Category Archives: United Kingdom

“That Is Actually Bollocks”: 20 Propaganda Horrors From 20 Years of Media Lens (Part 1)

After 20 years of Media Lens, it seems only natural that we should look back in gratitude at the support we’ve received. In response to one of our early pieces, a kindly columnist at the Observer commented:

‘Dear David,

‘Thank you very much for sending me a copy of your piece, which strikes me as spot on.

‘Yrs,

‘Nick Cohen’

A Guardian columnist responded with even more effusive praise:

‘This article is brilliant and fascinating David, as ever.’ (George Monbiot)

Alas, our ethical integrity declined precipitously after we subjected our interlocutors to criticism, with Cohen addressing us as ‘Dear Serviles’, signing off with ‘Viva Joe Stalin’ (Cohen, email, 15 March 2002). Monbiot went on to write an article titled, ‘Media Cleanse’. He described our organisation as ‘an apologist for genocidaires and ethnic cleansers’ – Guardianspeak for ‘critics who embarrass apologists for Western foreign policy’. Both Cohen and Monbiot have long since blocked us on Twitter.

More seriously, beyond the corporate fringepuddle, we were initially astonished by the level of public support we received. A reader commented early on:

‘Dear MediaLens, I feel like crying with the gratitude I feel to you people for the immense amount of work that must go into writing incredibly detailed, researched synopses like that we have just received from you on Iraq.’

Last month, a reader emailed:

‘My sister and I have followed your work for many years and really I don’t have the words to describe the value of the service you provide to a global community.’

We once asked Harold Pinter what he thought of the media claim that ‘people are completely indifferent to everything that’s going on and couldn’t care less’. In his inimitable style, Pinter replied:

‘That is actually bollocks.’

We sometimes feel genuinely embarrassed by the praise we receive because it has always seemed to us that we are involved in a kind of turkey shoot.

The fact is that, like other corporate employees, on pain of career cancellation, media workers simply cannot expose truths that discomfit their owners, parent companies, editors, advertisers, colleagues, and allied powerful interests. It is child’s play to demonstrate that this is the case.

Even as we were editing this alert, Jack Slater, an ostensibly impartial, objective senior BBC broadcast journalist covering Joe Biden’s first visit to the UK as president, tweeted:

‘Always special to film POTUS [President of the United States].’

Nobody noticed. If Slater tweeted, ‘Always special to film Assad’, or, ‘Always special to film Putin’, he would be guilty of ‘bias’ contravening the BBC charter and out of a job. Likewise, if he tweeted, ‘Always uncomfortable to film the head of US imperial power.’

Because journalists are also not free to discuss what it is they are not free to discuss, we often have the last word (Slater, of course, ignored our tweet, above). This also makes us look great!

The point is that we don’t have direct bosses – owners, managers, editors, parent companies. And we also don’t have indirect bosses – advertisers, wealthy philanthropists, supportive charitable foundations, organisational allegiances, and so on. This is the one advantage of being a tinpot outfit run on a shoestring.

The Chinese mystic Chuang Tzu once said: ‘Easy is right.’ Media criticism is easy if you’re willing to burn your media bridges at both ends. We have found that it often produces a lovely light.

Below, we discuss 20 corporate media horrors from the last 20 years that have remained stuck in our minds and craws, and that are ‘actually bollocks’.

1. The 30mm M230 Chain-Driven Autocannon ‘Stitching The Fabric Of A Nation Together’

It couldn’t have been more perfect. On 17 November 2010, BBC News at Ten presenter George Alagiah spoke from the British base, Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan:

‘I’ve been here a week now and it’s been long enough to see some of the small but real steps of progress. But it’s also clear how much further there is to go. And it’s not just about women’s rights or more clinics and schools. It’s about stitching the fabric of a nation together.’

Future historians will write learned dissertations on how gender rights in our time have been commandeered and weaponised by a fathomless cultural arrogance (the polite term) in the service of imperial violence.

For these fine words were spoken in front of an Apache attack helicopter. The gunship’s 30mm, M230 chain-driven autocannon, fresh from ‘stitching the fabric of a nation together’, was clearly visible. This was the same weapon type seen blowing apart a dozen or more Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in the 2007 WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Murder’ video. And this is the same aircraft type in which (then) Prince Harry had flown as co-pilot and gunner. Now an ardent anti-racism campaigner, when asked if he had killed people as part of the illegal, racist war on brown-skinned Afghans, Harry answered:

‘Yeah, so, lots of people have… If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game, I suppose.’

Talk of a majority white alliance ‘taking out’ brown-skinned people from ‘the game’ (‘The Great Game’?) would perhaps fail Harry’s own refurbished standards of political correctness now.

2. The Independent on Sunday – ‘Travel Neroists’

Like everyone else, the billionaire-owned, profit-maximising, ad-dependent corporation calling itself the Independent on Sunday now claims to hold a bright candle for the radical climate action required to address the devastation wrought by… (wait for it!)… the billionaire-owned, profit-maximising, ad-dependent corporate system.

In 2016, environment editor Geoffrey Lean lavished praise on himself and his employer:

‘this has been a newspaper that has long been black and white and green all over, winning many awards’.

As Noam Chomsky said:

‘Heaven must be full to overflowing, if the masters of self-adulation are to be taken at their word.’ 1

In 2007 – fully 20 years after scientists had blown a loud whistle on the looming threat of climate collapse – the February 4 cover story of the Independent on Sunday’s Review supplement was almost beyond belief. The words on the cover:

‘Time is running out… Ski resorts are melting… Paradise islands are vanishing… So what are you waiting for?’

Did they mean: what are we waiting for before taking radical action? No, this, after all, was a corporate newspaper and business is business:

‘30 places you need to visit while you still can – A 64-page Travel Special…’

From the depths of depraved corporate cynicism, Marcus Fairs wrote:

‘I am changing my travel plans this year. Alarmed by global warming, shocked by the imminent mass extinction of species and distraught at the environmental damage wreaked by mass tourism, I have decided to act before it is too late. Yes, carbon-neutral travel can wait. I’m off to see polar bears, tigers and low-lying Pacific atolls while they’re still there… In the spirit of Nero – the Roman emperor who sang to the beauty of the flames while Rome burned to the ground – we are determined to enjoy the final days of our beautiful Earth. We are aware that mass tourism damages the very things we are going to see, but this only increases our urgency. We are aware that we will soon have to act more sustainably, which gives us all the more reason to be irresponsible while we still can.

‘Not for us the angsty despair of the eco-worriers, nor the stay-home moralising of the greenhouse gasbags. For we are the travel Neroists, and we have spotted a window of opportunity.’ 2

Fourteen years later, everything has changed, of course. Well, profit-maximising corporate media now at least pretend they care. In April, Greta Thunberg accurately summed up the reality of these heroic businesses that are ‘black and white and green all over’:

‘The climate crisis doesn’t exist in the public debate today. And since it doesn’t really exist… the general level of awareness is so absurdly low…’

For the corporate system, radical change means finding radical new deceptions to allow them to continue maximising profits at any cost.

3. Simon Kelner – Corbyn’s ‘Threatening’ Pronunciation

By the time Jeremy Corbyn stood for the leadership of the Labour Party in May 2015, he had been a Labour MP for 32 years. As a leading anti-war voice, he had received plenty of attention and abuse from corporate politics and media.

We searched the ProQuest media database for national UK newspaper articles containing mentions of ‘Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ before 1 May 2015. The search found 18 articles, none of which accused Corbyn of anti-semitism. Then, in November 2019, the month before the last general election, we searched for mentions of ‘Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ after 1 May 2015. We got 15,857 hits. The figure currently stands at 21,919.

This represents a truly awesome, in fact, unprecedented, propaganda assault on a democratic politician. In fact, it closely resembles the campaigns used to demonise leaders of Official Enemy states like Iraq, Iran, Libya and Venezuela, conducted by many of the same journalists in the same media organisations. That’s a gentle way of saying the anti-Corbyn propaganda blitz was a serious attack on democracy, a kind of fascism.

As one would expect during a McCarthyite-style frenzy of this kind, in finding a herd to follow many corporate media workers lost their minds.

A small but telling example was provided in the i newspaper by former Independent editor Simon Kelner, who focused on the way Corbyn had ‘mispronounced’ the name of the sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein. Kelner noted of Corbyn’s contribution to a TV debate: ‘He called him “Ep–Schtine.”’

In attacking Corbyn, along with other journalists like ITV political editor Robert Peston, Kelner did not merely dispense with the usual affectation of journalistic objectivity, he emphasised his subjectivity:

‘My reaction was a visceral one: it’s not something I can explain easily, or even rationally, but a Jewish person does know when there is something that sounds wrong, or perjorative [sic], or even threatening. It was as if he was saying: “Are you aware this man is Jewish?”’

The idea, then, was that Corbyn – who had been subjected to relentless, highly damaging attacks of this kind for several years, and who had done everything he could to distance himself from anti-semitism, taking a very tough line on the suspension of allies like Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson from the Labour Party – was emphasising Epstein’s Jewishness in a deliberate – or, worse – unconscious effort to smear Jews.

Of course, only a crazed racist would be unable to resist such a patently self-destructive impulse on national TV. And yet, as discussed, Corbyn managed to prevent journalists and politicians from observing his right arm shooting skywards for 32 years. In November 2019, the outgoing Speaker of the House of Commons, former Conservative MP, John Bercow, who is Jewish, said in an interview:

‘I myself have never experienced anti-semitism from a member of the Labour Party, point one. And point two, though there is a big issue and it has to be addressed, I do not myself believe Jeremy Corbyn is anti-semitic.

‘I’ve known him for the 22 years I’ve been in Parliament. Even, actually, when I was a right-winger we got on pretty well… I’ve never detected so much as a whiff of anti-semitism [from him].’

Our search of the ProQuest media database found no mention of Bercow’s comments in any UK national newspaper. Kelner’s comments belong with the most crazed and paranoid effusions of US McCarthyism, where beds were widely believed to be the preferred hiding place for ‘reds’.

4. The BBC’s Missing History Of Iran

The BBC has a long, inglorious history of shortening its historical attention span to suit powerful interests. A key establishment embarrassment was the US-UK’s coup to overthrow the democratically elected Musaddiq government of Iran in 1953.

It truly is embarrassing that the CIA supplied the weapons and money, that the BBC helped green-light the coup, and above all the fact that the goal was oil.

In 1952, the British ambassador commented that ‘Persian [Iranian] public opinion is unanimous in rejecting the [British] offer’ of a deal on oil. But Britain did ‘not consider that a deal on acceptable terms can ever be made with’ Musaddiq. 3

Colonel Wheeler, an adviser at the British embassy, explained that ‘combined Anglo-American action could, of course, have removed [Musaddiq] at any time during the past six months… Given a united Anglo-American front, a change of government could almost certainly be effected without difficulty or disturbance’. (p. 91)

This neatly captures the traditional US-UK ‘respect’ for democracy and human rights (see point 17 in Part 2).

In a memorandum in August 1952 discussing this ‘change of government’, Sam Falle, a UK embassy official in Iran, suggested that:

‘We should leave the name-suggesting to the Americans… It should not be difficult to bring the American’s candidate… to power.’ (p. 92)

The British preference was ‘for a non-communist coup d’etat preferably in the name of the Shah. This would mean an authoritarian regime,’ the embassy in Teheran noted ominously. (p. 91)

According to then CIA agent Richard Cottam, ‘…that mob that came into north Teheran and was decisive in the overthrow was a mercenary mob. It had no ideology. That mob was paid for by American dollars and the amount of money that was used has to have been very large’. (p. 93)

A US general later testified that ‘the guns they had in their hands, the trucks they rode in, the armoured cars that they drove through the streets, and the radio communications that permitted their control, were all furnished through the [US] military defence assistance program’. (p. 93)

Of this period of history, a recent BBC report observed merely:

‘The UK owes the money for failing to deliver tanks Iran bought in the 1970s.’

Between 1971 and 1976, the UK sold the Shah 1,500 state-of-the-art Chieftain main battle tanks and 250 repair vehicles costing £650 million. Thatcher praised the Shah as ‘one of the world’s most far-sighted statesmen, whose experience is unrivaled’. She added:

‘No other world leader has given his country more dynamic leadership. He is leading Iran through a twentieth century renaissance.’

Curiously, the BBC made no mention of the fact that the tanks had been sent to prop up a dictator installed by the US-UK alliance to steal Iranian oil.

Amnesty International reported of Iran under the Shah that it had the ‘highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture’ which was ‘beyond belief’. It was a society in which ‘the entire population was subjected to a constant, all-pervasive terror’.4

None of this exists for BBC media workers.

US Iran specialist Eric Hoogland commented of the Shah:

‘The more dictatorial his regime became, the closer the US-Iran relationship became.’

5. Iranian ‘Showdown’ – The Guardian’s Front-Page Farce

In 2007, a front-page Guardian piece by Simon Tisdall claimed that Iran had secret plans to do nothing less than wage war on, and defeat, American forces in Iraq by August of that year.

Iran, it seemed, was ‘forging ties with al-Qaida elements and Sunni Arab militias in Iraq in preparation for a summer showdown with coalition forces intended to tip a wavering US Congress into voting for full military withdrawal’.

The claim was based almost entirely on unsupported assertions made by anonymous US officials. Indeed 22 of the 23 paragraphs in the story relayed official US claims: over 95 per cent of the story. The compilation below indicates the levels of balance and objectivity:

‘US officials say’; ‘a senior US official in Baghdad warned’; ‘The official said’; ‘the official said’; ‘the official said’; ‘US officials now say’; ‘the senior official in Baghdad said’ ‘he [the senior official in Baghdad] added’; ‘the official said’; ‘the official said’; ‘he [the official] indicated’; ‘he [the official] cited’; ‘a senior administration official in Washington said’; ‘The administration official also claimed; ‘he [the administration official] said’; ‘US officials say’; ‘the senior official in Baghdad said’; ‘he [the senior official in Baghdad] said’; ‘the senior administration official said’; ‘he [the senior administration official] said’; ‘the official claimed’; ‘he [the official] said’; ‘Gen Petraeus’s report to the White House and Congress’; ‘a former Bush administration official said’; ‘A senior adviser to Gen Petraeus reported’; ‘the adviser admitted’.

No less than 26 references to official pronouncements formed the basis for a Guardian story presented with no scrutiny, no balance, no counter-evidence – nothing. Remove the verbiage described above and a Guardian front page news report becomes a straight Pentagon press release.

6. The Observer’s Missing War On Syria

The Iraq war catastrophe was a genuine wake-up call for Western governments and media. Something had to change. In retrospect, the answer was obvious: if wars destroying whole countries for oil and other resources were damaging the credibility of Western ‘democracies’, why not just pretend that the West isn’t involved? Thus, Western responsibility for the destruction of Libya barely exists for Western media. Thus, also, this Observer editorial on Syrian president Assad:

‘Many other factors have kept his regime in power. One is the refusal of the western powers to forcibly intervene… Fearful of another disaster like Iraq, MPs rejected UK military intervention. Days later, Barack Obama and the US Congress followed suit. The then Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said the Commons had spoken “for the people of Britain”. Perhaps.’ (Our emphasis)

In reality, the West, directly and via regional allies, has played a massive role in the violence. The New York Times reported that the US had been embroiled in a dirty war in Syria that constituted ‘one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A’, running to ‘more than $1 billion over the life of the program’. The aim was to support a vast ‘rebel’ army created and armed by the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to overthrow the Syrian government.

In 2013, it was reported that the US had supplied no less than 15,000 high-tech, anti-tank missiles to ‘rebels’ via Saudi Arabia.

In 2014, Joe Biden said of Syria that US allies ‘poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens… thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were… Al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis’.

7. Warmonger David Aaronovitch’s Regretful Musings On The Inherent Tragedy of Life

Responding to the latest ‘conflict’ (some have gone so far as to call it ‘a war’) between souped-up Palestinian fireworks and US-supplied, state-of-the-art, high-tech ordnance, Times columnist and chateau general commanding the corporate media’s 101st Chairborne Division, David Aaronovitch, sighed wistfully on May 12, 2021:

‘It’s not the Hamas leadership or the Netanyahus who are dying. It’s the people who always die.’

If that sounded empathetic and balanced, it was, in fact, a perfect illustration of a point made by Herman and Chomsky 33 years ago on how ‘worthy’ victims – people Western journalists care about – and ‘unworthy victims’ are treated. In their book, Manufacturing Consent, they wrote of one paired example:

‘While the coverage of the worthy victim was generous with gory details and quoted expressions of outrage and demands for justice, the coverage of the unworthy victims was low-keyed, designed to keep the lid on emotions and evoking regretful and philosophical generalities on the omnipresence of violence and the inherent tragedy of human life.’5

It could hardly be more noticeable that when Israel blitzes Gaza every few years, Aaronovitch’s Twitter account does not erupt – he has little to say, finding other things to tweet about. There’s no outrage, no demands for action and ‘intervention’. The same is true of many of the corporate fringepuddle’s habitual warmongers.

By contrast, in Aaronovitch’s support for NATO’s war on Serbia, allegedly in defence of the people of Kosovo, ‘expressions of outrage and demands for justice’ were to the fore. He famously wrote:

‘Is this cause, the cause of the Kosovar Albanians, a cause that is worth suffering for? … Would I fight, or (more realistically) would I countenance the possibility that members of my family might die?’

His answer: ‘I think so.’

But, hold on, ‘It’s the people who always die’, right?

In supporting war on Iraq in January 2003, Aaronovitch wrote of Saddam Hussein:

‘I want him out, for the sake of the region (and therefore, eventually, for our sakes), but most particularly for the sake of the Iraqi people who cannot lift this yoke on their own.’ 6

But isn’t it the people who always die, not the leaders? (Actually, of course, Official Enemies generally do die – they are lynched, buggered with knives, shot in the head, hanged, found dead in jail, buried alive in jail, and so on) So why not let the UN weapons inspectors continue to find nothing?

You can see our book, Propaganda Blitz, (pp. 129-131), for further details of how Aaronovitch generally dispenses with wistful philosophising in supporting wars against Official Enemies.

8. ‘Advertisements For Myself’ – Mehdi Hasan Hawking Left Criticism Of The Left

Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman, The Intercept and al-Jazeera, is a prime example of a self-identified ‘leftist’ who fiercely attacks left positions on key issues. For example, Hasan wrote in the New Statesman in 2011:

‘The innocent people of Benghazi deserve protection from Gaddafi’s murderous wrath.’

In fact, the ‘threat’ of a massacre in Benghazi was an Iraqi WMD-style propaganda fiction.

Later, Hasan wrote an impassioned open letter addressed to ‘those of you on the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?’

In fact, dissidents who had no ‘soft spot’ for Assad at all, were raising rational questions about more claims that resembled the Iraqi WMD deception.

And again, Hasan commented:

‘I’m no expert on Venezuela but I’m pretty sure you can think Maduro is a horrible/bad/authoritarian president *and* also think it’s bad for the US to back coups or regime change there.’

As media analyst Adam Johnson tweeted:

‘I love this thing where nominal leftists run the propaganda ball for bombing a country 99 yards then stop at the one yard and insist they don’t support scoring goals, that they in fact oppose war.’

How to explain Hasan’s comments? No need to speculate. Hasan explained his approach in a letter to Paul Dacre, the editor of the l:Daily Mail:

‘Dear Mr Dacre,

‘My name is Mehdi Hasan and I’m the New Statesman’s senior political editor. My good friend Peter Oborne suggested I drop you a line as I’m very keen to write for the Daily Mail.’

Hasan continued:

‘Although I am on the left of the political spectrum, and disagree with the Mail’s editorial line on a range of issues, I have always admired the paper’s passion, rigour, boldness and, of course, news values.

‘For the record, I am not a Labour tribalist and am often ultra-critical of the left – especially on social and moral issues, where my fellow leftists and liberals have lost touch with their own traditions and with the great British public…’

A key section of the letter read:

‘I could therefore write pieces for the Mail critical of Labour and the left, from “inside” Labour and the left (as the senior political editor at the New Statesman).’

This, again, should be noted by aspiring career journalists – nothing is more welcome in the corporate fringepuddle than an ostensible leftist attacking the left.

9. The BBC’s Bridget Kendall – Limiting The Spectrum

Noam Chomsky is a James Randi-style master at exposing the sleights of hand and (forked) tongue of the propaganda prestidigitators:

‘The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.’

Cue Bridget Kendall, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, who declared on BBC News at Six in 2006:

‘There’s still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it justified or a disastrous miscalculation?’7

As Chomsky says, this gives the sense of a free-thinking debate. But an honest, fact-based selection of choices would look rather different:

There’s still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it an illegal war of aggression for Iraqi oil that disastrously miscalculated the impact on the civilian population, or was it an illegal war of aggression for Iraqi oil that relegated calculations on the likely human consequences for the war- and sanctions-wrecked country to the point of invisibility?

Media discussion is forbidden, but the stark fact is that Rumaila oilfield – the largest oilfield in Iraq and the third largest in the world – is currently operated by Britain’s BP. West Qurna I oilfield is operated by the US oil giant ExxonMobil. Does the Iraq war look like any kind of ‘disastrous miscalculation’ to BP and ExxonMobil?8

10. ‘It Was Rubbish’ – Andrew Marr, National Treasure

BBC interviewer and national treasure Andrew Marr once claimed:

‘When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed.’9

This is impossible, of course – Organs of Opinion cannot be surgically removed. But consciences can be.

Recall, the state-corporate media system is a demeritocracy – journalists are rewarded for doing a bad job in a good way for powerful interests. Marr is a striking example of that phenomenon. He pretty much guaranteed himself a job for life when he delivered this propaganda speech as ‘analysis’ and ‘news’ outside Downing Street as Baghdad ‘fell’ to US tanks on 9 April 2003:

‘Frankly, the main mood [in Downing Street] is of unbridled relief. I’ve been watching ministers wander around with smiles like split watermelons.’ 10

Marr continued:

‘Well, I think this does one thing – it draws a line under what, before the war, had been a period of… well, a faint air of pointlessness, almost, was hanging over Downing Street. There were all these slightly tawdry arguments and scandals. That is now history. Mr Blair is well aware that all his critics out there in the party and beyond aren’t going to thank him – because they’re only human – for being right when they’ve been wrong. And he knows that there might be trouble ahead, as I said. But I think this is very, very important for him. It gives him a new freedom and a new self-confidence. He confronted many critics…

‘He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.’11

This was an outrageous declaration that Blair had been completely vindicated. In reality, nothing that US tanks did in Baghdad changed the fact that this was an outright war of aggression for oil, an example of ‘the supreme war crime’.

Later, we asked Marr for his thoughts on his speech vindicating Blair. He, of course, ignored us. However, he did respond to someone else who asked. Marr said of his April 9 speech:

‘…it was rubbish but it came after weeks when I’d been predicting Baghdad bloodbath – the Iraqi army gave up’.

Ah, so Marr had all along been a fiery contrarian, predicting disaster in Baghdad! He had been too critical of the government, hence his surprised over-reaction! Having watched almost everything Marr said in the months leading up to the war, we can confidently assert: ‘That is actually bollocks.’

  1. Chomsky, ‘Year 501’, Verso, 1993, p. 20.
  2. Marcus Fairs, ‘Travel special: Roman holidays,’ Independent on Sunday, 4 February 2007, our emphasis.
  3. Quoted, Mark Curtis, ‘The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p. 89.
  4. Martin Ennals, Secretary General of Amnesty International, cited in an Amnesty publication, Matchbox, Autumn 1976.
  5. Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon, 1988, p. 39.
  6. Aaronovitch, ‘Why the Left must tackle the crimes of Saddam: With or without a second UN resolution, I will not oppose action against Iraq,’ Observer, 2 February 2003.
  7. BBC1, 20 March 2006.
  8. For details, see Greg Muttitt, ‘Fuel On The Fire – Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq’, Vintage, 2012.
  9. Marr, Daily Telegraph, 10 January 2001.
  10. BBC News At Ten, 9 April 2003.
  11. Marr, BBC 1, News At Ten, 9 April 2003.
The post “That Is Actually Bollocks”: 20 Propaganda Horrors From 20 Years of Media Lens (Part 1) first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Racist, misogynist, militaristic, imperialistic, homophobic, white Christian supremacy

Canadians like to think of ourselves as less racist, less right wing and especially less violent than Americans. But two recent events coming after a previous series of mass murders has shaken this belief.

Four members of a Muslim family were murdered in a hate crime while out for a stroll last Sunday in London, Ontario; two weeks earlier 215 First Nations children were found buried on the grounds of a Kamloops, B.C. Indian residential school; one year ago 22 died during a shooting spree by a Nova Scotia wannabe cop with a severe anger management problem after a fight with his girlfriend; four years ago 26 people, mostly women, were mowed down by a misogynist on a Toronto sidewalk leaving 10 dead; a year before that, six worshippers were shot and killed by a young man in a Quebec City mosque. All murders motivated by right wing hate.

This isn’t the real Canada, some people say. But it is. And always has been.

The truth is Canada, the British colony that preceded it, and the French colony before that, were all founded on racist, misogynist, militaristic, imperialistic, homophobic, white Christian supremacy. This is a history we share with the USA, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, all members along with Canada, of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance.

Our countries have proudly glorified white male warrior, racist colonialism and participated in it at home and abroad. Our laws, our institutions, our foreign policy, our culture have all been affected by these vile practices and ideologies, and they continue to infect and influence us today.

And this is not ancient history.

Born in 1953, I have lived in a Canada with genocidal residential schools, racist laws and immigration policies, that forbade people from voting based on their ethnicity, that ensured property could only be sold to white Christians, that jailed people for their sexuality, that had quotas for Jews in universities, that criminalized women’s reproductive rights and taught me in Catholic school that men were the head of the family and to be proud of the British Empire. The legacy of all that remains alive in me and my country.

These are historical facts that, if acknowledged, can be confronted, and overcome. But you can’t build a better world on a foundation of lies or ignorance, only on concrete reality.

And confronting our past is not just “virtue signalling” or part of “woke” culture or some academic exercise or ritual self-flagellation to earn forgiveness for our sins. There are those who revel in and glorify this past and would return us to it, whether we like it or not. Ignoring or whitewashing our history empowers the right-wing extremists who today wish to create something very much like Margaret Atwood’s Republic of Gilead. It is not only our neighbours to the south who are at risk of an authoritarian fascism built upon making America great again. There are people in all the “Five Eyes” who promote racist, colonial, imperialistic, misogynist, militaristic, homophobic white Christian supremacy and will use violence to achieve their goals.

Having spent the past four years researching and writing about the extreme right in the FAKE NEWS Mysteries, including my latest, American Fascism, there is no doubt in my mind that more violence is coming.

Fascists are conservatives in a panic. They are panicked because they see the victories of women, people of color, First Nations, anti-racists, the LGBTQ+, unions, socialists, peace advocates, environmentalists and internationalists as threatening. They are funded by some very wealthy people who use fascists as the tip of the spear against economic democracy. At its root fascism is a violent defence of economic and social privilege.

To combat those who would inflict Gilead upon us, we must understand who we were, who we are and who we would like to be. As many self-help books posit, knowing yourself is the first step to change. That’s exactly why conservatives and fascists glorify the past, defend statues of racists and insist history should focus on instilling patriotism instead of telling the truth.

To combat them we must educate ourselves and especially our children. Only then can we build a better world, one where all people can live together in respect, dignity and equality. One that is not afraid of positive change. One that can resiliently resist right wing extremism.

The post Racist, misogynist, militaristic, imperialistic, homophobic, white Christian supremacy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Dominic Cummings Show

The former chief strategist for Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in a stroppy mood before the UK parliamentary Health and Science committee.  For seven hours, Cummings unleashed salvo after salvo against his former boss and the government coronavirus response.

Boiling down some points of the Cummings show: there was a failure on the part of the Johnson government to respond to the pandemic.  Johnson was unfit for office.  The Health Secretary Matt Hancock should have been sacked for any number of decisions.  Lockdown measures were imposed too late to prevent the surge of infections.  There was simply no overall master plan to cope with a pandemic.

The political strategist apologised for the various tiers of decision makers and advisers, including himself, for falling calamitously “short of the standards that the public has a right to expect”.  He apologised to those families who “unnecessarily” lost loved ones and confessed that “lots of key people were literally skiing” instead of moving to a “war footing” in January and February last year.

The portrait of Johnson is superbly unsympathetic.  The prime minister’s clownish credentials come blundering through.  The novel coronavirus was dismissed as “the new swine flu”, a mere “scare story”.   He even suggested receiving an injection of the virus live on television “so everyone realises it’s nothing to be frightened of”.  Bodies piled up high was a preferable outcome to imposing a third lockdown in the autumn of 2020.  And as for information, the PM could not take himself away from the Daily Telegraph’s view of events.

The Cummings-Johnson relationship duly atrophied. “The heart of the problem was, fundamentally, I regarded him as unfit for the job.  And I was trying to create a structure around him to try and stop what I thought would have been bad decisions, and push things through against his wishes.”

Some of the choicest blows are reserved for the Health Secretary, who “should have been fired for at least 15 to 20 things”.  Hancock held back the testing regime and interfered in the development of a mass testing system, conduct Cummings found “criminal” and “disgraceful”.  Hancock was mendacious in meetings held in the cabinet room of Downing Street, assuring those in attendance that people “were going to be tested [for COVID-19] before they went back to care homes [from hospitals].”  He also used health experts such as the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Chris Witty as shields for government incompetence.

Cummings delighted the political science fraternity with his display in the Attlee suite in Portcullis House.  He was, Matthew Flinders of the University of Sheffield, asserted, “at his most magnificent and Machiavellian: a quite beautiful case study in the art of planting seeds and laying traps.”  The Spectator, a magazine once edited by Johnson, was blind to the retributive nature of the testimony.  “His decision to identify the many mistakes made at the start of the pandemic is not about seeking vengeance; it is a vital process to ensure that errors are identified and not repeated.”  How noble.

To a degree, the Cummings account is useful in pointing out administrative failings.  The pandemic blueprint was inadequate, developed to fight influenza rather than respiratory variants in the form of coronavirus.  Dissenting views were not countenanced.  “It was a classic historical example of groupthink in action,” assessed Cummings. “The more people from outside attacked, the more internally said, ‘They don’t understand, they haven’t got access to our information.’”

The response from Johnson to such accounts and depictions is crudely simple: remind voters that Britain’s vaccination effort has been stellar.  The UK is one of the leading countries in the mass vaccination programme.  Specifically regarding Cummings’s testimony, the “commentary”, claimed Johnson, did not “bear relation to reality”.

Hancock’s approach was much the same: stay focused on the vaccination drive.  Forget past crimes and misdemeanours.  He also denied that he lied about patients being sent from hospital to care homes without being tested first.  “My recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes when we could do it.”  The relevant factor was the timing of it; the capacity for testing had to be built up.

And there is the obvious point that Cummings, despite blaming Johnson and seeking his own restoration, remains chipped and damaged.  The display by the senior strategist in the rose garden of No 10 last year featuring an apologia for his infamous trip to County Durham in breach of lockdown laws was a hard one to efface.  He did concede that doing so had “undermined public confidence”.  But he was ready with an explanation.  Moving his family out of London took place after his wife received death threats from people gathered outside the home.  “The whole thing was a complete disaster and the truth is… if I just basically sent my family back out of London and said here’s the truth to the public, I think people would have understood the situation.”

When asked whether the additional trip by Cummings to Barnard Castle from the family home in County Durham was actually for reasons of testing his eyesight, the dark eminence returned to form.  “If you’re going to drive 300 miles to go back to work, popping down the road for 30 miles and back to see how you feel… it didn’t seem crazy.”  It was not, as committee chair Jeremy Hunt suggested, a birthday celebration for his wife.  “If I was going to make up a story I would come up with a better one than that.”

Patrick Diamond of Queen Mary, University of London, identifies the central paradox of British government that proved so detrimental to the pandemic response.  The British state might be highly centralised but “the centre of government lacks capacity.”  Policymaking by the core executive has also been undermined by the altering of relations between the ministerial group and the civil service. Then comes the “growth of territorial conflict with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”  The result of this: a failure of coordination of governments across the UK in responding to COVID-19.  What Cummings did was render such dysfunctions flesh and folly.

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Dominic Cummings is our Machiavelli: with Brexit, lies served him, now the truth does

Remember how Dominic Cummings played a blinder over Brexit, spinning a web of deceptions, funnelled through politicians and the media, to persuade the public that Britain needed to quit the European Union so urgently it should do so on any terms, even ones that would sabotage the country’s interests. Well, he just did a Brexit on Boris Johnson, though this time he didn’t need to use lies. The facts were quite enough.

It would be foolish, however, to imagine that in appearing before a House of Commons select committee yesterday Cummings was serving simply as a conduit for the truth about Johnson’s catastrophically inept government – a kind of inversion of the role the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg has played serving as a conduit for Cummings and Johnson’s misinformation.

Cummings was once again proving he is the master of cynical power politics. He is the Machiavelli of our times. His self-serving honesty and self-criticism were perfectly calibrated to rehabilitate his image, win over doubters and stick the knife more deeply into Johnson.

It may be too uncharitable to exclude the possibility that Cummings is offering his revelations, in part, to benefit the British public. But his larger purpose is clearer. He is doing his best to damage and destroy the incompetently corrupt, like Johnson and Health Secretary Mike Hancock, so that they can be replaced by the more competently corrupt, like Michael Gove and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Better frontman

Cummings is a brigade commander on the frontlines of a war within the establishment class. He wants a better frontman for his brand of US-inspired, super-predatory capitalism. And for that reason alone, the left should avoid getting so deeply immersed in these intrigues that we start cheerleading one side over the other.

Yes, Johnson made disastrous decisions over Covid that killed many thousands unnecessarily: the “herd immunity” plan, the abandonment of care homes, the delays in procuring PPE, the lax border policy, the extravagant contracts for cronies, and much more. We didn’t need Cummings to tell us that, though his insider account puts more flesh on the bones.

But there were plenty of other reasons why so many died, reasons that long predate Johnson becoming prime minister – not least the calamitous failure to maintain PPE supplies, the dismantlement of the institutions needed to prepare for and deal with a pandemic effectively, and the death by a thousand cuts to the NHS.

None of that would have been different had Sunak or Gove been in Johnson’s shoes, even assuming either would actually have been capable of devising and implementing better policies, from lockdowns to care homes. That is the greater scandal and it is not one Cummings – or Kuenssberg – will talk about.

Grudge match

What Cummings did do yesterday – inadvertently – was draw back a little the curtain designed to conceal the charade that is “representative democracy”. If we can avoid being overly invested in the drama of the Cummings-Johnson grudge match, we have a chance to understand that the whole system is rotten from top to bottom.

It is precisely this corrupted and corrupting system of power – run by, and in the interests of, a tiny political and media elite – that spent five years ensuring Jeremy Corbyn would never reach 10 Downing Street, and is now weighing whether Sir Keir Starmer is a credible “alternative” should the Tories’ fortunes sink.

Johnson has good reason to be obsessed with the media, making U-turns “like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other”. As with one of his predecessors, Tony Blair, Johnson understands that it is chiefly the Murdoch empire and the BBC that decide his fate.

In the Corbyn era, Johnson faced no threat at all – he knew the BBC and Murdoch press had his back. They would never have supported Corbyn against him, however unsuitable and incompetent Johnson proved to be as prime minister. That was the real problem with Corbyn. It was not his supposed character or political flaws; it was that Britain became even more of a one-party state so long he led the opposition – with the media, the political system, even the Labour party bureaucracy itself determined at all costs to keep in power the leader of the Conservative party, whoever it was.

Cummings’ sudden candour is a sign that the establishment is now in a position to replace Johnson, and willing to groom whoever from its short-list is best placed to win over the British public – be it, Sunak, Gove or Starmer.

BBC on the back foot

It is perhaps not surprising that Cummings sought to embarrass the BBC’s Kuenssberg by singling her out among his media contacts, pretending that he rarely dealt with other reporters. Kuenssberg is probably the single most powerful journalist shaping the public’s perception of this government. And she has done a sterling job of veiling and excusing Johnson’s incompetence at every turn. Without her, Johnson would have been a great deal more vulnerable much earlier.

What Cummings has subtly achieved is to force Kuenssberg on to the back foot. She is now prey to the charge – an entirely accurate one – that she has been riding shotgun for Johnson. She will need to distance herself more from him, to deal with No 10 “sources” more critically, in an attempt to prove Cummings wrong. And the new pressure on her to look less like what she is and what the BBC want her to be – a journalist hungry for access – will mean that, as a result, Johnson is more politically exposed, more vulnerable to challenge, than ever before.

For Cummings, it is a master-stroke.

One-party state

What Cummings revealed – again not entirely intentionally – was that we are ruled by narcissists and charlatans, the “donkeys”: precisely the kind of people who crave power for power’s sake and are least equipped to run government wisely and compassionately.

The policy failings, the lies, the chaos, the inflated personality clashes – the scenes of pandemonium Cummings set out – are inevitable when a country has long been run as a one-party state, even if that party comes in two flavours, red and blue, that sometimes take turns in government.

The pandemic exposed the weaknesses of Britain’s one-party system particularly starkly only because of the scale of the threat and the suddenness of its arrival. The cost of the establishment’s corruption and incompetence was measured this time in tens of thousands of lives – lives that can no more be hidden from view than the Covid “Wall of Hearts”.

But in normal times, donkeys like Johnson, Hancock, Sunak and Gove are ideally equipped to achieve the power elite’s goals, shunting capitalism’s costs out of view: on to the shoulders of the weak and vulnerable, those unheard on the margins of western society; to far-off lands, where the effects will be felt only by irrelevant black and brown people; and into the future, for our children to suffer the consequences.

Crackers by design

Even Cummings’ moments of apparent self-awareness were not quite what they seemed. He told MPs:

It’s just completely crackers that someone like me should have been in there [in a senior government position], just the same as it’s crackers that Boris Johnson was in there – and that the choice at the last election was Jeremy Corbyn.

But it isn’t crackers at all. It is by design. It is the way the system has evolved to keep a tiny wealth-elite in power. We have a narcissistic joker like Johnson in No 10 – just as Americans ended up with Donald Trump in the White House – because the public’s ability to think critically has been intentionally degraded over decades by a billionaire-owned press and a craven BBC that turned politics into the most cynical kind of entertainment.

When an opposition leader appeared, as if by accident, who actually wanted to use politics to transform the lives of ordinary people – rather than preserve the current predatory system of elite power – the corporate media lost no time turning him into a national security threat, a terrorist and an antisemite.

It is no accident that the one in power, Johnson, is the real clown. And it is no accident that the one out of power and in disgrace, Corbyn, was so easily made to look like a clown. The creation of an equivalence between them is more of the lies Cummings claims to be busting.

Cummings understands our weaknesses. We struggle to see how we are being manipulated. We listen credulously to flesh-and-blood journalists like Kuenssberg even as, in the abstract, we lose ever more trust in the media. We forget that by natural selection those drawn to the highest level of politics are invariably narcissists and master manipulators.

The result: we fall for their lies time and again. We listen to them uncritically, absorbing their cynicism and selfishness as truth, as honesty.

As Dominic Cummings knew we would.

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Jewish groups that aid Israel’s war crimes can’t deny all responsibility for those crimes

Here is something that can be said with great confidence. It is racist – antisemitic, if you prefer – to hold Jews, individually or collectively, accountable for Israel’s crimes. Jews are not responsible for Israel’s war crimes, even if the Israeli state presumes to implicate Jews in its crimes by falsely declaring it represents all Jews in the world.

Very obviously, it is not the fault of Jews that Israel commits war crimes, or that Israel uses Jews collectively as a political shield, exploiting sensitivities about the historical suffering of Jews at the hands of non-Jews to immunise itself from international opprobrium.

But here is something that can be said with equal certainty. Israel’s apologists – whether Jews or non-Jews – cannot deny all responsibility for Israel’s war crimes when they actively aid and abet Israel in committing those crimes, or when they seek to demonise and silence Israel’s critics so that those war crimes can be pursued in a more favourable political climate.

Such apologists – which sadly seems to include many of the community organisations in Britain claiming to represent Jews – want to have their cake and eat it.

They cannot defend Israel uncritically as it commits war crimes or seek legislative changes to assist Israel in committing those war crimes – whether it be Israel’s latest pummelling of civilians in Gaza, or its executions of unarmed Palestinians protesting 15 years of Israel’s blockade of the coastal enclave – and accuse anyone who criticises them for doing so of being an antisemite.

But this is exactly what has been going on. And it is only getting worse.

Upsurge in antisemitism?

As a ceasefire was implemented yesterday, bringing a temporary let-up in the bombing of Gaza by Israel, pro-Israel Jewish groups in the UK were once again warning of an upsurge of antisemitism they related to a rapid growth in the number of protests against Israel.

These groups have the usual powerful allies echoing their claims. British prime minister Boris Johnson met community leaders in Downing Street on Thursday pledging, as Jewish News reported, “to continue to support the community in the face of rising antisemitism attacks”.

Those Jewish leaders included Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, a supporter of Johnson who played a part in helping him win the 2019 election by renewing the evidence-free antisemitism smears against the Labour party days before voting. It also included the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which was founded specifically to whitewash Israel’s crimes during its 2014 bombardment of Gaza and has ever since been vilifying all Palestinian solidarity activism as antisemitism.

In attendance too was the Jewish Leadership Council, an umbrella organisation for Britain’s main Jewish community groups. In an article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper on this supposed rise in antisemitism in the UK, the JLC’s vice-president, Daniel Korski, set out the ridiculous, self-serving narrative these community groups are trying to peddle, with seemingly ever greater success among the political and media elite.

Popular outrage over Gaza

Korski expressed grave concern about the proliferation of demonstrations in the UK designed to halt Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. During 11 days of attacks, more than 230 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children. Israel’s precision air strikes targeted more than a dozen hospitals, including the only Covid clinic in Gaza, dozens of schools, several media centres, and left tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless.

The sense of popular outrage at the Israeli onslaught was only heightened by the fact that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had clearly engineered a confrontation with Hamas at the outset to serve his immediate personal interests: preventing Israeli opposition parties from uniting to oust him from power.

In his naked personal calculations, Palestinian civilians were sacrificed to help Netanyahu hold on to power and improve his chances of evading jail as he stands trial on corruption charges.

But for Korski and the other community leaders attending the meeting with Johnson, the passionate demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians are their main evidence for a rise in antisemitism.

‘Free Palestine’ chants

These community organisations cite a few incidents that undoubtedly qualify as antisemitism – some serious, some less so. They include shouting “Free Palestine” at individuals because they are identifiable as Jews, something presumably happening mostly to the religious ultra-Orthodox.

But these Jewish leaders’ chief concern, they make clear, is the growing public support for Palestinians in the face of intensifying Israeli aggression.

Quoting David Rich, of the Community Security Trust, another Jewish organisation hosted by Johnson, the Haaretz newspaper reports that “what has really shaken the Jewish community … ‘is that demos are being held all over the country every day about this issue’ [Israel’s bombardment of Gaza].”

Revealingly, it seems that when Jewish community leaders watch TV screens showing demonstrators chant “Free Palestine”, they feel it as a personal attack – as though they themselves are being accosted in the street.

One doesn’t need to be a Freudian analyst to wonder whether this reveals something troubling about their inner emotional life: they identify so completely with Israel that even when someone calls for Palestinians to have equal rights with Israelis they perceive as a collective attack on Jews, as antisemitism.

Exception for Israel

Then Korski gets to the crux of the argument: “As Jews we are proud of our heritage and at the same time in no way responsible for the actions of a government thousands of miles away, no matter our feelings or connection to it.”

But the logic of that position is simply untenable. You cannot tie your identity intimately to a state that systematically commits war crimes, you cannot classify demonstrations against those war crimes as antisemitism, you cannot use your position as a “Jewish community leader” to make such allegations more credible, and you cannot exploit your influence with world leaders to try to silence protests against Israel and then say you are “in no way responsible” for the actions of that government.

If you use your position to prevent Israel from being subjected to scrutiny over allegations of war crimes, if you seek to manipulate the public discourse with claims of antisemitism to create a more favourable environment in which those war crimes can be committed, then some of the blame for those war crimes rubs off on you.

That is how responsibility works in every other sphere of life. What Israel’s apologists are demanding is an exception for Israel and for themselves.

Lobby with the UK’s ear

In another revealing observation seeking to justify claims of an upsurge in antisemitism, Korski adds: “We don’t see the same kind of outpouring of emotion when it comes to the Rohingya or the Uighurs or Syria, and it makes a lot of Jews feel this is about them [as Jews].”

But there are many reasons why there aren’t equally large demonstrations in the UK against the suffering of the Rohingya and the Uighurs – reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with antisemitism.

The oppressors of the Rohingya and the Uighurs, unlike Israel, are not being generously armed by the British government or given diplomatic cover by Britain or being given preferential trade agreements by Britain.

But equally importantly, the states oppressing the Rohingya and Uighurs – unlike Israel – don’t have active, well-funded lobbies in the UK, with the ear of the prime minister. China and Myanmar – unlike Israel – don’t have UK lobbies successfully labelling criticism of them as racism. Unlike Israel, they don’t have lobbies that openly seek to influence elections to protect them from criticism. Unlike Israel, they don’t have lobbies that work with Britain to introduce measures to assist them in carrying out their oppression.

The president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, for example, pressed Johnson at the meeting this week to classify all branches of Hamas, not just its military wing, as a terrorist organisation. That is Israel’s wet dream. Such a decision would make it even less likely that Britain would be in a position to officially distance itself from Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, where Hamas runs the government, and even more likely it would join Israel in declaring Gaza’s schools, hospitals and government departments all legitimate targets for Israeli air strikes.

Pure projection

If you are lobbying to get special favours for Israel, particularly favours to help it commit war crimes, you don’t also get to wash your hands of those war crimes. You are directly implicated in them.

David Hirsch, an academic at the University of London who has been closely connected to efforts to weaponise antisemitism against critics of Israel, especially in the Labour party under its previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, also tries to play this trick.

He tells Haaretz that antisemitism is supposedly “getting worse” because Palestinian solidarity activists have been giving up on a two-state solution. “There used to be a struggle in Palestine solidarity between a politics of peace – two states living side by side – and a politics of denouncing one side as essentially evil and hoping for its total defeat.”

But what Hirsch is doing is pure projection: he is suggesting Palestinian solidarity activists are “antisemites” – his idea of evil – because they have been forced by Israel to abandon their long-favoured cause of a two-state solution. That is only because successive Israeli governments have refused to negotiate any kind of peace deal with the most moderate Palestinian leadership imaginable under Mahmoud Abbas – one that has eagerly telegraphed its desire to collaborate with Israel, even calling “security coordination” with the Israeli army “sacred”.

A two-state solution is dead because Israel made it dead not because Palestinian solidarity activists are more extreme or more antisemitic.

In calling to “Free Palestine”, activists are not demanding Israel’s “total defeat” – unless Hirsch and Jewish community organisations themselves believe that Palestinians can never be free from Israeli oppression and occupation until Israel suffers such a “total defeat”. Hirsch’s claim tells us nothing about Palestinian solidarity activists, but it does tell us a lot about what is really motivating these Jewish community organisations.

It is these pro-Israel lobbyists, it seems, more than Palestinian solidarity activists, who cannot imagine Palestinians living in dignity under Israeli rule. Is that because they understand only too well what Israel and its political ideology of Zionism truly represent, and that what is required of Palestinians for “peace” is absolute and permanent submission?

Better informed

Similarly, Rich, of the Community Security Trust, says of Palestinian solidarity activists: “Even the moderates have become extremists.” What does this extremism – again presented by Jewish groups as antisemitism – consist of? “Now the movement [in solidarity with Palestinians] is dominated by the view that Israel is an apartheid, genocidal, settler-colonialist state.”

Or in other words, these pro-Israel Jewish groups claim there has been a surge in antisemitism because Palestinian solidarity activists are being influenced and educated by human rights organisations, like Human Rights Watch and Israel’s B’Tselem. Both recently wrote reports classifying Israel as an apartheid state, in the occupied territories and inside Israel’s recognised borders. Activists are not becoming more extreme, they are becoming better informed.

And in making the case for a supposed surge in antisemitism, Rich offers another inadvertently revealing insight. He says Jewish children are suffering from online “abuse” – antisemitism – because they find it increasingly hard to participate on social media.

“Teenagers are much quicker to join social movements; we’ve just had Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, #MeToo – now Jewish kids find all their friends are joining this [Palestinian solidarity] movement where they don’t feel welcome or they are singled out because they’re Jewish.”

Fancifully, Rich is arguing that Jewish children raised in Zionist families and communities that have taught them either explicitly or implicitly that Jews in Israel have superior rights to Palestinians are being discriminated against because their unexamined ideas of Jewish supremacy do not fit with a pro-Palestinian movement predicated on equality.

This is as preposterous as it would have been, during the Jim Crow era, for white supremacist Americans to have complained of racism because their children were being made to feel out of place in civil rights forums.

Such assertions would be laughable were they not so dangerous.

Demonised as antisemites

Zionist supporters of Israel are trying to turn logic and the world upside down. They are inverting reality. They are projecting their own racist, zero-sum assumptions about Israel on to Palestinian solidarity activists, those who support equal rights for Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East.

As they did with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, these Jewish groups are twisting the meaning of antisemitism, skewing it from a fear or hatred of Jews to any criticism of Israel that makes pro-Israel Jews feel uncomfortable.

As we watch these arguments being amplified uncritically by leading politicians and journalists, remember too that it was the only major politician to demurred from this nonsensical narrative, Jeremy Corbyn, who became the main target – and victim – of these antisemitism smears.

Now these pro-Israel Jewish groups want to treat us all like Corbyn, demonising us as antisemites unless we fall silent even as Israel once again brutalises Palestinians.

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Crashing Out in Hartlepool: Labour Ills and Teflon Boris

By-election results make poor predictors.  The government of the day can often count on a swing against it by irritated voters keen to remind it they exist.  It’s an opportunity to mete out mild punishment.  But the loss of the seat in Hartlepool by the British Labour party is ominous for party apparatchiks.  For the first time in 62 years, the Conservatives won the traditional heartland Labour seat, netting 15,529 votes.  Labour’s tally: 8,589.  The swing against Labour had been a devastating 16%.

The scene of Hartlepool is one of profound, social decay.  Its decline, wrote Tanya Gold on the eve of the by-election, “meets you like a wall of heat.”  She noted an era lost, the trace of lingering memories.  Hartlepool was once known for making ships.  “Now it makes ennui.”  Male unemployment is a touch under 10%. Rates of child poverty are some of the highest in the country.  Services have been withdrawn; the once fine Georgian and Victorian houses are mouldering.

The seat presented the Conservatives an opportunity to take yet another brick out of Labour’s crumbling red wall.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson made visits to back his candidate, Jill Mortimer, hardly a stellar recruit.  Labour was suffering establishment blues.  They struggled to find a pro-Brexit candidate.  Their choice – Paul Williams – was a Remainer who formerly represented the seat of Stockton, which returned a leave vote of 69.6%.  It was a statement of London-centric politics, the Labour of the city rather than the locality; the Labour of university education rather than the labour of regional working class.

Birmingham Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, formerly shadow defence secretary, is bitter about the estrangement and emergence of what are effectively two parties.  “A London-based bourgeoisie, with the support of the brigades of woke social media warriors, has effectively captured the party,” he lamented in an article for the conservative think tank Policy Exchange.  “They mean well, of course, but their politics – obsessed with identity, division and even tech utopianism – have more in common with those of Californian high society than the kind of people who voted in Hartlepool yesterday.”

Energy had been expended on such causes as trying to pull down Churchill’s statue rather than “helping people pull themselves up in the world.”  The patriotism of the voters had not been taken seriously enough.  “They are more alert to rebranding exercises than spin doctors give them credit for.”

Labour’s campaign in Hartlepool was not so much off-message as lacking one.  “Today,” penned progressive columnist and Labour Party supporter Owen Jones, “we saw the fruits of a truly fascinating experiment”.  It was one featuring a political party going to an election “without a vision or a coherent message against a government that has both in spades.”

The tendency was repeated in local elections, with ballots being conducted across Wales, England and Scotland in what was called “Super Thursday”.  The Teesside mayoralty was regained by Ben Houchen for the Conservatives by a convincingly crushing 72.7%, three times that of Labour, prompting Will Hutton to see a new ideology of interventionist conservatism.  Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer could do little other than call the results “bitterly disappointing” and sack the party’s chair and national campaign coordinator, Angela Rayner.  He is chewing over the idea of moving his party’s headquarters out of London. The feeling of panic is unmistakable.

What is even more startling is the enormous latitude that has been given to Johnson.  Despite bungling the response to the initial phases of the pandemic, an insatiable appetite for scandals and a seedy, authoritarian approach to power, Labor voters have not turned away, let alone had second thoughts about this Tory.  His mendacity and pure fibbing is not something that turns people off him; the stream of Daily Telegraph confections from the 1990s on what those supposedly nasty bureaucrats in Brussels were up to had a lasting effect on Britain’s relations with Europe.  Mendacity can work.

Last April, Jonathan Freedland examined the prime minister’s resume of scandals and found it heaving.  He shifted the cost of removing dangerous cladding in the wake of the Grenfell fire, along with other hazards, to ordinary leaseholders.  He slashed the UK aid budget and reduced contributions to the UN family planning program.  He delayed lockdowns in March, September and the winter in 2020, moves that aided Britain lead Europe’s coronavirus death toll.  There were the contracts to supply personal protective equipment to Tory donors and the frittering away of £37 billion on a test-and-trace programme “that never really worked.”  And that was just a modest sampling.

The refurbishment scandal is particularly rich, given the bundle Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds have spent on their private residence.  The public purse will foot the bill to the value of £30,000, but the amount spent was more in the order of £200,000.  With a very heavy axe to grind, Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former advisor and confidant turned blogging snitch, suggested that the PM’s grand plan was to have that inflated amount covered by donors.   “The PM stopped speaking to me about this matter in 2020 as I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended.”

Johnson, for his part, claims that he covered the costs himself, though he refuses to answer questions put to him on whether Lord David Brownlow initially covered it, and was then repaid.  Not declaring this transaction would have broken electoral law.  The Electoral Commission has not found the affair particularly amusing, and is investigating the refurbishment transactions.

The disaster that befell Labour in the 2019 general election sees little prospect of being reversed.  Starmer, generally seen as the more decent chap, is rapidly diminishing as a chance for Downing Street honours.  As for Johnson, Freedland suggests that the good fortune of the scandal ridden PM reveals an electorate “still seduced by a tousled-hair rebel shtick and faux bonhomie that should have palled years ago.”

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The Myth of Corbyn’s Labour Failure and Neoliberalism’s Western Electoral Success

In 2020 Kier Starmer became UK Labour leader and promptly reneged on just about every campaign promise he’d made to adhere to the policies, traditional Party principals, and post-war consensus values, that had been restored under Jeremy Corbyn’s previous tenureship.  Starmer has withdrawn the Party Whip from Corbyn – effectively exiling him – and more recently given interviews about the Party supposedly having to ‘recover’ from Corbyn’s leadership.  In this he’s been consistently aided and abetted by various commentariat neoliberal mouthpieces in the corporate media, similarly implying that the Blairite era was some sort of successful norm.

This spin on recent history presupposes two false premises.  Firstly, that the era of Corbyn’s grassroots mobilisation was some sort of oxymoron democratic failure, this the available evidence belies.  Secondly, that rather than being a process of direct democratic representation on behalf of the mass of society, electoral politics should be treated as some sort of advertising/marketing game designed to facilitate the careers of a small handful of individuals, operating on behalf of highly financed corporate lobbyists. This was not what the Labour Party was formed to do.

As a representational organisation, the Labour Party had been originally founded by mass movement Trade Unionists and Chartist campaigners for the poor. Post-war, in terms of representing the economic interests of society’s economically oppressed working-class, the marginalised, and have-nots, it had prior to neoliberal entryism, some similarities with the pre-Clinton insurgency Democratic Party. Contrary to Starmer’s and corporate media’s constructed narrative of supposed neoliberal electoral efficiency, the evidence from recent history of collapsing General Election voter numbers demonstrates quite starkly, that Labour’s social base, has realised it’s being democratically denied the representation from its Party, it historically could have expected and desired.  Its societal grassroots therefore recognised it had no vested interest in continuing to vote.

The Labour Party came unsuccessfully through Thatcherism smeared and bullied by the right-wing Murdoch and Rothermere Press who day-to-day, did the propaganda heavy-lifting for the Tory Party’s campaigning. From this era, Neil Kinnock was the last traditional Labour leader. Kinnock invoked working-class authenticity by claiming to be a proud Welsh socialist – though having subsequently accepted a peerage and later supported neoliberal entryism, this historical claim would seem to have been just spin.

That said, Labour under faux but perhaps at least perceived real traditionalist Kinnock, came out of the 1992 General Election losing, yet with an improved 11.5 million votes. In 1997, years of Tory corruption resulted in Tony Blair riding into power on an anti-Conservative turnout for New Labour, of 13.5 million votes. Yet, five years of pandering to big money and therefore economically attacking his own supporters, meant that at the 2001 General Election only 10.7million voters thought the Party still represented them. Blair had lost nearly 3 million voters — 2 million the Party had previously picked up off the Tories, and nearly a further million, down on the Party’s performance under Kinnock had disappeared on apparent electoral strike (significantly this is well before the Iraq War). In 2005 the deterioration continued under Blair with the Party albeit staying in power, but losing another million Labour voters, now down to 9.5 million.  In 2010 Labour’s neoliberal former Chancellor Gordon Brown, led the Party to defeat and astonishingly only 8.5 million people now thought the Party actually represented them.

In all during this period Blair and Brown managed — via their self-serving corporate lobbying aligned curatorship of the Party — to burn their way through the allegiances of 5 million voters, while losing two thirds of Labour’s once 400,000 strong membership, and this during a period when the UK population was actually increasing. If Labour’s social base had any voice in an ever more unrepresentative billionaire orientated corporate media, somebody surely would have asked ‘just who have these neoliberals been working for?’

Labour’s new young Leader Ed Miliband, rhetorically made the pretence in the 2015 General Election, of apparently moving the Party back to the left and from Gordon Brown’s mere 8.5 million votes, managed to stabilise the rout of its disappearing grassroots, but still only obtaining an electorally failing and underachieving, 9.5 million voters support.

Jeremy Corbyn then became Leader and the Party in losing the 2017 General Election, still dramatically managed to turn around 16 years of decline, with 12.8 million voters now believing Labour once again represented them. Indicative of the renewed long-term health of Labour its now 0.5 million members made it the largest political organisation in Europe.  All of this was achieved with the neoliberal Labour right doing everything possible to bring Corbyn down in the two years prior to the General Election – even restaging a Leadership contest within a year of Corbyn first success.

In the run-up to the 2019 General Election the Party had to contend with a partisan corporate media at war with it, an ongoing pro-Israel moral panic, an attempt to subvert the Brexit referendum by globalised free trade interests, clearly designed to change Labour’s leadership and direction.  All of which was supported by the Party’s neoliberal right.

Given that much of Labour’s heartlands favoured leaving the EU, the anti-democratic attack on the referendum result was probably the most damaging. If you’re not respecting votes cast you can’t expect voters to support you. In any case, contrary to media spin, the referendum result had not been particularly close. The available pool of voters was 46 million. 16 million voted to remain in the EU and lost. That meant 30 million people either favoured leaving or in abstaining, were content to go along with the democratic outcome, whichever way — Leave/Remain — it came out.

Consequently Labour under Corbyn lost a lot of MPs in the 2019 General Election, many in Party heartlands. This was spun in the media as one of Labour’s worst ever results. Actually, even in these circumstances, 10.2 million voters felt that the values and manifesto of Labour with Corbyn leadership represented them. This was more than voted for the Party under Ed Milliband, more than voted for the Party when Gordon Brown was leader. It was even more than voted for the Party during Blair’s last election win. The nature of Britain’s ‘first past the post’ voting system means that if your Party turn-out is not concentrated in specific districts but instead spread-out, you might enjoy popular support but not constituency MP successes.  But at least under a Party traditionalist like Corbyn the future health of Labour as a social movement could be regarded as secure – at least until Starmer came along.

All of which begs the question once the dust from electoral marketing has settled, why comparatively do neoliberals haemorrhage votes so quickly? In the case of Blair and Brown, in wasn’t only the case their reputations were in tatters with Muslims and anti-war groups. In order to maintain a low tax regime on the rich and corporate elites, there was hardly a part of working-class life that was not attacked by them. They abolished the mandatory student grant and introduced fees, so now deeply indebted students had no reason to be grateful to them.  The poor, who had their access to welfare cut while being stigmatised as ‘scroungers… part of a culture of dependency’, had no reason to vote neoliberal New Labour. Low income social housing residents told, their rents would be forced up to market levels, similarly had no reason for gratitude.  And of course neoliberal employment casualisation means that a generation of young workers now have less job protections than previously enjoyed by their grandparents.

As Karl Marx put it and contrary to neoliberal political marketing: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

We might also presume that the Clintons have done similar damage to the long-term culture of the Democrat Party.  The people of Arkansas experienced three terms of the Clintons in the governor’s office. They had two terms of the Clintons in the White House.  Yet in the 2014 US poverty rankings Arkansas came forty-eighth out of fifty states. One of the two worse-off states was Louisiana. It might be glib and not particularly original but it is possible to conclude that having the Clintons represent you is nearly as bad as experiencing Hurricane Katrina.

Of course it is difficult to identify the same level of voter decline in the United States because in the same 1992 to 2020 time period, the country’s population increased from 256,990,607 to 331,449,281.  This increase of 74,458,674 is so large it’s roughly the size of Trumps 2020 second ever largest Presidential voter turnout (obviously this does not necessarily indicate the same people voted for him).

However, there is one US example that is quite helpful. In 2008 Barack Obama campaigned for the Presidency – like Blair in 97 – as the anti-status-quo ‘change candidate’ and picked up a historically large voter turnout of 69,498,516. But in office he continued foreign wars, protected the professional banking class, little was done to improve the economic or educational opportunities of working-class Americans, and Obama impotently rung his hands while a Black Lives Matter crisis played out on the streets.

In 2012’s election Obama’s turnout dropped to 65,915,795. The resulting loss of 3.5 million voters, who no longer felt represented, is not huge in a country the size of the US. But what happened next is interesting. In the run up to the 2016 Presidential election the Democrats could at least claim to have expanded US medical cover. Yet Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump despite him being depicted in the corporate media as a bogeyman. Clinton’s loss was spun in the corporate media as a popular vote win.  However her 65,853,514 turnout meant she’d struggled to just about get into the ballpark of Obama’s declining second, Presidential vote count.  Significantly Clinton had only made it into the race courtesy of DNC shenanigans in her favour at the expense of grassroots darling Bernie Sanders.

In 2020 Joe Biden made it into the White House on the back of a massive record breaking anti-Trump vote of 81,268,924 million. Biden is little better than neoliberal Hillary Clinton.  Over the next five years every failure, every betrayal of leftist grassroots Democrats will – according to past form – erode that voter turnout. Short of Trump or a significant number of his older supporters dropping dead, come the next election, most of his fanatical 74,216,154 voter turnout will be intact.  The losers will be those who wanted a fairer America but got stuck with neoliberals.

Here in the UK there are local elections on Thursday May 6 2012. Labour Leader Starmer has spent the last year, attacking, smearing and banning the Party’s own constituency groups and supporters. The word is that Labour voters are back on electoral strike. Some have formed The Northern Independence Party (NIP). Activists are refusing to canvass and campaign for the Party.  If results are as bad as expected, Starmer will no doubt blame Corbyn and his legacy. The corporate media will likely choose to echo this untruth.  The message from this is that grassroots groups need to find a way turning their Parties back into representative social movements, instead of marketing machines for unscrupulous careerists, in pursuit of corporate lobbying money.

The post The Myth of Corbyn’s Labour Failure and Neoliberalism’s Western Electoral Success first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Very British Case: Postmasters and Miscarriages of Justice

British justice is a splendidly odd animal.  Its miscarriage is one of those wonders of institutional repetition.  When textbooks are written on the subject, one will feature prominently.  On April 23 this year, the convictions of 39 former sub-postmasters were quashed by the criminal division of the Court of Appeal.  They had been accused, and convicted, for theft and dishonesty after the UK Post Office installed the wonky wonder of the Horizon IT system.

There were figures such as Seema Misra, convicted for stealing £74,000 in cash from the Post Office branch under her stewardship in West Byfleet in 2010.  At the time, the press delighted in calling her the “pregnant thief”.  Her husband was assaulted by locals.  Della Robinson, who ran the Dukinfield, Greater Manchester Post Office, could not account for £17,000 by 2012.  She was suspended, reported to the police and faced a community service sentence.

The reason for their convictions lay in the accounting nightmare produced by the Horizon system.  It had ominous beginnings, growing up from a contract between the computer company ICL, the Post Office and the Benefits Agency, all part of what were termed private finance initiatives (PFI).  Developed by Japanese company Fujitsu, Horizon featured a swipe card system for paying pensions and benefits via the counters of Post Office branches.  The venture proved calamitous, ailed by chronic mismanagement, weaknesses in the technology and general human incompetence.  The cost of that endeavour to the British taxpayer: £700 million.

Refusing to wipe the slate clean, the Post Office beefed up the Horizon project, using it to convert accounting done through paper format into an electronic system.  Over time, this made it the largest IT contract in Europe not connected with the military.   But the stench refused to go away.  “Serious doubts over the reliability of the software remained,” warned the Post Office board of directors in their minutes in September 1999.

Glitches duly mounted.  Variations in revenue in some branches were noted.  Two months after Horizon began operating, the Post Office branch in Craig-y-Don in Wales showed up a “variance” totalling £6,000.  In time, these proliferated. In some cases, sub-postmasters, seeing these errors as not occasioned by computer error but their own, sought to cover revenue discrepancies with their own resources.  Their contracts did mention that shortfalls be covered in instances of “carelessness or error”.

Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office, with witch-hunting zeal, prosecuted a stunning 736 sub-postmasters, seeking convictions for false accounting and theft.  Many were financially ruined.  A number took to addiction, suffered ill-health and premature death.  The sheer number facing charges raised an obvious question: how could there have been so many copy-cat crimes perpetrated by supposedly upstanding workers? (The Post Office itself admitted to investing time identifying and recruiting appropriate candidates.)  The more troubling, and logical reason: the continuing, near manic refusal to acknowledge the gremlins in the Horizon system.

The sub-postmasters fought back.  In December 2019, the Post Office agreed to settle with 555 claimants, accepting that it had previously erred in its “dealings with a number of postmasters”, agreeing to pay £58m in damages, with claimants receiving a £12 million share after legal fees.

Battle that year was also waged in the High Court through several trials.  The Post Office, remarkably, attempted to tar the presiding judge Sir Peter Fraser in one case with the brush of bias, suggesting he step down.  The failed effort to recuse him had arisen because of a previous ruling that over 500 sub-postmasters had been wrongly held responsible for Horizon’s accounting bungles.   In another of Justice Fraser’s judgments handed down in December 2019, the Post Office was accused of showing “simple institutional obstinacy or refusal” in considering “any possible alternatives to their view of Horizon, which was maintained regardless of the weight of factual evidence to the contrary.”  Reality was ignored.  “It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat.”

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) proceeded to refer 42 sub-postmaster cases to the Court of Appeal.  The judges were charged with considering whether the prosecutions had been an abuse of court process and whether the convictions were unsafe. The salient consideration was whether the Horizon accounting system, already damned by Fraser, was reliable or not.

To the last, the Post Office, rather than conceding in full error, fought.  It did concede that 39 of the 42 former sub-postmasters “did not or could not have a fair trial.”  But in 35 of those 39 cases, it objected to the claim that the prosecutions were “an affront to the public conscience”.

In the criminal division of the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Holroyde and his fellow judges found the “failures of investigation and disclosure were in our judgment so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the ‘Horizon cases’ an affront to the conscience of the court.”  The Post Office had effectively reversed the burden of proof by firstly assuming that the Horizon system was reliable and placing the onus upon the sub-postmasters to show why shortfalls had been registered.  “Denied any disclosure of material capable of undermining the prosecution case, defendants were inevitably unable to discharge that improper burden.”  Their prosecutions, convictions and sentences were pursued “on the basis that the Horizon data must be correct, and cash must therefore be missing, when in fact there could be no confidence as to that foundation.”

The snarling ugliness of conduct by the Post Office was laid bare.  It refused to comply with its own obligations when prosecuting the sub-postmasters using Horizon data.  It doggedly insisted that the sub-postmasters “make good all losses and could lose their employment if they did not do so.”  This was all done despite the selection of those very same individuals as trustworthy occupants of their positions.  The Post Office also dismissed claims that the shortfalls had arisen because of “an error or bug in the system”.  Internal documentation dealing with the explanation by one sub-postmaster that a system error had occurred was contemptuously swatted as “jumping on the Horizon bandwagon”.

Of the 42 original appellants, only three – Wendy Cousins, Stanley Fell and Neelam Hussain – failed to achieve their aim.  Their convictions were found to be safe, as “the reliability of Horizon data was not essential to the prosecution case”.  For the rest, a grotesque, wearing chapter of British injustice had been reversed.  An unquestioning faith and dogma, alloyed with some venality, had been repudiated.  Sadly, the Post Office executives, board members and those at Fujitsu, remain at large, ready for the next erring.

The post A Very British Case: Postmasters and Miscarriages of Justice first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Boris Johnson’s lies don’t harm him because the political system is more corrupt than he is

Britain’s corporate media are suddenly awash with stories wondering whether, or to what extent, the UK’s prime minister is dishonest. Predictably in the midst of this, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg is still doing her determined best to act as media bodyguard to Boris Johnson.

In a lengthy article on the BBC’s website over the weekend, she presents a series of soothing alternatives to avoid conceding the self-evident: that Johnson is a serial liar. According to Kuenssberg, or at least those she chooses to quote (those, let us remember, who give her unfettered “access” to the corridors of power), he is a well-intentioned, unpredictable, sometimes hapless, “untamed political animal”. A rough diamond.

In Kuenssberg’s telling, Johnson’s increasingly obvious flaws are actually his strengths:

Yet what’s suggested time and again is that the prime minister’s attitude to the truth and facts is not based on what is real and what is not, but is driven by what he wants to achieve in that moment – what he desires, rather than what he believes. And there is no question, that approach, coupled with an intense force of personality can be enormously effective.

In his political career, Boris Johnson has time and again overturned the odds, and that’s a huge part of the reason why.

The way Kuenssberg tells it, Johnson sounds exactly like someone you would want in your corner in a time of crisis. Not the narcissist creator of those crises, but the Nietzschean “Superman” who can solve them for you through sheer force of will and personality.

Lies piling up

Slightly less enamoured with Johnson than the BBC has been the liberal Guardian, Britain’s supposedly chief “opposition” newspaper to the ruling Conservative government. But the Guardian has been surprisingly late to this party too. Typical of its newly aggressive approach to Johnson was a piece published on Saturday by its columnist Jonathan Freedland, titled “Scandal upon scandal: the charge sheet that should have felled Johnson years ago”.

As this article rightly documents, Johnson is an inveterate dissembler, and one whose lies have been visibly piling up since he entered 10 Downing Street. His propensity to lie is not new. It was well-know to anyone who worked with him in his earlier career in journalism or when he was an aspiring politician. It is not the “scandals” that are new, it’s the media’s interest in documenting them that is.

And when the liar-in-chef is also the prime minister, those lies invariably end up masking high-level corruption, the kind of corruption that has the capacity to destroy lives – many lives.

So why are Johnson’s well-known deceptions only becoming a “mainstream” issue now – and why, in particular, is a liberal outlet like the Guardian picking up the baton on this matter so late in the day? As Freedland rightly observes, these scandals have been around for many years, so why wasn’t the Guardian on Johnson’s case from the outset, setting the agenda?

Or put another way, why has the drive to expose Johnson been led not by liberal journalists like Freedland but chiefly by a disillusioned old-school conservative worried about the damage Johnson is doing to his political tradition? Freedland is riding on the coat-tails of former Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne, who wrote a recent book on Johnson’s fabrications, The Assault on Truth.  Further, Johnson’s deceptions have gone viral not because of the efforts of the Guardian but because of a video compilation on social media of some of Johnson’s biggest whoppers by lawyer and independent journalist Peter Stefanovic.

Politics rigged

Part of the answer, of course, is that until recently the Guardian, along with the rest of the corporate media, had a much more pressing task than holding Britain’s prime minister to account for lies – and the corruption they obscure – that have drained the Treasury of the nation’s wealth, redirecting it towards a bunch of Tory donors, and subsequently contributed to at least a proportion of Covid-19 deaths.

The Guardian was preoccupied with making sure that Johnson was not replaced by an opposition leader who spoke, for the first time in more than a generation, about the need for wealth redistribution and a fairer society.

On the political scales weighing what was most beneficial for the country, it was far more important to the Guardian to keep then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his democratic socialist agenda out of Downing Street than make sure Britain was run in accordance with the rule of law, let alone according to the principles of fairness and decency.

Now with Corbyn long gone, the political conditions to take on Johnson are more favourable. Covid-19 cases in the UK have plummeted, freeing up a little space on front pages for other matters. And Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has used the past year to prove over and over again to the media that he has been scrupulous about purging socialism from the Labour party.

We are back to the familiar and reassuring days of having two main parties that will not threaten the establishment. One, the Labour party, will leave the establishment’s power and wealth untouched, but do so in a way that makes Britain once again look like a properly run country, conferring greater legitimacy on UK Plc. The other, the Conservative party, will do even better by the establishment, further enriching it with an unapologetic crony capitalism, even if that risks over the longer term provoking a popular backlash that may prove harder to defuse than the Corbyn one did.

For the time being at least, the elite prospers either way. The bottom line, for the establishment, is that the political system is once again rigged in its favour, whoever wins the next election. The establishment can risk making Johnson vulnerable only because the establishment interests he represents are no longer vulnerable.

Blame the voters

But for liberal media like the Guardian, the campaign to hold Johnson to account is potentially treacherous. Once the prime minister’s serial lying is exposed and the people informed of what is going on, according to traditional liberal thinking, his popularity should wane. Once the people understand he is a conman, they will want to be rid of him. That should be all the more inevitable, if, as the Guardian contends, Starmer is an obviously safer and more honest pair of hands.

But the problem for the Guardian is that Johnson’s polling figures are remarkably buoyant, despite the growing media criticism of him. He continues to outpoll Starmer. His Midas touch needs explaining. And the Guardian is growing ever more explicit about where the fault is to be found. With us.

Or as Freedland observes:

Maybe the real scandal lies with us, the electorate, still seduced by a tousled-hair rebel shtick and faux bonhomie that should have palled years ago… For allowing this shameless man to keep riding high, some of the shame is on us.

Freedland is far from alone in peddling this line. Kuenssberg, in her BBC piece, offers a variant:

An insider told me: “He frequently leaves people with the belief that he has told them one thing, but he has given himself room for manoeuvre,” believing that, “the fewer cast iron positions you hold the better, because you can always change political direction.”

The verbal flourishes and rhetorical tricks are part of the reason why he has prospered. “A lot of his magic has been those off-the-cuff comments, that’s why a lot of the public like him,” says an ally.

In other words, we see what we want to see. Johnson is the vessel into which we pour our hopes and dreams, while he has the tough challenge of making our melange of hopes and dreams a tangible, workable reality.

Liberal journalists have been on this “blame the voters” path for a while. When it was Corbyn and his “dangerous” socialism being pitted against the Tories’ crony capitalism, the Guardian enthusiastically joined the smear campaign against Labour. That included evidence-free claims of an “institutional antisemitism” crisis under Corbyn’s leadership.

And yet despite the media’s best endeavours, Corbyn appalled journalists like Freedland at the 2017 general election by winning Labour’s biggest rise in vote share since 1945. Corbyn denied the Conservatives a majority and was a few thousand votes from winning outright – something Starmer can only dream of at the moment, despite Johnson’s exposure as an inveterate liar and conman. And Corbyn achieved this while the Labour party machine, and the entire corporate media, were vehemently against him.

Dangerous populism

It was in the wake of Corbyn’s unexpected success at the polls in 2017 that the Guardian unleashed its “New Populism” series, seeking to warn of a supposedly dangerous new political phenomenon that lumped the then-Labour leader in with right wing populists such as Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. They were all part of a new wave of authoritarian, cult-like leaders who barely concealed their sinister, racist agendas, gulled supporters with promises divorced from reality, and most likely had secret ties to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

In short, the Guardian’s thesis was that “the people” kept voting for these leaders because they were stupid and easily duped by a smooth-tongued charlatan.

This narrative was aggressively promoted by the Guardian, even though Corbyn had nothing in common with the right wing authoritarians with whom he was forced to share star billing. He had spent his long political career on the backbenches, cultivating a self-effacing politics of communal solidarity and “standing up for the little guy” rather than pursuing power. And far from being a nationalist or nativist, Corbyn had dedicated decades to internationalism and fighting racism – though admittedly, in challenging the anti-Palestinian racism of Israel and its Zionist supporters he had left himself prey to disingenuous claims of antisemitism.

But after several years of emotional and ideological investment in “the people are dumb” approach, the Guardian seems in no hurry to drop it – until, or unless, the people can be persuaded to vote for an eminently safe, status-quo candidate like Starmer. The paper’s target has simply switched from Corbyn to the more plausible figure of Boris Johnson.

The Guardian dares not contemplate any alternative explanation for why voters continue to prefer the narcissist, corrupt, lying Johnson over Labour’s “Clean Up Westminster” Keir Starmer. But its reluctance to consider other explanations does not mean they cannot be found.

A corrupt system

The problem is not that most voters have failed to understand that Johnson is corrupt, though given the corrupt nature of the British corporate media – the Guardian very much included – they are hardly well positioned to appreciate the extent of Johnson’s corruption.

It is not even that they know that he is corrupt but do not care.

Rather, the real problem is that significant sections of the electorate have rightly come to the realisation that the wider political system within which Johnson operates is corrupt too. So corrupt, in fact, that it may be impossible to fix. Johnson is simply more open, and honest, about how he exploits the corrupt system.

Over the past two decades, there have been several way-stations exposing the extent of the corruption of the UK’s political system, whichever party was in power.

Labour under Tony Blair overrode popular dissent, expressed in the largest marches ever seen in the UK, and lied his way to a war on Iraq in 2003 that led to the killing and ethnic cleansing of millions of Iraqis. UK soldiers were dragged into a war that, it quickly became clear, was really about securing western control over the Middle East’s oil. And the invasion and occupation of Iraq spawned a new nihilistic Islamic cult that rampaged across the region and whose embers have yet to be snuffed out.

Five years later, Gordon Brown oversaw the near-implosion of the British economy after Labour had spent more than a decade intensifying the financial deregulation begun under Margaret Thatcher. That process had turned the financial sector into the true power behind No 10. Both Brown and his Tory successor, David Cameron, not only refused to hold to account any of the white-collar criminals responsible for the collapse of the financial system, but instead rewarded them with massive bailouts. Ordinary people, meanwhile, were forced to tighten their belts through years of austerity to pay off the debts.

And in the background throughout this period, a global and local environmental catastrophe has been gradually unfolding that the political system has shown no capacity to address because it has been captured by corporations who benefit most from continuing the environmental degradation. The system has instead dissembled on the threats we face to justify inaction.

No price to pay

The truly astonishing thing is that those who lied us into the Iraq war, destabilising the Middle East and provoking an exodus from the region that has fuelled a surge in xenophobic politics across Europe; those who broke the financial system through their greed and incompetence and lied their way out of the consequences, forcing the rest of us to foot the bill; and those who lied about the ecological catastrophes unfolding over the past half century so that they could go on lining their own pockets; none of them paid any price at all for their mendacity, for their deceptions, for their corruption. Not only that, but they have grown richer, more powerful, more respected because of the lies.

One only needs to look at the fate of that unapologetic pair of war criminals, Tony Blair and George W Bush. The former has amassed wealth like a black hole sucks in light, and preposterously is still regularly called on by the media to pontificate on ethical issues in British politics. And the latter has been rehabilitated as a once-wayward, now beloved, irreverent uncle to the nation, one whose humanity has supposedly been underscored simply by making sure he was filmed “sneaking” a sweet to his presidential successor’s wife.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, a remedy to Britain’s self-evidently flawed political system was thrown up – in the form of Corbyn. He was a throwback, the very antithesis of the modern politicians who had brought us to the brink of ruin on multiple fronts. He was not venal, nor a narcissist. His concern was improving the lives of ordinary people, not the bank balances of corporate donors. He was against colonial-style wars to grab other countries’ resources. The things that made him a laughing stock with the political elite – his cheap clothes, his simple life, his allotment – made him appealing to large sections of the electorate.

For many, Corbyn was the last gasp for a system they had given up on. He might prove their growing cynicism about politics wrong. His success might demonstrate that the system could be fixed, and that all was not lost.

Except that is not how it played out. The entire political and media class – even the military – turned on Corbyn. They played the man, not the ball – and when it came to the man, any and all character assassination was justified. He had been a Soviet agent. He was a threat to Britain’s security. His IQ was too low to be prime minister. He was a secret antisemite.

Lying, cheating and stealing

In the United States, then-Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer warned Donald Trump back in 2017 that the US intelligence services would “have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you” should the president try to go up against them. Maybe Trump hoped that his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, would offer some protection. Pompeo, a former head of the CIA, understood the dishonest ways of the intelligence services only too well. He explained his agency’s modus operandi to a group of students in Texas in an unusually frank manner in late 2019: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. That’s, it was like, we had entire training courses!”

With the campaign to destroy Corbyn, many saw how the British system was just as skilled and experienced as the US one in its capacity to lie, cheat and steal. Corbyn’s treatment offered an undeniable confirmation of what they already suspected.

Over the past two decades, in an era when social media has emerged as an alternative information universe challenging that of the traditional corporate media, all these episodes – Iraq, the financial crash, ecological catastrophe, Corbyn’s political assassination – have had deeply damaging political ramifications. Because once people sensed that the system was corrupt, they became cynical. And once they were cynical, once they believed the system was rigged whoever won, they began voting cynically too.

This should be the main context for understanding Johnson’s continuing success and his invulnerability to criticism. In a rigged system, voters prefer an honestly dishonest politician – one who revels in the cynicism of the system and is open about exploiting it – over one who pretends he is playing fair, one who feigns a belief in the system’s ultimate decency, one who lies by claiming he can pursue the common good.

If the system is rigged, who is really more mendacious: Johnson, who plays dirty in a dirty system, or Starmer, who pretends he can clean up the Westminster cesspit when all he will really do is push the ordure out of view.

Johnson is transparently looking out for his mates and donors. Starmer is looking out for a rotten system, one that he intends to makeover so its corruption is less visible, less open to scrutiny.

Liberals are mystified by this reading of politics. They, after all, are emotionally invested in a supposedly meritocratic system from which they personally benefited for so long. They would rather believe the lie that a good political system is being corrupted by rotten politicians and a stupid electorate than the reality that a corrupt political system is being exploited by those best placed to navigate its corrupt ways.

The post Boris Johnson’s lies don’t harm him because the political system is more corrupt than he is first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Mette Frederiksen, Boris Johnson: Reject Industry PR, Ban Glyphosate, Protect Public Health! 

On 9 April 2021, retired physician and health and environmental campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason wrote to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (DEPA). She wanted to draw the agency’s attention to the findings that indicate the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup causes high levels of mortality following contact exposure in bumble bees (glyphosate-formulated herbicides are the most widely used weedicides in agriculture across the globe).

This, Mason argued, has led to a decline of bumblebees in Denmark. She asked the agency why it had used “fraudulent science” on glyphosate from the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency, which in turn take their ‘science’ from Monsanto/Bayer, rather than from the direct observations of The Danish Nature Agency.

Mason’s correspondence focused not only on the destructive environmental impacts of glyphosate but also on the devastating human health aspects.

In relation to sanctioning the continued use of glyphosate in Europe, Mason has previously noted that it was totally unacceptable, possibly negligent or even criminal, for the European Union to have allowed a group of plant scientists on the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF) – whose knowledge of human physiology was so lacking that they did not recognise that glyphosate has effects on humans – to make decisions that affect human health.

PAFF’s role was pivotal in the decision to re-licence the use of glyphosate in the EU in 2017.

To date, aside from the DEPA acknowledging receipt of Mason’s letter, there has been no response to the issues raised.

As a follow up, Mason has sent the latest insights to DEPA on the Monsanto-Bayer lawsuits in the US. Three cases brought by Lee Johnson, Edwin Hardeman and Alva and Alberta Pilliod have already gone to trial. In each case, the courts found that Roundup caused their cancers and that Monsanto hid the risks of its product.

Mason also forwarded information to Magnus Hennicke, the health minister, indicating the role glyphosate plays in fuelling cancers and other diseases in Denmark. Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fishery Rasmus Prehn and Special Adviser Casper Steen Petersen also received copies of this information.

Their attention was drawn to the Institute for Responsible Technology claims that cancers caused by Roundup include non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bone cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, melanoma, pancreatic cancer and thyroid cancer.

Mason also quoted Robert F. Kennedy Jr, the renowned environmental attorney, who in 2018 talked of:

… cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts. Strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10.

Mason concluded her correspondence by saying:

I will leave Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (to whom I have also sent a copy) and other ministers to demand answers from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. Are they or their relatives suffering from any of these diseases – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, etc? Until Roundup is eliminated from food and from drinking water, these conditions will continue to afflict us all. That means that farmers must stop using Roundup.

Rosemary Mason has been writing to officials in the UK and Europe about the effects of Roundup and other agrochemicals for over a decade, documenting the health and environmental impacts as well as the institutional corruption that has led to their continued use. Her many reports are littered with peer reviewed scientific literature to support her claims and can be accessed on the academia.edu website.

New study

It seems that not a month goes by until some new paper or study appears and supports what Mason has been saying for a long time. For example, according to the recent multiple author paper ‘In-depth comparative toxicogenomics and Roundup herbicides’, glyphosate and Roundup changes gene function and causes DNA damage.

The research found that glyphosate and glyphosate-formulated herbicides activate mechanisms involved in cancer development, including DNA damage – and these effects occur at doses assumed by regulators to have no adverse effects. The study found that DNA damage was caused by oxidative stress, a destructive imbalance in the body that can cause a long list of diseases.

Writing on the GMWatch website, Claire Robinson summarises the findings and the policy implications. She states that the findings, according to the EU’s pesticide law, should result in a ban on glyphosate and all its formulations.

The study was led by Dr Michael Antoniou and Dr Robin Mesnage at King’s College London. It builds on the findings of a previous study by the same authors. In that study, the findings showed that glyphosate and Roundup, given at doses that regulators say are safe, result in gut microbiome disturbances and oxidative stress, with indications that the liver is affected and possibly damaged.

In the new follow-up study, the researchers carried out some of the standard tests that regulators require the pesticide industry to conduct to gain market authorisation for their products – namely blood biochemistry and kidney and liver histopathology (microscopic examination of tissue).

They also carried out in-depth tests (molecular profiling) that are not demanded by regulators or typically carried out by the industry. In addition, the researchers undertook tests that can detect direct damage to DNA.

Robinson notes that, worryingly for public health, it was the non-standard molecular profiling tests that are not required by pesticide regulators that were most revealing.

Roundup was found to alter the expression of 96 genes in the liver specifically linked to DNA damage and oxidative stress as well as disruption of circadian rhythms or ‘body clocks’. The findings strongly suggest that the key changes in gene function reflective of oxidative stress and DNA damage was due to glyphosate and not the additional substances (adjuvants) present in the Roundup formulation. Direct DNA damage to the liver was found to increase with glyphosate exposure.

Protect public health

Claire Robinson says that these findings potentially constitute a bombshell that could end the authorisation of glyphosate in the EU because the EU pesticide regulation (1107/2009) has what is known as hazard-based cut-off criteria.

She states:

This means that if a pesticide active ingredient is shown to cause a certain type of harm to health at whatever dose, it must be banned. One of the named types of harm is damage to DNA. The discovery that glyphosate alone damages DNA in a living animal should, if regulators follow the law, result in a ban on glyphosate.

The study indicated that both glyphosate and its commercial formulation Roundup activate mechanisms involved in cancer development, causing gene expression changes reflecting oxidative stress and DNA damage.

The UK is currently pushing for the deregulation of genetically engineered crops and products and the non-regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) derived from newer techniques like gene-editing. This in itself is worrying given the scientific evidence pointing to the health and ecological dangers associated with this technology.

At the same time, however, the government’s proposed strategy would only further serve the bottom line of the agrochemical companies while contributing to the ongoing public health crisis brought about by their products.

For instance, the recent paper ‘Herbicide Resistance: Another Hot Agronomic Trait for Plant Genome Editing’ (in the peer reviewed journal ‘Plants’) says that, in spite of claims from GMO promoters that gene editing will reduce pesticide use, what we can expect is just more of the same – GMO herbicide-tolerant crops and increased herbicide use.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that he wants to “liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules”. The type of ‘liberation’ Johnson really means is the UK adopting unassessed GM crops and food and a continuation of the chemical bombardment of our food, environment and bodies.

It is time for Johnson to serve the public not the bottom line of the government’s corporate masters.

It is time for the EU to ‘follow the science’ and side-line industry influence.

The post Mette Frederiksen, Boris Johnson: Reject Industry PR, Ban Glyphosate, Protect Public Health!  first appeared on Dissident Voice.