Tag: Neoliberalism

Noam Chomsky endorses Jeremy Corbyn. Here’s why

Image result for Noam Chomsky

Professor Noam Chomsky has urged the British electorate to vote for Labour. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, earlier this month, Chomsky stated: “If I were a voter in Britain, I would vote for him.”

The linguist, cognitive academic and philosophical anarchist endorsed Jeremy Corbyn, and observes that the Labour Party would be doing far better in opinion polls if it were not for the “bitter” hostility of the mainstream media.

As Chomsky is world renowned for being a major critic of neoliberalism, it comes as no surprise that he supports a candidate who would reverse the radical socioeconomic reforms that Britain has gone through since the Thatcher era.

He said there were a lot of factors involved, but insisted that Labour would not be trailing the Conservatives so heavily in the polls if the media was more open to Corbyn’s agenda.  He said: “If he had a fair treatment from the media – that would make a big difference.” 

Asked what motivation he thought newspapers had to oppose Corbyn, Chomsky said the Labour leader had, like Bernie Sanders in the US, broken out of the “elite, liberal consensus” that he claimed was “pretty conservative”.

It’s potentially a fresh and hopeful view from the Overton window, if only we would open the curtains.

The academic, who was in Britain to deliver a lecture at the University of Reading on what he believes is the deteriorating state of western democracy, says that voters had turned to the Conservatives in recent years because of “an absence of anything else”.

He said: “The shift in the Labour party under [Tony] Blair made it a pale image of the Conservatives which, given the nature of the policies and their very visible results, had very little appeal for good reasons.”

He added that Labour had needed to “reconstruct itself” in the interests of working people, with concerns about human and civil rights at its core, arguing that such a programme could appeal to the majority of people. As a human rights activist, I have to agree.

Chomsky said that the future must lie with the left of the party. “The constituency of the Labour party, the new participants, the Momentum group and so on … if there is to be a serious future for the Labour party that is where it is in my opinion,” he said.

The comments came as Chomsky prepared to deliver a university lecture entitled Racing for the precipice: is the human experiment doomed?

He told the Guardian that he believed people had created a “perfect storm” in which the key defence against the existential threats of climate change and the nuclear age were being radically weakened.

“Each of those is a major threat to survival, a threat that the human species has never faced before, and the third element of this pincer is that the socio-economic programmes, particularly in the last generation, but the political culture generally has undermined the one potential defence against these threats,” he said.

Chomsky described the defence as a “functioning democratic society with engaged, informed citizens deliberating and reaching measures to deal with and overcome the threats”.

It’s certainly true that neoliberalism is incompatible with democracy and human rights frameworks.

He said: “In 2007 right before the great crash, when there was euphoria about what was called the ‘great moderation’, the wonderful economy, at that point the real wages of working people were lower – literally lower – than they had been in 1979 when the neoliberal programmes began. You had a similar phenomenon in England.”

Chomsky said that the disillusionment that followed gave rise to the surge of anti-establishment movements – including Donald Trump and Brexit, but also Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France and the rise of Corbyn and Sanders. 

He said: The Sanders achievement was maybe the most surprising and significant aspect of the November election. Sanders broke from a century of history of pretty much bought elections. That is a reflection of the decline of how political institutions are perceived.”

But he said the positions that the US senator, who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, had taken would not have surprised Dwight Eisenhower, who was US president in the 1950s.

“[Eisenhower] said no one belongs in a political system who questions the right of workers to organise freely, to form powerful unions. Sanders called it a political revolution but it was to a large extent an effort to return to the new deal policies that were the basis for the great growth period of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Chomsky believes that Corbyn stands in the same tradition.

The media is the massage

Chomsky has written extensively about the role of the free market media in reinforcing dominant ideology and maintaining the unequal distribution and balance of power. 

In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman explore the pro-establishment media’s role in establishing the apparence of a political and economic orthodoxy (neoliberalism) and extending a seemingly normative compliance with state policies, while also marginalising antithetical or alternative perspectives, dismissing them as heresy. In the US and UK, most left wing commentors have a very diminished media platform from which to present their perspectives and policy proposals.

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

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

Last year, research by YouGov found that the British media is the most right wing in Europe. Readers also ranked the British press as the most biased in all of the seven countries surveyed.

Noam Chomsky: I would vote for Jeremy Corbyn (extended interview) – BBC Newsnight

Noam Chomsky’s 8-Point Rationale for Voting for the “Lesser Evil” Candidate

Although this was written about the American political system, it applies equally well to the UK one.

Chomsky says: “Critics of “lesser evil voting” (LEV) should consider that their footing on the high ground may not be as secure as they often take for granted. 

Generally associated with the religious left, secular leftists implicitly invoke it when they reject LEV on the grounds that “a lesser of two evils is still evil.” Leaving aside the obvious rejoinder that this is exactly the point of lesser evil voting – i.e. to do less evil, what needs to be challenged is the assumption that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences. 

The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.

Leaving aside the obvious rejoinder that this is exactly the point of lesser evil voting-i.e. to do less evil, what needs to be challenged is the assumption that voting should be seen a form of individual self-expression rather than as an act to be judged on its likely consequences, specifically those outlined in 4). The basic moral principle at stake is simple: not only must we take responsibility for our actions, but the consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves.

While some would suggest extending the critique by noting that the politics of moral witness can become indistinguishable from narcissistic self-agrandizement, this is substantially more harsh than what was intended and harsher than what is merited. That said, those reflexively denouncing advocates of LEV on a supposed “moral” basis should consider that their footing on the high ground may not be as secure as they often take for granted to be the case.

A third criticism of LEV equates it with a passive acquiescence to the bipartisan status quo under the guise of pragmatism, usually deriving from those who have lost the appetite for radical change. It is surely the case that some of those endorsing LEV are doing so in bad faith-cynical functionaries whose objective is to promote capitulation to a system which they are invested in protecting. Others supporting LEV, however, can hardly be reasonably accused of having made their peace with the establishment.

Their concern, as alluded to in 6) and 7) inheres in the awareness that frivolous and poorly considered electoral decisions impose a cost, their memories extending to the ultra-left faction of the peace movement having minimized the comparative dangers of the Nixon presidency during the 1968 elections. The result was six years of senseless death and destruction in Southeast Asia and also a predictable fracture of the left setting it up for its ultimate collapse during the backlash decades to follow.

The broader lesson to be drawn is not to shy away from confronting the dominance of the political system under the management of the two major parties. Rather, challenges to it need to be issued with a full awareness of their possible consequences.

This includes the recognition that far right victories not only impose terrible suffering on the most vulnerable segments of society but also function as a powerful weapon in the hands of the establishment center, which, now in opposition can posture as the “reasonable” alternative. A Trump presidency, should it materialize, will undermine the burgeoning movement centered around the Sanders campaign, particularly if it is perceived as having minimized the dangers posed by the far right.

A more general conclusion to be derived from this recognition is that this sort of cost/benefit strategic accounting is fundamental to any politics which is serious about radical change. Those on the left who ignore it, or dismiss it as irrelevant are engaging in political fantasy and are an obstacle to, rather than ally of, the movement which now seems to be materializing.

Finally, it should be understood that the reigning doctrinal system recognizes the role presidential elections perform in diverting the left from actions which have the potential to be effective in advancing its agenda. These include developing organizations committed to extra-political means, most notably street protest, but also competing for office in potentially winnable races. The left should devote the minimum of time necessary to exercise the LEV choice then immediately return to pursuing goals which are not timed to the national electoral cycle.

*****

1) Voting should not be viewed as a form of personal self-expression or moral judgement directed in retaliation towards major party candidates who fail to reflect our values, or of a corrupt system designed to limit choices to those acceptable to corporate elites.

2) The exclusive consequence of the act of voting in 2016 will be (if in a contested “swing state”) to marginally increase or decrease the chance of one of the major party candidates winning.

3) One of these candidates, Trump, denies the existence of global warming, calls for increasing use of fossil fuels, dismantling of environmental regulations and refuses assistance to India and other developing nations as called for in the Paris agreement, the combination of which could, in four years, take us to a catastrophic tipping point. Trump has also pledged to deport 11 million Mexican immigrants, offered to provide for the defense of supporters who have assaulted African American protestors at his rallies, stated his “openness to using nuclear weapons”, supports a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and regards “the police in this country as absolutely mistreated and misunderstood” while having “done an unbelievable job of keeping law and order.” Trump has also pledged to increase military spending while cutting taxes on the rich, hence shredding what remains of the social welfare “safety net” despite pretenses.

4) The suffering which these and other similarly extremist policies and attitudes will impose on marginalized and already oppressed populations has a high probability of being significantly greater than that which will result from a Clinton presidency.

5) 4) should constitute sufficient basis to voting for Clinton where a vote is potentially consequential-namely, in a contested, “swing” state.

6) However, the left should also recognize that, should Trump win based on its failure to support Clinton, it will repeatedly face the accusation (based in fact), that it lacks concern for those sure to be most victimized by a Trump administration.

7) Often this charge will emanate from establishment operatives who will use it as a bad faith justification for defeating challenges to corporate hegemony either in the Democratic Party or outside of it. They will ensure that it will be widely circulated in mainstream media channels with the result that many of those who would otherwise be sympathetic to a left challenge will find it a convincing reason to maintain their ties with the political establishment rather than breaking with it, as they must.

8) Conclusion: by dismissing a “lesser evil” electoral logic and thereby increasing the potential for Clinton’s defeat the left will undermine what should be at the core of what it claims to be attempting to achieve.”

 
 —
 

Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books are Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, 2016) and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (Seven Stories Press, 2017). His website is www.chomsky.info.

“Gig economy” companies exploit workers and are free-riding on the welfare state

Image result for gig economy uk

Deliveroo couriers plan legal action against the food delivery firm to claim better employment rights including the minimum wage, sick pay and holiday.

The 20 delivery riders say they are employees and not, as the company argues, self-employed contractors. In the latest challenge to employment conditions in the gig economy, they are seeking compensation for not receiving holiday pay and for being paid wages below the legal minimum for employees.

The Deliveroo worker’s move follows successful employment tribunal cases brought by cycle couriers at CitySprint, Excel and drivers for taxi app Uber. All three cases found the riders were workers, meaning they are entitled to basic employment rights including holiday pay and the minimum wage, rather than self-employed contractors with no employment rights. 

Uber claimed that its 40,000 drivers in the UK are self-employed, and therefore not entitled to pensions, holiday pay, or other basic employment rights. An employment tribunal in London disagreed, calling Uber’s argument that it was simply a technology company “ridiculous”, and they were relying on “fictions and twisted arguments.”

HMRC is investigating delivery giant Hermes for paying workers less than the minimum wage. Staff receive no holiday or sick pay, and risk losing work if they can’t make their rounds due to illness or lack of childcare.

Some 78 couriers working for Hermes, a company that describes itself as “the UK’s largest nationwide network of self employed couriers”, have subsequently made complaints to Frank Field, the chairman of the House of Commons work and pensions select committee.

It is estimated that falsely classifying workers as self-employed is costing the UK up to £314m per year in lost tax and national insurance contributions. 

A recent study has found that the average self-employed contractor is now paid less than in 1995

The Resolution Foundation – a think tank that aims to improve pay for families – partly has blamed the changing nature of the self-employed workforce. Their report says: “With the introduction and growth of the [so-called] New Living Wage, by 2020 more than 1 in 7 are expected to be paid at or only just above the legal minimum. This increases the need for employers and government to provide personal progression opportunities to get people beyond the wage floor.”

Currently, the government expects individuals to make in-work progression without support, or face financial penalties (sanctions) to their top up Universal Credit. This draconian approach forces unreasonable responsibility onto individuals and their familes, because the problem of low pay is one of exploitative employers and government policy rather than of individual behaviour.

Employers are responsible for setting pay levels and terms. The problem is more broadly one of the key features of neoliberalism, which has led to increasing employment precarity, characterised by insecure, exploitative forms of work. Meanwhile, the organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are being portrayed as “market distortions” by a government (and a party) that has legislated mercilessly to undermine the basic rights and fair levels of pay for employees.

The Labour party have pledged to reverse the Conservative’s anti-union laws if they are elected June.

The political logrolling of the profit incentive presents us with the most unedifying and hard face of neoliberalism, in which human need is profoundly devalued; the employee is merely availed of as an object of value extraction. The Conservatives certainly don’t value the idea of “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”, despite all their rhetoric about “making work pay”. Over the past six years, we learned that this slogan was only a semantic decoy: a cover for the dismantling of our welfare state by a creeping, unremitting stealth.

The report went on to say that many more people had taken up lower-paid jobs in the so-called “gig economy, essentially self-employed workers taking on a variety of different roles, while the proportion of self-employed business owners with their own staff had fallen. The number of hours worked by the self-employed had also declined.

The foundation said this had limited wage growth before the financial crash, but that pay had been “squeezed” in real terms more recently, falling £100 a week by 2013-14.

Last year, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Britain’s new generation of self-employed workers are not all the budding entrepreneurs ministers like to talk about.

“While some choose self-employment, many are forced into it because there is no alternative work. Self-employment today too often means low pay and fewer rights at work.”

The Resolution Foundation’s most recent briefing looks at the final quarter of labour market data for 2016. It says: “Most importantly, inflation has risen rapidly in recent months, weighing heavily on real pay growth – though published pay statistics will take some time to fully reflect this. Well over a third of the workforce are experiencing shrinking pay packets according to the latest figures, in sectors ranging from accommodation to finance and the public sector. Many more will join them in the coming months as inflation continues to rise, with pay across the economy as a whole set to have fallen in the first three months of 2017.

Indeed, our ‘Spotlight’ article notes that real pay in the public sector has likely now begun a fall that could well last for several years. Conversely, private sector pay growth will continue to outpace the headline average earnings figures.”

A Department for Business spokesperson said the government was “committed to building an economy that works for everyone”.

Last year, Damian Green said, in a speech at the Resolution Foundation, that the private sector and voluntary sector “should be more involved in the provision of welfare services”. Green’s endorsement of the “exciting” gig economy and the “huge potential” that it offered came just the month after an employment tribunal found that drivers for the Uber car service should in fact get the minimum wage and paid holiday. 

Green also said: “The Government is a necessary, but not sufficient provider of welfare.” 

Shadow Digital Economy minister Louise Haigh tabled an amendment to the Government’s Digital Economy Bill, New Clause 24, following the tribunal ruling against Uber. 

She said there was still a danger that despite the ruling, Silicon Valley multinationals and other employers could use “loopholes” to break the rules and get around workers’ protections. 

Haigh said: “This is a landmark ruling for workers in the digital economy, and a great victory for the GMB and its members.

“The digital economy was supposed to promise choice and flexibility, but the reality for too many in the sector is that they are overworked, underpaid and exploited by bosses they never meet and who do not even fulfil their basic duties as an employer.

The Work and Pensions Committee report

In a new report the Work and Pensions Committee also concluded that the government must close the loopholes that are currently allowing “bogus” self-employment practices, which are potentially creating an extra burden on the welfare state while simultaneously reducing the tax contributions that sustain it. Increasingly, some companies are using self-employed workforces as cheap labour, excusing themselves from both responsibilities towards their workers and from substantial National Insurance liabilities, pension auto-enrolment responsibilities and the Apprenticeship Levy. 

In an inquiry that has had to be curtailed because of the election, the Committee heard from “gig economy” companies like Uber, Amazon, Hermes and Deliveroo, and from drivers who work with them. The evidence taken painted starkly contrasting pictures of the effect and impact of “self-employment” by these companies.

Companies utlilising self-employed workforces frequently promote the idea that flexible employment is contingent on self-employed status, but the Committee says this is a fiction.

The report

The Committee says:

  • The apparent freedom companies enjoy to deny workers the rights that come with “employee” or “worker” status fails to protect workers from exploitation and poor working conditions. It also leads to substantial tax losses to the public purse, and potentially places increased strain on the welfare state.
  • Designating workers as self-employed because their contract offers none of the benefits of employment puts the cart before horse. It is clear, though, that this logic has taken hold, enabling companies to propagate a myth of self-employment. This myth frequently fails to stand up in court, but individuals face huge risks in challenging their employment status that way.
  • Where there are tax advantages to both workers and businesses in opting for a self-employed contractor arrangement, there is little to stand in the way.
  • An assumption of the employment status of “worker” by default, rather than “self-employed” by default, would protect both those workers and the public purse. It would put the onus on companies to provide basic safety net standards of rights and benefits to their workers, and make the requisite contributions to the social safety net. Companies wishing to deviate from this model would need to present the case for doing so, shifting the burden of proof of employment status onto the better resourced company. 
  • Self-employed people and employees receive almost equal access to all of the services funded by National Insurance, especially with the introduction of the new state Pension, yet the self-employed contribute far less. The incoming government should set out a roadmap for equalising employee and self-employed National Insurance Contributions.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) needs to ensure that its programmes and resources reflect the positive contribution that self-employment can make to society and the economy. This may require an expansion of specialist support in JobCentre Plus.
  • The DWP is seeking to support entrepreneurship without subsidising unprofitable self-employment. The existing Minimum Income Floor (MIF) in Universal Credit (UC) does not get this balance right and risks stifling viable new businesses. The incoming Government should urgently review the MIF with a view to improving its sensitivity to the realities of self-employment. Until this is complete, the MIF should not apply to self-employed UC claimants.

Chair’s comments

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said;

“Companies in the gig economy are free-riding on the welfare state, avoiding all their responsibilities to profit from this bogus “self-employed” designation while ordinary tax-payers pick up the tab. This inquiry has convinced me of the need to offer “worker” status to the drivers who work with those companies as the default option. This status would be a much fairer reflection of the work they undertake which seems to fall between what most of us would think of as “self-employed” or “employed”. 

It would also protect them from some of the appalling practices that have been reported to the Committee in this inquiry. Uber’s recent announcement that it will soon charge its drivers for sickness cover is just another way of pushing costs onto the workforce, to reinforce the impression that those workers are self-employed.

Self-employment can be genuinely flexible and rewarding for many, but “workers” and “employees” can and do work flexibly. Flexibility is not the preserve of poorly paid, unstable contractors, nor does the brand of “flexibility” on offer from these gig economy companies seem reciprocal. It is clearly profit and profit only that is the motive for designating workers as self-employed. The companies get all the benefits, while workers take on all the risks and the state will be expected to pick up the tab, with little contribution from the companies involved.

It is up to Government to close the loopholes that are currently being exploited by these companies, as part of a necessary and wide ranging reform to the regulation of corporate behaviour.”

Uber


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. I am disabled because of illness and struggle to get by. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.  DonatenowButton

Political polls, think tanks and propaganda: the antidemocratic writing on the wall

Image result for propaganda UK Tories bitter future

The Mail on Sunday columnist, christian and Burkean Conservative, Peter Hitchens, has said:

“Opinion polls are a device for influencing public opinion, not a device for measuring it. Crack that, and it all makes sense.”

I don’t agree with Hitchens on very much, but he is right about this.

In his book The Broken Compass, Hitchens informs us that opinion polls are actually a device for influencing public opinion. He says that the establishment and the media are responsible for this manipulation, based on the misuse of statistics. The overall purpose is to “bring about the thing it claims is already happening”. 

The author cites contemporary examples of the media attacking Gordon Brown and the “predicted” win of the Conservative Party at the 2010 general election, although Hitchens also described Brown, as a “dismal Marxoid. Hitchens’ comments are based on his time as a reporter at Westminster. He says that political journalists are uninterested in serious political debate, and describes how a media reporting bias is attempting to facilitate a Tory general election win.

Remarkably, as a social Conservative, Hitchens states one of his motivations for writing the book was to frustrate this exercise.

Of course government influence isn’t the only problem. Neoliberal bias and “market forces” that result in a biased presentation include the ownership of the news source, concentration of media ownership, the selection of staff, the preferences of an intended audience, and pressure from advertisers. In short, we cannot escape the cultural saturation of pro-establishment views, and the establishment is of course both neoliberal and Conservative. 

Predicting elections may seem interesting, fun, and perhaps even educational from an academic perspective, but it doesn’t add much to our democratic practices. Polls give an apparency of “data-driven journalism” but it produces a reductive “horse-race” narrative, in which political and policy context is mostly ignored with the numbers, accurate or not, pretty much being framed as all that matters. This trivialises our democracy and obscures the importance of critical thinking and informed choices regarding policies in influencing the public’s voting decisions. 

Roger Pielke Jr, professor of Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, says: Rather than trying to see the future, political science might serve us better by helping citizens to create that future by clarifying the choices we face and their possible consequences for policy.” In treating politics like a sporting event, we diminish the partisanship, the choices, and the fundamental values that lie at the core of politics. I fear that data journalists have diminished our politics.” 

When political opinion polls and the media appear to support one political party over another, there can be little doubt that this will have an influence on the psychology of voters, because it’s akin to declaring election winners before the election is actually held. It works rather like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the UK, the media is biased and leans heavily towards the right. Despite the fact that the Labour party currently has the highest party membership in western Europe, yet the leader is viciously attacked, and very often in a particularly nasty, personal way. The systematic way in which the media are actively attempting to delegitimise Corbyn is unworthy of a so-called democracy.

party membership

Some countries, such as France, Brazil and South Korea, impose a halt on election polling because of the bandwagon effect, which may skew the democratic process. The bandwagon effect describes a process of voters favoring a party that is doing well in the polls, while the underdog effect predicts that support will go to a party trailing in the polls.

There is also the possibility of a projection effect, with voters’ expectations conforming to their partisanship. There is rather less empirical evidence for the existence of underdog effect than there is for the existence of the bandwagon effect, which is based on individuals rallying to the perceived majority opinion, because of a fairly widespread psychological need for feeling we are part of a social ingroup, and a general tendency towards normative compliancce and social conformity.

We know that political opinion polls are certainly not always an accurate reflection of public opinion. Samples of the population selected to participate may be biased. For example, asking Daily Mail readers who they will vote for will almost certainly produce a majority right wing set of responses. However, if you ask the same question on Twitter, you are much more likely to get a Labour majority.  

The polls do have an effect on voter intentions and on those trying to influence the outcome of elections.

poll correct

itv tm

Poll by ITV’s This Morning asked viewers which party leader they would prefer to see as Prime Minister.

More generally, in sociology and other social sciences, bias is defined as any tendency which prevents unprejudiced consideration of a research question. Bias can occur at any phase of research, including study design, or sampling and data collection, as well as in the process of data analysis and publication.  

It is widely recognised that quantitative social research methods, such as surveys, may be susceptible to reduced reliability and research bias, sometimes entailing a process where the researchers performing the survey influence the results by selecting a specific kind of sample of the population, for example.

Human nature is complex and can not be reduced easily to just a simple either/or response. Bias may arise when researchers inadvertently or deliberately select subjects that are more likely to generate the desired results. Either way, this is a reversal of the normal processes governing science.

Additionally, there is also a risk of response bias – a general term for a wide range of cognitive biases that influence the responses of participants away from accuracy or truthfulness. These biases are most prevalent in the types of studies and research that involve participant self-report, in quantitative research such as surveys. Response biases can have a large impact on the validity of questionnaires, surveys and polls.

With all of this in mind, we need to think about how the conventional political polls are run, who runs them, who funds them and for what and whose purpose.

In the UK, some of the major polls are run by:

  • Survation, pollster to The Mail on Sunday, Daily Mirror, Daily Record and Sky News. They say: “Survation also have an active strategy and campaign advisory business helping clients better understand customers & members, appreciate & help shape public opinion. We help our clients improve customer engagement and effectiveness of campaigns – be they charitable, political or commercial.” 
  • ComRes, retained pollster for the BBC and The Independent. It says on their site: ComRes provides specialist research and insight to support reputation management, public policy and communications. For more than a decade we have used the latest developments in market and opinion research to inform strategies, change behaviours and define debates.”
  • Ipsos MORI (formerly MORI). Ipsos MORI’s Social Research Institute works extensively for the Government of the United Kingdom, looking at public attitudes to key public services, and so informing social policy. Issues such as identity, social cohesion,loyalty, physical capital and the impact of place on attitudes are all key themes of the Institute’s work. The company also specialises in mass media, brand loyalty, marketing and advertising research.
  • YouGov. – Stephan Shakespeare, the firm’s founder and CEO from 2010, once stood as a Conservative candidate for Colchester; he was also a Conservative Party pollster. The other founder, and CEO until 2010, is Nadhim Zahawi a British Conservative Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010.
  • ICM. They say Understanding choice means you know how your audience feels, thinks and behaves. And how you can change that. We help influence choice in three areas. How do you energise your brand and communications? How do you improve your customers’ experience of you? How do you understand and influence citizens?  
  • Populus, official The Times pollster. They say: “Our Reputation & Strategy team works with the boards of global companies and public institutions to help them understand, influence, and improve their reputations. We are specialists in reputation. We understand why it matters, how to measure it, what drives it, who influences it, how to align it with existing activity, and what you should do to improve it.”
  • TNS-BMRBTNS changed their name to Kantar Public UK: a leading agency providing research and consultancy to UK policymakers. The company is structured around specific areas of marketing expertise: Brand & Communication; Innovation & Product Development; Retail & Shopper; Customer Experience; Employee Engagement; Qualitative; Automotive; and Political & Social.

All of these companies operate within a taken-for-granted neoliberal context, supporting various actors within the “global market place” paradigm, including governments, and therefore have a distinct ideological leaning and very clearly defined economic interests in maintaining the status quo. 

Nudging voting decisions

It’s likely that Lynton Crosby’s international notoriety made him the subject of considerable press attention during the Conservative’s election campaign. However, there was another man also behind the Conservative campaign who was probably even more cunning. American strategist Jim Messina was hired as a strategy adviser in August 2013. Senior Conservative staff had been impressed by Barack Obama’s easy victories in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, crediting a relentless focus on data collection to Messina.

Access to this level of personal data was crucial to the success of the Conservative campaign: it determined which voters the party needed to target, contact and which type of message they would present. This process began with direct mail – personally addressed to voters in each target seat, who were divided into 40 different categories, with a slightly different tailored message for each one.

A telephone research company called Return Marketing (now known as Return Research) canvassed thousands of voters in the run-up to the 2015 general election. The calls they made rather tellingly targeted voters in specific, marginal constituencies.

Last year, the The Canary found evidence that the Conservatives may have broken a law that prohibits paying canvassers to support a specific candidate’s election. Whistleblowers speaking to an independent journalist have alleged that they were told to push poll voters (sway voters towards voting for the Conservatives by using loaded questions.)

Channel Four’s secret filming of the company Return Market’s “push polling”- polling designed to influence voters while masquerading as political research – during the EU referendum.

Pollsters, by and large, reject the charge that they herd public opinion, but social psychologists and behavioural economists inform us that there is more than a little truth in the bandwaggon effect theory.

Pollsters say they are careful to avoid influencing the outcome of a poll through priming and order effects in the survey design, but there are many other stumbling blocks to bear in mind. Social psychologists and the new behavioural economists say that in general people want to follow the crowd and do not like to challenge the normative order (which as a concept is in itself a very functionalist and conservative framing of society).

This is reflected in the nudge theorists’ use of social norming strategies, currently being adopted in public policies, which politically target some social groups to change their perceptions and behaviours. Social norming is based on an assumption of pluralistic ignorance bychoice architects. Ultimately, the “choice architects” are the government, who, after all, are responsible for public policies which utilise experimental behavioural theory.

It’s of major concern that attempts by a government to surreptitiously change the perceptions, behaviours, emotions and decision-making of a population using experimental behavioural economic theory and discriminatory policies is not currently subject to public scrutiny and ethical standards. There is nothing standing in the way of “choice architects” using social norming to generate, manipulate or exploit pluralistic ignorance in order to simply maintain and justify the status quo.

So if we see an opinion poll telling us what the majority thinks, believe or is doing, because many have an inbuilt psychological bias towards following the crowd, we need to question potential motives underpinning that “information”.

The government know about the bandwaggon bias and are designing communications strategies and policies which play to this heuristic.

Think tanks, the media and the Conservative influence on public thinking

In the late 1960s and 1970s, movement conservatives persuaded wealthy individuals and businesses to establish a conservative intellectual and political infrastructure. This includes think tanks that resemble academic institutions but publish studies supporting Conservative and libertarian arguments. The American Enterprise Institute was founded in 1943, but was expanded dramatically with new funding in 1971. The Heritage Foundation was created in 1973 and the Cato Institute was founded in 1974.

In Britain, Tim Montgomerie, has described the Conservative movement as “the infrastructure outside of the party that supports small ‘c’ conservative values.”

A March 2009 presentation by Montgomerie and Matthew Elliott listed a number of organisations as part of the British Conservative movement: 

Institute of Economic Affairs | Centre for Policy Studies | Reform | Adam Smith Institute | Policy Exchange | Centre for Social Justice | Civitas | International Policy Network | Taxpayers’ Alliance | ConservativeHome | New Culture Forum | Standpoint | Migration Watch UK | Countryside Alliance | Centre for Social Cohesion

Elliott compared this with the smaller size of the movement in 1997. According to Montgomerie, the comparison was intended to be indicative rather than comprehensive. An up to date, comprehensive powerbase list might include: 

2020 Health | Atlantic Bridge | Adam Smith Institute | Better Off Out | Big Brother Watch | Bow Group | Bruges Group | Campaign for an English Parliament | Campaign for the Protection for Rural England | Centre for Policy Studies | Centre for Social Cohesion | Centre for Social Justice | Christian Conservative Fellowship | Civitas | Conservative Education Society | ConservativeHome | Conservative Intelligence | Conservative Party | Conservative Philosophy Group | Countryside Alliance | Democracy Institute | Direct Democracy | Drivers Alliance | Doctors for Reform | Economic Policy Centre | Enterprise Forum | European Foundation | European Policy Forum | Family Education Trust | First Defence | Forest | Freedom Alliance | Freedom Association | Freedom Zone | The Free Society | Global Vision | Global Warming Policy Foundation | Henry Jackson Society | Institute of Ideas | Institute of Directors | Institute of Economic Affairs | International Policy Network | Legatum Institute | Liberty League | Localis | Message Space | Migration Watch | New Culture Forum | Nothing British about the BNP | Nurses for Reform | Open Europe | Policy Exchange | Politeia | Progressive Vision | Reform | Reform Scotland | ResPublica | Safe Speed | Save Our Pubs and Clubs | Selsdon Group | Social Affairs Unit | Social Market Foundation | Spiked | Standpoint | Student Rights | Sunlight COPS | Taxpayers Alliance | TEA Party UK | UK National Defence AssociationYoung Britons Foundationamong others. 

The problem is that think tanks synthesise, create and communicate “information” and give “advice” to the public and policy-makers, very often through the media. Think tanks tend to be far more media savvy than academics, often with staff who have backgrounds in the communication industry – media, PR or lobbying organisations.

This means that policy proposals, media narratives and public debate are much more likely to reflect Conservative ideology and favor pro-establishment outcomes, rather than being non-partisan, evidence-based and crucially, a representation of public needs. This of course turns democracy completely on its head. 

As Professor Judy Sebba points out in Getting research into policy: the role of think tanks and other mediators: “Far from educating the public about evidence, think tanks are characterised by closedness and exclusivity. They do not subject their work to review by others and so the quality of their outputs are not assessed. Most worryingly, the media present the work of think tanks as credible sources of research and facts without any checks being in place.”  

As key players in “democratic” politics and in shaping public opinion, think tanks have a responsibility to be transparent about their operations, but seldom are. A good question to ask is who funds them and what is their agenda?

The bandwaggon propaganda technique is also used as a key campaign strategy

More recently, I explored the role of intentionally deceitful political language and rhetoric in another article  which highlights the role that the media play in shaping our public life. Media manipulation involves a series of related techniques in which partisans create images or arguments that favour their own particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies, psychological manipulations, deception, linguistic, rhetorical and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or alternative perspectives by simply crowding them out. 

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

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

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

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

The Conservatives commonly use a nudge technique called “social norming” – a Behavioural Insights Team variant of the bandwaggon propaganda technique – particularly for General Election campaigning. It’s about manipulating a false sense of consensus, and normalising Conservative ideology. It’s also about prompting behavioural change, and as such, this method is a blatant attempt to influence the voting behaviours of the public, by suggesting that many others have already “joined” the Conservative “cause” and are happier or better off for doing so. The technique uses societal pressures to play on several basic emotional elements of human nature.

Oh, and then there is the basic technique of telling lies, of course.

Image result for george osborne big labour boy did it kittysjones

And using euphemism:


Image result for Tory lies

Social norming is an appeal to emotional needs to fit in and belong, and also, to be on the side that wins. As stated earlier, it has a kind of self fulfilling prophecy element to it, too. It’s used in advertising – words like “everyone”, “we”, “our” and “most people” or “many” are used a lot to sell brands and imply a popularity of certain products that usually isn’t real.

Political slogans like the almost farcical “country that works for everyone” and the previous “all in it together” are examples of poor attempts at social norming. It’s aimed at shifting our normative framework to accommodate the status quo, too, regardless of how the accounts don’t tally with reality. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Image result for we are all in this together Tory slogan

It’s worth noting that “We are all in it together” was a slogan made famous in Terry Guiliams’s dystopic black comedy Brazil. Cameron certainly had a moment of recycling propaganda with grim irony there.

00122e59eb74fe0acab5f6838951c280

Propaganda techniques commonly used by the Conservatives

As mentioned previously, bandwagon and “inevitable-victory” appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to join in and take the course of action that “everyone else is taking.” Inevitable victory invites those not already on the bandwagon to join those already convinced they are on the road to certain victory. Those already or at least partially on the bandwagon are reassured that staying aboard is their best course of action.  

Join the crowd is a technique that reinforces people’s natural desire to be on the winning side. This technique is used to convince the audience that a programme is an expression of an irresistible mass movement and that it is in their best interest to join. As an example, see Grant Shapps under fire over website ‘sham’ which used models featured on Australian university site to make Tory activists look ‘youthful and in touch’ with Britain. Also see Behaviourism.

Common man – The ordinary folks or Common Man technique is an attempt to convince the audience that the propagandist’s positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of the target audience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and clothe their message in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person, and to naturalise it.

Image result for Pictures of MPs pretending being ordinary

hqdefault

Ad hominem is a Latin phrase which has come to mean personally attacking your opponent, as opposed to challenging their propositions and arguments. A recent example is Boris Johnson’s strange attack on Jeremy Corbyn, calling him a “benign herbivore” but at the same time, also a “mutton-headed old mugwump.

The word comes from Massachusett, an Algonquian language spoken by the Massachusett people, from whom the US state takes its name. The word mugquomp, meaning “war leader” or “great chief”, appeared frequently in John Eliot’s 1663 translation of the Bible into the Massachusett language, where it was used as a gloss for an officer, captain, and duke.

Sadly, Johnson, languishing in his own in solipsism, has clearly invented his own personal meaning, though he really should pay heed to Wittgenstein, who warned of the dangers of private language (the idea of a language understandable by only a single individual is incoherent.) Then he wouldn’t sound like such a mutton-headed numpty. Johnson, like many Conservatives, has problems reconciling his “inner” (subjective) experience with the “outside” (objective) world.

By the early 1800s the form “mugwump” had been adopted into English as a humorous term for an important person, leader, or boss. J K Rowling was probably thinking of the earlier meaning when she used the word for the head of the International Confederation of Wizards in Harry Potter, the Supreme Mugwump.

Ad nauseam – This approach uses tireless repetition of an idea. An idea, especially a simple slogan, that is repeated enough times, may begin to be taken as the truth. This approach works best when media sources are limited and controlled by the propagator. Joseph Goebbels, not known to be driven by the passionate inspiration of the moment, but by the result of sober psychological calculation, was particularly talented in utilising this approach. Iain Duncan Smith has previously shown a similar penchant for repeated mendacity. Then there is Theresa May’s ad nauseum slogans: ” A strong and stable leadership in the national interest,” and “A country that works for everyone.”

Image result for Theresa May's slogan United
   Image courtesy of News Thump

Which brings us to the Glittering Generalities technique. This another category of the seven main propaganda techniques identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in 1938. It’s a device often used by the media and in political rhetoric to persuade us to approve and accept something without examining any evidence.

This is a propaganda technique purposefully designed to divert and distract, so that people are less likely to develop their own critical thoughts. This said, the purpose of all forms of propaganda is to tell you what to think, and not how to think.

Glittering Generalities capitalise on increasingly sloganised political discourses, leading to a loss of conceptual clarity, over-idealisation and they also reflect conceptual miserliness – a tendency for some people to prefer simple, superficial and easy answers, rather than having to expend time and effort to grapple with complexity, critical analysis and the need to weigh up evidence. They also succeed in conveying codified messages that reference underpinning discourses which are often prejudiced and controversial, but presented in a way that bypasses any detailed scrutiny, as a consensus view and “common sense.”  An example is the slogan “Taking our country back” as it references an underpinning racist, supremicist discourse, whilst sounding vaguely rightous, because someone nicked England, or hid it on another planet.

Glittering Generalities imply – or signpost us – via common stock phrases to our own tacit knowledge, which often lies below our current focal awareness – prior information, beliefs, ideals, values, schemata and mental models, stereotypes and so on, creating the impression that the person using the terms and phrases understands and sees the world as you do, creating a false sense of rapport by doing so. Or the feeling that some very important recognition has been made.

Glittering Generalities propaganda is sometimes based on a kind of logical fallacy known as Equivocation – it is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning (usually by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time)

Glittering Generalities is a technique very often used by people who seek to stifle debate, sidestep accountability and suppress democratic processes. Because Glittering Generalities tend to obscure or gloss over serious areas of disagreement, they hide controversy and submerge alternative propositions.

As such, Glittering Generalities may often be used to neutralise opposition to dominant ideas. It’s a way of disguising partisanship and of manipulating and reducing democratic choices. It’s part of a process of the political micro-management of your beliefs and decision-making.

Here is a bit of refreshing straight talk for a change:

Related image

I’m not above a bit of sloganeering myself. In 2015, I came up with “Tory cuts cost lives”, which my friend, Robert Livingstone, turned into a couple of memes.

Image result for Tory cuts cost lives

This one recent one went very viral very quickly, glad to see it so widely used:

17992309_1302068139828559_7295604745407481410_n

Finally, I thought I would share that the widely used word “selfservative” came from a disillusioned Tory I knew called Derek. I used it a lot on social media, and my friend, Robert Livingstone, popularised it in his memes. Derek defected to Labour and vanished from the Conservative Facebook groups where Robert and I used to have surprisingly civilised debate with him. 

I will be writing more about electioneering, exposing propaganda and other techniques of persuasion, over the next couple of weeks.

Related

Propaganda Techniques (Summary)

The Conservative’s negative campaign strategy: “share the lies and win a prize”

Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

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

Department for Work and Pensions officials admit to using fake claimant’s comments to justify benefit sanctions – a very basic propaganda technique called “telling lies”

Our attitudes and beliefs are being manipulated, our decision-making is being “nudged,” citizens are being micro-managed and policed by the state:

“In a white paper authored by Facebook’s security team and published on Thursday, the company detailed well-funded and subtle techniques used by nations and other organizations to spread misleading information and falsehoods for geopolitical goals. These efforts go well beyond “fake news”, the company said, and include content seeding, targeted data collection and fake accounts that are used to amplify one particular view, sow distrust in political institutions and spread confusion.

“We have had to expand our security focus from traditional abusive behavior, such as account hacking, malware, spam and financial scams, to include more subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people,” said the company.

“In general, Facebook said it faced a new challenge in tackling “subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people.

“Facebook described much of the activity as “false amplification” – which included the mass creation of fake accounts; the coordinated sharing of content and engagement with that content (such as likes); and the distribution of “inflammatory and sometimes racist memes”.  – BBC

In its effort to clamp down on information operations, Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in France before the presidential election. The company said it was a priority to remove suspect accounts with high volumes of posting activity and the biggest audiences.

The company also explained how it monitored “several situations” that fit the pattern of information operations during the US presidential election. The company detected “malicious actors” using social media to share information stolen from other sources such as email accounts “with the intent of harming the reputation of specific political targets”. This technique involved creating dedicated websites to host the stolen data and then creating social media accounts and pages to direct people to it.

At the same time, a separate set of malicious actors created fake Facebook accounts to falsely amplify narratives and themes related to topics exposed in the stolen data.

Facebook did not specify which stolen data it was referring to, but we know that tens of thousands of emails were hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account and released by Wikileaks.

Nor did Facebook attribute the manipulation to any nation state, although it said that the company’s investigation “does not contradict” the findings of a January report by the US Director of National Intelligence that outlined Russian involvement in the election.

Russia has also been implicated in the hacking of French presidential frontrunner, Emmanuel Macron, according to a report by researchers with Japanese anti-virus firm Trend Micro, published this week.

Facebook pledged to monitor attempts to manipulate the platform, to develop new ways of identifying fake accounts, educate at-risk people about how to keep their information safe, and support civil society programs around media literacy.

“We recognize that, in today’s information environment, social media plays a sizable role in facilitating communications – not only in times of civic events, such as elections, but in everyday expression,” said the report. “In some circumstances, however, we recognize that the risk of malicious actors seeking to use Facebook to mislead people or otherwise promote inauthentic communications can be higher.” – The Guardian

“The JTRIG unit of GCHQ is so notable because of its extensive use of propaganda methods and other online tactics of deceit and manipulation. The 2011 report on the organization’s operations, published today, summarizes just some of those tactics:

Throughout this report, JTRIG’s heavy reliance on its use of behavioral science research (such as psychology) is emphasized as critical to its operations. That includes detailed discussions of how to foster “obedience” and “conformity”:


An “I told you so” moment from Glenn Greewald


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. I am disabled because of illness and struggle to get by. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.  DonatenowButton

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

Daily Mail crush the saboteurs
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith invents the heroic historical figure Comrade Ogilvy, who had “no aim in life except the defeat of the Eurasian enemy and the hunting-down of spies, saboteurs, thought-criminals, and traitors generally”. Theresa May’s world, too, seems to have shrunk to one in which the greatest enemies are the enemies within and democracy must be democratically eliminated for the good of the people.” Steven Poole.

The Daily Mail headline calling those who oppose the government “saboteurs” is the kind of oppressive tactic and despotic language that is commonly used in totalitarian regimes and by dictators. It’s not the kind of media headline expected in liberal democracies, where opposition to the status quo is necessary for the best interests of the country and essential for any meaningful democratic exchange.

Dr. Lawrence Britt examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to overlook some of the parallels with the increasingly authoritarian characteristics of our own right wing government here in the UK. Fascism is an authoritarian and nationalistic right wing system of government and social organisation, though not all authoritarian governments are fascist. However, the two terms are quite often used interchangeably. 

Controlled mass media is one example of a key defining feature of authoritarianism, with “news” being directly controlled and manipulated by the government, by regulation, or via sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship is very common. There is often an identifiable obsession with “National Security” – along with fear being used as a “motivational tool” by the government on the public, and also, as a justification for greater degrees of censorship.

The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”. However, unlike the United States, Britain has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom

The right to freedom of expression is fundamental to a functioning democracy – information and ideas help to inform political debate and are essential to public accountability and transparency in government.

Just to clarify, I don’t, however, condone any incitements of hatred. This is not the same thing as free speech. In fact hate speech is designed to close discussion down by intimidating and silencing targeted social groups. In the Uk, several statutes criminalize hate speech against several categories of persons. The statutes forbid communication which is hateful, threatening, or abusive, and which targets a person on account of disability, ethnic or national origin, nationality (including citizenship), race, religion, sexual orientation, or skin colour. 

Yet just last year, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) criticised the  right wing Daily Mail and the Sun for “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.

The ECRI 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 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”. It seems that the tabloids have confused their frequent incitements to hatred, their many contributions to growing social prejudice and hate speech with free speech.

We have witnessed the political right and the tabloids using rhetoric that has increasingly transformed a global economic crisis into an apparently ethno-political one, and this also extends to include the general scapegoating and vilification of other groups and communities that have historically been the victims of prejudice and social exclusion: the poorest citizens, unemployed and disabled people. These far-right rhetorical flourishes define and portray the putative “outsider” as an economic threat. This is then used to justify active political discrimination and exclusion of the constitutive Other. 

Only some people have the right to freely express themselves, apparently.

Freedom of expression is a universal human right. It is not the prerogative of the politician. Nor is it the privilege of the journalist. In their day-to-day work, journalists are simply exercising every citizen’s right to free speech.

This includes the right to communicate and to express oneself in any medium, including through words, pictures, images and actions (including through public protest and demonstrations).

However, the UK government is more generally failing to live up to its human rights obligations. Social groups with protected characteristics, such as disabled people and asylum seekers, have fared very badly over the past few years. The tabloids have preempted draconian Conservative policies which target those social groups with extensive stigmatising and scapegoating campaigns. This is another indication of the Conservative’s radical authoritarian turn. 

The News Media Association (NMA) say: “Threats to press freedom include attempts to strip back journalistic exemptions under the EU and UK data protection legislation, efforts to water down Freedom of Information legislation which the NMA is campaigning against, new court reporting restrictions, a review of the D-Notice Committee, strengthening police powers to obtain journalistic material, the use of RIPA powers to uncover journalists’ sources, and the continuing campaign to introduce jail sentences for breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Journalists in the UK are also subject to a wide range of legal restrictions which inhibit freedom of expression. These include the libel laws, official secrets and anti-terrorism legislation, the law of contempt and other legal restrictions on court reporting, the law of confidence and development of privacy actions, intellectual property laws, legislation regulating public order, trespass, harassment, anti-discrimination and obscenity.

There is some special provision for journalism and other literary and artistic activities, chiefly intended as protection against prior restraint, in the data protection and human rights legislation. There are some additional, judicial safeguards requiring court orders or judicial consent before the police can gain access to journalistic material or instigate surveillance in certain circumstances, but, in practice, the law provides limited protection to journalistic material and sources.”

The new proposed Espionage Act and a data disclosure law.

The UK government Are proposing to change the four Official Secrets Acts, which date back to 1911. They want them scrapped and replaced with a “modernised” Espionage Act and a data disclosure law.

However, the Conservatives have been accused of “criminalising public interest journalism” as it plans to increase the number of years for the “leaking of state secrets” from 2 years to 14, in the first “overhaul” of the Official Secrets Act for over 100 years.

Under the proposals, which were published in February, officials who leak “sensitive information” about the British economy that damages national security could also be jailed. Currently, official secrets legislation is limited to breaches which jeopardise security, intelligence defence, confidential information and international relations.

The government released the proposals citing the “new reality” of the 21st-century internet and national security dangers as justification for a more “robust” system of prosecution.

The recommendations centre around the Official Secrets Act (1989) which governs how public servants in government and the military must keep government information secret and out of publication.

Journalists and civil liberties groups have warned that the threshold for the increased sentence has been lowered and that journalists and whistleblowers acting in the public interest will be effectively gagged. 

In the new government recommendations, the threshold for being prosecuted for revealing state secrets will be changed from “having caused definite damage” to the likelihood of causing damage to national interests. The Law Commission also stated that a defendant should be prevented from making a defence that they believed they were working in the public interest. 

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: “The ramifications of these recommendations are huge for journalists and freedom of the press. Journalists face being criminalised for simply doing their job and the public’s right to know will be severely curtailed by these proposals. The union will respond robustly to the Law Commission’s consultation on changes to the Official Secrets Act.

“The National Union of Journalists is also concerned that the Digital Economy Bill, now in Parliament, threatens to undermine journalists sharing information in the public interest.” 

“This union is deeply concerned at yet another attempt by the UK government to curtail the media. The Investigatory Powers Act has put journalists’ sources at risk now that a large number of authorities have the power to intercept reporter’s’ emails, mobile phone and computer records.

“We have plenty of evidence that some police forces routinely used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to get their hands on journalists’ records without their knowledge. The NUJ is also concerned that the Digital Economy Bill, now in Parliament, threatens to undermine journalists sharing information in the public interest.”

The consultation on the UK Government’s new proposals closed earlier this month. Organisations such as Amnesty have submitted their statements and expressed their opposition. 

Campaigners say the bill would make any investigation of government culpability harder and lower the amount of accountability in the civil service, military and government.

From the consultation document: “Chapter 6 – Freedom of Expression Enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, freedom of expression is a fundamental right. We consider whether compliance with Article 10 requires the introduction of a statutory public interest defence for those who make unauthorised disclosure. Our conclusion is that Article 10 does not require the introduction of a statutory public interest defence. Our view accords with that the House of Lord in R v Shayler.” 

Once you hear the jackboots…

Three years ago, I wrote an article  – Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late – which discussed the unannounced visit by government national security agents to smash computer hard drives at the Guardian newspaper offices, though it hit the news unsurprisingly quietly, when Edward Snowden exposed a gross abuse of power and revealed mass surveillance programmes by American and British secret policing agencies (NSA and GCHQ) last year. (More detailed information here).

David Miranda, partner of Glenn Greenwald, Guardian interviewer of the whistleblower Edward Snowden, was held for nine hours at Heathrow Airport and questioned under the Terrorism Act. Officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. This was a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process, and as Greenwald said: “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation.”

My article also outlined another extraordinary and vicious attack on The Guardian, instigated by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communications chief and senior government spin doctor, Richard Caseby, has called for the newspaper to be “blackballed” and prevented from joining the new press regulatory body, because “day after day it gets its facts wrong.” Remarkably, “ineptitude or ideology” were to blame for what he deemed “mistakes” in the paper’s coverage of the DWP’s cuts to benefits. He called for the broadsheet to be kept out of the new Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), set up after the Leveson Inquiry into media standards. 

As a former journalist at the establishment-directed Sun and The Sunday Times, Caseby certainly has an axe to grind against the paper that revealed how those right wing papers’ stablemate, the News Of The World, had hacked the voicemail of murdered teenager Millie Dowler, sparking the phone hacking scandal that forced Rupert Murdoch to close the tabloid down.

In connection with Murdoch’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry “into the ethics of the British press,” editor of Newsweek International, Tunku Varadarajan, referred to him as “the man whose name is synonymous with unethical newspapers.”

Not a shred of concern was raised about any of this or Murdoch’s nasty and corrupt myth industry, and right wing scapegoating empire, coming from our government, a point worth reflecting on for a moment. Miliband said the phone-hacking was not just a media scandal, but it was a symbol of what was wrong with British politics.  He called for cross-party agreement on new media ownership laws that would cut Murdoch’s current market share, arguing that he has “too much power over British public life.He said: “If you want to minimise the abuses of power, then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.”  I completely agree.

Those that criticise the unscrupulous right wing status quo, on the other hand, are being increasingly filtered out from the media, or censored. Yet journalists are regarded as “democracy’s watchdogs” and the protection of their sources is the “cornerstone of freedom of the press.” And freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy. Although enshrined in such terms by the European Court of Human Rights, these democratic safeguarding principles are being attacked in an increasingly open manner all over the world, including in the democratic countries that first proclaimed them.

The erosion of democracy and the Press Freedom Index

Related image

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are a collective of journalists who study freedom of the press at a comparative and international level. RSF publish an annual Press Freedom Index (PFI), which provides a ranking for every country, calculated to indicate how much governments restrict the media. The UK has been consistently in low position (the higher the score, the lower the ranking) for the last five years, this year it dropped lower still, highlighting an increasing intrusion of the government on and restriction of the freedom of the press.

This won’t surprise many, especially given the numerous public announcements in the press by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith over the last few years regarding the government’s “monitoring” of the BBC and other media for “left wing bias”. We have a media with a very heavy weighted right wing bias, yet any criticism of government policy reduces our government to shrieking hysterically that the communists have been infiltrating the establishment. It’s a curious fact that authoritarians project their rigidity, insecurities and micro-controlling tendencies onto everyone else.

I’m sure Chris Patten, Rhona Fairhead and Sir David Cecil Clementi, successive government appointed chairpersons of the BBC Trustto act as the ultimate decision makers regarding the BBC’s strategic direction, are just the kind of people who are not tied to political ideologies and corporate interests. After all, everyone knows what a veritable hotbed of communism Chris Patten secretly nurtured. (Sorry, my tongue appears to be momentarily stuck to my cheek).

That the UK government felt the need to announce even more surveillance of the BBC indicates a creeping and considerable degree of authoritarianism, and worryingly, it demonstrates how supremely unconcerned and utterly without shame they are in building a public bonfire to burn what remains of media impartiality in the UK. 

The current RSF report says that the decline in respect for media freedom in democracies is not new. It was already noticeable in previous Indexes. But what is striking in this year’s Index is the growing scale and the nature of the violations seen.

The erosion of democracy and subsequent muting of the media isn’t a problem peculiar to the UK, it’s happening on a global scale. The RSF report says:

“Most of the movement in the World Press Freedom Index unveiled today by Reporters Without Borders is indicative of a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests.”

“Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests.”

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

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

Framing and tilting the media: asking the million dollar questions

Robert Mercier is the plutocrat and right wing US computer scientist and media “strategist” at the heart of a US-based multimillion-dollar propaganda network, who expresses an “unwavering commitment to neutralising left wing bias in the news, media and popular culture”. He funded the setting up of Breitbart and has close links to Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. See: Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media.

It is a very troubling development, give the US had a global reputation for promoting a strong free press, protected by the First Amendment. This said, it’s certainly not a recent development that political leaders of western so-called democratic countries have intervened directly in an attempt to modify and direct media reporting. The US is ranked at 43 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. 

RSF now ranks the UK 40th in the index; a fall from 38th place in 2016. The Nordic countries have the most favourable PFI ranking, with Norway being at the top, followed by Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. It’s an indictment of both UK and US claims to democracy and freedom of the media that three former Soviet countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania rank more highly. The British press were also outranked by Uruguay, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Namibia, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago.

RSF’s report says: “Media freedom has never been so threatened and RSF’s “global indicator” has never been so high (3872). This measure of the overall level of media freedom constraints and violations worldwide has risen 14% in the span of five years. In the past year, nearly two thirds (62.2%) of the countries measured have registered a deterioration in their situation, while the number of countries where the media freedom situation was “good” or “fairly good” fell by 2.3%.”

“It was also in late 2016 that the United Kingdom (down 2 places at 40th) adopted a new law extending the surveillance powers of the British intelligence agencies. Dubbed the “Snoopers’ Charter,” the Investigatory Powers Act put the UK in the unenviable position of having adopted “the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history”, with a law that lacks sufficient protection mechanisms for journalists and their sources. Even more alarming, in early 2017, the Law Commission put forward a proposal for a new ‘Espionage Act’ that would allow the courts to imprison journalists and others for up to 14 years for obtaining leaked information.”

It goes on to say: “The past year also saw a continuation in the trend for media ownership to become concentrated in ever fewer hands, which is exacerbating the media’s dependence on political and economic power holders.”

“A heavy-handed approach towards the press – often in the name of national security – has resulted in the UK slipping down the [PFI]. Parliament adopted the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history, the Investigatory Powers Act… posing a serious threat to investigative journalism. Even more alarming, the Law Commission’s proposal for a new ‘Espionage Act’ would make it easy to classify journalists as ‘spies’ and jail them for up to 14 years for simply obtaining leaked information.”

The extensive report also warns that:

“Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests.”

“It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism.” (RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire).

“The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments, and reporting in the privately owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests. Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests. Guaranteeing the public’s right to independent and reliable news and information is essential if humankind’s problems, both local and global, are to be solved.”

The press freedom map below is a visual overview of the situation in each country in the Index. The darker the colour, the worse the PFI ranking. 

The mass media are often referred to as the fourth branch of government because of the power they wield and the oversight function they exercise. However, democracy requires the active participation of citizens. Ideally, the media should encourage citizens to engage in the business of governance by informing, educating and mobilising the public.

The notion of the media as a watchdog, as a guardian of public interest, and as a conduit between governors and the governed was once deeply ingrained. The reality, however, is that the media in democracies are failing to live up to this ideal. They are hobbled by stringent and often repressive laws, monopolistic ownership, and too often, the threat of brute force. State controls are not the only constraints. Balanced and impartial reporting is difficult to sustain in a context of neoliberalism because of competitive media markets that put a premium on the superficial and sensational.

Moreover, the media are manipulated and used as proxies in the battle between political groups, in the process sowing divisiveness rather than consensus, hate speech instead of sober debate, and suspicion rather than social trust. The media significantly contribute to public cynicism and democratic decay.

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

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

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

Image result for media bias uk

Last year, research by YouGov found that the British media is the most right wing in Europe. Readers also ranked the British press as the most biased in all of the seven countries surveyed.

On average British people are more likely than any other country to see the media as skewed towards the right (26% compared to 23% for Finland and 19% for France). Britain’s media is viewed as having a right wing bias, most of all on the subject of economics (net 15 points to the right).

The media have recently portrayed Jeremy Corbyn as both a pacifist and as someone with a paradoxical tendency to “love terrorists”, but then logic and accuracy have never been apparent in most media attacks of the left. (See the Zinoviev letter, for a historic example). 

You know the world is in big trouble when diplomacy and negotiation skills are considered a “threat” to security. It seems that the establishment prefer bombing civilians to get other governments to comply with their wishes. I know which is probably going to contribute to keeping peace the most, and it isn’t “humanitarian” bombing. 

The “poor relations” between nuclear powers has contributed to an atmosphere that “lends itself to the onset of crisis,” according to a very worrying report by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. The report goes on to say: “The rise in cyber warfare and hacking has left the technical vulnerabilities of nuclear weapons systems exposed to risk from states and terrorist groups.

Nuclear deterrence works—up until the time it will prove not to work. The risk is inherent and, when luck runs out, the results will be catastrophic.

The report went on to say: “The more arms produced, particularly in countries with unstable societies, the more potential exists for terrorist acquisition and use of nuclear weapons.”

The UN report comes as Donald Trump of the US and Vladmir Putin of Russia have both indicated support for expanding their country’s nuclear weapon arsenals. 

Deterrence is at the “greatest risk of breaking down” in North Korea and between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

The report also stated an expressed concern over tensions between the West and Russia, which have grown since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. President Putin has maintained Russia would use nuclear weapons if it felt sufficiently threatened.

You know, I think diplomatic skill is a far better quality to look for in a leader, speaking from the perspective of a civilian, in these troubled times. 

istock-456613403.jpg

In most newspapers, including even The Daily Mirror and The Independent, Labour voices that are unreasonably anti-Corbyn outweigh those that are pro-Corbyn. Corbyn’s voice is often absent in the narratives and reporting on him, and when it is present it is often presented in a highly distorted way. 

We all want and need a strong and a critical media, a watchdog of the powers that be, but maybe we do not need an “attack dog” who kills off anyone who dares challenge the status quo and dares to suggest we need a different kind of politics.

Related image

Ed Miliband eating a bacon butty on Channel four’s The Last Leg

The coming of epistemological totalitarianism in the UK

Epistemology relates to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion. In the UK, our “knowledge” is being framed by the right wing media. The media doesn’t exactly tell us how to think, but it does tell us what to think about, by a selective agenda of topics and the framing of public debate.

The UK establishment news media are highly centralised and dominated by elites who serve and maintain the status quo and who detest democracy.

Image result for media bias examples uk corbyn terrorism

In 2015, I wroteOne particularly successful way of neutralising opposition to an ideology is to ensure that only those ideas that are consistent with that ideology saturate the media and are presented as orthodoxy, to “naturalise” them. The Conservative election campaigns are a thoroughly dispiriting and ruthless masterclass in media control.

Communication in the media is geared towards establishing a dominant paradigm and maintaining an illusion of a consensus. This ultimately serves to reduce democratic choices. Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of your beliefs and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions and maintaining a profoundly unbalanced, pathological status quo.

Presenting an alternative narrative is difficult because the Tories have not only framed all of the issues to be given public priority – they set and stage-manage the media agenda – they have also almost completely dominated the narrative; they construct and manage the political lexicon and now treat words associated with the left, such as welfare, trade unionism, collective bargaining, like semantic landmines, generating explosions of right wing scorn, derision and ridicule. This form of linguistic totalitarianism discredits any opposition before it even arises.

Words like cooperation, inclusion, mutual aid, reciprocity, equality, nationalisation, redistribution – collective values – are simply dismissed as mere anachronisms that need to be stricken from public conversation and exiled from our collective consciousness, whilst all the time enforcing their own bland language of an anti-democratic political doxa. The political manufacturing of a culture of anti-intellectualism extends this aim, too.”

The London School of Economics (LSE) media and communications department undertook a research project, aiming at contributing to the ongoing public debate regarding the role of mainstream media and of journalists in a media-saturated democracy. In Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: From “Watchdog” to “Attackdog”, the research team say:

“We set out to recognise and acknowledge the legitimate role of the press to critique and challenge the powers that be, which is often encapsulated by the metaphor of the watchdog. Our systematic content analysis of a representative sample of newspaper articles published in 8 national newspapers between 1 September and 1 November 2015, however, shows that the press reacted in a highly transgressive manner to the new leader of the opposition, hence our reference to the attackdog metaphor.

Our analysis shows that Corbyn was thoroughly delegitimised as a political actor from the moment he became a prominent candidate and even more so after he was elected as party leader, with a strong mandate. This process of delegitimisation occurred in several ways: 1) through lack of or distortion of voice; 2) through ridicule, scorn and personal attacks; and 3) through association, mainly with terrorism.

All this raises, in our view, a number of pressing ethical questions regarding the role of the media in a democracy. Certainly, democracies need their media to challenge power and offer robust debate, but when this transgresses into an antagonism that undermines legitimate political voices that dare to contest the current status quo, then it is not democracy that is served.”

Image result for corbyn terrorism

See Cameron ridiculed for hypocrisy and quoting Corbyn out of context.

According to the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), newspapers are obliged to “make a clear distinction between comment, conjecture and fact and this has not been applied to media discussion of Jeremy Corbyn, by and large.

You can download the full LSE report here.

Also worth a read: How many of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies do you actually disagree with?

More recently, I explored the role of intentionally deceitful political language and rhetoric in another article  which highlights the role that the media play in shaping our public life. Media manipulation involves a series of related techniques in which partisans create images or arguments that favour their own particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies, psychological manipulations, deception, linguistic, rhetorical and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or alternative perspectives by simply crowding them out. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conservatives commonly use a nudge technique called “social norming” – a Behavioural Insights Team variant of the bandwaggon propaganda technique – particularly for General Election campaigning. It’s about manipulating a false sense of consensus, and normalising Conservative ideology. It’s also about prompting behavioural change, and as such, this method is a blatant attempt to influence the voting behaviours of the public, by suggesting that many others have already “joined” the Conservative “cause” and are happier or better off for doing so. The technique uses societal pressures to play on several basic emotional elements of human nature.

Oh, and then there is the basic technique of telling lies, of course.

Social norming is an appeal to emotional needs to fit in and belong, and also, to be on the side that wins. It has a kind of self fulfilling prophecy element to it, too. It’s used in advertising – words like “everyone” and “most people” or “many” are used a lot to sell brands and imply a popularity of certain products that usually isn’t real.

Political slogans like “a country that works for everyone” and the previous “all in it together” are examples of poor attempts at social norming. It’s aimed at shifting our normative framework to accommodate the status quo, too, regardless of how the accounts don’t tally with reality. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

With this in mind, we need to think about how the conventional political polls are run, who runs them and for what and whose purpose.

I wouldn’t dream of telling you who to vote for in the coming General Election. However, I will ask that you please very carefully consider what you vote for. 

Independent media organisations like Novara Media, Evolve Politics, Media Diversified, Media Lens, CommonSpace, The Canary, Bella Caledonia, Real Media, The Dorset Eye, Welfare Weekly, Scisco Media, Ekklesia, STRIKE! magazine, The Bristol Cable, Now Then, the Manchester Mule, and many others are taking the fight to the establishment. The new independent media have freedom from institutional dependencies, and in particular, from the influence of government and corporate interests.

Independent media includes any form of autonomous media project that is free from institutional dependencies.

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

The independent media collectively reflect a model that is democratic, prefigurative, often collaborative and that has a mutually supportive approach to public interest and conscience-based, as opposed to market-based, media.

We are a collection of diligent witnesses writing a collective, qualitative social testimony, marking and evidencing an era of especially historic political upheavals on a global scale.

The Canary says that independent media “have been ably assisted by an array of skilled and committed bloggers like Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, Pride’s Purge and Politics and Insights (Kitty S Jones) to name but a few.” (Takes a small bow). I would add THE SKWAWKBOX to the list, too.

Related

Don’t buy the lie. To oppose the government is not sabotage –  video by Paul Mason

The bias in our mainstream media makes a lot more sense when you see who owns and runs it – Kerry-Anne Mendoza

We need to talk about the mainstream media and the election. Because a disaster is looming – Steve Topple

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

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberism 

Dishonest ways of being dishonest: an exploration of Conservative euphemisms

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

Through the looking glass darkly: the Conservatives are colonising progressive rhetoric

Hypernormalisation – Adam Curtis

Politics and Insights condemns George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard in joint independent media statement


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others.

DonatenowButton

Poor working and social conditions are being propped up by the mass provision of CBT

freedom

According to the Counsellor’s Guide to Working with EAP, by 2013, almost 50% of the UK workforce was supported by an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), representing 13.79 million people. The EAP industry began in the UK during the mid-1980s and has since become firmly established, with a rapid expansion in schemes following the recommendations made by Carol Black and David Frost in their report on sickness absence (Black & Frost, 2011). A high percentage of the larger public and private sector organisations and an increasing number of small to medium sized enterprises provide their employees with access to some form of short-term EAP service.  

The EAP association say, in their 2013 Market Watch report: “The difficult economic climate of the past five years may also be a driver, as employers look to support staff with non-work related issues to prevent these from intruding on the workplace.”

The Conservative’s austerity programme in the UK has presented the wellbeing industry with many lucrative business opportunities, and there are many profits being made on the growing poverty, inequality, social injustices and inevitable subsequent psychological distress of the population.

The relentless political drive towards the privatisation of government functions has turned traditional public services, social security and other safety net provision into profit-making enterprises as well. 

A major cause of economic inequality within market economies such as the UK is the determination of wages by the market. The systematic (and partisan) undermining of trade unions over recent years via Conservative legislation has seen the collapse of collectivism as the main way of regulating employment, and a substantial loss of space for bargaining for working rights, conditions and pay. The substantial cuts to social security support over the past few years have also served to drive wages down further

Neoliberalism, which was adopted as an overarching socioeconomic policy during the Thatcher and Reagan era onward, is premised on an idea that tight monetary control will contain inflation, and that labour market deregulation combined with regressive tax and benefit reform will somehow secure full employment. The expectation is that the more unequal redistribution of income and the freeing up of markets will dramatically improve competitive economic performance, and that the benefits of this higher rate of growth will trickle down the income distribution, benefiting everyone. Of course, that hasn’t happened.

The CBT technocratic sticking plaster

EAPs commonly use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – usually in digital form – online or by phone – and it’s a “workplace-focused programme” to assist in the identifying and resolving of employee concerns, which affect, or may affect, performance. Such employee concerns typically include, but are not limited to:

Personal matters – health, relationship, family, financial, emotional, legal, anxiety, alcohol, drugs and other related issues.

Work matters – work demands, fairness at work, working relationships, harassment and bullying, personal and interpersonal skills and work/life balance.

According to NHS Choices, Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave.

CBT is a talking therapy that can help you manage YOUR problems by changing the way YOU think and behave. It doesn’t address your circumstances as such, nor does it address the socioeconomic and political context that imposes constraints and increasingly untenable living conditions on people.

In fact, the briefing document for counsellors working with EAP says:

“When working with an EAP referral it is important to remember that the organisation is your client as well as the individual concerned, therefore there will be two people who will be ‘in the room’ with you. It is, after all, the employer that is indirectly funding the sessions. Developing your understanding of the organisation will help you work with both ‘clients’ since an insight into the type of business and the pressures of this work can help you build up a rapport with the client.

[…] The employer is often keen to know whether the support offered by the EAP is having a business benefit. This will be part of the implicit or explicit requirements of the employer and they may need to have evidence of any return on investment. For instance, is there evidence that the employee/client has returned to work more quickly as a result of the counselling? Has the counselling prevented the client from taking time off work for sickness?”

This presents a constraining framework of conflicted interests for counsellors with favourable “outcomes” invariably weighted towards employers and not employees. How, for example, does a counsellor support someone in a decision to leave their job and find another with better conditions, more security and pay? In this context, the mass provision of CBT may be regarded as a technocratic “fix” for poor employment and social conditions, and is rather more about policing critical thinking and dissenting behaviours in the workplace than providing support for employees. Treating each individual as if the problems lie “within” their thoughts and behaviours also serves to discourage collective bargaining to improve workplace (and social) conditions.  

Although the briefing paper doesn’t tell us if 50% of the UK workforce have actually accessed the EAP services, the perceived need for this service provision and the growth of the industry tells us a lot about employment and social conditions in the UK.

And what does the mass provision of CBT tell us about how this is being addressed?

CBT has become a means of re-socialising those who have become casualities of neoliberalism to accept and internalise the normative “logic” of neoliberalism. It’s a repressive state “therapy” for micromanaging dissent and critical thinking. It inhibits progressive social change, by locating all of our socioeconomic and political problems within the thoughts and behaviours of individuals.

Meanwhile private providers are making lots of profit on something that can never work in the long term. By coercing individuals to accept the terrible burdens and ravages of neoliberalism, the state and coopted agencies are propping up a socioeconomic system that is collapsing and in the process, it is profoundly harming people.

 
 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can support Politics and Insights by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to continue to provide support to others.

DonatenowButton

Generous welfare benefits increase the work ethic. The government is wrong about ‘perverse incentives’

Picture-of-newspaper-headlines-NW10

The UK establishment have intentionally created a scapegoating project. A dominant political and cultural narrative has targeted people needing social security support, constructing welfare folk devils and generating moral panic. This is to justify the dismantling of the welfare state, and to de-empathise the public to the plight of the poorest citizens. The government have misled the public, claiming social security provision leads to a “culture of dependency”. International research shows this is untrue.

Comparative research at an international level has undermined the government claim that the UK welfare state encourages “widespread cultures of dependency” and presents unemployed people with “perverse incentives”. 

study, which links welfare generosity and active labour market policies with increased employment commitment, was published in 2015. It has demonstrated that people are more likely to look for work if they live in a country where welfare provision is generous and relatively unconditional. Empirically, the research includes more recent data, from a larger number of European countries than previous studies.

The research also compared employment motivation in specific sub-sections of communities across countries: ethnic minorities, people in poor health, non-employed people and women, and adds depth to previous studies. It has been concluded that comprehensive welfare provision is increasingly seen as a productive force in society (Bonoli, 2012), that stimulates employment commitment (Esser, 2005) and supports individual inclusion and participation in society and the labour market, particularly among disadvantaged groups

Sociologists Dr Kjetil van der Wel and Dr Knut Halvorsen, from Oslo and Akershus University College, Norway, examined responses to the statement “I would enjoy having a paid job even if I did not need the money” presented to the interviewees for the European Social Survey in 2010.

In a paper published in the journal Work, employment and society, (published by the British Sociological Association and SAGE) titled The bigger the worse? A comparative study of the welfare state and employment commitment, sociologists compare the responses with the amount the country spent on welfare benefits and employment schemes, whilst taking into account the population differences between states.

The researchers found that the more a country paid to unemployed and disabled people, and invested in employment schemes, the more its population were likely to agree with the statement, whether employed or not.

They found that almost 80% of people in Norway, which pays the highest benefits of the 18 countries, agreed with the statement. By contrast in Estonia, one of least generous, only around 40% did. It’s also the case that the countries with the highest levels of financial support for those in need also have the highest employment rates, which challenges neoliberal antiwelfare narratives regarding so-called “perverse incentives” and their highly controversial and stigmatising “scrounger” rhetoric.

The UK was then considered average in terms of our generosity of benefit levels, and the percentage of subjects agreeing with the statement was almost 60%.  However, this research was carried out in 2010, prior to the radical changes to the UK social security system that happened with the Coalition Welfare Reform Act in 2012 and subsequent Conservative policies.

The researchers also found that government programmes which intervene in the labour market to support unemployed people in finding work made it more likely that those people agree that they wanted to work even if they didn’t need the money. In the countries with the most interventionist states, around 80% agreed with the statement and in the least around 45%. The UK’s response, though one of the least interventionist then (and is even less positively interventionist now), was around 60%.

In the article, the researchers say: “Many scholars and commentators fear that generous social benefits threaten the sustainability of the welfare state due to work norm erosion, disincentives to work and dependency cultures. 

A basic assumption is that if individuals can obtain sufficient levels of well-being – economic, social and psychological – from living off public benefits, compared to being employed, they would prefer the former. When a ‘critical mass’ of individuals receive public benefits rather than engaging in paid work, the norms regulating work and benefit behaviour will weaken, setting off a self-reinforcing process towards the ‘self-destruction’ of the welfare state. The more people are recipients of benefits, the less stigmatizing and costly in terms of social sanctions it is to apply for benefits.

However, other commentators suggested that because employment rates are higher in countries with generous welfare states, more people will have positive experience of work. People who receive generous benefits when out of work may feel more inclined to give something back to the state by striving hard to find work.

This article concludes that there are few signs that groups with traditionally weaker bonds to the labour market are less motivated to work if they live in generous and activating welfare states.

The notion that big welfare states are associated with widespread cultures of dependency, or other adverse consequences of poor short term incentives to work, receives little support.”

On the contrary, employment commitment was much higher in all the studied groups in bigger welfare states. Hence, this study’s findings support the welfare resources perspective over the welfare scepticism perspective.”

The UK government launched an unprecedented range of cuts on public services which happened between 2010 to 2015. However, the UK’s millionaires were awarded substantial tax cuts over that time period. George Osborne handed out a cut in tax that rewarded millionaires with £107, 000 each per year at the same time the welfare “reform” bill became policy.

The biggest percentage of cuts affected social security benefits and local government, which has adversely impacted on housing, local authority services and ultimately, on ordinary people in local communities. The cuts in social care and welfare fall disproportionately on two groups that overlap: people in poverty and disabled people. They fall hardest of all on people with the most severe disabilities, who need both benefits and social care.

Using an extremely divisive justification narrative peppered with words such as “workshy” and “scrounger”, and redefining what is “fair”, the government made out that UK tax payers were a discrete group from people needing welfare support, and that the latter group were a kind of economic free rider, sharing a “something for nothing culture”.  The government intentionally fostered resentment in employed people “paying taxes to carry the burden of those who won’t work”.

The Conservatives have persistently claimed that there are moral hazards and adverse behavioural consequences attached to providing poverty relief. This is a view shared by other neoliberal nation states, such as the US.

Policies represent perceptions and establish state instructions regarding how various social groups ought to be perceived and treated. They reflect how a government thinks society should be organised. They encode messages about how people ought to behave and how our individual degree of freedoms are defined, extended or restricted. Policies are always intentional acts that shape socioeconomic organisation.

The government have colonised left wing rhetoric, and conflated social justice and inclusion with work, making citizenship and human rights conditional, and contingent on a person’s economic productivity. They claimed to be “the party of workers”, yet the Conservatives have legislated more than once to undermine collective bargaining and trade unionism more generally. There has been a marked downward shift in wage levels and working conditions over the past six years, as well as drastic reductions in welfare support.

The word “reforms” is now a euphemism for cuts. Words like “support” and “help” are used as techniques of neutralisation, to divert people from the coercive, punitive and targeted elements of the “reforms”. These are semantic shifts of Orwellian proportions. 

The majority of unemployed people move in and out of work, indicating that policy, the economy and labour market conditions, rather than personal failings and dubious “cultures”, are the reason why people become unemployed. The tax payer/benefit claimant dichotomy is a false one. Everyone contributes to welfare, that is why national insurance was introduced: to pay for support provision that you may need in the future.

Furthermore, unemployed people pay taxes, and stealth taxes such as VAT contribute a significant amount to the Treasury. When social security benefits were originally calculated, they covered only the costs of food and fuel. It was assumed that people claiming support were exempt from council tax and paying rent. That is no longer the case, but benefit levels have not risen to adjust for this. 

The highest welfare spending has actually been on pensions, followed by in-work benefits. The latter subsidises employers paying low wages that don’t support families in meeting the costs of living. However, under the new Universal Credit, in-work support will be conditional and significantly reduced, especially for those families on low pay with children. 

The Conservative’s austerity cuts have disproportionally targeted the very people that a fair and civilised society should protect. This was justified partly by the global economic recession, though not everyone was expected to “live within their means” and contribute to reducing the national deficit. Remarkably, those that caused the recession appear to have got off free from obligation to contribute to the reduction of the debt, in a “low tax, low welfare society.”

The Conservative cuts were also justified by the perpetuation of a dominant neoliberal discourse based on small state ideology, antiwelfare myths and the purposeful creation of welfare folk devils and moral panic.

One consequence of the Conservative’s “reforms” has been the return of absolute poverty in the UK – some people cannot meet their basic needs and are going without adequate food and fuel. Many people have suffered distress, harm and some have died as a result of the government’s welfare regime. 

The Samaritan’s recent study – Dying from Inequality – links suicidal behaviours with socioeconomic deprivation. Their report says: “Suicide risk increases during periods of economic recession, particularly when recessions are associated with a steep rise in unemployment, and this risk remains high when crises end, especially for individuals whose economic circumstances do not improve. Countries with higher levels of per capita spending on active labour market programmes, and which have more generous unemployment benefits, experience lower recession-related rises in suicides.”

There is also a further extensive cost to human potential. As Abraham Maslow indicated, if people cannot meet their basic physical needs, they are not likely to fulfil psychosocial ones.

 christianity-and-social-justice-exploring-the-meaning-of-welfare-reform-29-638

Graphic courtesy of Dr Simon Duffy,  The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Related

A bad job is worse for your mental health than unemployment, say UK’s top psychologists

Dying from inequality: socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour – report from Samaritans

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment provided empirical evidence that demonstrates clearly why welfare sanctions can’t possibly work as an “incentive” to “make work pay”


 

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

DonatenowButton cards

A bad job is worse for your mental health than unemployment, say UK’s top psychologists

PAA-550x369

Last month, the following letter was sent to the Independent, titled The DWP must see that a bad job is worse for your mental health than unemployment:

“We, the UK’s leading bodies representing psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and counsellors, call on the Government to immediately suspend the benefits sanctions system. It fails to get people back to work and damages their mental health.

Findings from the National Audit Office (NAO) show limited evidence that the sanctions system actually works, or is cost effective.

But, even more worrying, we see evidence from NHS Health Scotland, the Centre for Welfare Conditionality hosted by the University of York, and others, which links sanctions to destitution, disempowerment, and increased rates of mental health problems. This is also emphasised in the recent Public Accounts Committee report, which states that the unexplained variations in the use of benefits sanctions are unacceptable and must be addressed.

Vulnerable people with multiple and complex needs, in particular, are disproportionately affected by the increased use of sanctions.

Therefore, we call on the Government to suspend the benefits sanctions regime and undertake an independent review of its impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

But suspending the sanctions system alone is not enough. We believe the Government also has to change its focus from making unemployment less attractive, to making employment more attractive – which means a wholesale review of the back to work system.

We want to see a range of policy changes to promote mental health and wellbeing. These include increased mental health awareness training for Jobcentre staff – and reform of the work capability assessment (WCA), which may be psychologically damaging, and lacks clear evidence of reliability or effectiveness.

We urge the Government to rethink the Jobcentre’s role from not only increasing employment, but also ensuring the quality of that employment, given that bad jobs can be more damaging to mental health than unemployment.

This should be backed up with the development of statutory support for creating psychologically healthy workplaces.

These policies would begin to take us towards a welfare and employment system that promotes mental health and wellbeing, rather than one that undermines and damages it.

Professor Peter Kinderman, President, British Psychological Society (BPS)

Martin Pollecoff, Chair, UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)

Dr Andrew Reeves, Chair, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)

Helen Morgan, Chair, British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC)

Steve Flatt, Trustee, British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)”

“Making work pay” for whom?

pie wealth

It’s a draconian, crude behaviourist and armchair technocratic government that would claim to “make work pay” by decreasing social security support for the poorest members of society, rather than raising wages to meet the rising costs of living. This approach was justified by claims that poor people became “dependent” on benefits because the welfare state provides “perverse incentives” for people seeking employment. However, there is no empirical evidence of these claims. Keith Joseph, a leading New Right advocate of the welfare dependency theories, set out to try and establish evidence dependency during the Thatcher era, and failed. Both Thatcher and Joseph wanted to extend Victorian bourgeois values of thrift, self-reliance and charity among all classes.

Such an approach has benefitted no-one but wealthy employers motivated by a profit incentive, as people who are out of work or claiming disability related benefits have become increasingly desperate. These imposed conditions have created a reserve army of labour, which has subsequently served to devalue labour, and drive wages down. We now witness high levels of in-work poverty, too. The Victorian Poor Law principle of less eligibility had the same consequences, and also “made work pay.” It’s shameful that in 2017, the government still believe that it is somehow effective and appropriate to punish people into not being poor. Especially when the government’s own policies are constructing inequality and poverty.

Last week I wrote about the Samaritans report: Dying from inequality: socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour, which strongly links socioeconomic disadvantage and inequality with psychological distress and suicidal behaviours. The report reiterates that countries with higher levels of per capita spending on active labour market programmes, and which have more generous unemployment benefits, experience lower recession-related rises in suicides.

Research has consistently found that in countries with a generous social safety net, poor employment (low pay, poor conditions, job insecurity short-term contracts), rather than unemployment, has the biggest detrimental impact on mental health. This is particularly true of neoliberal states with minimal and means tested welfare regimes. It seems health and wellbeing are contingent on the degree to which individuals, or families, can uphold a socially acceptable standard of living independently of market participation, and on the kind of social stratification  (socioeconomic hierarchies indicating levels of inequality) is fostered by social policies.

Furthermore, despite the government’s rhetoric on welfare “dependency”, and the alleged need for removing the “perverse incentives” from the social security system by imposing a harsh conditionality framework and a compliance regime – using punitive sanctions – and work capability assessments designed to preclude eligibility to disability benefits, research shows that generous social security regimes make people more likely to want to work, not less.

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

However, the UK government have continued to conflate social justice and inclusion with punitive policies and cuts, aimed at coercing disabled people towards narrow employment outcomes that preferably bypass any form of genuine support and the social security system completely. 

See – UN’s highly critical report confirms UK government has systematically violated the human rights of disabled people.

430835_148211001996623_1337599952_n (1)

Kitty.

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.

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.

DonatenowButton cards