Strong government or elected dictatorship?

What’s wrong with giving the conservatives a strong mandate for Brexit?

Theresa May called a snap election to ‘crush the saboteurs’ and this move seemed to be strongly supported by the press.  guardian./crush-the-saboteurs  The list of saboteurs was long and included all the opposition parties, Labour, Lib-Dems, SNP and the House of Lords.  These are the people who have a duty to protect the sovereignty of parliament through debate and challenge.  Then later the EU negotiators appear to have been part of a conspiracy to prevent Mrs May carrying out the wishes of the people to leave the EU by trying to ‘fix the general election’.    the sun/May2017   Enemies without and enemies within – the rhetoric has it that May and the Conservatives must win a landslide victory if they are to deliver Brexit in the face of such opposition.

‘Every vote for the conservatives strengthens my hand’   

The Brexiteers may be delighted by the strength shown by the Prime Minister but many will be worried about the state of our democracy should the conservatives crush all opposition on June 8th.  A strong mandate for Brexit is a strong mandate for the whole conservative agenda.  We have come to expect cuts and austerity along with privatisation in the [false] belief that the government are fixing our broken economy, but there are more sinister items on the Tory agenda which need public scrutiny before the vote on June 8th.

The snoopers charter:

Slipped in after Brexit the Investigatory Powers Act – ‘snoopers charter’ has not received the attention it deserves.  More than 130,000 people signed a petition to have it repealed and the concerned parties included journalists and campaigners who feel it inappropriate that the government can have full access to public internet use without giving any notification.

The new surveillance law requires web and phone companies to store everyone’s web browsing histories for 12 months and give the police, security services and official agencies unprecedented access to the data. It also provides the security services and police with new powers to hack into computers and phones and to collect communications data in bulk. The law requires judges to sign off police requests to view journalists’ call and web records, but the measure has been described as “a death sentence for investigative journalism” in the UK.

guardian/snoopers-charter-bill-becomes-law-extending-uk-state-surveillance

Investigative journalism is an important democratic tool to hold those in power to account.  It would appear that this government are aiming to reduce all opposition to zero and a landslide election would strengthen their arm.

A government with no opposition becomes an elected dictatorship.

The NUJ are alarmed at a range of measures presently being discussed which would effectively criminalise journalists for doing their job.

“This union is deeply concerned at yet another attempt by the UK government to curtail the media. The Investigatory Powers Act has put journalists’ sources at risk now that a large number of authorities have the power to intercept reporters’ emails, mobile phone and computer records. We have plenty of evidence that some police forces routinely used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to get their hands on journalists’ records without their knowledge. The NUJ is also concerned that the Digital Economy Bill, now in Parliament, threatens to undermine journalists sharing information in the public interest.

nuj./will-robustly-defend-the-latest-attempt-to-curtail-press/

This is not their only concern, the Law Commission is proposing to update the Official Secrets Act and this could result in jail terms for investigative journalists who are given access to information, even when this is in the public interest. This will also apply to whistleblowers who speak out in order to protect the public.

The Law Commission has recommended that journalists could be subject to lengthy jail terms, of up to 14 years, under a new definition of espionage which includes obtaining sensitive information, as well as passing it on. Journalists who receive secret information could find themselves prosecuted for simply doing their job.

“Don’t forget it was the present Prime Minister Theresa May who was the ‘Big Sister’ and original architect of the Snoopers’ Charter. We need to protect the public from a government which seems intent on threatening journalists from finding information the government finds inconvenient to be exposed. Democracy is under attack when a government does all it can to do its business in secret.”

As a result, the UK has slipped down the World Press Freedom Index from 21.7 in 2016 to 0.56 today.rsf.org/en/united-kingdom

A survey of broadcast journalists in 2016 found concerns about political interference in the BBC under the guise of  Charter negotiations.

A senior broadcast journalist listed their concerns as: “1. Political interference disguised as licence fee negotiations, 2. Senior management pay and excess alongside below inflation pay for journalists, 3. Failure to hold bullies to account, 4. Unfair recruitment and jobs being given to mates without process.” pressgazette.co.uk/survey/2016

After the Hutton inquiry which concerned the way a critical report was given out by the BBC that the government were aware that the ’45 minute claim’ was known to be false in the lead up to the Iraq war, the BBC has been subjected to increased political interference.  Recently, Sky reporters have revealed that they have been kept out of Conservative party election events due to some negative reporting of their campaign.  This total control of ‘the message’ is a dangerous sign.  buzzfeed.com/jimwaterson/sky-news-and-conservatives?

We can see a gradual shift to government control of all mediums, usually in the name of protecting the public against terrorism. Following the Westminster attack Amber Rudd, Home Secretary revealed that the government were concerned about the use of encrypted data passing through Whatsapp as evidently, the attacker sent a message just before the attack which cannot be accessed by the authorities.  She appears to be saying that steps must be taken to ensure that the authorities can access this secure data via some kind of ‘backdoor’.  Although she accepts that encryption is a necessary aspect of internet security at both individual and national level, there is anxiety that platforms such as Whatsapp are providing places where terrorists can hide.

Security expert Bruce Schneier,  explained to Business Insider the problems of providing backdoor access.

Weakening encryption would make everything people do online less secure. Plus, Schneier suggested, any ban would be extremely difficult to enforce (emphasis ours):

“It gets draconian pretty fast. UK citizens would be banned from using secure software, and UK companies be banned from producing secure software. The government would have to enforce internet censorship: People couldn’t download secure software, search engines couldn’t answer queries about secure software, and every packet would be inspected to ensure it isn’t being encrypted with secure systems. Closed computing systems like iPhone would ban their users from installing secure software, and open computing systems like Microsoft Windows would be redesigned to prohibit users from installing secure software. Free software would be banned. Anyone entering the UK with a phone or computer would have them conform to UK standards, and border control would seize any devices that fail to do so. UK researchers would be prohibited from researching secure systems.”

businessinsider/westminster-terror-attacks-encryption-whatsapp-messaging-uk-2017-3

The final nail in the coffin will be the tight control of the internet so that only the ‘chosen narrative’ is heard.  According to The Independent moves in that direction were included in the Conservative manifesto. Follow this link to see video analysis. 

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/theresa-may-internet-conservatives-government-a7744176.html

Are you getting worried yet?  You should be. 

Many people will shrug away such news with the statement, ‘I haven’t got anything to hide.’  This may well be the case but you do have valuable data which the authorities can mine to discover your likes, interests and internet hits.  This is for direct marketing and if you use the internet for shopping you will know that immediately after browsing you will see targeted ads in your sidebar.  No problem.  Just ignore them.  But what if your internet profile is used to target you with persuasive messages during an election or referendum?   Person-specific messages could be used to swing votes, influence elections from outside and the high costs would not be declared on electoral returns.  There is a direct correlation between money spent and seats won. The party in power would have direct access to such data but not the party out of power.  With no need to count the cost they could they use this to manipulate public opinion.  Forget your flyers and door-knocking – targeted messages directly into your computer day after day would trump them all.

Talking about Trump, the guy who was unelectable and became President of the United States in January.  He used a company called Cambridge Analytica to harvest data and use it for targeted messages throughout his campaign.  An investigative journalist called Carole Cadwalladr has been teasing out the connections between Donald Trump, Eric Schmidt – Chairman of Google,  Alexander Nix – Director of British company SCL Group plus Director of Cambridge Analytica, Robert Mercer – US billionaire hedge fund owner plus Trump’s biggest donor, Steve Bannon – Trump’s chief strategist plus vice-president of Cambridge Analytica, Pro-Brexit campaign groups Veterans for Britain,  Vote Leave and BeLeave, Nigel Farage – UKIP leader and friend of Trump, Mercer and Bannon, Arron Banks – Co-founder of Leave.EU and single biggest donor to leave campaign (£7.5m), old Etonians the Conservative Party and the Russians.   As you can see by this list it has been a complicated web of networks using big money and big data to influence both the US presidential election and the Brexit campaign.  You can read her article in full below and no doubt Carole Cadwalladr would be up on criminal charges for such disclosures under the proposed new powers.

Gavin Millar, a QC and expert in electoral law, described the situation as “highly disturbing”. He believes the only way to find the truth would be to hold a public inquiry. But a government would need to call it. A government that has just triggered an election specifically to shore up its power base. An election designed to set us into permanent alignment with Trump’s America.

great-british-brexit-robbery-how-our-democracy-was-hijacked

You can’t buy an election in Britain – it just wouldn’t happen here. 

Well, it already has.  In 2015 the Conservative Party took a battle bus of party activists to all the marginal seats in the UK.  These members were put up in hotels at party expense and knocked on doors to canvas for the local Conservative candidate.  None of this additional cost was recorded on the electoral return for that candidate which is a criminal offence.  In order to protect our democracy, there are strict spending rules that no single candidate can spend more than £35,000.  The additional cost of the battle bus and activists push this total well over the legal limit.   Twenty-four constituency accounts have been under police scrutiny since 2015.  Evidence then went to the CPS who announced that apart from one case, that of South Thanet, there was insufficient evidence to prosecute on the grounds of deliberate attempt to deceive.   independent/general-election-2017-theresa-may-tory-fraud-investigation-expenses-scandal-cps-decide-press-charges  Although it is unlikely that any prosecutions will follow, it is accepted by all parties that the Conservative party spent over and above the allocated funding by a significant level which calls into doubt the validity of the Tory win in 2015.  The polls predicted a hung parliament and indeed without this inappropriate action,  for which they were fined £70,000, the polls could well have been right. Money buys seats.

The Conservative Party won with a slim majority in 2015 and equally the Brexit vote at 52.5% was a close call.  Both of these campaigns benefitted from significant overspending.   Dominic Cummings, Campaign Director of Vote Leave has written;

And that we, the British people, were played. In his blog, Dominic Cummings writes that Brexit came down to “about 600,000 people – just over 1% of registered voters”. It’s not a stretch to believe that a member of the global 1% found a way to influence this crucial 1% of British voters. The referendum was an open goal too tempting a target for US billionaires not to take a clear shot at.

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This is not about whether or not we should leave the EU, this is about the corruption of democracy.  

Take a look below at some of the recent government votes on ways to control dissenting voices and limit the power of democratically elected local bodies.  Issues such as restricting Charities from campaigning on matters which concern them, such as the return of fox hunting.  Increasing tribunal fees which affects Whistleblowers who have spoken out to protect the public.  Allowing a designated police officer to give the government permission to access data instead of a member of the judiciary.  These all weaken our democracy.

While we are served the mantra of ‘Strong and Stable’ –  Britain is turning into a totalitarian state.  Putting more and more power into the hands of a small number of people.  There is a danger that a far right-wing or for that matter a far-left wing government could use these legislations to close down debate and close down dissent.  Once these rules are established they can be used by the controlling party, whoever is in power.

 Liam Fox could well take over from Theresa May post-Brexit. He was ahead of her in the poll for leadership. 

A strong supporter of British military intervention and Britain’s alliance with the US, the MP is a staunch eurosceptic, has called for “huge restrictions” on abortion, voted against same-sex marriage, and called for the end to ring-fenced funding of the “wasteful” NHS.

He now narrowly leads the pack on a split field – on 20.89 per cent just ahead of Theresa May, who is on 20.6 per cent of the vote.

Independent.co.uk/liam-fox-next-tory-leader

British politics is moving further and further to the right making socialist Corbyn look like an outlier whereas in Finland he would be seen as a moderate.  Once we leave the EU and the Convention on Human Rights the party in power will be able to set all the rules we live by and uphold them without reference to any external body.  That’s what ‘taking back control’ really means. Laws governing worker’s rights can be brought into secondary legislation to be altered later by ‘statutory instruments’ which require no debate in theHousee.   This recent article in the New Statesman gives warning that we could be heading for a single party state if the Conservatives enact their manifesto pledges after June 8th. newstatesman.com/politics/june2017/2017/05/are-conservatives-trying-change-rules-politics-so-they-never-lose-again

left centre right

 Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton voted with the government on every issue since 2015.  He is a member of the right-wing Free Enterprise Group who feel that ‘the British are among the worst idlers in the world’ and want to us move towards the ‘work ethics of Asia’  under an ‘austerity max’ agenda.  “We can all graft,” says Raab.  guardian./Britannia-unchained-rise-of-new-tory-right  This is a race to the bottom.  Mr Raab has campaigned vigorously on installing a new bill of British Rights to replace the Internal Human Rights legislation.   dominic-raab-leads-reform-of-human-rights-act-and-why-this-worries-me/

 Here is a summary of his votes. 

mass surveilance

charities can't campaign

 

removal of human rights appealrise in court feessnoopers chartersnoopers charter 2local democracyagainst refugeessnoopers charter 3