Category: Propaganda

The interdependence of the PR industry and neoliberal Conservative governments

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

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

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

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

PR US Japan Eu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for pr and democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for pr and democracy chomsky

 


 

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Briefing Note: Update on the Salisbury poisonings – the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media

Related image

Earlier this year in Salisbury, following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

The multinational working group on Syria, propaganda and the media has been established to facilitate research into the areas of organised persuasive communication (including propaganda and information operations) and media coverage, with respect to the 2011-present conflict in Syria, including related topics.

The group is entirely independent, open to academics and independent researchers and is not aligned to any state or non-state actor. In line with ethical expectations, the research group is committed to the upholding of international law and human rights norms.

The group aims to facilitate networking, the development of research papers and research grant bids and to provide a source of reliable, informed and timely analysis for journalists, publics and policymakers.

The aims are to be accomplished through a commitment to the production of rigorous and independent research, examining carefully the various accounts of the conflict in Syria to build an empirically grounded account both of the conflict itself and of the apparatus, practice and content of organised persuasive communication (including propaganda) in relation to the conflict. It is vital in any such endeavour that all available information, and all reputable or appropriate scientific research methods, are utilised to contribute to evidence-based accounts of the conflict and the war of words that accompanies it.

The working group have published the following briefing note: Update on the Salisbury poisonings:- 

The following briefing note is developed by academics researching the use of chemical and biological weapons during the 2011-present war in Syria. The note reflects work in progress. However, the substantive questions raised need answering, especially given the seriousness of the political situation in the Middle East and UK-Russian relations. We welcome comments and corrections.

Authors: Professor Paul McKeigue, Professor David Miller and Professor Piers Robinson (piers.robinson@sheffield.ac.uk/+447764763350).

Working Group on Syria, Media and Propaganda (syriapropagandamedia.org).

Key points

  • The Skripals were exposed to a phosphoroamidofluoridate compound named A-234, of high purity indicating that it was most likely prepared for research purposes.
  • A-234 or similar compounds have been synthesized at bench scale by national chemical defence labs in Russia and the US in the 1990s, and more recently in Iran and Czech. A small quantity of A-234 from a Russian state lab was used in the murder of Ivan Kivelidi and Zara Ismailova in 1995.
  • No data on the toxicity of A-234 are available in the public domain. The police statement that the Skripals were exposed through contact with their front door is implausible as there are no known nerve agents that cause onset of symptoms delayed by several hours, and it is improbable that absorption through the skin would cause both individuals to collapse later at exactly the same time.
  • Although Russia is one of several countries that have synthesized A-234 or similar compounds, there is no evidence other than Vil Mirzayanov’s story that these compounds were ever developed (implying industrial-scale production and testing of munitions) for military use. Mirzayanov’s credibility as an independent whistleblower is undermined by his role in a Tatar separatist movement during 2008-2009, backed by the US State Department.
  • There are multiple indications that the UK is hiding information:- 
    • the withholding of the identity of the compound as A-234. For example, the UK statement to the OSCE 12 April 2018 states only that ‘ the name and structure of that identified toxic chemical is contained in the fall classified report to States Parties’. See also this briefingThe Chief Executive of Porton Down, in his statement 3 April, referred to the compound only as ‘Novichok’.
    • the withholding of information about its toxicity
    • the issue of a Defence and Security Media Advisory notice on the identity of Skripal’s MI6 handler and the attempt to conceal or deny his role in Orbis Business Intelligence.
    • the sequestration of Yulia Skripal.
  • The UK government’s case against Russia, stated in a letter to NATO, is based on asserting that “only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals”. Each of these points is open to question:- 
    • Technical means: it is not seriously disputed that compounds such as A-234 can be produced at bench scale in any modern chemistry lab. 
    • Operational experience: it is alleged that Russia has a track record of state-sponsored assassination, but this is not enough to support the assertion that “only Russia” could have enough experience to attempt unsuccessfully to assassinate two unprotected individuals. 
    • Motive: No other attempted assassinations of defectors from Russian intelligence services have been recorded. Even if such an assassination campaign had been ordered, the Russian state would have good reasons not to initiate it in the first half of 2018. In contrast there are obvious possible motives (outlined below) for other actors to have taken steps to silence Sergei Skripal at this time. 

What was the agent used?

An early report that the hospital was dealing with poisoning caused by an opiate such as fentanyl was most likely based on the initial working diagnosis.  Signs of organophosphate poisoning – constricted pupils, vomiting, reduced consciousness and reduced breathing – could easily be mistaken for opiate overdose, usually a more likely diagnosis.  OPCW has stated that the BZ detected by the Swiss Federal Institute for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection in one of the samples sent by OPCW was not from Salisbury but was in a control sample.

The Russian ambassador reported that on 12 March the Foreign Secretary had told him that the nerve agent used against Mr and Ms Skripal had been identified as A-234.   The OPCW report issued on 12 April did not identify the agent but stated that they had confirmed the identification made by the UK and that this identification had been included in the confidential report provided to “States parties”. 

On 14 April the Russian Foreign Minister stated that A-234 had been reported by the Swiss Federal Institute for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection that was one of the four accredited labs used by OPCW to analyse the Salisbury samples.

Based on public reports, a ChemSpider record for A-234 has been created which assigns it the IUPAC name ethyl [(1E)-1-(diethylamino)ethylidene] phosphoramidofluoridate. Its predicted vapour pressure is very low indicating that it is predicted to be non-volatile. No information on its stability is available.   

The OPCW director Uzumcu stated in a newspaper interview that the agent “seems to be very persistent,” and “not affected by weather conditions”.  This was confirmed the next day by an OPCW press statement that: “the chemical substance found was of high purity, persistent and resistant to weather conditions”.  Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was reported to have stated:  “The chemical does not degrade quickly.  You can assume it is not much different now from the day it was distributed”.  No experimental studies of the stability of A-234 have been reported.

Who could have produced A-234 in bench-scale quantities?

It is no longer seriously disputed that, as noted in our earlier briefing, any well equipped university lab can synthesize and purify such chemicals at bench scale.  OPCW reported that the agent (presumably A-234) was of high purity with “almost complete absence of impurities”.   This suggests that it was from a batch that had been synthesized for research, rather than for assassination purposes where it would be unnecessary to purify the agent.

Uzumcu stated in an interview with the New York Times that he had been told by UK officials that 50-100 grams of the agent was used.

“For research activities or protection you would need, for instance, five to 10 grams or so, but even in Salisbury it looks like they may have used more than that. Without knowing the exact quantity, I am told it may be 50, 100 grams or so, which goes beyond research activities for protection”

OPCW quickly contradicted this in a statement that “OPCW would not be able to estimate or determine the amount of the nerve agent that was used in Salisbury on 4 March 2018. The quantity should probably be characterized in milligrams”.

Who has studied A-234 or similar compounds?

Bench-scale research on the toxicity of agents that might be used in chemical warfare is entirely legitimate under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and does not have to be declared to OPCW.

  • Russia

Since our last briefing note, more material from the investigation of the Kivelidi poisoning has been published by Novaya Gazeta, updating the earlier article published on 22 March

The second article includes an image of the mass spectrometry profile of the sample recovered from the telephone handset, which matches that submitted by Edgewood to the NIST98 mass spectrometry database. 

The Russian experts who commented on the original result appear not to have had access to the mass spectrometry profile of A-234, and to have incorrectly reconstructed the structure from a best guess, based on the mass-charge ratios of the fragments, as something like the GV agent (both agents have molecular mass 224 daltons, and a 58-dalton fragment).  

This establishes that Russia had synthesized this compound at bench scale by the mid 1990s, but does not confirm that it was ever developed for military use as alleged by Mirzayanov.

  • US

1997 newspaper article refers to a secret US army intelligence report referring to Russian development of A-232 and its “ethyl analog” A-234, indicating that the designation of these compounds and their structures was known to the US by this time. As noted in our last briefing note, the Edgewood lab submitted a mass spectrometry profile for A-234 to the public database NIST98, which was current from 1998 to 2001.

A patent application submitted by a US government lab in 2008 mentions “Novichoks”, but examination shows that the structures given for these compounds were the dihaloformaldoxime structures previously published as supposed “Novichoks”, not the phosphoramidofluoridates published by Mirzayanov later in 2008.   This does not indicate that the applicants were studying these compounds – most likely they included them to make their patent as broad as possible.

  • Iran and Czechia

study from Iran published in 2016 reported synthesis for research purposes of a compound similar to A-234, differing from it only by the presence of methyl instead of ethyl groups.  In an interview with Czech television, President Zeman stated that in November 2017 the related compound designated A-230 was studied at the Brno Military Research Institute.

  • Other labs

The director of Porton Down has declined to comment on whether Porton Down has stocks of A-234 for research purposes. The OPCW labs that identified A-234 in the specimens from Salisbury were most likely matching it against a mass spectrometry profile in OPCW’s Central Analytical Database.

What is known of the toxicity of A-234?

No data on the toxicity of A-234 are available in the public domain.  The printout of the entry in the NIST 98 database appears to cross-reference an entry in the database RTECS (Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances)but no entry for this compound now exists in RTECS.

Why was the structure of A-234 revealed?

The structure of A-234 was revealed in a book by Vil S Mirzayanov in 2008, some 13 years after he had emigrated to the US with the story of a secret programme to develop chemical weapons of a class named “Novichoks”. During 2008-2009 the US government, with an active part for the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was encouraging the development of a separatist movement in Tatarstan.  As part of this, Mirzayanov was declared head of a Tatar government-in-exile in December 2008.    The publication of his book may thus have been part of an effort to build up Mirzayanov’s status as a dissident.  His role in this operation may explain why subsequent discussion of his book by OPCW delegates was closely monitored (and discouraged) by the US State Department.   Mirzayanov’s involvement in this operation undermines his credibility as an independent whistleblower.

When and where were the Skripals exposed to A-234?

A summary of the different versions on which journalists were apparently briefed by security sources was given by the Russian embassy:-

– The Skripals could be sprayed with poison by attackers in the street (Daily Mail, 6 March, source: “Anti-terror police”).

– The nerve agent could be planted in one of the personal items in Yulia Skripal’s suitcase before she left Moscow for London. According to this theory the toxin was impregnated in an item of clothing or cosmetics or else in a gift that was opened in the house of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, meaning Yulia Skripal was deliberately targeted to get at her father (The Telegraph, 15 March, source: “Senior sources in the intelligence agencies”).

– The nerve agent could be planted in the air conditioner of the car of Skripals (Daily Mail, 19 March, source: “Security expert Philip Ingram”).

– The Skripals could be poisoned through buckwheat that Yulia Skripal had asked her friend to buy and bring for her father, because she had forgotten to pick up the grocery gifts herself (The Sun, 1 April, source: “British investigators”).

On 28 March the police announced that “at this point in our investigation, we believe the Skripals first came into contact with the nerve agent from their front door”.  

Although it is possible that a nerve agent could be prepared in a formulation that would be absorbed only slowly through the skin, it is implausible that two individuals exposed through contact with the front door would have received doses that caused them to collapse suddenly and so nearly simultaneously that neither had time to call for help, at least three hours later. 

It is more likely that they were attacked shortly before they were found collapsed on the park bench.

Sergei Skripal’s link with Orbis: possible motive for murder

In the first few days after the poisoning there were media reports that Sergei Skripal had been in regular contact with his MI6 handler,  whose Linked-In profile had stated that he was a consultant for Orbis Business Intelligence.  It appears that this  profile was deleted by March 7, and a Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice was issued to caution journalists against disclosing the identity of this consultant. 

However at Skripal’s trial in 2007 his MI6 handler had been identified as Pablo Miller, and the link between Skripal and Miller had been described in detail by Russian opposition media on 6 March.

This link between Skripal and Orbis may be relevant to the dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, the founder of Orbis, containing derogatory information on Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.  This dossier had been used by the FBI to apply for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court order authorizing surveillance of Trump’s campaign.  By early 2018 the unravelling of this story was creating serious difficulties for Steele and for those he had worked with. 

These difficulties included a referral for criminal investigation by two US Senators, a libel case in the US against the publisher of the dossier which had led to a court ruling that Steele should be questioned in an English court, and a libel case in England against Orbis and Steele.  It is not difficult to postulate a situation in which the potential for damage to US-UK relations could have provided a motive for actors on both sides of the Atlantic to ensure that Sergei Skripal would not be available to give evidence.

The UK government’s position

This was summarized in a letter from the National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Sedwill to the NATO Secretary-General on 13 April 2018.   Sedwill’s letter made several assertions that were substantiated only by “intelligence”:

  • By 1993, when Russia signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, it is likely that some Novichoks had passed acceptance testing, allowing their use by the Russian military
  • Russia further developed some Novichoks after ratifying the convention
  • During the 2000s, Russia commenced a programme to test means of delivering chemical warfare agents and to train personnel from special units in the use of these weapons. This programme subsequently included investigation of ways of delivering nerve agents, including by application to door handles. 
  • In the mid-2000s, President Putin was closely involved in the Russian chemical weapons programme
  • Within the last decade Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks

Appearing before the House of Commons Defence Committee on 1 May, Sedwill (11:39) extolled the government’s reaction to the Salisbury incident as “an example of the Fusion Doctrine in practice”. 

The Fusion Doctrine brings other government departments under the National Security Council with “the introduction of senior officials as senior responsible owners to deliver each of the NSC’s priorities”.

Sedwill’s involvement in the preparation of the now widely discredited dossier ‘Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, released in September 2002, calls into question his credibility in making these uncorroborated assertions. 

The UK government’s case as set out by Sedwill is based on asserting that “only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals”.  Each of these points is open to serious criticism:-

  • Technical means: it is not seriously disputed that A-234 can be produced at bench scale in any organic chemistry lab.
  • Operational experience: it is alleged that Russia has a track record of state-sponsored assassination, but this does not support the assertion that only Russia has the operational experience for such an assassination. On the contrary, the failure of the assassination attempt, against two unprotected individuals, suggests that the perpetrators lacked the operational experience and competence that one would expect of state-directed assassins.
  • Motive: no other attempted assassinations of defectors from Russian intelligence services have been recorded. If the Russian state had decided to begin assassinating these defectors, it is unlikely that they would have chosen to start in March 2018, just before the presidential election and three months before the FIFA World Cup.   However, as noted above, it is possible to identify motives for other actors to silence Sergei Skripal at this time.

 

Acknowledgements

We thank Professor Rudy Richardson of the University of Michigan for advice on the toxicology of nerve agents. 

Related

Update to briefing note ‘Doubts about Novichoks’

From a nerve agent attack to a nuclear threat in 3 days – the very worrying collapse of international diplomacy

D-Notice over Skripal poisoning suggests the information we’ve been given was false

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work.  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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BBC’s ‘churnalism’ and the government’s PR and ‘strategic communications’ crib sheet

The comment below is from Marcus Moore, a former fellow BBC scriptwriter who has worked for the last three decades as a freelance writer, theatre practitioner and arts consultant. It’s a summary of how Conservatives have corrupted the BBC

The Duke of Hazzard – a flashback to the Thatcher era

I also used to write scripts for the BBC’s Community Programme Unit when I was very young, green and unreservedly creative. I witnessed Marmaduke Hussey’s appointment as Chairman of the BBC’s Board of Governors in 1986, following the death of Stuart Young. His appointment – which was not so much about cleaning out the Augean stables, but rather more about downsizing and refurbishing them – was thanks in part to his close connections to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party. He “steered” the corporation through a period when there was pressure from the Conservative government to do so – it was being heavily criticised for its perceived left wing bias.

Conservatives always make this claim, Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith more recently in 2012, set about “monitoring” the BBC for “left wing bias”. For Conservatives, the more things change, the more they must be made to stay the same.   

What we are left with is reporting that is simply structured along the lines of government announcements. That’s not analysis and news, it is a publicly funded PR and strategic communcations service for an authoritarian government, which clearly sidesteps public interests and any idea of democratic accountability.

September 1986 Hussey received a call from the then home secretary, Douglas Hurd, offering him the chairmanship of the BBC governors.

The corporation was  under constant attack from right wing politicians such as Norman Tebbit and Jeffrey Archer and apparently a constant goad to Margaret Thatcher, infuriated daily by the alleged “pinkoes” running the Today programme.

Only those close to the newspaper business had heard of this former chief executive of Times newspapers, he was notable for leading the company into a confrontation with the trade unions, with the support of William Rees-Mogg, then editor of The Times. They decided on a “big bang” solution, shutting down the newspapers in an effort to bring the unions to heel. Convinced that such shock tactics would cause almost instant capitulation, Hussey and his colleagues had devised no strategy on how to proceed if that did not happen. The closure lasted 50 weeks and, when the papers did finally return, the basic issues remained unresolved. The confrontation ended in ignominious defeat, and eventually, to the acquisition of The Times and Sunday Times by Rupert Murdoch. 

An anonymous briefer at Conservative Central Office said at the time that Hussey’s job was “to make it bloody clear” that change was urgently required; he was “to get in there and sort it out”. Hurd subsequently denied issuing a brief, telling Hussey he would find out what he had to do when he got to the BBC. All the same, Duke went in the BBC awaiting further instructions. 

Within three months of joining the BBC, he had forced the resignation of the director-general, Alasdair Milne – father of Guardian journalist and Corbyn advisor, Seumas Milne – following a series of rows between the BBC and the Conservative government. Milne wasn’t a socialist by any means, but he had represented the more independent spirit of BBC programme making at that time. 

In the 1990s, Hussey also ended up in conflict with director general John Birt over his management style and Panorama’s controversial interview with Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995. It was said that Thatcher had installed Hussey to “sort out” the BBC. Such is the language of authoritarians who don’t like to be held to account. 

Those of a less constrained New Right Conservative view saw Hussey as an illiberal Frankenstein and John Birt as his pet monster. They were devastated by the chairman’s lack of interest or skill in intellectual argument and his readiness to make big decisions on a basis of ignorance or prejudice. Conservative through and through.

Toeing the party line: Conservative bias

In 2016, a study by Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies revealed that the BBC has a “high dependency” on the Conservative Party for statistics. The study was used by the BBC Trust to conduct a report called Making Sense of Statistics, and confirmed that the Conservatives are responsible for three-quarters of the statistics that the BBC receives (and thus presents to the public) from political sources. This is extremely problematic as the Conservatives have been formally rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority on many occasions for using misleading or manufactured statistical data to justify ideologically driven policies, which reflect a neoliberal hegemony.

The BBC Trust report once again calls the impartiality of the BBC into question, and states that the corporation should not be so content with reporting statistics “straight from a press release”. It also concluded that the BBC has failed to “go beyond the headlines”.  The report went on to say: 

“The content analysis demonstrates that there is an especially high number of political figures providing statistical information on BBC [output],” said the report. “And Conservative politicians represented nearly three-quarters (73%) of these statistical references.

And that:

“BBC journalists need the confidence and skills to go beyond headlines, and to challenge misleading claims.”

“It is reasonable to expect the BBC to cover statements which the UK or devolved governments make. […] However, as Cardiff’s content analysis points out, it does make it vital that those statements are challenged where necessary so that the impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of political affairs is not affected.”

The analysis by Cardiff University found that there were “many instances” where quotes and statistics given to the broadcaster from the Conservative government were simply reported with a complete failure to fact-check and scrutinise the information or even question and challenge it on “any fundamental level”. The Conservatives are effectively handing the BBC a script to read from.

At the same time, the Government has perpetuated a myth that the BBC has a “left wing bias”. It’s a claim that has allowed the Conservatives and right wing to police the corporation and set the wider political agenda. For its part, the BBC has become fearful of crossing certain lines, and so remains generally complaint, and toes the party line.

Many of BBC journalists have Conservative party connections and most of its panelists are from the neoliberal centre right. They not only fail to comprehend and appreciate Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-neoliberalism and promise of policies that provide long overdue priority and support for ordinary citizens, they seem to loathe and fear it. 

The BBC’s political output has long had more than its fair share of Conservatives in prominent roles – none more so than Andrew Neil, who previously worked for the Conservative’s Research Department and who now chairs the holding company that owns the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator. It is unusual for any broadcaster, whether left or right wing, to dominate political coverage as much as Neil does on the BBC, who fronts the weekday Daily Politics show and presents his own programmes on Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings.

The appointment of Robbie Gibb as May’s director of communications was unsurprising; he was treading a well-worn path, after all. May’s predecessor David Cameron appointed the then head of BBC TV News, Craig Oliver, to be his director of communications and before him the then Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, appointed Guto Hari, a BBC political correspondent, to head of his media team. 

The news that two BBC men were lined up for those positions came at a time when the BBC faces unprecedented criticism from the left for its heavy Conservative bias. Quite properly so. While the Labour party naturally expect negative reporting from a press that is overwhelmingly aligned to the Conservatives and owned by billionaires, many of us have been shocked and appalled by the poor, inaccurate and often hostile coverage the party have received from the BBC, which is now seen as a pro-status quo, pro-establishment organisation.

A succession of senior BBC journalists have accepted that the Corporation’s political coverage struggles to escape the Westminster bubble, which is perhaps one reason why the BBC’s coverage of the last two general elections and the Brexit referendum failed to adequately reflect the national mood (though the BBC was far from being alone in this failing).

The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, has been a particular focus of criticism from Labour party supporters, and was found to have breached the BBC’s impartiality rules in an early and important report on Corbyn. This was intentional, and designed to mislead the public. The broadcaster’s regulator concluded that a Kuenssberg report for the News at Six programme in November 2015 breached the broadcaster’s impartiality and accuracy guidelines, in a ruling that triggered an unreasonably angry response from the corporation’s director of news. 

The News at Six item included a clip of the Labour leader stating: “I am not happy with a shoot-to-kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counterproductive.”

The person who made the complaint is not named, but clarified that it was from neither Corbyn nor “anyone else on his behalf”. The complaint said that the news report misrepresented the Labour leader’s views on the use of lethal force and that it had wrongly suggested he was against the additional security measures which the item had said the Government was proposing. The Trust found that the inaccuracy was “compounded” when Kuenssberg went on to state that Corbyn’s message “couldn’t be more different” to that of the prime minister, who was about to publish anti-terrorism proposals.

Kuenssberg had disgracefully presented that as Corbyn’s response to a question put to him on whether he would be “happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack”, but as the Trust also concluded, Corbyn had been speaking in a different context. Kuenssberg intentionally edited an interview to give the incorrect impression that Corbyn disagreed with the use of firearms by police in incidents such as that month’s terrorist attacks in Paris. His purported answer to a question as broadcast in the report was in fact his reply to a more general (unbroadcast) question, not specifically about that terrorist attack.  The Trust said that accuracy was particularly important when dealing “with a critical question at a time of extreme national concern.”

It’s impossible to see this as anything other than an attempt to deliberately mislead the public regarding Corbyn’s views. That she wasn’t dismissed indicates just how little the BBC prioritizes and values accuracy, genuine “objectivity” and “impartiality”.  Furthermore, the doctored interview was not taken down from the BBC‘s site for some time, with Conservative MPs continuing to Tweet it.

Sir Michael Lyons, who chaired the BBC Trust from 2007 to 2011 and is a former Labour councillor, said that there had been “some quite extraordinary attacks on the elected leader of the Labour party”.

In 2016, he told the BBC’s The World at One: “I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality on this.

All I’m voicing is the anxiety that has been expressed publicly by others … We had here a charter review process which has been littered with wild kites flown which, we can’t see the string is held by the secretary of state, but the suspicion is that actually it’s people very close to him.

His own comments have suggested that he might be blessed by a future without the BBC. Is the BBC strong enough to withstand a challenge to its integrity and impartiality?”

Lyons said there were “very real suspicions that ministers want to get much closer to the BBC, and that is not in anybody’s interests”. Corbyn told grassroots supporters that it was necessary for Labour to use social media to communicate with the public, because right wing media were censoring political debate in an unprecedented assault on the party. He is absolutely right. 

The commodification of politics and the PR narrative

Vance Packard’s influential 1957 polemic, The Hidden Persuaders, described how “political hucksters” were now treating voters as spectator-consumers, not much  interested in politics or its content, able to be roused only by controversy, stunts and personality. This approach seemed justified, Packard wrote, “by the growing evidence that voters could not be depended on to be rational. There seemed to be a strong illogical or non-logical element in their behaviour, both individually and in masses” (Packard 2007). 

As Packard discovered in his research, this had been happily accepted by the commercial world which was abreast of the new approach – and which was exporting its techniques to the political communicators. He quotes an editorial in an early 1956 edition of the  magazine The Nation’s Business, published by the US Chamber of Commerce, which reported: Both parties will merchandise their candidates and issues by the same methods that business has developed to sell goods […] no flag-waving faithfuls will parade the streets. Instead corps of volunteers will ring doorbells and telephones […] radio spot announcements and ads will repeat phrases with a planned intensity. Billboards will push slogans of proven power […] candidates need […] to look ‘sincerely at the TV camera’. (Packard 2007).

It was an early intimation of the replacement of political parties (the “faithfuls”) by public relations, a movement which has since advanced. Politics has been reduced to brand, reputation management and ‘strategic communications’.  

More recently, the Leveson inquiry concluded that politicians “developed too close a relationship with the Press in a way which has not been in the public interest.” Public relations professionals are charged with organising media space, engagements and ensuring that their political candidate’s public profile stays positive. 

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In its election manifesto in 2010 the Conservative party promised to give the National Audit Office “full access” to the BBC‘s accounts in order to make the corporation more accountable for the way it spends the licence fee.

Jeremy Hunt said that the BBC Trust, which replaced the corporation’s board of governors in 2007, had to change and that the Tories were considering “ripping up the charter” ahead of its expiration in 2016 to achieve its plan.

The encroaching government influence on the BBC became more visible to the public in 2016, when the then culture secretary was accused of attempting to “bend the BBC to his political will” after it emerged he planned to have the government directly appoint most members of a new body to run the corporation. 

Despite the early rhetoric about abolishing the trust, the then Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said he would only act “within the envelope set by the Royal Charter”, so major changes were not possible until the Charter expired after the end of 2016.  Hunt had instead expressed his support for changing the name of the Trust and installing a new non-executive chairman on the BBC’s Executive Board. 

The proposal to scrap the Trust was officially presented to Parliament as part of a charter review white paper on 12 May 2016. Governance of the BBC was transferred to the new BBC Board in April 2017. Sir David Clementi became the new Chairman of the Board.

John Whittingdale said only two or three members of a 13-strong unitary board, which would replace the ‘discredited’ BBC Trust model, would be BBC executives while the rest would be government appointees.

In 2016, the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, had already flagged his concerns about the Clementi proposals for replacing the BBC trust with the unitary board. In a speech , Lord Hall pointed out that unlike any previous governing body, the unitary board would set the editorial direction of the whole BBC. Neither the trust nor its predecessor – the BBC governors who oversaw the corporation from its founding until 2005 – had such powers.

Hall warned: “It will make key decisions on programmes and services, and it will work with me – as editor in chief – on how we manage our impartial journalism. It doesn’t feel to me that these tasks should be undertaken by government-appointed board members. The BBC is one of the world’s great public service broadcasters – not a state broadcaster. A strong, sustainable BBC needs new safeguards for independence, not yet more erosion.” 

It’s another symptom of how oppressive the government has become, and how apparently acceptable it is to attack, discredit and threaten anyone who eve looks as though they may presents a challenge and an alternative perspective to the status quo.  

Churnalism and the PR-isation of the news and public affairs

One time BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston – regarded as being among the most authoritative journalists in the UK – publicly lamented his profession’s increasingly “hideous and degrading” reliance on PR material. 

“When I worked on the Sunday Telegraph a decade ago, the fax machine was strategically placed above the waste paper basket so that press releases went straight into what we called the round filing cabinet. Now newspapers are filled with reports based on spurious PR generated surveys and polls, simply to save time and money … More disturbing, perhaps, PRs seem to have become more powerful and effective as gatekeepers and minders of businesses, celebrities and public or semipublic figures … today’s PR industry has become much more machinelike, controlled – and in its slightly chilling way – professional (Peston 2014).

Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism and former Daily Mirror editor, reports similar tensions when he writes, in 2012, that “if the current trends [of more PR practitioners] continue, we will end up without the essential ‘media filter’ [of journalism] that … acts at its best on behalf of a public deluged with self interested public relations material”. He continues: “What we’re talking about here … is an assault on democracy”.

Both of these sentiments capture a zeitgeist of the state of journalism and PR in neoliberal democracies such as the UK and USA, and represent an issue that has moved up academic, public and professional agendas of concern in the last 10-15 years. This is commonly described as ‘churnalism’, which is characterised by a swelling PR industry, blurring job roles and a growing colonization of PR mindsets amongst journalists.

Here, churnalism – the use of unchecked PR material in news – is an outcome of the broader process of structural and professional change, and conflicting interests. PRs want the best possible news coverage for their paying clients, the occupational ideals of journalism are inter alia, “focus on truth, social reporting and democratic education”. Or at least they were.

Add to that the neoliberal turn: an economic model that has led to the marketisation of news and in turn, of journalism practices. What we witness is less original investigation, and more reactive journalism by way of writing up agency copy or PR material. The now habitual incorporation of media releases and other PR material into the news by journalists is not a new phenomenon, but the change in the scale and regularity in which this is now happening is.

A number of recent studies in the UK and US have established the success of PR practitioners in placing subsidies with news media to influence the media agenda, in turn influencing public opinion and the public agenda. There is significant political power to be exercised in both agenda setting and in the framing of news. Power is present in conceptions of agenda-building in media narratives and public discourse. 

There is a climate of growing concern about ascendant PR and a journalism in crisis. It should be of central concern that there has been a rapidly growing influence of PR and ‘communication’ professionals in the newsgathering and reporting process, and the onsequent diminution of editorial independence and watchdog journalism in the UK.

Studies describe government and political press officers as “increasingly assertive in their relationships with journalists”, not just in terms of information management, but often, to the point of manipulation and aggression.

In truth, the BBC struggles to maintain independence from governments, who set the terms under which it operates, they appoint its most senior figures, who in future will be directly involved in day-to-day managerial decision making, and they set the level of the licence fee, which is the BBC’s major source of income. So given this context within which the BBC operates, it hardly amounts to independence in any substantive sense.

Critics can also point to a number of senior BBC figures with known Conservative associations. The Today presenter and former political editor, Nick Robinson, is a former president of Oxford University’s Conservative Association. James Harding, who as director of news has reputedly centralised the BBC’s news operations, is a former editor of The Times, and the BBC’s high profile political presenter, Andrew Neil, is well known as a right-winger, having briefly worked for the Conservative Party before making his name in Murdoch enterprises.

Robbie Gibb, the frontrunner to be the Tories’ new Alastair Campbell, is Andrew Neil’s editor at the Daily Politics. He is also the brother of Tory Minister Nicholas Gibb. Two  senior Tory Ministers are also ex-BBC: Chris Grayling and Michael Gove.

Then there are the declared interests of the Westminster bubble journalists. For example, Andrew Gimson, who is contributing editor of Conservative Home, is a commentator for the BBC, Associated Newspapers, the New Statesman, and he is also an associate  consultant for a PR and political lobbyist consultancy, Lodestone Communications. He specialises in interviewing Cabinet ministers and other Conservative politicians, and wrote Boris Johnson’s biography.  He started his career in the Conservative Research Department and has served as Deputy Editor of the Spectator, political columnist at the Independent on Sunday, and Berlin correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

BBC political editor/commentator Laura Kuenssberg’s declared interests are: Journalism for The House Magazine. Speaking for Credit Suisse and Ernst and Young (registered July 2017). Chaired events for Intelligence Squared (debate/think tank) and Mischon (law firm), speaking for Healthcare Management Association (membership organisation) and JP Morgan (bank) (registered March 2018). 

Timothy Shipman of the Sunday Times, and also commentator for Sky News, BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics, Radio 5 Live, LBC and Talk Radio. Paper Reviewer for BBC News Channel.  Freelance journalism for The Spectator and the New Statesman. Under contract to Kirby Jones, a speaker agency, for public speaking. Fees received from the following for speaking engagements, most arranged via Kirby JonesArtemis Asset management, Association of British Insurers, Axon Moore, Bain & Co, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, British Bookmaker’s Association, Housing 2017, Independent Schools Bursar’s Association, the Legatum Institute, Oakhill Communications, Owen James Group, Policy Connect, Portland Communications, the Publishers Association, Westminster Policy Institute.

Then there is Andrew Neil. His declared interests are as follows: Chairman, Press Holdings Media Group (The Spectator, Spectator Health, Life, Money and Australia; and Apollo, the international arts magazine). Chairman, ITP Magazine Group (Dubai). Chairman, The Addison Club (London). Director, Glenburn Enterprises Limited (provides media and consultancy services). Fees for speaking at, hosting or chairing an event were received from the following organisations: IBC (annual trade fair for global broadcasters); Credit Services Association (industry body for credit services and debt collection); Jefferies (investment bank); Pega Systems (Boston-based software provider); KPMG (global financial services); Construction News (publication for the construction industry); British Growth Fund (provides long-term capital to fast-growing UK companies); Association of Pension Providers (trade body for pensions industry); Retail Motor Industry Association (represents vehicle dealers); Chairman’s Group (private association of company chairmen); HSBC (global bank); White & Case (city law firm); Aberdeen Asset Management (global asset management); Exponent (private equity company); Christie & Co (property advisory service); Mayer Brown (global law firm); Titlestone (property finance company); Knight Frank (global estate agent); EY (global accountancy and consultancy service); Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (trade body which provides support for procurement and supply management); Pipeline Industries Guild (trade body for pipeline industries); SES (European satellite provider); Barnet Waddington (provider of actuarial, administration and consultancy services); Digital TV Group (association of digital TV broadcasters); BNP Paribas (global banking group); Philadelphia Committee on Foreign Relations (group of private individuals based in Greater Philadelphia area interested in foreign policy); Raymond Jones (financial services company); Incisive Media (information and events business). (Registered June 2017).

Holders of photo-identity passes as lobby journalists accredited to the Parliamentary Press Gallery or for parliamentary broadcasting are required to register:

Any occupation or employment for which you receive over £760 from the same source in the course of a calendar year, if that occupation or employment is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by your pass.’

When the global financial system went into meltdown, BBC interviews were dominated by City voices such as stockbrokers and hedge fund managers, rather than critics of a sector that had plunged the country into disaster. It’s not much of a surprise, however, in view of some of the listed interests of BBC personnel. 

A certain kind of political-economic ‘common sense’ is constructed and negotiated amongst the political-media elite. The fact that this elite often share common private interests is also problematic. This raises serious questions about the capacity of the media to hold the government to account, to understand contemporary democratic politics, let alone entertain the idea of public interests. 

Recent BBC coverage of the local elections was essentially a one party state broadcast. Labour were presented as “failing” to take seats. Yet the figures tell us a different story. While the results could have been better for Labour, the party did not do badly at all. Labour gained 77 seats and the Conservatives lost 33 seats overall.

There is no demarcation between corporate, media and government interests. Nick  Robinson, former president of Oxford University’s Conservative Association, Kuenssberg and Neil are often held as the conspicuous examples of those promoting neoliberal-Conservative norms. However, those interests are reflected throughout the BBC’s reporting, including those who regularly make editorial decisions, which as study after study has shown, overwhelmingly defers to officialdom and upholds powerful private interests at the expense of public interests. The revolving door between consultancy/strategic communcations/ PR companies, the media and the Government indicates the existence of a set of shared narrow norms and an ideological crib sheet.

The narrowly shared understanding of ‘politics’ among an elite of Conservative politicians, big business, the communications and PR industry, news  makersand opinion shapers is not only enormously unrepresentative of the public, but it also displays an increasingly tenuous grasp on broader democratic political reality. 

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The BBC was accused of “extreme bias” after it featured the altered image of Jeremy Corbyn against the Kremlin skyline during a segment about escalating tensions between the UK and Russia on Newsnight, despite presenter Evan Davies’ attempts to justify its use. The Labour leader was depicted wearing a Russian Bolshevik cap against a red-tinted backdrop of the St. Basil’s Cathedral while Ayesha Hazarika, former special advisor to Ed Milliband, and Corbyn ally Chris Williamson MP, were being interviewed about the Government’s response to the Skripal poisoning.

The BBC backdrop embeds a codified message to viewers that is almost subliminal, especially as it was presented on the same day that newspapers like the Daily Mail ran with such headlines as ‘CORBYN, THE KREMLIN STOOGE’.

The image that the BBC claimed to have used and not edited, was taken in 2016 and if you compare the two, there is certainly a red hue that has been applied along with lowerng the contrast and tightening the aspect ratio, which make Corbyn’s clothes appear darker.

This changes the look of the hat he is wearing, which makes it look more like a Russian ushanka hat, whilst there are noticeable differences in the ‘Newsnight’ image and an ushanka, to those who aren’t paying a massive amount of attention to the backdrop or are unable to see a comparison, it would certainly look like one on first look.

The BBC have rejected the criticisms of their programme while acknowledging they did edit the image, by saying that they previously did a similar mock up of Gavin Williamson on the same programme. 

However, it is the context and framing that matters, as I am sure the BBC is very much aware.

Recently, the BBC disclosed a shocking revelation, in an article titled:The vetting files: How the BBC kept out ‘subversives’’ .  Left wing individuals were actively vetted by MI5 and barred from holding positions of influence within the Corporation.

The article says that the purpose of the MI5 vetting candidates for political roles within the BBC was to prevent the formation of a left wing government, stating: “The fear was that ‘evilly disposed’ engineers might sabotage the network at a critical time, or that conspirators might “discredit” the BBC so that ‘the way could be made clear for a left-wing government’”.

Portraying Her Majesty’s opposition as “subversives”  and “conspirators” has some profound implications for democracy.  However, it is still happening – the Labour party are portrayed by the incumbents as pathological, rather than as an essential mechanism of a wider functioning democracy.

For decades the BBC denied that job applicants were subject to political vetting by MI5. But in fact vetting began in the early days of the BBC and “continued until the 1990s”. Paul Reynolds, the first journalist to see all the BBC‘s vetting files, tells the story of the long relationship between the corporation and the Security Service.

“Policy: keep head down and stonewall all questions.” So wrote a senior BBC official in early 1985, not long before the Observer exposed so many details of the work done in Room 105 Broadcasting House that there was no point continuing to hide it.

By that stage, a policy of flatly denying the existence of political vetting – not just stonewalling, but if necessary lying – had been in place for five decades.

As early as 1933 a BBC executive, Col Alan Dawnay, had begun holding meetings to exchange information with the head of MI5, Sir Vernon Kell, at Dawnay’s flat in Eaton Terrace, Chelsea. It was an era of political radicalism and both sides deemed the BBC in need of “assistance in regard to ‘communist’ activities”. 

Vetting file

“Formalities” was the code word for the vetting system

A memo from 1984 gives a run-down of organisations on the banned list. On the left, there were the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Militant Tendency. By this stage there were also concerns about movements on the far right – the National Front and the British National Party.

A banned applicant did not need to be a member of these organisations – association was enough.

Over the years, some BBC executives worried about the “deceptive” statements they had to make – even to an inquisitive MP on one occasion. But when MI5 suggested scaling back the number of jobs subject to vetting, the BBC argued against such a move. Though there were some opponents of vetting within the corporation, they had little influence until the Cold War began to thaw in the 1980s

These revelations completely dismantle the idea that the BBC has ever been a passive, impartial, politically neutral entity. 

Of course, as I’ve outlines, the undue political influence on the BBC becomes clear when we investigate the backgrounds of prominent and influential BBC political figures. There’s arecurring pattern, with direct links to the Conservative party. 

Owen Jones says The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.”  

The Intellgience services have always worked to prevent a Labour government. Who could forget the fake Zinoviev letter, which was engineered by the establishment using the military and intelligence services to destabilise the first Labour government. 

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.

Noam Chomsky once said: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” It’s going down.

Dr Lawrence Britt wrote about the defining features of authoritarianism, fascism and totalitarianism. He outlined that among the key characteristics of a fundamnetal shift away from democracy is political censorship through a controlled mass media. He says that the media is either directly controlled by the Government, or indirectly controlled by government regulation, sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. 

It’s a very sobering thought that the British Broadcasting Corporation currently fulfils all of those criteria. 

Democracy has been profoundly compromised and corrupted by its colonisation. Lobbyists, professional private interest propagandists, corporate and financial power have merged with the state, and are all singing from the same crib sheet.

 

Related

The BBC’s disgraceful attempt at a McCarthyist-style shaping of public perceptions and flouting impartiality rule

BBC’s Stephen Sackur accuses Tories of spreading propaganda about Jeremy Corbyn, and of being unaccountable and undemocratic

David Dimbleby says Jeremy Corbyn is treated unfairly by a biased right wing press

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

 


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Antisemitism and the growth of prejudice and oppression in the UK

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Political context

The Labour party’s strong inclusion, equality and diversity principles are being used to undermine the party by the neoliberal right, as part of an ongoing propaganda war. Jeremy Corbyn throughout his leadership – and particularly before elections – has been accused of “siding” with variety of state constructed and reconstucted ‘enemies’. However, every Labour leader with the exception of Tony Blair, who was conveniently neoliberal, has been accused of having some kind of ‘sympathy’ with Russia.

It’s a Conservative idée fixe that began with the fake Zinoviev letter and should have ended with Ben Bradley’s libellous attempt at combining Conservative malice with bon mot. The Conservatives are creatures of  tradition and habit, no matter how much the world moves on, they try to pull it back to where they stand. 

The Conservatives’ McCarthyist leitmotif of ‘enemies and the traitor’ reveals a lot about their own operant bullying, emphasises their divisive and hierarchical perspective of societies and their outdated colonialism, ethnocentrism and nationalist understanding of the world.

One of Corbyn’s finest qualities is his mature internationalism, and his inclusive and respectful vision of the world. Corbyn sees people first, and does not differentiate their human worth and value on the basis of their group identities and individual characteristics. This is why he is an outstanding diplomat, and champion of social justice.

In an era of nuclear first strike posturing, which indicates the international breakdown of the principle of nuclear deterrence, I’d personally prefer a leader who has such skills and qualities, rather than someone who has no regard for the lives and safety of citizens.

The Conservatives have said that they wouldn’t hesitate in some circumstances to launch a nuclear attack, even if we weren’t under threat.” The government throw scorn at Corbyn for his reluctance to incinerate populations, and some of the UK public don’t seem to realise that they too face the same fate due to the mutually assured destruction which comes free with the nuclear retaliation principle.

Corbyn has publicly condemned the vilification and abuse of Labour MPs who attended Monday night’s demonstration against antisemitism in the party.

Leaders of the Jewish organisations that staged the protest told him that they would not meet him until he intervened to halt the attacks on social media, Corbyn said he was profoundly concerned by any abuse. It’s difficult to know who is making the attacks on social media, since many fake accounts exist for the purpose of creating disruptions, discrediting political opponents, and harassing them. Furthermore, it would be impossible for the Labour leader to monitor social media, given his work load. No-one expects the Conservative government to end the abusive trolling of Conservative supporters, yet I have encountered MANY of them.

People have the right to speak out and the right to demonstrate,” Corbyn told the Jewish News in an interview. “I will not tolerate abuse of people for their beliefs.”

“Any abuse that’s done is not done in my name,” he added.

He also rejected the idea – put forward by a rival demonstration by the Jewish Voice for Labour on Monday – that the reason for the main protest was to smear Corbyn himself.

“Of course it’s not a smear, it’s perfectly reasonable to raise any question about one’s public profile activities,” he went on. “I don’t see that as a smear.”

He is right of course. However that doesn’t quite explain the vitiolic and often irrational comments from some of the right wing pundits over the last few weeks. As a person who has written extensively about prejudice, I won’t ever claim that antisemitism is eradicated or negligible. It isn’t either, unfortunately. There are two issues here. One is absolutely genuine concern about antisemitism. The other is how that concern is being used politically, outside of the Jewish community. 

Yesterday, Corbyn condemned Israel’s killing of at least 27 Palestinians on the Gaza border as an “outrage” and attacked Western silence about the deaths. In a message read out at a demonstration outside Downing Street, the Labour leader quite reasonably demanded that Theresa May support the United Nation’s call for an independent international inquiry. He also said that Britain should also consider stopping the sale of arms to Israel that “could be used in violation of international law”. Israel has faced very little criticism over the killing of civilian Palestinians. 

The latest deaths came a week after 18 Palestinians lost their lives when Israeli soldiers opened fire at similar demonstrations in support of a “right to return” to land lost to Israel in 1948. The UN human rights spokeswoman, Elizabeth Throssell, has suggested the shootings could amount to wilful killing of civilians – a breach of the fourth Geneva Convention.

Corbyn spoke out after at least nine more Palestinians were killed, and hundreds more injured, by Israeli gunfire, some reportedly shot in the head or upper body.

He said “The majority of the people of the Gaza Strip are stateless refugees, subject to a decade-long blockade and the denial of basic human and political rights.

“More than two thirds are reliant on humanitarian assistance, with limited access to the most basic amenities, such as water and electricity.

“They have a right to protest against their appalling conditions and the continuing blockade and occupation of Palestinian land, and in support of their right to return to their homes and their right to self-determination.” 

“The silence from international powers with the responsibility of bringing a just settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict must end,” he added.

The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has said nothing since the first killings on 30 March, although his deputy, Alistair Burt, issued a statement saying he was “appalled by the deaths and injuries”. Burt said: “There is an urgent need to establish the facts, including why such a volume of live fire was used and what role Hamas played in the violence.”

Israel came under pressure after a video was released which showed a protester being shot in the back by an Israeli soldier as he walked away from the fence separating Gaza from Israel. In other footage, Palestinians were shown being killed or wounded as they prayed, walked empty-handed towards the border fence, or simply held up a Palestinian flag.

According to reports in the Israeli media, the Israel Defence Forces’ rules of engagement allow live fire to be used against anyone who approaches the fence. Justifying its response, the Israeli military said: “Several attempts have been made to damage and cross the security fence under the cover of the smokescreen created by the burning tyres that the rioters ignited.”

Corbyn has been loudly condemned previously by the Conservatives because he wanted to include all parties in discussions to bring about a peace process in the region. However, it is worth noting that Corbyn has never made any demands that Jewish communities publicly repudiate the actions of  Israeli settlers and extremists. People who make this demand are assuming that Jewish people more generally are undeserving of being heard out unless they “prove” themselves acceptable by non-Jewish’ standards.

Nor is it acceptable to demand that Palestinians publicly repudiate the actions of Hamas in order to be accepted or trusted, either.

It’s also worth noting that although people in power in Israel are Jews, not all Jews are Israelis (let alone Israeli leaders). There are many people left and right who don’t understand what Zionism is, and it has frequently been used as a derogatory label. However, Zionism is simply the belief that Jewish people should have a country in part of their ancestral homeland where they can take refuge from the antisemitism and persecution they face elsewhere.

It does not, however, mean a belief that Jews have a right to take land from others, or a belief that Jews are superior to non-Jews. Using the word “Zionists” in place of “Israelis” is inaccurate and harmful. “Zionists” includes Diasporan Jews as well (most of whom support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and pretty much none of whom have any influence on Israel’s policies).

Misunderstanding of Zionism is used to justify antisemitic attacks outside of Israel.  Many of the Jews in Israel who are violent against Palestinians are actually anti-Zionist – they believe that the modern state of Israel is an offense against God because it isn’t governed by halakha (traditional Jewish religious law). We must be very careful with the labels we use. The problem with labelling is that it is often used to create negative stereotypes, denying us our complexity and diversity. Labelling creates stigma and prejudice.

Now, with this clarified, I am not going to claim there hasn’t ever been antisemitic Labour party members or that no problem has ever occurred. Antisemitism is a prejudice arising in wider society. Few people would deny that some people joining the Labour Party may harbour antisemitic prejudices. It’s not possible to know in advance if a person joining the party is prejudiced, however, until that prejudice has been revealed in some way. It’s also important to keep in mind that condemning the murder of Palestinians is not antisemitic.

I want to make this clear: I absolutely condemn any form of prejudice, including antisemitism, regardless of where it arises. 

The party has taken action in addressing these arising issues by vowing to implement all of the recommendations in Shami Chakrabarti’s 2016 report (PDF) into alleged antisemitism in the party. Corbyn has also told the party’s newly appointed general secretary Jennie Formby “that her first priority has to be the full implementation of the Chakrabarti Report and there has to be an appointment of an in-house lawyer, a legal team, to ensure that there is a proper approach to these cases.”  

Corbyn has always been a consistent and reliable opponent of racism in all of its forms and he has committed Labour to dealing robustly with the allegations of antisemitism.

Antisemitism is profoundly disturbing, as is any other kind of prejudice and discrimination in democratic, civilised societies. If it is happening, I want to see it addressed just as I want to see prejudice and discrimination against disabled people and other socal groups in the UK addressed. People seem to forget that disabled people were the first social group to be murdered by the Nazis – the Aktion T4 “euthanasia” programme. 

Perhaps at this point it’s worth reflecting on the many deaths and suicides among the disabled community over recent years, and that a correlation with the Conservative welfare “reforms” has been established several times over. The government have persistently denied that there is any “causal relationship” between their policies and the distress, harm and fear experienced by disabled citizens, and furthermore, have refused to investigate this issue any further. There has been relatively little media attention concerning this issue and no public outcry. Yet disabled people are living in fear for their future.

Each case of premature mortality or suicide linked with welfare policy that has been presented to the government has been disregarded, described with contempt as “anecdotal evidence”. Each academic study that shows a clear correlation between policy and harm has been dismissed. The complicit media are by and large far more interested in anything that may be used to smear and criticise Corbyn than in holding the government to account for the terrible consequences of their draconian policies. 

Framing and entrapment 

The allegations regarding Labour’s “problem with antisemitism” are framed using the same kind of psycholinguistic entrapment tactics that we have seen deployed in trying to frame Corbyn as a “Russian dupe”, and by implication, a “threat” to UK security.  This propaganda process was projected onto a basic McCarthy-styled, over-simplistic and  false dichotomy frame: “You either agree with our very narrow terms, or you’re ‘siding with the enemy'”.

As it turns out, Corbyn was absolutely right to exercise caution in stating that Russia was “irrefutably” behind the attack. It would have been more appropriate to claim “on balance of probability” it is likely to be a Russian attack – because of the context and history. However, it now emerges that Boris Johnson lied about the information Porton Down provided the government. Regardless of whether or not Russia were actually behind the poisoning of the Skripals, the UK has lost its international credibility.   

Armin Laschet, the leader of North Rhine-Westphalia and a deputy chairman of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), took to Twitter after the UK’s Porton Down government laboratory announced on Tuesday that it could not link nerve agent samples it had collected to Russia.

“If you force almost all NATO countries to show solidarity, shouldn’t you have sound evidence?” Laschet said. “You can think of Russia what you want, but I have learned a different way of dealing with states from studying international law.” 

The international law framework is designed, after all, to ensure that inadequately evidenced allegations and knee jerk political responses don’t lead to the collapse of diplomatic relations and a descent into a catastrophic, escalating war among nuclear states. As a citizen, I’d prefer a leader who is skilled in diplomacy and international law,  who regards the safety of the world’s citizens as a key priority. Instead we have a group of blundering elitist authoritarians in office who, not content with creating monstrous social and economic divisions in the UK, want to extend their dystopic neoliberal vision on a global scale.

It is the same kind of simplistic false dichotomy frame regarding the Labour party’s alleged antisemitism, which the media have also rolled out. It runs like this: If the Labour party confirm that they are “addressing” an antisemitism problem, regardless of whether that problem is real – then it is read as an admission of guilt. However, if the party says there is no problem – regardless of whether there is or isn’t – that will simply be read as a denial of “guilt” and the action of a party that “doesn’t care” about antisemitism more generally.

It’s an accusation designed to make the party and members look bad either way. Note that word – designed. However, as a person who has written extensively about prejudice, Again, I won’t ever claim that antisemitism is eradicated or negligible. It isn’t either, unfortunately. There are two issues here, which I hope I have made clear. One is the justified concern regarding antisemitism, the other is how that is being politically exploited.

The accusations of antisemitism have been redesigned for use as a political stick with which to beat Corbyn. Again, I would not claim there is no antisemitism within the party. If there is, it must be addressed. However, mine is a question of proportionality, and whether the media focus and comments of right wing commentators are reasonable and justified. This is the same media that displayed no qualms in systematically dehumanising migrants and asylum seekers in their drive to force the EU referendum.

There is an element of irrationality and unreasonableness in trying to blame Corbyn for every allegation made of party members, since any member of the public is free to join the party of their choice. Political parties have no way of knowing of the prejudices of each new member in advance. There has also been a surge in membership over the past couple of years. The Labour party has put in place measures to deal with allegations of antisemitism among members. Nor can party leaders be omnipresent in social media groups to monitor offensive antisemitic comments made. The important issue is that it is addressed when it does arise and is brought to party leader’s attention.

In my own experience of Facebook political groups, there are recognisably active trolls and shills who are present simply to discredit Labour activists and derail discussion. There is always a marked increase in their activity prior to elections.

Unfortunately, even vetting people who wish to join groups doesn’t seem to stop this happening, as some of the profiles are very credible, with no indication they are fakes. If this sounds too “conspiracy theory” for you, perhaps it’s worth considering the implications of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the uncovered psychological profiling and “strategic communications” element that was revealed in its’ wake. The Snowden leaks before that also revealed that a variety of covert actors, including the state, infiltate groups to manipulate and derail discussions, and to discredit critics and opposition.

I am not, once again, arguing that no Labour party member or supporter holds antisemitic views. And again that must be addressed. However, there is an intense focus and constant, irrational and negative commentary aimed at Corbyn in particular, which is also based on orchestrated and purely politically motivated attacks. There is a lack of openness and reasonableness on behalf of some of the more aggressive critics as to how the party have been permitted to respond by the government, the media and by some of the centrist neoliberals within the party to an array of issues, including the allegations of antisemitism. 

Corbyn and Labour party members have been the target of severe criticism, with allegations being made that left wing members are more prone to antisemitic opinions and behaviour – and of course that Corbyn has “not done enough to prevent this.” 

However data commissioned by a leading antisemitism charity strongly suggest that this narrative is not only inaccurate but counter-factual. YouGov carried out two surveys which may be compared, and the findings are that since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, the party and its supporters have become significantly less antisemitic on every metric used in the survey. (YouGov’s full datasets: 2015 and 2017.)

Concerns among Jewish communities about antisemitism are absolutely valid and absolutely must not be minimised or dismissed. However, it does no-one any favours when those concerns have also been distorted by the media, misused as a propaganda tool and weaponised for political gain. 

Antisemitism quite rightly draws horror from the public because of the terrible atrocity of the Holocaust, the process that led to it, and the historical consequences. It was founded in part on social Darwinist and eugenic ideas.

Those same ideas also underpinned the ideology of competitive individualism in the US and UK. Whenever we have socioeconomic systems that create hierarchies of human worth (based on meritocratic notions of ‘deserving’ or ‘talent’), we also have social prejudice and that is perpetuated by the use of political justification narratives regarding inequality. 

These usually place responsibility on individuals for their low socioeconomic status, rather than the system, which inevitably creates a few ‘winners’ and many ‘losers’ – because that is the nature of any system based on competition. However, inequality is a fundamental feature of the neoliberal system of organisation. Justifying inequality creates stigma, outgrouping and hierarchies of worth.

Prejudice and oppression

Prejudice is a form of oppression which operates to establish a “defined norm” or standard of “rightness” under which everyone is judged. This defined norm is enforced with individual and institutional violence which makes and sustains the oppression.

Oppression may be defined as a pervasive system of supremacy and discrimination that perpetuates itself through differential treatment, ideological domination, and institutional control. At an individual level, oppression is expressed through beliefs (stereotypes), attitudes, values (prejudice), and actions (discrimination) used to justify unfair treatment based on distinct characteristics of one’s identity, real or perceived. These can be internalised and directed towards the self or externalised and directed towards those we interact with on a day-to-day basis. 

Oppression expresses itself through default positions of power within an organised group, both formal and informal. Specifically, it is the denial of accessing and holding positions of power based on the belief that one lacks experience in and/or is incapable of fulfilling (or learning how to fulfill) certain roles and responsibilities based on assumptions related to identity. This also includes the assumption that someone sharing identity with a dominant group is automatically capable, regardless of experience, skills  or talent.

On an institutional level, oppression expresses itself through the denial and limitation of resources, agency and dignity based on one’s social identity. This includes policies, laws, and practices that are enforced in and by an institution, such as governments, made for the benefit of the dominant group with little to no consideration for the longer term harm inflicted on marginalised individuals and groups. In turn, institutions have the power to shape and control cultural narratives that reach individuals on a global scale, regardless of whether they directly interact with such institutions. Narratives are used to normalise oppression, which are shaped by the ruling class. 

Antisemitism is not the only form of oppression. Saying that does not minimise it, however. We currently live in a society where prejudices more generally has been politically encouraged and permitted to flourish. Prejudice tends to multitask. I have written a lot about this over the last few years, as a witness. 

We live in a society where racism has grown over the last few years. We have witnessed profoundly socially divisive rhetoric from an authoritarian government and that has been amplified by a largely right wing, compliant media. As a consequence of that, the far right was given a public platform. The same thing happened under the Thatcher administration, we saw parties like the National Front and the British National Party flourish. This is because the context provided by a such socioeconomically divisive governments leads to the creation of political scapegoats to justify their own prejudices and authoritarianism, draconian policies and wider inequality –  this always leads to racism, as well as other forms of prejudice, too.

The scale of social prejudice

Various forms and systems of oppression are not separate, and can’t be isolated into distinct categories, to be addressed on their own. Oppression is a network of intersecting and related forms of domination and the oppression of one group must be resisted alongside the oppression of others. We must stand side by side to address oppression in solidarity.

Image result for allports ladder of prejudice

Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right supporting individual who gave gardening tips and services to his neighbours, with a secret festering hatred of some groups of citizens. No-one knew about his monstrous prejudice and intention until he murdered a British MP, who staunchly opposed racism.

This is what political propaganda and scapegoating does to susceptible individuals – it shapes their perception of others and permits them to hate. Some social groups have been marginalised and dehumanised by the government, including disabled people and those needing social security support. It’s no coincidence that hate crime directed at these groups has risen in the UK.

The government have violated the human rights of disabled people, and such acts serve as a role model of behaviours that indicate prejudice and discrimination is publicly acceptable. It also sends out a message that emphasises the differential status and implied devaluation of social groups.

This is how moral and rational boundaries are being pushed: casual comments from more than one Conservative minister about disabled people, who are not “worth the minimum wage”, from a chancellor who claims that national productivity is reduced because more disabled people are in work; a Conservative councillor who called for the extermination of gypsies, and a Conservative deputy mayor said, unforgivably, that the “best thing for disabled children is the guillotine.

These weren’t “slips”, it’s patently clear that the Conservatives believe these comments are acceptable, and we need only look at the discriminatory nature of policies such as the legal aid bill, the wider welfare “reforms” anresearch the consequences of austerity for the most economically vulnerable citizens – those with the “least broad shoulders” –  to understand that these comments reflect how Conservatives think. It is only when such comments conflict with our collective moral norms that we see the process for what it is, and wonder how such comments could ever be deemed acceptable. However, those moral norms are being intentionally transformed. 

This is a government that is creating and using public prejudice to justify massive socioeconomic inequalities and their own policies that are creating a steeply hierarchical society based on social Darwinism and neoliberal “small state” principles. We have already seen the introduction of a clear eugenic welfare policy – only the first two children in families needing social security support will be provided with any support. Aside from the frightful human rights implications of this, the fact that it was announced and introduced to “change the behaviours” of the poorest citizens – regardless of whether they work – indicates a political prejudice and active discrimination regarding poor citizens, and a political intention to limit the number of children they have. 

The political creation of socioeconomic scapegoats, involving vicious stigmatisation of previously protected social groups, particularly endorsed by the mainstream media, is simply a means of manipulating public perceptions and securing public acceptance of the increasingly punitive and repressive basis of the welfare “reforms”, and the steady stripping away of essential state support and provision. It also indirectly justifies low and exploitative wages and insecure employment, since these issues are no longer considered to be part of the problem of poverty. Instead the poverty debate is reduced to a political narrative of “incentives” and individual behaviours.

The state is informing the public that poor people can simply be punished out of their poverty. Regardless of the incoherence of that narrative, the media have been complicit in amplifying this dogma. The pathological socioeconomic structure of our society, the market place Darwinism and the growing imbalances of power relationships remain hidden in plain view, obscurred by linguistic behaviourism and normative manipulation.

The political construction of social problems also marks an era of increasing state control of citizens with behaviour modification techniques, (under the guise of paternalistic libertarianism) all of which are a part of the process of restricting access rights to welfare provision, which is being steadily dismantled. The mainstream media has been complicit in the process of constructing deviant welfare stereotypes and in engaging prejudice and generating moral outrage from the public:

If working people ever get to discover where their tax money really ends up, at a time when they find it tough enough to feed their own families, let alone those of workshy scroungers, then that’ll be the end of the line for our welfare state gravy train.” James Delingpole 2014

Those the government perceives to be the weakest are carrying the burden of austerity to cover the tracks and guilt of the wealthy and powerful people, who are actually responsible for the global recession. Scapegoats. If you read any social psychology, you will know that this is how social prejudice grows. It’s an incremental process, where normative boundaries are pushed until what was once perceived as unacceptable suddenly becomes a reality. 

Gordon Allport wrote about the advancement of that process – by almost inscrutable degrees – in Nazi Germany. It starts with dehumanising language and scapegoating, it progresses to open prejudice and political discrimination, violations of human rights, social and economic isolation, hate crime, murders then, if left unchecked, it results, ultimately, in genocide.

Antisemitism exists in our society. It isn’t a “Labour” problem, it is a SOCIAL problem. It flourishes in a context of extremely divisive political rhetoric. That rhetoric is in part to justify a socioeconomic system that leads to massive social inequality. That inequality is being politically justified by the creation of political scapegoats and the Othering of already marginalised groups. Neoliberalism is a system that leads to the growth of wealth and power for those who already have wealth and power – it sustains an elite.

For citizens, it results in a decline in our standard of living, disempowerment, growing poverty and because it requires an authoritarian regime to impose it – see the history of Pinochet’s neoliberal experiment in Chile, for example – it also profoundly erodes our democracy. The media and right wing ideologues are now simply the PR agents for more neoliberalism. The answer to the disastrous socioeconomic problems created by neoliberalism is apparently, to apply more aggressive neoliberalism. That also means the steady erosion of human rights, citizen freedoms, massive inequality and the removal of any democratic alternative. That is where we are at, as a society. This is happening, and we are the witnesses.

When Corbyn met with a Jewish group recently, commentators on the right – Andrew Neil and  Fraser Nelson, for example – ranted about how this left leaning Jewish group weren’t “representative of Jews”. Fraser Nelson dismissed anyone who disagreed with his views as members of a left wing “cult”. This displays a kind of totalitarian thinking, in that it portrays Her Majesty’s opposition as somehow non-legitimate, and emphasises the sole legitimacy and hegemony of neoliberalism. It also undermines the very notion of democracy. 

It’s reasonable that a left leaning leader would meet a left leaning group. The right leaning Jewish groups have not exactly been particularly accommodating in meeting with Corbyn. However, Andrew Neil actually commented on Jewdas: “who are all these ‘nutters'”. Now THAT is antisemitism. Neil was implying that some groups are “acceptably Jewish” and some are not, defining by his own prejudiced criteria which are “acceptable”. 

These mainstream media commentators on the right are so caught up in a clear ideological crusade and propaganda war that they really don’t see their own prejudices. And furthermore they are furious that Corbyn has allies in the Jewish community. Hence the irrational and diversity-blind rage. And there is this to consider: the criticisms of Corbyn and allegations of antisemitism being rife in the party because of him are coming almost exclusively from the right. 

andrew neil antisemitic

This tweet is so offensive and displays prejudice on more than one level. 

Of course Jewish people reflect a variety of political preferences. Political debate is an essential Jewish tradition that allows no section of opinion to set itself up as the only acceptable one. But the UK right wing don’t particularly value democratic principles, and treat every opposition leader with an outrageous loathing and sneering contempt. They oppose antisemitism only on condition that Jewish groups do not show any support towards the left, and in particular, for Corbyn. 

Image result for daily mail support for nazi germany

Yesterday I saw a comment from Dan Hodges –  who writes for the Daily Mail, that Labour are “irredeemably racist”. This is simply untrue. He never responded to the comment I left him, reminding him of the Daily Mail‘s constant anti-immigration rants, in a series of shots of toxic Daily Mail headlines.  I explained that most Labour supporters were not up for taking lectures on the value of inclusion and diversity from Daily Mail journalists. 

Dan Hodges

I posted this to remind him of the significant contribution the Mail has made to the growth of racism in the UK. 

Image result for daily mail immigration front pages

And this was very offensive, antisemitic, irrational and dangerous comment:

The right have manipulated a concern for social justice on the left – and particularly that concern regarding the murder of Palestinian civilians – and have intentionally pathologised it, weaponising it as a propaganda tool. This has been going on for a long time. 

Jon woodcock judas

Which “mainstream Jewish community” is that, John? How does a meeting with a Jewish community “bait” the Jewish Community? Why are Corbyn’s critics okay with marginalising a Jewish group and deliberately attempting to discredit them when it suits them to? This is absolutely atrocious hypocrisy and completely unacceptable antisemitic behaviour. 

It is telling that some of the Labour “moderates” used right wing gossip-mongers and bloggers – Paul Staines and Alex Whickam – to criticise their own leader. These people should be ejected from the party, since all they do is damage it and support another Conservative term. They don’t care about the misery and despair of citizens living in escalating poverty because of Tory policies, the suicides and deaths of disabled people, or those children living in poverty with their futures and human potential stolen from them, by an authoritarian government.

Shame on them. This is not what the Labour party are about, and until Blair, it never was. The neoliberals’ time has been and gone, the party has moved on and realigned itself to the majority of its members demands for a democratic agenda that reflects their values of inclusion, equality and diversity. That’s how it should be.

Corbyn is one of the leading anti-racists in parliament – one of the very least racist MPs we have. So naturally Corbyn signed numerous Early Day motions in Parliament condemning antisemitism, years before he became leader and backed the campaign to stop Neo-Nazis from meeting in Golders Green in 2015.

Before being elected as Labour party leader, Corbyn chaired Liberation (formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom) in succession to Stan Newens, who is the President of , Liberation. Liberation, founded in 1954 on the initiative of Fenner Brockway, was in the forefront of the struggle against all forms of racism.

When Jeremy took the chair it was accepted that one of our continuing fundamental purposes was opposition to racism – including antisemitism. Liberation has been critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians – and often had Israeli or Jewish speakers at meetings arguing the case.

Newens says “It is patently obvious that criticism of Corbyn and the Labour party on grounds of antisemitism is being encouraged by individuals who – unlike the Labour leader himself – have rarely participated in the general struggle against racism. Most are motivated by opposition to Labour under Corbyn and any excuse to harass him will be taken.”

Joseph Finlay, writing for the Jewish News online, says: “The Labour party has thousands of Jewish members, many Jewish councillors, a number of prominent Jewish MPs and several Jewish members of it’s ruling council. Many people at the heart of the Corbyn team, such as Jon Lansman, James Schneider and Rhea Wolfson are also Jewish. Ed Miliband, the previous party leader, was Jewish (and suffered antisemitism at the hands of the press and the Conservatives). I have been a member for five years and, as a Jew, have had only positive experiences.

Jeremy Corbyn has been MP for Islington North since 1983 – a constituency with a significant Jewish population. Given that he has regularly polled over 60% of the vote (73% in 2017) it seems likely that a sizeable number of Jewish constituents voted for him,  As a constituency MP he regularly visited synagogues and has appeared at many Jewish religious and cultural events. He is close friends with the leaders of the Jewish Socialist Group, from whom he has gained a rich knowledge of the history of the Jewish Labour Bund, and he has named the defeat of Mosley’s Fascists at the Battle of Cable as a key historical moment for him. His 2017 Holocaust Memorial Day statement talked about Shmuel Zygielboym, the Polish Bund leader exiled to London who committed suicide in an attempt to awaken the world to the Nazi genocide. How many British politicians have that level of knowledge of modern Jewish history?”

He goes on to say: “Because all racisms are interlinked it is worth examining Corbyn’s wider anti-racist record. Corbyn was being arrested for protesting against apartheid while the Thatcher government defended white majority rule and branded Nelson Mandela a terrorist. Corbyn was a strong supporter of Labour Black Sections – championing the right of Black and Asian people to organise independently in the Labour party while the Press demonised them as extremists.

“He has long been one of the leaders of the campaign to allow the indigenous people of the Chagos Islands to return after they were forcibly evicted by Britain in the 1960s to make way for an American military base. Whenever there has been a protest against racism, the two people you can always guarantee will be there are Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. Who do you put your trust in — the people who hate antisemitism because they hate all racism or the people (be they in the Conservative party or the press) who praise Jews whilst engaging in Islamophobia and anti-black racism? The right-wing proponents of the Labour antisemitism narrative seek to divide us into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ minorities — they do not have the well-being of Jews at heart.

“Let’s return the story to the facts. Antisemitism is always beyond the pale. Labour, now a party of over half a million members, has a small minority of antisemites in its ranks, and it suspends them whenever it discovers them. I expect nothing less from an anti-racist party and an anti-racist leader. If the Conservatives took the same approach to racism they would have to suspend their own foreign secretary, who has described Africans as ‘Picanninies’ and described Barack Obama as ‘The part-Kenyan President [with an] ancestral dislike of the British Empire’. 

“From the Monday club, linked to the National Front, to MP Aidan Burley dressing up a  Nazi, to Lynton Crosby’s dogwhistle portrayal of Ed Miliband as a nasal North London intellectual it is the Conservative Party that is deeply tainted by racism and antisemitism.

“There are many threats to Jews – and we are right to be vigilant. These threats come primarily from resurgent nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiment and a Brexit narrative that seeks to restore Britain to a mythical age of ethnic purity. The idea that Britain’s leading anti-racist politician is the key problem the Jewish community faces is an absurdity, a distraction, and a massive error. Worst of all, it’s a bad story that we’ve been telling for far too long. Let’s start to tell a better one.”

The Labour party has prided itself on its inclusion, equality and diversity principles since its inception. Corbyn has always been one of the most inclusive MPs and this is being used to undermine him. His idea of a “broad church” Labour party was based on an assumption that the neoliberals within the party shared the same equality, diversity and inclusion values, and supported a social justice agenda.  It was assumed that they had principles in common with the wider Labour party.  They don’t.

These are MPs that would prefer another Conservative term, further damage to our society, and more suffering of poor and disabled citizens than see a party they consider ideologically “inpure” take office. Their comments and actions are vile. The implications are vile. They are contributing to the sabotage of our party just in time for the local elections. Again. 

I have thought carefully these past months about these issues, and explored the evidence. I haven’t commented on it all until now because I needed to see evidence, analyse and evaluate. The hypocritical outrage from the likes of Hodges, Nelson, Neil and Lord Sugar, along with the sheer rage, incoherence and unreasonableness of their attacks has convinced me that this is a serious strategic propaganda war, nothing more or less.

However, I also agree with Jonathan Freedland, who says “Yes, you can make a strong case that plenty are acting in bad faith, trying to use this issue as a stick to beat Labour – but if you do that, you need to exempt Jews themselves from that charge.” I absolutely agree, and for many of the reasons he has laid out. 

I don’t, however, agree with his assessment that Corbyn represents the “hard left”.

He goes on to say, however, “Less tangibly, it’s the cast of mind, the way of thinking, that antisemitism represents that we should fear. Conspiracy theory, fake news, demonisation of an unpopular group: what happens to our politics if all these become the norm? This is why Jews have often functioned as a canary in the coalmine: when a society turns on its Jews, it is usually a sign of wider ill health.

“Put another way, hasn’t history shown us that racism never stays confined to mere “pockets”? Once the virus is inside, it does not rest until it has infected the entire body.”

As I discussed earlier in this article, the symptoms of an increase in social prejudice have been there for some years, he seems to have overlooked the fact that it has been the disabled community who were the “canary in the coalmine”, and still are.

I agree that prejudice multitasks and grows. Freedland has overlooked that racism has already become the norm, not least because the oppression of others has remained invisible and unacknowledged by the media. In fact the media has tended to amplify it. Furthermore, political prejudice and legislative discrimination directed at already marginalised social groups is causing absolute poverty, harm, distress, death and suicide. Those are visible, real consequences of political prejudice which the media have chosen to ignore. It seems that some prejudices are considered more important than others, even when outright political discrimination and its tragic consequences are evident for all to see. You see, this is how the Holocaust began. 

This poster (from around 1938) reads: “60,000 Reichsmark is what this person suffering from a hereditary defect costs the People’s community during his lifetime. Fellow citizen, that is your money too. Read ‘[A] New People‘, the monthly magazine of the Bureau for Race Politics of the NSDAP.” 

Here the political portrayal of German disabled people as a “socioeconomic burden” is being used to justify the AktionT4 extermination programme. 

The UK government prefers a wall of private bureacracy that extends a system on their behalf, which simply leaves many disabled people without the means to meet their basic living requirements, while making a profit at the expense of those people in doing so.

This said, Pfannmüller also advocated killing disabled people by a gradual decrease of food, which he believed was more merciful than poison injections. Most of the Nazis were eugenicists, nationalists and antisemites. Carbon monoxide gas was first used to kill disabled people, then its use was extended to other groups of people. The methods used initially at German hospitals such as lethal injections and bottled gas poisoning were expanded to form the basis for the creation of extermination camps where the gas chambers were built from scratch to conduct the extermination of the Jews, Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Spanish Republicans, Romani and political dissidents, including many leftists, socialists and communists. 

The Nazis promoted xenophobia and racism against all “non-Aryan” races. African (black sub-Saharan or North African) and Asian (East and South Asian) residents of Germany and black prisoners of war, such as French colonial troops and African Americans, were also victims of Nazi racial policy.  In Germany, gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians, were two of the numerous groups targeted by the Nazis and were also, ultimately, among the millions of Holocaust victims.

The role of propaganda and the media

Propaganda can be defined as biased information or misinformation designed to shape public perception, opinion, decision-making and behaviour. It simplifies complicated issues or ideology for popular consumption, is always biased, and is geared to achieving a particular end. Propaganda is often transmitted to the public through various media, drawing upon techniques and strategies used in advertising, public relations, communications, and mass psychology.

The real danger of propaganda lies when competing voices are silenced. When democratic dialogue, legitimate criticism and valid opposition is systematically pathologised and dismissed as a “cult”, “the loony left”, “Marxists” “leftards”, “virtue signalers” and so forth. Using the internet as well as mainstream media outlets, propagandists have been able to transmit their messages to a wide audience. 

Propaganda served as an important tool to win over the majority of the German public who had not supported Adolf Hitler and to push forward the Nazis’ radical program, which required the acquiescence, support, or participation of broad sectors of the population.

In 2016, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) took aim at some British media outlets, particularly tabloid newspapers, for “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

The  report said hate speech was a serious problem, including against Roma, gypsies and travellers, as well as “unscrupulous press reporting” targeting the LGBT community. The ECRI’s report also concluded that some reporting on immigration, terrorism and the refugee crisis was “contributing to creating an atmosphere of hostility and rejection”.

It cited Katie Hopkins’ infamous column in The Sun, where she likened refugees to “cockroaches” and sparked a blistering response from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the same newspaper’s debunked claim over “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”

“ECRI urges the media to take stock of the importance of responsible reporting, not only to avoid perpetuating prejudice and biased information, but also to avoid harm to targeted persons or vulnerable groups,” the report concluded. Yet this international condemnation has not encouraged more journalistic responsibility in the UK.

The Nazis used propaganda successfully to increase their public support and appeal. They spent huge sums of money on newspapers, leaflets and poster campaigns with simple slogans encouraging people to support the party. The military style of the Nazis also involved using large political rallies to gain support. Joseph Goebbels began to build an image of Hitler as a great leader. Goebbels manipulated people’s fear of uncertainty and instability to portray Hitler as a man with a great vision for “prosperity and stability.” Germany’s economy was in such a poor state that Hitler’s promise of “strong government” and stability was widely supported.  

I do maintain that our own media are being controlled by the government, and are being used to stage-manage our democracy. The recent history of sustained and vile smear campaigns, lies and unchecked fury directed at the last two labour leaders is pretty clear evidence of that, as is the blatant scapegoating project dressed up as the divisive stigmatising rhetorics of xenophobia, bigotry, prejudice and open discrimination directed at disabled people and other groups who need social security support.

Prejudice multitasks. This is a point made very well by Martin Niemöller, who was a Lutheran minister and early Nazi supporter who was later imprisoned for opposing Hitler’s regime. Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) emerged as an outspoken public critic and foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The quotation stems from Niemöller’s lectures during the early postwar period. Different versions of the quotation exist. These can be attributed to the fact that Niemöller spoke extemporaneously and in a number of settings. Some controversy surrounds the content of the poem as it has been printed in varying forms, referring to diverse groups such as Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Trade Unionists,  disabled people or Communists depending upon the version. Nonetheless his point was that there had been what he saw as a cowardly complicity through the silence of the church the media, academic institutions and citizens regarding the Nazi imprisonment, persecution and murder of millions of people.

The UK media are at best compliant, paralysed by bystander apathy, and at worst, directly complicit in extending political prejudice, justifying discimination and manipulating social divisions. Unless we actually want to live with an authoritarian one-party state, it’s time to research, think and analyse these issues for ourselves, and quickly.

If not for ourselves, then for our friends, neighbours and loved ones. And especially, for our children.

May there be peace, justice and unity in our days.

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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

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The political and corporate economy driving the implementation of ‘behavoural science’, including ‘nudge’, by self-interested (and boundedly rational) incumbent governments, policy makers, bureaucrats and corporations has been largely neglected, though a few of us have been raising concerns about the implications of the microregulation of citizen perceptions and  behaviour for democracy for a few years.

In their haste to portray populations as irrational and cognitively flawed, behavioural economists, governments, bureaucrats and the murky underworld of the big corporate lobbying, PR, ‘strategic communications’ and ‘consultancy’ industry seem to have overlooked a couple of whopping ‘cognitive biases’ of their own. These are their strong inclination towards profit and power, regardless of any ethical boundaries. 

As soon as the Conservatives casually announced their ‘behaviour change’ agenda back in 2010, and instituted the ‘Nudge Unit’, a scandal of the type surrounding Cambridge Analytica/SCL was inevitable. How could anyone expect that an authoritarian government, somewhat defined by resistance to change, would resist the temptation to draw on ‘behavioural science’ techniques to manipulate citizens’ perceptions, cognitions, behaviours, choices, and ultimately, their voting decisions? 

Cambridge Analytica’s commercial vice-president Richard Robinson once said that there is no fundamental difference between getting someone to vote and persuading them to swap toothpaste brands. He added: “It is about understanding what message is relevant to that person at that time when they are in that particular mind-set.” Robinson claimed that using data to profile citizens, overlaying “the person” on data – a method that has previously been available to advertisers –  is “humanising marketing.” 

I don’t agree. I see this level of surveillance, intrusion and micromanagement of citizens decision-making as a form of commodifying and marketising humans for commercial behavioural modification. Without our consent. Or a share in the profits generated. It is profoundly ‘dehumanising marketing. ‘

Our personal data is being used to construct ‘persuasion profiles’, using sets of estimates – based on probabilities – on the effectiveness of particular influence-strategies on individuals, which are also based on past responses to these strategies. Some of these companies are also experimenting with biometrics. Many businesses in marketing openly admit that they aim to achieve behavioural change. It cannot be right for private companies and governments to use citizens as Pavlovian dogs. Such personalised persuasive strategies seriously undermine the human autonomy that is central to human dignity and democracy. 

The internet has rapidly become an environment in which citizens and populations are being sorted, profiled, typed, categorised, ranked and “managed”, based on data mining  mass surveillance and psycho-profiling.

It was only a matter of time before the powerful tools of digital tracking and corporate surveillance, including techniques designed for  manipulating opinions and behaviours, shifted from the realm of PR, product and service marketing to politics and voter targeting. The markets for personal data have always been markets for behavioural control also. And markets of behavioural control are composed of those who sell opportunities to influence behaviour for profit and those who purchase such opportunities.  

Screengrab taken at 2pm on Tuesday from AIQ’s homepage

Screengrab taken at 2pm on Tuesday from AIQ’s homepage. By Thursday, after the company was contacted by the Observer, it had been taken down. Photograph: AggregateIQThe Observer first disclosed connections between the firms a year ago when it published details of an intellectual property licence that linked AIQ and Cambridge Analytica.

The leaked intellectual property licence document that shows a link between AggregateIQ and SCL Elections (the company behind Cambridge Analytica).

The leaked intellectual property licence document that shows a link between AggregateIQ and SCL Elections (the company behind Cambridge Analytica). Photograph: Observer

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Current notice on AggregateIQ site

From the Telegraph in February 2017: Exclusive: How a tiny Canadian IT company helped swing the Brexit vote for Leave 

The overlap between behavioural economics, PR an techniques of persuasion

Last month, the government’s procurement service widened the public sector’s choice of ‘behavioural insight’ experts to call on. Previously the Behavioural Insights Team (Nudge Unit) were the single suppliers, but the new Crown Commercial Service Behavioural Insights framework expands the number to six. The framework retains the Nudge Unit, and the new suppliers are CFE (Research and Consulting), Kantar Public, McKinsey, and Ipsos Mori. There is a sixth supplier that has not yet been named because it has not yet formally signed up to the new contract.

The PR industry, with it overlaps in marketing, consultancy, strategic messaging, behavioural economics, nudge and so on has been using behavioural analytics, psychographic profiling and targeted communications for years. Many corporate
practices are kept as secret as possible, which places some limitations on research. 

‘Data-intensive’ companies communicate in a vague and ambiguous way, however they are more bold when it comes to selling their services and in this context they reveal internal practices through public statements.

The Hunting Dynasty a “behavioural insight and communications agency,” say on their site: “WE IMPROVE THE WAY YOUR WORLD BEHAVES BY DISCOVERING YOUR AUDIENCE’S UNTAPPED DESIRES AND EFFORTLESSLY INCREASING YOUR EFFICIENCY USING ROBUST SCIENCE, PSYCHOLOGY, AND NUDGE TECHNIQUES”, and go on to say “welcome to the first step in eliminating damaging behaviour.”

“Our unique combination of deep applied and academic behavioural knowledge, and experience working in the world’s largest advertising agencies makes us supremely qualified to deliver robust, full-stack, out-of-the-box, A+ projects and retained services, every time.”

The company received the gold retail ‘Nudge award’ in 2015, and were shortlisted for the award in 2016 and last year. 

BeWorks, another example of  a company adopting the nudge approach to communications and marketing, describe themselves as “The first management consulting firm dedicated to the practice of applying behavioral science to strategy, marketing, operations, and policy challenges”, also “harness the powerful insights of behavioral economics to solve your toughest challenges.”

They work for the government, the energy industry, financial service sector, insurance industry and retail sectors “helping organisations to embed behavioural economics into their culture”. 

The company says: “The team combines leading academics from the fields of cognitive and social psychology, neuroscience, and marketing with management consulting experts. Our multi-disciplinary expertise allows us to arm our clients with the latest in scientific insights coupled with a strategic business lens”.

They also wrote this article among others: How Science Can Help Get Out the VoteThey claim “Our team of scientists and business experts offers a powerful methodology that analyzes and measurably influences the decisions consumers make”. 

They go on to say “Neuromarketing studies, which measure brain activity and other biological indicators, are another way to gauge true emotional reactions instead of relying on how people say they feel. EEG caps and biometric belts are the most common tools used, though other techniques, ranging from reading facial expressions to measuring tiny differences in reaction time, are also used.”

Over a six-year period, Ogilvy Public Relations Global CEO, Christopher Graves, digested more than 800 pieces of primary research to connect emerging findings in behavioral economics, neuroscience and narrative theory in order to ‘craft a new point of view on narrative effectiveness in communications.’ The findings overturn much of what communications professionals believed through conventional wisdom. The company concludes that “Emotional narrative beats analytical messaging. All human decision making depends heavily on emotion. Our efforts to persuade or explain need to also be rooted in emotion-triggering narratives.” 

Linstock Communications consultancy say they are: “AN AWARD-WINNING COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANCY THAT SPECIALISES IN THOUGHT LEADERSHIP AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT UNDERPINNED BY BEHAVIOURAL SCIENCE.”

Rolph Merchant of Instinctif Communications DMCC, says:

“Public relations exists to influence and to effect change. To do so more successfully, the industry needs to find ways to target audiences, those it wishes to move, more scientifically. The PR industry clearly recognises this and I think the adoption of a more surgical targeting strategy will become incumbent on PR companies. 

A very positive development for the PR industry would be to embrace the more advanced approaches to targeting using techniques based on behavioural economics. The pioneering work of The Behavioural Insights Team to understand what influences the public’s decision making, and design ‘nudges’ to get desired results for government, could certainly be replicated in the private sector. 

These techniques have been touted for use in measuring campaign success, a perennial issue for PR. To give a simple example of its application, by measuring peoples’ behaviour or sentiment before and after a period of communications activity, it is possible to gain a clearer idea of how successful a campaign has been. In turn, this insight can be channelled to improve communications strategy and tactics. 

“Though in its infancy, behaviour change is nonetheless a fascinating area of communications, which could well see significant attention and growth in the next decade.”

Instinctif offers “strategic insight, and creative solutions; government relations, and public and corporate affairs services that include lobbying, strategic information, analysis and advice, media and reputation management mandates, and public affairs training services.”

At the moment, the media is focused on the sins of Cambridge Anaytica/ SCL and Facebook. However, there are MANY other private companies involved in stage managing our democracy, employing the same deeply unethical and antidemocratic methods. Crosby Textor is just one example. 

Cambridge Analytica are not the only company that are being employed by governments to stage-manage our democracy

While the government’s controversial ‘dark ads’ campaign attracted some concerned commentary last year, in part because it used data and psychographic profiling to manipulate individual traits and characteristics, it seems like no-one is joining the dots, still.

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From the Crosby Textor Group site

The government claims that they haven’t used Cambridge Analytica for their election campaigns. However, in 2017, the Conservatives used several similar shadowy private companies that peddle data analytics, psychological profiling and ‘behavioural change’  to research, canvass, advertise and target message voters with ‘strategic communications’ – which also exploit their psychological characteristics and tendencies. I trawled through the Conservatives’ campaign expenses listed on the Electoral Commission site to find the following.

The government used Experian (paid £683,636.34), Reed Consultancy (paid £178,558.03), Google Analytics (paid £1,020,232.17), Facebook (paid £3,177,416.68), Twitter (paid £56,504.32), among others, to research, canvass and advertise their party ‘brand’. And £76,800 was spent advertising through Express Newspapers.

Blue Telecoms were paid £375,882.56 for ‘unsolicited material to electors’ and ‘advertising’. It says on their site that Blue Telecoms is a trading name for Direct Market Solutions Ltd. The company director is Sascha Lopez , a businessman who stood as a local council candidate for the Tories in the 2017 local elections. He is also an active director of the Lopez Group, although that company’s accounts are very overdue, there is an active proposal to strike off on the government’s Companies House page. If directors are late in filing their company accounts, and don’t reply to warnings from Companies House, their company can be struck-off the Companies House register and therefore cease to exist. Other companies he was active in have been liquidated (3) and dissolved (2).

An undercover reporter working for Channel 4 News secured work at Blue Telecoms, in Neath, South Wales. In an area plagued by unemployment and low wages, the call centre hired up to a hundred people on zero-hours contracts. For weeks, they contacted thousands of potential voters in marginal seats across the UK. 

The hired callers were told to say they were working for a market research company called “Axe Research”. No such company is registered in England and Wales. Furthermore, callers were instructed to say that the call centre was situated in Cardiff, rather than Neath.

The investigation uncovered underhand and potentially unlawful practices at the centre, in calls made on behalf of the Conservative Party. These allegations include:

● Paid canvassing on behalf of Conservative election candidates – illegal under election law.

● Political cold calling to prohibited numbers

Misleading calls claiming to be from an “independent market research company” which does not appear to exist

The Conservative Party have admitted it had commissioned Blue Telecoms to carry out “market research and direct marketing calls” during the campaign, and insisted the calls were legal.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Political parties of all colours pay for market research and direct marketing calls. All the scripts supplied by the party for these calls are compliant with data protection and information law.” 

However, I discovered that the record of funds paid to Blue Telecoms were not listed under ‘market research’, however. They were listed under ‘advertising’ and ‘unsolicited material to electors’. 

(See also: More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy)

Much of the ‘advertising’ was based on data collection, data analytics and psychological profiling, which were used to target people with communications according to their hopes, fears, anxieties, degrees of conformity and other general dispositions. Without their consent.

Another company that the Conservatives used and paid £120,000 for market research and canvassing during their general election campaign is Outra. Jim Messina is the executive director, and the team includes Lynton Crosby.

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Crosby Textor (listed as CTF) also earned £4,037,400 for market research/canvassing.

Messina Group Inc were also paid £544,153.57 for transport, advertising, market research and canvassing. This company uses data analytics and ‘intelligence’ services.  The company conducts “Targeted Ads Programs [….] ensuring precise targeting via Facebook, geo-targeting, zipcodes, IP addresses, and other tactics”. 

The company also says:

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The Messina Group are in astrategic partnership’ with Outra serving as one of Outra’s primary advisors on data, analytics, and ‘customer engagement.’

(See also: World leaders across 5 continents trust TMG with the highest stakes in politics.)

British electoral law forbids co-ordination between different campaign groups, which must all comply with strict spending limits. If they plan tactics or co-ordinate together, the organisations must share a cap on spending.

Combobulate Limited, which is listed as a management consultancy, earned £43,200 for research/canvassing and for ‘unsolicited material to electors’.

The director is listed as Nicholas Jack Walton Mason, also listed as the director of Uplifting Data. Mason is also listed as Director of Mason Investment Consultants Limited, which was dissolved via compulsory strike-off . However, I couldn’t find an information site for Combobulate, the only site I found bizarrely took me here. I can’t find any other website.

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Another similar company, An Abundance Limited, which is listed as a ‘behaviour change agency, were paid £2,400 for market research and canvassing by the Conservatives in the run-up to the election last year. 

Populus Data Solutions, who say they provide “state of the art data capture”, were paid £196,452 for research/canvasing and ‘unsolicited material to electors’. This company have also developed the use of biometrics – facial coding in particular.

St Ives management services were paid £3,556,030.91, for research/canvasing, ‘unsolicited material to electors’, advertising, overheads and general administration, media and rallies, and manifesto material.

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Edmonds Elder Ltda digital consultancy, were paid £156,240.00 for advertising. The site  says the company also provides services in vague sounding ‘government affairs: “We use cutting-edge digital techniques to help government affairs teams make the case for their policy and regulatory positions – harnessing support from communities across the country to ensure a positive outcome.”   

Craig Elder is also the Conservative party’s digital directorTom Edmonds was the Conservative party’s creative director between 2013 and 2015.

Hines Digital  who is a partner of Edmonds Elder Ltd, is a conservative digital agency that builds strong brands, huge email lists, and big league fundraising revenue for our clients, helping conservative campaigns & causes, and companies, achieve their goals.”

It says on the site that “Hines worked with conservative campaigns & causes in fifteen U.S. states and nine countries.” The company designed the ‘digital infrastructure’ of Theresa May’s leadership campaign launch in 2016, they built her website (but aren’t listed in election expenses.) Hines says: 

That timely initial website launch proved invaluable. Approximately 35% of her overall email list signed up on that first day, a significant shot in the arm on Day One made possible because her team — led in part by our partners at Edmonds Elder—was prepared to capitalize on the day’s earned media through effective online organizing.

Overall, the initial holding page saw a 18% conversion rate on day one — meaning nearly 1/5 people who visited the website signed up to join the campaign. That’s a fantastic response to a site optimized for supporter recruitment.”

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And: “We are experts at identifying people online – and targeting them to drive the activity your organisation needs.”

With political adverts like this, which aren’t fact checked and only the person targeted gets to see them:

Walker Media Limited are a digital marketing and media company, they facilitate Facebook adverts and campaigns, among other services. They were paid £798,610.21 from the Conservatives’ election campaign. One of their other social media marketing campaigns listed on their site is for “The Outdoor and Hunting Industry”.

Simon Davis serves as the Chief Executive Officer at Walker Media Holdings Limited and Blue 449. Davis served as Managing Director of Walker Media at M&C Saatchi plc, a global PR and advertising company, who have worked for the Conservatives before, designing campaign posters and anti-Labour adverts – including the controversial ‘New Labour, New Danger’ one in particular.

There are a few subsidaries of this company which include “harnessing data to find, engage and convert customers efficiently through digital media.” M&C Saatchi acquired the online media ‘intelligence agency’ Human Digital, whose “innovative approach marries rich behavioural insight with robust metrics.”

There is a whole submerged world of actors making huge profits from data mining and analytics, ‘targeted audience segmentation’, behaviour change techniques, ‘strategic communications and political lobbying. Much of the PR industry is built upon the same territory of interests: financial profit, maintaining power relations and supporting the vested interests of the privileged class. The subterranean operations of the surveillance and persuasion industry and citizen manipulation has become the establishment’s norm, hidden in plain view.

Neoliberalism has evolved into a form of surveillance and microregulation capitalism. Traditional mass marketing has become much more focused, using precise target marketing, techniques which psychologically profile, sort, segment, categorise and target all forms of advertising to individual consumers. From behavioural targeting to mobile messaging apps sharing conversation data for adverts, target marketing requires personal data and a behavioural profile of ‘consumers’ .

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

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

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

Other companies, such as the hugely influential Crimson Hexagon, use AI.  The company is based in Boston, Massachusetts and has also a European division in London.  Edelman Intelligence, a massive PR company, are a client of this company, as are Twitter. The company’s online data library consists of over 1 trillion posts, and includes documents from social networks such as Twitter and Facebook as well as blogs, forums, and news sites. 

The company’s ForSight platform is a Twitter Certified Product. (See also: The anti-social public relations of the PR industry, which details the intrusive ‘360 degree’ social media listening and monitoring posts used by companies to gather data and intelligence and to formulate s’trategic communications’ to discredit critics)

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

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

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

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

The Cambridge Analytica scandal highlights the erosion of democracy because governments are paying to use these sophisticated techniques of persuasion to unduly influence voters and to maintain a hegemony, amplifying and normalising dominant political narratives that justify neoliberal policies. ‘Behavioural science’ is used on every level of our society, from many policy programmes – it’s become embedded in our institutions – to forms of “expertise”, and through the state’s influence on the mass media, and other social and cultural systems. It also operates at a subliminal level: it’s embedded in the very language that is being used in political narratives. Repetition is an old propaganda technique that sometimes works. The ‘Strong and Stable’ ideological motif of the government, however, was a tad overused, and led to ridicule because it became so visible as a ill-conceived technique of persuasion. But what about all of the psycholinguistic cues that remain opaque?

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

As I said in my last article, profit-seeking private PR companies are paid to brand, market, engineer a following, build trust and credibility and generally sell the practice of micromanaging the spread of information between an individual or an organisation (such as a business, government agency, the media) and the public.

Most of these companies use ‘behavioural science’ strategies (a euphemism for psychological warfare) to do so. It’s a dark world where governments pay to be advised not to talk about “capitalism,” but instead discuss “economic freedom” , “business friendly policies” or the “free market”. Austerity is simply translated into “balancing the budget” or “living within our means”. The political coercion of sick and disabled people to look for work by cutting their lifeline support is “equality and social justice” or “helping to move them closer to employment”. Propaganda and deception is “strategic communications” and “PR”. Psychological coercion is “behavioural science”. The democratic opposition are described as “virtue signallers”, “snowflakes”, “Marxists”, “militants” and “the hard left.” 

On the Institute for Government website, the section called MINDSPACE Behavioural Economics  discusses “behaviour change theory” and “influencing behaviour through public policy.” Using a language of managementspeak and psychobable. A lot. But surely, in democracies, public policies are supposed to reflect and serve identified public needs, rather than being about the public meeting specific policy outcomes and government needs. And surely governments ought to be elected on what they offer citizens in terms of policy, not on the basis of what they pay for PR, strategic communications, behaviour modification techniques and spying on populations.

We have nothing in place to prevent powerful and wealthy interlopers – such as Robert Mercer, from making an end run around election laws, either. Mercer played a key role in the Brexit campaign by donating data analytics services via Cambridge Analytica to Nigel Farage. 

The company was able to advise Leave.EU through its ability to harvest data from people’s Facebook profiles in order to target them with individualized persuasive messages to vote for Brexit. However, Leave.EU did not inform the UK electoral commission of the donation despite the fact that a law demands that all donations valued over £7,500 must be reported.


 

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Ben Bradley issues humiliating public apology for defamatory comments about Jeremy Corbyn

I wrote a fairly comprehensive article this week about the outrageous allegations that were made by the right-wing press and some Conservatives that Jeremy Corbyn was a “Commie spy” and so on. Of course it was the usual ritualistic vile lie and smear tactic that the right-wing press have been doing since they succeeded with the fake Zinoviev letter in damaging the Labour party’s prospects at the election in 1924. The gutter press have been trying to stage manage our democracy by telling blatant lies ever since, with the same hysterical McCarthyist-styled headlines.

It seems the tabloids confuse ‘free speech’ with telling malicious lies and reducing politics to nasty rumour-mongering and smear campaigns. It’s a longstanding attempt to re-categorise the Left with negative attributes associated with them, that are directly harmful to them, while creating public fear. 

The media and politicians, however, have a duty to be more careful with their all too frequent use of inciteful language, and a democratic responsibility to ensure that they don’t construct and share fake news and lies – which reflects intolerance, arrogance and authoritarianism. Spreading fake news is being used to advance specific goals, influence political decisions and serve a narrow range of economic interests. It’s shameful verbal violence that is role-modelling despicable motives and behaviours by those in positions of power and influence.

Conservative MP Ben Bradley sparked outrage last week with a tweeted comment, claiming that Jeremy Corbyn had ‘sold British secrets to communist spies’. The tweet prompted a letter to Bradley from Corbyn’s lawyers, who insisted that Bradley issue an unreserved apology, and that he asks his followers to share it and make a significant donation to charities of Corbyn’s choice – or face court action.

Bradley deleted his malicious tweet.

He has also tweeted the following apology:

Bradley

The full statement says:

On 19 February 2018 I made a seriously defamatory statement on my Twitter account, ‘Ben Bradley MP (@bbradleymp)’, about Jeremy Corbyn, alleging he sold British secrets to communist spies. I have since deleted the defamatory tweet. I have agreed to pay an undisclosed substantial sum of money to a charity of his choice, and I will also pay his legal costs.

I fully accept that my statement was wholly untrue and false. I accept that I caused distress and upset to Jeremy Corbyn by my untrue and false allegations, suggesting he had betrayed his country by collaborating with foreign spies.

I am very sorry for publishing this untrue and false statement and I have no hesitation in offering my unreserved and unconditional apology to Jeremy Corbyn for the distress I have caused him.

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn became party leader, he has been utterly and outrageously smeared by the right-wing media. Theresa May made her disastrous decision to call an election, the right-leaning papers went to town in an all-out vicious campaign against Labour’s leadership.

Who could forget the Sun’s front page showing a picture of Corbyn inside a rubbish bin – so childish, it’s like kindergarten bullying. The Mail, meanwhile, showed Corbyn alongside shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and former shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott under the disgraceful headline “Apologists for Terror”. The Express told its readers: “Vote May or we face disaster”, as if it’s somehow appropriate for journalists to tell people in a democracy who they should vote for while telling atrocious lies about the opposition. 

However, I found it hilarious that both May and the right-wing press gangs so badly overestimated their own and the prime minister’s credibility and popularity.

It seems readers don’t make judgements purely on the basis of their preferred newspaper’s editorial line. The Conservative leader and her friends in the media wrongly assumed that vicious attacks against Labour’s leaders would be enough to secure a Tory win. It didn’t, because the public is all too aware now of the behavioural patterns and ideological headline habits of the attack dogs. The public recognises that tabloid press overconfidence has led to a complete lack of verisimilitude in screaming and often libelous headlines, seriously undermining public credibility. 

It’s not just that the right-wing rags are run by lying anti-liberals. Conservatism is pretty tame compared to some of the narratives these rags peddle to the public, veering further to the right of support for an authoritarian government, their final destination being in the realms of totalitarianism and fascism.

Image result for daily mail supported fascism

The smearing campaigns of the right-wing tabloids has a long and repetitive history. In September 2013 the Mail attacked Labour Party leader Ed Miliband for having a father – the Marxist academic, Ralph Miliband – who “hated Britain.” This was ironic on a number of levels. 

Firstly, a key piece of “evidence” for this allegation was the 17 year-old Ralph Miliband’s diary, where he speculated that the English are “perhaps the most nationalist people in the world,” which of course is something you could very easily conclude from the Mail’s longstanding editorial stance alone. However, Miliband was a staunch anti-Stalinist, so his political views are rather more like Orwell’s than Stalin. 

The Mail clearly isn’t afraid of afraid of being accused of hypocrisy, in the face of their own history of support for Adolf “the Great” Hitler and the National Front; Ralph Miliband, on the other hand, fled to the UK in 1940 to avoid anti-Semitic persecution, enlisted in the Royal Navy, and served in the D-Day landings. This prompted a particular public dressing down by Mehdi Hasan on the BBC’s Question Time programme, prompting the Mail to respond with vicious smear campaign against Hasan.

Then there’s the Sun.

This was the Sun‘s front page on 19 April 1989. The allegations were later proven to be entirely false, with the Sun later admitting their decision to publish the ‘allegations’ was the “blackest day in this newspaper’s history.” 

Despite the Leveson inquiry, following the News of the World scandal and the fallout that led to Sun staff being charged with conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office, unfortunately, the right-wing press have yet to learn the fundamental difference between ‘free speech’ and corruption, coupled with frequently published, disgraceful, malicious and intentional lies.

Last month, the Government launched a new unit to counter “fake news”. 

Downing Street told political reporters: “The government will respond with more and better use of national security communications to tackle interconnected complex challenges.

We will build on existing capabilities by creating a dedicated national security communications unit. This will be tasked with combating disinformation by state actors and others. It will more systematically deter our adversaries and help us deliver on national security priorities.”

Given that Conservative MPs have demonstrated just how freely they share disinformation when it suits them, it’s very worrying that the move to ‘systematically deter our adversaries’ seems to include codified totalitarian attacks on Her Majesty’s loyal opposition. 

 


 

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There is NO record on Corbyn – Ministry for State Security of East Germany

The following is an important press statement from the Federal Commissioner of Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic, concerning the recent allegations made against Jeremy Corbyn:

Government Site Builder (Link to homepage)

For immediate release

Currently there is a debate in Great Britain about a possible documentation of activities of the Labour politician Jeremy Corbyn in the Stasi records. The Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records (BStU) usually only releases information with connection to a person to journalists and researchers when records document an official or unofficial collaboration with the Ministry of State Security. Otherwise there is no further disclosure. But because speculations have risen because of this policy in the case of Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, the BStU for this case makes the following statement:

The most recent researches in the written records of the Ministry for State Security of East Germany have not produced any records or any other information on Jeremy Corbyn or Diane Abbott.

Dagmar Hovestädt
press spokeswoman BStU

Photo of BStU-spokesperson Dagmar Hovestädt.

Over the past week the right-wing gutter press have published a series of completely false and ridiculous smears, claiming that Labour politicians are ‘traitors’ and  attempting to link them with Soviet bloc spies. Of course this is part of a broader strategy of tensiondesigned purposefully to create public alarm – to portray the left as a threat to the wellbeing and security of our 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.

It’s a long-standing propaganda strategy from the right wing Westminster media bubble. 

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

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 fake letter was severely embarrassing to Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald and his Labour party. The chance of a victory was dashed as the manufactured spectre of internal revolution and a government oblivious to the “red peril” dominated the public consciousness, via the media. The Daily Mail published a series of sensationalist headlines, such as:

  • 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

The more things change, the more they stay the same for the pro-establishment media mouthpieces. Of course this is propaganda, not journalism. The letter was confirmed as a forgery as well as a filthy, deceitful propaganda pre-election campaign. However, it was too late, as the damage was done to the Labour Party and affected the General Election outcome in 1924.

Jan Sarkocy, a former Czech spy who worked for the Statni Bezpecnost (StB) secret police during the Cold War, claims he met Jeremy Corbyn a number of times in 1986 and 1987 – including twice in the House of Commons and once in the Islington North MP’s constituency office. 

Svetlana Ptáčníková, who heads the Czech Security Forces Archive – which holds documents relating to StB spies and their contacts, also says the story about Corbyn isn’t true.

Mr. Corbyn was neither registered [by the StB] as a collaborator, nor does this [his alleged collaboration] stem from archive documents,” she told Czech News agency CTK.

 Ptáčníková, who heads the Czech Security Forces Archive that keeps documents of the now defunct StB, said that The Sun’s headline branding Corbyn a communist spy definitely does not correspond to reality.

Mr Corbyn was neither registered [by the StB] as a collaborator, nor does this [his collaboration] stem from archive documents,” Ptacnikova said.

On the contrary, the Czech archive keepers, who are studying the relevant files, have found signs showing that the StB tried hard to prevent Corbyn from uncovering the real identity of the Czechoslovak official he was meeting, Ptáčníková said. Dymic was a secretary at the embassy in London and he was meeting Corbyn in his capacity as a diplomat. He was expelled from Britain in 1989.

In a supreme act of self harm to his credibility, Sarkocy, who now lives in the Slovakian capital Bratislava, went on to claim that he personally organised the Live Aid concern in 1985, which he said was “funded by Czechoslovakia”.

Sarkocy, who operated under the name Jan Dymic, claims there were more than 10 meetings between the two.

He claims that the Labour MP was a “paid informant”, known by the codename Agent Cob (how very original), who passed on information as part of a process of “conscious cooperation”. However, records show there were only 3 meetings.

Czech authorities have also confirmed the meetings, but say that Corbyn was not an informant. There are signs that Czechoslovakian intelligence officials made attempts to hide Sarkocy’s true identity from the Labour MP, they said.

Furthermore, the Czech Prime Minister has described the spy who made the claims as “totally untrustworthy”.

Conservative MPs have ludicrously called on Corbyn to release his Stasi file, compiled by the east German secret police. The German authorities responsible for the Stasi archive confirmed on Tuesday that they had found no documents on Corbyn. (See opening paragraphs) and this included all files that can’t be released publicly for privacy protection reasons, spokesman Matthias Dziomba said.

Sarkocy has also made claims that Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis cooperated with the Czechoslovakian secret police – a charge Babis has long denied and which is the subject of a long running court case.

“Mr Sarkocy is lying,” Mr Babis told Czech tabloid CTK. “He is an absolutely untrustworthy person and I am shocked that Czech media consider him a relevant source of information.”

Sarkocy’s other claims have also remained completely unsubstantiated.

A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said: “The claim that he was an agent, asset or informer for any intelligence agency is entirely false and a ridiculous smear.

Like other MPs, Jeremy has met diplomats from many countries. In the 1980s he met a Czech diplomat, who did not go by the name of Jan Dymic, for a cup of tea in the House of Commons.

“Jeremy neither had nor offered any privileged information to this or any other diplomat.

“During the Cold War, intelligence officers notoriously claimed to superiors to have recruited people they had merely met. The existence of these bogus claims does not make them in any way true.”

A Labour Party spokesman dismissed Sarkocy as “a fantasist, whose claims are entirely false and becoming more absurd by the day”.

These ridiculous smears should be given no credence whatsoever,” he added.

Ken Livingstone, also claimed to have been involved in said he had “no recollection of meeting anyone from the Czech embassy” and dismissed the claims as a “tissue of lies”.

John McDonnell, it was claimed had met with a KGB agent also strongly denied this allegation.

He said: “These are ridiculous and false allegations. I have never met any Czechoslovak or Soviet agent, nor visited the Soviet or Russian embassy and have only visited Guildford once in my life, which was last year for a Labour Party public meeting.”

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, has dismissed the claims. In a strongly worded attack on the newspapers reporting them, he said: “This journalism is not worth the paper it’s printed on. The only thing these articles reveal is just how concerned some tax dodging media barons are about a Labour government.

In an era when the traditional press is fighting for survival newspapers should be upping their journalistic standards not falling onto the wrong side of the fake news divide.

“These irresponsible scurrilous stories do a disservice to the titles they are printed in and undermine the British newspaper industry during a very febrile time. For newspapers to have a brighter future than they look to now, proprietors must focus on ensuring their publication’s long term health and reputation, rather than on cheap political attacks.”

Corbyn is telling the truth

Communist-era files from the intelligence agency of Czechoslovakia provide no evidence whatsoever that Corbyn was ever a spy or agent of influence, say experts and academic researchers who have reviewed the papers on Tuesday.

Radek Schovánek, an analyst with the defence ministry of the Czech Republic – which emerged, along with Slovakia, from the peaceful breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993 – has spent 25 years researching documents filed by the now-defunct spy service. He told the Guardian the suspicions against Corbyn were unfounded, and the claims of Ján Sarkocy, a former intelligence officer expelled from Britain in 1989, to have signed the Labour leader up were false. 

Schovánek said Sarkocy’s assertions were at odds with the security files, which represented the definitive record on agents and contacts, and made no reference to Corbyn as a recruited agent, or to McDonnell or Livingstone.

Asked if he was calling the ex-intelligence officer, now living near the Slovakian capital Bratislava, a liar, Schovánek said: “When you compare the documents which he had written and signed himself with what he is saying today, based on that he is a liar. He signed a list of documents in the UK which said Corbyn was an intelligence contact, not an agent.”

Schovánek, 54, who secretly smuggled banned books from the west into Czechoslovakia during the cold war, said he felt compelled to speak out on Corbyn’s behalf, despite strongly disagreeing with the Labour leader’s left wing politics.

“I personally don’t like Corbyn. I’m Roman Catholic and conservative, but I think we have to defend people against a lie,” he said.

Daniela Richterová, a politics and international studies researcher at the University of Warwick, said the files showed the Labour leader was never a “source”. “We know how the process of arranging a collaboration works,” she said. There was “no evidence” Corbyn was recruited during four meetings with Sarcozy, she added.

These accounts resonate with Darren G Lilleker, associate professor at Bournemouth University and author of the 2004 book Against The Cold War: The History and Political Traditions of Pro-Sovietism in the British Labour Party, 1945-1989.

Lilleker said Corbyn was not among those Labour MPs who were sympathetic to the Soviet Union. “He was against both sides, the US and the Soviet Union, seeing them both as a danger to world peace.”

Conservatives are telling lies

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has demanded an apology and a donation to charity from a Conservative MP who claimed the Labour leader sold British secrets to “communist spies”. 

Ben Bradley, a Tory party vice-chairman, made the claim in a Twitter message which he subsequently deleted. Corbyn has branded newspaper allegations that he met with a communist spy during the Cold War “increasingly wild and entirely false”. Quite properly so.  

red brad

Lawyers acting for the Labour leader note that while the tweet has been removed, “serious harm has been caused by the libellous statement”.

In a four-page letter to the Mansfield MP, they demand that Mr Bradley:

  •  Confirms in writing that the defamatory statement will not be repeated in any form; 
  •  Tweets an apology and asks followers to retweet it;
  •  Makes a donation to a charity of Mr Corbyn’s choice in lieu of damages;
  •  And pays Mr Corbyn’s legal costs.

In Corbyn’s response to the right wing lies (see video below), he says:

“In the last few days The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph and The Express have gone a little bit James Bond.”

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

He goes on to say: We’ve got news for the billionaire, tax exile press barons: Change is coming.”

Quite right. It’s long overdue. It’s time we stopped permitting the one-party gutter press to stage-manage our democracy.

 

Andrew Neil, on the Daily Politics show today, accused the Conservatives  of “outrageous smears” and peddling “outright lies” about Jeremy Corbyn, as he dismantled Tory Brexit minister Steve Baker and handed him his ass over claims the Labour leader was connected to a communist spy. 

The video can be found here on the Huff Post, and it’s well worth watching.

Here is a copy of the letter to Ben Bradley from Corbyn’s solictor:

Dear Mr Bradley

OUR CLIENT: RT HON JEREMY CORBYN MP
DEFAMATORY TWEET

We act for the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP.

This is a Letter of Claim for the purposes of the Pre-action Protocol for Defamation. The prospective Claimant is our client, the Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP. The prospective Defendant is you, Mr Ben Bradley MP.

Yesterday, 19 February 2018, you published the following tweet on your Twitter account, Ben Bradley MP (@bbradleymp):

“Corbyn sold British secrets to communist spies…get some perspective mate!! Your priorities are a bit awry! # AreYouSerious”

Your statement that our client sold British secrets to communist spies is untrue. The inference that our client, whom you know to be the Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition and the Leader of the Labour Party, had engaged in criminal acts of treachery and spying could not be more seriously harmful of a British citizen, let alone such a prominent politician. As the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party you are fully aware of the serious harm that was caused or was likely to be caused to our client’s reputation by your defamatory statement.

The natural and ordinary meaning of your words is that our client engaged in criminal activity at the most serious level. For example, espionage and serious breaches of the Official Secrets Act 1911; that he acted in a manner which was/is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom; that he colluded with representatives of the secret services of foreign states to the detriment of the national interests of the United Kingdom, putting its citizens and its allies at serious risk of harm by passing confidential secret information to foreign agents/intelligence officers. Furthermore the natural and ordinary meaning of your words is that our client made financial gain for such criminal acts and espionage.

Our client’s reputation has been or is likely to be seriously harmed by your publication of the offending tweet and by re-tweets. Furthermore, your tweet has been quoted in full in the Guardian newspaper, the Mirror newspaper, the Huffington Post, Sky News, the Mail Online and has been paraphrased in other national print newspapers, and online, which is unsurprising given your own high profile within the Conservative Party and your status as an MP.

Our client instructed us yesterday evening and we advised his office to put out an immediate statement notifying you and others of the fact that he had taken legal advice and that the tweet should be deleted from your Twitter account. We note that you have removed the tweet but nevertheless serious harm has been caused by your libellous statement.

Next Steps

Our client requires you to immediately agree to take the following steps:

1. Provide a written undertaking, in terms to be agreed with us, that you will not repeat the defamatory statement identified above in your offending tweet or utter or publish any allegations/statements to similar effect about our client on Twitter or on any other social media platform or in any other form both written and oral.

2. Immediately agree to publish on your Twitter account an apology, in terms to be agreed with us, and with the additional statement that you will ask your followers to retweet your apology.

3. Agree to pay a sum of money direct to a charity of our client’s choice, in lieu of damages payable to our client for the injury you have caused to his reputation and also for the embarrassment and distress caused to him by your defamatory statement. We invite your proposals by return with regard to the amount that you will pay which we would expect to be substantial, as our client’s attitude towards the level of payment will take into account the speed with which you make sensible proposals or not. Our client does not seek any personal financial benefit from this litigation and if you force him to issue proceedings and recover substantial damages through the courts he will donate the damages to a charity of his choice.

4. Pay our client’s legal costs incurred in relation to this matter. If you delay the resolution of this case our client will commence legal proceedings against you in the High Court and our client will seek from you not only his basic legal costs but also a success fee (as our client has agreed a Conditional Fee Agreement which provides for a success fee) and payment of an after the event insurance premium. If proceedings are commenced legal costs payable by you will increase significantly, especially if the matter proceeds to a full trial. Your swift agreement to the matters set out in the numbered paragraphs above will assist you in limiting your exposure to our client’s legal costs. Any failure by you to respond swiftly will undoubtedly mean that our client’s legal costs will increase significantly.

We look forward to your immediate and positive response. If there is any delay our client reserves the right to commence legal proceedings against you for damages and ancillary relief for defamation without further notice. In that event, our client will rely on the terms of this letter and the lack of an adequate response, by drawing your conduct to the attention of the Court.

Please indicate if you intend to nominate solicitors to accept service of proceedings on your behalf, should you seek to defend this claim.

Finally, Jeremy Corbyn was actually in Derbyshire when ex-Czech spy claims they met in London, leader’s records show.


 

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