the function of society. (It’s worth comparing that the government are currently focused on economic function and enhancing the supply side of the labour market.)

Behavioural medicine more generally arose from a view of illness and sick role behaviours as characteristics of individuals, and these concepts were imported from sociological and sociopsychological theories.

However, it should be noted that there is a distinction between the academic social science disciplines, which include critical perspectives of conflict and power, for example, and the recent technocratic “behavioural insights” approach to public policy, which is a monologue that doesn’t include critical analysis, and serves as prop for neoliberalism, conflating citizen’s needs and interests with narrow, politically defined economic outcomes.

We have a government that has regularly misused concepts from psychology and sociology, distorting them to fit a distinct framework of ideology, and justification narratives for draconian policies, usually entailing the diversion of public funds from public services and the provision of social security to wards rewards for the wealthiest citizens, usually in the form of tax cuts. Parsons’ work has generally been defined as sociological functionalism, and functionalism tends to embody very conservative ideas. 

From this perspective, sick people are not productive members of society; therefore this deviation from the norm must be policed. This, according to Parsons, is the role of the medical profession. More recently, however, we have witnessed the rapid extension of this role to include extensive State policing of sick and disabled people, and the introduction of increasingly coercive measures to push citizens into self managing their health conditions, while the medical profession have been increasingly politically sidelined in their provision of advice, care and support, regarding sickness and employment.

Last year, the government proposed extending ‘fit note’ certification beyond GPs to a wider group of non-specialist healthcare professionals, including physiotherapists, psychiatrists and senior nurses, to better ‘identify health conditions and treatments’ to help workers go back into their jobs faster. This is very worrying, since it entails the diagnosis and treatment of conditions by people who are not qualified to undertake this role.

‘Fit notes’ are specifically designed to ‘help’ patients develop a return to work plan, and are meant to be tailored to their individual needs. However, the introduction of fit notes –  a somewhat Orwellian title that refuses to acknowledge people get ill, or permit citizens time to recover, which replaced sick notes –  failed to produce an increase in a more rapid return to work for patients generally, mainly due to the fact that employers failed to support patients with adequate workplace adjustments to accommodate their return.  

It seems many of the psychosocial advocates have ignored the rise of chronic illnesses and the increasing pathologisation of everyday behaviours in health promotion. Parson’s sick role came to be seen as a negative referent rather than as a useful interpretative tool. Parsons’ starting point is his understanding of illness as deviance. Illness is the breakdown of the general “capacity for the effective performance of valued tasks” (Parsons, 1964: 262). Losing this capacity disrupts “loyalty” to particular commitments in specific contexts such as the workplace.

Theories of the social construction of disability also provide an example of the cultural meaning of certain health conditions. The roots of this anti-essentialist approach are found in Stigma bErving Goffman (1963), in which he highlights the social meaning physical impairment comes to acquire via social interactions. The social model of disability tends to conceptually distinguish impairment (the attribute) from disability (the social experience and meaning of impairment). Disability cannot be reduced to a mere biological problem located in an individual’s body  (Barnes, Mercer, and Shakespeare, 1999). Rather than a “personal tragedy” that should be fixed to conform to medically determined standards of “normality” (Zola, 1982), disability becomes politicised.

The issues we then need to confront are about the obstacles that may limit the opportunities for individuals with impairments, and about how those social barriers may be removed.

From a social constructionist perspective, emphasis is placed on how certain illnesses come to have cultural meanings that are not reducible to or determined by biology, and these cultural meanings further burden the afflicted (as opposed to burdening “the tax payer” , the health services, those with profit seeking motives, or the state.)

So to clarify, it is wider society and governments that need a shift in disabling attitudes, perceptions and behaviours, not disabled people.

The insights that arose from the social construction of disability approach are embodied in policies, which include the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which included an employers’ duty to ensure reasonable adjustments/adaptations; the more recent Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, which provides an important tool for disabled people to use to challenge discrimination, violations to their human rights and unacceptable treatment.

In contrast, Parsons invokes a social contract in which society’s “gift of life” is repaid by continued contributions and conformity to (apparently unchanging, non-progressive) social expectations. For Parsons, this is more than just a matter of symbolic interaction, it has far more concrete, material implications: “honour” (deserving) and “shame” (undeserving) which accompany conformity and deviance, have consequences for the allocation of resources, for notions of citizenship, civil rights and social status.

Parsons never managed to accommodate and reflect social change, suffering and distress, poverty, deprivation and conflict in his functionalist perspective. His view of citizens as oversocialised and subjugated in normative conformity was an essentially Conservative one. In fact, the instituted Nudge Unit at the heart of the Cabinet Office and a proliferation of nudge-laden behaviourist policies over recent years indicates this view is a Conservative ideal. 

Furthermore, Parsons’ systems theory was heavily positivistic, anti-voluntaristic and profoundly dehumanising. His mechanistic and unilinear evolutionary theory reads like an instruction manual for the capitalist state.

Parsons thought that social practices should be seen in terms of their function in maintaining order and social structure. You can see why his core ideas would appeal to Conservative neoliberals and rogue multinational companies (such as Unumwho had a hand in the government’s Work, Health and Employment green paper). Conservatives have always been very attached to tautological explanations (insofar that they tend to present circular arguments.)

One question raised in this functional approach is how do we determine what is functional and what is not, and for whom each of these activities and institutions are functional. If there is no method to sort functional from non-functional aspects of society, the functional model is tautological – without any explanatory power to why any activity is regarded as “functional.” The causes are simply explained in terms of perceived effects, and conversely, the effects are explained in terms of perceived causes). 

Because of the highly gendered division of labour in the 1950s, the body in Parsons’ sick role is a male one, defined as controlled by a rational, purposive mind and oriented by it towards an income-generating performance. For Parsons, most illness could be considered to be psychosomatic.

The ‘mind over matter’ dogma is not benign; there are billions of pounds and dollars at stake for the global insurance industry, which is set to profit massively to the detriment of sick and disabled people. The eulogised psychosocial approach is evident throughout the highly publicised UK PACE Trial on treatment regimes that entail Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and graded exercise. By curious coincidence, that trial was also significantly about de-medicalising illnesses. Another curious coincidence is that Mansel Aylward sat on the PACE Trial steering group. 

Work will set you free


Arbeit macht frei
(‘work makes you free’) is a German expression which comes from the title of a novel by German philologist Lorenz Diefenbach, Arbeit macht frei: Erzählung von Lorenz Diefenbach (1873), in which gamblers and fraudsters find the path to virtue through work. The Weimar Republic in the 1920s, and later, the Nazis, found the leading character of Diefenbach’s book, whose achievements are defined by ‘concentrating on doing his work’, compelling.

The phrase was used to promote German employment policies. The slogan was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. It strikes as an almost mystical declaration that self-sacrifice in the form of endless labour does in itself bring a kind of spiritual freedom. However, given the true role of concentration camps such as Auschwitz during the Holocaust as well as the individual prisoner’s knowledge that once they entered the camp, freedom was not likely to be gained by any means other than their death, the terrible and cruel irony of the slogan becomes clear. And the lie. 

Though the context and wording has changed –  “work is a health outcome” – and full employment at any cost is the neoliberal goal, the idea that work has some mystical benefit, such as curing illness, or even simply alleviating poverty and inequality, remains a lie. 

The British Psychological Society (BPS) has expressed concerns about the idea  that employment (of whatever type) should be recognised as a “health outcome”. The Society recognise that suitable work can be good for wellbeing – but this very much depends on the type and quality of work and its social context. 

Furthermore, my own view is that the IPS programme will make it more difficult to ensure and maintain the political independence of health professionals. The private and confidential patient-doctor relationship ought to be a safe space, where citizens may address medical health problems, and doctors can provide support for people who are ill. The government is creating yet another space for an intrusive, overextension of the coercive arm of the state to “help people into work”, regardless of whether or not they are actually well enough to cope with working.

Placing employment advisors in the NHS will not address inequality, and the social conditions that are the consequence of political decision-making and imposed economic frameworks, so it permits the government and society to look the other way, while the government continue to present mental illness as an individual weakness or vulnerability, and a consequence of “worklessness” rather than a fairly predictable result of living in a highly unequal, competitive society, and arising because of experiences of living stigmatised, marginalised lives because of politically expedient policy-directed material deprivation. 

Feeding a myth 

I found a document almost by accident, while researching the Health, Work and Disability green paper a couple of years back. It presents further evidence that government policy is not founded on empirical evidence, but rather, it is often founded on deceitful contrivance. The Department for Work and Pensions research document published back in 2011 –Routes onto Employment and Support Allowance– said that if people believed that work was good for them, they were less likely to claim or stay on disability benefits. 

It was decided that people should be “encouraged” to believe that work was “good” for health. There is no empirical basis for the belief, and the purpose of encouraging it is simply to cut the numbers of disabled people claiming ESA by “encouraging” them into work. Some people’s work is undoubtedly a source of wellbeing and provides a sense of purpose.

That is not the same thing as being work being miraculously “good for health”. For a government to use data regarding opinion rather than empirical evidence to claim that work is “good” for health indicates a ruthless mercenary approach to fulfill their broader aim of dismantling social security and relentless determination to uphold their ideological commitment to supply-side policy, regardless of the harmful social costs.

From the document: “The belief that work improves health also positively influenced work entry rates; as such, encouraging people in this belief may also play a role in promoting return to work.”

The aim of the research was to “examine the characteristics of ESA claimants and to explore their employment trajectories over a period of approximately 18 months in order to provide information about the flow of claimants onto and off ESA.”

The document also says: “Work entry rates were highest among claimants whose claim was closed or withdrawn suggesting that recovery from short-term health conditions is a key trigger to moving into employment among this group.”

“The highest employment entry rates were among people flowing onto ESA from non-manual occupations. In comparison, only nine per cent of people from non-work backgrounds who were allowed ESA had returned to work by the time of the follow-up survey. People least likely to have moved into employment were from non-work backgrounds with a fragmented longer-term work history. Avoiding long-term unemployment and inactivity, especially among younger age groups, should, therefore, be a policy priority. ” 

“Given the importance of health status in influencing a return to work, measures to facilitate access to treatment, and prevent deterioration in health and the development of secondary conditions are likely to improve return to work rates”

Rather than make a link between manual work, lack of reasonable adjustments in the work place and the impact this may have on longer term ill health, the government chose instead to promote the cost-cutting and unverified, irrational belief that work is a “health” outcome. Furthermore, the research does conclude that health status itself is the greatest determinant in whether or not people return to work. That means that those not in work are not recovered and have longer term health problems that tend not to get better.

Work does not “cure” ill health. To mislead people in such a way is not only atrocious political expediency, it’s actually downright dangerous.

As neoliberals, the Conservatives see the state as a means to reshape social institutions and social relationships based on the model of a competitive market place. This requires a highly invasive power and mechanisms of persuasion, manifested in an authoritarian turn. Public interests are conflated with narrow economic outcomes. Public behaviours are politically micromanaged. Social groups that don’t conform to ideologically defined economic outcomes are politically stigmatised and economically outgrouped.

Nicola Oliver, from Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Employment support linked to mental health means people can live the life they want to lead.

“If you help someone into a job they really like – which means they are inspired to get up in the morning and want to manage their symptoms – they’re likely to say to their clinician ‘This is what I want to do, help me to overcome these barriers.’ In this way, you’re motivating the person to manage their own condition” (My emphasis).

Mental health employment specialists in the IPS service are part of community mental health teams. They currently operate in parts of the country including Sussex, Bradford, Northampton and some London boroughs, which have seen 9,000 people in the past twelve months. NHS England will be providing £10 million funding to expand access over the next two years, with further investment to follow. By 2021, NHS England anticipates that 20,000 people with severe mental illness will receive tailored care and employment advice via the NHS, suggesting that around 5,000 people with mental ill health avoid unemployment thanks to ‘better health care’.

IPS is one of a number of integrated mental health services which are being introduced or expanded across England, as part of NHS England’s Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, described as a “transformation and investment programme to improve care between 2016 and 2021.”

People can only work when their basic needs are met

maslows_hierarchy_of_needs-4

Despite the government’s rhetoric on welfare “dependency”, and the alleged need for removing so-called “perverse incentives” from the social security system by imposing a harsh conditionality framework and a compliance regime – using punitive sanctions – and work capability assessments designed to preclude eligibility to disability benefits, research shows that generous social security regimes make people more likely to want to work, not less. I have written at length over the last few years about why a punitive welfare system can never work, as the government claim, to “incentivise people to find employment. See, for example, The Minnesota Starvation Experiment provided empirical evidence that demonstrates clearly why welfare sanctions can’t possibly work as an “incentive” to “make work pay”).

The government’s welfare “reforms” have already invited scathing international criticism because they have disproportionately targeted cuts at those with the least income. Furthermore, the government have systematically violated the human rights of those with mental and physical disabilities. In a highly critical UN report which followed a lengthy inquiry, it says: “States parties should find an adequate balance between providing an adequate level of income security for persons with disabilities through social security schemes and supporting their labour inclusion. The two sets of measures should be seen as complementary rather than contradictory.”

However, the UK government have continued to conflate social justice and inclusion with punitive policies and cuts – dressed up in the language of “incentives” and “nudge” – aimed at coercing disabled people towards narrow employment outcomes that preferably bypass any form of genuine support and the social security system completely.  (See –UN’s highly critical report confirms UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people).

It’s hardly the case that the state has an even remotely credible track record of assessing people’s medical conditions, nor is it the case that this government bothers itself with empirical evidence, or deigns to listen to concerns raised by citizens, academics, professionals and charities regarding the harm that their policies are causing. This is a government that can’t even manage to observe basic human rights, let alone care about citizen’s best interests, health and wellbeing. In a political context of savage cuts to essential support and services for disabled people, and such blatant disregard of the legislative frameworks that outline their fundamental rights, it is very difficult to trust that this government have the best interests of disabled people in mind with the formulation of Work, Health and Employment related programmes. 

The government’s aim to prompt public services to “speak with one voice” to promote work as a health outcome is founded on highly questionable ethics. This proposed multi-agency approach is reductive, rather than being about formulating expansive, coherent, comprehensive and importantly, responsive provision.

Employment is not therapy. Ultimately, the IPS programme is all about (re)defining the behaviours, experience and reality of a social group to ensure they conform to government ideological incentives and to justify dismantling public services (especially welfare, and increasingly, the NHS – see, for example, Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper).

This is form of gaslighting intended to extend oppressive political control and behavioural micromanagement. In linking receipt of welfare with health services and “state therapy,” with the single intended outcome explicitly expressed as employment, the government is purposefully conflating citizen’s widely varied needs with economic outcomes and diktats, isolating people from traditionally non-partisan networks of relatively unconditional support, such as the health service, social services, community services and mental health services.

Public services “speaking with one voice” will invariably make accessing support conditional, and further isolate already marginalised social groups. It will damage trust between people needing support and professionals who are meant to deliver essential public services, rather than simply extending government dogma, prejudices and discrimination.

Conservatives really seem to believe that the only indication of a person’s functional capacity, value and potential is their economic productivity, and the only indication of their moral worth is their capability and degree of willingness to work. But unsatisfactory employment – low-paid, insecure and unfulfilling work – can result in a decline in health and wellbeing, indicating that it is poverty and growing inequality, rather than unemployment, that increases the risk of experiencing poor mental and physical health.

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The interdependence of the PR industry and neoliberal Conservative governments

The PR industry arose to promote and protect private interests in neoliberal economies

Public Relations (PR) and propaganda are key mechanisms by which power and influence are won (and lost). PR consultancies are also behind significant victories on behalf of big business, resulting in a tilted, biased market. PR emerged as a distinct discipline as a result of threats to the interests of business and government along with a ‘promotional culture’. 

Evidence indicates that PR arose rapidly in tandem with neoliberal policies. Those countries with the most marked privatisation and deregulation from the 1980s onwards – the US, the UK and Japan – had the largest PR industries. By contrast, countries such as France and Germany, which retained significant elements of consensus-based policies and state investment in industry, have much smaller PR industries. The global PR industry is dominated by a few big players, most of which are US or UK in origin and
ownership. 

Relative size of PR agencies in Europe, the US and Japan:

PR US Japan Eu

The expansion and power of Trans National Corporations (TNCs) relative to nation states has been a key spur to the development of communications conglomerates, which provide a full range of ‘promotional’ services and aspire to a global reach.  TNCs’ influence over the policy making process by entering an international market place has also led to a globalising of  the PR industry.

Multinational corporations, particularly in the US, and increasingly in the UK, look for global PR agencies who can operate adaptably and locally, wherever they are needed. 

The consensus in British politics was based on a compromise between organised labour and capital, which was founded on the post war 1945 settlement. This did secure real and significant democratic advances for ordinary citizens in the shape of the NHS, the welfare state, universal education, significant public ownership of utilities and heavy industry and, partly as a result, some amelioration of inequality in wealth distribution.

The end of the consensus in British politics during the New Right era ushered in more competitive politics in which traditions were displaced by a neoliberal tilt to the market in government policy. The crisis of the consensus shifted decisively with the 1979 election of Margaret Thatcher’s government which favoured the role and ‘right’ of employers to ‘manage’, with government rolling back state mediation.  

During the Thatcher era, changes in the communication strategies of the nationalised industries were crucial to the changed relationships between management and workers.  Controversial government actions and policies also led to a vast increase in PR spending by governments and by corporations in their attempts to influence government policy.

Fundamental to this is the relationship between PR, lobbying, and neoliberalism, (particularly the privatisation of national assets and the deregulation of business and service provision in state institutions). There are several parts to this relationship which are interrelated and in some respects, mutually reinforcing. These include:

Lobbying and preparation for deregulation,
• Spending on privatisation by government/nationalised industries,
• Spending by newly privatised companies,
• Spending on promotion by industries and professions following
deregulation,
• Increased spending on PR in the new business climate created by the
deregulation of the City. 

Conservative policies could not work without the PR industry and the PR industry would not have developed in the spectacular way it did without consecutive Conservative governments. The British privatisations of the 1980s were instrumental in the rapid  expansion of the PR industry. Once industries are privatised, PR, corporate identity consultants and advertising are needed to promote the private interests of the companies and as a part of their strategic armoury to create positive public images of them. By the 1990s, accountancy firms also routinely employed lobbying firms.

Lobbying increased deregulation which increased PR spending by encouraging financial institutions to market themselves, and by ‘selling’ the marketing. Nowadays there are no matters for business, government or private interest pressure groups that have not been first addressed by promotional professionals, which has made, in turn, further contribution to shaping economic-political life and profoundly reduced the quality of our democracy. 

PR consultancy and neoliberal ideology are intimately connected, the role of PR has facilitated an institutional corruption in British governance.

The rise of political branding and marketing, where the primary development involves the way political candidates, parties, government, lobbyists and groups have borrowed communication techniques from the private sector in the attempt to achieve
strategic objectives like gaining votes, driving public opinion or influencing legislation, is generally regarded to be an Americanisation of campaigning in the UK.

However, the identifiable practices like negative advertising, personalised politics, and high pre-election campaign expenditures are generally more about maintaining a neoliberal status quo, and these methods are a ‘whatever it takes’ approach that are subsequently exported in a pre-packaged box of persuasion techniques to other countries. Political identities are being constructed rather than given, policies are presented on showroom dummies, dressed up in techniques of persuasion. Yet there is evidence to suggest that overexposure to this kind of window dressing and made over political coverage has contributed towards widespread political alienation.

Image result for pr and democracy

The rise of political marketing with its techniques of ‘spin’, selling and persuasion may have somewhat undermined the credibility of political leaders and institutions,  with the elevation of style over content and image over substance, along with a concomitant  ‘brand and package’ pack mentality political journalism, ultimately leading to hardened public cynicism. We are after all, inhabiting a world dominated by PR operations that leave little place for objective reporting. Every message that the public receives is “sponsored” by someone trying to sell us something – be it a product, a service, a candidate, a government or a legislative act.

The content of the messages is calculated to generate superficial and shallow emotive responses rather than inspiring deliberative, rational and critical thinking. 

It wouldn’t be such a stretch to imagine that, in addition to the reductionist and glib sloganisation of politics, the normalised use of  emotive, negative and ‘attack’ Conservative political advertising may in fact demobilise the electorate, too.

The Conservatives in the ‘war room’ – a case study

The UK Policy Group is the UK branch of a notorious US political organisation – Definers Public Affairs – which has worked for Donald Trump’s administration and has aggressively targeted his critics. The company boasts: “What sets us apart is our focus on political-style research, war room media monitoring, political due diligence and rapid response communications.

“We help our clients navigate public affairs challenges, influence media narratives and make informed decisions to disrupt crowded markets.

“The global political, policy and corporate communications landscapes are evolving rapidly. Decision makers need high quality research to make informed decisions and need relevant content to drive the court of public opinion and provide context to shape decisions by policymakers.

“With affiliates in Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley, UK Policy Group employs some of the best communicators, researchers and media analysts as part of our team.”

The Conservatives have outsourced their “research” to the UK Policy Group, privatising their dirt digging and smear campaigns. 

US lobbying firm Definers Public Affairs was founded by Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign manager, Matt Rhoades and former Republican National Committee research director Joe Pounder. Rhoades and Pounder are also directors of UK Policy Group.

Definers made headlines in December 2017 when it was paid US$120,000 in a no-bid contract by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to build up dossiers of compromising information on “resistance figures”, opposed to the policy agenda of Scott Pruitt, and Donald Trump, the man who appointed him. Definers cancelled the contract in short order after its activities were exposed. 

UK Policy Group was originally called, and registered with Companies House as, ‘UK Rising’. Rhoades and Pounder are co-founders of America Rising, a political action committee (PAC), that specialises in helping [Republican] party candidates and Conservative groups find damaging information on political rivals. Both companies “craft convincing narratives and focused messaging”.

The expansion by Definers Public Affairs came at a time when US lobbying firms were eyeing UK expansion in anticipation of flood of Brexit-related work.

UK Policy Group’s website unambiguously states it works for ‘corporate clients’, however, not a single one of those running the company has a significant private sector background. In fact, each of the five individuals standing alongside Pounder and Rhoades is intimately connected with the Conservative Party.

Former government officials are advising this highly controversial company. The UK company’s vice president is Andrew Goodfellow, who was the Conservative Party’s director of policy and research. He specialised in ‘opposition’ research.

James Caldecourt was previously a Political Adviser in the Conservative Research Department, also specialising in ‘opposition’ research, and was part of George Osborne’s team while he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer 2010 — 2015. He has worked on several national election and referendum campaigns in political, policy and operational roles. Louis McMahon worked for two tears for two Conservative government ministers, and previously co-authored a criminal justice report for the Center for Social Justice think tank, founded by Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith MP in 2004.

Ameet Gill, who was the former director of strategy Number 10 and founder of lobbying company Hanbury Strategy, is providing consultancy to the firm. Official documents reveal that David Cameron ’s former director of strategy, Gill, was given permission by parliamentary authorities to accept a contract advising the firm through his political strategy company Hanbury Strategy. Pelham Groom, a company director, was previously head of ‘media monitoring’ for the Conservative Party. Chris Brannigan, Theresa May’s former Director of Government Relations is also a member of the group’s advisory board. Rhiannon Glover is an analyst, formerly, the late duty press officer for the Conservative Party and researcher in the office of Nick Hurd.

The company is also partnered with Trygve Olson, of Viking Strategies, who advised the European People’s Party in the 2009 EU elections and worked as a consultant to the Republican Party in the US.

The company says: “We offer our clients an end-to-end system of research on issues and opponents, monitoring the news cycles, and shaping narratives via rapid rebuttal communications.

UKPG provides our clients with unparalleled campaign-style research as the foundation of driving informed decisions that allow them to shape public opinion, and impact outcomes.”

The company employs people to find damaging information on political rivals. Scrutinising the personal histories, online videos and posts of Labour Party candidates, the company collects dossiers of potential discrediting and smear material to be handed to the Conservative Party. It’s understood that the information is then handed to right-wing websites and newspapers to construct narratives and add a veneer of evidence to negative articles.

The company expansion by US-based company Definers Public Affairs came at a time when US lobbying firms were eyeing UK expansion “in anticipation of flood of Brexit-related work, using their capacity to influence the national news cycle’ and as a ‘master of opposition research”. 

Ian Lavery MP, Labour Party Chair, said: “I am disappointed but not surprised to hear that in an attempt to deflect from their total lack of direction and policy, the Tories are reduced to digging low and dragging British politics through the gutter, in the desperate hope that they may find some salacious morsel.

“This kind of base mudslinging has no place in British democratic debate, and deflects from the real issues facing people today. It is time that Theresa May stops spending money and effort on these tactics and focuses on policies to improve the lives of those who have suffered because of her government’s heartless policies.”

It may be argued that there are communications requirements of modern democracies. However, a representative democracy requires that political communication is dialogic – it flows in both directions between government and people. In fact that is a prerequisite. Instead we witness a manipulative neoliberal monologue from the current administration.

Neoliberal Conservative governments and the PR industry are very closely aligned, each profiting from the other. The condition of the spectacular growth of the PR and lobbying  industry was to facilitate and profit from the marked redistribution of wealth from the poorest citizens to the rich, establishing, elevating and securing the prioritisation of the private interests and power base of the 1% over and above – and at the expense of – public interests.

Image result for pr and democracy chomsky

 


 

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British Psychological Society reafirms its opposition to welfare sanctions

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The UK’s leading professional associations for psychological therapies have reaffirmed their opposition to welfare sanctions.

The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, British Psychoanalytic Council, British Psychological Society and UK Council for Psychotherapy between them represent more than 110,000 psychologists, counsellors, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists who practise psychotherapy and counselling.

In a joint response to the recent report of the Welfare Conditionality project, the organisations say:

“Our key concerns remain that not only is there no clear evidence that welfare sanctions are effective, but that they can have negative effects on a range of outcomes including mental health.

“We continue to call on the Government to address these concerns, investigate how the jobcentre systems and requirements may themselves be exacerbating mental health problems and consider suspending the use of sanctions subject to the outcomes of an independent review.”

The organisations reaffirmed the clear position against welfare sanctions that they took in a 2016 joint response.

Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard the British Psychological Society’s acting director of policy said:

“We are delighted to sign this joint statement. The Society has seen increasing evidence that benefit sanctions undermine people’s health and wellbeing, and that people with multiple and complex needs are disproportionately subject to them.”

I’ve written a lot of critical articles over the last few years about the government’s controversial welfare policies. The Conservatives claim that welfare sanctions “incentivise” people to look for work. However, the authoritarian application of a behaviourist idea – that punishment somehow motivates people to “change their behaviour” – especially when such punishment involves the cruel and barbaric removal of people’s means of meeting their most fundamental survival needs – food, fuel and shelter – contradicts conventional wisdom and flies in the face of a substantial body of empirical evidence.

Making provision for meeting fundamental human needs so rigidly conditional is an atrociously brutal act. There is simply no justification for a government in a very wealthy democracy to behave in such an inhumane manner. 

Social security is a safety net that most people have contributed towards. It came into being to ensure that no citizen would face absolute poverty – hunger and destitution – when they experience hardships, in a civilised and civilising democracy.

Punitive welfare sanctions are an extremely regressive policy. It was widely recognised during the 1940s that absolute poverty reduces citizens’ motivation and prevents us from fulfilling our potential at an individual level and as a society. 

Click here to read the Society’s recent comment on benefit sanctions.

Click here to read the statement from the five organisations. 

I wrote about the extensive study of  welfare conditionality here: Research shows that Tory ‘hostile environment’ of welfare sanctions doesn’t help people to find work.

Related

Stigmatising unemployment: the government has redefined it as a psychological disorder

Psychologists Against Austerity: mental health experts issue a rallying call against coalition policies 

The power of positive thinking is really political gaslighting

Psychologists Against Austerity: mobilising psychology for social change

The politics of punishment and blame: in-work conditionality

Disabled people are sanctioned more than other people, accordingto research

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

Nudging conformity and benefit sanctions

G4S are employing Cognitive Behavioural Therapists to deliver “get to work therapy”

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

The importance of citizen’s qualitative accounts in democratic inclusion and political participation

Sanctions can’t possibly “incentivise” people to work. Here’s why

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Brexit, law firms, PR, lobbying and the communication ‘dark arts’ political hires

influence

Media Intelligence Partners’ lobbying aims.

Dark arts.” “Peddling.” “Salacious.” These are just a handful of terms the media has used to describe campaign, ‘corporate research’ and ‘strategic communications’. Even the lighter description “opposition” doesn’t quite capture what companies like Cambridge Analytica do. 

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has highlighted that the power and dominance of the Silicon Valley – Google and Facebook and a handful of very wealthy individuals – are at the centre of the global tectonic shift we are currently witnessing, as democracies are increasingly being stage-managed by those who can afford the props and scripts. In a way, it was inevitable that sooner or later, politics would be reduced to branding and ‘market competition’, and that political outcomes would become aligned with neoliberal outcomes. 

Surveillance strategies and targeted marketing also include the use of biometrics. The private company Endless gain, for example, use biometrics and psychology and “to understand human emotions and behaviour, and Psychology to optimise human emotions and behaviour. Our way helps our clients convert more customers, keep them for longer, and have them spend more.” 

Endless Gain claim on their site to “optimise conversions” in the same way that behavioural economists at the Nudge Unit claim to “optimise decision-making”, in their quest to align citizens’ choices with neoliberal outcomes.

The company uses eyetracking, facial expression recognitiongalvanic skin response,  EEG and pupil dilation – biometrics, in addition to conventional psychological research, “bringing together biometric research with findings from decades of academic psychology –particularly on emotional decision-making and the psychology of persuasion – to make changes to your site that increase both revenue and conversions.”  

Other companies, such as the hugely influential Crimson Hexagonuse AI.  The company is based in Boston, Massachusetts and has also a European division in London. Edelman Intelligence, a massive PR company, are a client of this company, as are TwitterThe company’s online data library consists of over 1 trillion posts, and includes documents from social networks such as Twitter and Facebook as well as blogs, forums, and news sites. The company’s ForSight platform is a Twitter Certified Product. (See also: The anti-social public relations of the PR industry, which details the intrusive ‘360 degree’ social media ‘listening’ and monitoring posts used by companies to gather data and intelligence and to formulate ‘strategic communications’ to discredit critics)

This level of surveillance and persuasion is deeply intrusive form of commodification and control that effectively exiles citizens from their own characteristics, perceptions, behaviours and choices, while producing lucrative markets aimed at data mining, behavioural analysis, prediction and modification.

Furthermore, the data collection, analysis and profiling is likely to build in discrimination, reflecting and reinforcing material and power inequalities. Credit reference agencies, insurance companies and the financial sector have previously demonstrated this point only too well. 

The data mining, analytics and persuasion market exists because large corporations and governments want to micromanage and psychoregulate citizens. However, such intrusive surveillance and micromanagement poses fundamental challenges to our democratic norms and personal autonomy.  

Tailored and targeted ‘strategic communications’ and persuasions are based on behaviour modelling and presupposed preferences, which may or may not be accurate or comprehensive. However, such an approach forecloses the possibility of citizens seeing alternative choices and developing new preferences: of accessing a full range of choices, learning and developing. It reduces citizens, commodifying their biology, psychology and decision-making, and transforming human nature into profits for big businesses and maintaining the power of the establishment.

Carole Cadwalladr, writing for the Guardian and Observer, revealed how the foundations of an authoritarian surveillance state have been laid in the US and how British democracy was subverted through a covert, far-reaching plan of coordination enabled by a US billionaire, Robert Mercer. And how we are in the midst of a massive land and power grab by billionaires via our data. Data which is being silently amassed, harvested, analysed, profiled and stored. Whoever owns this data owns the future.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal highlights the erosion of democracy because governments are paying to use these sophisticated techniques of persuasion to unduly influence voters and to maintain a hegemony, amplifying and normalising dominant political narratives that justify neoliberal policies. ‘Behavioural science’ is used on every level of our society, from many policy programmes – it’s become embedded in our institutions – to forms of “expertise”, and through the state’s influence on the mass media, and other social and cultural systems.

It also operates at a subliminal level: it’s embedded in the very language that is being used in political narratives. Repetition is an old propaganda technique that sometimes works. The ‘Strong and Stable’ ideological motif of the government, however, was a tad overused, and led to ridicule because it became so visible as a ill-conceived technique of persuasion. But what about all of the psycholinguistic cues that remain opaque?

The debate should not be about whether or not these methods of citizen ‘conversion’ are wholly effective, because that distracts us from the corrupt intentions behind the use of them, and especially, the implications for citizen autonomy, civil rights and democracy.

Whistleblower Christopher Wylie has said that British voters in the lead up to the referendum to exit the European Union were duped by the Leave campaign. Speaking to MPs on Tuesday 27 March, the former Cambridge Analytica employee described how pro-Brexit groups like BeLeave used Canadian firm Aggregate IQ (AIQ) to profile and target online voters with psychologically tailored “strategic communications”, using personal data allegedly gleaned from Facebook. 

“I think it is completely reasonable to say that there could have been a different outcome of the referendum had there not been, in my view, cheating,” he said. The revelations and accusations came almost exactly one year before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March, 2019.

Wylie said AIQ was subcontracted through Cambridge Analytica, a political data company which also stands accused of manipulating voter behaviour to help Donald Trump win the US presidential election. The comments follow separate accusations that the Leave campaign may have also broken electoral laws on spending thresholds, which are capped at £7m. The Leave campaign spent £6.77m but then allegedly received a £625,000 donation from BeLeave, a youth Brexit group. The donation was then spent on AIQ services, in breach of the £7m limit on campaign spending. Wylie also described the spending breach as part of a “common plan” coordinated by the pro-Brexit campaign.

Cambridge Analytica is by no means the only private company that has hugely profited from corrupt methodologies, abominable politicking and the run-up to Brexit. The company is a pioneer in ‘behavioural microtargeting’ – using online data to build up a sophisticated psychological profile of voters, then targeting those individuals with ‘bespoke’ psychologically tailored messages, and the media, with carefully curated narratives that indulge group tendencies – drawn from social psychology and in-depth knowledge of social science –  and social norms to influence political outcomes.

The UK Policy Group

There are many other similar companies which are quietly raising substantial antitrust concerns.

The UK Policy Group, for example, is the UK branch of a notorious US political organisation – Definers Public Affairs – which has worked for Donald Trump’s administration and has aggressively targeted his critics. The company boasts: “What sets us apart is our focus on political-style research, war room media monitoring, political due diligence and rapid response communications.

“We help our clients navigate public affairs challenges, influence media narratives and make informed decisions to disrupt crowded markets.

“The global political, policy and corporate communications landscapes are evolving rapidly. Decision makers need high quality research to make informed decisions and need relevant content to drive the court of public opinion and provide context to shape decisions by policymakers.

“With affiliates in Washington, D.C., and Silicon Valley, UK Policy Group employs some of the best communicators, researchers and media analysts as part of our team.”

Former government officials are advising this highly controversial company. The UK company’s vice president is Andrew Goodfellow, who was the Conservative Party’s director of policy and research. 

Ameet Gill, who was the former director of strategy Number 10 and founder of lobbying company Hanbury Strategyis providing consultancy to the firm. Official documents reveal that David Cameron ’s former director of strategy, Gill, was given permission by parliamentary authorities to accept a contract advising the firm through his political strategy company Hanbury Strategy. Pelham Groom, a company director, was previously head of ‘media monitoring’ for the Conservative Party. Chris Brannigan, Theresa May’s former Director of Government Relations is also a member of the group’s advisory board. Rhiannon Glover is an analyst, formerly, the late duty press officer for the Conservative Party and researcher in the office of Nick Hurd.

The company is also partnered with Trygve Olson, of Viking Strategies, who advised the European People’s Party in the 2009 EU elections and worked as a consultant to the Republican Party in the US.

The company says: “We offer our clients an end-to-end system of research on issues and opponents, monitoring the news cycles, and shaping narratives via rapid rebuttal communications.

UKPG provides our clients with unparalleled campaign-style research as the foundation of driving informed decisions that allow them to shape public opinion, and impact outcomes.”

The company employs people to find damaging information on political rivals. Scrutinising the personal histories, online videos and posts of Labour Party candidates, the company collects dossiers of potential discrediting and smear material to be handed to the Conservative Party. It’s understood that the information is then handed to right-wing websites and newspapers to construct narratives and add a veneer of evidence to negative articles.

The company expansion by US-based company Definers Public Affairs came at a time when US lobbying firms were eyeing UK expansion “in anticipation of flood of Brexit-related work, using their capacity to influence the national news cycle’ and as a ‘master of opposition research”. 

Ian Lavery MP, Labour Party Chair, said: “I am disappointed but not surprised to hear that in an attempt to deflect from their total lack of direction and policy, the Tories are reduced to digging low and dragging British politics through the gutter, in the desperate hope that they may find some salacious morsel.

“This kind of base mudslinging has no place in British democratic debate, and deflects from the real issues facing people today. It is time that Theresa May stops spending money and effort on these tactics and focuses on policies to improve the lives of those who have suffered because of her government’s heartless policies.”

Brexit

There is a clear danger that the UK, having “taken back control” will simply hand enormous power over to corporate lobbyists who see Brexit as “a once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to influence the way the UK is governed. Those companies that can influence policies and regulations – such as trade policies, labour laws and environmental regulations – stand to profit hugely.

For those who are worried they won’t, well there are a huge number of think tanks, consultancies and PR companies ready to lobby on their behalf and guide them through the Brexit fallout, all for a hefty sum of post-Brexit private profits. 

In the wake of the EU referendum, many law firms have also created stand alone ‘Brexit’ teams in order to cope with the increasing demand from clients asking how leaving the EU will impact them. Just after the referendum, companies are bringing together existing partners to build out their Brexit teams, mainly composed of individuals with EU/competition, trade and regulatory backgrounds. 

Former government lawyers can earn significantly more money in the private sector. In return, law firms get people with not just the relevant legal skills, but also insider knowledge and connections: people with “a unique understanding of the administrative and political processes across Westminster, Whitehall and Brussels”.

Law firms are hiring politicians, government lawyers and other officials in a bid to position themselves as the go-to people for such advice.

Some of the notable recent moves of government ministers through the revolving  door to private profiteering, are:

Paul Hardy, House of Lords → DLA Piper Senior Director Competition law, International Trade

Andrew Hood, Foreign and Commonwealth Office → Dechert Senior Director International Trade, Government Regulation

Francis Maude, Government → Covington & Burling Senior Advisor International Trade, Regulation

Anthony Parry, HM Treasury → Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Consultant EU Law, International Trade.

Here is a list of ‘go-to’ private companies that are profiting from handing out Brexit advice and lobbying on behalf of big business:

Media Intelligence Partners

Conservative hack Nick Wood, who was once Iain Duncan Smith’s former press aide, set up his own PR consultancy, Media Intelligence Partners in 2004. From 1998 until 2004 he was the Media director for Conservative Party.

However, a break from the Conservatives was absolutely not on the cards for this die-hard Thatcherite. Wood, axed by Michael Howard in 2004, went on to represent Iain Duncan Smith’s think-tank and advised selected Tory parliamentary candidates on PR in the run-up to subsesquent election in 2005.

Wood, who held senior political roles at The Times and Daily Express during a 20-year journalistic career, served under both Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague during one of the most internecine periods in Tory history. 

He has worked with around 50 clients including “prestigious” international think- tanks like the Heritage Foundation and some of the “thought-leaders in UK public policy,” such as the Centre for Social Justice. MIP worked with pro-Brexit Leave means Leave and Economists for Free Trade, formerly called Economists for Brexit. This group has a powerful influence on the media.

Advisors for Economists for Free Trade include Tim Montgomerie, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Owen Paterson, Viscount Ridley and John Longworth, Former Director British Chambers of Commerce, Co-Chairman of Leave Means Leave.

Wood has also worked with major private sector clients including HSBC Bank and eBay. In 2008 he also established the media training and presentation company Pitch-Perfect with Jonathan Haslam, a former Downing Street Press Secretary. 

Media Intelligence Partners (MIP, sometimes MIPPR)) is a London-based PR and lobbying company. The Telegraph reported in 2009 that four Conservative MPs had claimed more than £66,000 in expenses for services provided by the company. Commons rules state that “advice for individual members on self-promotion or PR for individuals or political parties” is banned. However, that didn’t stop Iain Duncan Smith claiming more than £11,000 on his office expense account for services between June 2005 and December 2007. 

Andrew Mitchell, the shadow international development secretary, billed the taxpayer for £18,800 for “research and secretarial services” between April 2006 and July 2008. 

Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, claimed almost £20,000 in office expenses for “research” from the consultancy between November 2006 and May last year, while Philip Dunne, another backbencher, claimed for £17,000 for “research and secretarial services”.  

MIP provides services to a number of Brexit lobby groups. As well as being heavily involved in the campaign leading up to the referendum, and Brexit campaigns since, MIP also sells consultancy services to clients.

It says of its ‘Brexit Consultancy’: “MIP is ideally placed to help business leaders navigate this challenging period of change. We help our clients reduce risk and grasp the opportunities of the UK’s exit from the EU. Our insight and expertise on the negotiations and the likely outcomes are invaluable to business leaders in all sectors.”

The company says that during the EU referendum campaign, it “worked closely with current and former cabinet ministers”, including the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, and International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox. It says it ‘remains at the forefront of the campaign to secure the best possible deal for Britain.”

MIP were behind the launch Conservatives for Britain, the organisation that lead the Conservative campaign to leave the European Union. The launch appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 7 June 2015. Conservatives for Britain was founded by MP Steve Baker and MEP David Campbell Bannerman and went on to attract the support of over 100 Conservative Party MPs.

Grassroots Out

MIP ran the ‘communications and strategy’ campaign forGrassroots Out in the four months prior to the June 2016 referendum. Four senior MIP employees were seconded to the campaign, directing the press office and providing ‘high-level strategic advice’ to the campaign’s key spokespeople. MIP also managed a nationwide Grassroots Out tour, featuring speeches from Chris GraylingOwen Paterson and Liam Fox. Founded by Conservative MPs Peter BoneTom Pursglove and the Labour MP Kate HoeyGrassroots Out claimed cross-party support, including from MIP, the Brexit Secretary David Davis and Nigel Farage, the ex-leader of UKIP.

Leave Means Leave

Since the EU referendum, MIP has been working with Leave Means Leave “to make sure the instructions of the British people are acted upon”. This has involved MIP communicating with ministers on Leave Means Leave‘s behalf. 

Other Brexit-related work includes MIP undertaking media work for the launch of a joint Centre for Social Justice and Legatum Institute report called 48:52 Healing a Divided Britain in September 2016.

The MIP site says: “We devise effective and strategic media outreach, implementing bespoke public relations campaigns. We help our clients achieve their goals across both traditional platforms and more modern online and social media.

“We have unrivalled experience of the media landscape, from Fleet Street to broadcasters and online media. Our staff have worked at the highest levels of national newspapers and international broadcast organisations and have in-depth knowledge of the media’s editorial processes.”

Wood set up MIP with then former Central Office staffer Penny Mordaunt and Nick Longworth, the broadcast PR specialist also axed in the PR Officers’ cull that ended Wood’s five-plus years running Tory media operations.

Edgar Johnson is a Senior Account Executive at MIP and works on a variety projects ranging from new product and company launches to “bespoke political campaigns.” He also assists with MIP’s digital communications and research services.

Prior to joining MIP, Johnson worked as a researcher for Mark Harper MP in the UK Parliament.

He has “valuable campaigning experience from the 2015 General Election where he wrote election literature, devised social media content and campaigned on the front line across several key marginal seats. This helped to return a full brace of Conservative MPs across his region for the first time in nearly 30 years.”

He was also part of MIP’s team providing communications and strategy for the cross-party Grassroots Out campaign during the 2016 EU referendum. During the campaign, he co-ordinated successful events across the country and managed one of Grassroots Out’s largest rallies featuring current Secretary of State for International Trade, Rt. Hon Liam Fox MP. MIP were paid a total of £42,828.00 for their services.

Brexit Consultancy: the result of years of lobbying for vested interests

MIP say: “The United Kingdom’s historic decision to leave the European Union represents a period of uncertainty and opportunity for Britain’s business community. The consequences for legislation, regulation, tariffs and trade rules are huge – and will affect UK firms operating domestically and internationally.

“MIP is ideally placed to help business leaders navigate this challenging period of change. We help our clients reduce risk and grasp the opportunities of the UK’s exit from the EU. Our insight and expertise on the negotiations and the likely outcomes are invaluable to business leaders in all sectors.

“Our Brexit advisory service is headed up by our Chief Executive, Nick Wood. Before founding MIP in 2004, Nick served as Director of Communications to the Conservative Party, having previously been Chief Political Correspondent for The Times newspaper.

“Nick and our MIP staff were at the heart of a Leave campaign that upset the odds, winning the support of 17.4 million people in the largest democratic exercise in the nation’s history.

“We worked with politicians from across the political spectrum, as well as senior business people and campaigning organisations, to bring about the referendum over a number of years. We then worked intensively for four months of the campaign itself to win a historic victory. 

“During this time, we advised and worked closely with current and former cabinet ministers, including the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, and International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox. We remain at the forefront of the campaign to secure the best possible deal for Britain.” (My emphasis)

It then says: “To learn more about how we can help your business capitalise on the opportunities of Brexit, please get in touch.”

In February 2017, the Electoral Commission launched an investigation into referendum spending by Vote Leave and Britain Stronger in Europe. Taking a lead from a series of articles, particularly by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer, the Commission began looking at the role of AggregateIQ in the referendum campaign.

The Electoral Commission wrote to Darren Grimes, this time asking him to “please explain why you chose to commission AggregateIQ in particular to undertake the work you reported in your spending return, rather than another company.”

Replying on March 3, Grimes told the Electoral Commission that he decided to spend more than £675,000 with AggregateIQ after volunteering with Vote Leave and watching the US presidential election process. “I attended some Vote Leave Ltd events during the campaign as a volunteer activist and socialised with some members of staff. I asked and was told that AIQ was running Vote Leave’s digital campaign and I also became aware that AIQ had worked on Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, that I was greatly impressed by. I was therefore confident that they could assist us in putting the proposed donation to effect in the time available,” Grimes said in emails to the Electoral Commission.

On 11 May 2018, the Electoral Commission found against Leave.EU, which ran a separate campaign to the official pro-Brexit group Vote Leave, following its investigations into alleged irregularities during the referendum campaign. It found that Leave.EU had unlawfully overspent at least £77,380 – 10% more than the statutory spending limit – though the real figure “may well have been considerably higher”. 

Additionally, its investigations found that Leave.EU inaccurately reported three loans it had received, including “a lack of transparency and incorrect reporting around who provided the loans, the dates the loans were entered into, the repayment date and the interest rate.” Finally, Leave.EU had also failed to provide the required invoice or receipt for “97 payments of over £200, totalling £80,224.”

The Electoral Commission’s director of political finance and regulation and legal counsel complained that the £70,000 fine he was permitted to impose on Leave.EU did not meet the severity of the offences committed by a “key player in the EU referendum”. Further he announced that there was ample evidence of criminal activity from the group campaign chief, Liz Bilney, and that she “knowingly or recklessly signed a false declaration accompanying the Leave.EU referendum spending return”. The Electoral Commission has referred the matter to the police.

Leave.EU’s co-founder, Aaron Banks, has stated that he rejects the outcome of the investigation and will be challenging it in court.

In January 2018, the UK government’s own Brexit analysis was leaked; it showed that UK economic growth would be stunted by 2%-8% for at least 15 years following secession from the EU, depending on the leave scenario. 

The UK continues to learn the hard way that democracy and journalism is in danger of being overwhelmed by rogue politics and a communications industry revolution that accelerates the spread of pro-establishment lies, misinformation and dubious claims, commonly called ‘briefings’.

Many observers point to the two major events – Brexit and the election of Donald Trump – that signal moments of peril for democracy and the press. Both of these events are linked by a handful of people – Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer, for example.

The lobbying industry shapes policies that suit big business and a minority of the population. PR and communications companies are often involved in the circulation of malicious, pro-Conservative ‘strategic communications’ on behalf of those powerful and wealthy enough to benefit from spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on private companies every time there is an election or referendum, the resilience of populist propaganda, racism and sexism and the emergence of the so-called post-truth era erodes the fundamental foundations of democracy and corrupts what was once the cornerstone of ethical journalism. 

Conservative donor Robert Mercer invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica, where his daughter Rebekah is a board member. Credit Patrick McMullan, via Getty Images.

 

Related

Conservatives for hire: cashing in on Brexit

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

Calibrating Academy- Hubert Huzzah

The revelations about Cambridge Analytica indicate clearly that western governments are subverting democracy

Cambridge Analytica try to dismiss Chris Wylie’s evidence as ‘conspiracy theories’ and ‘false evidence’

 


 

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The EDL have paedophiles in their ranks but Tommy Robinson evidently doesn’t condemn them

‘Tommy Robinson’, former leader of the English Defence League arrested.

A senior member of the English Defence Leagure (EDL), a far-right group which has a long history of tirades that conflate Islam with terrorism, paedophilia and sharia – accusing Muslims of paedophilia on a generalised basis – has been sentenced to 17 years for the grooming and sexual abuse of a 10 year old girl. 

Former co-founder, spokesperson and leader of the EDL, Tommy Robinson, alias  Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is also currently in prison. He was arrested for allegedly breaching the peace and incitement outside a court during an ongoing grooming trial. Robinson is already under a suspended sentence for committing contempt of court over a gang rape case heard in Canterbury last year. 

The man sentenced for child abuse, who is also a member and contributor to several far-right social media groups, has been sentenced at the Old Bailey to 17 years after he sexually abused a schoolgirl. 

He assaulted the young girl around 100 times over a five-year period, the court was told.

The court heard how Leigh McMillan, 46, from Milton Keynes, groomed his 10 year old victim with cigarettes and drugs before subjecting her to a “spiral of sexual abuse” during the mid-1990s.

McMillan attacked the girl as she lay on her mother’s bed and and warned: “You mustn’t tell your mum, she’d be really upset.”

Prosecutor Jane Carpenter told jurors the girl “felt as if every day was Groundhog Day” and described her own ordeal as a “spiral of abuse”. In a statement provided to the court, the girl described how she “had not had control” of her own life. 

McMillan was arrested in September 2016 and convicted of three counts of indecent assault, two of indecency with a child and one of attempted rape following trial last month.

On Monday, the judge, recorder Bruce Houlder QC, jailed him for a total of 17 years.

“What you did was entirely devoid of any form of consent,” the judge said, describing how McMillan had “deprived her of a natural childhood”, “ruined her relationship with men” and left her with a “terrible legacy” of abuse due to his “warped and persistent attacks”.

He was jailed for a total of 17 years and also made subject to notification on the sex offenders’ register and a sexual harm prevention order indefinitely.

The anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate, which monitors the online activity of far-right groups such as EDL, described McMillan as a “senior member” of the organisation.

The group also said he was a “lead figure” in the EDL’s “Lee Rigby campaign – a campaign to use the soldier’s death for further hatred”.

Hope Not Hate also accused fellow EDL members of attempting to cover up McMillan’s abuse.

McMillan is a popular figure in the far right, so much so that a number of fellow far-right figures have been trying desperately to cover up the fact that he is a perpetrator of child abuse.

Another leader of the EDL, who was described as a “political prisoner” after being jailed for violence at a march had already been placed on the sex offenders register for downloading indecent images of children, back in 2010.  

The far-right group launched a campaign to free Richard Price, co-ordinator of the West Midlands division of the EDL, after he was jailed for violent behaviour. But Price, 41, had been convicted in June 2010 of making four indecent images of children, and possessing cocaine and crack cocaine.

That conviction followed an earlier arrest in 2009 for public order offences believed to have been connected with EDL marches. Police were understood to have seized and analysed his computer, leading to the discovery of sexual images of children that he had downloaded. His home was also searched and the drugs were found. 

Price admitted four counts of making indecent images of children and two charges of possessing cocaine when he appeared at Birmingham Crown Court. He was banned from owning a computer for a year, given a three-year community supervision order and ordered to sign on to the sex offenders register for five years.  

When Price was jailed, EDL members launched a campaign urging supporters to write to the Prime Minister and MPs to try to “win justice for Richard Price, EDL”. ‘Tommy Robinson supported Price after he was convicted of child porn charges. Apparently, paedophilia is OK if it is an EDL member who is commiting the horrific crime. Later, Robinson hurriedly issued a statement to claim that Price has never been a leader of the EDL, forgetting that back in June 2010 he had published a statement on Facebook naming the management and amongst those names were Price’s, and he was credited for co-founding the group. 

Last year, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner, Mark Rowley, warned of  the dangers of online extremism. He said the Finsbury Park attacker turned violent because of the content far-right posts from Tommy Robinson, the EDL and Britain First.Rowley said that Darren Osborne  – an alcoholic, suicidal, “loner” – was vulnerable to radicalisation. 

Rowley also said “There is “no doubt” that far-right material posted online by the likes of Tommy Robinson and Britain First drove the Finsbury Park terror attacker to target Muslims.”  

He had grown to hate Muslims largely due his consumption of large amounts of online far-right material including, as evidenced at court, statements from former EDL leader Tommy Robinson, Britain First and others,” he told an event in London. 

“Osborne had a ‘dysfunctional’ background and history of alcohol and drug abuse, and violence. 

“There can be no doubt that the extremist rhetoric he consumed fed into his vulnerabilities and turned it into violence.” 

Osborne, a father of four from Wales, was radicalised within weeks as he consumed far-right material after watching a BBC documentary on grooming gangs in Rochdale. 

He hired a van and drove it from Cardiff to London, intending to massacre pro-Palestinian protesters before a security perimeter forced him to hunt for an alternative target. Osborne rammed the vehicle into a crowd of Muslim worshippers leaving mosques in Finsbury Park shortly after midnight on 19 June, killing a grandfather and injuring several others. He is currently serving a life sentence. 

Giving a lecture last year at an event held by the Policy Exchange think-tank, Rowley revealed that four far-right terror plots had been foiled by the police since the Isis-inspired Westminster attack in March last year. 

Image result for Richard Price EDL

Robinson is widely known for his opportunist politicking, and his willingness to search for scapegoats, making social unity so much harder to achieve. Those toxic voices that are known for their divisive rhetoric have already used the terrible events  of terrorism and the tragedies of others to stir up emotions and extend a socially corrosive brand of nationalism – the public peddling of indecency to their own pecuniary or political advantage. We need to take the media megaphone from those who use it to inflame social tensions, ethnic nationalism and drive rage-led ideologies.

I was harrassed by the charming Tommy Robinson in 2015 on Twitter. I told him to stop mithering me and to go peddle far-right myths elsewhere. He then designed a malicious meme that used my account photograph and details, claiming I had said that “child abuse is a far-right myth”, which of course is untrue. I didn’t mention child abuse or Rotherham at all, regardless of his claims. There was also an invitation on the meme for people to “let her know what you think of this” and details of my account were on there with the comment “she can be found here,” along with the photograph of me

The meme was circulated repeatedly by Britain First, the EDL, National Front, some UKIP groups, amongst others. As a consequence I received numerous death threats, threats of rape and a threat involving Combat 18, a neo-Nazi organisation, that is the armed branch of Blood and Honour. My crime? Simply being a Labour Party supporter and irritating Tommy Robinson by telling him to do one from my Twitter page.

It’s also possible that my involvement with the Rock Against Racism movement back in the eighties has marked my card. I did get beaten up by a big, brave National Front bloke wearing size 100 Doc Martins. I needed a good few stitches after he kicked me in the head, out of the blue. A few weeks later, I had a break in. Nothing was stolen but my flat was completely trashed, and someone had spray painted the wall with “we know where you live”. Some groups speak entirely in hateful cliches. 

I involved the police, and reports were made to Facebook about Tommy Robinson’s nasty design by a police officer and others regarding the malicious content of the meme and concerns about my personal safety. Guess what? Facebook did not remove the meme or ban any of the posters. The meme wasn’t just malicious, nor did it compromise just my own safety – my children also received threats –  and it was illegal, too. 

Big brave Robinson didn’t have the courage to own up, though. He told police that there were “other people” who post on his social media accounts, and it “wasn’t” him that designed and posted the meme. 

Image result for Richard Price EDL

Aye. From himself.

 

Related

“This contempt hearing is not about free speech. This is not about freedom of the press. This is not about legitimate journalism; this is not about political correctness; this is not about whether one political viewpoint is right or another. It is about justice, and it is about ensuring that a trial can be carried out justly and fairly. It is about ensuring that a jury are not in any way inhibited from carrying out their important function. It is about being innocent until proven guilty. It is not about people prejudging a situation and going round to that court and publishing material, whether in print or online, referring to defendants as “Muslim paedophile rapists”.

“A legitimate journalist would not be able to do that and under the strict liability rule there would be no defence to publication in those terms. It is pejorative language which prejudges the case, and it is language and reporting – if reporting indeed is what it is – that could have had the effect of substantially derailing the trial. As I have already indicated, because of what I knew was going on I had to take avoiding action to make sure that the integrity of this trial was preserved, that justice was preserved and that the trial could continue to completion without people being intimidated into reaching conclusions about it, or into being affected by “irresponsible and inaccurate reporting.

“If something of the nature of that which you put out on social media had been put into the mainstream press I would have been faced with applications from the defence advocates concerned, I have no doubt, to either say something specific to the jury, or worse, to abandon the trial and to start again. That is the kind of thing that actions such as these can and do have, and that is why you have been dealt with in the way in which you have and why I am dealing with this case with the seriousness which I am.” 

 HHJ Norton, quoted from: What on earth happened to poor Tommy Robinson? 10 Things You Should Know

A defence of “political correctness”

Who killed Jo Cox?

UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism

 


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Journalism in the UK is under threat from a repressive, authoritarian government

media networks on Twitter

Media network community, from The University of Exeter’s study – Different News for Different Views: Political News-sharing Communities on Social Media Through the UK General Election in 2015

In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, an annual report produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Britain was judged to have been in 40th place. This compared to Norway and Sweden at the top of the index, with the UK placed below Trinidad and Tobago and only just ahead of Taiwan. The United States is also trailing, to the dismay of US media organisations, at 45 on the list (with North Korea in bottom place, at 180). 

The Index is based on an evaluation of media freedom that measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries. It is compiled by means of a survey questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts all over the world. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.

Last year, the World Press Freedom Index report said“The election of the 45th president of the United States set off a witchhunt against journalists. Donald Trump’s repeated diatribes against the Fourth Estate and its representatives – accusing them of being “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” and of deliberately spreading “fake news” – compromise a long US tradition of defending freedom of expression. The hate speech used by the new boss in the White House and his accusations of lying also helped to disinhibit attacks on the media almost everywhere in the world, including in democratic countries.”

Britain’s ranking, from the World Press Freedom Index 2018

The recent report has drawn attention to several issues that may have contributed to the UK’s place in the ranking. It says: “A continued heavy-handed approach towards the press (often in the name of national security) has resulted in the UK keeping its status as one of the worst-ranked Western European countries in the World Press Freedom Index.” 

 

Related 

The erosion of democracy and the repression of mainstream media in the UK

The BBC’s ‘churnalism’ and the government’s PR and strategic communications crib sheet 

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberism 

Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I write because I must. You can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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A response to Guido Fawkes about his despicable use of my photosensitive seizures to score nasty political points

Image result for photosensitive scotoma

Migraine aura: scintilating scotoma

Yesterday I contacted the Labour party about their Labour Live event promotion video because it made me ill, causing a partial seizure. The video didn’t carry a warning about the flashing images it contained. I have had an apology from Jennie Formby on behalf of the Party, and it looks like the video has been taken down. The response came within a couple of hours of my contacting her. I feel that’s a very reasonable and rapid response. I was concerned that the video may trigger seizures in other people who are susceptible, too. 

I contacted Jennie on Twitter, as well as sending a direct message to the Party, and an email. The Tweet received a prompt response, for which I am very  grateful. I figured the Labour party get many emails and it may take a while for mine to be seen. 

It’s highly likely that the Labour party hired a communications and media company to undertake making the promotion video. So this issue needs to be addressed with those who actually did the work in putting the video together, too. 

I do feel the Labour party have responded appropriately. Although my hypersensitivity to flickering and flashing images and light is quite rare, it does make my time on social media very difficult. I only wish that Facebook and Twitter would respond as quickly to my complaints about the abundance of flashing GIFs that I encounter online, which sadly make me very ill, and can incapacitate me for days on end.

I also had the following excellent email response yesterday morning from the Labour Party:

Dear Sue,

Many thanks for your email. Thanks also for your support for the Labour Party – together we truly can build a Britain for the many not the few.

I am deeply sorry to hear that the video had this effect on you. I have noted your concerns and feedback and passed these onto the relevant team. They will factor this into any future video content we create. 

Many thanks for letting us know – it is very important to us that we can create video content that is accessible to all.

Best wishes,

Maria

Membership Services and Correspondence

The Labour Party.

I am more than happy with that swift response, because it indicates a party that cares about inclusion, and is more than willing to take responsibility for ensuring their material is up to a high health and safety standard. My condition isn’t very common, I guess I represent what you would call a very small minority group. Yet the Labour party have gone out of their way to ensure my wellbeing, and the safety of those who have the same level of sensitivity to flickering and flashing images. And best of all, the information I provided will be applied to released video material by the Party in future. That’s a very good outcome. 

All the more reason why I’m not happy that Guido Fawkes (AKA Paul Staines, the right wing politico gossip- monger) has used my illness to try and score political points. I am unusually very sensitive to flickering and flashing images, and don’t feel it’s appropriate to use someone’s illness and misfortune to make a tenuous attack on the Labour party. Or my account details, for that matter. In fact it’s a despicable thing to do.

I have requested that he removes the Tweet.

I have to say that it’s to their credit that Labour responded so quickly to my message.

I have a rare condition and don’t blame the makers of the video for being unaware of that. The Party responded promptly and appropriately. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, who have never responsed to my previous complaints about the flashing images that are frequently posted around social media. Christmas and New Year were particularly difficult for me on Facebook, for example, because of well meaning people sending me flashing images with their Christmas greetings. It caused me so much difficulty that I had to avoid my inbox for a couple of weeks. That’s because I am very very sensitive to flickering lights and flashing colours. Unfortunately such images can leave me ill and incapacitated for days.

Visual reflex seizures induced by complex stimuli may be triggered by patterned and flashing displays that are now ubiquitous, especially on social media. This said, ordinary fluorescent lighting, driving, walking past railings, moving escalators, looking at ripples on a pond and some geometric patterns may also trigger illness and seizures in some people who are particularly sensitive. I’m an individual who is unfortunately both photosensitive and pattern-sensitive, though I haven’t always been.

Sometimes, in susceptible people, seizures can happen because of the properties of video displays, the triggers are identified as perceived brightness, pattern, flicker frequency, and colour contrasts. 

Fawkes is a nasty gossip-mongering vulture, who will use anything he can to promote his vicious right wing views, while  being among the first in line to attack a “snowflake” like me. Some of his equally virulent followers commenting on the thread under his post thought my seizure was hilarious. 

That’s pretty low to stoop, even for someone who is a master at consistently clearing the pole in right wing moral limbo dancing competitions. 

A little about photosensitive and pattern-induced illness and seizures

Not everyone who has seizures because of flickering and flashing images has epilepsy. I don’t. Photosensitive epilepsy is quite rare, it’s a type of epilepsy, in which all, or almost all, seizures are triggered by flashing or flickering light. Only one in a hundred people with epilepsy have the photosensitive type of epilepsy. That’s a very small percentage of the population. However, some people complain that flashing imagery makes them feel generally unwell, too. A few people experience dizziness and nausea, but don’t have seizures. Others have flashing or flicker-induced migraines. I also suffer from migraines.

Both natural and artificial light may trigger seizures. In my case, it is thought that an illness I have called lupus has caused neurological changes that have led to the photosensitivity problems I experience. At first, I was diagnosed with classical migraine, as there is an overlap with seizure symptoms. An “aura” is common for both, which includes scotoma – a kind of temporary blindness, or ‘holes’, or sparkling shapes that take up large parts of people’s field of vision, severe vertigo, confusion, extreme mood and perception changes, coordination and speech difficulties, tingling and numbness, nausea and so on. Often there is muscle rigidity and twitching, or jerking. In my case, this usually affects my legs when it happens. Sometimes people lose consciousness during an attack, too.

My own symptoms started at the same time as the onset of the wider symptoms of lupus – susceptibility to infections, joint and tendon pain and inflammation, nerve pain, blood abnormalities and so on. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect many organs and parts of the body. Very often it includes skin photosensitivity too, many of us develop a severe rash and illness in sunlight, even when we wear a sunblock.

Various types of seizure can be triggered by flashing or flickering light. These include tonic-clonic, absence, myoclonic and focal seizures. The most common is a tonic-clonic seizure. The seizure(s) will usually happen at the time of, or shortly after, looking at the “trigger.” Sometimes people may experience more than one kind of seizure, too. 

Again, photosensitive seizures affect a very small percentage of the population. Epilepsy -related forms of the condition usually begins before the age of 20, most commonly between the ages of seven and 19. Photosensitive epilepsy affects more girls than boys. 

The exact spacing of a pattern in time or space is important and varies from one individual to another: a person may readily experience seizures when exposed to lights that flash seven times per second, but may be unaffected by lights that flash twice per second or twenty times per second. Stimuli that fill the entire visual field are more likely to cause seizures than those that appear in only a portion of the visual field. 

Stimuli perceived with both eyes are usually much more likely to cause seizures than stimuli seen with one eye only (which is why covering one eye may allow people to avoid seizures when presented with visual challenges). Some people are more sensitive with their eyes closed; others are more sensitive with their eyes open.

Not everyone who experiences seizures through flicker sensitivity has epilepsy. A seizure without a known cause is called an “idiopathic” seizure. Those are the kind that I suffer from, though I am currently seeing a neurologist to try and work out why I am having the seizures. I have had an MRI scan to see if there are any brain lesions or inflammation, caused by the lupus, and I am waiting for some further tests.

A seizure is the result of experiencing a surge of electrical activity in the brain. The electrical disturbance can, as outlined, produce a variety of physical symptoms.

UK television broadcasters and studios now screen content through the Harding FPA Test, an objective standard of assessment of potential to trigger seizures in those susceptible to photosensitive seizures. I’d like to see social media platforms use the same standard of testing on GIFs and other moving images.

It’s now thought (by my GP) that my sensitivity to flickering has happened because of how lupus has affected my neurological system. I developed lupus during a pregnancy in my thirties. I’m so sensitive to flickering that I can’t drive, as lamp posts, trees and telegraph posts along the road act like a strobe light in a moving car, and trigger severe symptoms, such as the scotoma, which causes temporary blindness, severe vertigo, confusion, coordination difficulties and partial seizures. I can’t even walk past railings without experiencing problems, moving escalators also make me ill, and more recently, some geometric shapes with highly contrasting colours, like black, red and /or white stripes, have made me ill, too.

The word hertz (Hz) refers to how often something happens in a second. For example, it can mean the number of times something flashes or flickers in one second. It can also mean the number of times the scanning lines on televisions and computer monitors ‘refresh’ themselves in one second.

Most people with photosensitive epilepsy are sensitive to 16-25 Hz. Some people may be sensitive to rates as low as 3 Hz and as high as 60 Hz. I’ve yet to find out what ranges I am sensitive to. I know that a visible flicker on fluorescent lighting triggers seizures.I

I think a campaign to make social media a more “friendly” place for people like me would be a good thing.

I hope this article will help to raise awareness of this condition, which is extremely intrusive, restrictive and distressing.

Ways to reduce the risk of seizures if you have photosensitive epilepsy

  • Avoid looking at anything that you know may trigger a seizure. (Not aways easy!)
  • Avoid things that can increase your risk of having a seizure. These can include feeling tired or stressed, not having enough sleep, low blood sugar and drinking alcohol.
  • If you take epilepsy medicine, always take it as prescribed by your doctor.
  • If you look at something that might trigger a seizure, don’t close your eyes. This could increase your risk of having a seizure. Instead, immediately cover one eye with the palm of your hand and turn away from the trigger. This reduces the number of brain cells that are stimulated and reduces the risk of a seizure happening.

Related

One of the key reasons I have faith in the Labour Party, and give them my continued support, is their policies, which are inclusive, recognise the value of diversity and treat everyone’s life as having equal worth. This is such a stark contrast to Conservative policies, which emphasise competitive individualism and an elitist perspective of society, which is profoundly isolating, socially divisive and leads to exclusion and outgrouping.

This in particular impressed me last year, released in the run up to the general election –  Nothing about you without you – the Labour party manifesto for disabled people

 


 

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