Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The 51 MPs who opposed DRIP


It is quite extraordinary that the majority of parliament have decided to vote in favour of allowing the security services to continue dredging the private communications data of millions of completely innocent people. The Edward Snowden leaks showed the alarming extent of the security services violations of our right to privacy, their collusion with foreign powers and their evasion of democratic oversight, so it would have been no surprise at all had parliament decided to introduce emergency legislation to bring the security services back under control, however they didn't do that at the time.

Instead they have waited over a year since the Snowden leaks became public, and several months since the EU declared the mass retention of data unlawful to suddenly launch their "emergency legislation" to protect the invasive powers of the security services.

Here are a few quotes from the debate.

"If the Bill is so urgent, will the Minister explain why it was not introduced three months ago, as soon as the European Court of Justice judgment was announced? Why are we debating it in one day, just before the recess?" Caroline Lucas (Green)

"Why was there no discussion with parties other than the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives, even on Privy Council terms? For heaven’s sake, if there is an urgency, why keep most of the Opposition in the dark? It is absolutely disgusting, disgraceful and undemocratic." Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid Cymru)

"I consider this to be an outright abuse of parliamentary procedure. I will certainly vote against the motion, and I hope that a number of hon. Members will do so as well.  Even if one is in favour of what the Home Secretary intends to do, to do it in this manner—to pass all the stages in one day—surely makes a farce of our responsibilities as Members of Parliament. When one considers the issues that are involved, how can one justify saying that the Bill must pass every stage by 10 o’clock? Does that meet our duty and responsibility to our constituents? ... There has been no pre-legislative scrutiny by the Select Committees—none at all. This is the sort of issue that the Home Affairs Committee and other Select Committees that consider human rights should look at in detail. None of that has been done." David Winnick (Labour)
"Most reasonable people will conclude that Parliament has been insulted by the cavalier way in which a secret deal has been used to ensure that elected representatives are curtailed in their ability to consider, scrutinise, debate and amend the Bill. It is democratic banditry, resonant of a rogue state. The people who put this shady deal together should be ashamed." Tom Watson (Labour)
"What the coalition could not decide in three months, this House has to decide in one day. That seems to me entirely improper." David Davis (Tory)

The List

The majority of Tory, Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs voted in favour of this appalling abuse of the democratic process. Here is a list of the tiny minority of honourable MPs who voted against

Diane Abbott (Labour)
Steve Baker (Tory)
Clive Betts (Labour)
Brian Binley (Tory)
Peter Bone (Tory)
NicK Brown (Labour)
Jeremy Corbyn (Labour)
Jim Cunningham (Labour)
Philip Davies  (Tory)
David Davis (Tory)
Nick de Bois (Tory)
Nadine Dorries (Tory)
Mark Durkan (SDLP)
Jonathan Edwards (Plaid)
Robert Flello (Labour)
Hywel Francis (Labour)
Roger Godsiff (Labour)
Duncan Hames (Lib-Dem)
Dai Havard (Labour)
David Heath (Lib-Dem)
John Hemming (Lib-Dem)
Kate Hoey (Labour)
Philip Hollobone (Tory)
Kelvin Hopkins (Labour)
Stewart Hosie (SNP)
Ian Lavery (Labour)
Mark Lazarowicz (Labour)
Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid)
Naomi Long (Alliance)
Caroline Lucas (Green)
Angus MacNeil (SNP)
Alisdair McDonnell (SDLP)
John McDonnell  (Labour)
Michael Meacher (Labour)
Nigel Mills (Tory)
Grahame Morris (Labour)
George Mudie (Labour)
Linda Riordan (Labour)
Margaret Ritchie (SDLP)
Angus Robertson (SNP)
Adrian Sanders  (Lib-Dem)
Dennis Skinner  (Labour)
Andrew Smith (Labour)
Andrew Turner (Tory)
Tom Watson (Labour)
Mike Weir (SNP)
Eilidh Whiteford (SNP
Hywel Williams (Plaid)
Sammy Wilson (DUP)
David Winnick (Labour)
Pete Wishart (SNP)

Party by Party breakdown

If we break down this vote by party we can see which the true opposition parties are, and which are the parties of the establishment with just a tiny minority of non-conformist MPs.

The representatives of five parties voted unanimously against these measures. All six SNP MPs voted against, along with all three Plaid Cymru MPs, all three from the SDLP, and the only Alliance MP voted against, as did Caroline Lucas of the Green party, making them the only party which stands representatives in English constituencies to vote against this bill.

If anyone needed more evidence that the Liberal Democrats are offensively misnamed, then the fact that just 4 of the 56 Lib Dem MPs (7%) bothered to vote against this grotesquely illiberal and blatantly anti-democratic travesty of a bill.

10 of the Tories 304 MPs (3%) rebeled, including David Davis (probably the only half-decent Tory MP) and right -wing blowhard Peter Bone.

Some might have expected the Labour party to put up a bit of a fight over this, but only if they were completely ignorant of other examples of Labour complicity (such as allowing Iain Duncan Smith's retroactive Workfare bill to be rushed through parliament in a single day back in March 2013). There were a total of 22 Labour party rebels including the ever reliable Dennis Skinner, John McDonnell and Michael Meacher.

The fact that just 8.6% of Labour party MPs bothered to vote against this bill just goes to show that their is barely a fag papers' distance between the three establishment parties when it comes to protecting the powers of the establishment.

Conclusion


It is quite astonishing that such a contentious piece of legislation could be passed by 438 votes to 51 (including tellers). If your MP was one of the 438 who voted in favour, perhaps you should consider writing them a letter of complaint, or at the very least voting against them at the next General Election.

                
 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only source of revenue for  Another Angry Voice  is the  PayPal  donations box (which can be found in the right hand column, fairly near the top of the page). If you could afford to make a donation to help keep this site going, it would be massively appreciated.
 
Update: I removed a sentence questioning George Galloway for having not voted against this, because I was unaware that his wife had just had a baby. I do not accept the allegation (in the comments) that questioning his absence from the debate constitiutes a "slagging off" as accused, especially given the fact that he has a long history of not bothering to vote or participate in parliamentary debates.
        


        
                     
The "Making Work Pay" fallacy
         
The economic case against tax-dodging
                                          
A letter to fans of Workfare
                                            

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Punishing the youth: More vindictive Tory-lite nonsense from New Labour



In 2008 the UK economy collapsed into a crisis from which it has yet to recover. Despite the endlessly repeated Tory rhetoric that this crisis was caused by the Labour party, the real cause of the crisis was a global spree of reckless financial sector gambling, often on extremely complex financial products that the buyer clearly didn't even understand.

The Labour party were somewhat to blame for not only refusing to undo the financial sector deregulations of the Thatcher era, but actually even further deregulating the financial markets themselves. But the only Tory complaints at the time that Labour were further deregulating the financial sector were that Gordon Brown's deregulations hadn't gone far enough, and that the UK should strive to be more like Ireland!

Reckless financial sector speculation caused the global financial sector insolvency crisis and necessitated the biggest state subsidies in economic history to prevent the UK banks collapsing into their own black holes of debt. The problem is that it doesn't matter how much evidence there is that deregulated capitalism caused the financial sector insolvency crisis, the Tories and the right-wing dominated press are absolutely determined to create the simplistic narrative that the Labour party, and welfare spending are to blame for the fallout from the financial sector crisis.

The Tory narrative is that the Labour party "bankrupted" the economy with their excessive welfare spending, and the actual facts of the matter are irrelevant.

Instead of attempting to offer an alternative narrative built on the actual facts, such as the fact that the bankers' bailouts cost more than the entire national debt that the Tories endlessly fearmonger about, the Labour leader Ed Miliband has decided to capitulate.

Instead of attempting to counter the "blame Labour" right-wing rhetoric with the truth, Miliband and the shadow Work and Pensions secretary Rachael Reeves have decided instead to try and out-Tory the Tories.


Their latest plan is to revoke social security for 18-21 year olds, and replace it with a pitiful benefit only payable if the youngsters do workfare or training schemes. No doubt the same alphabet soup of extremely dodgy corporate outsourcing parasites (A4e, G4S, Serco, Sudexo, Capita, Atos ...) will be lining themselves up to administer the Labour party workfare schemes, and provide the Labour party "training" schemes, just as they have cashed in for the last four years administering the Tory parties workfare schemes and the Tory parties "training" schemes (in which people are "trained" at the taxpayers' expense how to wipe their bottoms by these companies).

In my view a much more sensible strategy for the Labour party would have been to attack the Tories for the fact that long-term youth unemployment has risen 57% since the Tories came to power in 2010, and that this huge rise has come despite the ever increasing use of workfare schemes designed to artificially exclude hundreds of thousands of (mainly young) people from the unemployment figures, even though they still receive unemployment benefits throughout their term of compulsory unpaid labour.

This astonishing rise in the rate of long-term youth unemployment is by no means the first example of the gross incompetence of Iain Duncan Smith providing Ed Miliband with a huge stick to whack the Tories with, but Ed preferring to set about beating himself over the head with it instead.

Back in February 2013 the Cort of Appeals declared Iain Duncan Smith's Workfare schemes for the unemployed unlawful, but instead of using this humiliating court judgement to attack Iain Duncan Smith, Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership actually decided to collude with the Tories in order to help Iain Duncan Smith get a vile piece of retroactive legislation rushed through parliament in a single day. Not only did Miliband refuse to attack Iain Duncan Smith for his incompetence, he actually helped IDS to stick two fingers up at the courts by quickly  rewriting his own hopelessly botched legislation and applying the changes retroactively so that his workfare rules would have been lawful had they been written that way in the past.

Now Miliband is refusing to attack the Tories for the huge rise in long-term youth unemployment since 2010, and instead seems to want to further reinforce the Tory narratives that welfare spending and "scroungers" are to blame for the crisis through his new plan of attacking the pitiful amounts paid out to workless 18-21 year olds, instead of actively doing anything to actually help them.

Given that the economic crisis was undeniably caused by the bankers, a much better Labour party strategy might have been to highlight the huge rise in long-term youth unemployment since the bankers trashed the economy and to propose a new tax on bankers bonuses designed to fund paid apprenticeships for young people in real businesses (rather than ludicrous taxpayer funded "how to wipe your bottom" courses with A4e).

Instead of developing a strategy which highlights the reckless bankers and the incompetent Tories as the culprits, Ed Miliband's Labour party seem intent on painting the victims of the bankers' crisis as the guilty parties who are deserving of punishment for their "idleness".

Ed Miliband and Rachael Reeves seem intent on punishing a generation of youngsters who were still in primary school when the bankers were trashing the economy with their reckless gambling spree, because the economy still hasn't recovered sufficiently to offer these kids the prospects of real paid employment. This may seem like a sensible strategy from within the bubble of the Labour party leadership, but to countless thousands of traditional Labour voters it's bound to kill the last vestiges of hope that New Labour offer anything other than vindictive Tory-lite policies designed to appeal to readers of the Daily Mail and the S*n.

                
 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only source of revenue for  Another Angry Voice  is the  PayPal  donations box (which can be found in the right hand column, fairly near the top of the page). If you could afford to make a donation to help keep this site going, it would be massively appreciated.

         

        
                     
The "Making Work Pay" fallacy
         
The economic case against tax-dodging
                                          
A letter to fans of Workfare
                                            

Thursday, June 12, 2014

They're not tuition fees, they're a tax on aspiration


The Liberal Democrats began writing their own political obituary when they decided to go back on their pre-election promises to vote against any increase in tuition fees in order to allow the Tories to triple university fees to £9,000 per year, making study at English public universities the most expensive in the world.


This betrayal was particularly stupid given that the student lobby were one of the core Lib-Dem demographics. This U-turn was so bad that huge numbers of people who voted Lib-Dem in 2010 because they likes their stance against the commodification of the education system have sworn to themselves that they will never ever vote Lib-Dem again. People aren't just temporarily angry about this, they are enraged because as far as they are concerned, the Liberal Democrats stole their votes.

The fees that the Liberal Democrats helped the Tories to introduce are not just three times as high as the New Labour fees, they also come at a much higher rate of interest. Instead of being index linked directly to the rate of inflation like the old loans were, the new loans accrue interest at the rate of inflation plus 3%.

Even with interest rates being held at all time historic low of 0.5% for the last five years the government now admits that they got their sums badly wrong and that 45% of graduates will never earn enough to pay off their loans, rather than the 28% they originally predicted.

There are two main consequences of this huge miscalculation. The first is that the government now admits that their massive hike in student fees is already perilously close to failing to break even, meaning that not only will it cost millions of students extra, it also looks extremely likely that this new system will actually end up costing the taxpayer extra too.

The second consequence is that millions of graduates look set to spend their entire working lives making payments towards the cost of their higher education. These repayments kick in at £21,000 per year and are administered through a 9% direct taxation (taken directly from the salary like income tax and National Insurance). Around half of students will spend their entire working lives paying this 9% Aspiration Tax without ever actually paying the loan off.

The government narrative was that this hike in fees was necessary in order to "put higher education on a sustainable footing for the long-term" but the fact is that the huge increase in student fees is already perilously close to failing to break even, and just one negative economic factor (such as a recession, natural disaster or even a rise in the rate of inflation) could drive the new student loan system deep into the red.
 
If putting "higher education on a sustainable footing for the long-term" was actually such an important factor, it's clearly an indicator of grotesque incompetence that the plan is already dangerously close to not breaking even after just a couple of years.


There is an alternative explanation for the implementation of a scheme which will result in a massive hike in the levels of student debt, and that is the idea that the 9% Aspiration Tax has been deliberately imposed on students from poor and ordinary backgrounds as a social barrier, designed to hinder social mobility.

The explanation arises from the answer to the question of who actually benefits? The taxpayer doesn't look set to benefit, since the scheme is already perilously close to failing to break even. The majority of students won't benefit, because they look set to leave university with average debts of around £60,000 for an education they would have received for free less than two decades ago, and 73% of them will be still paying off their student debts in their 50s! The universities are certainly not benefiting either, since they've had their funding slashed again and again since 2010.

The fact is that the most obvious beneficiaries from the introduction of this Aspiration tax are the children with parents wealthy enough to pay the fees for them.


The children of the wealthy establishment already have loads of huge advantages in life, and the imposition of a 9% Aspiration Tax on "the lower orders" when they get uppity and try to better themselves, is an excellent way of further protecting the privilege of the children of the establishment minority.

For parents who can afford to send their children to private schools like Eton (£34,000+ per year in fees), Harrow (£33,000+ per year in fees) or Westminster (£33,000+ in fees), it would hardly be an enormous stretch to cough up an additional £9,000 per year so that their children can avoid ever having to pay the 9% Aspiration Tax that is imposed on graduates from "the lower orders".

It's easy to see how imposing an additional 9% income tax on the lower orders would create yet another life advantage for the children of the establishment class. The 9% Aspiration Tax is a method of confiscating disposable income from "the lower orders" so their financial means are even more diminished. This means that there will be even less competition from below for the establishment class.

If two people, one from an establishment family and the other from an ordinary background, qualify with the same class of degree at the same university and end up earning the same salary, the establishment graduate is at a huge advantage when it comes to setting up their own business, because they won't have to pay the 9% Aspiration Tax. This means they will have more disposable income to invest in establishing their own business. The 9% Aspiration Tax levied on graduates from ordinary backgrounds also puts the establishment graduate at a huge advantage in life when it comes to other things too, such as buying a house, or starting a family. 

In my view, you'd have to be a very gullible person to naively accept the government narrative on the reasons behind any of their schemes (no matter which party is in charge). Anyone with an inquisitive mind should consider alternative explanations. In my view the alternative explanation that makes a hell of a lot more sense than the official explanation, is that the main beneficiaries from such a scheme will be the children of the establishment, ie, the children of the very MPs who voted in favour of the introduction of Aspiration Taxes for graduates from ordinary backgrounds in 1998, and then voted to triple them in 2004, and then to triple them again in 2010.

Some people might say that it's unreasonable to assume such sickening ulterior motives from the political classes, and complain that the idea that they would deliberately hinder social mobility to protect the privileges of the establishment class is unconscionable. However these people are probably not familiar with the education secretary Michael Gove's assertion that "some people will, apparently, be put off applying to our elite institutions by the prospect of taking on a debt of this size. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is all to the good".

Even if the government narrative is unquestioningly accepted, and analysis of who the main beneficiaries are is completely ignored, the fact that the government were so far out with their calculations should be grounds for sacking the universities minister David Willetts. However, just like other grotesquely incompetent Tory ministers like Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne, he's seemingly immune from censure for his failings.

Once again, like so many other political issues, the introduction of Aspiration Taxes for graduates from ordinary backgrounds boils down to a simple choice between grotesque incompetence, or outright malice. There is simply no other explanation.

        

 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only source of revenue for  Another Angry Voice  is the  PayPal  donations box (which can be found in the right hand column, fairly near the top of the page). If you could afford to make a donation to help keep this site going, it would be massively appreciated.


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Saturday, June 7, 2014

12 things you should know about Britain First


In this article I am going to explain twelve things you should know about the extreme-right hate group called Britain First.
                  
  
Britain First is a BNP splinter group

Britain First was founded by a guy called Jim Dowson who ran a British National Party call centre in Belfast until he abandoned the party after being accused of indecently assaulting a woman in a hotel room. Dowson tried to claim that the accusations were part of a "dirty tricks" campaign to discredit him because he opposed BNP leader Nick Griffin's plan to comply with court rulings to remove discriminatory clauses from the BNP constitution. It's not much of a defence to say that the accusations were fabricated because he was even more right-wing than Nick Griffin, but that's the story he came out with.

Jim Dowson has got a track record of involvement with loyalist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, and with anti-women's rights groups. He is also very open about his homophobic views.

The treasurer of Britain First is also an ex-BNP man. Paul Golding was a BNP councilor in Sevenoaks between 2009 and 2011 and he also served as the BNP's communication officer. 

This ex-BNP pair stood as the Britain First candidates in Wales and Scotland in the 2014 European elections. As Britain First didn't stand any candidates in England, they advised their followers to vote for UKIP hardly the kind of endorsement that Nigel Farage would want for his "we're definitely not fascists" party.
           
The largest and fastest growing UK political page on Facebook

Over 400,000 people have decided to "like" Britain First's Facebook page, meaning this extreme-right hate group has more followers than any other political party in the UK.

It should be a source of acute national embarrassment that at a time when the British public should be looking to genuine political alternatives to the bankrupt neoliberal status quo in Westminster, that hundreds of thousands of people are turning to an extreme-right hate group hell bent on scapegoating minorities, and that these followers are spreading the Britain First messages of hate and fear all over Facebook. 

                     
Deceitful tactics
          
Britain First use populist infographics to dupe unsuspecting people into following their hate group. In between Islamophobic rants and immigration lies the Britain First admins intersperse images that the majority of people agree with (infographics decrying animal cruelty, anti-paedophilia memes, support our troops/football team memes, don't leave dogs in hot cars memes ...) so that ordinary people get hooked in to following their page.


A lot of people end up following the page because they saw one of these populist "honey trap" images, without even realising that the page that produced them is an extreme-right hate group.
                   
Dodgy party funding
            
One of the most distasteful things about Britain First is the way that they elicit donations to their right-wing political party through animal cruelty shock tactics.

The image to the right is one of their most popular fundraising campaigns ever (shared a mind-boggling 791,234 times).

The image description says "help us stop this cruelty!" and includes a link to their Paypal donations page. The problem is that Britain First have made absolutely no effort to segregate funds raised through this
"help us stop this cruelty!" appeal from their general donations. Neither have they explained anywhere how they plan to use all of this money to actually prevent animal cruelty.
 

Britain First believe that they can get away with appealing to people's good nature (abhorrence at animal cruelty) in order to soak up huge numbers of donations from unsuspecting people who imagine that their donations will be used to prevent animal cruelty, rather than fund an extreme-right political party.

In my view Britain First are guilty of obtaining party political donations under false pretenses, and of illegally funding their political party with overseas donations. I have written to the Electoral Commission to ask what they plan to do about it.

                                                
Abusing Lee Rigby's image

One of the most commonly occurring images on the Britain First Facebook page and on the Britain First website is a picture of the murdered soldier Lee Rigby. It is absolutely sickening that they choose to continue desecrating his memory by making him the "poster boy" of their extreme-right hate group despite the objections of his family.

In the 2014 European Elections they even used the phrase "Remember Lee Rigby" as their party description on the ballot papers in Wales. The Electoral Commission were hit by a tidal wave of condemnation for allowing them to use Lee Rigby's name like that, and eventually issued a groveling apology to the Rigby family.

Here's what Lee Rigby's mother had to say about their use of his name on the ballot paper.

"Well yet again can anymore heartbreak be thrown at me and my family, so heartbroken tonight. Electoral commission phoned saying that a party in Wales has stood for election in the European parliament named Britain First using Lee's name to promote their party and some fucker from the commission allowed it to go through but [they] cannot take any action till after the election which is held on my sons anniversary of his murder. Their views are not what Lee believed in and has no support from the family. Their will be a family apology from the electoral commission but cannot be made public till after 22nd of May. Lee's legacy will live on through Team Lee United Forces and all the good I hope to achieve xxxx" [source]
Desecrating the poppy symbol

Another one of Britain First's most disgusting tactics is to desecrate the poppy symbol by using it to raise funds for their extreme-right hate group.

The worst thing about it is that some vulnerable people may see the poppies and think that they're donating to a cause which helps former soldiers, rather than an extreme-right hate group.

The Royal British Legion have been informed that Britain First are using the poppy symbol to sell their tatty jackets and t-shirts, but even if the RBL come out and condemn this tactic in the strongest terms, one would expect Britain First to completely ignore them, just as they completely ignore the suffering they are inflicting on Lyn Rigby.

Outright Lies

Britain First are also guilty of spreading outright lies on their Facebook page. In one widely shared Britain First meme they claim that asylum seekers and illegal immigrants receive £29,900 per year in benefits.

This is blatantly untrue for several obvious reasons:

  • Asylum Seekers and illegal immigrants are not the same thing, so they wouldn't have the same entitlements.
  • Illegal immigrants are not even entitled to benefits. Given that they are in the country illegally they are extremely unlikely to turn up at the Jobcentre asking for benefits.
  • The Tory benefits cap was introduced at £26,000 per year, so it seems more than a little unlikely that they are giving £29,900 per year to illegal immigrants.
The extreme right love to use the argument that "we can't even talk about immigration without being labeled racists and bigots". The problem is of course that they're not just "talking about" immigration, they are spreading outright lies about immigration.

In my view it is unacceptable to label someone a racist or a bigot if they raise legitimate concerns about immigration. However, if they resort to spreading outright lies about the subject in order to stir up resentment and hatred of immigrants, then fire away, because those are clearly the tactics of racists and bigots.

 
Hypocrisy


The admins on the Britain First Facebook page are an appalling bunch of hypocrites. They whine endlessly that their views are under threat from censorship, however they have a policy of purging their page of any critical comments and banning dissenting voices from ever coming back again.

Dozens and dozens of people have told me how they were banned from Britain First for daring to leave non-conformist comments, but you don't have to take my word for it, the Britain First admins are quite open about the way they routinely delete all critical comments.

If you still don't believe it, maybe you should try leaving a couple of politely worded criticisms (you shouldn't use the poppy symbol to raise funds for your own political party) or questions (what exactly have you done with the money raised through your animal welfare appeal?) and see how long it is before you experience the Britain First "delete and ban" treatment yourself.

To harp on and on about "free speech" whilst simultaneously engaging in one of the biggest mass censorship campaigns Facebook has ever seen is such an appalling display of hypocrisy that anyone, no matter what their political orientation, should be shocked by it.

These people hate free speech, and they only ever invoke it to claim that they have the right to do and say whatever they like (conning people out of money with animal cruelty shock tactics, debasing the poppy symbol, making a dead soldier their "poster boy" despite the protestations of his family, telling outright lies).
When it comes to other people's free speech the Britain First admins can't hit the "block and ban" button quickly enough. In their view freedom of speech is the freedom to agree with them, if you happen to disagree with them, then freedom of speech doesn't exist for you.

The fact that they have censored such a huge number of people has inspired me to come up with this "I've been censored by Britain First" certificate
which people can use as their Facebook banner image, because it should be a mark of pride that you've been censored by a bunch of extreme-right hatemongers.

A closed ideology echo chamber
[Main article]

The Britain First Facebook page is a classic example of a closed ideology echo chamber, in which
information, ideas, and beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an enclosed system.

Their policy of routinely purging the page of critical comments and banning dissenting voices demonstrates their commitment to keeping their followers brainwashed in an atmosphere of conformity.

Any group or society in which people who ask awkward questions or present counter-evidence are routinely censored is clearly a closed ideology echo chamber. With over 400,000 followers the Britain First Facebook page is one of the biggest examples of a ruthlessly enforced closed ideology environment in the history of Facebook.

Fascism

               

The American author Laurence Britt defined 14 characteristics of fascist regimes (you can see a copy of his article here). I'll list the 14 characteristics and compare with Britain First policies and strategies.
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Britain First make constant use of patriotic mottoes, slogans, symbols and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the importance of human rights - One of Britain First's most common complaints is against the European Human Rights Act.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - Britain First rally people into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism - Britain First constantly intersperse their posts with posts designed to glorify the military (often in order to sell their own merchandise or convince people to sign up to their organisation).
5. Rampant sexism - Britain First's founder Jim Dowson is strongly opposed to women's reproductive rights. This subject is never mentioned on the Britain First page because it would interfere with their populist appeal.

6. Controlled Mass Media - Thankfully Britain First haven't got to the stage where they can exert any control over the media, however their policy of ruthlessly censoring dissenting opinion on their Facebook page indicates their contempt for freedom of speech and their desire to control the spread of information.

7. Obsession with national security - Britain First are always harping on about threats to national security in order to whip up fear amongst their followers.

8. Religion and ruling elite tied together - Fortunately Britain First are not part of the ruling elite, but it is absolutely clear that they see religion as an integral part of their political mission. Here's a quote from their statement of principles: "Britain First is committed to maintaining and strengthening Christianity as the foundation of our society and culture".

9. Corporate Power is Protected - Britain First like to present themselves as an alternative to globalisation, however their dalliance with the neoliberal Tea Party fringe in the US show that they have more in common with hardline neoliberals than they like to let on. Another indicator that they are no opponents of globalisation is the way they use their Facebook page and website to propagandise for Cadbury's, which was once a British company, but is now owned by the American multinational giant Kraft.

10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated - Britain First make a big deal out of opposing socialism and trade unions as enemy ideologies and they also use their Facebook page to attack the minimum wage.

11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts - The Britain First Facebook page is rife with anti-intellectual comments and infographics.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Britain First are obsessed with crime and punishment, making frequent calls for the death penalty to be re-introduced. Nooses and gallows are recurring motifs on the Britain First page, and they also use public outrage at judicial decisions, in order to con people into donating to their political party.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption - Thankfully Britain First have no political power, so they are not in the position to use their power to enrich themselves and their cronies, but judging by the fact that there is no open process over how appointments are made within the party, and their deceitful fundraising tactics, it's not hard to imagine what Britain would be like if these guys were in charge.

14. Fraudulent elections - Once again, these guys are not in charge of the country, so they haven't got the power to rig elections in their own favour.
Of the fourteen characteristics of fascism identified by Laurence Britt, Britain First meet most of them, and the only ones they don't meet are the ones that it is impossible for them to meet due to their absolute lack of political power.

A national disgrace

        
A severe economic depression followed by the rapid rise of right-wing nationalist extremism and the scapegoating of minority groups seems to be a case of history repeating itself.

An interesting contrast can be made with the rise of the left-wing anti-corruption party Podemos (We Can) in Spain. They have experienced a similar lightning rise in popularity, with their Facebook page passing 500,000 followers within three months of the foundation of the party. But instead of fostering fear and and inciting hatred of minorities, they lay the blame firmly at the door of the corrupt Spanish establishment and propose reforms to put political power back into the hands of the people.

Podemos are committed to fighting corruption and increasing people power through democratic participation. Britain First are committed to parading around on paramilitary style marches, invading mosques, scamming money from unsuspecting people and spreading outright lies.

It's pretty sad that in Spain, a country that was still ruled over by a fascist dictatorship less than 40 years ago, people are looking to a party that presents a real alternative to neoliberalism and corruption, whilst in Britain, a country that has never experience a full-on fascist regime, people are looking to the extreme-right fringe in their hundreds of thousands.

Given the enormous sacrifices made by previous generations in the fight against fascism, it is a national disgrace that right-wing extremism is on the rise in the UK. What makes it even worse is the fact that Britain First use those very sacrifices in order to raise funds for their own brand of right-wing extremism.

The fightback

Given that it is impossible to fight back against Britain First on their own page due to their "delete and ban" censorship policy for all dissenting voices, people who oppose Britain First's brand of right-wing extremism need to find other ways of criticising them. In this section I'll outline a few tactics.

Criticise the shared versions of their images - Britain First can use their admin powers to delete all criticism from the original iterations of their pictures, but they can't delete criticism on the new iterations that are created when their followers share their work. If you see any of your Facebook friends sharing Britain First images, you can leave comments expressing your distaste.

Report them - If you see Britain First using deceitful tactics to raise party donations you can report them to the Electoral Commission. If you see them using poppy images to sell their own merchandise you can report them to the Royal British Legion. If you see any Britain First posts that you consider to be in breech of Facebook terms and conditions, you can report them to Facebook. If you see them using Royal Crests and you suspect they have no permission, you can report them to The Lord Chamberlain's Office. If you see anyone posting unlawful comments on there (such as incitement to murder, racist or religious hate crime, criminal threats ...) you can report the individual to the police. If you see someone using making extremist and offensive statements(using the term "muzrats" to describe Muslims, or calling for a Nazi style holocaust against all Muslims) you can click on their profile and see if their employer is listed and send screen shots of their extremist comments to their employers.

Convince your friends to unlike the page - Clicking this link allows you to find out which of your Facebook friends follow the Britain First page. You could consider sending them a message explaining your objections to this extreme-right hate group and asking them to consider unliking the page (feel free to follow these 3 simple steps if you like).

Spread awareness - You can spread awareness of Britain First's disgustingly hypocritical censorship policy by using this "I've been censored by Britain First" certificate as your Facebook banner.

Laugh at them - There are several Britain First parody pages out there including Britain Furst and Britian First. Sometimes the best thing to do when it comes to the extreme-right fascist fringe is to take the piss out of them and laugh at them.

 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only source of revenue for  Another Angry Voice  is the  PayPal  donations box (which can be found in the right hand column, fairly near the top of the page). If you could afford to make a donation to help keep this site going, it would be massively appreciated.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

An open letter to the Electoral Commission


This is an open letter to Peter Wardle, the Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission, which is the body responsible for regulation of political parties, and political donations in the UK.


Dear Peter Wardle,

I am writing to you in regards to a social media funding campaign which has been conducted by the political party Britain First, an extremist party I'm sure you are very well aware of after widespread condemnation of the Electoral Commission's decision to allow the party to use "Remember Lee Rigby" as their description on European election ballot papers, despite the fact that Lee Rigby's family strongly object to Britain First and their followers desecrating his memory by making him the "poster boy" of their extremist campaign.

The specific issue I would like to draw to your attention to is the way Britain First uses social media in order to collect donations. In my view it is important that this issue is investigated in order to establish whether or not Britain First is guilty of obtaining funding for their party under false pretenses.

The specific funding campaign I am referring to is a widely shared animal cruelty image, which includes an appeal to donate to a Britain First Paypal account so that they can "stop this cruelty!" (see embedded image).

As you can see from the screengrab of this campaign, it has been shared over 790,000 times in just a few days, meaning that it will have been seen in tens of millions of Facebook news feeds.

The fact that this image has been so widely shared means that their appeal for donations in the image description will also have been seen by tens of millions of people, and it is conceivable that a great number of people may have donated to this Britain First Paypal account without even realising that they are funding a political party, let alone an extreme-right political party.

I have a number of questions relating to the way Britain First have been using animal cruelty images to raise funds like this.

1. Does a fundraising campaign which makes no mention of the fact that the organisation receiving the donations is a political party comply with Electoral Commission rules?
2. Does the Electoral Commission have any guidance for political parties in relation to using social media to raise party donations? If so, is the Britain First "help us stop this cruelty!" fundraising campaign in compliance with this guidance?
3. If there is no specific guidance on how political parties can take advantage of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus to collect party donations, does the Electoral Commission have plans to introduce any guidance? 
4. Does the Electoral Commission consider the use of animal cruelty shock tactics an acceptable form of eliciting party political donations?

5. Have Britain First registered the existence of this Paypal fundraising account with the Electoral Commission?

6. Given that
individuals can only donate to UK political parties if they are on a UK electoral register, what steps have Britain First taken (if any) to ensure that donations to their Paypal fundraising account from non-UK registered citizens are returned? 
7. Given that UK political parties are not allowed to accept donations from foreign registered businesses and corporations, what steps have Britain First taken (if any) to ensure that donations to their Paypal fundraising account from non-UK based businesses are returned?
8. Given that all of the donations given to Britain First as a result of this appeal were done under the "help us stop this cruelty!" slogan, are Britain First under any legal obligation to demonstrate how these funds have actually been used to prevent animal cruelty? Or can they just keep these donations and do whatever they like with them?

9. Given that all of the donations given to Britain First as a result of this appeal were done under the "help us stop this cruelty!" slogan, what steps (if any) have Britain First taken to segregate these donations from their general funds?

10. If Britain First are under no legal obligation to segregate the funds raised through this "help us stop this cruelty!" campaign from their general accounts, and they are under no obligation to demonstrate how they have used these funds to prevent animal cruelty, what steps would the Electoral Commission take in order to prevent political parties from collecting political donations under false pretenses like this in future?
In my view these are very important questions about party political funding and I would appreciate a timely response. If any of these ten questions fall outside the remit of the Electoral Commission, I would appreciate it if you could seek responses from the appropriate authorities, or at the very least, advise me of the appropriate authorities so that I can contact them myself.

As a matter of courtesy I am informing you that I have published a copy of this letter on my widely read personal blog, meaning that many of my readers will be as keen to hear your answers as I am.

If you send me a statement of responses to these questions for publication on my blog, I will post it on the blog post beneath this letter.

Yours faithfully

Thomas. G Clark
Author of the Another Angry Voice blog.


Reply from the Electoral Commission

Dear Mr Clark,
Re: Britain First - Animal cruelty campaign

Thank you for your emails to the Commission. The Chief Executive has asked me to reply to you.
The Commission is grateful for you bringing these serious concerns to our attention.  We are in contact with the police in relation to the allegations you raise of potential criminal offences by Britain First.  We are also presently looking into other matters relating to compliance by Britain First with the rules on political party finance that we regulate; and will include the aspects you raise in this regard.  It is not appropriate for the Commission to presently make any comment on the detail of such matters.
I reply below on each of your questions to the Commission on the apparent use by Britain First of animal cruelty images to raise funds:
1. Does a fundraising campaign which makes no mention of the fact that the organisation receiving the donations is a political party comply with Electoral Commission rules? This is not a question of Electoral Commission rules. Rather it is a matter for the police as to whether fraud related criminal offence is being committed. There could possibly also be a charity law concern. We are notifying both the police and the Charity Commission. I would add that the Commission has recommended to government that the law we regulate should be amended to require political parties to clearly identify on their online campaigning material that it is of their political party.
2. Does the Electoral Commission have any guidance for political parties in relation to using social media to raise party donations? If so, is the Britain First "help us stop this cruelty!" fundraising campaign in compliance with this guidance? Yes, we do have full guidance, because the legal framework for a political party raising donations through social media is no different to using any other means (our guidance is published on the Commission’s web-site).That is, the rules equally apply. This means that donations over £500 can only be lawfully accepted by political parties from permissible sources, and there are requirements for reporting donations from individuals above aggregated financial thresholds to us (£1,500 to a party local ‘accounting unit’ or £7,500 to the central party). In addition political parties have further ‘statements of accounts’ reporting requirements to us, which accounts we publish.  All of our guidance, reported donation and statements of accounts are on our web-site. In view of the changing use of social media we keep our guidance under review in this regard.
3. If there is no specific guidance on how political parties can take advantage of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus to collect party donations, does the Electoral Commission have plans to introduce any guidance? Please see answer to 2 above.
4. Does the Electoral Commission consider the use of animal cruelty shock tactics an acceptable form of eliciting party political donations?It is not for the Electoral Commission to express a view on this political party campaigning technique. Our remit here is to regulate and ensure compliance with the rules on accepting and reporting political party donations. We also draw possible wider criminal offences or other apparent breaches of the law to the attention of other appropriate bodies, including the police.
5. Have Britain First registered the existence of this Paypal fundraising account with the Electoral Commission? We take your email to be an allegation that Britain First is not complying with the rules. We will be looking into the matter, including contacting the party. If we conclude the rules have not been properly followed, we will consider sanctioning Britain First and, or its responsible officers.
6. Given that individuals can only donate to UK political parties if they are on a UK electoral register, what steps have Britain First taken (if any) to ensure that donations to their Paypal fundraising account from non-UK registered individuals are returned? Please see answer to 5 above.
7. Given that UK political parties are not allowed to accept donations from foreign registered businesses and corporations, what steps have Britain First taken (if any) to ensure that donations to their Paypal fundraising account from non-UK based businesses are returned? Please see answer to 5 above.
8. Given that all of the donations given to Britain First as a result of this appeal were done under the "help us stop this cruelty!" slogan, are Britain First under any legal obligation to demonstrate how these funds have actually been used to prevent animal cruelty? Or can they just keep these donations and do whatever they like with them? Please see answer to 1 above. That the matter you raise is for the police, does not effect that, as indicated, all donations to a political party are subject to the party financing laws we regulate as to permissibility of donations and reporting to us for publication.
9. Given that all of the donations given to Britain First as a result of this appeal were done under the "help us stop this cruelty!" slogan, what steps (if any) have Britain First taken to segregate these donations from their general funds? Please see answer to 1 above. I would add that segregation of funds (or not) would not avoid the requirement for donations accepted by a political party to be permissible and reported as appropriate to the Commission for publication.
10. If Britain First are under no legal obligation to segregate the funds raised through this "help us stop this cruelty!" campaign from their general accounts, and they are under no obligation to demonstrate how they have used these funds to prevent animal cruelty, what steps would the Electoral Commission take in order to prevent political parties from collecting political donations under false pretenses like this in future? Please see answers to 1 and 5 above.
I trust this reply assures you that the Commission is taking pro-active steps to deal with allegations relating to Britain First.  We will be in contact with you again in due course to let you know where matters get to. The police may also contact you. If you become aware of any other related issues of concern do kindly inform us.

Yours sincerely

Bob Posner

Legal Counsel and Head of Enforcement