Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Why did Boris Johnson bury that damning air pollution report?

  
In 2013 the consultancy firm Aether completed a report for the Greater London Authority on the state of air pollution in London and submitted it to Boris Johnson's administration who then sat on it for two and a half years until his successor Sadiq Khan uncovered it shortly after taking office.

The Analysing Air Pollution in London report contained an awful lot of damning information about the state of pollution in London, including the fact that 433 London primary schools were located in areas where levels of the toxic pollutant 
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exceeded European Union pollution limits.

Nitrous Oxides

Nitrous Oxides are toxic pollutants that most often come from road pollution, especially from diesel engines. Other sources of Nitrous Oxides include electricity generation and industry.


Nitrous Oxides are proven to trigger asthma, coughing, skin irritation, aggravate bronchitis and pneumonia. Repeated exposure can cause permanent damage to the lungs and reduced lung capacity. It is estimated that Nitrous Oxide pollution causes thousands of premature deaths per year in London alone.

Nitrous Oxides are also linked with the formation of ozone
which occurs when Nitrous Oxides and volatile organic compounds react in the presence of heat and sunlight. Children, the elderly, people with lung diseases such as asthma, and people who work or exercise outside are at risk for adverse effects from ozone, including reduction in lung function, respiratory illnesses and respiratory-related hospital admissions.


Poverty


Some of the most shocking findings in the report were the disparities in pollution levels between poor areas and wealthy areas. 83% of the schools with illegally high levels of Nitrous Oxide pollution were classified as "deprived" (40%+ children on free school meals). Meanwhile less than 20% of the schools located in areas below the pollution limit were classified as "deprived".

This means that over 80% of the schools suffering illegal levels of pollution were in poor areas, and over 80% of the schools with acceptable air standards were in rich areas.

The research also showed that over half of the very poorest areas of London suffered illegal levels of pollution, while the illegal pollution rate was just 1% of the very richest areas of London.

Why did it get buried?


Nobody but the most rabidly right-wing sociopath could try to claim that it's perfectly acceptable that tens of thousands of primary school children, mainly from poor and ordinary backgrounds, are being poisoned with health destroying pollutants.

Once the information that this is the case in London would have reached the public domain it would have meant that Boris Johnson would have had to either take the incredibly unpopular stance of doing nothing about the inequality on the grounds that the affected primary school children should have had the good sense to be born into richer families, or actually try to do something about the problem.

Boris Johnson and the Tories clearly didn't want to do anything about the appalling inequality between levels of air pollution in poorer parts of London and richer areas, but neither did they want to be seen to be doing nothing. Hence the logical course of action from a self-serving Tory perspective was to bury the report so that the public had much less evidence on which to base their demands for action.


Cherry-picking the good bits

The decision not to publish the report was clearly a political one because despite deciding to not bother publishing the full report, Boris Johnson's team were happy to cherry-pick and publicise some of the positive conclusions in the report, whilst completely ignoring the bits highlighting the severe inequality in exposure to air pollution.

The director of the company that produced the report Katie King said that "The crux of the report was about understanding the inequalities of air pollution, so they chose not to make public the findings regarding inequality ...The information that they did take from the report was the positive, that exposure was predicted to fall in the future".


There's no way that the decision to cherry-pick the best bits of a scientific report, whilst completely ignoring the negative parts can be seen as anything other than a display of the worst kind of cynical political opportunism.

Conclusion

I really do pity people who are so lacking in political insight that they can't see Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as the ruthlessly self-serving political careerist that he so clearly is, rather than the harmless foppish buffoon he pretends to be. In 1951 (13 years before BoJo was even born) Bertrand Russell warned of the dangers of politicians like him when he said "our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man, and our politicians take advantage of this prejudice by pretending to be even more stupid than nature has made them".

Boris Johnson is a man so lacking in principle that he refused to answer the charge that he wrote two completely different versions of his famous Telegraph article, one opposing the EU and one supporting it, then chose the one that he thought would be best for his own political ambitions.

He's so lacking in basic human morality that he buried a report into the toxic environments suffered by tens of thousands of primary school children because to publish it would have negatively impacted his own career, yet had his team cherry-pick good bits out of the report to make him look good.

The reason Boris Johnson failed to publish the damning report into air pollution levels in London schools is obvious. It's that he's one of the worst examples of the ruthlessly self-serving over-privileged Tory careerist type. It's just a damned shame that so many people fall for his foppery act and allow themselves to forget who he actually is, and what he actually represents.
 

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OR

Monday, May 16, 2016

Project Fear vs Project Fear


The EU referendum debate is an incredibly important one, the outcome of which will decide the entire socio-economic future of the UK. It doesn't matter which side you're on, or whether you haven't made up your mind yet, it's clearly a decision that is going to have huge social and economic repercussions.

The problem of course is that both sides of the debate are engaging in desperate and pathetic fearmongering tactics in order to try to frighten people over to their side of the argument.

The Brexit camp have combined utterly dishonest fearmongering tactics and pathetic Third Reich comparisons with an abject failure to spell out anything resembling a coherent economic strategy for what a post-Brexit economy would actually look like. Meanwhile senior figures on the "Bremain" side of the debate have taken to fearmongering about economic Armageddon should the British public vote to leave the EU. No doubt Gordon Brown will soon be wheeled out to scare pensioners into believing that Brexit would cost them their pensions, just like he scared the overwhelming majority of Scottish pensioners into shooting down a Scottish independence movement that was actually supported by the majority of working age voters.

How did it come to this?

Anyone who followed the Scottish independence referendum will have seen how the Unionist camp beat the hope and optimism of the Yes campaign with their "Project Fear" tactics. In fact the director of Better Together Blair McDougall openly admitted that the Unionists could have lost the Scottish independence referendum without having resorted to such desperate fearmongering tactics.

The victory of "Project Fear" in Scotland made it completely inevitable that the EU referendum debate would turn into a desperate fearmongering competition replete with spurious Hitler analogies and terrifying forecasts of economic doom from both sides of the debate.

Tories on both sides

If the success of "Project Fear" in Scotland didn't make a fearmongering arms race completely inevitable, the presence of senior Tories on both sides of the debate certainly did.

Fearmongering rhetoric is the favourite tactic of the Tory party. If they're not still harking on about the 1970s or blaming Labour for the 2007-08 global financial sector insolvency crisis, they're running a filthy BNP style muck-slinging, Islamophobic divide and conquer campaign to get their latest Eton posh-boy installed as Mayor of London.


Any debate that has foul-minded people like David CameronTheresa May and George Osborne on one side and horrifically right-wing zealots like Michael GoveBoris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith on the other is clearly going to end up getting messy.

With self-serving and fundamentally dishonest Tories on both sides of the debate, the degeneration of the argument into a sub-Tabloid level fearmongering farce was completely inevitable.

Driving people away from the debate

Over the last few weeks by far the most common request from people who follow the Another Angry Voice Facebook page has been for some relatively unbiased, fact-based analysis of the EU debate.

There are clearly an awful lot of people who would actually like to make their minds up about the EU based on facts and evidence, but they're being driven away from the debate in droves by the heavily biased fearmongering propaganda being pumped out by both sides.

Totally unbiased coverage is impossible


I can't promise to give a completely unbiased angle because I believe that quitting the EU when the Brexiters have completely failed to come up with anything resembling a coherent economic strategy for what a post-Brexit UK would actually look like would be a spectacularly reckless move. Brexit under such conditions would empower the hard-right fringe of the Tory party, and with no actual blueprint for what they plan to do, it would give them free rein to do whatever the hell they want.

I strongly believe that it 
would be a classic case of "out of the frying pan, into the fire" to bail out of an EU that is riddled with right-wing economic dogma, but in the process hand even more political power to fringe right-wing Tories who are much more fanatical pushers of hard-right economic dogma than the EU institutions.

I'm not a big fan of the EU, but if your boat has a few holes in it, it's generally a good idea to first attempt to repair the holes and bail out the water, rather than immediately abandoning ship and trying to swim to some mystical fantasy island that doesn't even appear on any maps.

Even though I have my opinions and admit them openly, I'm certainly not going to allow my commentary to descend into the utterly pathetic fearmongering seen from both sides of the debate so far. If you ever see me comparing the EU to the Third Reich or uncritically repeating projections of doom sourced from the very financial institutions that failed to even project the biggest financial crisis since the Wall Street Crash, then feel free to call me out on it.

Who benefits the most from this farce?


I'm of the opinion that a low turnout in the EU referendum would strongly favour the Brexit camp, and that the lamentably low standard of debate so far is making a lower turnout very much more likely. If people end up believing that both sides are feeding them inaccurate fearmongering propaganda, they're more likely to just abstain.

The head of Leave.EU Arron Banks has admitted that Brexit depends on a low turnout. He told a gathering of policy experts at the (extremely right-wing) Cato Institute that "If turnout is low, we win. If it’s high, we lose, our strategy is to bore the electorate into submission, and it’s working."


Driving fair-minded people away from the debate through the use of fearmongering tactics plays right into the hands of fanatically right-wing Brexiters like Arron Banks. People like him don't just know that a low turnout is necessary for them to get what they want, they openly admit that they're depending on it.

Conclusion

Trying to form an objective view on the EU referendum debate is very difficult because all economic projections are riddled with uncertainty. One thing you can be sure of is that anyone who tries to present economic projections as if they're facts, rather than theoretical outcomes based on fallible economic models, is not to be trusted. Without looking at the underlying assumptions built into the economic model that generated the predictions, the numbers are pretty much meaningless.

Another much more obvious thing you can be sure of, is that anyone who tries to compare the peaceful and co-operative structure of the EU to Hitler's militarist Nazi empire building is using desperately low smear tactics, and should be completely ignored.

It's becoming more and more obvious that really strong arguments from either side of the EU referendum debate are pretty damned rare in comparison to the sheer volume of fearmongering propaganda. 
Admittedly this is quite a dispiriting conclusion, but a good starting point for dealing with this situation is the adoption of the policy that it's a good idea to apply your critical thinking skills to pretty much everything anyone tries to convince you to believe, whether it's about the EU referendum or not.
       
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OR

How the Vote Leave case for Brexit is an absolute shambles


It doesn't matter what your opinion on the EU is, or which side you favour in the EU referendum debate, only those suffering extreme confirmation bias could be unwilling to recognise that the official "Vote Leave, take control" case for Brexit is an absolute shambles of empty misleading propaganda, unsourced statistics, fearmongering rhetoric, misleading claims, transparent false dichotomies and outright lies.

The "£350 million" lie

The official "Vote leave, take control" document repeats the lie that the UK sends £350 million per week to the EU five times. The lie has been repeatedly debunked as a massive over-estimate based on the dodgy misuse of official figures, yet it's the most oft repeated economic claim in the primary document of the Vote Leave campaign!

Surely it's a damning indictment of the Vote Leave campaign that they repeatedly use deliberately misleading numbers as crude propaganda instead of presenting anything even remotely resembling a structured and costed plan for what would happen to the UK economy after Brexit.


What would post-Brexit Britain look like?

The Vote Leave campaign have not prepared any kind of manifesto whatever for what a post-Brexit economy would look like, preferring to proffer a series of completely uncosted possibilities like "All this money could be better spent on the NHS, schools, and fundamental science research".

The idea that a Tory government that has spent the last six years on an ideological mission to slash spending on the NHS, education and science research in order to fund vast tax cuts for corporations and the very rich, are suddenly going to reverse direction after Brexit is a pure fantasy that only the most delusional people could possibly allow themselves to believe in.

This fantasy that Brexit would save the NHS is particularly delusional given that Brexit would further empower the most fanatically right-wing elements within the Tory party, who are the kind of people who hate the NHS with a burning ideological passion because it's a glowing beacon of successful, popular and efficient socialist policy.

Possibilities not promises

"All this money could be better spent on the NHS, schools, and fundamental science research"
The use of the word "could" gives the game away. It makes it absolutely clear that the right-wingers behind Vote Leave know perfectly well that any savings from leaving the EU will immediately be distributed to the rich, so they're only offering increased spending on stuff like infrastructure, services and scientific research as a theoretical possibility.

The hardline right-wingers behind Vote Leave know that they have no power, nor inclination to ensure greater funding for socialist projects like the National Health Service or the universal education system, but they're perfectly happy to use these possibilities as bait to hook in the gullible.
Even though Vote Leave make it absolutely clear that they are only offering increased funding for the NHS and scientific research as a possibility, not as a promise, they are perfectly happy to set it up as an utterly misleading binary either-or choice at the end of the document.

"A vote to keep sending hundreds of millions to Brussels every week, or a vote to put that money into scientific research and the NHS?"
Science

The "Vote Leave, take control" document continually claims to be championing British science, however what they completely fail to mention is that scientists overwhelmingly oppose Brexit. A survey of 2,000 EU based scientists found that 75% oppose Brexit, Stephen Hawking and 150 Royal Society scientists have claimed that Brexit would be "a disaster for British science"the House of Lords Science committee have calculated that Brexit could cost British research projects £millions in funding, and that none of Britain's most successful technology companies support Brexit.

Repeated claims to be standing up for British science when there is a mountain of evidence that an awful lot of scientists see Brexit as something that would damage UK science and technology is pretty brazen stuff. Even more brazen is the attempt by a bunch of right-wing Tories and 'kippers to criticise the EU for cuts to their science budgets when the Tory government in the UK has been savagely slashing spending on science, research and development, universities and adult education for the last six years.

The ideologically driven Tory freeze on science spending has seen the UK fall way behind industrial competitors like the US and Germany. These savage real terms cuts to UK science projects have nothing to do with the EU and everything to do with the crackpot Tory ideological austerity agenda that would be further empowered by Brexit.

Unsourced statistics

The "Vote Leave, take control" document is absolutely rife with unsourced statistics and graphs. One particularly egregious example is the claim that 74% of UK based Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) think that the UK government, not the EU should control trade policy. No source is given, no data, no sample size, nothing. The inclusion of unsourced statistics like this in a document that repeatedly claims to be championing science should be enough to cause cognitive dissonance in even the most determined of Brexiters.

There is simply no excuse for the repeated presentation of unsourced statistics, especially in a keystone document from the official Vote Leave campaign.


Who is "we"?

"We regain legal control of things like trade, tax, economic regulation, energy and food bills, migration, crime, and civil liberties."

Who is this "we" that Vote Leave are referring to in this sentence? If the UK public vote for Brexit, who will benefit from these additional powers? Will it be the man on the street? Or will it be the Tory government and the unelected House of Lords that David Cameron has spent six years stuffing full of hundreds of unelected cronies?

It's absolutely clear that "we" refers to the Westminster political establishment, not to ordinary British folk, so what would the Tories do with their "regained" powers?


Trade: The Tories are massively in favour of the TTIP corporate power grab, so anyone who thinks that they wouldn't cook up an even more terrifyingly pro-corporate "trade deal" with the US after Brexit is guilty of fantasy land thinking. Donald Trump has indicated that a post-Brexit UK would not be pushed to the back of the trade-deal queue were he to become President. Can you imagine how dangerously pro-corporate/anti-worker/environmentally destructive a trade deal drawn up between the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson would be?

Tax: The EU doesn't actually exert that much control over the UK tax system. There are EU rules on VAT, but there is still a lot of variance in VAT rates and applications across Europe. The EU has not prevented the Tory government from repeatedly slashing the rate of UK Corporation Tax over the last six years so that the rate of Corporation Tax tax rate for multinational corporations (the ones who actually pay their tax) is now below the basic rate of income tax for their workers! 
The UK government retains autonomy over all kinds of taxes such as Corporation Tax, Income Tax, Inheritance Tax, Council Tax, Stamp Duty, Fuel Duty, tax rates on alcohol and cigarettes ... so it seems that the word "tax" has only been included in the above list to make it seem longer and more impressive.

Economic regulation: On several occasions the Tories have wasted taxpayers' money trying to defend the interests of their rich mates in the City of London from EU regulations. Remember the time when George Osborne was the only finance minister in the entire EU to oppose the plan to cap bankers' bonuses at 200% of their annual salary? Vote Leave clearly want to help the Tories tear up EU regulations that impede their mates' financial sector profiteering.

Energy bills: Remember when Ed Miliband proposed a government cap on energy prices and the Tories lined up to shriek "communist" and "price-fixer" at him? Remember how just a few weeks later the Tories signed up to a ludicrous price-fixing deal to pay EdF (85% owned by the French state) and the Chinese government twice the market rate for electricity for 35 years? If the Tories are given more control over the energy market, they'll simply hand more of it over to Chinese communists and state operated energy companies like EdF in line with their crackpot ideology that the French, Chinese, German and Dutch states are more capable of running UK infrastructure than the UK state itself.

Food bills: Vote Leave don't bother to explain the means by which the UK government will gain additional powers over food bills, however it seems fair to guess that a Tory government would set up their own system of landowner subsidies to replace the subsidies distributed by the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy. If the new Tory landowner subsidies are higher than the current EU ones, food prices would probably fall, but taxpayers would foot the bill, if they are lower than the current ones then food prices would rise. The idea of the Tories scrapping landowner handouts in line with their free-trade mantra is completely unrealistic. Farmers are such a loyal Tory demographic that Brexit would probably result in a large increase in free handouts to major landowners from the Tory government.


Migration: For the last six years the Tory Home Secretary Theresa May has been conducting an economically insane war on non-EU migrants, including migrants who are married to British citizens (the most likely of all to assimilate, contribute and stay long-term rather than working in the UK a while then extracting their wealth), non-EU students (a vital source of income to British universities, and a net positive to the UK economy) and non-EU workers who earn less than £35,000 per year (the average UK wage is £26,000). Anyone who thinks that such malicious and economically incompetent Tory immigration policies would just stop after Brexit is wandering into post-Brexit fantasy land again.

Crime: Again, Vote Leave offer no detail whatever on what they mean by "regaining local control of .... crime". In fact this sentence is the only mention of the word "crime" in the entire "Vote Leave, take control" document! Since Vote Leave are totally unwilling to specify what crime powers they think the UK needs to repatriate from the EU, it's fair to assume that it's simply another word added to their list seem longer and more impressive.

Civil Liberties: Given that the current Tory government are intent on scrapping as many civil liberties as they can get away with (the right to free speech, labour rights, the presumption of innocence, the right to privacy, the entire Human Rights Act ...) it's an utterly bizarre item to add to the list. Essentially what Vote Leave seem to be saying is that it would be a good thing if the Tories gained even more capacity to scrap any of our human rights that stand in the way of them doing whatever the hell they like.


Eurozone Austerity

One of the most bizarre things about the "Vote Leave, take control" document is the way that it tries to portray the dire consequences of ideological austerity in the Eurozone as a reason to vote for Brexit. Of course anyone with any macroeconomic sense should be appalled at the way the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF have colluded to force socially and economically toxic austerity on countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, but using that as a reason to support Brexit is utterly illogical. It's illogical because the Tory government are even more fanatical about ideological austerity than the EU, in fact, George Osborne even found £10 billion in British cash to hand over to the IMF in order to go around forcing austerity onto other countries.

A bunch of hard-right Tories who have voted for one appalling austerity policy after another in the UK for the last six years using austerity in the Eurozone as an argument for Brexit is a display of the worst kind of unprincipled opportunism.


Uncertainty

During the 2014 campaign for Scottish independence the right-wing media constantly attacked the Vote Yes campaign and the SNP government for perceived flaws in their detailed plan for post-independence Scotland. During the 2016 campaign for the UK to quit the EU, swathes of the right-wing press have been completely silent on the total lack of an actual plan for what a post-Brexit UK economy might look like.

As far as the right-wing press seem concerned "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it" is a viable economic strategy for a stable transition out of the European Union!


It's incredible that swathes of the right-wing press were so desperate to fearmonger about the uncertainties of Scottish independence, but less than two years later they're supporting a Brexit campaign with no detailed plan whatever for what comes next. 

Economic chaos

The lack of anything resembling a coherent plan for what comes next is certain to cause economic uncertainty if Vote Leave win.

It doesn't matter how much froth and bile Brexiters like Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Andrea Leadsom spit about expert interventions, financial institutions like the Bank of England would be utterly reckless if they were to fail to point out the obvious fact that Brexit with no strategic plan of action from the people who are promoting it would be extremely likely to cause severe economic turmoil because financial markets generally don't like uncertainty and instability.

  An unjustified and unjustifiable conclusion
"A vote to leave is the safer option"
There is absolutely no effort to justify this conclusion from an economic, political or security perspective. 

Economic: I'm not one to take the utterances of financial institutions like The Bank of England, IMF, OECD or private banks at face value. These are the institutions that failed to see the 2007-08 global financial sector insolvency crisis coming. However, the underlying justification for their pessimistic projections about the economic consequences of Brexit seems sound. The Brexiters have outlined no real plan for Brexit and seem to think "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it" is sufficient. This mens that severe and sustained economic uncertainty is inevitable given the total lack of strategic planning. Under these circumstances anyone who tries to claim that Brexit is economically safer than Bremain is playing you for a fool.

Political: Post-war European co-operation came about as an effort to prevent another massive conflict between the European powers. Given that the first half of the 20th Century featured the two most deadly industrialised wars the European continent had ever seen, it is worth celebrating the fact that there have been no wars between EU states since the era of European co-operation began. It would be the worst kind of fearmongering to suggest that Brexit could lead directly to war, but it's difficult to imagine how it's possible to justify any claim that voting for the UK to remain in Europe would make the UK politically safer.

Security: Despite all of the Britain First style fearmongering about refugees from the Syrian civil war being terrorists, it remains an incontestable fact that all of the deadly terrorist atrocities carried out on British soil since the 1950s have been perpetrated by people born in the British Isles. The idea that withdrawal from the EU would make Britain safer from terrorism is the worst kind of counter-factual nonsense.


It beggars belief that high profile Brexiters like Michael Gove blubber away about the unfairness of fearmongering rhetoric from the Bremain side when the official Vote Leave document ends with an unjustified and unjustifiable assertion that voting to remain in the EU is somehow more unsafe than voting to leave.

Conclusion

The EU is far from perfect, I've been criticising it for years, but the official "Vote Leave, take control" document is an abject demonstration that the official Brexit campaign is a complete shambles run by people with no strategic plan whatever, who think that a garbled mess of fearmongering rhetoric, unsourced statistics, shocking opportunism, misleading claims, blatantly false dichotomies and outright lies is sufficient to convince anybody of anything. 


Essentially the whole "Vote Leave, take control" document is a demonstration of the utter contempt that the hard-right Tories and 'kippers behind Vote Leave have for the general public. It's a demonstration that they believe that people are so ill-educated and lacking in critical thinking skills that they'll simply uncritically rote learn the abject mess they've presented as their keystone document, then trot off to vote for Brexit.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.




OR

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What are the likely consequences of Tory electoral fraud?


Despite efforts by swathes of the mainstream media and the political establishment to starve the Tory electoral fraud allegations of coverage, it keeps on getting bigger. 


The Electoral Commission had to take the unprecedented step of resorting to the courts to demand documentation that the Tory party had been trying to hide from their investigation, more than a dozen police forces have initiated enquiries into fraudulent Tory campaign spending, leaked emails show that senior Tory figures (Lynton Crosby, Andrew Feldman, and Stephen Gilbert) approved the decision to pass off local campaign spending as national expenditure, and more questions are being asked about other local Tory election expenses in marginal constituencies that the party failed to declare as constituency spending.

Despite concerted efforts by many in the media and the political establishment to downplay, dismiss or ignore the electoral fraud story, it looks like it is definitely not going to go away. However there is still absolutely no guarantee that action will be taken to punish the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the electoral fraud.

In this article I'm going to consider some of the most likely, and most unlikely consequences are.

Legal consequences

It is a criminal offence to commit electoral fraud and if found guilty the punishment can be up to a year in jail or unlimited fines.


There's plentiful evidence that the Battle Bus teams were campaigning for particular candidates in their local areas (see image), so short of a complete whitewash, there's little chance that the Tories are going to get away scot free.

The Tory approach to the electoral fraud scandal seems to be to claim that it's all just some innocent administrative mix up. This kind of excuse looks an awful lot like they are preparing the ground to throw some lowly administrator under the (battle) bus.

The problem with this age old strategy of pinning the whole scandal on some lowly minion within the organisation is that the leaked email about the Battle Bus clearly implicates the Tory party treasurer Andrew Feldman, the deputy treasurer Stephen Gilbert and the recently knighted Tory party election strategist Lynton Crosby, because they all signed off on the plan to miscategorise the Battle Bus spending as national party spending rather than candidate spending.

The emails make it absolutely clear that they signed off the plan to avoid declaring the Tory Battle Bus expenses (running the bus, catering, hotel bills ...) as local spending, even though the entire purpose of the Battle Bus campaign was to tip specific marginal constituencies in their favour.

It doesn't matter if these senior Tories try to plead ignorance about UK electoral law becuase "I didn't know it was a crime" has never been an acceptable defence in any court of law. Ignorance of the law does not magically render unlawful actions lawful, especially if it is the actual job of the accused (two party treasurers and an election strategist) to ensure that the party complies with electoral law.


"I didn't know it was a crime" is clearly not a defence, but alongside a guilty plea it could certainly be used in mitigation. If the Tories pull off their attempt to dismiss the whole thing as an "administrative error" it's highly unlikely that anyone will ever end up going to jail for it, because an establishment whitewash of the whole affair is still a possible outcome.

Even if the allegations are proven, it's unlikely anyone would go to jail for it unless they are found guilty in court after trying to contest the charges, rather than pleading guilty and accepting a few fines and suspended sentences.

Electoral consequences

Several people have tried to argue that the Tory electoral spending fraud should trigger a re-run of the General Election, but in my view this would be an unfair consequence. The Daily Mirror investigation revealed that the hidden Tory campaign spending would have pushed some two dozen constituencies over their campaign spending limits. Even if another ten or twenty additional constituencies get dragged into the scandal over other issues (like undeclared spending on adverts in the local press, undeclared spending on campaign leaflets, or undeclared expenditure on flying in of Republican Party activists activists from the US) a re-run of the General Election would clearly be extremely unfair on the 600 odd MPs who complied with electoral law when they won their seats. For example, why on earth should the 56 SNP MPs in Scotland have to re-contest their seats as a consequence of a spate of Tory electoral fraud in England?

In my view a full re-run of the General Election would constitute punishment of the majority of innocent MPs for the crimes of a small minority of guilty MPs who gained unlawful advantage from undeclared campaign spending.

A fairer course of action would be to hold By-elections in any constituencies where the sitting Tory MP benefited from electoral fraud. If the allegations of Tory electoral fraud are proven, this could result in By-elections in 20 or more constituencies, which would be more than sufficient to end the Tory majority in the House of Commons assuming enough people were to vote against the Tory candidates who cheated their way into the House of Commons.

Legislative consequences

If it turns out that twenty or more Conservative MPs benefited from electoral fraud in winning their seats, there could be some very interesting legislative consequences. If these politicians entered the House of Commons by fraudulent means, any legislation that was passed as a result of their votes could clearly be seen as having been fraudulently imposed on the public.

The situation is clearly unprecedented, so I'm not exactly sure of the legal grounds for overturning legislation that could have been passed as a result of Tory electoral fraud, but if the Tories are found guilty of electoral fraud, I can't see any reason why legal efforts couldn't be made to overturn legislation that made its way through the legislative process as a result of votes by people who cheated their way into parliament.

Conclusion

The Tories would like nothing more than to have the whole electoral fraud scandal brushed under the carpet as some kind of innocent administrative error, while possibly pinning the blame on some lowly minion. Until the leaked email detailing how the Battle Bus plans had been signed off by senior Tory figures came to light, an establishment whitewash and sacrifice of a lowly scapegoat seemed to be the most likely outcome. Now that senior Tory figures are clearly implicated, it might be a lot more difficult for them to whitewash the whole affair or pin the whole fraud on some lowly admin worker.

If the complaints are upheld it seems likely that By-elections would have to be held in any constituency where campaign spending limits were broken. It would be extraordinary if people who cheated their way into power were allowed to continue reaping the benefits of their fraudulent activities. Whether the constituencies would reject the Tory candidates who cheated their way into office is another matter. It would only take the loss of seven or so Tory seats to put an end to the Tory majority in the House of Commons, however it's likely that they would still be able to cling onto power by seeking the backing of the likes of the DUP, UUP (who are already affiliated to the Tory party) and the UKIP MP Douglas Carswell.


Whether it would be possible to overturn legislation that was passed with the backing of MPs who cheated their way into the House of Commons is an interesting legal question, and one that will definitely need to be asked if the allegations of Tory electoral fraud are proven.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.




OR

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Why I'm not going to turn AAV into a Guido Fawkes clone



Someone left a message on the Another Angry Voice Facebook page saying that my blog is too left-wing to qualify as an independent blog and that I should be more like the right-wing blogger Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes)!

Independent vs Unbiased

The most important thing to note is that, like many other people, this advice comes from someone who has clearly confused meaning of "independent" and "unbiased".

Independence


I'm an independent blogger, because unlike Guido I don't take any money whatever from political campaign groups, political lobbyists, corporations or billionaire right-wing press barons like Rupert Murdoch. The only source of income for Another Angry Voice is small Pay as You Feel donations from people who appreciate my work.

The Guido Fawkes website generates advertising revenue from corporations and is currently running adverts from several corporate PR agencies and political lobbying companies (like MIPPR and PLMR). It is also advertising some online gambling/Brexit campaign crossover website called Sovereign Draw. The Another Angry Voice website hosts no adverts whatever.

Paul Staines was also happy to take cash from Rupert Murdoch for writing a column for The S*n, and admits that he is willing to continue working with the Murdoch press in the future. I have never taken any money from any mainstream press organisation, and I will never work for, or alongside the Murdoch press.


The only people I'm beholden to are the individuals who fund my work through their Pay as You Feel donations. I won't tailor my content to them though. As far as I'm concerned the kind of people who donate to AAV are doing so on the understanding that their donations allow me to keep complete editorial freedom over my work. However if some people take offence at anything I've written, they're absolutely free to cancel their subscriptions.

Anyone who believes that Paul Staines (a former Murdoch employee who hosts adverts for Brexiters political lobbyists on his website) is more "independent" than I am really needs to have a good think about what the word "independent" actually means.

Bias


I'm not "unbiased" and I have never claimed to be. In fact I have often explained that I have biases, and warned people that anyone who tries to claim that they are unbiased is being blatantly misleading (see image).

I am perfectly willing to admit that I am biased in favour things like social justice, openness and freedom. These biases don't stop me from criticising Labour, the SNP, the Greens etc when I feel it's warranted, however the Tories are in government now, so they tend to get the bulk of the criticism.


I'm also much more likely to criticise overtly right-wing groups like the Conservatives, UKIP, the BNP and Britain First because I strongly oppose right-wing economic ideology and the kind of divide and conquer fearmongering favoured by right-wing political parties.

If anyone thinks that Guido Fawkes is unbiased there's something severely wrong with their political perception, because he's clearly rabidly right-wing and extremely Eurosceptic. Maybe he might appear unbiased to some people because his political slant is very similar to that of the right-wing press, but that doesn't mean he's unbiased, it just means he has similar political biases to billionaire propaganda barons like Rupert Murdoch, Jonathan Harmsworth, and the Barclay Brothers.

I'm not having a go at Paul Staines, he's perfectly entitled to express his political opinions just as I'm entitled to express mine, and he's free to make money from his writing in whichever way he chooses. In fact he sometimes does a good job of exposing political corruption, so we're not absolute opposites. I just think that it's worth noting that he is biased in some ways and I'm biased in others.


Conclusion

The distinction between "independent" and "unbiased" is a very important one. I have never, and will never claim to be unbiased because I'm not. I take exception at people who claim that I'm not independent though. I'm pretty sure that AAV would be a hell of a lot more profitable if I blathered this site in adverts and the kind of appalling sponsored clickbait links that so many other websites do, but I choose not to do this because I think that accepting donations only from my readers is the best way to ensure that I keep complete editorial freedom to write about whatever subjects I choose.

I will certainly not be acting on the advice to make myself more like Paul Staines. In fact I'm absolutely determined that I will never ever write columns for the Murdoch press or generate advertising revenue from political lobbyists, right-wing anti-EU campaigners or corporate PR firms. If I ever do, feel free to call me a stinking hypocrite and cancel your subscriptions.


 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.




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The mainstream media sometimes get it right


Over the years I've written several articles criticising the mainstream press for their biased coverage and the way that they frame the political debate in order to create the impression that popular liberal and centre-left ideas (opposition to imperialist warmongering, renationalisation, serious action against tax-dodging) are radical, extremist or unelectable, whilst portrying failed hard-right Thatcherite economic dogma (the austerity con, privatisation of core services like schools and the NHS, tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich) as normal, necessary or even fundamentally unquestionable. However it is important to recognise that the mainstream media is not one homogeneous blob, and that elements of the mainstream media are capable of providing good political coverage. 

Even though huge numbers of mainstream journalists are perfectly happy to collect their pay packets for lazily churnalising press releases direct from Tory party HQ or some rotten Blairite thinktank, rather than doing anything resembling investigative journalism of their own, there are still journalists in the mainstream press who do a good job of holding the powerful to account.

One recent example of good work from elements of the mainstream media is the investigation into the massive electoral fraud that helped the Tories to win two dozen marginal seats at the 2015 General Election. The Daily Mirror exposed the way in which the Tories failed to declare expenses from their 2015 "Battle Bus" (the cost of the bus, hotels, catering ...) even though they explicitly admitted that the bus was campaigning for individual Tory candidates on their Twitter feed. Channel 4 News kept the public informed about the ongoing criminal investigations into Tory electoral fraud when the story was being studiously ignored by the news departments of other channels.


Of course independent media has also played an important part in exposing the 2015 Tory electoral fraud. I've posted several updates on it on the Another Angry Voice Facebook page, √Čoin Clarke has covered it on Twitter, and without the campaign by the Canary to get people to contact their local police forces to report the Tory election fraud, it seems unlikely that at least police forces would be actively investigating their fraudulent over-spending.

As a result of the hard work of the Daily Mirror, Channel 4 News and various independent media sources, the Electoral Commission took the unprecedented step of  resorting to the High Court to demand documentation that the Tory party had been trying to hide from the electoral fraud investigation. Such a drastic step from the Electoral Commission must come as quite a shock to anyone who remembers their timid failure to properly investigate Britain First's extraordinarily dodgy fundraising activities.


After the Electoral Commission used the courts to demand the evidence the Tories had been refusing to hand over, Andrew Neil (a staunch Conservative and ex-Murdoch hack who now works for the BBC) took an interest in the story that most of the mainstream media seem intent on ignoring. Even though in the past I've been highly critical of Andrew Neil's biased reporting, he deserves some credit for (eventually) highlighting a story that few at the BBC or other mainstream news outlets seemed willing to touch.


The development of social media means that the mainstream press is under serious pressure from independent journalism like never before, but the idea that the corporate press will simply disappear to be replaced by hard-working independent journalists is a complete fantasy. The mainstream press will remain a powerful force for shaping the political debate. The important though factor is that it is possible for us to make the mainstream press better. If they get a lot of positive feedback, and a lot of shares on social media for running good investigative campaigns, they'd clearly be likely to invest more effort in producing that kind of journalism in the future.

If we want a mainstream media that does good investigative work and tries to hold the powerful to account (rather than lazily churnalising government press releases or pushing the hard-right propaganda favoured by sociopathic press barons like Rupert Murdoch, Jonathan Harmsworth and the Barclay Brothers), we need to demand it.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.




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