Steve Bannon’s friendship circle.

Steve Bannon, leading American white supremacist, who describes himself as “a populist and economic nationalist”, and is neutrally described by The Guardian as a “former Trump adviser” (Rowena Mason & Heather Stewart, ‘Rees- Mogg met former Trump adviser to talk tactics’, The Guardian 02 12 2017) has visited the UK to talk to old friends, like UKIP’s Nigel Farage, and new friends, like Tory MP, Rees-Mogg, who astonishingly described him as “an interesting man to have met” (ibid.). A second, as yet unnamed Tory MP, was also in the mix. This is alarming news.

Breitbart London editor and former chief of staff to Farage, Raheem Kassam, brokered the meeting (ibid). These ambitious rich men have plans for us: Kassam declared that “Brexit and the election of President Trump were inextricably linked, so the discussions focused on how we move forward with winning for the conservative movements on both sides of the pond” (ibid.). The significant way in which these events were inextricably linked was that they were largely funded and data-driven by the same individuals and organisations (Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ), with the same extremist intent.

These men do not represent mere “conservative movements”, but fundamentalist Christian, white supremacist goals: Bannon’s self-declared ”brand of economic nationalism”, like Trump, purports to put the interests of ordinary people first” (ibid.). These men have the funds, determination and sense of entitlement to pursue their vanity projects. They will not sink without trace before causing further democratic upheaval and social damage. Those who oppose the white supremacist agenda must work to bury them and their malign purposes as best we can.

val walsh / 06 12 2017

Advertisements

The electoral funding of the UK ‘Brexit’ campaigns: a democratic scandal?

Aggregate IQ is described as ”a small Canadian firm, specializing in social media marketing, considered as instrumental in helping the Leave campaign win” (Jessica Elgot & David Pegg, ‘Electoral Commission documents reveal more details on Vote Leave donations’. The Guardian, 21 11 2017).

Sounds innocent enough: “small” (not corporate), Canadian (not Russian), but given the size of its actual donations (monetary and data), it could be considered a determining factor in the Leave campaign. The various Leave campaign groups (including the DUP campaign) admitted that Aggregate IQ initiated these donations: ‘they found us, we didn’t find them”. Who the donors were and what politics lay behind the donations was never questioned.

The Leave campaign groups may not have known who they were, why they wanted to be involved, or what their larger purpose was, but Aggregate IQ certainly did. Alongside Cambridge Analytica, Aggregate IQ is part of white supremacist, Robert Mercer’s secretive stable of influence (also active in the Trump campaign).

In addition to objections to the provenance of said donors and their political motives, and the extent to which these donations constituted illegal interference in UK democracy, there is also the question of the legality of these massive donations, if they tipped the Leave campaign over its legal electoral funding limit.

A third surely clinching factor is that “Donors from outside the UK and Gibraltar were impermissible donors for referendum campaigning” (Holly Watt, ‘Electoral Commission to investigate Arron Banks’ Brexit donations’. The Guardian, 11 11 2017). But the apparent lethargy of the Electoral Commission compounds the situation, as it begins to look like culpable negligence. Months down the line, evidence of impropriety, illegality, political manipulation and corruption are nowhere near being scrutinised appropriately. Looks like a cover up.

val walsh / 24 11 2017

‘Brexit’ and the UK Labour party.

The EU referendum, rather than being a democratic act, was a dishonest political manoeuvre by former Tory prime minister, David Cameron, ostensibly to resolve longstanding internal divisions within his party re the EU. There was no effort to provide relevant and adequate objective information about what exiting the EU would entail. In fact, it is now clear the ‘Brexit’ campaigners had, and still have, no idea. Evidence about what actually happens, about the role of the UK within the EU and vice versa, is irrelevant to Tory politicians embroiled in the internal power struggles within their party or white supremacists who see chaos as a political strategy. (See ‘Whose “cry of pain”? Whose rage? Whose agenda?’ in category Commentary 2017 at togetherfornow.wordpress.com)

The ‘Brexit’ campaigns were funded (and furnished with data) by Robert Mercer‘s Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ, part of a network of rich, white supremacists, which includes Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. It has since been acknowledged that the ‘Brexit’ campaign was fuelled by outright lies and misinformation, and was driven by a political desire to inflame distrust and hatred towards ‘foreigners’, refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and Muslims. The nature of the funding and data provision emerged after the referendum result. It raises questions not just about its impact on voters’ behaviour, but about its electoral legality.

Although there had been no electoral guidance as to what % vote should count as a ‘winning’ result for such a major constitutional, economic, political and cultural change (e.g. 60%?), the referendum result, at 48:52, was hailed by the MSM, the media and the Labour party as the ‘will of the people’, which had to be obeyed. However, Prime Minister May (mis)judged that she could secure a more solid mandate for her own role as PM (unelected as she was by either her party or the country), by calling a snap general election, when she expected to destroy the Labour party, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, as an electoral force. As a result of her impulsive act and the way in which she conducted her campaign, she lost what little mandate she had, and her party’s overall majority was slashed. This result can fairly be seen as reflecting the democratic will of the people, especially as we had all been warned off voting for Labour by both politicians and media.

As evidence unfurls from all corners of civil and professional society, business, industry, higher education, the NHS and the unions, it becomes clearer by the day, that there can be no such thing as a ‘good ‘Brexit’ (hard or soft): legally, economically or culturally. On the basis of the evidence so far, what we face are degrees of catastrophic self harm as a society, and even, as one EU politician put it recently, “mutually assured destruction” between the UK and the EU.

So, in the light of this new evidence, this emerging reality/horror show, isn’t it time for the UK Labour party to spell out the above, and take up the most recent mandate, which confirmed opposition to Tory Austerity politics and May’s strident ‘Brexit’ rhetoric? Time to be bold, rather than repeating, as Labour MP Emily Thornberry had to on Question Time (BBC1, 16 11 2017), that “we are a democratic party and must obey the referendum result and work to get the best possible deal for the country”.

This statement may obey the rules of grammar, but it flies in the face of sense and meaning and logic. As well as what we urgently need now from Labour politicians: the political will to do what is best for our country and all its peoples, without sacrificing any of those made vulnerable by Tory manoeuvres.

val walsh / 17 11 2011

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

The problem of journalism as entertainment and entrapment.

 

The political imbalance and prejudice of MSM (mainstream media) have been well documented over the years by media analysts (e.g. in Glasgow and Cardiff), and questions of who gets air time and how they are treated when reported or interviewed remain contentious issues. But never mind the evidence, Nick Robinson, former BBC political editor, chooses to characterise all those who find fault with MSM as extremists (Right or Left) (‘Silencing the disagreeable won’t work. Put them on air’, The Guardian, 28 09 2017). He casts the BBC and traditional media as blameless victims of social media and “the increased polarisation of our society” (cited Graham Ruddick, ‘Alternative news sites in “guerrilla war” with BBC, says Robinson’. The Guardian, 28 09 2017). This is worse than ingenuous, and combines ignorance and casual insult in a way that has become all too common, notably since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

Guardian letter writers point out how MSM (including Robinson himself and Andrew Marr) have colluded with climate breakdown deniers (30 09 2017). But the track record of MSM also includes choosing not to report significant events. For example, you would have thought the BBC, set up as a public service broadcaster, had a special duty to report on the fragmentation and privatisation of the NHS over the last 7 years. Not so. Apparently this was not ‘a great story’ worth chasing. Instead, information was withheld, leaving David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt in particular to carry on regardless: denying and lying as they smiled their way past any opposition. Campaigners across the country were left tearing their hair out at this mainstream media silence, having to resort to the street, public meetings and social media to spread the bad news. The consequence is that, until very recently, too few people (beyond the workforces themselves) had any idea of what was going on and how serious the consequences already were.

The neoliberal orthodoxy internalised by media moguls and too many journalists, commentators, academics and politicians has left them bewildered by recent political events, for example, the EU referendum result and the 2017 general election. As news values have shifted, and facts, values and opinions have ended up in the blender, they have visibly lost control of their own professional field of ‘expertise’. For journalists and commentators, their practices have increasingly morphed into ‘entertainment’, and worse, entrapment as entertainment. Three journalists in action this week around the Labour party conference in Brighton,  provide evidence that Robinson’s defensive complacency is misplaced:

Jo Coburn, of the Sunday Politics show, interviewed multiple award-winning film director, and now the official film-maker for the Labour party, Ken Loach, after the LP conference this week. She suggested that to describe the Austerity policies and actions of the Tory government as “conscious cruelty” was extreme, ridiculous even, as it implied that all Tory politicians were cruel people (she thought this was unfair). She argued that instead we should be celebrating the rise in employment levels. Loach, who has a long track record of political activism and artistic production that focuses on poverty and social justice issues (most recently his film, I Daniel), drew attention to the poverty of much of that employment (such as low pay, insecure and unsafe jobs, zero hours contracts). And he denied that “conscious cruelty” was a misnomer.

Not only does Loach care passionately about these social and political issues as an artist and human being, he is also eloquent in their exposition, and has the stats on child poverty, hunger, food banks, housing, homelessness, for example, at his fingertips. He cited these, to justify the “conscious cruelty” verdict, simultaneously ascertaining that Jo Coburn did not know the answers to his questions about these damning features of our society. She had implied that his statement was just a flamboyant, personal opinion. He demonstrated that it was a judgement based on hard, incontrovertible evidence. “I know what is going on”, he said quietly.

As a film maker (documentary and ‘fiction’), his work is rooted in extensive and careful research. Coburn showed herself not so thoroughly prepared, not least perhaps because in her media role she expects to challenge and interrogate, to be in control. She does not expect to be challenged (and shown wanting). On this occasion, both her humanity and her professional competence as a political journalist were left quietly in tatters.

In the same week, Jon Snow, interviewing Jeremy Corbyn, suggested that perhaps the Labour party is now “the nasty party”. Again, the form of questioning and the chosen issue of racism in the Labour party, seemed to be about trying to catch Jeremy out, to gain control, to overpower. Not such a ‘new man’ after all, Jon.

And something similar happened in Laura Kuenssberg’s interview with Jeremy Corbyn this week, where, as a senior political journalist, she pretends (surely) not to know what the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, had meant when he spoke at a LP fringe meeting of those individuals and institutions as “they” who “will come after us” in government. Of course she knows what he means. She was trying to turn it into an attack on Labour’s credibility, as well as a way of implying or creating friction between these two long standing best friends and allies.

These are examples of modern journalistic practice as entertainment / entrapment: a power struggle that leaves the ethics and purpose of broadcast and public sector journalism sorely damaged. Less fit for purpose than we, the people, have a right to expect. And therefore less likely to be trusted. On the evidence.

val walsh / 30 09 2017

Jeremy Hunt and his problem with ‘evidence’.

Correcting Jeremy Hunt (The Guardian, 26 08 2017, ‘Why won’t Jeremy Hunt come clean?’) Stephen Hawking, an eminent director of research, as well as someone with considerable personal experience of the NHS as a patient over many years, points out that “record funding is not the same thing as adequate funding”, and cites the damning verdict of the Red Cross, that “the NHS is facing a humanitarian crisis”.

British foreign correspondent Mark Austin and his daughter Maddy provided harrowing evidence of this humanitarian crisis, the variable inadequacy of mental health services across the country, and the catastrophic consequences for the lives of those affected (Wasting Away: the Truth About Anorexia, C4, 24 08 2017). It was clear from the testimony of would-be patients (those waiting for an appointment or a bed), patients (many being treated huge distances from home), family members (many travelling from one end of the UK to the other to visit and support their offspring because there was no local provision) and specialist mental health practitioners, that not only are services patchy, inadequate or inappropriate (barely even a postcode lottery), but that this vacuum has been created by widespread and deep government cuts to the funding of public services since the Tory-led coalition in 2010. Over the last 7 years, those with disabilities and/or mental health issues appear to be favourite Tory targets for brutal funding and services cuts, that put our society to shame.

Mark and Maddy came face to face with Jeremy Hunt at the end of their measured but grim report. They presented him with their findings and attempted to question him. He dealt with them as he deals with every other person who questions his behaviour and government policies: first disarming them with ostensible agreement that there is a problem, followed by disingenuous platitudes, about how long it will take to fix. These things cannot be rushed, and apparently everything will have improved by 2020/2022. By which time, he forgot to acknowledge, many more young people and children will be very ill indeed, or dead, as a result of the lack of appropriate and effective services now or when they needed them.

With Hunt, there is always the sense that anything that is going wrong in the NHS is the fault of the NHS, its staff or even patients (more older patients, or others not looking after themselves properly), rather than funding and staffing numbers being inadequate as a result of government policies. The Tory break up and privatisation of the NHS purports to be a response to a health care system that is not working. This is, after all, the politician who, before being put in charge of health, described the NHS as a “failed experiment”. Was this, I wonder, a Tory requirement for his new job?

At no point did Hunt appear to feel uncomfortable or inadequate to the task of responding to the questions of Mark and Maddy. Father and daughter had done their important bit, researching the issues and filming people’s personal and professional testimony. But staring at him in disbelief at the end of the interview, demonstrated their defeat at his practised political hands. I only hope they didn’t thank him as they left. I imagine they were gutted.

Austin’s learning curve as a previously uncomprehending father had informed their TV narrative, but faced with Hunt, it fell short of what was needed: the honed, guerrilla determination of a long term public health or mental health activist who, previously thwarted, at last had the enemy cornered. The sense of urgency Mark Austin and his daughter Maddy had brought to their investigative report was dissipated by Hunt’s dismissive reassurances. Little comfort that their treatment echoed that meted out to the scientist Stephen Hawking (see The Guardian, 26 08 2017).

Faced with Hunt’s refusal on camera to acknowledge the brutal consequences of his government’s policies, as well as his own considerable role, this was not a moment for polite decorum. Where was the anger, where was the rage at Hunt’s impervious arrogance, his refusal, as accused by Hawking, “to come clean”? Again.

val walsh / 28 08 2017

 

 

The UK general election result (06 2017): Labour as a progressive alliance.

Labour MP, Clive Lewis and Green MP, Caroline Lucas, have made no secret of their hostility to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour project; Lewis forecast “’an existential crisis” if [Labour] failed to embrace progressive alliances” (Matthew Weaver, ‘Tactical voting: Corbyn could have become PM in landslide’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017). But who are the (“frustrated”) “progressive voters” of which they speak in their most recent joint statement? And does the “best placed left-of-centre candidate” referred to by Compass, in its push for tactical voting and a progressive alliance, mean every candidate or voter who is not Tory-inclined can be identified as “progressive”?

Based on recent historical evidence, many do not see the Lib Dems, the SNP or the Greens as progressive, left-of-centre parties. And the GE result has brought a diminution of political heft and influence for all three. But certainly these small parties are all infinitely preferable political allies to the DUP, even given playwright James Graham’s cautionary reflections on what a hung parliament is likely to mean (‘A hung parliament? It’ll be the 70s again, and people will die’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017).

However, tactical voting in this GE did not find favour or success, as seen in Wells, Somerset (Steven Morris, ‘People went for security in the end’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017). Suddenly, across the country, people saw Labour as the most compelling and realistic repository of anti Austerity values. Conversations on doorsteps, street corners, trains and buses, in families, at political meetings and open air rallies, gave expression to this rejection of more of the same punitive authoritarianism, and a burgeoning desire to do better, be better together. Old and young discovered common ground. Confidence was forged. What followed – increased voter registration and turnout, and the size of the Labour vote in ‘unexpected’ places – was a form of civil and political disobedience.

At the same time, those of us venturing out beyond our own constituencies, to support Labour campaigns in seats identified by Momentum as Labour or Tory marginals, became aware that there were candidates being underfunded by LP HQ (see Dan Hancox, ’24 hour party people’, 14 06 2017, G2). And where Momentum could not fill that gap, there were negative outcomes for those candidates. This needs independent investigation.

But doesn’t Corbyn’s inclusive Labour campaign, conducted with passion and dignity, and the stunning GE result, show that the Labour party is now seen as the only serious repository, not just of hope, but of realisable economic, social, environmental and political transformation, which has not previously been on offer from any political party? So for Lewis and Lucus to warn (threaten?) the Labour leadership that “progressives will desert the party if they cannot see a change in the way politics is conducted” combines ignorance and arrogance.

To caution the leader, who has engendered the most open, honest and participatory political process the country has ever seen, and which has led to this Labour breakthrough, confirms that there is still a lurking desire within the Labour establishment, to denigrate Corbyn’s achievement as leader and to topple him in the name of a progressive alliance. By ‘progressive’, they seem to mean themselves, those who have actively opposed Corbyn’s Labour project of diversity, unity and campaigning, against the apparent odds, to put Labour back on the political map, not just as the largest political party in Europe, but as a radical and representative party, fuelled by a new participatory politics that has activated members and supporters, old and new.

The post election resistance and disbelief that Lewis and Lucas represent, mean they still don’t get it. They don’t welcome this opening up of our democracy, this people-powered campaign (as opposed to machine politics). They don’t see the unity of purpose, across so many social and cultural differences, that Labour’s unique campaign and astonishing result demonstrate. If they cannot see this electoral process and result as a new politics, is it perhaps because their part in it was so reluctant? Like the media George Monbiot castigates (‘The biggest losers? Not the Tories but the media, who missed the story’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017), Lewis and Lucas (and Compass?) missed the story. So instead of rejoicing, they feel gloom and a sense of defeat.

val walsh / 16 06 2017

[This is a slightly revised version of the letter sent to The Guardian, 15 06 2017.]

Personal, political and professional misjudgement. Being wrong, being sorry, being contrite. . . . in the aftermath of Jeremy Corbyn’s game-changing general election campaign.

Since the UK GE (08 06 2017), a number of MPs and media commentators (e.g. Louise Ellman, Lucy Powell, Polly Toynbee, Jonathan Freedland, Robert Peston), stating the obvious, have admitted they “underestimated” Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and his ability to inspire and steer a widespread and burgeoning campaign rooted in Labour values, based around a manifesto that addressed the circumstances, concerns, hopes and aspirations of all sections of our society, across differences of age, ethnicity, social class, dis/ability, gender, sexuality and geography.

Some (e.g. Owen Jones and Owen Smith) have gone so far as to explicitly apologise. But in the main, the expressions of approval at this extraordinary achievement fall short of acknowledgement of their own role since Corbyn was elected in 2015, in opposing and denigrating him and his supporters: they merely, they say, made a mistake. They now smile, many Labour MPs having achieved increased majorities on the back of Corbyn’s incredibly successful Labour campaign. And those they derided are also expected to smile, now we are all on the same winning side. Corbyn’s supporters are expected to overlook, for example, the damage the PLP inflicted on the Labour party by forcing a second leadership election, and sustaining hostilities and attempts at sabotage, throughout the period of Corbyn’s leadership.

But what will stay with Jeremy’s supporters is not the neoliberal ‘mistake’ of these MPs and commentators, in finding themselves on the wrong side of history. What will be remembered are their venomous bile, their relentless spite, aggression and contempt towards Jeremy and his supporters – possibly the worst personal, political and media attacks on a public figure, an elected MP, in living memory. Their seeming need to destroy, not just to disagree, was shocking. As well as instructive: exposing themselves to public scrutiny (intellectual and political). We know them better now.

As Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn never responded to or descended to, personal abuse, and there were those who saw this as ‘weakness’, a sign that he was not a proper leader, not ‘manly’ enough. Following his example, can we now move to outlaw extremist forms of communication in the pubic sphere – in politics and the media – where shouting, verbal dominance and mocking abuse seem to have been normalized as signs of ‘success’, the behaviour of a ‘winner’. Both Theresa May’s relentless personal abuse during the electoral campaign, and Jeremy Paxman’s loudmouthed recent media performance surely show us the way not to go if we are to engender the social and political conversations we need, to come together in respect rather than competition. These are the old ways. Parliament and the media need to learn from Jeremy Corbyn’s example and strength.

val walsh / 12 06 2017