Vote Leave and Cambridge Analytica: A stench enveloping Downing Street and the Cabinet’s hard Brexiteers

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Stephen Parkinson, Now political secretary to Theresa May, previously national organiser Vote Leave Pic credit: Powerhouse

 

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The growing and completely unpredictable coverage following the exposure of Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm, for data harvesting is  fast turning into a scandal that  will seriously damage the reputation of the government or eventually could even bring it down.

From past experience of Westminster and Whitehall scandals once the genie is out of the bottle there is precious little those in power can do to put the stopper back. And from this weekend due to a crass and vile statement from Stephen Parkinson, Theresa May’s political secretary, about  the private life of the latest whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni, it has drawn Downing Street into the fray.

For the ordinary voter the row over data analytics  and how it may have been misused may sound a trifle arcane – since it goes back to two past events – the election of Donald Trump and the controversial Brexit vote. Those in power will be tempted to say – nothing to see here, all done and dusted, let’s move on.

The problem is that they can’t. The huge scale of data harvesting  by Cambridge Analytica via  Facebook of 50 million US citizens plus the potential Russian involvement is now the subject of a huge investigation by  special counsel Robert Mueller and that will not go away. Already Facebook has taken a financial hit  for not protecting our data.

And in England, the Electoral Commission is now investigating the Brexit donations and the  Cambridge Analytica  and Vote Leave’s links to other companies, including the Canadian firm,AggregateIQ (AIQ). The Information Commissioner’s Office is now investigating Cambridge Analytica for potential data breaches for political purposes. Neither investigation is likely to stop.

I won’t need to go over the details of the story which now involves two whistleblowers and has led to the suspension of  the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix.

You can find it in full in The Observer by the dogged and determined Carole  Cadwalladr  here. Or you can see the excellent Channel Four documentary here.

What I will do is look at the ramifications which are now knocking on the door of Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, both in the Cabinet. Central to this is why £625,000 was given to the student run  Vote BeLeave campaign to spend on a Vote Leave analytical company, when Vote Leave was not supposed to be connected to Vote BeLeave – and could breach strict  campaign spending guidelines. There are also the very serious allegations – of the mass removal of emails and links between Vote BeLeave and the two highly seasoned campaigners, Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayers alliance fame  and chief executive of Vote Leave, and the aggressive  ex special adviser Dominic Cummings, who jointly ran Vote Leave. He is denying this happened but it appears the whistleblower has sent information to the Electoral commission contradicting that.

Did Gove and Johnson know? and why is Johnson just saying it is ludicrous to suggest this happened – ” sound bites ” don’t make the issue go away.

And finally there is the behaviour of Theresa May’s political secretary. Stephen Parkinson, in deciding the world should know about his previous love life with the whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni.  Shahmir did not wish to go public to the whole world that he was gay. Mr Parkinson is not some political celeb – his role, as I am sure he will be reminded pretty quickly by the Cabinet Office, is to stay in the background not to become part of a public love story. Most people won’t care a damn who he sleeps with – so the only real reason can be a botched attempt to discredit and embarrass the whistleblower.

Parkinson also has previous form. According to Spinwatch’s Lobbying Portal he is an experienced campaigner, being part of the ” No to AV ” campaign to stop the alternative vote in 2011. He also was involved in the scandal over whether the Tories had broken election law in 2015 by overspending. They were mainly cleared of this  but there is a legal case pending  in May against Craig Mackinley, Tory MP for South Thanet, his agent and a Tory campaigner, for making false election returns. Parkinson has worked for Theresa May since 2012 – apart from his work on the Vote Leave campaign.

The real problem for the government is that the next revelations could come from anywhere – it could come from the US  investigations or it could come from the UK if more whistleblowers come forward. They are not in control. So far the reaction has been pure bluster.

I can see in the end the most serious issue will be the use of people’s data by political organisations and breach of privacy – which will  even override  the bitter aftermath of Brexit and the US election result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are Britain’s Green guardians clueless on future investments for this country post Brexit?

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Safeguarding UK green interests or clueless watchdogs?The five new trustees of the Green Purposes Company – James Curran,Trevor Hutchings, Tushita Ranchan,Robin (Lord) Teverson and Peter Young. Pic Credit: Green Purposes Company

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At the end of last year this blog published a highly critical piece on the sale of the Green Investment Bank which brought a  mint of money for the City and uncertainty for those who want to see a carbon free future.

The  blog was based on the findings of the National Audit Office report into the sale which showed the taxpayer had lost out yet again and the biggest beneficiary was the  Aussie private equity investment bank Macquarie for £1.6 billion  which had a bad rating on green issues and its subsidiary Thames Water is better known for polluting the Thames and failing to repair  burst water mains.

As reported before  business secretary Greg Clark let the bank get away with a non binding public statement to finance green projects for the next three years and instead set up a trust – the Green Purposes Company  -which could shame the new owners if they fail to keep to their pledge.  In theory they have powers to prevent changes to GIB’s green purposes, but this does not extend to control of, or input to, investment decisions.

The five trustees are independently appointed and include James Curran, former chief executive of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency: Lord Teverson, a former Liberal Democrat energy spokesman and Peter Young, an environmental management consultants But they are not paid to monitor such a big private equity company .

Hardly surprising the Commons Public Accounts committee has backed the scepticism of the National Audit Office. In a report  it condemned the way it was sold

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Committee Deputy Chair said:

” The manner in which it was sold off is therefore deeply regrettable. Government did not carry out a full assessment of the Bank’s impact before deciding to sell, nor did it secure adequate assurance over the Bank’s future role.

This was a UK initiative but the rebranded Green Investment Group is not bound to invest in the UK’s energy policy at all, nor to invest in the kind of technologies that support its climate objectives.”

But since the sale there has been worse  disclosures.

Mps on the environment audit committee decided to grill two of the trustees, Peter Young and Lord Teveson, and the head of the company, Edward Northam. They were equally sceptical.

Here is an extract of some of the trustees response ( or lack of) to MPs written   questions.

5. How will leaving the EU affect the UK’s ability to leverage investment into low-carbon and environmentally friendly projects in the UK?
No response
6. What options are there for the UK’s future relationship with the European Investment Bank? What would be the implications for green investment in the UK?
No response
7. Given the work being carried out by the EU’s High Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance,where should the UK’s newly created Green Finance Taskforce concentrate its efforts?
No response

At the oral hearing both the head of the company and the two trustees were closely questioned by the chair, Mary Creagh; Green MP Caroline Lucas; Tory MP. Zac Goldsmith among others and they did not seem impressed. They were offered excuses why the new Aussie owners had hardly invested in any new projects and until the company revealed that the trustees have a budget of £100,000 a year ( small feed for a multi billion pound company) to monitor developments by the company head, were even reticent to discuss that.

You can get the text of the  full hearing or watch it here.

It is hardly an impressive performance and seems to suggest the first fears expressed on this blog are well justified. The government has dumped Britain’s green investment future and it will be interesting to see if the trustees really do have any teeth to do much about it.

 

A former top Unison official slammed by a judge selected to be a new Labour councillor for one of London’s deprived wards

Linda Perks at a Unison protest. pic credit Flickr

Linda Perks at a Unison protest. Pic credit: Flickr

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Most of the rows about Labour candidates being selected in London  for May’s local government elections have centred around the rise of Momentum and challenges to established Labour leaders in Haringey and Newham.

But while all this is going on quietly a new kid on the block has emerged unnoticed in the London borough of Greenwich. She was the sole person criticised by a part time judge in a hearing over the election of Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, Britain’s largest public service union last year.

Linda Perks, the former London regional secretary, was castigated by part time judge Mary Stacey during as certification officer hearing which followed complaints about rule breaking from other candidates who challenged Dave Prentis for the job.

The judge upheld a complaint against Linda Perks,  for flagrant breaches of union rules – after reading a transcript and listening to a secret tape of a meeting held at the TUC’s Congress House, where, it is said, 50 officials were urged to break campaigning rules to ensure the re-election of Dave Prentis. The code name for the campaign was ” Special Chocolate Biscuits”.

After listening to the tape the judge ruled :“ Ms Perks tone is not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking the rules but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power”.

She blatantly had known she was breaking union rules by getting officials to organise support for Dave Prentis during work time which was against union rules. The judge notes that it almost looked that for 3 or 4 days officials would do little else but campaign for Mr Prentis.

Linda Perks was suspended by the president of the union. But the judge said:

“The subsequent leisurely disciplinary proceedings of Ms Perks and outcome do not inspire confidence or serve as a deterrent for future overzealous officers. Some might think the move to National Secretary in Head Office on unspecified strategic projects retaining all pay and benefits represents reward rather than punishment, though she has endured the imposition of a final written warning.”

Since then Linda Perks has retired from the union and was given a huge farewell party attended by Dave Prentis who tweeted ” Absolutely packed house to thank Linda Perks, one of our longest serving regional secretaries. We will all miss her”.

Now the Labour selection body has selected her as one of three candidates to represent Charlton- one of the poorer wards in the borough. There is a full report by a local journalist and blogger, Darryl Chamberlain on his 853.com blog. He quotes an email  from her saying:“My union work has also enabled me to develop a good understanding of how councils work and how decisions are taken.”

The ward she is representing is one of the poorest in the borough. Its faded grandeur has led it to put on the ” at risk register” by Historic England as reported here. It has a low level of  home ownership and high levels of council housing and housing association and higher levels of unemployment.

Linda Perks declined to reply to a request for a comment about her selection. Her contribution to local affairs – should she be elected for this safe ward where Labour romped home in 2014.  – remains to be seen.

 

 

 

Phone Hacking: The Guardian should hang its head in shame over its stance on a second Leveson inquiry

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Lord Justice Leveson: Pic courtesy of Leveson inquiry website Not chairing any new inquiry now

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The Guardian is my old employer. It has a long and honourable tradition of fearless investigations which do not follow the rest of the pack. That included holding the media industry to account.

The decision this week to join the rest of the press pack and welcome the demise of Leveson 2 – the inquiry which would have taken a cold hard look at how mainstream media – in particular the News of the World and the Mirror – indulged in phone hacking and other nefarious practices  is profoundly disappointing.

It is even more so because one of the Guardian’s finest investigative reporters Nick Davies – now properly retired unlike me – exposed the practice in the  Milly Dowler case which triggered  the public exposure of the whole sordid business.

It is the spurious reasoning the paper has used to justify such action. The paper talked about looking forward rather than in the back view mirror as the main reason why it had decided to side with the Sun, the Murdoch empire and the Daily Mail and Telegraph. Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and Rupert Murdoch must be rubbing their hands with glee at their latest supporter, Kathy Viner, the editor in chief of the Guardian.

The inquiry would have made publicly accountable the top people who authorised such shameful practices which bring investigative journalism into disrepute  whether by hiring private investigators to blag, steal and phone hack anybody’s private life so long as they were a celeb or a Royal. More to feed the public’s voyeurism than in the public interest.

Worse, through this culture, they may have been with the Met police an accessory to  the horrific murder in 1987 of private investigator, Daniel Morgan – now at long last the subject  of a forensic independent panel inquiry under Baroness Nuala O’Loan , the former first Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. If the second Leveson inquiry had been launched, the independent panel report would have helped  inform Sir Brian Leveson in his difficult task.

The dropping of the inquiry has nothing to do with the future of press regulation – even though it is in the interest of newspaper proprietors and The Guardian to suggest it is. That is a separate matter.

If one followed the spurious logic of the Guardian – in simple don’t look back in anger – then it could have said in 1994 that the ” cash for questions” saga was also old hat -it was revealed 10 years after the event anyway- and there was no need for an expensive inquiry by Lord Nolan.

Yet because they did examine this historic scandal we now have a benchmark for MPs and ministerial behaviour and a permanent body – the Committee on Standards in Public Life- which can investigate new issues of propriety. It still as relevant today as in the 1990s.

The Leveson 2 inquiry could have provided something similar for the media and opened the debate on the way social media operates.

The  same logic would also suggest – as the Daily Mail and The Times already have – that there is no need for the present independent child sexual abuse inquiry – as that is just historic or why bother covering reports from the National Audit Office as they look back at past mistakes. It will be a very quick way of denuding the Guardian’s website and print editions.

My suspicion – and I have no knowledge – is that this decision is driven by commercial worries. Mainstream media is being sandwiched between the rise of social media giants Google and Facebook who are taking away their advertising – and the growing  popularity of websites and blogs – often with a right or left wing bias which attract a young readership.

Panic has led the mainstream media to rush to hang together and try and stop any further independent inquiry into their working practices. They should be careful – those who hang together could fall together. That is why the Guardian – a traditional dissident voice – should  hang its head in shame for what it now stands for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janner’s family – and his accusers – denied core participation status in Westminster child sexual abuse inquiry

Alexis Jay at the Rotherham inquiry Pic credit BBC

alexis jay at her previous inquiry into Rotherham child sexual abuse

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The Janner family and their accusers have all been denied ” core participant ” status in Westminster child sexual abuse strand of the independent child sexual abuse inquiry.

Instead they will keep ” core participant” status in a separate strand of the inquiry which examine the allegations against his father in an inquiry into child sexual abuse in institutions in Leicestershire where he was an MP.

Core participants have special rights in the Inquiry process. These include receiving disclosure of documentation, being represented and making legal submissions, suggesting questions and receiving advance notice of the Inquiry’s report.

Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry, announced the decision, following an appeal by his son, Daniel Janner and his two daughters, Marion and Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner.

Daniel Janner told the preliminary hearing in January :”The strand does risk turning into a witch-hunt of dead politicians,a circus, where fantasists will have free rein to live out their fantasies in evidence. There were no paedophile rings in Westminster, save in warped imaginations. But the evidence and findings of the Westminster strand will have an influence and bearing on the strand which follows in my late father’s name, because, madam chairman, the two strands — again,  as we have witnessed today — are inevitably and inexorably intertwined.”

Alexis Jay said yesterday: ” The extent that Mr Janner’s application is based on concerns about his father’s reputation, and his ability to respond to allegations made about his father, these are matters for the Investigation involving the late Lord Janner of Braunstone QC, in which the children of the late Lord Janner have already been granted core participant status.”

The inquiry also refused an appeal by a survivor who was sexually abused under the care of Hackney social services. but he may be able to appear as a witness.

” I acknowledge that WM-A4 may be able to provide the investigation with a first-hand account of what his lawyer described as “a system” of practices involving child sexual abuse operating at Westminster. This may well make him a useful witness to this investigation and the Inquiry will consider whether to ask him to provide a witness statement.”

Other decisions made earlier include granting core participant status to Esther Baker,

Alexis Jay said of her :
“Ms Baker alleges that she was sexually assaulted by persons of public prominence associated with Westminster and that there were institutional failings in
connection with that alleged abuse by police and law enforcement services.

“Ms Baker was under 18 years of age at the time of the sexual abuse described and therefore within the Inquiry’s terms of reference. Ms Baker also alleges related failings by public officers and bodies. I am also aware that Ms Baker has spoken publicly and in her own name about these matters, and I regard that as an important factor in considering the nature of her interest in this investigation.”

The Westminster strand also  accepted as core participants survivors who say they were sexually abused by Sir Cyril Smith- the former Rochdale MP – in  the context of Westminster. And Mike Veale, chief constable of Wiltshire Police, who ran Operation Conifer, into allegations of sexual abuse by Edward Heath, will also be a core participant.

Among others turned down for this strand include Jonathon Brackenbury who alleged sexual abuse in the military,  one from Sarah McDonagh  alleging sexual abuse involving a magistrates bench and one from Sabine McNeill on a  cult in Hampstead, London. Jonathan Brackenbury decided on his own volition to withdraw his application but is willing to be  called as a witness giving details he gave to the now closed  Met police Operation Midland while he was working as a Homeless Housing Worker in the West End / Earls Court area of London in the 1980s. He is also proposing to submit a case to the inquiry for an investigation into sexual abuse in the military.

 

 

A psychiatrist’s damning indictment of 500 years of racism – now revived by Trump and 9/11

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Suman Fernando. Pic credit: http://www.sumanfernando.com

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Suman Fernando is a gentle soft spoken  consultant psychiatrist, lecturer and honorary professor at the London Metropolitan University.    The 85 year old is not the sort of person at first sight to produce such a searing critique of racism in the UK and the US and the baleful role psychiatrists have had in treating ethnic minorities in both countries.

His book released at  the end of last year and launched by ROTA – Race on the Agenda – looks at both the history of racism which he dates from 1492 when the Spanish finally  removed the Moors from Europe and the role of psychiatry in treating ” mentally ill”  black and brown patients over a very long period.

The book is particularly relevant as Theresa May has  quietly decided to review the UK’s mental health laws  which cover some of these issues – signalling her intent by  holding a meeting of psychiatrists at Number Ten Downing Street.

It also comes at a time when the election of Donald Trump, the rise of Islamophobia in the wake of 9/11 and to an extent, the worst excesses of some people supporting Brexit, has seen a revival of popular nationalism and in the US, white supremacists.

He traces racism from the bloody Inquisition in Spain through the development of the slave trade, the rise of eugenics leading to Nazism,  the Imperialist destruction of other cultures by colonisation to the ” rivers of blood” speech of Enoch Powell as Britain faced an immigration wave in the 1960s and 1970s.

His  thesis is that – mainly because of the 1970s race relations legislation in Britain – overt racism has until recently been replaced with a form of institutional racism and psychiatry is no exception to the rule.

Indeed some of the worse psychiatric theories to treat people as seen by superior whites as ” the other” came from this profession. This was the profession that applied the concept of  ‘Drapetomania’  to slaves in the USA, the primary symptom being a persistent urge to run away.  The implication was Black Afro-Caribbeans were supposed to be happy and content as slaves  and had mental problems if they wanted their freedom.

In Britain the book provides numerous examples of how different ways of dealing what is an obvious imbalance in the number of Afro-Caribbeans being sectioned compared to white Britons. Attempts to change treatment or properly research the issue by black psychiatrists were undermined in a typical British way – their work was subsumed by more conventional psychiatrists or their findings were ignored.

He also reveals  how attempts to change matters politically were undermined. Tony Blair  appointed Paul Boateng – now Lord Boateng- as the first minister for mental health in 1997. At the time he was known to be  strident in wanting to change the treatment of black Afro Caribbeans like himself- but within months he was squashed.

Since 9/11 the danger is that racism is on the rise with Muslims rather than Afro Caribbeans as the main target. That is why the timing of this book is relevant in the context that the mental health legislation is being revised. Already psychological research is being used as a basis in the Prevent programme to decide whether teachers or NHS staff, their pupils and their patients, should be reported to the authorities if they show signs of radicalism.

The next slippery step would be to decide that these people are insane – and should be sectioned rather than prosecuted. This is not as fanciful as it sounds. Under  Labour there was a move to classify stalkers of VIPs as a mental illness and Jack Straw when he was home secretary is said to have considered whether paedophiles should be classified as insane rather than criminals.

That is why this book is so interesting because it tells how deep seated racism is among white Europeans  and how insidious the present system is in dealing with the ” other” – from stop and search to sectioning.

The one sad thing is that the book itself has been “Ghettoised” – it has been pigeon holed by the publisher  as part of ” contemporary black history ” when it is much more of an account of how contemporary British and US society has reached such a view on black and brown people.

The German publisher has created another ghetto by price – Palgrave Macmillan have priced it at a ridiculous £67.99 or £53.99 as an e-book. Amazon have a Kindle version at £45.19. So I suggest you try and get it in a public library or if you are a student make sure your university library has got one.

Institutional Racism in Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology. Suman Fernando

 

 

 

50s pensioners: Time for you to put the boot into your local councillor at May’s elections

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Waspi Pensioners :Time to use your vote wisely Pic credit: BBC

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The 3.9 million 50s pensioners have a great opportunity to get their views across at the local elections to be held on Thursday May 3.  Elections will be held in all 32 London boroughs, 34 metropolitan boroughs, 68 district/borough councils and 17 unitary authorities.  There are also elections for mayors in the London boroughs of Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and just outside London in Watford.

Local elections are of course about local matters. However the performance of political parties at local elections is always judged by the media as a snapshot of national voting intentions. Also the attitude of local councillors towards the plight of women denied their pensions for up to six years could well be symptomatic of their attitude towards other injustice issues.

You can do this by first getting on top the House of Commons library constituency estimates of the 3.9 million people affected here

Go to the end of the summary and download the constituency estimates ( You will need Excel on your computer).Then look up your constituency and the total number of people affected. You will find it is thousands in your constituency.

Next go onto  the  Wikipedia link at the end of the report and see if your council has elections. Then go on to the council’s site and chase up your ward councillors.

Challenge them to  put pressure on their MP to get government policy changed so you will get your money. If they refuse vote for the nearest challenger who will.

So where are the key places where 3.9 million women can make their votes count. Here are some good examples with all the links  set out for you.

In London where all the seats are up for grabs, the most obvious place to register a protest vote is Barnet. There are 18,200 women affected in the borough and the council is narrowly Conservative who oppose any change or concessions to the women.

The ruling Conservative group has a majority of one (32 Conservative, 30 Labour and one Liberal Democrat) in 2014. You can check the result for the ward you live here. 

Another is the London borough of Hillingdon where there are 16,100 women affected and it is represented by two high profile MPs, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor. The current council has 42 Conservatives and 23 Labour. You can get a ward breakdown here.

And for a different slant the Royal London borough of Kingston has 12,000 women affected (though some are in Richmond) and a council with 28 Conservatives, 18 Liberal Democrats and 2 Labour councillors – a Conservative majority of eight. You can check your ward here.

Some of you may find yourself in Richmond as  Tory Zac Goldsmith’s Richmond Park constituency straddles both boroughs.

Conservatives have a bigger majority in Wandsworth with 41 seats topping Labour’s 19 and there are 11,900 women affected living there. You can find your ward here.

A longer shot is the London Borough of Bexley which has 45 Conservative,15 Labour and three UKIP councillors. But it has 15,200 women affected. A run down on your local ward councillors is here.

.Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire is currently not under any party control. It has 25 Labour councillors, 18 Conservatives, 13 Liberal Democrats and one UKIP councillor. One third of the council is up for election. There are 14,400 women affected in the borough. So it will provide an ideal opportunity to put all the parties on the spot. You can check your ward here.

Calderdale also has a third of the council up for election. The council which covers Halifax and the surrounding area has 12,900 women affected. The council is also not under any party control. The council has 23 Labour members, 21 Conservatives , 5 Liberal Democrats and two Independents. You can find your ward here.

The full list of councils where elections are being held is here.

They include big cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne as well as smaller places like Hastings, Gosport, Portsmouth, South Lakeland, Maidstone, Huntingdon and West Lancashire.