Category Archives: Boris Johnson

While the Shark Still Swims: Boris Johnson, Super Saturday and Super Responsibilities

By most accounts, the response of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the coronavirus pandemic has been abysmal.  When the architect of the response himself catches the virus, he is either a more informed person for his sin or a buffoon in need of serious chastising.

In June, the prime minister claimed pride in announcing a new commitment for the majority – and a thumping one at that – of COVID-19 tests to be processed within 24 hours.  Marvellous news to behold, except that Johnson had also revealed how he was getting a meaty grip on cabinet committees, thereby taking “control” of the pandemic response.  The response from Labour’s Keir Starmer was one of quizzical disdain.  “So an obvious question for the prime minister: who’s been in direct control up till now?”

A hail of dissimulation followed by way of reply.  “I take full responsibility for everything this government has been doing in tackling coronavirus, and I’m very proud of our record.  If you look at what we have achieved so far, it is considerable.  We have protected the NHS, we have driven down the death rate.  We are now seeing far fewer hospital admissions.”

When he is caught out, either by means of offending a person, race or country, his approach is one of the half-hearted apology, often served with a good backhand.  “By mumbling vague apologies and failing to individuate his words,” suggests Arianne Shahvisi in the London Review of Books, “Johnson creates an aura of harmless stupidity that makes him seem like a friendly, slovenly underdog to a nation with a soft spot for incompetence.”

There is certainly much to apologise for in terms of how Britain has handled the spread of COVID-19.  We will never know the full extent of what the death toll might have been had the lockdown been introduced say, a week earlier, but estimates abound.  James Annan, a scientist who admittedly earns his crust in the field of climate prediction, claimed in May that a lockdown that had come into force one week earlier “would have saved 30,000 lives in the current wave (based on official numbers, which are themselves a substantial underestimate).  It would also have made for a shorter, cheaper, less damaging lockdown in economic terms.”

Professor Neil Ferguson, Johnson’s former adviser on dealing with the virus, had his own calculation to mess the stable of policy. “Had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier,” argued Ferguson before a committee of MPs, “we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half.”  (Ferguson, it should also be said, breached the very lockdown measures he had advocated, necessitating his resignation.)  He singled out the disaster that befell care homes.  “We made the rather optimistic assumption that somehow the elderly would be shielded.”  While the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies had “anticipated in theory” the risk, “extensive testing to make sure it doesn’t get in” did not take place.

The entire picture, from governance to coordination between the UK’s various health entities, as public health specialist Martin McKee and colleagues point out in the BMJ, has been a bungle of grand proportions.  Parliament has not been able to scrutinise the actions of ministers.  Local government leaders found themselves left out of discussions on a national, coordinated approach.  The procurement of goods and services by a civil service dogged by outsourcing was catastrophic.  Ethnic minorities were left particularly vulnerable and, just to round up this little list of horrors, international collaboration was poor.  “The UK’s engagement with its European neighbours,” conclude McKee, et al., “was chaotic with unconvincing excuses invoking overlooking emails.”

Over the weekend, England faces its promised “Super Saturday”, the sort of government advertising criticised for its incentive to cut loose and run just a tad riot.  “I am worried that by opening on a Saturday, rather than letting things bed in over a week there is a likely threat of serious disorder,” warned West Midlands’ police and crime commissioner David Jamieson in a statement.

Bars, cafes, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers will open (some already have), subject to a slew of regulations.  Two households will be able to convene in any setting, subject to social distancing measures.  An enforceable 30-person limit will apply, with one-metre-plus social distancing rules and time limits being placed on patrons and diners.  The buzz of re-opening will not be enough to arrest the rot that had already settled into the British pub scene, marred as it is by the phenomenon of the pub company.  Beer-tie agreements binding the tenant to pay rent and purchase supplies from such “pubcos” were already killing off a good number of pubs before the coronavirus struck.

A spokesman for the prime minister has also informed the press of continued closures.  “The regulations also keep in place a list of premises that must remain closed and that includes nightclubs, nail bars, salons, indoor play areas, gyms, conference centres and exhibition halls.”

Johnson, as he had done from the start of his prime ministership, is talking up the sensible Briton, capable of good behaviour in preventing another surge of infections.   The success of the reopening, “and ultimately the economic health of the whole country is dependent on every single one of us acting responsibly.”  He acknowledged that “the government will not hesitate in putting on the brakes and reimposing restrictions.”  Words of wisdom were given: “follow the rules” and “don’t overdo it.”  The shark, he warned was “still out there in the water.”

The prime minister is seeking a halfway house.  He is urging for the creation of a more responsible, sober Briton, capable of enjoying pints at a social distance while remaining sharp on boundaries and infection.  He is playing the nanny who casts an approving eye of liberation and dispensation, and the father who promises disciplinary retribution for transgressions.  Apologies will duly follow.

Keir Starmer’s “Antisemitism” Sacking is a Signal that Israel is Safe in his Hands

The sacking of Rebecca Long-Bailey from the UK shadow cabinet – on the grounds that she retweeted an article containing a supposedly “antisemitic” conspiracy theory – managed to kill three birds with one stone for new Labour leader Keir Starmer.

First, it offered a pretext to rid himself of the last of the Labour heavyweights associated with the party’s left and its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Long-Bailey was runner-up to Starmer in the leadership elections earlier in the year and he had little choice but to include her on his front bench.

Starmer will doubtless sigh with relief if the outpouring of threats on social media from left-wing members to quit over Long-Bailey’s sacking actually materialises.

Second, the move served as a signal from Starmer that he is a safe pair of hands for the party’s right, which worked so hard to destroy Corbyn from within, as a recently leaked internal review revealed in excruciating detail. Despite the report showing that the Labour right sabotaged the 2017 general election campaign to prevent Corbyn from becoming prime minister, Starmer appears to have buried its contents – as have the British media.

He is keen to demonstrate that he will now steer Labour back to being a reliable party of government for the neoliberal establishment. He intends to demonstrate that he is the Labour party’s Joe Biden, not its Bernie Sanders. Starmerism is likely to look a lot like Blairism.

A peace pipe

And third, Long-Bailey’s sacking provided the perfect opportunity for Starmer to publicly light a peace pipe with the Israel lobby after its long battle to tar Corbyn, his predecessor, as an antisemite.

The offending article shared by Long-Bailey referred to Israel’s documented and controversial role in training and helping to militarise US police forces. It did not mention Jews. By straining the meaning of antisemitism well past its breaking point, Starmer showed that his promised “zero tolerance” for antisemitism actually means zero tolerance of anyone in Labour who might antagonise the Israel lobby – and by extension, of course, the Israeli government.

By contrast, back in February Rachel Reeves, an MP on the party’s right, celebrated Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit in the UK parliament and a well-known Jew hater who supported the appeasement of Hitler. None of that appeared to bother the Israel lobby, nor did it dissuade Starmer from welcoming Reeves into his shadow cabinet weeks later.

Feeble handwringing

Doubtless, the move against Long-Bailey felt particularly pressing given that this week the door will open to the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu annexing swaths of Palestinian territory in the West Bank in violation of international law, as sanctioned by Donald Trump’s “peace” plan.

Corbyn joined more than 140 other MPs last month in sending a letter to the British prime minister urging “severe consequences including sanctions” on Israel should it carry out annexation.

Starmer, by contrast, has voiced only “concerns”. Sidelining the gross violation of international law annexation constitutes, or the effects on Palestinians, he has weakly opined: “I don’t agree with annexation and I don’t think it’s good for security in the region.”

It looks like Starmer has no intention of doing anything more than feeble handwringing – especially when he knows that the Israel lobby, including advocacy groups inside his own party like the Jewish Labour Movement, would move swiftly against him, as they did against Corbyn, should he do otherwise.

Sacking Long-Bailey has offered the Israel lobby a sacrificial victim. But it has also removed a potential loose cannon from his front bench on Israel and annexation-related matters. It has sent an exceptionally clear warning to other shadow cabinet ministers to watch and closely follow his lead. He has made it evident that no one will be allowed to step out of line.

A smooth ride

All three audiences – Starmer’s own MPs and party officials, the billionaire-owned media, and the Israel lobby that claims to represent Britain’s Jewish community – can now be relied on to give him a smooth ride.

His only remaining challenge will be to keep the membership in check.

Starmer understands only too well the common policy priorities of the various audiences he is seeking to placate. In fact, the article Long-Bailey retweeted – and which led to her ousting – was highlighting the very interconnectedness of the problems these establishment groups hope to ringfence from examination.

The article published in the Independent was an interview with Maxine Peake, a left-wing actor and Palestinian solidarity activist. As Long-Bailey shared the article, she called Peake, one of her constituents, “an absolute diamond”.

Peake had used the interview to warn: “We’re being ruled by capitalist, fascist dictators.” Establishment structures to protect capitalism, “keeping poor people in their place”, were so entrenched, she wondered how we might ever “dig out” of them.

Those who rejected Corbyn in the 2019 general election because he was seen as too left-wing, she observed, had no place complaining now about an incompetent Conservative government there to serve the establishment rather than the public.

Her brief, offending comment about Israel – the one that has been widely mischaracterised as antisemitic – was immediately prefaced by Peake’s concern that racism and police brutality had become globalised industries, with states learning repressive techniques from each other.

She told the interviewer: “Systemic racism is a global issue. The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”

The Palestinian lab

Starmer and the Israel lobby both wish to deflect attention away from the wider point Peake was making. She was referring to Israel’s well-known role in helping to train and militarise other countries’ police forces with so-called “counter-terrorism measures”. Israel has been doing so since the early 1990s.

As Israeli journalists and scholars have noted, Israel has effectively turned the occupied Palestinian territories into laboratories in which it can refine oppressive systems of control that other states desire for use against sections of their own populations.

But Starmer and the lobby chose to hoist Long-Bailey – via Peake’s interview – onto the hook of a single unprovable assertion: that Israel specifically taught Minneapolis police the knee on the neck chokehold that one of their police officers, Derek Chauvin, used for nine minutes on George Floyd last month, leading to his death.

Peake was right that Israeli security services regularly use that type of chokehold on Palestinians, and also that Israeli experts had held a training session with Minneapolis police in 2012.  All that can be proved.

The specific claim that this particular chokehold was taught on that occasion, however, may be wrong – and we are unlikely ever to know, given the lack of transparency regarding Israel’s influence on other police forces’ strategies and methods.

Such opaqueness and a lack of accountability in police practices is the norm in Israel, where the security services treat Palestinians as an enemy – both in the occupied territories and inside Israel, where there is a large minority with degraded Israeli citizenship. US police forces, on the other hand, profess, often unconvincingly, to be driven by a “protect and serve” ethos.

‘Global pacification’

In taking action against Long-Bailey, Starmer, a former lawyer known for his forensic skills, made a telling, false allegation. He told the BBC that the Peake interview had indulged in antisemitic “conspiracy theories” – in the plural. But only one Israel-related claim, about the knee on the neck chokehold, was made or cited.

Further, Peake’s claim, whether correct or not, is patently not antisemitic. Israel is neither a Jew nor the representative of the Jewish people collectively – except in the imaginations of antisemites and the hardcore Zionists who people the Israel lobby.

More significantly still, in condemning Peake, Starmer wilfully ignored the wood as he pointed out a single tree.

Israeli scholar Jeff Halper, a veteran peace activist, has documented in great detail in his book War Against the People how Israel has intentionally positioned itself at the heart of a growing “global pacification industry”. The thousands of training sessions held by Israeli police in the US and around the world are based on their “expertise” in repressive, militarised policing.

Tiny Israel has influence in this field way out of proportion to its size, in the same way that it is one of the top 10 states – all the others far larger – that profit from the arms trade and cyber warfare. Every year since 2007, the Global Militarisation Index has crowned Israel the most militarised nation on the planet.

A senior analyst at the liberal Israeli Haaretz newspaper has described Israel as “securityland” – the go-to state for others to improve their techniques for surveilling, controlling and oppressing restive populations within their territory. It is this expertise in “securocratic warfare” that, according to Halper, has allowed tiny Israel to hit way above its weight in international politics and earned it a place “at the table with NATO countries”.

Western bad faith

It is on this last point that the Labour left, including many of the party’s half a million members, and the Labour right decisively part company. A gulf in worldviews opens up.

Along with the climate emergency, Israel symbolises for the Labour left some of the most visible hypocrisies and excesses of a neoliberal global agenda that treats the planet with slash-and-burn indifference, views international law with contempt, and regards populations as little more than pawns on an updated colonial chessboard.

Israel’s recent history of dispossessing the Palestinians; its unabashed promotion of Jim Crow-style ethnic privileges for Jews, epitomised in the nation-state law; its continuing utter disregard for the rights of Palestinians; its hyper-militarised culture; its decades-long occupation; its refusal to make peace with its neighbours; its deep integration into the West’s war industries; its influence on the ideologies of the “war on terror” and a worldwide “clash of civilisations”; and its disdain for international humanitarian law are all anathema to the left.

Worse still, Israel has been doing all of this in full view of the international community for decades. Nonetheless, its crimes are richly subsidised by the United States and Europe, as well as obscured by a sympathetic western media that is financially and ideologically embedded in the neoliberal establishment.

For the Labour left – for Peake, Long-Bailey and Corbyn – Israel is such an obvious example of western bad faith, such a glaring Achilles’ heel in the deceptions spread on behalf of the neoliberal order, that it presents an opportunity. Criticism of Israel can serve to awaken others, helping them to understand how a bogus western “civilisation” is destroying the planet through economic pillage, wars and environmental destruction.

It offers an entry into the left’s structural, more abstract critiques of capitalism and western colonialism that it is otherwise difficult to convey in soundbites to a uniformly hostile media.

Antisemitism redefined

The problem is that the stakes regarding Israel are understood by the Labour right in much the same way. Their commitment to a global neoliberal order – one they characterise in terms of a superior western civilisation – stands starkly exposed in the case of Israel.

If the idea of Israel is made vulnerable to challenge, so might their other self-delusions and deceptions about western superiority.

For each side, Israel has become a battleground on which the truthfulness of their worldview is tested.

The Labour right has no desire to engage with the left’s arguments, particularly at a time when the climate emergency and the rise of populism make their political claims sound increasingly hollow. Rather than debate the merits of democratic socialism, the Labour right has preferred to simply tar the Labour left as antisemites.

With Corbyn’s unexpected rise to lead Labour in 2015, that crisis for the Labour right became existential. The backlash was swift and systematic.

The party’s right-wing scrapped the accepted definition of antisemitism and imposed a new one on Labour, formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), to ensnare the left. It focused on criticism of Israel rather than hatred or fear of Jews.

The Jewish Labour Movement, a pro-Israel group, was revived in late 2015 to undermine Corbyn from within the party. It was all but sanctified, even as it refused to campaign for Labour candidates and referred the party to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for a highly politicised investigation.

The Labour right openly conflated not only the left’s anti-Zionism with antisemitism but even their socialist critiques of capitalism. It was argued that any references to bankers or a global financial elite were code words for “Jews”.

After this lengthy campaign helped to destroy Corbyn, the candidates to succeed him, including Long-Bailey, opted to declare themselves Zionists and to sign up to “10 Pledges” from the Board of Deputies, the UK’s main Jewish leadership organisation. Those demands put the board and the Jewish Labour Movement in charge of determining what antisemitism was, despite their highly partisan politics on Israel and their opposition to democratic socialism.

Political charlatans

The problem for the Labour right and Israel’s lobbyists, and therefore for Starmer too, is that Israel, egged on by Trump, is working overtime to blow up the carefully constructed claim – supported by the IHRA definition of antisemitism – that Israel is just another normal western-style state and that therefore it should not be “singled out” for criticism.

Israel is on a collision course with the most fundamental precepts of international law by preparing to annex large areas of the West Bank. This is not a break with Israeli policy; it is the culmination of many decades of settlement activity and resource theft from Palestinians.

This is a potential moment of crisis for those on the Labour right, who could quickly find themselves exposed as political charlatans – the charlatans they always have been – by Israel’s actions over the coming weeks and months.

Starmer has indicated he is determined to tightly delimit the room for criticism of Israel within Labour as the annexation issue unfolds. That will leave him and the party free to issue their own carefully crafted, official condemnations – similar to Johnson’s.

Like Johnson, Starmer will play his allotted role in this political game of charades – one long understood and tolerated by Israel and its UK lobbyists. He will offer some sound and fury, the pretence of condemnation, but of the kind intended to signify nothing.

This has been at the heart of UK foreign policy towards a Jewish state built on the theft of Palestinian land for more than a century. Starmer has shown that he intends to return to business as usual as quickly as possible.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Emily Maitlis is No Media Hero: She Simply Forgot What She and the BBC Are There To Do

The wrong conclusions are being drawn about Emily Maitlis’s comments on Dominic Cummings on the BBC flagship Newsnight show this week. Her remarks are not evidence of her courage, or that journalists are being gagged, or that the BBC is suddenly capitulating to the government.

The problem is caused by our desire to focus on whether Maitlis was right or wrong about Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, breaking the lockdown rules. But it is actually a distraction to fixate on the issue of whether Maitlis should or should not have been allowed to express the widely shared view – supported by a police investigation – that Cummings broke his own government’s rules by driving around the UK when he suspected he and his family were infected with Covid-19.

Even narrowly concentrating on the matter of whether the BBC was justified in hurriedly reprimanding Maitlis for criticising Cummings’ behaviour – and then seemingly forcing her off air the next night as punishment – limits our understanding of what the incident signifies, what it means.

Glitch in the machine

The BBC, the rest of the media, even Maitlis herself, would all prefer that we restrict ourselves to debating the rights and wrongs of this particular row – and that we continue to see it chiefly as a “row”, with two sides arguing over what was the right thing to do in the circumstances.

But viewing the incident in this way is to personalise the “row” into a question simply of  whether Maitlis is a good journalist or a bad one, or whether BBC bosses were too submissive towards the government on this occasion or are really trying to uphold standards of “impartiality”. Neither “debate” gets us very far.

Maitlis is a senior BBC journalist who got where she is today by doing with flair what the BBC is supposed to do – and consistently does. This week something went wrong. There was a very brief glitch in the BBC’s well-oiled machine. Studying that glitch in isolation really won’t clarify things. The glitch must be seen in relation to the well-oiled machine – in that way we can throw light on what the BBC does so effortlessly the rest of the time.

The usefulness of the Maitlis “row” is not in weighing whether she was impartial or partial on this occasion, or conversely whether her BBC bosses were enforcing impartiality rules or being partial. Rather, it helps to shed light on whether the BBC and its journalists ever actually aspire to be impartial, and whether impartiality is even possible.

Mocked and berated

The almost-immediate reprimand issued by the BBC, chastising Maitlis for failing to uphold the corporation’s supposedly strict standards of impartiality, helps in this regard because it is so clearly nonsense that Maitlis usually prioritises impartiality, or that BBC bosses usually hurry to issue reprimands when such standards are broken.

Here to remind us that Maitlis has no qualms about being partial – and the BBC no qualms about letting her be partial – is another short clip of her in action, from a broadcast 14 months ago. On this occasion she interrupted, berated and ridiculed Barry Gardiner, then the shadow secretary for international trade, as he tried to explain Labour’s Brexit policy:

Notice the differences in that segment compared to her comments this week. Her criticisms of Cummings were delivered in sombre tones, as if in disappointment, as though Cummings had fallen below the high standards normally set by the government. Her comments were carefully ascribed to the national mood. And she restricted herself to critiquing Cummings’ behaviour (criticisms echoed by the police investigation) and Johnson’s commitment to standing by him. She did not stray into wider territory that risked targeting the government’s political policies or its priorities.

The Gardiner interview is something else entirely. She rolls her eyes at the camera, she mocks him with barely concealed disdain, she laughs at him, and her body language is openly hostile. She explicitly ridicules the Labour party’s policy on Brexit while a representative for the government sits grinning next to Gardiner in pleased disbelief at her outburst – all remember at a time when the Conservative party, then led by Theresa May, was in a complete shambles, tearing itself apart over a Brexit mess it had created and ensuring near-complete political paralysis.

Analyse those two videos of Maitlis and then decide in which one she appears more partial. Were you a visitor from Mars watching those two clips, which one might you expect the BBC to have hurriedly apologised over for breaking its supposed impartiality rules?

And yet I can find no indication that the BBC ever issued a reprimand to Maitlis over the Gardiner interview, either at the time or later.

In fact, the interview was in many ways so normal by the BBC’s standards – especially in the days when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader – that I have yet to see anyone on my very active social media feeds about the Maitlis incident refer to it. Unlike the Cummings comment, Maitlis’s public bullying of, and contempt for, Gardiner went critically unremarked outside of the usual leftist circles. Instead, the interview was generally celebrated. On its Youtube page, the “liberal” Guardian even implicitly lauds her “exasperation” at Gardiner as capturing the “national mood”, again as if Labour was more responsible for the chaos of Brexit than the government whose policy it was.

A matter of power

Just to underline the point, here is another image of Maitlis on Newsnight, this time being politically “impartial” about Corbyn himself. The photomontage backdrop two years ago was meant to suggest that the Labour leader was a Kremlin stooge, at a time when Russia hysteria was at its height.

 (In a laughable effort to defend this montage, a Channel 4 “fact-check” argued that it could not have been politically motivated because the same backdrop had earlier been used for the then defence secretary Gavin Williamson. That ignored the glaringly obvious point that in Williamson’s case the backdrop was used to contrast him with the “Russian menace” and indicate the dangers the UK government faced. This was even emphasised by accentuating the blue hues in Williamson’s cut-out image. In Corbyn’s case the montage was clearly meant to imply a sympathy between the Labour leader and the Kremlin, including the addition of a red hue to Corbyn’s face and the manipulation of his peaked cap to make it look like a Brezhnev-style pie hat.)

The difference in the BBC’s treatment of the Cummings comments and the Gardiner interview relates not to the question of partiality but to the matter of power. Cummings is at the very heart of power, at the centre of a government unabashedly representing the interests of the establishment. He is the indispensable “brain” – the Svengali – behind the dull-witted, vacuous but amiable prime minister. Without Cummings, the government would be rudderless, which is exactly why Johnson is determined to try to keep Cummings, despite the damage it is causing him and the party. It is why Johnson was so incensed, and frightened, by Maitlis’s comments. And it is why the BBC realised that in the circumstances the stakes were far too high to back their star journalist.

The mistake made by Maitlis and the Newsnight team was not appreciating just how important Cummings is to the government. He is not just an adviser. In many senses, he is the government.

‘Free press’ for billionaires

One of the mistakes people outside journalism often make is to imagine that journalists are primarily seeking to hold power to account. Most journalism, in fact, do the very opposite. Journalists crave their own little slice of reflected power – exclusives, inside scoops, the story behind the story – and that depends on access to those who really wield power. Access journalism dominates in politics, business, crime, showbiz, royal reporting, sport – in fact, in every part of the media.

If that were not bad enough, the main task of senior newspaper journalists is to understand very precisely the interests and worldview of their proprietors – and of similarly minded corporations that advertise in those papers. The journalist’s job is then to reflect that worldview back to the owners and advertisers. Which is why newspaper journalists share the concerns of billionaires over those of ordinary people.

For a shocking and amusing example of quite how tightly scripted journalists’ performance can be in promoting corporate interests, watch this short clip showing reporters for 11 different US television stations recite word for word the same “news” about how wonderful Amazon has supposedly been during the pandemic:

The room for ideological manoeuvre enjoyed by newspaper journalists is a narrow window on issues either that the billionaires and advertisers do not care strongly about or that they disagree among themselves about. This is what journalists are typically referring to when they speak of “freedom of the press”.

Two parties of capital

The job of a senior journalist like Maitlis in a state-funded broadcaster like the BBC is similar: it is chiefly to reflect back to the political establishment its interests and worldview. Nowadays newspaper proprietors and the state broadcaster are driven by almost identical agendas, given that government parties are funded by the billionaires and corporations that own newspapers and advertise in them and that corporate money and the corporate media’s support largely determine the outcome of elections.

Once the editorial room for manoeuvre at the BBC was a degree wider than it is today. Back in the 1970s, for example, when workers could place some limitations on establishment power through organised trade unions, and Labour governments sought to represent that power, the BBC had to balance these competing demands, between the political elite and the labour movement.

Those balances have largely gone. After Tony Blair created New Labour as a second party of capital, remaking Britain’s system in the image of the US one, the counter-pressures on the BBC largely evaporated. Blair and New Labour came to enjoy the same craven support as the Conservatives from the BBC’s star reporters – remember Andrew Marr’s fawning panegyric to Blair’s war crimes in Iraq back in 2003?

The BBC only found its journalistic policy of “impartiality” – big rows over marginal issues, non-ideological scandals, celebrity news – disrupted with Corbyn’s shock election to lead the Labour Party by the mass membership in 2015. That was an event to which the media class reacted with instant, utter and sustained horror until Labour managed to restore Blairite normal service this year under a new leader, Keir Starmer.

Real and charade journalism

For some time, the BBC has barely bothered to make even a pretence of even-handedness in the selection of its personnel. Its board is regularly chaired by senior Conservative politicians, including until recently by Lord Patten, and stuffed with people who have worked for major corporations.

BBC editors are nowadays interchangeable with their counterparts at the Daily Mail, Times and the Telegraph, where they have often worked before (James Harding, Sarah Sands). Many have been, or go on to be, advisers to the Conservative party (Thea Rogers, Robbie Gibb, Craig Oliver, Will Walden, Guto Harri). And aside from the fact that many senior BBC journalists were born into a social elite (Laura Kuenssberg), some started their careers as explicit cheerleaders for the Tory party (Nick Robinson, Andrew Neil). These journalists are indisputably an elite media class, part of the establishment, and their journalism is there to defend their privilege.

That is the proper context for understanding Maitlis’s comments. She does not represent some standard of courageous BBC journalism separate from her colleagues. She did not pick a fight with the media establishment. And she was not trying to hold the Johnson government to account. None of those things is true, or indicated by the “row” about her Cummings comment.

Remember that Maitlis’ tepid comments about Cummings were much less forceful than those of the far-right, Boris Johnson-supporting, billionaire-owned Daily Mail. If she is waging a battle for a truly free press or rigorously holding the powerful to account, then so – very  improbably – is the Johnson-adoring Daily Mail.

Maitlis’s mistake was to use the BBC – whose job is to do the very minimum to look credible journalistically to itself and its audience as it avoids challenging the political establishment – as a platform to vent her own, and a widely shared, anger at Cummings’ decision to abandon his own lockdown rules when they didn’t suit him.

The Mail did it – because the billionaire proprietors and advertisers don’t especially care about Cummings, and because they know their readers are riled by Cummings’ behaviour – so Maitlis and Newsnight assumed they could do it too. Maitlis didn’t properly understand that a BBC journalist is even more tied to defending the establishment worldview than the redtops.

Like her colleagues, family and friends, Maitlis felt personally angry. She let that anger cloud her normal judgment. Her emotion trumped her astute journalistic instincts to avoid ruffling the features of those who paved her career path to the top of the BBC. She made the mistake – for once – of doing real journalism when what is expected of her is charade-journalism.

On a leash, sitting by the peg

Such moments are rare for most journalists. As Michael Parenti, the US media critic, once famously observed of corporate journalists: “You say what you like, because they like what you say.” He added:

You don’t know you’re wearing a leash if you sit by the peg all day. It’s only if you then begin to wander to a prohibited perimeter that you feel the tug, you see. So you’re free because your ideological perspective is congruent with that of your boss. So you have no sensation of being at odds with your boss.

Most of the time Maitlis sits by the peg. For once, her anger – an anger shared by all normal people outraged by double standards, by privilege and by lies – drove her to forget what her job entails. She momentarily forgot what she has been socialised to do through her education and her class, and further trained to do through her journalistic career: to create the illusion for herself and her viewers that she is holding power to account. For once, she did real rather than charade journalism – and instantly found herself reprimanded for it.

The public rebuking of Maitlis by the BBC is an extreme version of the rewards-and-punishment training all corporate journalists go through. Mostly such admonishments are suffered by staff when they are employed at junior levels, as they “find their feet” and learn from their elders and betters what journalism requires of them. Maitlis’s reprimand served a similar purpose. Its usefulness was not just to remind Maitlis of the tight limits on what her job allows, but to demonstrate to those in the lower ranks that, if this is what can happen to someone like Maitlis, they need to be more careful still.

Thousands of BBC journalists contemplating doing real journalism learnt this week the price of disobedience. This episode tamed them a little more, ensured they understood a little more clearly that they are expected to be subservient to power. As a result, they will move a little closer to the peg.

Next time you wonder why BBC reporters are so timid, so feeble when confronting the establishment; when they so obviously miss stories or angles clear to the rest of us; when blow up small issues into big issues; when they grandstand to no obvious effect or benefit; when they focus on stories about celebrity and trivia; when they choose to hit down rather than up; when they unite to attack and vilify the rare politician who dares to question the verities of today’s neoliberal order; when any of that happens, remember this moment.

Because all the BBC’s journalists, including our future Emily Maitlises, watched her chastisement this week. They learnt their lesson from her error.

One Rule for Me and Another for Everyone Else: The Cummings Coronavirus Factor

Leaving crises to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s management skills will never disappoint those who favour chaos and the attractions of vague direction.  The double standard is to be preferred to the equal one.  With the United Kingdom sundered by death and the effects of COVID-19 (the PM himself having had his battle with the virus), the population was hoping for some clarity.  When, for instance, would the lockdown measures be eased?

On May 10, Johnson delivered an address from his comically staged desk which had the appearance of being trapped in the door during a bungled removal effort.  “We have been through the initial peak – but it is coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous,” he tried explaining.  “We have a route, and we have a plan, and everyone in government has the all-consuming pressure and challenge to save lives, restore livelihoods and gradually restore the freedoms that we have.”  Seeds of confusion were sowed with promise.  People would be allowed to do “unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise”, and the “Stay Home” message had changed to “stay alert, control the virus and save lives.”  The broader citizenry were puzzled.

Mixed messaging was not the only problem facing Johnson, whose preferable default during any emergency is the behaviour of the reasonable Briton, characterised by patience and common sense.  Within his own circles, abiding by the rules has been a lax affair.  His chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, has been defiant before the lockdown rulebook.

In a statement and press address, Cummings laid out his explanation for his recent bad behaviour.  The heart-tugging element was important.  So was the ignorance that he had done nothing to niggle the ethical.  Johnson had just been found out to have contracted COVID-19.  Arrangements of how to handle the emergency were discussed. Then came the urgent call from Cummings’ wife. “She’d vomited and felt like she might pass out.  And there’ll be nobody to look after our child.  None of our usual childcare options were available.”

What followed that April, with most of the UK in mandated self-isolation, was travel – some 260 miles in all – that involved leaving his London home on a trip to County Durham, accompanied by his wife and child.  The decision had been made to stay in a cottage on the farm of Cummings’ father.  It was there that Cummings fell ill, as did his son, who spent a stint in hospital.  It subsequently surfaced that Johnson’s aide had also repaired to Barnard Castle, a visit reported to Durham police by Robin Lees, a retired chemistry teacher.  That visit raised eyebrows for falling within the category of non-essential travel.

The aide’s conclusion for breaching such rules were self-exculpatory, which cannot excite any surprise from those familiar with those behind the law and policy of the state apparatus.  The higher up the food chain of power, the more likely the powerful will misbehave and change the meals.  Andre Spicer puts it in a dull though accurate manner: “a large body of research […] shows that it is people in positions of power that are most likely to take excessive risks.”  Such risks are minimised, if not ignored altogether. The one who assumes, and presumes to be in a position of power, is likely to cheat, bend and break the order.

Cummings, in his reasoning, might have done unreasonable things in the past, but thought that what had transpired over those 14 days was reasonable.  “The regulations make clear, I believe the risks to the health of small children were an exceptional situation, and I had a way of dealing with this that minimised risk to others.”

Such a statement of behavioural latitude, in times when those in the United Kingdom, for the most part, have complied with the coronavirus lockdown, looks politically indulgent.  Johnson has added to that indulgence, claiming that Cummings merely “followed the instincts of every father and every parent, and I do not mark him down for that.”  The “right kind of childcare” was not available” at that time; both Cummings and his wife “were about to be incapacitated by coronavirus”.

Staying with Cummings is courting a grand risk.  And such risks compound when they are given the Johnson touch.  Professor Stephen Reicher of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) furnishing Downing Street with advice on how the public might best respond to the lockdown measures, seethed on hearing about the prime ministerial defence. “I can say that in a few short minutes tonight, Boris Johnson had trashed all the advice we have given on how to build trust and secure adherence to the measures necessary to control Covid-19.”  Honesty had been “trashed”, as had respect for the public, equity, equal treatment, consistency and the message “we are all in this together”.

Even conservative commentary on the subject is wary of the prime minister’s loyalty to Cummings, showing that this is no ordinary row in the halls of Westminster.  Former Johnson adviser Tim Montgomerie expressed embarrassment for having “ever backed Boris Johnson for high office.”  Chair of the Northern Ireland select committee, Simon Hoare, was baffled.  “With the damage Mr Cummings is doing to the government’s reputation, he must consider his position.  Lockdown has had its challenges for everyone.”  The prime minister “is a populist who no longer understands the populace,” suggests Nick Cohen in The Spectator. “Dominic Cummings pretends to be an anti-elitist but cannot see how lethal the slogan ‘one rule for me and another for everyone else’ is to him and the elite he serves.”  That about sums it up.

An Illusion Of Protection: The Pandemic, The “Criminal” Government And Public Distrust of The Media

Any notion that the UK government actually considers that its primary responsibility is to protect the health and security of the country’s population ought to have been demolished in 2020. The appalling death toll that continues to mount during the coronavirus pandemic is largely rooted, not merely in government ‘incompetence’, but in criminal dereliction of its core duties in a supposedly democratic society.

The UK has the highest death toll in Europe, and the second highest in the world (the US has the highest). On May 12, the death toll from official UK figures exceeded 40,000 for the first time, including almost 10,000 care home residents. A study by academics at the London School of Economics estimates that the actual death toll in care homes is, in fact, double the official figure: more than 22,000.

Government ministers have been scrambling to protect themselves from such damaging facts by spouting empty rhetoric. Health Secretary Matt Hancock actually declared on May 15:

‘Right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes. We set out our first advice in February… we’ve made sure care homes have the resources they need.’

Palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke, author of the bestselling book Your Life In My Hands,  rejected his deceptive claim:

‘This is categorically untrue. Care homes were left without testing. Without contract tracing. Without PPE [personal protective equipment]. Without support. You can deny it all you like, Matt Hancock, but we were witnesses – we ARE witnesses – and believe me you will be held to account.’

It is important to note that the coronavirus death toll is even higher than official figures because people are dying from heart disease, cancer, strokes and other illnesses that would otherwise have been treated had there been no ongoing pandemic. Chris Giles, the Financial Times economics editor, has been tracking the number of total excess deaths, issuing regular updates via Twitter. He noted that ‘a cautious estimate’ of excess deaths linked to coronavirus up to May 15 was an appalling 61,200. The FT has published an extensive analysis here with regular updates.

University of Edinburgh researchers have estimated that at least 2,000 lives would have been saved in Scotland – a staggering 80 per cent of the total – if the government had introduced the lockdown two weeks earlier. Rowland Kao, professor of epidemiology and lead author of the study, said there had ‘definitely’ been enough information about the coming pandemic in mid-February. If the lockdown had been imposed across the whole of the UK on March 9, rather than March 23:

‘you would expect a similar effect to the one seen in our research on Scotland.’

In other words, there would have been an 80 per cent reduction in the death toll across the whole of the UK: around 26,000 lives saved (assuming the official undercount by May 3 of 32,490 fatalities). This is a truly shocking statistic and a damning indictment of the Tory government.

Countries outside the UK have looked on aghast while the pandemic death toll here rose quickly, given the advance warnings of what was happening abroad, notably in Italy and Spain. Continental newspapers have been highly critical of the UK government’s response to the pandemic. The German newspaper Die Zeit noted that:

‘the infection has spread unchecked longer than it should have. The wave of infections also spread from the hospitals to the old people’s homes, which could also have been avoided. The government is now trying to pretend to the public that it has the situation under control.’

The Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant told its readers:

‘the British were insufficiently prepared for the pandemic, despite the presence of expertise in this area. The country has been catching up in recent weeks. Much of the harm has already been done.’

In France, Le Monde said:

‘Despite Europe’s worst mortality, probably too late entry into confinement and a blatant lack of preparation, the British have so far supported Johnson.’

Here in the UK, honest and responsible journalism would have made it clear, regularly and prominently, that many deaths were avoidable and a consequence of damaging government policies including:

* the imposition of ‘austerity’ in past years

* the deliberate corporate-driven break-up of the National Health Service

* the government’s lack of preparedness for a pandemic

* the belated move to lockdown and the present rush to ‘open up the economy’ and send children back to school

If we had an actual functioning ‘mainstream’ media, it would be holding this disgraceful government to account, properly and comprehensively. BBC News, as the country’s well-funded ‘public service’ broadcaster, would be to the fore of critical and forensic journalism. In a piece published on the progressive ZNet website, Felix Dennis dissected the government-friendly propaganda campaign in the UK media, including the BBC:

‘On April 10, as UK daily deaths became higher than any recorded in Italy or Spain, media coverage led with Boris’ recovery [after being in intensive care], while BBC News’ main headline was about the “herculean effort” of the Government to provide NHS with PPE. Subsequent headlines featured nurses describing treating Johnson as “surreal”, something they’d “never forget” and that he was “like everybody else”; orchestrated artificial grassroots support to boost public opinion about Boris and his government seem likely. The notions of supporting the country and supporting its leader are being conflated.’

In a small concession to the damning truth, BBC News aired Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician from the University of Cambridge, who was granted a moment on the Andrew Marr Sunday programme to call the government’s daily press briefings ‘completely embarrassing’. They are ‘not trustworthy communication of statistics’ and no more than ‘number theatre’. But this was a deviation from the broadcasting norm which has regularly seen BBC correspondents, notably political editor Laura Kuenssberg, serving up meek accounts of the crisis on prime-time BBC News at Six and Ten. An article in The Economist was actually titled, ‘The BBC is having a good pandemic’, even as it quoted one unnamed senior BBC journalist who let slip that:

‘the [BBC] bosses are keen that we come out of this with the sense that we looked after the interest of the nation, not just our journalistic values.’

In effect, there should not even be the pretence of ‘impartiality’, but a shoring-up of state propaganda by the BBC on behalf of the government. In fact, this has long been the reality of BBC performance ever since BBC founder John Reith wrote in his diary during the 1926 General Strike that ‘they [the government] know that they can trust us not to be really impartial.’

One welcome exception was the Panorama programme investigating the appalling lack of preparation for the pandemic; not least the inadequate provision of PPE for NHS staff and workers in care homes. But, in yet another sign that any dissent will not be tolerated, Tory Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden then attacked the BBC for straying momentarily from the state-approved script.

‘You Dropped The Ball Prime Minister. That Was Criminal’

Piers Morgan has been a strong and sustained voice challenging government ministers about their policies in his role as a lead presenter on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, and on his Twitter account which is followed by over seven million people. In a devastating indictment of the government, Morgan wrote:

‘the virus isn’t like Brexit.

‘It’s not a political ideology that can be open to debate, or an argument that can be won with buffoonery, bluster and Churchillian soundbites.’

Morgan has been so robust in his challenges to the government that ministers, including Boris Johnson, now appear to be afraid of being interviewed by him, refusing to appear on ‘Good Morning Britain’. As journalist Peter Oborne observed:

‘It is disgraceful that the Johnson government boycotts a major national TV news show during a national emergency.’

Morgan went further:

‘Once we allow the Govt to boycott news outlets like @GMB for asking ministers tough questions, it’s a slippery slope to a totalitarian state. Other news organisations should share our disgust at this, because they could be next. Or they will soften criticism to avoid a ban…’

The latter, no doubt, as anyone who has heard of the propaganda model or read Manufacturing Consent will be well aware.

In anticipation of Boris Johnson’s much-trailed speech to the nation on Sunday, May 10, ludicrous celebratory press headlines appeared a few days in advance: ‘Hurrah! Lockdown Freedom Beckons’ (Mail), ‘Happy Monday’ (Sun) and ‘Magic Monday’ (Daily Star). This highlighted widescale press subservience to the government’s foolish and dangerous agenda of getting the country ‘back to work’ as soon as possible, putting working-class employees, those most dependent on public transport, at particular risk.

Indeed, when Johnson actually delivered his speech that Sunday evening, having been carried aloft by heaps of hype from billionaire-owned newspapers, he declared:

‘We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.’

But, as Tom London warned via Twitter:

‘People will be bullied, threatened, starved back to work when it is not safe and they are risking their lives and the lives of those they are close to. Neoliberalism has reached its pinnacle of selfish individualism sacrificing the lives of others to feed its greed’.

The muddled and deluded address to the nation was greeted with confusion, scepticism and even derision in many quarters, with the Mirror saying on its front page: ‘Lockdown Britain: It’s chaos’. The prime minister’s speech was, however, acclaimed by the usual suspects of the extremist press, including the Mail, Express and Sun, as well as by the more ‘respectable’ billionaire Murdoch-owned Times and billionaire Barclay brothers-owned Telegraph.

The Mail waxed lyrical about the prime minister setting out ‘the first steps to free Britain’, while cautioning, ‘Boris keeps handbrake on’. The Express, as though copying and pasting from the same government press release, headlined:  ‘Boris: our route to freedom… in baby steps.’  The Telegraph, also reading from the government ‘freedom’ script, went with: ‘the long road to freedom’.

Rational commentary had to be found elsewhere. Richard Horton, Lancet editor, tweeted after Johnson’s speech:

‘My interpretation of Boris Johnson this evening: the pandemic of COVID-19 in the UK is much more serious than we have been led to believe. Johnson was unusually serious, fists clenched, no jokes about squashing sombreros.’

Horton made additional critical comments in a series of tweets, then concluded:

‘Finally, you saw our Prime Minister preparing his defence for the public inquiry: “We didn’t fully understand its effects.” I’m afraid that argument won’t succeed. A PHEIC [Public Health Emergency of International Concern] was called [by the World Health Organisation] on January 30. And then you dropped the ball Prime Minister. That was criminal. And you know it.’

Recall the now infamous ‘Superman’ speech that Johnson gave in Greenwich on February 3 when he extolled the supposed virtues of competition and ‘free’ trade, even in the face of the alarming threat of the pandemic. Here is the relevant extract, available on the government’s own website:

‘we are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.’

Never mind ‘bizarre autarkic rhetoric’. What is truly bizarre is that as late as February 3, when Johnson was ignoring WHO advice and wider medical calls to ‘test, test, test’ and to move into lockdown, and during a period when he missed five emergency Cobra meetings, he was proclaiming inanities about Superman. (For an excellent detailed timeline of events, see the regularly updated resource by Ian Sinclair and Rupert Read). Instead, Johnson’s focus – if he can ever be accused of possessing ‘focus’ – was on Brexit and avoiding any measure that might impinge on ‘free trade’.

Suppressing Evidence Of Public Distrust Of UK Press

Last month, as pandemic-related deaths mounted alarmingly, a Sky News poll unsurprisingly showed deep public distrust of British television and newspaper journalists. Only 24 per cent said they trust TV journalists, while 64 per cent said they do not, giving a net score of minus 40. Meanwhile, a mere 17 per cent said they trust newspaper journalists, while 72 per cent said they do not, giving an overall net score of minus 55. The figures were tucked away at the bottom of Sky’s article.

Also last month, a Press Gazette poll showed that around half of those who responded believed public trust in journalism had fallen since the outbreak of the pandemic (around one third believed it had risen, and the rest said it had remained the same). Press Gazette also reported that a new survey by PR firm Kekst CNC showed a collapse in confidence in the media in the four countries surveyed: the UK, US, Germany and Sweden. The UK and Sweden both saw the biggest fall in confidence in the media with a net loss of 21 per cent. Moreover, a special report by Edelman Trust Barometer covering ten countries, including the UK, showed that journalists are the least trusted source (43 per cent) for information about the pandemic, below ‘most-affected countries’ (46 per cent) and government officials (48 per cent).

Of course, this lack of public trust in the media is not limited to coverage of the pandemic. Given the narrow-spectrum right-wing and establishment press dominated by rich owners, and edited by compliant editors with ideologically-aligned views, and given that BBC News so often slavishly conforms to UK press reporting, it is no surprise that overall British public trust in the media is so low. In fact, a recent extensive annual Eurobarometer survey by the European Union across 33 countries reveals that the UK public’s trust in the press is once again rock bottom, even below the former Soviet Union countries of Lithuania and Latvia. As Brian Cathcart, a professor of journalism at Kingston University in London, observes, it is the ninth year out of the past ten that the UK has been last.

The survey results were met with the usual tumbleweed non-response from the British press. Our search of the ProQuest newspaper database yielded just one passing mention in the national press by Alan Rusbridger, former Guardian editor, referring to last year’s survey. (Inevitably, Rusbridger also praised the BBC for its ‘all-round and in-depth excellence’ on coronavirus coverage.)

As Cathcart said:

‘so predictable that an industry with an appalling trust problem chooses to address it by suppressing the evidence of distrust.’

But then, press ‘freedom’ is a cruel sham; only highlighted even more sharply on the recent World Press Freedom Day. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had the temerity to tweet his support:

‘a strong and independent media is more important than ever for transparency.’

Peter Oborne rightly highlighted Raab’s hypocrisy, pointing out the glaring case of Julian Assange:

‘The Wikileaks founder continues to rot in Belmarsh jail as the US demands his extradition on espionage charges. If there was an ounce of sincerity in the foreign secretary’s claim that he is a supporter of media freedom, he would be resisting the US attempt to get its hands on Assange with every bone in his body.’

Oborne also lambasted the British press:

‘British newspapers will not fight for Assange. Whether left or right, broadsheet or tabloid, British papers are agreed on one thing; they’ll fall over each other to grab the latest official hand-out about British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiance Carrie Symonds’ baby. Or the new Downing Street dog.

‘They will, however, look the other way when it comes to standing up for press freedom and Julian Assange.’

He added:

‘How pathetic. What a betrayal of their trade. Client journalism. An inversion of what newspapers stand for. If the British foreign secretary is two-faced about a free press, so are British newspaper editors who say they care about press freedom. With even less excuse.’

Lancet editor Richard Horton, mentioned earlier, says that the British government’s response to the pandemic is ‘the biggest science policy failure in a generation’. As noted at the outset of this media alert, this has not been mere government incompetence, but a fundamental failure of its supposed commitment to protect the public. The truth, of course, is that the government is ‘elected’ to represent the elite interests of its principal backers: financial muscle and corporate power, backed by its propaganda wing misleadingly labelled the ‘mainstream’ media.

A longstanding feature of the state has been its reliance on secretive state and military institutions working hard to preserve the status quo. You may recall the threat of a military coup from a senior serving UK army general in 2015 should Jeremy Corbyn ever be elected Prime Minister. In December last year, investigative journalist Matt Kennard reported that UK military and intelligence establishment officials had been sources for at least 34 major national media stories, following Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in September 2015, that had cast him as a danger to British security.

As Noam Chomsky has long pointed out, supposedly democratic states regard their own populations as the state’s greatest threat, even in so-called ‘free’ societies:

‘Remember, any state, any state, has a primary enemy: its own population.’ 1

This is why surveillance of the public is such a priority for governments, as we have previously observed (e.g. here and here).

In a recent in-depth article as part of the exemplary Declassified UK series, Kennard and Mark Curtis note that:

‘There is money and power in identifying Russia and cyber attacks as the key security threats facing Britain — but not in addressing the more important issues of pandemics and climate change.’

Former heads of UK intelligence agencies are personally profiting from the ‘revolving door’ between government and business, report Kennard and Curtis. They cite examples:

•           Former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove has earned more than £2-million from a US oil company.

•           Another former MI6 chief, Sir John Sawers, has earned £699,000 from oil giant BP since 2015.

•           Sir Iain Lobban, former head of GCHQ, has become director or adviser to 10 private cyber or data security companies since leaving office in 2014; his own cyber consultancy is worth over £1 million.

Kennard and Curtis write:

‘Since 2000, nine out of 10 former chiefs of MI6, MI5 and GCHQ have taken jobs in the cyber security industry, a sector they promoted while in office as key to defending the UK from the “Russian threat”.’

They add:

‘The British government has been told for over a decade that the “gravest risk” to the country is an influenza pandemic, which its National Security Strategy identifies as a “tier one priority risk”. Yet the security services have largely ignored health threats, despite claiming they are guided by the UK’s security strategy.’

If successive UK governments were genuinely serious about boosting the public’s security, they would be working flat out to protect the population from pandemics and climate breakdown. But then they would be protecting the interests of the majority. And that is not why they are in power.

  1. Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, The New Press, 2002, p. 70.

The Scourge of Authoritarianism in the Age of Pseudoscience 

Following the court decision in the US to award in favour of Dewayne Johnson (exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and its active ingredient, glyphosate, caused Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma), attorney Robert Kennedy Jr said at the post-trial press conference:

The corruption of science, the falsification of science, and we saw all those things happen here. This is a company (Monsanto) that used all of the plays in the playbook developed over 60 years by the tobacco industry to escape the consequences of killing one of every five of its customers… Monsanto… has used those strategies…

Johnson’s lawyers argued over the course of the month-long trial in 2018 that Monsanto had “fought science” for years and targeted academics who spoke up about possible health risks of the herbicide product. Long before the Johnson case, critics of Monsanto were already aware of the practices the company had engaged in for decades to undermine science. At the same time, Monsanto and its lobbyists had called anyone who questioned the company’s ‘science’ as engaging in pseudoscience and labelled them ‘anti-science’.

We need look no further than the current coronavirus issue to understand how vested interests are set to profit by spinning the crisis a certain way and how questionable science is again being used to pursue policies that are essentially ‘unscientific’ — governments, the police and the corporate media have become the arbiters of ‘truth’. We also see anyone challenging the policies and the ‘science’ being censored on social media or not being given a platform on TV and accused of engaging in ‘misinformation’. It’s the same old playbook.

The case-fatality ratio for COVID-19 is so low as to make the lockdown response wholly disproportionate. Yet we are asked to blindly accept government narratives and the policies based on them.

Making an entire country go home and stay home has immense, incalculable costs in terms of well-being and livelihoods. This itself has created a pervasive sense of panic and crisis and is largely a result of the measures taken against the ‘pandemic’ and not of the virus itself. Certain epidemiologists have said there is very little sturdy evidence to base lockdown policies on, but this has not prevented politicians from acting as if everything they say or do is based on solid science.

The lockdown would not be merited if we were to genuinely adopt a knowledge-based approach. If we look at early projections by Neil Ferguson of Imperial College in the UK, he had grossly overstated the number of possible deaths resulting from the coronavirus and has now backtracked substantially. Ferguson has a chequered track record, which led UK newspaper The Telegraph to run a piece entitled ‘How accurate was the science that led to lockdown?’ The article outlines Ferguson’s previous flawed predictions about infectious diseases and a number of experts raise serious questions about the modelling that led to lockdown in the UK.

Ferguson’s previous modelling for the spread of epidemics was so off the mark that it may beggar believe that anyone could have faith in anything he says, yet he remains part of the UK government’s scientific advisory group. Officials are now talking of ‘easing’ lockdowns, but Ferguson warns that lockdown in the UK will only be lifted once a vaccine for COVID-19 has been found.

It raises the question: when will Ferguson be held to account for his current and previously flawed work and his exaggerated predictions? Because, on the basis of his modelling, the UK has been in lockdown for many weeks, the results of which are taking a toll on the livelihoods and well-being of the population which are and will continue to far outweigh the effects of COVID-19.

According to a 1982 academic study, a 1% increase in the unemployment rate will be associated with 37,000 deaths [including 20,000 heart attacks], 920 suicides, 650 homicides, 4,000 state mental hospital admissions and 3,300 state prison admissions. Consider that by 30 April, in the US alone, 30 million had filed for unemployment benefit since the lockdown began. Between 23 and 30 April, some 3.8 million filed for unemployment benefit. Prior to the current crisis, the unemployment rate was 3.5%. Some predict it could eventually reach 30%.

Ferguson – whose model was the basis for policies elsewhere in addition to the UK — is as much to blame as anyone for the current situation. And it is a situation that has been fueled by a government and media promoted fear narrative that has had members of the public so afraid of the virus that many have been demanding further restrictions of their liberty by the state in order to ‘save’ them. Even with the promise of easing the lockdown, people seem to be fearful of venturing out in the near future thanks to the fear campaign they have been subjected to.

Instead of encouraging more diverse, informed and objective opinions in the mainstream, we too often see money and power forcing the issue, not least in the form of Bill Gates who tells the world ‘normality’ may not return for another 18 months – until he and his close associates in the pharmaceuticals industry find a vaccine and we are all vaccinated.

In the UK, the population is constantly subjected via their TV screens to clap for NHS workers, support the NHS and to stay home and save lives on the basis of questionable data and policies. Emotive stuff taking place under a ruling Conservative Party that has cut thousands of hospital beds, frozen staff pay, placed workers on zero-hour contracts and demonised junior doctors. It is also using the current crisis to accelerate the privatisation of state health care. In recent weeks, ministers have used special powers to bypass normal tendering and award a string of contracts to private companies and management consultants without open competition.

But if cheap propaganda stunts do not secure the compliance, open threats will suffice. For instance, in the US, city mayors and local politicians have threatened to ‘hunt down’, monitor social media and jail those who break lockdown rules.

Prominent conservative commentator Tucker Carlson asks who gave these people the authority to tear up the US constitution; what gives them the right to threaten voters while they themselves or their families have been exposed as having little regard for lockdown norms. As overhead drones bark out orders to residents, Carlson wonders how the US – almost overnight – transformed into a totalitarian state.

With a compliant media failing to hold tyrannical officials to account, Carlson’s concerns mirror those of Lionel Shriver in the UK, writing in The Spectator, who declares that the supine capitulation of Britain to a de facto police state has been one of the most depressing spectacles he has ever witnessed.

Under the pretext of tracking and tracing the spread of the virus, the UK government is rolling out an app which will let the likes of Apple and Google monitor a person’s every location visited and every physical contact. There seems to be little oversight in terms of privacy. The contact-tracing app has opted for a centralised model of data collection: all the contact-tracing data is not to be deleted but anonymized and kept under one roof in one central government database for ‘research purposes’.

We may think back to Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting of Facebook data to appreciate the potential for data misuse. But privacy is the least concern for governments and the global tech giants in an age where ‘data’ has become monetized as a saleable commodity, with the UK data market the second biggest in the world and valued at over a billion pounds in 2018.

Paranoia is usually the ever-present bedfellow of fear and many people have been very keen to inform the authorities that their neighbours may have been breaking social distancing rules. Moreover, although any such opinion poll cannot be taken at face value and could be regarded as part of the mainstream fear narrative itself, a recent survey suggests that only 20% of Britons are in favour of reopening restaurants, schools, pubs and stadiums.

Is this to be the new ‘normal’, whereby fear, mistrust, division and suspicion are internalized throughout society?  In an age of fear and paranoia, are we all to be ‘contact traced’ and regarded by others as a ‘risk’ until we prove ourselves by wearing face masks and by voluntarily subjecting ourselves to virus tests at the entrances to stores or in airports? And if we refuse or test positive, are we to be shamed, isolated and forced to comply by being ‘medicated’ (vaccinated and chipped)?

Is this the type of world that’s soon to be regarded as ‘normal’? A world in which liberty and fundamental rights mean nothing.  A world dominated by shaming and spurious notions of personal responsibility that are little more than ideological constructs of a hegemonic narrative which labels rational thinking people as ‘anti-science’ — a world in which the scourge of authoritarianism reigns supreme.

Patriotic Vaccines: The Divided Coronavirus Cause

When it comes to the politics of medicine and disease, the United States has always attempted to steal the limelight, while adding the now faded colouring of universal human welfare.  In 1965, Washington pledged financial and technical support to the international effort to eradicate smallpox, though the initiative had initially been spurred by the Soviet Union at the behest of virologist and deputy health minister Victor Zhdanov in 1958.  At that point in time, the World Health Organisation was not so much a punch bag as vehicle for US foreign policy, to be cultivated rather than rebuked.

As with the eradication of smallpox, a forced language of solidarity is coming into being with efforts to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.  But behind it, there is backbiting and hostility, suspicion and paranoia.  Like putting the first person on the moon, the matter is one of divided political endeavours.

One such effort of solidarity, and a not very convincing one at that, was made at this month’s Coronavirus Global Response Pledging Conference.  The European Commission gave it a deceptively united title: “Joining forces to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics – on-line pledging event.” Representatives from 43 countries, a range of non-profit entities and scientific groups also added to the number.

Like fund drives that are common in the United States for public broadcasting, the efforts were billed as magisterial when they were, for the most part, modest.  7.4 million euros seems rather small fare when compared to the weighty global loss in life, limb and economy, though it looks a dream to coalface researchers.  There was also a certain niggling anomaly in the event that took away some of its lustre.  EU officials had permitted the pledging of money already spent on COVID-19 relief since January 30, making the raised amount more generous than it otherwise would have been.  The United Kingdom was a case in point, having pledged £388 million toward a total as part of a prior pledge for £744 million.  The EU bureaucrats for their part, have not been forthcoming how much in terms of new funding was pledged, making it difficult to spot the double-counters.

The language from the donors, however, was high sounding in hope. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen was flashily presuming in her rhetoric.  “Today we can truly say the world is united against the coronavirus, and the world will win.”  The world, she claimed grandly, had “showed extraordinary unity for the common good … With such commitment, we are on track for developing, producing and deploying a vaccine for all.”

The British Prime Minister and COVID-19 survivor Boris Johnson was also unduly optimistic in his assessment of such a worldly effort.  “The race to discover the vaccine to defeat this virus is not a competition between countries but the most urgent shared endeavour of our lifetimes.”

To ensure that this does take place will take more than pooled pledges with vague lines of distribution.  The entire effort to find a vaccine would need to be decentralised.  An aide to French President Emmanuel Macron described the problem to Politico as ensuring “that the production of the vaccine does not end up taking place only in the US or in a specific place, because the companies that produce vaccines are from a certain nationality”.

But a full-blooded competition this is, spiked with considerations of self-interest.  Former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration Scott Gottlieb saw it in terms of a sporting race with a lucrative prize at the end.  There is nothing of the cooperative or sharing spirit here, with Gottlieb seeing countries inoculating their own citizens first before sharing any supply with generous heart.  “The first country to the finish line will be the first to restore its economy and global influence.  America risks being second.”  Given that Gottlieb is himself a board member of Pfizer and the biotech company Ilumina, a bit of hearty pandemic capitalism is bound to figure in his assessments.

The Trump administration had already signalled its intention to avoid any show of unity in the vaccine effort, which may suggest an unintentional expression of blunt honesty.  It has frozen funding to the WHO and refused to send any representatives to a meeting organised by the organisation at a meeting, conducted virtually, last month.  A spokesman for the US mission in Geneva told Reuters at the time that Washington “looked forward to learning more about this initiative in support of international cooperation to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as possible” but would not be participating in any official way.  The response was much the same to the European Commission’s pledging conference.

For the Trump administration, finding a COVID-19 vaccine will, contrary to Johnson’s belief, be a predatory exercise in self-interest because other countries will, given the chance, treat it the same way.  A neat, if vulgar example of this was given in March, when Die Welt reported that “large sums of money” had been offered by the administration for the German biopharmaceutical company CureVac, though former CEO Dan Menichella seemed to suggest that no definite offer was made in a meeting he had with the US president.  Within that same month, Menichella had been replaced by the same man he replaced: founder Ingmar Hoerr.

In the messy rumble, billionaire Dietmar Hopp, who has an 80 percent shareholding in CureVac via his biotech company Dievini has dismissed such ideas of exclusivity.  No German company would entrust themselves with the task of creating such a vaccine that would be merely for exclusive US use.  German health minister Jens Spahn was of like mind: any such vaccine would “not be for individual countries” but “for the whole world”.

This is stern and admirable stuff but not particularly convincing.  The global patent system is marked by vicious rivalries rather than tea-ceremony tranquillity.  The behaviour of its participants, according to the University of Hong Kong’s Bryan Mercurio, tends towards a winner takes all approach. “The rest of the efforts will go unrewarded.”

The fractious scramble for appropriate vaccines and viral drugs, as with other scrambles of history, serves to highlight the crude, even cruel reality of power politics, which proves stubborn even in the face of the existential and costly.  This is pure Donald Trump, unilateral, instinctive and unromantic, with a reaction in keeping with previous thinking when it comes to international efforts of solidarity.  Look more closely at them and see the sham; it’s every state for itself.

Orwellian Lockstep and a Loaded Syringe

Some years ago, the then vice-president of Monsanto Robert T Fraley asked, “Why do people doubt science”. He posed the question partly because he had difficulty in believing that some people had valid concerns about the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture.

Critics were questioning the science behind GM technology and the impacts of GMOs because they could see how science is used, corrupted and manipulated by powerful corporations to serve their own ends. And it was also because they regard these conglomerates as largely unaccountable and unregulated.

We need look no further than the current coronavirus issue to understand how vested interests are set to profit by spinning the crisis a certain way and how questionable science is being used to pursue policies that are essentially illogical or ‘unscientific’. Politicians refer to ‘science’ and expect the public to defer to the authority of science without questioning the legitimacy of scientific modelling or data.

Although this legitimacy is being questioned on various levels, arguments challenging the official line are being sidelined. Governments, the police and the corporate media have become the arbiters of truth even if ‘the truth’ does not correspond with expert opinion or rational thought which challenges the mainstream narrative.

For instance, testing for coronavirus could be flawed (producing a majority of ‘false positives’) and the processes involved in determining death rates could be inflating the numbers: for example, dying ‘with’ coronavirus’ is different to dying ‘due to’ coronavirus: a serious distinction given that up to 98 per cent of people (according to official sources) who may be dying with it have at least one serious life-threatening condition. Moreover, the case-fatality ratio could be so low as to make the lockdown response appear wholly disproportionate. Yet we are asked to accept statistics at face value – and by implication, the policies based on them.

Indeed, documentary maker and author David Cayley addresses this last point by saying that modern society is hyper-scientific but radically unscientific as it has no standard against which it can measure or assess what it has done: that we must at all costs ‘save lives’ is not questioned, but this makes it very easy to start a stampede. Making an entire country go home and stay home has immense, incalculable costs in terms of well-being and livelihoods. Cayley argues that this itself has created a pervasive sense of panic and crisis and is largely a result of the measures taken against the pandemic and not of the pandemic itself.

He argues that the declaration by the World Health Organization that a pandemic (at the time based on a suspected 150 deaths globally) was now officially in progress did not change anyone’s health status, but it dramatically changed the public atmosphere. Moreover, the measures mandated have involved a remarkable curtailing of civil liberty.

One of the hallmarks of the current situation, he stresses, is that some think that ‘science’ knows more than it does and therefore they – especially politicians – know more than they do. Although certain epidemiologists may say frankly that there is very little sturdy evidence to base policies on, this has not prevented politicians from acting as if everything they say or do is based on solid science.

The current paradigm – with its rhetoric of physical distancing, flattening the curve and saving lives – could be difficult to escape from. Cayley says either we call it off soon and face the possibility that it was all misguided (referring to the policies adopted in Sweden to make his point), or we extend it and create harms that may be worse than the casualties we may have averted.

The lockdown may not be merited if we were to genuinely adopt a knowledge-based approach. For instance, if we look at early projections by Neil Ferguson of Imperial College in the UK, he had grossly overstated the number of possible deaths resulting from the coronavirus and has now backtracked substantially. Ferguson has a chequered track record, which led UK newspaper The Telegraph to run a piece entitled ‘How accurate was the science that led to lockdown?’ The article outlines Ferguson’s previous flawed predictions about infectious diseases and a number of experts raise serious questions about the modelling that led to lockdown in the UK.

It is worth noting that the lockdown policies we now see are remarkably similar to the disturbing Orwellian ‘Lock Step’ future scenario that was set out in 2010 by the Rockefeller Foundation report ‘Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development’. The report foresaw a future situation where freedoms are curtailed and draconian high-tech surveillance measures are rolled out under the ongoing pretexts of impending pandemics. Is this the type of technology use we can expect to see as hundreds of millions are marginalized and pushed into joblessness?

Instead of encouraging more diverse, informed and objective opinions in the mainstream, we too often see money and power forcing the issue, not least in the form of Bill Gates who tells the world ‘normality’ may not return for another 18 months – until he and his close associates in the pharmaceuticals industry find a vaccine and we are all vaccinated.

US attorney Robert F Kennedy Jr says that top Trump advisor Stephen Fauci has made the reckless choice to fast track vaccines, partially funded by Gates, without critical animal studies. Gates is so worried about the danger of adverse events that he says vaccines shouldn’t be distributed until governments agree to indemnity against lawsuits.

But this should come as little surprise. Kennedy notes that the Gates Foundation and its global vaccine agenda already has much to answer for. For example, Indian doctors blame the Gates Foundation for paralysing 490,000 children. And in 2009, the Gates Foundation funded tests of experimental vaccines, developed by Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) and Merck, on 23,000 girls. About 1,200 suffered severe side effects and seven died. Indian government investigations charged that Gates-funded researchers committed pervasive ethical violations.

Kennedy adds that in 2010 the Gates Foundation funded a trial of GSK’s experimental malaria vaccine, killing 151 African infants and causing serious adverse effects to 1,048 of the 5,949 children. In 2002, Gates’ operatives forcibly vaccinated thousands of African children against meningitis. Approximately 50 of the 500 children vaccinated developed paralysis.

Bill Gates committed $10 billion to the WHO in 2010. In 2014, Kenya’s Catholic Doctors Association accused the WHO of chemically sterilising millions of unwilling Kenyan women with a  ‘tetanus’ vaccine campaign. Independent labs found a sterility formula in every vaccine tested.

Instead of prioritising projects that are proven to curb infectious diseases and improve health — clean water, hygiene, nutrition and economic development — the Gates Foundation spends only about $650 million of its $5 billion budget on these areas.

Despite all of this, Gates appears on prime-time TV news shows in the US and the UK pushing his undemocratic and unaccountable pro-big pharma vaccination and surveillance agendas and is afforded deference by presenters who dare not mention any of what Kennedy outlines. Quite the opposite – he is treated like royalty.

In the meantime, an open Letter from Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi, emeritus professor of medical microbiology at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, to Angela Merkel has called for an urgent reassessment of Germany’s lockdown. Dr Ioannidis, a professor of medicine and professor of epidemiology and population health at Stanford University, argues that we have made such decisions on the basis of unreliable data. In addition, numerous articles have recently appeared online which present the views of dozens of experts who question policies and the data being cited about the coronavirus.

While it is not the intention to dismiss the dangers of Covid-19, responses to those dangers must be proportionate to actual risks. And perspective is everything.

Millions die each year due to unnecessary conflicts, malnutrition and hunger, a range of preventative diseases (often far outweighing the apparent impact of Covid-19), environmental pollution and economic plunder which deprives poor countries of their natural wealth. Neoliberal reforms have pushed millions of farmers and poor people in India and elsewhere to the brink of joblessness and despair, while our food is being contaminated with toxic chemicals and the global ecosystem faces an apocalyptic breakdown.

Much of the above is being driven by an inherently predatory economic system and facilitated by those who now say they want to ‘save lives’ by implementing devastating lockdowns. Yet, for the media and the political class, the public’s attention should not be allowed to dwell on such things.

And that has easily been taken care of.

In the UK, the population is constantly subjected via their TV screens to clap for NHS workers, support the NHS and to stay home and save lives on the basis of questionable data and policies. It’s emotive stuff taking place under a ruling Conservative Party that has cut thousands of hospital beds, frozen staff pay and demonised junior doctors.

As people passively accept the stripping of their fundamental rights, Lionel Shriver, writing in The Spectator, says that the supine capitulation to a de facto police state has been one of the most depressing spectacles he has ever witnessed.

It’s a point of view that will resonate with many.

In the meantime, Bill Gates awaits as the saviour of humanity — with a loaded syringe.

Locked Down and Locking in the New Global Order

On 12 March, British PM Boris Johnson informed the public that families would continue to “lose loved ones before their time” as the coronavirus outbreak worsens.

He added:

We’ve all got to be clear, this is the worst public health crisis for a generation.

In a report, the Imperial College had warned of modelling that suggested over 500,000 would die from the virus in the UK. The lead author of the report, epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, has since revised the estimate downward to a maximum of 20,000 if current ‘lockdown’ measures work. Johnson seems to have based his statement on Ferguson’s original figures.

Before addressing the belief that a lockdown will help the UK, it might be useful to turn to an ongoing public health crisis that receives scant media and government attention – because context is everything and responses that are proportionate to crises are important.

The silent public health crisis

In a new 29-page open letter to Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason spends 11 pages documenting the spiralling rates of disease that she says (supported by numerous research studies cited) are largely the result of exposure to health-damaging agrochemicals, not least the world’s most widely used weedkiller – glyphosate.

The amount of glyphosate-based herbicides sprayed by UK farmers on crops has gone from 226,762 kg in 1990 to 2,240,408 kg in 2016, a 10-fold increase. Mason discusses links between multiple pesticide residues (including glyphosate) in food and steady increases in the number of cancers both in the UK and worldwide as well as allergic diseases, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, obesity and many other conditions.

Mason is at pains to stress that agrochemicals are a major contributory factor (or actual cause) for the spikes in these diseases and conditions. She says this is the real public health crisis affecting the UK (and the US). Each year, she argues, there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers in the UK and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with no treatments making any difference to the numbers.

Of course, it would be unwise to lay all the blame at the door of the agrochemicals sector: we are subjected each day to a cocktail of toxic chemicals via household goods, food processing practices and food additives and environmental pollution. Yet there seems to be a serious lack of action to interfere with corporate practices and profits on the part of public bodies, so much so that a report by the Corporate Europe Observatory said in 2014 that the then outgoing European Commission had become a willing servant of a corporate agenda.

In a 2017 report, Hilal Elver, UN Special rapporteur on the right to food, and UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes Baskut Tuncak were severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”.

The authors said that pesticides have catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole, including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning.  They concluded that it is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.

At the time, Elver said that, in order to tackle this issue, the power of the corporations must be addressed.

While there is currently much talk of the coronavirus placing immense strain on the NHS, Mason highlights that the health service is already creaking and that due to weakened immune systems brought about by the contaminated food we eat, any new virus could spell disaster for public health.

But do we see a ‘lockdown’ on the activities of the global agrochemical conglomerates? Not at all. As Mason has highlighted in her numerous reports, we see governments and public health bodies working hand in glove with the agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals manufacturers to ensure ‘business as usual’. So, it might seem strange to many that the UK government is seemingly going out of its way (by stripping people of their freedoms) under the guise of a public health crisis but is all too willing to oversee a massive, ongoing one caused by the chemical pollution of our bodies.

Mason’s emphasis on an ongoing public health crisis brought about by poisoned crops and food is but part of a wider story. And it must be stated that it is a ‘silent’ crisis because the mainstream media and various official reports in the UK have consistently ignored or downplayed the role of pesticides in fuelling this situation.

Systemic immiseration

Another part of the health crisis story involves ongoing austerity measures.

The current Conservative administration in the UK is carrying out policies that it says will protect the general population and older people in particular. This is in stark contrast to its record over the previous decade which demonstrates contempt for the most vulnerable in society.

In 2019, a leading UN poverty expert compared Conservative welfare policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses and warned that unless austerity is ended, the UK’s poorest people face lives that are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, accused ministers of being in a state of denial about the impact of policies. He accused them of the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”.

In another 2019 report, it was claimed that more than 130,000 deaths in the UK since 2012 could have been prevented if improvements in public health policy had not stalled as a direct result of austerity cuts.

Over the past 10 years in the UK, there has been rising food poverty and increasing reliance on food banks, while the five richest families are now worth more than the poorest 20% and about a third of Britain’s population lives in poverty.

Almost 18 million cannot afford adequate housing conditions; 12 million are too poor to engage in common social activities; one in three cannot afford to heat their homes adequately in winter; and four million children and adults are not properly fed (Britain’s population is estimated at 63 to 64 million). Welfare cuts have pushed hundreds of thousands below the poverty line since 2012, including more than 300,000 children.

In the wake of a lockdown, we can only speculate about how a devastated economy might be exploited to further this ‘austerity’ agenda. With bailouts being promised to companies and many workers receiving public money to see them through the current crisis, this will need to be clawed back from somewhere. Will that be the excuse for defunding the NHS and handing it over to private healthcare companies with health insurance firms in tow? Are we to see a further deepening of the austerity agenda, let alone an extension of the surveillance state given the current lockdown measures which may not be fully rolled back?

The need for the current lockdown and the eradication of our freedoms has been questioned by some, not least Lord J. Sumption, former Supreme Court Justice. He has questioned the legitimacy of Boris Johnson’s press conference/statement to deprive people of their liberty and has said:

There is a difference between law and official instructions. It is the difference between a democracy and a police state.

Journalist Peter Hitchens says a newspaper headline for what Sumption says might be – ‘Former Supreme Court justice says Johnson measures lead towards police state’ or ‘TOP JUDGE WARNS OF POLICE STATE’.

But, as Hitchens implies, such headlines do not appear. Indeed, where is the questioning in the mainstream media or among politicians about any of this? To date, there have been a few isolated voices, with Hitchens himself being one.

In his recent articles, Hitchens has questioned the need for the stripping of the public’s rights and freedoms under the pretext of a perceived coronavirus pandemic. He has referred to esteemed scientists who question the need for and efficacy of ‘social distancing’ and keeping the public under virtual ‘house arrest’.

An open Letter from Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi, emeritus professor of medical microbiology at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, to Angela Merkel calls for an urgent reassessment of Germany’s lockdown response to Covid-19. Then there is Dr Ioannidis, a professor of medicine and professor of epidemiology and population health at Stanford University. He argues that we have made such decisions on the basis of unreliable data. These two scientists are not alone. On the OffGuardian website, two articles have appeared which present the views of 22 experts who question policies and/or the data that is being cited about the coronavirus.

Shift in balance of power

Professor Michel Chossudovsky has looked at who could ultimately benefit from current events and concludes that certain pharmaceutical companies could be (are already) major beneficiaries as they receive lavish funding to develop vaccines. He asks whether we can trust the main actors behind what could amount to a multi-billion dollar global (compulsory) vaccination (surveillance) project.

The issue of increased government surveillance has also been prominent in various analyses of the ongoing situation, not least in pushing the world further towards cashless societies (under the pretext that cash passes on viruses) whereby our every transaction is digitally monitored and a person’s virtual money could be declared null and void if a government so decides. Many discussions have implicated the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in this – an entity that for some time has been promoting the roll-out of global vaccine programmes and a global ‘war on cash’.

For instance, financial journalist Norbert Haring notes that the Gates Foundation and US state-financial interests had an early pivotal role in pushing for the 2016 demonestisation policy with the aim of pushing India further towards a cashless society. However, the policy caused immense damage to the economy and the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions in India who rely on cash in their everyday activities.

But that does not matter to those who roll out such policies. What matters is securing control over global payments and the ability to monitor and block them. Control food you control people. Control digital payments (and remove cash), you can control and monitor everything a country and its citizens do and pay for.

India has now also implemented a lockdown on its population and tens of millions of migrant workers have been returning to their villages. If there is a risk of corona virus infection, masses of people congregating in close proximity then returning to the countryside does not bode well.

Indeed, the impact of lockdowns and social isolation could have more harm than the effects of the coronavirus itself in terms of hunger, depression, suicides and the overall deterioration of the health of older people who are having operations delayed and who are stuck indoors with little social interaction or physical movement.

If current events show us anything, it is that fear is a powerful weapon for securing hegemony. Any government can manipulate fear about certain things while conveniently ignoring real dangers that a population faces. In a recent article, author and researcher Robert J Burrowes says:

… if we were seriously concerned about our world, the gravest and longest-standing health crisis on the planet is the one that starves to death 100,000 people each day. No panic about that, of course. And no action either.

And, of course, each day we live with the very real danger of dying a horrific death because of the thousands of nuclear missiles that hang over our heads. But this is not up for discussion. The media and politicians say nothing. Fear perception can be deliberately managed, while Walter Lippmann’s concept of the ‘bewildered herd’ cowers on cue and demands the government to further strip its rights under the guise of safety.

Does the discussion thus far mean that those who question the mainstream narrative surrounding the coronavirus are in denial of potential dangers and deaths that have been attributed to the virus? Not at all. But perspective and proportionate responses are everything and healthy debate should still take place, especially when our fundamental freedoms are at stake.

Unfortunately, many of those who would ordinarily question power and authority have meekly fallen into line: those in the UK who would not usually accept anything at face value that Boris Johnson or his ministers say, are now all too easily willing to accept the data and the government narrative. This is perplexing as both the government and the mainstream media have serious trust deficits (putting it mildly) if we look at their false narratives in numerous areas, including chemical attacks in Syria, ‘Russian aggression’, baseless smear campaigns directed at Jeremy Corbyn and WMDs in Iraq.

What will emerge from current events is anyone’s guess. Some authors like economist and geopolitical analyst Peter Koenig have presented disturbing scenarios for a future authoritarian world order under the control of powerful state-corporate partners. Whatever the eventual outcome, financial institutions, pharmaceuticals companies and large corporations will capitalise on current events to extend their profits, control and influence.

Major corporations are already in line for massive bailouts despite them having kept workers’ wages low and lining the pockets of top executives and shareholders by spending zero-interest money on stock buy backs. And World Bank Group President David Malpass has stated that poorer countries will be ‘helped’ to get back on their feet – on the condition that further neoliberal reforms and the undermining of public services are implemented and become further embedded:

Countries will need to implement structural reforms to help shorten the time to recovery and create confidence that the recovery can be strong.  For those countries that have excessive regulations, subsidies, licensing regimes, trade protection or litigiousness as obstacles, we will work with them to foster markets, choice and faster growth prospects during the recovery.

In the face of economic crisis and stagnation at home, this seems like an ideal opportunity for Western capital to further open up and loot economies abroad. In effect, the coronavirus provides cover for the further entrenchment of dependency and dispossession. Global conglomerates will be able to hollow out the remnants of nation state sovereignty, while ordinary people’s rights and ability to organise and challenge the corporate hijack of economies and livelihoods will be undermined by the intensified, globalised system of surveillance that beckons.

What Governments Aren’t Telling You about the COVID-19 Pandemic

RT’s On Going Underground speaks to legendary journalist and film-maker John Pilger about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. He discusses the fact that the Conservative government was warned about shortages leaving the NHS vulnerable in pandemics 4 years ago, the damage privatisation has done to the National Health Service, budget cuts which have seen bed capacities fall to record lows, his criticisms of the Boris Johnson administration’s response to Coronavirus, the lack of mass-testing in the U.K. which has been seen in other countries such as Germany, South Korea and China, the government blaming China for the Coronavirus crisis, the threat to Julian Assange’s life as he is denied release from prison as Coronavirus claims its first victim in Belmarsh Prison and more!