Category Archives: UK media

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.

Muting Justice: Rescheduling Julian Assange’s Hearing

When we think of the repression of journalists, we automatically evoke foreign lands.  We rarely, however, evoke or remember our own dissidents.

— Peter Oborne, Middle East Eye, May 5, 2020

It all spoke well of British justice, which meant poorly.  As one correspondent from the Australian Associated Press put it in describing the latest case hearing for Julian Assange, “There are no lawyers here in person.  Assange will not be present.  There are 6 journalists here and there will be 6 members of the public.”

The icy District Judge Vanessa Baraitser had already relented last week on vacating May 18 as the date for Assange’s full extradition hearing.  Facing several submissions about open justice, the impaired and frustrated channels of legal advice and the overall deprivation of a fair hearing being posed by the pandemic regulations, Baraitser accepted that the parties needed to be physically present.  She had little time for much else.

This hearing had little to do with abstractions of justice or wise words on the merits of press freedom.  It was all business, a game of logistics on when to have the full hearing.  Who would be available and at what times?  The only thing missing in these deliberations, apart from the protagonist himself, were the cucumber sandwiches and sherry.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, representing Assange, chewed over two undesirable dates: “The November date is too late for us and the July date is perhaps unworkable for us.”  James Lewis QC, representing the United States, had another slot in mind. “We would much prefer September if possible.”  Clair Dobbin, also representing the US, has her hands full with the Child Abuse inquiry; US prosecutors needed to journey across the Atlantic, and this, given the conditions posed by COVID-19, would be hard over summer.  Lewis was similarly tied up, having to discharge various public duties towards the end of July.

Baraitser seemed wearied by it all, conceding that another venue, better suited to the hearing, might have to be found. “It’s going to take some negotiation to find a crown court that is open in September, in the current climate, and willing and able to take this hearing.”

Martin Silk, who has been covering the case with steely attentiveness, noted the symbolic, and practical aspects of sham justice that the Assange case is throwing up.  “Three mainstream and four non-mainstream journalists have told me they were unable to listen in to Julian Assange’s hearing via conference this morning.  Apparently just got hold music because the court clerk didn’t unmute the call… lucky I tweeted.”

It is suitably repugnant that this theatre continues even as British politicians sing the praises of press freedom.  Last week, Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab added his name to those of the Dutch, French and German foreign ministers to “celebrate the crucial role journalists play around the world,” thereby doing their little, and inconsequential bit, to commemorate World Press Freedom Day.  What was particularly repellent in the statement was the cap doffing to this year’s theme, being very WikiLeaks, as it were, and equally shunned in practice.  “This year’s theme ‘Journalism without fear or favour’ emphasises the importance of taking action to secure independent journalism as a prerequisite for a functioning society.”

The statement also rings hollow when considering the entire scope of Assange’s hearings, which have been poorly conducted, appallingly managed and meagrely rationed in terms of resources.  Those covering the case have also been treated with mild contempt.  The very fact that it has dragged on in purgatorial fashion for so long suggests a form of torment by prolongation, a macabre display of institutional corruption.  The US imperium wants its man and Britain will deliver, but must be seen to be observing some due process, however shoddy.

Such a farce does not stop Raab from confidently fluting the notes of press freedom.  “We must oppose all attempts by any state,” continues the statement, “to use the pandemic to adopt restrictions on press freedom, silence debate, abuse journalists or spread misinformation.”

Such fine sentiments that have tended to skip the deliberations of Judge Baraitser and for that matter the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other branches of the British government.  Peter Oborne, sporting a keen nose for sniffing hypocrisy, spots a recent pattern.  The Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has hectored the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, for the corporation’s Panorama programme which reported shortages of personal protective equipment and the mortal dangers posed to health workers by COVID-19.  Raab had little to say about Egypt’s gruff expulsion of The Guardian reporter Ruth Michaelson in March, ostensibly for questioning official government figures on COVID-19 infections.  Ditto on that country’s record on jailing contrarian journalists unhappy to march to the drum beat of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.  In such mattes, the FCO remains remote.

This ghastly record of indifference was topped, in Oborne’s mind, by the foreign secretary’s absence of interest in protecting Assange.  “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 his hands on Assange with every bone in his body.”  The WikiLeaks publisher had, after all, “done more than every other journalist in Britain put together to shed light on the way the world truly works.”

The interim period will be another one of charming hope against bitter experience.  To avoid any serious risk of succumbing in prison to coronavirus, bail is being entertained though it is unlikely to move the glacial bench.  As Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, has described with moving melancholy, the publisher’s life “is at severe risk.  He is on remand at HMP Belmarsh, and COVID-19 is spreading within its walls.”  Those in power remain deaf to such calls, much in keeping with the dictates of muted justice.

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.

How Top Labour Officials Plotted to Bring Down Jeremy Corbyn

The findings of a leaked, 860-page report compiled by the British Labour Party on its handling of antisemitism complaints is both deeply shocking and entirely predictable all at once.

For the first time, extensive internal correspondence between senior party officials has been revealed, proving a years-long plot to destroy Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader who recently stepped down.

The report confirms long-held suspicions that suspected cases of antisemitism were exploited by head office staff to try to undermine Corbyn. Anyone who was paying close attention to events in the party over the past five years already had a sense of that.

But the depth of hostility from party managers towards Corbyn – to the extent that they actively sought to engineer his defeat in the 2017 general election – comes as a bombshell even to most veteran Labour watchers.

Hankering for Blair

As the report reveals, party managers and a substantial section of the Labour parliamentary party barely hid their contempt for Corbyn after he won the leadership election in 2015. They claimed he was incapable of winning power.

These officials and MPs hankered for a return to a supposed golden era of Labour 20 years earlier, when Tony Blair had reinvented the party as New Labour – embracing Thatcherite economics, but presented with a more caring face. At the time, it proved a winning formula, earning Blair three terms in office.

Many of the officials and MPs most hostile to Corbyn had been selected or prospered under Blair. Because Corbyn sought to reverse the concessions made by New Labour to the political right, his democratic socialism was reviled by the Blairites.

In 2017, one of the architects of New Labour, Peter Mandelson, unabashedly declared: “I work every single day in some small way to bring forward the end of his [Corbyn’s] tenure in office. Something, however small it may be – an email, a phone call or a meeting I convene – every day I try to do something to save the Labour Party from his leadership.”

That sentiment, the report makes clear, was widely shared at the highest levels of the party bureaucracy. Senior officials actively sought to sabotage Corbyn as leader at every turn.

Bid to rig leadership contest

The Blairites found a plethora of self-serving reasons – aggressively shared by the media – for arguing that Corbyn was unfit for office. Those ranged from his unkempt appearance to his opposition to Britain’s recent wars of aggression, resource grabs repackaged as “humanitarian interventions” that had been a staple of the Blair years.

Corbyn was falsely presented as having a treasonous past as a Soviet spy, and of being at the very least indulgent of antisemitism.

While members of Corbyn’s inner circle were busy putting out these endless fires, the leaked report shows that Labour officials were dedicating their time and energy to unseating him. Within a year, they had foisted upon him a rerun leadership election.

Corbyn won again with the overwhelming backing of members, even after party officials tried to rig the contest, as the report notes, by expelling thousands of members they feared would vote for him.

Even this second victory failed to disarm the Blairites. They argued that what members found appealing in Corbyn would alienate the wider electorate. And so, the covert campaign against the Labour leader intensified from within, as the extensive correspondence between party officials cited in the report makes clear.

Blue Labour

In fact, senior officials frantically tried to engineer a third leadership challenge, in early 2017, on the back of what they expected to be a poor showing in two spring byelections. The plan was to install one of their own, Tom Watson, Corbyn’s hostile deputy, as interim leader.

To their horror, Labour did well in the byelections. Soon afterwards, a general election was called. It is in the sections dealing with the June 2017 election that the report’s most shocking revelations emerge.

Again assuming Labour would perform badly, senior staff drew up plans to stage yet another leadership challenge immediately after the election. Hoping to improve their odds, they proposed that an electoral college replace the one-member, one-vote system to ensure no left-wing candidates could win.

These same staff had boasted of “political fixing” and interfering in constituency parties to ensure Blairites were selected as parliamentary candidates, rather than those sympathetic to Corbyn.

It was already well known that Labour was beset by factionalism at head office. At the time, some observers even referred to “Blue Labour” and “Red Labour” – with the implication that the “blue” faction were really closet Tories. Few probably understood how close to the truth such remarks were.

‘Sick’ over positive polls

The dossier reveals that the Blairites in charge of the party machine continued undermining Corbyn, even as it became clear they were wrong and that he could win the 2017 election.

According to the report, correspondence between senior staff – including Labour’s then-general secretary, Iain McNicol – show there was no let-up in efforts to subvert Corbyn’s campaign, even as the electoral tide turned in his favour.

Rather than celebrating the fact that the electorate appeared to be warming to Corbyn when he finally had a chance to get his message out – during the short period when the broadcast media were forced to provide more balance – Labour officials frantically sent messages to each other hoping he would still lose.

When a poll showed the party surging, one official commented to a colleague: “I actually felt quite sick when I saw that YouGov poll last night.” The colleague replied that “with a bit of luck” there would soon be “a clear polling decline”.

Excitedly, senior staff cited any outlier poll that suggested support for Corbyn was dropping. And they derided party figures, including shadow cabinet ministers such as Emily Thornberry, who offered anything more than formulaic support to Corbyn during the campaign.

‘Doing nothing’ during election

But this was not just sniping from the sidelines. Top staff actively worked to sabotage the campaign.

Party bosses set up a secret operation – the “key seats team” – in one of Labour’s offices, from which, according to the report, “a parallel general election campaign was run to support MPs associated with the right wing of the party”. A senior official pointed to the “need to throw cash” at the seat of Watson, Corbyn’s deputy and major opponent.

Corbyn’s inner team found they were refused key information they needed to direct the campaign effectively. They were denied contact details for candidates. And many staff in HQ boasted that they spent the campaign “doing nothing” or pretending to “tap tap busily” at their computers while they plotted against Corbyn online.

Writing this week, two left-wing Labour MPs, John Trickett and Ian Lavery, confirmed that efforts to undermine the 2017 election campaign were palpable at the time.

Party officials, they said, denied both of them information and feedback they needed from doorstep activists to decide where resources would be best allocated and what messaging to use. It was, they wrote, suggested “that we pour resources into seats with large Labour majorities which were never under threat”.

The report, and Trickett and Lavery’s own description, make clear that party managers wanted to ensure the party’s defeat, while also shoring up the majorities of Labour’s right-wing candidates to suggest that voters had preferred them.

The aim of party managers was to ensure a Blairite takeover of the party immediately after the election was lost.

‘Stunned and reeling’

It is therefore hardly surprising that, when Corbyn overturned the Conservative majority and came within a hair’s breadth of forming a government himself, there was an outpouring of anger and grief from senior staff.

The message from one official cited in the report called the election result the “opposite to what I had been working towards for the last couple of years”. She added that she and her colleagues were “silent and grey-faced” and in “need of counselling”.

Others said that they were “stunned and reeling”, and that they needed “a safe space”. They lamented that they would have to pretend to smile in front of the cameras. One observed: “We will have to suck this up. The people have spoken. Bastards.”

Another tried to look on the bright side: “At least we have loads of money now” – a reference to the dues from hundreds of thousands of new members Corbyn had attracted to the party as leader.

Investigated for antisemitism

In short, Labour’s own party bosses not only secretly preferred a Conservative government, but actually worked hard to bring one about.

The efforts to destroy Corbyn from 2015 through 2018 are the context for understanding the evolution of a widely accepted narrative about Labour becoming “institutionally antisemitic” under Corbyn’s leadership.

The chief purpose of the report is to survey this period and its relation to the antisemitism claims. As far as is known, the report was an effort to assess allegations that Labour had an identifiable “antisemitism problem” under Corbyn, currently the subject of an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In a highly unusual move, the commission launched an investigation of Labour last year. The only other political party ever to be investigated is the neo-Nazi British National Party a decade ago.

The Labour report shows that party officials who helped the Tories to victory in 2017 were also the same people making sure antisemitism became a dark stain on Corbyn for most of his leadership.

No antisemitic intent

Confusingly, the report’s authors hedge their bets on the antisemitism claims.

On the one hand, they argue that antisemitism complaints were handled no differently from other complaints in Labour, and could find no evidence that current or former staff were “motivated by antisemitic intent”.

But at the same time, the report accepts that Labour had an antisemitism problem beyond the presence of a few “bad apples”, despite the known statistical evidence refuting this.

A Home Affairs Select Committee – a forum that was entirely unsympathetic to Corbyn – found in late 2016 that there was “no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party”.

Even that assessment was unfair to Labour. Various surveys have suggested that Labour and the left have less of a problem with all forms of racism than the ruling Conservative Party.

For those reasons alone, it was highly improper for the equalities commission to agree to investigate Labour. It smacks of the organisation’s politicisation.

Nonetheless, the decision of the report’s authors to work within the parameters of the equalities watchdog’s investigation is perhaps understandable. One of the successes of Corbyn’s opponents has been to label any effort to challenge the claim that Labour has an antisemitism problem as “denialism” – and then cite this purported denialism as proof of antisemitism.

Such self-rationalising proofs are highly effective, and a technique familiar from witch-hunts and the McCarthy trials of the 1950s in the United States.

‘Litany of mistakes’

The report highlights correspondence between senior staff showing that, insofar as Labour had an “antisemitism problem”, it actually came from the Blairites in head office, not Corbyn or his team. It was party officials deeply hostile to Corbyn, after all, who were responsible for handling antisemitism complaints.

These officials, the report notes, oversaw “a litany of errors” and delays in the handling of complaints – not because they were antisemitic, but because they knew this was an effective way to further damage Corbyn.

They intentionally expanded the scope of antisemitism investigations to catch out not only real antisemites in the party, but also members, including Jews, who shared Corbyn’s support for Palestinian rights and were harshly critical of Israel.

Later, this approach would be formalised with the party’s adoption of a new definition of antisemitism, proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), that shifted the focus from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel.

The complaints system was quickly overwhelmed, and delays worsened as officials hostile to Corbyn cynically dragged their heels to avoid resolving outstanding cases. Or, as the report stiffly describes it, there was “abundant evidence of a hyper-factional atmosphere prevailing in Party HQ” against Corbyn that “affected the expeditious and resolute handling of disciplinary complaints”.

The report accuses McNicol of intentionally misleading Corbyn about the number of cases so that “the scale of the problem was not appreciated” by his team – though the scale of the problem had, in fact, also been inflated by party officials.

The report concludes that Sam Matthews, who oversaw the complaints procedure under McNicol, “rarely replied or took any action, and the vast majority of times where action did occur, it was prompted by other Labour staff directly chasing this themselves”.

Amplified by the media

Both McNicol and Matthews have denied the claims to Sky News. McNicol called it a “petty attempt to divert attention away from the real issue”. Matthews said the report was “a highly selective, retrospective review of the party’s poor record” and that a “proper examination of the full evidence will show that as Head of Disputes and Acting Director, I did my level best to tackle the poison of anti-Jewish racism which was growing under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.”

But there is too much detail in the report to be so easily dismissed and there remain very serious questions to be answered. For example, once Matthews and McNicol had departed, Labour rapidly increased the resolution of antisemitism cases, dramatically stepping up the suspension and expulsion of accused party members.

The earlier delays appear to have had one purpose only: to embarrass Corbyn, creating an impression the party – and by implication, Corbyn himself – was not taking the issue of antisemitism seriously. Anyone who tried to point out what was really going on – such as, for example, MP Chris Williamson – was denounced as an antisemitism “denier” and suspended or expelled.

The media happily amplified whatever messages party officials disseminated against Corbyn. That included even the media’s liberal elements, such as the Guardian, whose political sympathies lay firmly with the Blairite faction.

That was all too evident during a special hour-length edition of Panorama, the BBC’s flagship news investigations programme, on Labour and antisemitism last year. It gave an uncritical platform to ex-staff turned supposed “whistleblowers” who claimed that Corbyn and his team had stymied efforts to root out antisemitism.

But as the report shows, it was actually these very “whistleblowers” who were the culpable ones.

‘Set up left, right and centre’

The media’s drumbeat against Corbyn progressively frightened wider sections of the Jewish community, who assumed there could be no smoke without fire.

It was a perfect, manufactured, moral panic. And once it was unleashed, it could survive the clear-out in 2018 of the Blairite ringleaders of the campaign against Corbyn.

Ever since, the antisemitism furore has continued to be regularly stoked into life by the media, by conservative Jewish organisations such as the Board of Deputies, and by Israel partisans inside the Labour Party.

“We were being sabotaged and set up left, right and centre by McNicol’s team, and we didn’t even know. It’s so important that the truth comes out,” one party source told Sky News.

Stench of cover-up

The question now for Labour’s new leader, Keir Starmer, is what is he going to do with these revelations? Will he use them to clean out Labour’s stables, or quietly sweep the ordure under the carpet?

The signs so far are not encouraging.

The intention of current party managers was to bury the revelations – until someone foiled them by leaking the report. Predictably, most of the media have so far shown very little interest in giving these explosive findings anything more than the most perfunctory coverage.

Unconvincingly, Starmer has claimed he knew nothing about the report until the leak, and that he now intends to conduct an “urgent independent investigation” into the findings of the earlier inquiry.

Such an investigation, he says, will re-examine “the contents and wider culture and practices referred to in the report”. That implies that Starmer refuses to accept the report’s findings. A reasonable concern is that he will seek to whitewash them with a second investigation.

He has also promised to investigate “the circumstances in which the report was put into the public domain”. That sounds ominously like an attempt to hound those who have tried to bring to light the party’s betrayal of its previous leader.

The stench of cover-up is already in the air.

Fear of reviving smears

More likely, Starmer is desperate to put the antisemitism episode behind him and the party. Recent history is his warning.

Just as Williamson found himself reviled as an antisemite for questioning whether Labour actually had an antisemitism problem, Starmer knows that any effort by the party to defend Corbyn’s record will simply revive the campaign of smears. And this time, he will be the target.

Starmer has hurriedly sought to placate Israel lobbyists within and without his own party, distancing himself as much as possible from Corbyn. That has included declaring himself a staunch Zionist and promising a purge of antisemites under the IHRA rules that include harsh critics of Israel.

Starmer has also made himself and his party hostage to the conservative Board of Deputies and Labour’s Israel partisans by signing up to their 10 pledges, a document that effectively takes meaningful criticism of Israel off the table.

There is very little reason to believe that Labour’s new leadership is ready to confront the antisemitism smears that did so much to damage the party under Corbyn and will continue harming it for the foreseeable future.

The biggest casualties will be truth and transparency. Labour needs to come clean and admit that its most senior officials defrauded hundreds of thousands of party members, and millions more supporters, who voted for a fairer, kinder Britain.

• First published in Middle East Eye

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.

Julian Assange: One Year In Belmarsh

It should not be a matter of distinction, but Julian Assange is a figure who is becoming the apotheosis of political imprisonment.  This seems laughable to those convinced he is an agent without scruple, a compromiser of the Fourth Estate, a figure best packed off to a prison system that will, in all assuredness, kill him.

That’s if he even gets there.  Having spent a year at Her Majesty’s Belmarsh prison, the WikiLeaks publisher faces the permanent danger of contracting COVID-19 as he goes through the bone-weariness of legal proceedings.  Even during the extradition hearings, he has been treated with a snooty callousness by District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser, which does not bode well for a favourable finding against the US submission.  As he endures them, he suffers in a facility that is succumbing to the misrule caused by the coronavirus.

On April 9, Assange’s friend Vaughan Smith gave a description of conditions that gave little cause for Easter cheer. “Julian is now confined alone in a cell for 23.5 hours every day.  He gets half an hour of exercise and that is in a yard crowded with other prisoners.”  Smith also had a shot at the running of the prison.  “With over 150 Belmarsh prison staff off work self-isolating, the prison is barely functioning.”

The UK Department of Justice has adopted a mild approach to the issue of releasing prisoners in the face of the coronavirus epidemic.  Despite the Prison Governors’ Association suggesting the release of 15,000 non-violent prisoners, the Department of Justice has opted for the lower total of 4,000.  To date, a meagre 100 have been released.  Assange insists that the situation is graver at Belmarsh than is otherwise advertised.  Official figures put the number of COVID-19 deaths at one in the maximum security facility.  There are at least two, with the possibility, argues Assange, of more.

By any reasonable assessment, Assange fits the bill of a non-violent prisoner, and one with genuine political credentials.  He was granted asylum by Ecuador, a point of little interest to Baraister.  His condition, both physical and mental, has appalled friends, acquaintances and a number of officials.  Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, has spent much time beating the drum of awareness about his plight.  Since 2010, he stated in May last year, “there has been a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation and defamation against Mr Assange, not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Sweden and, more recently, in Ecuador.”

Rather than turning their attention to this state of circumstances, news outlets prefer to gorge themselves on other details, such as the newly revealed identity of his partner, which Judge Baraitser refused to keep concealed.  The writing on this subject is needlessly though predictably tawdry.  “WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange fathered two sons while hiding in embassy,” has been a favourite formulation. The Daily Mail can barely resist stirring the sauce pot, giving Assange the appearance of an international man of fornicating mystery.  “Gabriel, aged two, and his one-year-old brother Max were conceived while their father was hiding out to avoid extradition to America, where he faces espionage charges over the leaking of thousands of classified US intelligence documents.”  But the man who sowed his oats was also, the Mail is thrilled to remind us, “wanted in Sweden where he was accused of rape.”  It was rather good of them to also tell readers that Swedish prosecutors dropped the investigation, though it does so with customary scepticism.

The old hacks can barely resist regarding the entire matter of Assange having a partner and children as peculiar.  The Mail seemed to think it had uncovered a stunning morsel of information that would shock all.  “The news will come as a bombshell to Assange’s friends and enemies since he was widely understood to have led a near-monastic life since entering the embassy in 2012.”  Monks would surely disagree with that flawed assessment, as would his friends.

The theme of oddity has also made it across the Atlantic.  The New York Post, for instance, considered it “an even odder twist” that “British rapper M.I.A. is a godmother to the children”.  Hardly – M.I.A, along with a large clutch of celebrities, has been a vocal supporter and barracker.

This mixture of lazy scribbling, creepy curiosity and saccharine interest will do little to aid Assange. His partner, now revealed as lawyer Stella Moris-Smith Robertson, attempted to take some of the edge off perceptions of the publisher in a court statement supporting bail.  “My close relationship with Julian has been the opposite of how he is viewed – of reserve, respect for each other and attempts to shield each other from some of the nightmares that have surrounded our lives.”  Retaining that shield will be an increasingly difficult matter now.

Assange’s scalp is precious.  The application for bail made by his defence team on March 25 was denied.  Access to him from his legal team is limited, hobbling the case.  Even during a raging pandemic, where entire states have mobilised their resources, there is always room for little bit of vindictiveness.  Scores need to be settled; the balance sheet ordered.  To that end, Judge Baraister and the UK justice system, have not disappointed.

The Smearing of Ken Loach and Jeremy Corbyn is the Face of our New Toxic Politics

Ken Loach, one of Britain’s most acclaimed film directors, has spent more than a half a century dramatising the plight of the poor and the vulnerable. His films have often depicted the casual indifference or active hostility of the state as it exercises unaccountable power over ordinary people.

Last month Loach found himself plunged into the heart of a pitiless drama that could have come straight from one of his own films. This veteran chronicler of society’s ills was forced to stand down as a judge in a school anti-racism competition, falsely accused of racism himself and with no means of redress.

Voice of the powerless

There should be little doubt about Loach’s credentials both as an anti-racist and a trenchant supporter of the powerless and the maligned.

In his films he has turned his unflinching gaze on some of the ugliest episodes of British state repression and brutality in Ireland, as well as historical struggles against fascism in other parts of the globe, from Spain to Nicaragua.

But his critical attention has concentrated chiefly on Britain’s shameful treatment of its own poor, its minorities and its refugees. In his recent film I, Daniel Blake he examined the callousness of state bureaucracies in implementing austerity policies, while this year’s release Sorry We Missed You focused on the precarious lives of a zero-hours workforce compelled to choose between the need to work and responsibility to family.

Inevitably, these scathing studies of British social and political dysfunction – exposed even more starkly by the current coronavirus pandemic – mean Loach is much less feted at home than he is in the rest of the world, where his films are regularly honoured with awards.

Which may explain why the extraordinary accusations against him of racism – or more specifically antisemitism – have not been more widely denounced as malicious.

Campaign of vilification

From the moment it was announced in February that Loach and Michael Rosen, a renowned, left-wing children’s poet, were to judge an anti-racism art competition for schools, the pair faced a relentless and high-profile campaign of vilification. But given the fact that Rosen is Jewish, Loach took the brunt of the attack.

The organisation behind the award, Show Racism the Red Card, which initially refused to capitulate to the bullying, quickly faced threats to its charitable status as well as its work eradicating racism from football.

In a statement, Loach’s production company, Sixteen Films, said Show Racism the Red Card had been the “subject of an aggressive campaign to persuade trade unions, government departments, football clubs and politicians to cease funding or otherwise supporting the charity and its work”.

“Pressure behind the scenes” was exerted from the government and from football clubs, which began threatening to sever ties with the charity.

More than 200 prominent figures in sport, academia and the arts came to Loach’s defence, noted Sixteen Films, but the charity’s “very existence” was soon at stake. Faced with this unremitting onslaught, Loach agreed to step down on March 18.

This had been no ordinary protest, but one organised with ruthless efficiency that quickly gained a highly sympathetic hearing in the corridors of power.

US-style Israel lobby

Leading the campaign against Loach and Rosen were the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Labour Movement – two groups that many on the left are already familiar with.

They previously worked from within and without the Labour party to help undermine Jeremy Corbyn, its elected leader. Corbyn stepped down this month to be replaced by Keir Starmer, his former Brexit minister, after losing a general election in December to the ruling Conservative party.

Long-running and covert efforts by the Jewish Labour Movement to unseat Corbyn were exposed two years ago in an undercover investigation filmed by Al-Jazeera.

The JLM is a small, highly partisan pro-Israel lobby group affiliated to the Labour party, while the Board of Deputies falsely claims to represent Britain’s Jewish community, when, in fact, it serves as a lobby for the most conservative elements of it.

Echoing their latest campaign, against Loach, the two groups regularly accused Corbyn of antisemitism, and of presiding over what they termed an “institutionally antisemitic” Labour party. Despite attracting much uncritical media attention for their claims, neither organisation produced any evidence beyond the anecdotal.

The reason for these vilification campaigns has been barely concealed. Loach and Corbyn have shared a long history as passionate defenders of Palestinian rights, at a time when Israel is intensifying efforts to extinguish any hope of the Palestinians ever gaining statehood or a right to self-determination.

In recent years, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement have adopted the tactics of a US-style lobby determined to scrub criticism of Israel from the public sphere. Not coincidentally, the worse Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians has grown, the harder these groups have made it to talk about justice for Palestinians.

Starmer, Corbyn’s successor, went out of his way to placate the lobby during last month’s Labour leadership election campaign, happily conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism to avoid a similar confrontation. His victory was welcomed by both the Board and the JLM.

Character assassination

But Ken Loach’s treatment shows that the weaponisation of antisemitism is far from over, and will continue to be used against prominent critics of Israel. It is a sword hanging over future Labour leaders, forcing them to root out party members who persist in highlighting either Israel’s intensifying abuse of the Palestinians or the nefarious role of pro-Israel lobby groups like the Board and the JLM.

The basis for the accusations against Loach were flimsy at best – rooted in a circular logic that has become the norm of late when judging supposed examples of antisemitism.

Loach’s offence, according to the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement, was the fact that he has denied – in line with all the data – that Labour is institutionally antisemitic.

The demand for evidence to support claims made by these two bodies that Labour has an antisemitism crisis is now itself treated as proof of antisemitism, transforming it into the equivalent of Holocaust denial.

But when Show Racism the Red Card initially stood their ground against the smears, the Board and Jewish Labour Movement produced a follow-up allegation. The anti-racism charity appeared to use this as a pretext for extracting itself from the mounting trouble associated with supporting Loach.

The new claim against Loach consisted not so much of character assassination as of character assassination by tenuous association.

The Board and Jewish Labour Movement raised the unremarkable fact that a year ago Loach responded to an email from a member of the GMB union who had been expelled.

Peter Gregson sought Loach’s professional assessment of a video in which he accused the union of victimising him over his opposition to a new advisory definition of antisemitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which openly conflates antisemitism with criticism of Israel.

The IHRA definition was foisted on the Labour party two years ago by the same groups – the Jewish Labour Movement and the Board of Deputies – in large part as a way to isolate Corbyn. There was a great deal of opposition from rank and file members.

Resisting new definition

Pro-Israel lobby group liked this new definition – seven of its 11 examples of antisemitism relate to Israel, not Jews – because it made it impossible for Corbyn and his supporters to critique Israel without running the gauntlet of claims they were antisemitic for doing so.

Loach was among the many Corbyn supporters who tried to resist the imposition of the IHRA definition. So it was hardly surprising, given Gregson’s claims and the parallels of his story to many others Loach has been documenting for decades, that the film maker replied, offering his critical opinion of the video.

Only later was Loach told that there were separate concerns raised about Gregson’s behaviour, including an allegation that he had fallen out with a Jewish member of the union. Loach distanced himself from Gregson and backed the GMB’s decision.

That should have been an end to it. Loach is a public figure who sees it as part of his role to engage with ordinary people in need of help – anything less, given his political views, would make him a hypocrite. But he is not omniscient. He cannot know the backstory of every individual who crosses his path. He cannot vet every person before he sends an email.

It would be foolish, however, to take the professions of concern about Loach from the Board and the Jewish Labour Movement at face value. In fact, their opposition to him relates to a much more fundamental rift about what can and cannot be said about Israel, one in which the IHRA definition serves as the key battleground.

Toxic discourse

Their attacks highlight an increasingly, and intentionally, toxic discourse surrounding antisemitism that now dominates British public life. Through the recent publication of its so-called 10 pledges, the Board of Deputies has required all future Labour leaders to accept this same toxic discourse or face Corbyn’s fate.

It is no coincidence that Loach’s case has such strong echoes of Corbyn’s own public hounding.

Both are rare public figures who have dedicated their time and energies over many decades to standing up for the weak against the strong, defending those least able to defend themselves.

Both are survivors of a fading generation of political activists and intellectuals who continue to champion the tradition of unabashed class struggle, based on universal rights, rather than the more fashionable, but highly divisive, politics of identity and culture wars.

Loach and Corbyn are the remnants of a British post-war left whose inspirations were very different from those of the political centre and the right – and from the influences on many of today’s young.

Fight against fascism

At home, they were inspired by the anti-fascist struggles of their parents in the 1930s against Oswald Moseley’s Brown Shirts, such as at the Battle of Cable Street. And in their youth they were emboldened by the class solidarity that built a National Health Service from the late 1940s onwards, one that for the first time provided health care equally for all in the UK.

Abroad, they were galvanised by the popular, globe-spannning fight against the institutional racism of apartheid in South Africa, a struggle that gradually eroded western governments’ support for the white regime. And they were at the forefront of the last great mass political mobilisation, against the official deceptions that justified the US-UK war of aggression against Iraq in 2003.

But like most of this dying left they are haunted by their generation’s biggest failure in international solidarity. Their protests did not end the many decades of colonial oppression suffered by the Palestinian people and sponsored by the same western states that once stood by apartheid South Africa.

The parallels between these two western-backed, settler-colonial projects, much obscured by British politicians and the media, are stark and troubling for them.

Purge of class politics

Loach and Corbyn’s demonisation as antisemites – and parallel efforts across the Atlantic to silence Bernie Sanders (made more complicated by his Jewishness) – are evidence of a final public purge by the western political and media establishments of this kind of old-school class consciousness.

Activists like Loach and Corbyn want a historical reckoning for the west’s colonial meddling in other parts of the world, including the catastrophic legacy from which so-called “immigrants” are fleeing to this day.

It was the west that pillaged foreign soils for centuries, then armed the dictators supposedly bringing independence to these former colonies, and now invade or attack these same societies in bogus “humanitarian interventions”.

Similarly, the internationalist, class-based struggle of Loach and Corbyn rejects a politics of identity that, rather than recognising the west’s long history of crimes committed against women, minorities and refugees, channels the energies of the marginalised into a competition for who may be allowed to sit at the top table with a white elite.

It is precisely this kind of false consciousness that leads to the cheering on of women as they head up the military-industrial complex, or the excitement at a black man becoming US president only to use his power to set new records in extrajudicial killings abroad and the repression of political dissent at home.

Loach and Corbyn’s grassroots activism is the antithesis of a modern politics in which corporations use their huge wealth to lobby and buy politicians, who in turn use their spin-doctors to control the public discourse through a highly partisan and sympathetic corporate media.

Hollow concern

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement are very much embedded in this latter type of politics, exploiting a political identity to win a place at the top table and then use it to lobby for their chosen cause of Israel.

If this seems unfair, remember that while the Board and the Jewish Labour Movement have been hammering on about a supposed antisemitism crisis on the left defined chiefly in terms of its hostility to Israel, the right and far-right have been getting a free pass to stoke ever greater levels of white nationalism and racism against minorities.

These two organisations have not only averted their gaze from the rise of the nationalist right – which is now embedded inside the British government – but have rallied to its side.

In particular, the Board’s leaders – as well as the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who publicly reviled Corbyn as an antisemite days before last year’s general election – have barely bothered to hide their support for the Conservative government and prime minister Boris Johnson.

Their professions of concern about racism and their attacks on the charitable status of Show Racism the Red Card ring all the more hollow, given their own records of supporting racism.

Both have repeatedly backed Israel in its violations of human rights and attacks on Palestinians, including Israel’s deployment of snipers to shoot men, women and children protesting against more than a decade of suffocating Gaza with a blockade.

The two organisations have remained studiously silent on Israel’s racist policy of allowing football teams from illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank to play in its football league in violation of FIFA’s rules.

And they have supported the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund in the UK, even as it finances racist settler projects and forestation programmes that are intended to displace Palestinians from their land.

Their hypocrisy has been boundless.

Truth turned on its head

The fact that the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Labour Movement have been able to exercise such clout against Loach on allegations for which there is no evidence indicates how enthusiastically the Israel lobby has been integrated into the British establishment and serves its purposes.

Israel is a key pillar of an informal western military alliance keen to project its power into the oil-rich Middle East. Israel exports its oppressive technology and surveillance systems, refined in ruling over the Palestinians, to western states hungry for more sophisticated systems of control. And Israel has helped tear up the international rulebook in entrenching its occupation, as well as blazing a trail in legitimising torture and extrajudicial executions – now mainstays of US foreign policy.

Israel’s pivotal place in this matrix of power is rarely discussed because western establishments have no interest in having their bad faith and double standards exposed.

The Board and the Jewish Labour Movement are helping to police and enforce that silence about Israel, a key western ally. In truly Orwellian style, they are turning the charge of racism on its head – using it against our most prominent and most resolute anti-racists.

And better still for western establishments, figures like Loach and Corbyn – veterans of class struggle, who have spent decades immersed in the fight to build a better society – are now being battered into oblivion on the anvil of identity politics.

Should this perversion of our democratic discourse be allowed to continue, our societies will be doomed to become even uglier, more divisive and divided places.