Category: Censorship

Authoritarian government warns headteachers against expressing ‘political views’

Last year, thousands of headteachers across England wrote a letter to parents to warn that there is “simply not enough money in the system” to fund schools properly, as their costs continue to rise and budgets come under severe pressure.

The letter from more than 4,000 heads told around a million families that the government’s then new national funding formula would still mean that their children face an unfair “postcode lottery”, with some schools able to afford class sizes of 20 but similar schools in other regions forced to have classes of 35 pupils.

The head teachers said that the proposed national funding formula will do little to solve the funding crisis affecting many state schools.

Now, campaigners are concerned that the government wants to ‘gag’ teachers in England over the issue of diminishing funding and resources in schools. 

A revision was made in September to the Department for Education’s (DfE)’s document entitled Staffing and employment advice for schools– billed as departmental advice for school leaders, governing bodies and local authorities – which contained a new paragraph with a blunt statement in a staff management section.

It states: “All staff have a responsibility to ensure that they act appropriately in terms of their behaviour, the views they express (in particular political views) and the use of school resources at all times, and should not use school resources for party political purposes.” 

The warning, which was first reported by Schools Week, comes after campaigns by school leaders over budget cuts that have irked the government, and high-profile union activity targeting parents during the previous general election campaign, which may have cost the Conservative party votes. 

However, headteachers and teaching unions have said they will defy any attempts by the DfE to block legitimate criticism, following the warning to teachers in England against expressing “political views”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Headteachers have long had a legal responsibility to provide a balanced presentation of opposing views when teaching political or controversial subjects.

“This update simply brings this guidance in line with the law, which makes clear that headteachers and local authorities must not promote partisan political views in school.” 

However, Jules White, a headteacher behind the Worth Less? national group of school leaders that has organised critical letters on funding, said: “If expressing political views is about biased and ill-judged grandstanding by heads and teachers, then I fully support the DfE’s views.

“If, on the other hand, the DfE wishes headteachers to be gagged as they simply tell the truth about the financial and teacher supply crisis that our schools are facing then this is unacceptable.

“Worth Less? always uses independent evidence from sources such as the IFS and DfE data itself to support the legitimate concerns it raises with parents and the public. Our claims are never disputed, but frequently ignored.

“I will continue to lead our campaign and speak out in a reasonable and considered manner on behalf of colleagues and the children and families that we serve.”

Last year, Worth Less? organised 5,000 headteachers to lobby the government, while White and his colleagues oversaw a letter sent to an estimated 2.5 million households via pupils from thousands of state schools.

Geoff Barton, a former headteacher who is now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, derided the DfE’s advice and suggested it would be unlikely to deter teachers from campaigning.

It is perfectly reasonable for school leaders and teachers to be able to articulate their concerns … and it is clearly in the public interest for them to have a voice. You cannot disenfranchise 450,000 teachers from talking about education,” he said.

Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said: “The Tories are trying to ban teachers from whistleblowing when schools cuts bite into our children’s education. They may hope to silence teachers, but they can’t get away from the fact that they will have cut £3bn from school budgets by 2020.

“If the government wants to know why teachers are publicly criticising them, they need only look at their own record of broken promises. They even cancelled their ‘guarantee’ that every school would receive a cash increase.”

The non partisan Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) says that since 2009school spending per pupil in England has fallen by about 8% in real terms, with a smaller fall in Wales of about 5%.

While total school spending has risen in England by about 1% in real terms over this period, a 10% rise in pupil numbers means that the only slightly increased resources are now rather more thinly spread.

Damian Hinds had only been education secretary for a month when Labour shadow secretary, Angela Rayner, reported him to the UK Statistics Authority for making the incorrect claim that “real-terms funding per pupil is increasing across the system”. Themistake’ was corrected, and six months into the job, Hinds says he recognised not only that school budgets are being cut, but that such cuts are unsustainable and destructive.

Yet despite Hinds’ claim that he has grasped some of the problems facing schools, he has offered no solution.

In September, Hinds was forced to apologise to the families affected by the Whitehaven Academy scandal, and pledged to “do everything we can to stop it happening again”. Hinds said images of the Cumbria school’s squalid facilities shown in a recent BBC Panorama investigation were “very striking”, and said he was “sorry” for everyone affected.

The secondary school has been at the centre of a row over the way the private company Bright Tribe runs its schools in the north of England for years, but matters came to a head last autumn when flooding damaged already “dilapidated” buildings on the school site, and the chain announced it was walking away.

It has since emerged that the DfE was warned of problems as far back as 2015, but had taken no action.  The governmenthad approved the academy initiative. Bright Tribe had taken the money intended for repairs to the school, and then not carried out the work. 

Michael Dwan, who set up Bright Tribe and had previously made a fortune of over a hundred million pounds from similar arrangements in NHS provision, said “I am not in control of the trusts and never have been.”

Hinds told Schools Week: “I am sorry for the families involved with Whitehaven, of course I am, and as secretary of state for education, ultimately responsibility for the school system sits with me, and particularly the academy part of the school system, then especially so.” 

“I want to make sure that we learn from what happened, and make sure that we do everything we can to stop it happening again.”

The controversial Bright Tribe academy trust confirmed in September that the final six of the ten schools it ran will be ‘re-brokered’,

The wind-up of the trust follows a turbulent year which saw its founder, property tycoon Michael Dwan, resign last September. New trustees, installed by the government, are now investigating allegations of misuse of public money.

The Bright Tribe founder Michael Dwan withdrew his support from the ailing trust amid frustrations over government scrutiny and concerns that his ‘efforts had gone unrecognised’, copies of letters and emails obtained by Schools Week revealed in July.

The new bosses, who include two school leaders that specialise in the winding up of failing trusts, are investigating allegations that Bright Tribe made repeated false claims for building and maintenance grants at Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, the first school to be given up by the private trust.

The school is now in limbo, it does not have the option to return to local authority control. It cannot make long-term planning decisions, hire new permanent members of staff or organise pay rises. The government has offered no solution, struggling to find a new chain willing and able to take on the school, which is in a precarious financial position.

By the end of 2017, 64 academy status schools were waiting to find a new sponsor after being abandoned by, or relinquished by their managing trust. Using average enrolments of 279 pupils for state primary schools and 946 for state secondary schools this would mean over 40,000 students are adversely affected.

Legitimate criticism of government policies that have negative consequences on children, public sector staff and the tax paying public isn’t ‘expressing political views’; it is an absolute necessity for a functioning democracy.

A government that labels valid concerns ‘political views’ is an oppressive, authoritarian, gaslighting one.

You can watch the Panorama documentary, Profits before Pupils? The Academies Scandal, here.

 

Related

Pupils with Special needs are being failed by system ‘on verge of crisis’

 


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Charities not allowed to criticise authoritarian government ministers

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Charities and groups contracted to deliver the government’s new Work and Health Programme have been told they must not be critical of the work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey.

A clause in the contract for those delivering the programme stipulates that signed-up charities must “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of McVey and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). However, such contracts that prevent charities from speaking out do not align with government claims of  “transparency”. 

Turning Point, the RNIB, the Royal Association for Deaf People, and the Shaw Trust are among charities that have agreed to act as providers of services under the programme – which focuses on supporting disabled people and other disadvantaged groups into work in England and Wales. It does not operate in Scotland.

There are currently at least 22 organisations – covering contracts worth £1.8 billion – that have been required to sign the clauses as part of their involvement with Department for Work and Pensions programmes.

The existence of an extraordinary clause was revealed through a freedom of information (FoI) request by campaigning website the Disability News Service (DNS)You can read the report on the disclosure in full here.

DNS says the clause states that the contractor “shall pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of DWP and ensure it does nothing to bring it “into disrepute, damages the reputation of the Contracting Body or harms the confidence of the public in the Contracting Body”.

The contract defines the “Contracting Body” as the work and pensions secretary – Esther McVey, who was criticised and heckled last week in the Scottish Parliament as she attempted to make a defence for Universal Credit and the hated rape clause.

All of the disability charities contacted by DNS have insisted that the clause – which DWP has been using since 2015 – will have no impact on their willingness to criticise McVey or the Department.

Shaw Trust said the “publicity, media and official enquiries” clause had been present “in previous DWP contracts” and “does not and has not impinged on our independence as a charity”.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The department did not introduce this clause specifically for the Work and Health Programme contract.

“It has been used in DWP employment category contracts since 2015.

The contract is the framework which governs the relationship with DWP and its contractors so that both parties understand how to interact with each other.

“The clause is intended to protect the best interests of both the department and the stakeholders we work with, and it does not stop individuals working for any of our contractors from acting as whistle-blowers under the provisions of the Public Interest “Disclosure Act 1998, nor does it prevent contractors from raising any concerns directly with the department.”

So how do charities raise concerns about the impact of draconian Conservative policies, without being “critical of the work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey,” or get around the problem of “paying the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the DWP, exactly? 

The UK government has “systematically and gravely” violated the human rights of disabled persons, a fact that was verified by the United Nations (UN) investigation, the findings of which were published in 2016. The UN report documented multiple violations of disabled people’s rights, including the way that they are politically portrayed as being lazy and a “burden on taxpayers”, the harm to health caused by unfair assessments, the cuts to legal aid and curtailed access to justice, the imposition of the bedroom tax and the ending of the Independent Living Fund, in addition to the cuts made to the welfare safety net.

The government have dismissed these findings in their entirety. Yet a truly democratic, accountable and transparent government would have monitored and assessed the impact of their punitive policies, and launched an inquiry to explore the correlation between their policies and practices and the distress, harm, premature deaths and suicides that have been well documented and evidenced over the past few years. 

This authoritarian gagging clause emphasises a toxic oppressive culture, and an intention of the government to silence its critics. However, it is unenforceable insofar as it purports to preclude a worker or group from making a protected disclosure, under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Whistleblowing legislation has been amended since the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 and the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015.

The 2013 Act, among other things, introduced a public interest test. In order to benefit from whistleblower protection a disclosure must “in the reasonable belief of the worker making the disclosure” be “made in the public interest”. 

The 2015 Act created a power for the Secretary of State to impose reporting requirements on prescribed persons (bodies to which whistleblowers may disclose information).  It is claimed that these requirements would cover matters such as the number of whistleblowing disclosures received and investigated. 

In an era of  outsourcing and public sector commissioning, most contracts issued by NHS trusts, local authorities and central government departments, or by their prime providers, now include such restrictions on providers speaking freely or releasing any information without permission.

The Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector included in its 2014 report a specific request to the government that such clauses be outlawed. Nick Hurd, then the Minister for Civil Society, said in a priceless Orwellian response that it was the government’s ambition for the UK to be “the most transparent and accountable government in the world”; but he said it had a duty “to ensure all publicly released information is accurate and validated, and contracts with providers are designed to reflect this”. 

That’s a government denial clause, by the way. 

Asheem Singh, director of public policy at the charity chief executives body Acevo, said in 2014 that gagging clauses are unacceptable and charities and social enterprises should challenge them.

“There is no doubt that many confidentiality clauses in government contracts are designed to protect not the public but the department or the ministers concerned,” he says. “We need an open, transparent system where data is freely shared. We have reams of data protection legislation that is designed to protect the vulnerable. Contractual confidentiality clauses that aim to prevent ‘bringing a department into disrepute’, as one example puts it, merely protect officialdom.”

Exactly.

However, the right to whistleblow if individuals believe there has been serious wrongdoing remains. If it’s in the public interest, there is a right to disclose and be protected from any consequences, and that is the law.

You can read about the laws and protections regarding whistleblowing and gagging clauses here.

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Update 9 October 2018

The media has finally decided this issue is newsworthy.

At least 22 organisations – covering contracts worth £1.8 billion – have been required to sign the clauses as part of their involvement with programmes getting the unemployed into work, The Times  has reported.  

Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) denied they were “gagging clauses” intended to prevent criticism of ministers or their policies, insisting they were just “standard procedure”. However a spokesman confirmed that the contracts did include references to ensure both parties “understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests”. The signatories to contracts must undertake to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the Work and Pensions Secretary, the newspaper reported, adding that they must “not do anything which may attract adverse publicity” to her, damage her reputation, or harm the public’s confidence in her. 

The disclosure comes after McVey confirmed that some people would be worse off as a result of the introduction of Universal Credit, saying the Government had taken some “tough decisions”. However, this was contradicted by Downing Street

Former prime minister John Major called for a rethink of the planned roll-out of UC to more than two million claimants of existing benefits, warning the Government risked a poll tax-style backlash if the policy was seen as unfair.

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that from April 2019 Citizens Advice (CA) and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) will receive a total of £51 million to help people with universal credit claims. This move in itself shows how unfit for purpose the Universal Credit (UC) process is, as people need support in simply claiming it. 

CA and CAS  have been given a role in supporting  claimants through every step of making a UC claim and ‘managing their money when it arrives.’ The main focus will be on budgeting advice and digital support. 

£12 million is being provided to CA and CAS to set up the service by April 2019, with a further £39 million being paid from April onwards.

The government funding has understandably raised concerns about the freddom that CA and CAS will have to campaign in relation to the failings of UC.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey said:

“This brand new partnership with Citizens Advice will ensure everyone, and in particular the most vulnerable claimants, get the best possible support with their claim that is consistently administered throughout the country.

“Citizens Advice are an independent and trusted organisation, who will support people as we continue the successful rollout of Universal Credit.”

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

We offer independent and confidential advice to millions of people every year, and have already helped nearly 150,000 people with Universal Credit. We’ve seen first-hand what can happen when people struggle to make a claim and their payments are delayed.

“We welcome the opportunity to provide even more people with the help they need with Universal Credit, and deliver a consistent service through the Citizens Advice network across England and Wales.

“Delivering this service will give us even greater insight into the Universal Credit system. We’ll continue to share our evidence with the government to help make sure Universal Credit works for everyone.”

The problem is that’s what he thinks.

Related 

Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper

 


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Government denies censuring Priti Patel regarding secret Israeli meeting, now she’s resigned

Theresa May faces increasing pressure to strip two more cabinet ministers of their posts following separate conroversies involving Priti Patel and Boris Johnson.

Patel jumped before she was pushed, and offered her resignation yesterday. In her resignation letter, Patel said her “actions fell below the high standards that are expected.”

Senior Conservatives said both ministers had committed sackable offences which have materially damaged the UK’s interests and those of its citizens.

The controversy around Patel’s unofficial trip to Israel grew, as it emerged she may have omitted to tell May she discussed funnelling UK aid cash to the country’s army despite Downing Street asking for full details of her visit.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson faced pressure in the House of Commons, were he denied he made undiplomatic comments that were clearly recorded in Parliament and which led to the Iranian judiciary threatening to double a British woman’s prison sentence unfairly. The 38-year-old British woman was arrested and jailed in Iran, accused of spreading propaganda, with a central part of her defence being that she had never worked teaching journalists in the country, but was merely there on holiday.

But when Johnson mistakenly told MPs in a public hearing that she had been “teaching journalists”, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was hauled in front of an Iranian court and threatened with another five years in prison – on top of her existing five-year sentence. 

These ministerial gaffes come less than a week after the Prime Minister was forced to push Michael Fallon out of her Cabinet, following allegations about sexually inappropriate behaviour. And then there are the emerging allegations regarding Damian Green and Mark Garnier, who both face Cabinet Office investigations over inappropriate conduct, too.

According to the government, Priti Patel, the International development secretary, failed to inform the Prime Minister about the meetings she had in Israel, including discussions of plans to send funds to the Israeli army, to support “humanitarian operations” in the Golan Heights. Amid the recent Conservative diplomatic omnishambles, Patel was already facing demands she should quit the post after failing to come clean with Theresa May over 12 other meetings she has held with senior Israeli figures, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sources from the Department for International Development (DfID) confirmed on Tuesday night that Patel held further meetings in September with Israeli government officials without adhering to proper procedures. It emerged that Patel had two further meetings in September without government officials. She met the Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan in Westminster and Israeli foreign ministry official Yuval Rotem in New York.

She was also rebuked by No 10 after giving the false impression in an interview with the Guardian that foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the Foreign Office knew about the meetings.  

At 13 out of a total of 14 meetings with Israeli officials over August and September, she was accompanied by Lord Polak, a lobbyist and a leading member of Conservative Friends of Israel.

No 10 on Tuesday said Patel had not informed the prime minister about the “aid to Israel” discussions at a crunch meeting on Monday which was supposed to draw a line under the controversy. 

The Foreign Office advised that because Britain did not officially recognise Israel’s annexation of the area, (it’s been an area of longstanding geopolitical dispute) it would be hard for the Department for International Development to work there.

Speaking in the Commons, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt defended Patel’s “perfectly legitimate” right to raise the matter – saying it was within the context of providing medical help for Syrian refugees who could not get assistance in their own country. 

Labour’s Kate Osamor said it was a “black and white case” of the ministerial code being broken, and called for Patel’s resignation.

Writing to the prime minister, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said he understood  Patel had met UK officials during the holiday.

“I have been informed that while she was in Israel, Ms Patel met officials from the British consulate general Jerusalem, but that the fact of this meeting has not been made public,” he wrote.

“If this were the case, then it would surely be impossible to sustain the claim that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was not aware of Ms Patel’s presence in Israel.”

He added: “The existence of such a meeting or meetings would call into question the official account of Ms Patel’s behaviour, and the purpose of her visit.”

In a her disjointed statement on the government site, Patel says: “On Friday 3rd November, the Secretary of State was quoted in the Guardian newspaper as follows:

“Boris knew about the visit. The point is that the Foreign Office did know about this, Boris knew about [the trip].”

This quote may have given the impression that the Secretary of State had informed the Foreign Secretary about the visit in advance. The Secretary of State would like to take this opportunity to clarify that this was not the case. The Foreign Secretary did become aware of the visit, but not in advance of it.

“The stuff that is out there is it, as far as I am concerned. I went on holiday and met with people and organisations. As far as I am concerned, the Foreign Office have known about this. It is not about who else I met, I have friends out there.” 

And: “The Secretary of State regrets the lack of precision in the wording she used in these statements, and is taking this opportunity to clarify the position.”

The comments looked like a pretty terrible attempt to gloss over what were apparently  out and out lies. On the face of it.

But perhaps the lies are not entirely Patel’s. 

She then goes on to disclose the meetings in her statement. The official story is that Theresa May learned about the proposals from reports in the media, and Downing Street sources “confirmed” this.

However, Stephen Pollard at the Jewish Chronicle says that he understands Patel was told by Number 10 not to include the extra meetings so as not to embarrass the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In an interesting development, information emerged from two different sources, that Patel did disclose the meeting with Mr Rotem but was told by Number 10 not to include it as it would embarrass the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In addition, the article goes on to say that although Patel’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not authorised in advance, the British government was made aware of it within hours. 

The Jewish Chronicle says: “On 22 August – the same day as Ms Patel spoke to Mr Netanyahu – Middle East minister Alistair Burt and David Quarrey, the British Ambassador to Israel, met Michael Oren, Deputy Minister at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office. According to the notes of the meeting, Mr Oren referred to Patel having had a successful meeting with Mr Netanyahu earlier. 

It is understood that this information was then conveyed to Number 10.

In addition, Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to Patel in advance of the UN General Assembly and they discussed the Development Secretary’s meeting with Mr Netanyahu, as well as the details of Ms Patel’s plan for UK aid to be shared with the Israelis. Mrs May agreed that the idea was sensible but needed sign off from the FCO.”

Of course Downing Street deny telling International Development Secretary Patel to withhold the information. A spokesman for May accepted Number 10 knew about a meeting between Patel and Yuval Rotem, but said the minister’s department did not put it in a list disclosing 12 meetings that took place on her summer holiday “because it occurred several months later.” 

The Number 10 spokesman said Patel did disclose the September 18 meeting when she met and was censured by Theresa May on Monday.

He explained that the reason the meeting did not appear on the list of disclosed appointments was because the Department for International Development had confined the list to those that took place on her summer holiday to Israel.

Several reports have claimed Number 10  instructed Patel not to publicise the Rotem meeting, because it would be too embarrassing for Boris Johnson and the Foreign Office.

It was thought the emergence of the Rotem meeting in New York would give the prime minister further reason to sack Patel, who was expected to lose her job yesterday.

However, she resigned. She was ordered back from an official trip in Africa by the PM and summoned to Downing Street over the row, yesterday. 

In her resignation letter, Patel said: “While my actions were meant with the best of intentions, my actions also fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated.

“I offer a fulsome apology to you and to the government for what has happened and offer my resignation.”

In her reply, the prime minister said: ‘‘As you know the UK and Israel are close allies, and it is right that we should work closely together. But that must be done formally, and through official channels.

”That is why, when we met on Monday I was glad to accept your apology and welcomed your clarification about your trip to Israel over the summer.

“Now that further details have come to light it is right you have decided to resign.”

The question is what did the Foreign Office already know of Priti Patel’s visit to Israel?

 


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Osborne criticises the government’s manifesto, while charities are silenced by ‘gagging act’

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George Osborne, the architect of many an omnishambolic budget, has called the Conservative manifesto “the most disastrous in recent history” in a suprisingly critical editorial

The London Evening Standard derided the Tories’ campaign attempt to launch a “personality cult” around the prime minister. Osborne attacked Theresa May’s handling of Brexit as marred by “high-handed British arrogance”.  He said the campaign had “meandered from an abortive attempt to launch a personality cult around May to the self-inflicted wound of the most disastrous manifesto in recent history”.

He has already mocked May’s net migration target as “economically illiterate” and branded Brexit a “historic mistake” since becoming the London paper’s editor.

The editorial then mockingly suggested the current conversation among Downing Street aides would likely be along the lines of: “Honey, I shrunk the poll lead.”

The Evening Standard has also criticised the government’s manifesto meltdown over the  highly unpopular “dementia tax”, saying: “Just four days after the Conservative manifesto proposals on social care were announced, Theresa May has performed an astonishing U-turn, and bowed in the face of a major Tory revolt over plans to increase the amount that elderly homeowners and savers will pay towards their care in old age. 

There will now be a cap on the total care costs that any one individual faces. The details are still sketchy but it is not encouraging that the original proposals were so badly thought through.” 

In another article titled U-turn on social care is neither strong nor stable”, it says: “Current Tory leaders should have been ready to defend their approach. Instead we had a weekend of wobbles that presumably prompted today’s U-turn. The Pensions Secretary Damian Green was unable to answer basic questions in a TV interview about who will lose their fuel payments, and how much extra money will go into social care.

“Either the Government is prepared to remove these payments from millions of pensioners who are not in poverty, and don’t receive pension credit, and spend their substantial savings on social care; or they chicken out, target the tiny percentage of pensioners who are on higher tax rates, save paltry sums and accept the whole manoeuvre is a gimmick. Certainly, if the savings are to pay for a new care cap, then many pensioners will lose their winter fuel payment. This isn’t for consultation after an election — it’s an issue of honesty before an election.”

With the Tories’ poll lead diminishing, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has warned that the proposed “dementia tax” would become May’s version of the poll tax which led to Margaret Thatcher’s downfall.

Whilst Osborne is free to speak his mind, it’s an irony that many charities have complained they have been silenced from criticising the Conservative social care plans despite the fact they will be hugely damaging to elderly and disabled people across the country.

One chief executive of a major charity in the social care sector has told the Guardian that they felt “muzzled” by the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill – a controversial legislation introduced in 2014  which heavily restricts organisations from intervening on policy during an election period.

The charity said May’s decision to means test winter fuel allowance would “inadvertently” result in some of the poorest pensioners in the country losing the support, adding that “will literally cost lives”.

The charity also claimed that the so-called “dementia tax” on social care in the home would stop people who need support from seeking it.

“We are ready to speak out at one minute past midnight on 9 June,” the charity leader added, but stressed they were too afraid to do so now.

Sir Stephen Bubb, who runs the Charity Futures thinktank but previously led Acevo, an umbrella organisation for voluntary organisations, said it was notable how quiet his sector had been about the policy.

He went on to say: “The social care proposals strike at the heart of what charities do but they should be up in arms about them but it hasn’t happened. It is two problems: there is the problem of the so-called “gagging act”, but also the general climate of hostility towards charities means there is a lot of self censorship.” 

“Charities that once would have spoken out are keeping quiet and doing a disservice to their beneficiaries. They need to get a bit of a grip.” 

He cited the example of the Prime Minister hitting out at the British Red Cross after its chief executive claimed his organisation was responding to a “humanitarian crisis” in hospitals and ambulance services.

May accused the organisation of making comments that were “irresponsible and overblown”.

It’s not the only time the Conservatives have tried to gag charities for highlighting the dire impacts of Tory policies. In 2014, MPs reported Oxfam to the Charity Watchdog for campaigning against poverty. I guess the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had better watch it, too. What next, will they be reporting the NSPCC for campaigning for children’s welfare?

'Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm - and it's forcing more and more people into poverty' tweeted Oxfam
Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm – and it’s forcing more and more people into poverty.

The Oxfam campaign that sent the Conservatives into an indignant rage and to the charity watchdog to complain was an appeal to ALL political parties to address growing poverty. Oxfam cited some of the causes of growing poverty in the UK, identified through research (above).

Tory MP Priti Patel must have felt that the Conservatives are exempt from this appeal, due to being the architects of the policies that have led to a growth in poverty and inequality, when she said: “With this Tweet they have shown their true colours and are now nothing more than a mouthpiece for left wing propaganda.”

I’m wondering when concern for poverty and the welfare of citizens become the sole concern of “the left wing”. That comment alone speaks volumes about the attitudes and prejudices of the Conservatives.

Bubb said: “That was a warning shot. So many charity leaders do feel that if they do speak out there will be some form of comeback on them. The Charity Commission has been notably absent in defending charity rights to campaign – the climate has been hostile to the charity voice.” 

There is some fear that charities face a permanent “chilling effect” after the Electoral Commission said they must declare any work that could be deemed political over the past 12 months to ensure they are not in breach of the Lobbying Act. 

Another senior figure also said charities were too afraid to speak out on the social care proposals. “We are all scared of the lobbying act and thus most of us are not saying much during the election. There was the same problem in the EU referendum – if you criticise the government then you are being “political”.

During the referendum a row broke out after the Charity Commission
issued guidelines that some charities interpreted as preventing them from making pro-EU arguments. 

Head of the organisation, William Shawcross, dismissed the charge by Margaret Hodge MP that his Euroscepticism was to blame for the issuing of the advice from the commission on when charities could intervene on the issue.

Steve Reed, shadow minister for civil society, said the Labour party would scrap the lobbying act because it had “effectively gagged” charities.

Theresa May pledges to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government

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A plurality of views and perspectives is a fundamental ingredient of a flourishing democracy. Freedom of speech is a prerequisite of an inclusive, genuine democracy. When a government tries to stifle some perspectives, and control which views may be expressed or permitted online, it’s an indication that we have left democracy behind, and strayed into the realms of authoritarianism.

If Theresa May gets to form a new government next month, then it would appear that the Conservatives will be attempting a regulatory land grab of the Internet. But, if the Conservatives’ digital record is anything to go by, its pledge to negotiate an “international settlement” and be a “global leader” for an incredibly complex area of Internet and data law looks, frankly, like the stuff of dystopian movies about totalitarian regimes. I suspect the phrase “digital crime” is set to take on a whole new meaning. 

May is planning to introduce far-reaching regulations on the way the internet works, allowing the government to decide what is said online. Much of the internet is currently controlled by private businesses like Google and Facebook, Theresa May intends to allow government to decide what is and isn’t published, the manifesto strongly suggests.

I’m all for an internet environment that is safe and free from harassment and bullying. However, we already have legislation in place to ensure that it is.

The proposed laws would also force technology companies to delete anything that a person posted when they were under 18.

 The companies would be forced to help controversial government schemes like its Prevent strategy, by promoting “counter-extremist narratives”.

It seems that this is a Conservative reaction to the EU Digital Single Market Project.
It’s aim is “to create a true digital single market, where the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured — and where citizens and businesses can seamlessly and fairly access online goods and services: whatever their nationality, and wherever they live.” (Commission Press Release May 2015).

The new EU digital single market legislative package seeking to improve cross-border access to digital services and create a level playing field for companies will be launched in 2015. The Commission will also seek to complement the regulatory telecommunications environment, modernise EU legislation on copyright and audio-visual media services, simplify the rules for consumers making online purchases, and enhance cyber-security. This ambitious agenda includes concluding the long-running negotiations over data protection reform.

As my friend Hubert Huzzah has pointed out, the European Single Digital Market will make it difficult to defraud people, and importantly,  it will the Election manipulation in the form of  “we are just advertising on Facebook” strategies worthless.

The Conservative plans are in keeping with the Conservatives’ commitment that the online world must be regulated and controlled as strongly as the offline one, and that the same rules should apply in both.

“Our starting point is that online rules should reflect those that govern our lives offline,” the Conservatives’ manifesto says, in justification for the new level of regulation. 

In laying out its plan for increased regulation, the so-called “small state” Tories anticipate and reject potential criticism that such rules could put people at risk.

“While we cannot create this framework alone, it is for government, not private companies, to protect the security of people and ensure the fairness of the rules by which people and businesses abide,” the document reads. “Nor do we agree that the risks of such an approach outweigh the potential benefits.”

Tucked away at the end of the Conservative’s manifesto, it’s clear that May wants to introduce huge changes to the way the internet works:

“We will take up leadership in a new arena, where concern is shared around the world: we will be the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the Internet.”

Among the new self -appointed powers proposed, the government intends to force internet companies to remove “explicit” or “extremist material”, backed by legal power to impose fines.

This is a government that has labeled disability campaigners  “extremists” and fully endorsed the media labeling of those in standing in democratic opposition to Conservative policies as “saboteurs”.

The Conservatives say “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet.  We disagree.”

The Conservatives are claiming this proposal is part of an ambitious attempt by the party to impose some sort of “decorum” on the internet and social media.

Senior Conservatives have also confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the phrasing indicates that the government intends to introduce huge restrictions on what people can post, share and publish online.

The plans will allow Britain to become “the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet”, the manifesto claims.

Internet imperialism, how very Conservative.

There are many proposed measures in the manifesto that are designed to make it easier to do business online, of course, but the Conservatives are proposing a rather more oppressive approach when it comes to social networks.

One particular issue that caught my eye was the Conservative’s voiced “concerns about online news”, warning the government is willing to “take steps to protect the reliability and objectivity of information that is essential to our democracy”, while pledging to “ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online”.  

One Tory source clarified that this comment relates to Google and Facebook’s growing dominance of the advertising market, which the newspaper industry believes is crushing its business model. The source suggested that if the web giants failed to act voluntarily then they could be forced by legislation to find ways to financially compensate traditional news producers.

Implications for social media

So, the Conservatives will also seek to regulate the kind of news that is posted online and how companies are paid for it.

This may have some potentially serious implications for the growing number of online independent media platforms that have developed precisely because of an undemocratic crisis of representation in our mainstream media, which has increasingly become an unreliable source of objective news, generally. 

Independent media includes any form of autonomous media project that is free from institutional dependencies, and in particular, from the influence of government and corporate interests.

We are not constrained by the interests of society’s major power-brokers. So far. 

I haven’t forgotten Iain Duncan Smith’s pledge to “monitor” the BBC’s news coverage for “left wing bias”, or the jackbooted government officials visiting the Guardian offices to smash the hard drives containing the Snowden leaks. This doesn’t signal a coming improvement if it is to be based on Tory standards of “objective and reliable”. 

The manifesto also says that the government will work even harder to ensure there is no “safe space for terrorists to be able to communicate online”. That is apparently a reference in part to its work to encourage technology companies to build backdoors into their encrypted messaging services – which gives the government the ability to read terrorists’ messages, but also weakens the security of everyone else’s messages, technology companies have warned.

The proposals follow on from the Investigatory Powers Act being passed into law. That legislation allowed the government to force internet companies to keep records on their customers’ browsing histories, as well as giving ministers the power to break apps like WhatsApp so that messages can be read.

Imagine a future when the only online reflection of reality is a Conservative one. Antisocial media.

“In every really great world-shaking movement, propaganda will first have to spread the idea of this movement. Thus, it will indefatigably attempt to make the new thought processes clear to the others, and therefore to draw them over to their own ground, or to make them uncertain of their previous conviction.

Now, since the dissemination of an idea, that is, propaganda, must have a firm backbone, the doctrine will have to give itself a solid organization. The organization obtains its members from the general body of supporters won by propaganda. The latter will grow the more rapidly, the more intensively the propaganda is carried on, and the latter in turn can work better, the stronger and more powerful the organization is that stands behind it.” Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Hitler’s promise of “strong government and stability” was widely supported particularly by industrialists and businesses, who were terrified of the left wing unions, socialism and communism.

A lot of people describe Theresa May as a New Right Conservative, some have been misled by her semantic shifts and claimed she is a “red Tory”. However, it seems she is more of an old right wing authoritarian, after all.

The stuff of nightmares.

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. Successive Conservative chancellors have left me in increasing poverty. 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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Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

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Conservatives are especially conservative with the truth: the media are the message

In 2004, George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at Berkeley, wrote Don’t Think of an Elephant! Lakoff’s central point was that how issues are framed – which points of view the media and other political agenda setters defined as important and acceptable, and the language used to do so – largely shapes how voters think about them. 

Media manipulation involves a series of related techniques in which partisans create images or arguments that favour their own particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies, psychological manipulations, deception, linguistic, rhetorical and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or alternative perspectives by simply crowding them out.  

Discrediting and minimisation are often used in persuading other people or social groups to stop listening to certain perspectives and arguments, or by simply diverting public attention elsewhere. An example of diversion is the recent widespread scapegoating of refugees and people who need social security, such as disabled people or those who have lost their jobs, in a bid to maintain the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values at a time when its failings were brought into sharp focus during and following the global crisis – also exposing failings in the behaviours and practices of the government and the vulture capitalist financier class.

Neoliberalism always gravitates towards increasing inequality, extending and deepening poverty. Fear mongering is sometimes used with a diversion or misdirection propaganda technique to mask this, and may be pervasive. Sometimes politicians and media commentators suddenly take a debate in a weird and irrational but predictable direction to avoid democratic accountability.

The process often begins with a marginalised group being singled out and held to blame for the socioeconomic problems created by the system of socioeconomic organisation itself. Using the construction of folk devils (welfare “skivers” , “workshy” “something for nothing culture”, “culture of entitlement” or “dependency” for example), the political class and media generate moral panic and outrage, which serves to de-empathise the public and to justify the dehumanisation of politically created outgroups.

Stigma, prejudice and discrimination follow, all of which serves to subvert responsibility for the harmful consequences and distress experienced by the targeted group. In the UK, people needing welfare support, and particularly disabled people, have been stigmatised and then targeted with discriminatory policies which have placed a disproportionate burden of austerity – cuts to lifeline support and services – on that social group. The policies have also contravened disabled people’s human rights.

Meanwhile, the vulture capitalist financier class are still being rewarded, profiting from often reckless, economic and socially damaging behaviours. Of course it’s business as usual for this group, regardless of the pressing need for behavioural change and an increased responsibility-taking mindset among them. After all, it is this group that have caused most damage to our economy, and on a global scale.

The media and the government conflate neoliberal authoritarian behaviours, and policies that cause distress and harm to marginalised social groups, with “power and strength”, and any opposition to this with “weakness”.

Campaigners against social injustice are labeled “extremist” and politicians on the left who stand up against prejudice and discrimination are labeled “weak”, “anti-British” and extensively ridiculed and smeared. Every single Labour leader, with the exception of Blair, has had this treatment from the mainstream media.

During the coalition and Conservative governments, the tabloids have chosen and framed most of the debates that have dominated domestic politics in the UK, ensuring that immigration, welfare, law and order, the role of the state, and Britain’s relationship with Europe have all been discussed in increasingly right wing terms, while almost ironically, the government have colonised progressive rhetoric to cover their intentions.

There is therefore a growing chasm between Conservative discourse, and policy intentions and outcomes. There isn’t a bridge between rhetoric and reality. 

The Conservatives have plundered from left wing narrative purely to broaden their superficial appeal and to neutralise opposition to controversial and contentious policy. The legislative context in which such language is being used is completely at odds with how it is being described by purposefully stolen terms and phrases which are being applied most deceitfully.

The negative associations because of Conservative policies have eclipsed the original meanings of the imported language. I always flinch when a Conservative minister says that the government is intending to “support” disabled people into work, or that they want to make welfare “fair” and they support “social justice”,  for example. These words are used in a context of coercive and punitive policy measures.

It’s very disorienting and disarming to see the language of social justice, democracy, inclusion and equality being used to justify and describe policies which extend social injustice, authoritarianism, exclusion and inequality. It’s also much more difficult to challenge actions that are disguised by a tactic of extensive euphemising, that draws on glittering generalities and the narrative of the opposition (the left generally).

Only a Conservative minister would claim that taking money from the lifeline support of sick and disabled people is somehow “fair,” or about “helping”, “supporting” or insultingly, “incentivising” people who have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors and the state via the work capability assessment, to work.

The Tories all too frequently employ such semantic shifts and euphemism – linguistic strategies – as an integral part of a wider range of techniques of neutralisation that are used, for example, to provide linguistic relief from conscience and to suspend moral constraint – to silence both “inner protest” and public objections – to the political violation of social and moral norms and human rights; to justify acts that cause harm to others while also denying there is any subsequent harm being inflicted by austerity policies; to deny the targeted population’s accounts and experiences of political acts of harm, and to neutralise any remorse felt by themselves and other witnesses.

Media discourse has often preempted a fresh round of Conservative austerity cuts, resulting in the identification, scapegoating and marginalisation of social groups in advance of targeted, discriminatory policies. Media discourse is being used as a vehicle for the government to push their ideological agenda forward without meeting legitimate criticism, opposition and public scrutiny and without due regard for essential democratic processes and safeguards. The mainstream media will not challenge or undermine the wider state-corporate nexus of which it is a fundamental part.

Noam Chomsky has written extensively about the role of the free market media in reinforcing dominant ideology and maintaining the unequal distribution and balance of power. In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman explore the media’s role in establishing the apparence of a political and economic orthodoxy (neoliberalism) and extending a seemingly normative compliance with state policies, while also marginalising antithetical or alternative perspectives, dismissing them as heresy. In the US and UK, most left wing commentors have a very diminished media platform from which to present their perspectives and policy proposals.

This “free-market” version of censorship is more subtle and difficult to identify, challenge and undermine than the equivalent propaganda system which was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. 

As Chomsky argues, the mainstream press is corporate owned and so reflects corporate priorities and interests. While acknowledging that some journalists are dedicated and well-intentioned, he says that the choice of topics and issues featured in the mass media, the unquestioned premises on which that “coverage” rests, and the range of opinions that are expressed are all constrained to reinforce the state’s dominant ideology.

How to tell lies dishonestly

Propaganda, PR, spin, manipulation, and techniques of neutralisation (a kind of doublespeak aimed at “switching off” your inner conscience, remorse and morality, and that of witnesses, so you can do things normally considered unacceptable, immoral or plain evil), are indirect or convoluted ways of telling lies. These techniques are very sneaky, often providing “get outs”. As such, the tactics are dishonest ways of being dishonest. While often providing a cover or superficial style of “truth”, the underlying content is always a big lie.

Not “a series of possibilities” or a “terminological inexactitude,” or “a series of misunderstandings” or “an unwise commitment”, but a lie. 

Even the labels “fake news”, “post rationalism” and “post truth” are euphemisms. We live in an age of great political deceit and lies, and an ineffectual, trivial lexicon to describe it.

That’s intentional, manipulative whopping whopper political lies.

The Conservatives have developed a notorious lexicon of euphemisms, especially designed to divert challenges and debate, to hide their aims and intentions and to reduce opposition, in order to manufacture an illusion of consensus, consistent with old school diversionary and bandwaggon propaganda methods.

Winston Churchill came up with the crafty phrase “terminological inexactitude,” which means being conservative with the truth (see what I did there), or to be more direct, it means telling lies. There are indirect ways of lying – less honest ways of being intentionally dishonest, if you will.

Euphemisms are often a form of doublespeak; they are words used to hide, distort or “neutralise” reality.  Euphemisms put political intentions, actions and their consequences in a better light, in much the same way that the mafia employs language to minimise the consequences of their actions. No-one is ever murdered by the mafia, to hear them talk, instead they are simply “given their medicine” , “clipped” or “wacked”, for example. However you say it, people still end up dead, unfortunately. The mafia say that disposing of the bodies of their murder victims is “spring cleaning”.

A credibility assessment of Tory narrating and editing: the sin in the spin exposed

1. “Reforms” = The stealthy privatisation of public wealth. Conservative “reforms” entail cuts to social provisions and public services – paid for by everyone – which support the poorest citizens when they experience hardship. The money is then re-allocated to the wealthiest citizens via generous tax cuts and lower business tax  rates which effectively privatises wealth and profit, while making any risks and costs a social burden.

2. “Targeting those in greatest need” = savage and increasing cuts to social security provision, and in particular, to disabled people’s lifeline support. No-one actually qualifies for support, any more. However, a handful may get a favorable outcome when assessors flip a coin to decide which of the very ill people they meet and put through the mill are lucky enough to meet their target of permitting around six successful claims per year. From 2017, the target will reduce again to three. By 2020, no-one will “need” disability benefits and support, as we will all be cured by work fare and CBT.

Ultimately, this entails a constant moving goalpost of eligibility to publicly funded support. The government reduces the numbers of those previously entitled to welfare by constant, changing and unstated political redefinition of “need”, while implying to the public that welfare and those who need it are dispensable.

3. “Making work pay” = dismantling social security by stealth and driving down wages, ensuring that private companies profit.

4. “National living wage” = small and pitiful increase in minimum wage that does not offset welfare cuts (Universal Credit, benefit cap, reduced eligibility criteria for disability benefits) and other losses, such as job insecurity, poor working conditions, zero hour contracts.

5. “Supporting/helping people into work” = extremely punitive measures of behavioural conditionality and financial sanctions that hinder people in finding appropriate work, aimed at cutting social security spending and presenting lifeline benefits as dispensable to the public, whilst coercing people to behave in ways that benefit the state and that do not benefit those citizens being manipulated and coerced to fulfil the aims of the policy makers.

2, 3, 4 and 5 also undermine collective bargaining, since people are being coerced to take any work available, rather than suitable, secure work with acceptable pay and working conditions. This puts a downward pressure on wages.

6.  “Worklessness” = a made up word that disguises job precarity, unemployment and underemployment, because of government, economic and labour market failure, followed by political scapegoating and widespread, brutal cultural bullying of the poorest citizens.

7. “Extremists”= peaceful campaigners who object to social injustice, anyone else who doesn’t support the neoliberal status quo, authoritarianism, inequality, growing poverty and human rights abuses.

8. “Hard working strivers” = compliant and exploited citizens whose consumerism and systematic oppression keeps Tory donor big businesses in profit. As an imposed ideal, the work ethic also props up injustices like work fare, political scapegoating and prejudice directed at people who lose their jobs and need social security.

9. “Democracy” = authoritarianism, so that means it’s whatever the Tories say it is.

It entails policies which engineer a set of changes with huge distributional consequences: tax credit and benefit cuts will mean low-income working families with children will become significantly worse off, while wealthier families stand to gain a lot as a result of increases in the personal allowance and higher rate tax threshold, for example. 

Recent analysis by the Resolution Foundation shows four fifths of the gains from income tax cuts go to the most affluent half of households, while the poorest third of households will shoulder two-thirds of the government’s benefit cuts. This is an extraordinary indictment on a government that claims to have “fairness” and “social justice” at its heart.

10. “Progressive”= extremely regressive, almost feudal.

11. “Behavioural change”= to separate citizens from the prospects of material progress and to condition them to accept both the status quo and the short straw of neoliberal ” market forces”, cunningly disguised as invisible bootstraps.

12. “Policy” = a method of siphoning money from the poorest citizens and public services into corporate and millionaires’ bank accounts, while punishing the poorest citizens as they are robbed, by telling all and sundry it’s their own fault that they are poor. Usually involves an element of character divination and quack “cures” for “faulty” people. Often justified by an implied “trickle down” of wealth.

Neoliberal policies require a political framework of authoritarianism as they don’t benefit most people, and strip our public assets. A lot of neoliberalism is about governments kidding people that neoliberalism doesn’t cause massive inequalities, poverty, and the removal of publicly funded social support mechanisms.

While the state shrinks radically in terms of what it provides for ordinary people to meet their needs, it paradoxically develops a massive and increasingly bureaucratic order to deceive ordinary people and to impose an authoritarian rule and control citizen perceptions and behaviours, allowing the government to keep on imposing ruthless scorched earth neoliberal policies so that a few very, very wealthy folk can get even wealthier whilst everyone else becomes increasingly miserable and struggles in meeting their basic survival needs.

13.  “Supply side economics” = founded on the mythical “trickle down” and the side-splittingly comedic idea that reducing taxes for the wealthiest will increase Treasury revenue. Usually, it’s hiked VAT and another raid on disabled people’s lifeline support that does that.

The economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, “Mr. David Stockman has said that supply-side economics was merely a cover for the trickle-down approach to economic policy – what an older and less elegant generation called the horse-and-sparrow theory: If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.” This basically means the majority of the population are fed a pile of horsesh*t.

14. “Free market”= economic Darwinism, the triumph of rogue multinationals and predatory capitalism, which brings about the commodification of every single basic human need so a few corporations can make sustained, massive profits, while everyone else is dispossessed by the government. 

15. “Big society” = oppressive bureaucratic state that is enforcing the systematic dismantling of the social gains we made with our post-war settlement. It also means privatisation and cutting public services down to Victorian size, but excluding the gin houses. So, in a nutshell, no support but lots of authoritarian surveilance, control and punishment from the government, who continue to spend the public’s taxes on funding tax cuts to millionaires, reducing corporate tax, letting big companies off from their obligations, bailing out banks that cause global recessions and subsidising those hard done by big businesses. 

16. “Work experience” = free labour, exploitation opportunities and big profits for the government’s corporate sponsors. Also part of a wider plan to dismantle welfare and to undermine trade unions and collective bargaining.

17. “The law” = whatever the Tories say it is. If they don’t like it, they simply ignore or re-write it.

18. “Cutting the deficit” = it means to probably more than double it, but it’s also a smokescreen for a strong neoliberal programme of austerity and redistributing public wealth into a few private bank accounts, mostly offshore.

19. “Fair” = whatever the Tories say it is. Usually, Conservative “fairness” entails taking money from the poorest citizens, raiding public funds and handing it out to very wealthy people and providing rogue companies with contracts to help them do so.

Ethically bankrupt companies such as Atos, G4S and Maximus also generally cost the public billions more than they promise to save.

20. “Social justice” = rather like Augusto Pinochet’s bureaucratic authoritarianism: huge and growing social inequality, absolute poverty and harsh financial penalties for many people, such as those who are economically inactive because they are too ill to work, and those who have exploitative employers paying them a pittance. Sanctions and welfare conditionality are held to be “fair” and about Conservative “social justice”.

Low taxes for stingy and disproportionately resentful millionaires, who have gained the most from society but don’t feel like giving anything back, is also considered by the Conservatives as “social justice”. Poor and disabled people experiencing harm, distress and dying because of the Conservative austerity cuts is also included in this definition, as are aggressive government denials of “causal links” between blatantly draconian policies and any human suffering whatsoever. Apparently punitive policy that imposes starvation and destitution on the poorest people is in their best interest.

21. “Causal relationship/cause and effect” = whatever the Tories say it is. Anything that challenges Conservative discourse is generally dismissed as “anecdotal”. However the government make up statistics to “empirically support” their own anecdotal narrative and dogma.

22. “Small state”= massively bureaucratic administration aimed at incredibly intrusive and controlling state interventions in the intimate areas of our lives, such as decision-making, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. These technocratic interventions inevitably reduce the autonomy and remove the liberties of the poorest citizens, whilst those in positions of power, making the decisions, are not held accountable for the consequences of their abysmal, callous and usually very greedy choices.

The Behavioural Insights Team, at the heart of the Cabinet, are contributing to formulating policies to save the government money and to make a lot of profit from that. Their aim is to distract the public and “change the behaviours” of mostly poor citizens, providing both a prop and justification for failing neoliberal policies which result in widespread poverty, precarity and massive social inequalities. Welfare conditionality and sanctions, for example, are forms of punitive behavioural “correction” for the assumed character deficits and “faulty” psychology of people who are not wealthy. It seems the government think with impeccable logic that people can be punished out of being poor, by making them more poor in order to stop them being poor.

Meanwhile those who damaged the economy are left to continue making hefty profits from economy-damaging behaviours, because the government decided to make poor people pay for those “mistakes” via austerity measures instead. The behaviour change agenda sends out the message that it is individuals who somehow “choose” to be poor (yes, really), rather than poverty being an inevitable feature of an economic system that is weighted towards rewarding wealthy citizens while increasingly dispossessing the majority of ordinary citizens.

23. “We are all in it together” = it’s everyone for themselves, unless you are poor. The wealthy get socialism and special handshakes, the poor get laissez faire, the work ethic via operant conditioning, Samuel Smiles’ Victorian moralising bibles: Thrift and Self help, and a liberal dose of Malthusian miserablism.

24. “British values” = extremely divided society with a high level of social prejudice, inequality, absolute poverty and human rights abuses.

Used to redefine working class interests by the establishment, designed as a pressure cooker type of diversionary release for oppressed blue-collar workers, by offering them one “opportunity” to democratically register their alienation, anger and fear because of deteriorating social conditions and political disenfranchisement, via the populist Brexit campaign, while maintaining neoliberal hegemony and ensuring an ever-downward pressure on labour conditions, wages and collective bargaining.

25. “Integrated healthcare” = a combination of savage cuts, homeopathy, cognitive behavioural therapy, “pulling yourself together” and being told that “work is a health outcome” a lot. It’s failure precedes and contributes to justifying privatisation.

26. “Truthfully” = I want you to think I am being honest, but I am not. It’s a delivery style rather than being about actual truth content.

27. “Objectively”= the status quo; ideologically driven, more dogma to follow. Anti-intellectualism.

28. “Safe in our hands” = we fully intend to privatise all public services to make profit for big business and ourselves.

29. “Work is a health outcome” = the creation of an opportunity for big business to exploit sick and disabled people by politically coercing them into low paid, insecure work via punitive policies (euphemistically called “welfare conditionality”), and to build a desperate reserve army of labour, thus driving wages down further whilst simultaneously dismantling the welfare state and the NHS.

30. “Transparency” = corruption and authoritarianism.

euphemisms
Picture courtesy of Tom Pride.


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

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From the Zinoviev letter to the Labour party coup – the real enemy within

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Image courtesy of Robert Livingstone 

Last September I wrote about an unusually unbiased BBC World News interview with Crispin Blunt, the (then) Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The interview highlighted an ongoing crisis of democracy and reflects a broader, longstanding and insidious establishment conflict with the Labour party. Blunt told Stephen Sackur during the interview that the government is not under any obligation to share intelligence information with the (then) new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

His comments came just days after a senior serving general, scaremongering anonymously in the Sunday Timessaid Corbyn’s victory had been greeted with “wholesale dismay” in the army. The general said that any plans to scrap Trident, pull out of Nato or announce “any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces” will meet fierce opposition. His hint that some in the military planned an illegal seizure of the state if Corbyn wins the next General Election is particularly extraordinary. He said the army would “use whatever means possible, fair or foul to maintain security.”

A coup d’état is an anachronistic and violent method of political engineering that ordinarily happens only in one-party fascist, totalitarian and despotic states, it’s not an event you would expect to see used as a threat in a so-called first world liberal democracy.

Regardless of how far-fetched the threats may seem, that a general feels it’s okay to threaten a coup or “mutiny” against a future left wing government using the mainstream right-wing press as a mouthpiece is a cause for some concern. It’s a symptom of how oppressive the establishment have become, and how apparently acceptable it is to attack, discredit and threaten anyone who presents a challenge and an alternative perspective to the status quo.  

The nameless, gutless and anti-democratic general’s comments reminded me of the Zinoviev letter, and the other subversive plots in the 1960s and 1970s that were engineered by the establishment using the military and intelligence services to destabilise Harold Wilson’s government.

The Labour leader has said that as far as the party is concerned, the UK’s role in Nato is a matter for discussion for the shadow cabinet, the party at large and most importantly, the public. Emily Thornberry announced that there will be a public consultation regarding the value of the UK nuclear deterrent. That is, after all, the democratic thing to do.

The anonymous general claimed that there would be “mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny” if Corbyn became [democratically elected as] prime minister.

The threat, regardless of its authenticity, is undoubtedly part of a broader strategy of tension, designed purposefully to create public alarm – to portray the left as a threat to the well-being of society – and it has continued to reverberate around the media; used as part of an arsenal of pro-establishment, anti-progressive propaganda to discredit Corbyn and the left.  

Mr Blunt told BBC Hardtalk Stephen Sackur that the serving general’s opinion was “inappropriate”, did not reflect the view of the government and that if Jeremy Corbyn were elected prime minister the army like everyone else would have to carry out the instructions of the elected government. 

In the meantime, Blunt said that it was a matter for the government to decide how much access to “privileged information” the leader of the opposition had. There would be no point in passing on such information if it would not “achieve consensus.”

In other words, the government don’t want a critical and democratic dialogue about potential military decisions. They are refusing to include anyone else in crucial political decision-making processes.

Sackur said that as soon as Corbyn was elected, the Conservatives “issued propaganda” suggesting that Corbyn is a threat to national security. He also pointed directly to the government’s fundamental lack of accountability, transparency and democracy in the unprecedented move to refuse to share military and intelligence information, which is conventionally shared with the leader of the opposition.

Blunt simply confirmed Stephen Sackur’s point about the government’s lack of democracy, accountability and transparency.  Sackur exposed the rank hypocrisy of a government that claims to be democratic, yet does not tolerate parties with differing views, nor does it invite or engage in dialogue and critical debate, choosing instead to exercise totalitarian control over what ought to be democratic decision-making, the will and thoughts of others, including the public that a government is meant to serve.

Perhaps a coup in the event of a left wing win in 2020 isn’t so far-fetched in the current oppressive political climate.

You can see the Hardtalk interview here, which is still up on the BBC iPlayer: http://bbc.in/1WgxmXF

From the Zinoviev letter to GBH and Spycatcher: the real enemy within

A scene from Alan Bleasdale’s perceptive GBH, a much misunderstood, darkly comedic series from 1991. Some commentators in the mainstream media at the time portrayed GBH as an indication that Bleasdale had shifted to the right, claiming that he was attempting to discredit the militant left. Many drew purposeful and convenient parallels with Derek Hatton and one of the central characters, Michael Murray.

However, for me there was a deeper, important and far more sinister message, which was not part of the mainstream conversation. Bleasdale’s central theme is an infiltation of the Labour party by MI5, ordered by the Conservative government at the time. Their aim was to recruit, manipulate and indoctrinate local “young bulls” with quasi left wing ideology to have them assist, unknowingly, in destablising and discrediting the Labour party in its entirety.

It’s certainly true that the far right, racism and social conflict always bloom and flourish under Conservative governments.

Fueling social tensions, MI5 agents provocateurs were prepared to use the ethnic communities to foster social division, in the hope of causing riots and ultimately, the hardened right wing thugs (MI5 were eventually revealed as the real thugs here) dismissed the minority groups as collateral damage, a callous, calculated move that was deemed necessary to destroy the Labour party.

MI5 staged a series of violent racist assaults on the city’s ethnic minorities, using hired local hardcases posing as police officers. They “made things happen.” Ultimately to preserve the status quo. In the drama, it’s eventually revealed that the plot to destablise the left involves Britain’s entire intelligence community.

Many felt that Bleasdale was portraying the end of socialism, but if he was, it was ultimately at the hand of the Tories – the real enemy within – not the militant left.

It’s not such a far-fetched “conspiracy theory”, especially in light of other developments, such as Peter Wright’s Spycatcher and Seamas Milne’s work The enemy Within.

The Zinoviev letter – one of the greatest but almost forgotten British political scandals of last century – was forged by a MI6 agent’s source and almost certainly leaked by MI6 or MI5 officers to the Conservative Party, according to an official report published in 1999.

Britain’s most senior security and intelligence officials discussed the smearing of the Labour party just as it was emerging as a major political force according to previously secret documents.

The potential repercussions of attempts by the intelligence agencies to damage the Labour party were debated at length by the little-known Secret Service Committee, later research – now released at the National Archives – shows.

Of course it was not the only time Britain’s intelligence agencies were implicated in attempts to destabilise a Labour government. A group of right wing intelligence officers attempted to destabilise Harold Wilson’s administrations in the 1960s and 70s.

One newly released document at the National Archives is a minute of the Secret Service Committee, dated 11 March 1927. It quotes Sir William Tyrrell, top official at the Foreign Office, referring to a conversation he had with the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, about politically inspired leaks by the police special branch as well as the security and intelligence agencies.

Baldwin’s main concern, said Tyrrell, was the fear that the political work done at Scotland Yard might at any moment give rise to a scandal, owing to the Labour party obtaining some “plausible pretext to complain that a government department was being employed for party politics.”

On 8 October, 1924, Britain’s first Labour government lost a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. The next day the Foreign Office was evidently sent a copy of a letter, purportedly originally sent from Grigori Zinoviev, the president of Comintern, addressed to the central committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The letter urged the party to stir up the British proletariat and the military in preparation for class war.

On 25 October the letter appeared in the heavily Conservative-biased Daily Mail just four days before the election. The political and diplomatic repercussions were immense.

The Daily Mail published a series of sensationalist headlines:

  • Civil War Plot by Socialists’ Masters
  • Moscow Order to Our Reds
  • Great Plot Disclosed Yesterday
  • Paralyse the Army and Navy
  • Mr. MacDonald Would Lend Russia Our Money

Here is the entire Zinoviev letter:

Very secret

Executive Committee, Third Communist International.

To the Central Committee, British Communist Party.

Presidium, September 15, 1924. Moscow.

Dear Comrades,

The time is approaching for the Parliament of England to consider the Treaty concluded between the Governments of Great Britain and the S.S.S.R. for the purpose of ratification. The fierce campaign raised by the British bourgeoisie around the question shows that the majority of the same, together with reactionary circles, are against the Treaty for the purpose of breaking off an agreement consolidating the ties between the proletariats of the two countries leading to the restoration of normal relations between England and the S.S.S.R.

The proletariat of Great Britain, which pronounced its weighty word when danger threatened of a break-off of the past negotiations, and compelled the Government of MacDonald to conclude the treaty, must show the greatest possible energy in the further struggle for ratification and against the endeavours of British capitalists to compel Parliament to annul it.

It is indispensable to stir up the masses of the British proletariat to bring into movement the army of unemployed proletarians whose position can be improved only after a loan has been granted to the S.S.S.R. for the restoration of her economics and when business collaboration between the British and Russian proletariats has been put in order. It is imperative that the group in the Labour Party sympathising with the Treaty should bring increased pressure to bear upon the Government and Parliamentary circles in favour of the ratification of the Treaty.

Keep close observation over the leaders of the Labour Party, because these may easily be found in the leading strings of the bourgeoisie. The foreign policy of the Labour Party as it is, already represents an inferior copy of the policy of the Curzon Government. Organize a campaign of disclosure of the foreign policy of MacDonald.

The I.K.K.I. (Executive Committee, Third [Communist] International) will willingly place at your disposal the wide material in its possession regarding the activities of British Imperialism in the Middle and Far East. In the meanwhile, however, strain every nerve in the struggle for the ratification of the Treaty, in favour of a continuation of negotiations regarding the regulation of relations between the S.S.S.R. and England.

A settlement of relations between the two countries will assist in the revolutionising of the international and British proletariat not less than a successful rising in any of the working districts of England, as the establishment of close contact between the British and Russian proletariat, the exchange of delegations and workers, etc., will make it possible for us to extend and develop the propaganda of ideas of Leninism in England and the Colonies.

Armed warfare must be preceded by a struggle against the inclinations to compromise which are embedded among the majority of British workmen, against the ideas of evolution and peaceful extermination of capitalism. Only then will it be possible to count upon complete success of an armed insurrection. In Ireland and the Colonies the case is different; there is a national question, and this represents too great a factor for success for us to waste time on a prolonged preparation of the working class.

But even in England, as other countries, where the workers are politically developed, events themselves may more rapidly revolutionise the working masses than propaganda. For instance, a strike movement, repressions by the Government etc.

From your last report it is evident that agitation-propaganda work in the army is weak, in the navy a very little better. Your explanation that the quality of the members attracted justifies the quantity is right in principle, nevertheless it would be desirable to have cells in all the units of the troops, particularly among those quartered in the large centres of the country, and also among factories working on munitions and at military store depots. We request that the most particular attention be paid to these latter.

In the event of danger of war, with the aid of the latter and in contact with the transport workers, it is possible to paralyse all the military preparations of the bourgeoisie, and make a start in turning an imperialist war into a class war. Now more than ever we should be on our guard.

Attempts at intervention in China show that world imperialism is still full of vigour and is once more making endeavours to restore its shaken position and cause a new war, which as its final objective is to bring about the break-up of the Russian Proletariat and the suppression of the budding world revolution, and further would lead to the enslavement of the colonial peoples. ‘Danger of War’, ‘The Bourgeoisie seek War’, ‘Capital fresh Markets’ – these are the slogans which you must familiarise the masses with, with which you must go to work into the mass of the proletariat. These slogans will open to you the doors of comprehension of the masses, will help you to capture them and march under the banner of Communism.

The Military Section of the British Communist Party, so far as we are aware, further suffers from a lack of specialists, the future directors of the British Red Army.

It is time you thought of forming such a group, which together with the leaders, might be in the event of an outbreak of active strife, the brain of the military organisation of the party.

Go attentively through the lists of the military ‘cells’ detailing from them the more energetic and capable men, turn attention to the more talented military specialists who have for one reason or another, left the Service and hold Socialist views. Attract them into the ranks of the Communist Party if they desire honestly to serve the proletariat and desire in the future to direct not the blind mechanical forces in the service of the bourgeoisie, but a national army.

Form a directing operative head of the Military Section.

Do not put this off to a future moment, which may be pregnant with events and catch you unprepared.

Desiring you all success, both in organisation and in your struggle.

With Communist Greetings,

President of the Presidium of the I.K.K.I.

ZINOVIEV

Member of the Presidium: McMANUS

Secretary: KUUSINEN

Some historians say that the letter aided the Conservative party in hastening the collapse of the Liberal party which led to a decisive Conservative victory. Curiously, a now familiar tactic.

Others say the letter was an example of Conservative deceit, which in 1924, enabled Britain’s Conservative party to cheat their way to a general election victory. Personally, I’m inclined to believe the latter. It’s not as if the Conservatives have a history of democratic engagement, transparency, accountability and honesty, after all.

The letter came at a sensitive time in relations between Britain and the Soviet Union, due to the Conservative opposition to the parliamentary ratification of the Anglo-Soviet trade agreement of 8 August 1924.

The publication of the letter was severely embarrassing to Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald and his Labour party. The chance of a victory was dashed as the spectre of internal revolution and a government oblivious to the “red peril” dominated the public consciousness, via the media.

MacDonald’s attempts to establish doubt regarding the authenticity of the letter were catastrophically in vain, hampered by the document’s widespread acceptance amongst Tory government officials. MacDonald told his Cabinet he “felt like a man sewn in a sack and thrown into the sea.”

New light on the scandal which triggered the fall of the first Labour government in 1924 is shed in a study by Gill Bennett, chief historian at the Foreign Office, commissioned by Robin Cook in 1998.

Bennett’s investigation implicates Desmond Morton, an MI6 officer and close friend of Churchill who appointed him personal assistant during the second world war, and also points to Major Joseph Ball, an MI5 officer who joined Conservative Central Office in 1926. Ball later went on to be one of the earliest spin doctors – for the Tories.

The exact route of the forged letter to the Daily Mail will probably never be known. There were other possible conduits, including Stewart Menzies, a future head of MI6 who, according to MI6 files, admitted sending a copy to the Mail.

In summary, the letter was purported to be from Grigori Zinoviev, president of the Comintern, the internal communist organisation, called on British communists to mobilise “sympathetic forces” in the Labour party to support an Anglo-Soviet treaty (including a loan to the Bolshevik government) and to encourage “agitation-propaganda” in the armed forces.

As stated, on 25 October, 1924, just four days before the election, the Mail splashed headlines across its front page claiming: Civil War Plot by Socialists’ Masters: Moscow Orders To Our Reds; Great Plot Disclosed. Labour lost the election by a landslide.

Bennett said the letter “probably was leaked from SIS [the Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6] by somebody to the Conservative Party Central Office.” She named Major Ball and Mr Morton, who was responsible for assessing agents’ reports.

“I have my doubts as to whether he thought it was genuine but [Morton] treated it as if it was,” she said.

She described MI6 as being at the centre of the scandal, although it was impossible to say whether the head of MI6, Admiral Hugh Sinclair, was involved.

Bennett also said there was “no evidence of a conspiracy” in what she called “the institutional sense.”

But there was no evidence that refuted such a conspiracy either. The security and intelligence community at the time consisted of a “very, very incestuous circle, an elite network” who went to school together. Their allegiances, she says in her report, “lay firmly in the Conservative camp.”

Bennett had full access to secret files held by MI6 (though some have been destroyed) and MI5. She also saw Soviet archives in Moscow before writing her 128-page study. The files show the forged Zinoviev letter was widely circulated, including to senior army officers, to inflict maximum damage on the Labour government.

She found no evidence to identify the name of the forger. The report says there is no hard evidence that MI6 agents in Riga were directly responsible – though it is known they had close contacts with White Russians – or that the letter was commissioned in response to British intelligence services’ “uneasiness about its prospects under a re-elected Labour government.”

The report does not tie up loose ends. But by putting a huge amount of material into the public domain, it at least allows people to make up their own minds. Important questions remain, and may always go unanswered – such as who actually forged the letter.

However, if Bennett is right in her suggestion that MI6 chiefs did not set up the forgery, her report claims that MI6 deceived the Foreign Office by asserting it did know who the source was – a deception it used to insist, wrongly, that the Zinoviev letter was genuine.

Bennett claims that we cannot conclude the scandal brought down Ramsay Macdonald’s government, which had already lost a confidence vote and Liberal support on which it depended was disappearing.

“In electoral terms,” she says, “the impact of the Zinoviev letter on Labour was more psychological than measurable.”

I don’t agree.

Firstly, I think that it’s a fairly safe and balanced conclusion that the Intelligence Services lack diversity, with a strong tendency to recruit staunch establishmentarians. The impact was calculated to be measurable. Secondly, the media has always exercised enormously heavy influence on voters, I find it a little odd that such a connection was deemed insignificant. Especially given the wide use of black propaganda, very evident at the time.

Besides, this isn’t an isolated event, and there does appear to be an established relationship between Conservative governments and the secret services staging persistent attempts at “destabilising,” discrediting and smearing the left. And the media.

Fast-forward to more recent events, and low and behold, the mainstream media are still feeding us the fear-mongering and pseudo-warnings of an “evil Communist threat.” Last year we heard how the late Ralph Miliband “influenced” his son, “Red Ed,”  with the media claiming that the then Labour leader’s policies are founded on a “legacy of evil” and a “poisonous creed.” That’s once again according to the very pro-establishment, corrupt Daily Mail, of course. (See also: Tory Fascist Lie Machine The Daily Mail Has Met Its Match.) Same old tactics.

Miliband had established the International Anti-Austerity Alliance to challenge the neoliberal consensus, his progressive tax proposals and promise to implement the Leveson recommendations chafed the establishment’s ass.

The Comintern and Soviet government vehemently and consistently denied the authenticity of the document. Grigori Zinoviev issued a denial on 27 October 1924 (two days before the election), which was finally published in the December 1924 issue of The Communist Review, considerably well after the MacDonald government had fallen.

Zinoviev declared:

“The letter of 15th September, 1924, which has been attributed to me, is from the first to the last word, a forgery. Let us take the heading. The organisation of which I am the president never describes itself officially as the “Executive Committee of the Third Communist International”; the official name is “Executive Committee of the Communist International.” Equally incorrect is the signature, “The Chairman of the Presidium.” The forger has shown himself to be very stupid in his choice of the date. On the 15th of September, 1924, I was taking a holiday in Kislovodsk, and, therefore, could not have signed any official letter. […]

It is not difficult to understand why some of the leaders of the Liberal-Conservative bloc had recourse to such methods as the forging of documents. Apparently they seriously thought they would be able, at the last minute before the elections, to create confusion in the ranks of those electors who sincerely sympathise with the Treaty between England and the Soviet Union. It is much more difficult to understand why the English Foreign Office, which is still under the control of the Prime Minister, MacDonald, did not refrain from making use of such a white-guardist forgery.”

Peter Wright, a former MI5 officer, showed in Spycatcher – a candid autobiography – how elements in his agency worked against the Wilson government in the 1970s.

Despite the Thatcher government’s attempts to prevent publication, the book gained worldwide attention. MI5’s own archives have shown there was a “permanent file” on the Labour leader throughout his time in office. He is the only serving prime minister to have a permanent Secret Service file.

MI5 opened the dossier in 1945 when Mr Wilson became an MP after communist civil servants suggested he had similar “political sympathies.”

His file was so secret that he was given the pseudonym Norman John Worthington.

Sir Michael Hanley, MI5 director general from 1972, went to even greater lengths to conceal its existence by removing it from the central index, meaning any search would result in a “no trace.”

Personal permission from Sir Michael was required to access it.

This is backed up by corroborating interviews with senior figures at the time.

These events unfolded at a time when the establishment, from the intelligence services down to parts of Fleet Street, were paranoid about the “threat of communism.” So paranoid it seems they were prepared to believe a prime minister of Britain was an active Soviet spy.

At a time of continuing Cold War tensions, industrial unrest was rife, the country had suffered power cuts and a three-day working week and in 1975 the government was being warned privately that the consequences would be severe if it could not curb inflation.

Whilst some on the hard left believed revolution was imminent, former military figures, angry at the extent of union control, were building private armies, in preparation for the coming conflict, according to the then BBC investigative journalist Barrie Penrose. (Penrose co-authored The Pencourt File with another journalist, Roger Courtiour.)

Meetings with Wilson were secretly recorded in 1976 by both the journalists (Penrose and Courtiour) weeks after his shock departure from Number 10.

“Wilson spoke darkly of two military coups which he said had been planned to overthrow his government in the late 1960s and in the mid 1970s,” Penrose writes.

Wilson told the journalists they “should investigate the forces that are threatening democratic countries like Britain.”

In his book, Peter Wright also tells of a plot to force Wilson’s resignation by MI5 agents who were convinced he was a Communist spy. Wright’s account is often dismissed as an exaggeration, but fresh evidence of plots surfaced in 2006.

Penrose says that witnesses confirm such plotting “wasn’t in the fevered imagination of an embittered ex-PM.”

Writing about the drama documentary The Plot Against Harold Wilson, shown on BBC Two at 21:00 on Thursday 16 March, 2006, Penrose concludes:

“You may ask, at the end of the programme, how much of it can be believed. My view now, as it was then, is that Wilson was right in his fears…. in answer to the question ‘how close did we come to a military government’ I can only say – closer than we’d ever be content to think.”


Harold Wilson, Aneurin Bevan, Ian Mikardo, Tom Driberg and Barbara Castle of the Keep Left Group (1951)

Chris Mullins, a former Foreign Office minister and author, writes:

“By the time A Very British Coup was published, in 1982, the political climate was even more propitious. Prompted by the imminent arrival of cruise missiles, CND demonstrations were attracting crowds in excess of 200,000. The establishment was getting so twitchy that, as we later learned, Michael Heseltine had set up a special unit in the Ministry of Defence to counter the impact of CND.

The US was getting twitchy too. When A Very British Coup was published I was editor of the political weekly Tribune, and we were selling the book by mail order through the paper. A few days after the first advert appeared we were intrigued to receive an order from the US embassy. We duly dispatched a copy and waited to see what would happen next. We did not have to wait long.

An invitation arrived to lunch with the minister, the most important man at the embassy after the ambassador. He even sent his bullet-proof Cadillac to Tribune’s modest headquarters in Gray’s Inn Road to convey me to his mansion in Kensington.

At first I assumed that I was one of a number of guests, but no: there was just the minister, two of his colleagues, an Asian butler and myself.

“Why are you interested in a minnow like me?” I inquired.

“I reckon,” he drawled, “that you are among the top 1,000 opinion formers in the country.”

“Well, I must be about number 999.”

“The other 999 have been here too.”

A year or two later I received from an anonymous source an envelope posted in Brussels. It contained an internal US state department memorandum addressed to US diplomats in London listing a number of questions they were to put to “authorised contacts” in London regarding the balance of power within the Labour party and opinion regarding the US bases in general and the impending arrival of cruise missiles in particular. Although, in retrospect, we can see they had no cause for concern, there is no doubt that alarm bells were ringing in Washington.

A Very British Coup attracted attention elsewhere too. It was helpfully denounced in the correspondence columns of the Times, and as a result sales in Hatchards of Piccadilly almost matched those at the leftwing bookshop Collets. (When it comes to selling books, a high-profile denunciation is worth half a dozen friendly reviews and I have always done my best to organise one).

Thereafter interest might have faded, but for events conspiring to make it topical. In August 1985 the Observer revealed that an MI5 officer, Brigadier Ronnie Stoneham, was to be found in room 105 at Broadcasting House. His job? Stamping upturned Christmas trees on the personnel files of BBC employees he deemed to be unsuitable for promotion. Students of A Very British Coup will know that my head of MI5, Sir Peregrine Craddock, was also vetting BBC employees. What’s more, he also had a spy on the general council of CND – and in due course the MI5 defector Cathy Massiter revealed that there had indeed been such a spy. His name was Harry Newton.

Finally, in 1987 Peter Wright, a retired MI5 officer, caused a sensation with his claim that he and a group of MI5 colleagues had plotted to undermine the Wilson government. Suddenly the possibility that the British establishment might conspire with its friends across the Atlantic to destabilise the elected government could no longer be dismissed as leftwing paranoia.”

The Enemy Within

Margaret Thatcher branded Arthur Scargill and the other leaders of the 1984-5 miners’ strike the enemy within. With the publication of Seumas Milne’s bestselling book a decade later, the full irony of that accusation became clear. There was an enemy within. But it was not the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) that was out to subvert liberty. It was the secret services of the British state – operating inside the NUM itself.

Seumas Milne reveals the astonishing lengths to which the government and its intelligence machine were prepared to go to destroy the power of Britain’s miners’ union. Using phoney bank deposits, staged cash drops, forged documents, agents provocateurs and unrelenting surveillance, MI5 and police Special Branch set out to discredit Scargill and other miners’ leaders.

Now we know that the Tory prime minister intended to extend the charge of seditious insurrection, not only to left wing Labour councils in Liverpool and London resisting cuts in services, but against the Labour party as a whole.

Planted tales of corruption were seized on by the media and both Tory and Labour politicians in what became an unprecedentedly savage smear campaign. This is one of the UK’s most important post-war class confrontations. We are currently facing another in the form of a battle for the heart and soul of the Labour party – Corbyn has come to represent for many among the working classes that very heart and soul, still beating strongly under a gangrened body of neoliberal apologists and class traitors.. 

Milne has highlighted the continuing threat posed by the security services to democracy today.

Milne describes the Conservative government’s systematic resort to anti-democratic measures to break the resistance of Britain’s most powerful union: from the use of the police and security services to infiltrate and undermine the miners’ union to the manipulation of the courts and media to discredit and tie the hands of its leaders.

He says:

“A decade after the strike, I called the book I wrote about that secret war against the miners “The Enemy Within”, because the phrase turned out to have multiple layers of meaning. As the evidence has piled up with each new edition, the charge that Thatcher laid at the door of the National Union of Mineworkers can in fact be seen to fit her own government’s use of the secret state far better.

It wasn’t just the militarised police occupation of the coalfields; the 11,000 arrests, deaths, police assaults, mass jailings and sackings; the roadblocks, fitups and false prosecutions – most infamously at the Orgreave coking plant where an orgy of police violence in June 1984 was followed by a failed attempt to prosecute 95 miners for riot on the basis of false evidence.

It’s that under the prime minister’s guidance, MI5, police Special Branch, GCHQ and the NSA were mobilised not only to spy on the NUM on an industrial scale, but to employ agents provocateurs at the highest level of the union, dirty tricks, slush funds, false allegations, forgeries, phoney cash deposits and multiple secretly sponsored legal actions to break the defence of the mining communities.

In the years since, Thatcher and her former ministers and intelligence mandarins have defended such covert action by insisting the NUM leaders were “subversive” because they wanted to bring down the government. Which of course they did – but “legitimately,” as Scargill remarked recently, by bringing about a general election – as took place in the wake of the successful coal strike of 1974.

In reality, as 50 MPs declared when some of these revelations first surfaced, Thatcher’s government and its security apparatus were themselves guilty of the mass “subversion of democratic liberties”. And, as the large-scale malpractices of police undercover units have driven home in the past couple of years, their successors are still at it today.”


The insidious threat to democracy is still very real, hidden in plain view. And plain clothes.

File:MI5 crest and logo.png

See also:

Wilson, MI5 and the rise of Thatcher – Lobster

Bugger – Adam Curtis

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwald

Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research – Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman

Think the idea of UK leftie movements being infiltrated is all a conspiracy theory? Here are some of the times it’s actually happened – Raphael Schlembach


 

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