James Cusick https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/21489/all cached version 22/06/2018 22:25:09 en UK Government minister hides leading role with hard Brexit group https://www.opendemocracy.net/james-cusick-jenna-corderoy-peter-geoghegan/uk-government-minister-hides-leading-role-with-hard-brex <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><span style="color: #222222; font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: small;">Exclusive: Steve Baker accused of playing "fast and loose" with ministerial rules after openDemocracy investigation finds Brexit minister had undisclosed meetings with European Research Group</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/565030/8751307602_12ffa71b4d_k.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/565030/8751307602_12ffa71b4d_k.jpg" alt="Brexit Minister Steve Baker at an annual 'weighing in' ceremony in High Wycombe" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Brexit Minister Steve Baker at an annual &#39;weighing in&#39; ceremony in High Wycombe, 2013. Image: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/sjbaker/8751308006/in/photolist-ekdYqe-ekjJH5-ekjJYN-ekjJYL-ekjJRQ-bjV2To-a64JDr-a64K8B-a67A9E-a64JMc-a64JXz-a64Jx2-a67zDU-a67ym1-a64HRi-a64Gen-a67ygq-a67zn3-a64JnF-a67zYS-a67zQ9-a64Gp4-a67z6S-a67zHN-a64JjD-a64HUt-a64Jdn-a64HhZ-a64F8k-a67xyE-a64FHz-a67x1f/" target="_blank">Steve Baker</a> (CC-BY-2.0) </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">The Cabinet Secretary has been asked to investigate the conduct of Brexit minister, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/new-brexit-minister-arms-industry-american-hard-right-and-e">Steve Baker</a>, after an openDemocracy investigation revealed that he had undisclosed meetings with the European Research Group, an influential group of Conservative MPs who want a hard, no-deal exit from the European Union.</p><p dir="ltr">Baker, an arch Brexiteer, was chair of the ERG before being promoted last year into David Davis’s Department for Exiting the European Union. But the Tory minister continues to play a leading role in the ERG, attending private meetings of the anti-EU group in Westminster and corresponding regularly with ERG members, including current chairman, Jacob Rees-Mogg.</p><p dir="ltr">In contravention of <a href="https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/672633/2018-01-08_MINISTERIAL_CODE_JANUARY_2018__FINAL___3_.pdf">ministerial rules</a>, none of these meetings nor Baker’s correspondence with ERG MPs has been included in transparency records published by DExEU.</p><p dir="ltr">Through a sequence of Freedom of Information requests sent to DExEU, and in discussions held with senior Whitehall sources, openDemocracy has established how Baker avoided publicly disclosing his continuing links with the ERG by claiming his attendance at their private events “were not in his capacity as a minister” and therefore did not need to be listed in quarterly disclosures of relevant meetings.</p><h2>'Reporting Brexit'</h2><p dir="ltr">At one ERG breakfast meeting held on October 17 last year in Terrace Dining Room C in Westminster, Baker was in the audience alongside twenty ERG MPs. The agenda of the meeting was ‘Reporting Brexit’.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564977/Screen Shot 2018-06-22 at 15.05.32.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564977/Screen Shot 2018-06-22 at 15.05.32.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="408" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>A senior political journalist from a pro-Brexit newspaper gave a brief speech about his perceptions of the Brexit process so far. This was followed by a question-and-answer session. Baker did not speak but was described as “quietly attentive” by one attendee.</p><p dir="ltr">Also in attendance was Suella Braverman [<span>née</span>&nbsp;Fernandes] who chaired the ERG before being promoted in January this year to a ministerial role alongside Baker at DExEU. Braverman last year gave an embarrassing <a href="https://www.channel4.com/news/conservative-mp-suella-fernandes-warns-theresa-may-not-to-keep-britain-in-single-market">interview</a> to Channel 4 News where she claimed the membership list of the ERG was publicly available, but then refused to give any details, effectively saying the make up of the ERG was known only to its members.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 16.57.51.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 16.57.51.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="340" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Suella Fernandes. Image, Channel4, fair use.</span></span></span></p><p>Baker’s appearance at this meeting was not disclosed as part of DExEU’s routine transparency obligations. Although the gathering was titled ‘Reporting Brexit’ and therefore clearly part of Baker’s ministerial territory, his officials nevertheless said he had not been attending “in his capacity as a DExEu minister.”</p><p dir="ltr">Within a few days of the ERG breakfast, there were renewed media <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/24/britain-can-still-cancel-brexit-no-dealers-have-no-friends-brussels/">reports</a> that Theresa May needed to do more planning for a “no deal” Brexit.<br /><br />Of other events hosted by ERG over the last 18 months, DExEU would only confirm Baker had not attended as a “minister”.<br /><br />Officials also confirmed they held correspondence between Baker and MPs known to be members of the ERG. The department said the exchanges were private and did not have be disclosed, but insisted they were committed to transparency “wherever possible.”</p><p dir="ltr">Last year <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick-adam-ramsay-crina-boros/revealed-tory-mps-using-taxpayers-cash-to-fund-sec">openDemocracy revealed</a> that more than £250,000 of public money was being used to fund the ERG, an 80-strong private caucus of Tory MPs that is widely regarded as a party-within-a-party.</p><p dir="ltr">Baker is acknowledged as the ideologically-driven MP who turned the ERG from being an ignored backbench talking shop into a formidable group demanding a complete break with Europe and an end to what he called “the EU’s despotism”. They have also been described as holding Theresa May hostage over any attempts to water down Brexit.</p><p dir="ltr">When Baker became a DExEu minister after the 2017 general election, the chair role was passed to Suella Braverman, an inexperienced MP. When she was promoted, Jacob Rees-Mogg took over. However, Baker is still regarded by many in the ERG as its behind-the-scenes driving force, with Rees-Mogg merely an effective public face.</p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">“This isn’t just a bend or a twist of the rules of the game. This is ignoring an established code.”</p><p dir="ltr">Ben Bradshaw, the former Culture Secretary in Gordon Brown’s Labour government, who has raised previous concerns about Baker, has written to Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood, and to the permanent secretary at DExEU, Philip Rycroft, for an explanation.</p><p dir="ltr">Bradshaw told openDemocracy: “I wrote and tabled parliamentary questions for months about undisclosed meetings Mr Baker held with the controversial hard Brexit lobbying organisation, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/peter-geoghegan/legatum-who-are-brexiteers-favourite-think-tank-and-who-is-behind-them">Legatum</a>, which he failed to answer, only for it to be revealed that he indeed had numerous meetings with this organisation which he had not declared.”</p><p dir="ltr">Some Whitehall officials with knowledge of Baker’s movements and political associations are also “unhappy” about how the ministerial code is being applied inside Davis’s department. One told openDemocracy: “This isn’t just a bend or a twist of the rules of the game. This is ignoring an established code.”</p><p dir="ltr">Ministerial rules forbid membership of parliamentary groups, or the offer of formal support to pressure groups dependent on government funding. If a minister is discussing government business without an official being present, this has to be disclosed by their department.</p><p dir="ltr">The Labour MP Ian Murray, a leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign to hold a second referendum on the final Brexit deal between the UK and the EU, told openDemocracy: “Steve Baker’s behaviour raises serious questions about his conduct as a minister and reveals the political chaos and factionalism at the heart of the Government.”</p><p dir="ltr">Murray said that although Baker was taking a ministerial salary, he seemed to be playing factional games using public money. “It is remarkable that the Prime Minister lets this behaviour carry on. She is so politically trapped that she won’t act even when ministers are playing fast and loose with collective responsibility.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/565030/Letter to Philip Rycroft.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/original_size/wysiwyg_imageupload/565030/Letter to Philip Rycroft.jpg" alt="The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw's letter to Philip Rycroft, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union." title="" width="600" height="848" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-original_size" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw's letter to Philip Rycroft, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union.</span></span></span>Last month it emerged that Baker held undisclosed meetings with <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexspence/steve-baker-brexit-meetings-shanker-singham?utm_term=.fvKGKxO7XK#.ch9XJP61YJ">Shankar Singham,</a> the former Washington lobbyist who reinvented himself as a trade economist and until recently ran a trade unit at the Legatum Institute.</p><p dir="ltr">Singham is now director of the international trade and competition unit at the Institute for Economic Affairs. He has said that a UK free of all trade ties with the EU could help boost the world economy by $2 trillion over the next 15 years. Many economists disagree.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite transparency rules intended to reveal who Baker, as a minister, was talking to, <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexspence/steve-baker-brexit-meetings-shanker-singham?utm_term=.xbbbJnZo5#.gjv6x0PKk">Buzzfeed</a> reported that Baker and Singham had a number of meetings at Legatum’s Mayfair offices. DExEU claim Baker and Singham have been friends since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and as such their meetings have been ‘social’ and therefore outside disclosure regulations.</p><p dir="ltr">Baker is the only MP registered as having accepted a donation from the Constitutional Research Council, the shadowy group that gave the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/you-aren-t-allowed-to-know-who-paid-for-key-leave-campaign-adverts">DUP’s Brexit campaign</a> more than £425,000. In December 2016, the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/01/brexit-minister-linked-to-group-that-used-loophole-to-channel-435000-to-dup">CRC gave Baker £6,500</a> to “fund hospitality for ERG members and their staff” at a pre-Christmas event.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick-adam-ramsay-crina-boros/revealed-tory-mps-using-taxpayers-cash-to-fund-sec">Revealed: The Tory MPs using taxpayers’ cash to fund a secretive hard-Brexit group</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/mps-demand-full-investigation-of-hard-brexit-backing-tory-party-within-par">MPs demand full investigation of hard-Brexit backing Tory &quot;party within a party&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay/tory-ministers-taxpayer-cash-hard-Brexit-erg">MPs demand ‘urgent investigation’ into Cabinet ministers&#039; support for hard-Brexit lobby group</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk Peter Geoghegan Jenna Corderoy James Cusick Fri, 22 Jun 2018 15:55:11 +0000 James Cusick, Jenna Corderoy and Peter Geoghegan 118549 at https://www.opendemocracy.net George Osborne’s Evening Standard delays controversial Uber, Google deal https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/george-osborne-london-evening-standard-delays-google-uber-deal <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the wake of ‘cash for column inches’ scandal and calls for Osborne to resign, newspaper denies that £3 million 'paid-for news' deal has been ditched</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/osborne creepy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/osborne creepy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Evening Standard editor and former Chancellor George Osborne. Credit: Matt Cardy/PA Images, all rights reserved&nbsp;</em></p><p>George Osborne’s London Evening Standard has abandoned the scheduled launch of its controversial £3 million campaign, just days after openDemocracy revealed companies such as <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/george-osborne-s-london-evening-standard-promises-positive-news-coverage-to-uber-goo">Uber and Google had been promised “money can’t buy” news coverage</a> as part of the lucrative deal.</p> <p>openDemocracy understands that the London 2020 project was planned to be given a fanfare launch in the Evening Standard today. It was to include high-profile, high-impact announcements and ambitious promises on housing, tech, and measures to combat pollution scattered throughout the paper. </p> <p>Six signed-up partners, each paying £500,000, had been promised positive news and “favourable” coverage that would continue “for the next two years” as part of the 2020 deal. </p> <p>A “transformation of the capital” into an “economic powerhouse, environmentally and socially sustainable and fit for future” was part of the “editorial” launch. </p> <p>However when the first copies of the paper arrived at rail and underground stations this afternoon, there was no mention of the project. </p> <p>Although Evening Standard’s owners ESI Media say they have not ditched the project, there is now no firm launch date. </p> <p>Since openDemocracy first revealed details of the controversial 2020 deal last week, there has been <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/green-party-leader-says-claim-by-george-osborne-s-evening-standard-that-it-never-blu">a storm of outrage over the project</a>, which effectively sweeps away the ethical dividing line between independent editorial and advertising. </p> <p>The ‘cash for column inches’ scandal has seen calls for George Osborne, the former UK chancellor who led the project, to resign as editor of the Standard. Others called for the Standard – which distributes 900,000 copies throughout Greater London – to be banned from valued distribution points outside London Underground and rail stations; and for the Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA) to take action against ESI Media, the Standard’s parent company owned by Russian oligarchs Alexander and Evgeny Ledbedev, for breaking one of the ASA’s key rules that news cannot appear as editorial content “when it is not.”</p> <p>openDemocracy asked ESI Media to comment on why the planned London 2020 launch had been called off, if any commercial partners had pulled out of the project, and whether Osborne had been forced into a complete rethink given the public outrage and widespread negative coverage across UK print and broadcast media. </p> <p>A spokesman for ESI Media said: “You have been misinformed. ESI Media and our partners are committed to launching the London 2020 project and are excited about the potential it holds to deliver tangible change in improving the lives of Londoners. There has been no fixed date for the project to start. We are looking forward to launching the project to our readers during the summer.” </p> <h2>Bigger problems afoot?</h2> <p>openDemocracy has now learned of other developments which could spell trouble for ESI.</p> <p>Back in 2016, ESI sold the i newspaper to the Johnston Press group. As part of that deal with Johnston, the i signed up to a two-year deal that gives it access to content generated by the Evening Standard and the online Independent. </p> <p>openDemocracy has now learned that the “i-Standard-Independent” content deal remains in place, but that negotiations over its renewal have now stalled. </p> <p>A spokesman for Johnston Press said they would not be commenting on whether there was a plan to renew the content deal or not. </p> <p>A source with knowledge of the Johnston-ESI negotiations said there were a number of straightforward “journalistic reasons” why renewal of the 2016 deal was unlikely. However the source said that although the i had previously taken content from the Standard, that was forecast to stop “given the current atmosphere.”</p> <p>Outrage over the 2020 project, and the negative press generated by openDemocracy’s investigation, has seen Osborne’s editorship rendered toxic by many industry analysts who see the ‘church-state’ divide between news and advertising as critical to the future of newspapers. </p> <p>The extent of the financial difficulties being faced inside ESI is not fully known. There are new reports that the local television station, London Live, which barely registers on audience-research evaluations and continues to lose ESI millions each year, has been put up for sale. </p> <h2>“PR death”</h2> <p>Both the tech-giant Google and the international taxi-app firm, Uber, though formally asked to comment on their decision to take part in the London 2020 project, have so far remained silent. </p> <p>A number of companies chose not to be involved. One of them was the coffeehouse giant, Starbucks. The company told openDemocracy it had met with ESI Media, but had decided not to take the matter further. A company executive told openDemocracy privately that it did not “buy” its reputation and called the idea of paid-for news “PR death.”</p> <p>ESI Media have denied that they crossed the editorial-advertising divide and insisted that “editorial independence is and remains guaranteed in the contracts we sign.”</p> <p>However the co-leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, scrutinised the Standard’s 2017 coverage connected to a commercial deal with the Swiss-agri-chem giant,<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/james-cusick-crina-boros/how-gm-giant-bought-control-of-what-millions-of-londoners-read"> Syngenta</a>. She said the ESI claims that it had never crossed the ad-ed ethical divide did “<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/green-party-leader-says-claim-by-george-osborne-s-evening-standard-that-it-never-blu">not stack up</a>”.</p> <p>She urged Osborne and the Standard to “come clean” about its “hidden commercial agendas.”</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/james-cusick/george-osborne-s-london-evening-standard-promises-positive-news-coverage-to-uber-goo">George Osborne’s London Evening Standard sells its editorial independence to Uber, Google and others – for £3 million</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/james-cusick/green-party-leader-says-claim-by-george-osborne-s-evening-standard-that-it-never-blu">Osborne’s Evening Standard ‘cash for column inches’ denials ‘do not stack up’ – says Caroline Lucas</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk openMedia James Cusick Tue, 05 Jun 2018 16:20:59 +0000 James Cusick 118255 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Osborne’s Evening Standard ‘cash for column inches’ denials ‘do not stack up’ – says Caroline Lucas https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/green-party-leader-says-claim-by-george-osborne-s-evening-standard-that-it-never-blu <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Green Party leader calls on London paper to ‘come clean’ about its hidden commercial agendas – citing another lucrative sponsorship deal with GM giant Syngenta</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Osborne_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Osborne_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>George Osborne, editor of the Evening Standard. Image, YouTube, fair use.</span></span></span></p><p>In the wake of our <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/george-osborne-s-london-evening-standard-promises-positive-news-coverage-to-uber-goo">damaging revelations about a lucrative “money can’t buy’ deal with Uber and Google</a>, George Osborne’s London Evening Standard has denied it has ever put a price on independent news and comment. But Green Party leader Caroline Lucas says the Standard’s claim never to have “crossed the line” dividing editorial from advertising does “not stack up” after she examined coverage from a paid-for news deal with Swiss agri-chem giant, Syngenta. </p><p>Osborne, the former chancellor of the exchequer who took over as editor of the London free-sheet last year, is facing calls to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/31/george-osborne-edit-evening-standard">resign</a>, and for the paper to be <a href="https://twitter.com/tomcopley/status/1001925847673122817">banned</a> from valued distribution points outside London’s huge underground tube network.&nbsp; </p> <p>The widespread criticism of Osborne and his editorship follows an openDemocracy<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/george-osborne-s-london-evening-standard-promises-positive-news-coverage-to-uber-goo"> investigation</a> which revealed details of a £3 million deal between ESI Media – the commercial division of the Standard and Independent online – and six major companies each paying £500,000 to secure, among other advertorial promises, “money-can’t-buy” positive news and “favourable” comment pieces. </p> <p>The international taxi-app firm, Uber, and the global tech giant, Google, are two of the companies who signed up to a project called London 2020. Due to be launched on June 5, 2020 has a highly political social agenda involving clean air, a reduction in plastic pollution, a schools and work-tech programme and improvements in housing. </p> <h2><strong>Syngenta deal</strong></h2> <p>Although the Standard and ESI Media this week claimed “independence” was at the heart of “everything we do”, in 2017 the in-house ‘ESI Live’ events team concluded a <a href="http://esimedia.co.uk/esilive/">“partnership</a>” worth upwards of £100,000 with Syngenta. </p> <p>openDemocracy investigated the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/james-cusick-crina-boros/how-gm-giant-bought-control-of-what-millions-of-londoners-read">Syngenta</a> deal earlier this year. A series of effectively one-sided public “debates” on the “<a href="https://www.standard.co.uk/Front/evening-standard-food-debate-technology-is-solution-to-sustainable-food-problem-a3496951.html">Future of Food”</a> was chaired by the then editor. Staff news reporters covered the debates for the paper, which heavily pushed Syngenta’s food technology credentials as a producer of genetically modified (GM) crop seeds. </p><p>And crucially, positive news coverage of Syngenta and its pro-GM agenda was published in the news pages of the Evening Standard, with no indication to readers that this was part of a paid-for deal.</p> <h2><strong>More PR than debate</strong></h2> <p>Although the one-sided debate coverage was branded with the Syngenta logo, other articles published in the news section carried no branding. In one <a href="https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/hungry-for-solutions-the-scientists-trying-to-satisfy-londons-soaring-demand-for-food-a3484261.html">piece</a>, headlined “Hungry for solutions: scientists trying to satisfy London’s soaring demand for food” the Standard’s news and technology correspondent praised Syngenta, its laboratories, its net income, and the benefits of GM. It stated that those who fear GM have a “suspicion of technology.” It reads like a PR hand-out – with readers never explicitly told this was paid-for news.<br /><br />Another <a href="https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/global-food-challenge-has-obvious-solution-says-boss-of-leading-italy-manufacturer-a3629136.html">article</a> in September 2017, published after Osborne had become editor, was headlined “Global food challenge has obvious solution, says boss of leading Italy manufacturer.” Although appearing to be a story about a farmer with links to Italy’s pasta industry, it is, according to one communications analyst contacted by openDemocracy, “little more than dressed up PR.”</p> <p>Throughout the entire period of the deal with Syngenta, the Standard carried no details of a multi-billion <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syngenta-ag-settlement/syngenta-agrees-to-settle-u-s-farmer-lawsuits-over-gmo-corn-idUSKCN1C12K8">law suit</a> the company was facing in the United States, and no reference to the large scale lobbying being conducted by the firm over the potential changes in <a href="https://www.burges-salmon.com/news-and-insight/legal-updates/how-the-uks-food-safety-and-integrity-regime-might-change-post-brexit/">food laws</a> likely to follow the UK’s exit from the EU. </p> <p>Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, said “If the Standard wants to be trusted as a source of news it needs to be crystal clear about always letting readers know whether there’s any financial incentives lurking behind content that they print.”</p> <h2><strong>Call to ‘come clean’</strong></h2> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/caroline lucas_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/caroline lucas_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="336" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Caroline Lucas. Image, Greens2017.org</span></span></span></p><p>Examining the Evening Standard’s Syngenta coverage, Lucas observed: “I am not convinced that their claim to have never crossed the line that divides editorial from advertising, stacks up on scrutiny.” She added: “They have to come clean about news stories advocating the perspective of a sponsor or the promotion of a commercial agenda.”</p> <p>Earlier this year at a festival of international journalism in <a href="https://www.journalismfestival.com/programme/2018/open-science-the-key-role-of-the-media">Perugia</a>, Italy, a senior executive from Syngenta, Luigi Radaelli, the company’s head of strategy and business sustainability, took part in a debate on “fake news”. Syngenta said it had chosen to take part in the debate to “promote proper scientific information at all levels.” No mention was made of its commercial deal with the Standard for positive news and comment during the public debates and in the pages of the London paper.</p> <p>The Evening Standard and Independent online are owned by Moscow-based oligarch, Alexander Lebedev, and run in London by his son Evgeny. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The “partnerships” for London 2020 are expected, according to a company source, to follow a similar pattern. </p> <h2><strong>‘Money-can’t-buy’ offer</strong></h2> <p>openDemocracy obtained the full presentation given to potential corporate partners for the London 2020 project, which stated there would be a “bespoke commercial” package alongside the “money-can’t buy” offer of news, comment and “high profile backers.” </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/photo.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/photo.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span> </p><p>The coffee giant, Starbucks, confirmed to openDemocracy that it had “met with ESI but had opted not to move forward with the project.” A senior executive called the idea of “buying” a reputation “PR death”. </p> <p>No response from either Uber or Google has been received by openDemocracy at the time of publishing. </p> <h2><strong>Reaction: Anger, shock and calls for resignation</strong></h2> <p>The response to openDemocracy’s investigation of London 2020 has ranged from anger to astonishment. Many focused on Osborne crossing an established ethical line.&nbsp; </p><p>Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, tweeted: “This is cash for column inches and amounts to a corporate fake news factory on a grand scale. If even vaguely true, George Osborne’s position as a credible editor is under serious question today."</p> <p>Lord Prescott, the former deputy prime minister under Tony Blair, also called the details behind the 2020 project “cash for column inches.”</p> <p>George Monbiot, the Guardian’s environment columnist, simply said “There is a word for this – corruption.”</p> <p>The Times columnist, Jenni Russell, said that Osborne “should resign”. She called the commercial details of the 2020 deal “unbelievable”.</p> <p>Paul Mason, the former Newsnight political journalist and activist, said in his 25-plus years in media he had worked with “some real editorial sharks, but none were prepared to blur the ad/ed [advertising and independent editorial] line. “</p> <p>Natalie Bennett, a former journalist and former leader of the Green Party, said “If Osborne is allowed to stay as in his job, it is the end of mainstream journalism.”</p> <p>The former newspaper executive and media consultant, Grant Feller, writing in the Guardian, said Osborne’s multiple business interests had left him “compromised” as an editor and someone no longer worthy of being trusted. </p> <p>Geoff Mulgan, Tony Blair’s director of policy in 10 Downing Street, now chief executive of Nesta (National Endowment for the Science, Technology and the Arts) said: “A very serious ethical line has been crossed here – a test for public norms whether George Osborne feels impelled to back down.”</p> <p>Tom Copley, Labour’s housing spokesman on the London Assembly, said he would be asking London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, whether it was appropriate for the Evening Standard to continue to be distributed at tube stations.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/james-cusick/george-osborne-s-london-evening-standard-promises-positive-news-coverage-to-uber-goo">George Osborne’s London Evening Standard sells its editorial independence to Uber, Google and others – for £3 million</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk James Cusick Sat, 02 Jun 2018 05:00:00 +0000 James Cusick 118212 at https://www.opendemocracy.net George Osborne’s London Evening Standard sells its editorial independence to Uber, Google and others – for £3 million https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/george-osborne-s-london-evening-standard-promises-positive-news-coverage-to-uber-goo <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Exclusive: Newspaper promised six commercial giants “money-can’t-buy” news coverage in a lucrative deal, leaving millions of Londoners unaware of who’s paying for their news.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/osborne standard 2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/osborne standard 2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: George Osborne arriving at the Evening Standard offices. Credit: Victoria Jones/PA Images, all rights reserved</em></p><p>London’s Evening Standard newspaper, edited by the former chancellor George Osborne, has agreed a £3 million deal with six leading commercial companies, including Google and Uber,&nbsp;promising them “money-can’t-buy” positive news and “favourable” comment coverage, openDemocracy can reveal. </p> <p>The project, called London 2020, is being directed by Osborne. It effectively sweeps away the conventional ethical divide between news and advertising inside the Standard – and is set to include “favourable” news coverage of the firms involved, with readers unable to differentiate between "news" that is paid-for and other commercially-branded content.</p> <p>Leading companies, most operating global businesses, were given detailed sales presentations by Evening Standard executives at the newspaper’s west London offices in an effort to sign them up to the lucrative deal.</p> <p>Among those that have paid half a million pounds each to be involved are international taxi-app firm Uber, which is facing an imminent court appeal against the decision to cancel its licence to operate in London. The Evening Standard has previously come under fire for not declaring <span>Osborne’s £650,000-a-year part time job with the fund managers BlackRock, who hold a £500m </span>stake in Uber. </p> <p>The global tech giant, Google, still recovering from reputational damage over its low UK tax bills and criticism over its <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/27/cameron-too-close-to-google-say-critics-130m-tax-deal">close relationship to the Cameron-Osborne government</a>, has also signed up.</p> <p>Some companies, including Starbucks, walked away from the Evening Standard’s pitch, rejecting the offer of paying to boost their reputations through tailored news and comment.</p> <p>London 2020 is scheduled to start on June 5. Unbranded news stories, expected to be written by staff reporters – but paid for by the new commercial “partners” as part of the 2020 deal – have already been planned for inclusion in the paper’s news pages within a week of the project’s launch.</p><h2>A big commercial pay-off</h2> <p>The London Evening Standard has a circulation of close to 900,000 and distributes more copies within a two-mile radius of Westminster than the Times does across the UK nationally. Many London commuters, who pick up their free copy of the Standard at underground and rail stations, will be unaware that they will be reading paid-for news coverage that is part of a wider commercial deal. </p> <p>An increasing number of British newspapers often carry “native advertising”, essentially paid-for commercials designed to look like independent editorial articles. </p> <p>Although the 2020 campaigns will involve branded, native and advertorial pages, along with public debates hosted by the Standard, the six partners have also been promised the Standard will carry “money-can’t-buy” positive news and “favourable” comment pieces that will appear to readers as routine, independently written editorial. </p> <p>By the established industry definition of “news” – which makes or breaks a newspaper’s integrity and its editor’s reputation – a commercial pay-off is supposed to play no part.</p><p class="mag-quote-left">"...something you might do in Saudi Arabia, but not here</p> <p>One Starbucks senior executive, who asked not to be named, told openDemocracy: “Buying positive news coverage is PR death…something you might do in Saudi Arabia, but not here. This wasn’t right for us. We do engage in advertorial [a hybrid mix of advertising and editorial] but that’s just marketing. We don’t need to buy our reputation.”</p> <p>A formal statement from Starbucks confirmed that the company "had met with ESI and opted not to move forward with the project".</p><p>A spokesman for ESI Media said that the “allegations about the Evening Standard are baseless and wrong.”</p> <p>“We would never offer ‘positive news’ coverage and ‘favourable’ comment as part of a commercial deal. The Evening Standard’s editorial integrity and independence is always at the heart of everything we do and is beyond question. That’s why we have such a big and loyal readership.</p> <p>“No commercial agreement would ever include ‘favourable’ news coverage. Like all British newspapers, the Evening Standard has valued commercial partners and works with them on specific campaigns for the benefit of our readers. Indeed, editorial independence is and remains guaranteed in the contracts we sign.”</p> <p>openDemocracy contacted Uber and Google for their comments on the London 2020 project. At the time of publishing, no response had been received from either.</p> <h2>‘Improving London for the benefit of all’?</h2> <p>Uber’s involvement offers further conflicts-of-interest for George Osborne. The world’s largest fund manager, BlackRock, pays Osborne £650,000 a year for a one-day-a-week role as an adviser. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/sep/25/evening-standard-urged-to-declare-osbornes-job-with-uber-shareholder">BlackRock</a> also has an investment stake in Uber worth £500m. </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/OSBORNE TWEET.PNG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/OSBORNE TWEET.PNG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="607" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Twitter/Fair use</em></p><p>Google’s decision to involve itself in this paid-for news deal will also raise eyebrows, given the objectives of its <a href="https://newsinitiative.withgoogle.com/dnifund/">Digital News Initiative</a> in Europe. The DNI has a budget of €150 million over the next three years. Google have stated their aim is to “combat misinformation and disinformation” and “help consumers distinguish fact from fiction online”.</p> <p>London 2020 involves six “themed projects” running for two years. These include politicised initiatives on clean air, plastic pollution, schools and workplace tech and a project designed to address London’s housing crisis. The six 2020 “partners” have each paid half a million pounds to head projects that will be sold to Standard readers as “improving London for the benefit of all.”</p> <p>In language lifted directly from Osborne’s years as head of the UK Treasury in David Cameron’s government, the project was presented to potential partners as aiming to highlight London as an “innovative and economic powerhouse” which is “fit for the future”. </p> <p>The paid-for campaigns will conclude close to the date of the next London mayoral elections in 2020. Partners have been promised the Standard will be “dedicated to delivering” the aims of the six projects over the next two years. </p> <h2>‘Theatrically-constructed news’</h2> <p>As part of the sales pitch at the Evening Standard’s West London offices, would-be partners were told to expect campaigns that will “generate numerous news stories, comment pieces and high-profile backers”. </p> <p>One executive with knowledge of the project said that the paying partners were told that their company’s own planned communications and marketing strategies could be coordinated with the Standard’s news coverage. The Standard would trail positive “news” from the six 2020 partners, with other news organisations and media outlets expected to follow.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/money can&#039;t buy.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/money can&#039;t buy.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Presentation given by Evening Standard executives promising companies “money-can’t-buy” news and comment stories&nbsp;</em></p><p class="MsoNormal">Another executive was told the “money-can’t-buy” campaigns in the Standard aimed to create “news that will make news, but news that comes with a positive message.” According to one insider: “What was being offered was clear – theatrically constructed news, showing everything good being done.”</p><p class="mag-quote-right">“What was being offered was clear – theatrically constructed news, showing everything good being done.”</p> <p>Uber, for its half-million fee, will be given the branded lead role in the “clean air project” which is supposed to highlight the benefits of “cleaner transport” and of turning London “electric” by 2020. </p> <p>Starbucks was offered the “plastic pollution project” which claims it will be “lobbying to sharply reduce London’s single-use plastic consumption.” The coffee company refused to sign up, telling Standard executives they already had their own plans. </p> <p>Google’s fee will cover parts of the schools and work tech projects. Both involve the promised promotion of digital skills and the development of a “network of digital training hubs.”</p> <p>For their £3 million the partners have also been promised a special monthly print section themed to individual projects; a “bespoke” social media strategy including readers polls; and public debates, exhibitions and large-scale events organised by the Standard. </p> <p>The deal is also set to include “specially created wraps”, where the front and back pages of the newspaper become a large showcase advert, along with special “native advertising” that matches the form and design of the Standard’s editorial pages. </p> <p>Last week all the department heads in the Standard, including the news and comment editors, were given their first sight of the London 2020 project. Until then Osborne had confined the project to a small core team. </p> <h2>End of ‘church and state’ divide</h2> <p>Earlier this year openDemocracy exposed a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/james-cusick-crina-boros/how-gm-giant-bought-control-of-what-millions-of-londoners-read">similar paid-for deal at the Evening Standard involving the Swiss bio-chem and agriculture company, Syngenta</a>. Positive news coverage and skewed public debates were part of the arrangement with the commercial division of the Standard, ESI Media.</p> <p>Staff news reporters were involved in the Syngenta coverage which included telling Standard readers how GM crops would help solve the world’s food problems – without mentioning ESI’s lucrative deal with the GM-producing giant Syngenta.</p> <p>ESI Media, owned by the Moscow-based oligarch, Alexander Lebedev and run in London by his son Evgeny, also governs the UK’s online Independent newspaper, which is located in the same Kensington office as the Standard. </p> <p>The group commercial director of ESI, <a href="http://www.thedrum.com/news/2016/10/12/what-does-esi-media-mean-when-it-says-it-wants-start-acting-media-business-rather-ad">Jon O’Donnel</a>l, has previously said ESI no longer sees itself as just involved in advertising, but was now a “media business”. O’Donnell has also said the once “strict divide between the so-called ‘church and state’ [editorial and advertising] was doing more harm than good.” </p> <h2>‘Converting PR into news – for a price’ </h2> <p>Details of London 2020 and Osborne’s lead role in driving the project has brought criticism from leading media commentators and industry figures. </p> <p>The journalist and broadcaster, Peter Oborne, currently associate editor of The Spectator and a political columnist with the Daily Mail, resigned as the chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. He alleged there was an unscrupulous relationship between the editorial and advertising departments at the Telegraph, which led to the suppression of negative stories about the global banking giant HSBC because it was a major source of revenue. His <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/peter-oborne/why-i-have-resigned-from-telegraph">resignation letter</a> was published by openDemocracy. The Telegraph dismissed Oborne’s claims. </p> <p>Speaking in reaction to the London 2020 deal, he told openDemocracy: “George Orwell – who worked for the Evening Standard – once said that journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed, and everything else is public relations. George Osborne, as the Standard’s editor, appears to be ignoring the dangers Orwell pointed out and is converting PR into news –&nbsp;for a price.</p> <p>“It’s essential that the commercial arm of any newspaper is kept at arm’s length from editorial.&nbsp;openDemocracy’s report suggests that news and PR have become hopelessly intertwined and confused at the Standard. George Osborne as editor has a great many questions to answer as to why he’s doing this – the main one being that the news and comment pages of his newspaper seem to be up for sale. If this is allowed, how can the integrity of this newspaper be maintained?”</p> <p>General Secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, Steve McNamara, accused the Standard of putting “its profits ahead of Londoners” by selling favourable coverage to Uber. </p> <p>“Uber was stripped of its licence in London for failing to protect passengers in this city. Uber deliberately did not report serious crimes or conduct appropriate background checks on its drivers. Buying positive news coverage to try and influence the upcoming licence appeal hearing is the lowest of the low. If Uber is really sorry for its ‘mistakes’ it should use this money to clean up its operation and pay its drivers more.”</p><p><em>Amendments, 31 May 2018</em></p><p>A comment from an ESI media spokesperson was added to this story. It was received a day after the company made comments about London 2020 to other media. A formal statement from Starbucks has also been added.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/james-cusick/green-party-leader-says-claim-by-george-osborne-s-evening-standard-that-it-never-blu">Osborne’s Evening Standard ‘cash for column inches’ denials ‘do not stack up’ – says Caroline Lucas</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/james-cusick-crina-boros/how-gm-giant-bought-control-of-what-millions-of-londoners-read">How a GM giant ‘bought control’ of what millions of Londoners read</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/peter-oborne/why-i-have-resigned-from-telegraph">Why I have resigned from the Telegraph</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk openMedia James Cusick Wed, 30 May 2018 15:46:37 +0000 James Cusick 118157 at https://www.opendemocracy.net All-out war or economic war: why Chilcot’s playbook needs to be given a chance https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/all-out-war-or-economic-war-why-chilcot-s-playbook-needs-to-be-given-chance <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">The Iraq Inquiry warned that we must exhaust all peaceful options before dropping bombs – and that hasn’t happened.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Vladimir_Putin_and_Theresa_May_(2016-09-04)_02.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Vladimir_Putin_and_Theresa_May_(2016-09-04)_02.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Putin and May. Image, Kremlin.ru</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Moscow’s <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-43747922">warning </a>that any Trump-led coalition which launches air strikes on Syria could escalate to all-out war, should bring the playbook drawn up by Sir John Chilcot into service. After seven years examining the run-in and fall-out from the 2003 Iraq invasion, one of Chilcot’s Inquiry conclusions specified that the peaceful alternatives to war had not been exhausted before Tony Blair’s decision to unconditionally side with George W Bush against Saddam Hussein.</p><p dir="ltr">Without knowing the full strategic details of what the United States is planning &nbsp;– as most of Congress, the State Department and even the US Defence Secretary don’t know either and can’t predict what Donald Trump will do next – the UK cabinet has unanimously agreed “on the need to take action” against the Assad regime. They also agreed that the use of chemical weapons could not go “<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43733861">unchallenged</a>”.</p><h2>Inquiry lessons</h2><p dir="ltr">Chilcot’s findings were not intended to be a how-to guide to future conflict. His expensive inquiry’s efforts to identify mistakes, deception and miscalculations by Downing Street were laid out to ensure that lessons could be learned. Some of those key lessons are now being ignored by Theresa May.</p><p dir="ltr">Blair never gave his cabinet the full picture, and the House of Commons was told even less. How much the current cabinet were told before they fully backed the prime minister remains unclear. But on the current timetable, it seems likely that MPs will have no say before military action takes place over Syria, alongside the US and potentially France.</p><p dir="ltr">The author Salman Rushdie said that war was no longer something you casually watched from the top of a hill. He said we now have total war, where everybody’s in it; and we have total economics where everybody is affected. The role of the blind spectator in both scenarios is not sustainable, and is damaging for any democracy. </p><p>There is a moral argument that Assad’s use of chemical weapons, when proven, should not go unpunished. If the evidence is there – and France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, says he has <a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/emmanuel-macron-france-has-proof-bashar-al-assad-used-chemical-weapons-syria/">proof</a> the Syrian government were behind the chemical weapons attack on Douma – then it should be made public.</p><h2>The need for open debate</h2><p dir="ltr">Equally, there is a political argument that says the risks of escalation need to be debated. A two hour cabinet meeting called by an under-siege prime minister of a minority government is not a full debate.</p><p dir="ltr">Downing Street’s statement on Thursday focused on Assad and Syria. The cabinet was briefed on discussions between May and president Trump. But what of Russia’s role and potential response? Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said the political solution that needs to be found means continuing engagement with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.</p><p dir="ltr">Although the cabinet discussed military options, we are already engaged in an economic war with Russia. US sanctions have been in place since 2014, and were hardened last week with more <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-06/u-s-sanctions-top-russian-oligarchs-companies-officials">names</a> added to a blacklist. The City of London has no choice – it is a major battlefield in this conflict.</p><h2>Russian business in London</h2><p dir="ltr">As <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/putin-s-pal-and-british-lords-cleaning-up-russian-energy-giant">openDemocracy</a> pointed out last month, embedded Russian business interests in London markets are already under severe pressure. The Salisbury nerve gas attack, the expulsion of Russian diplomats by more than 20 western allies of the UK, and Russia’s tit-for-tat reply, nevertheless meant Russian-owned companies still doing business on the London Stock Exchange. &nbsp;</p><p>America’s economic war against Russia, supposedly aiming to punish Moscow for its state-driven meddling in the 2016 presidential election, has yet to reach an all-out phase. Economic casualties however continue to mount up.</p><p dir="ltr">Rusal and EN+, the Russian energy companies owned by the billionaire oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, one of Putin’s closest friends, were on the new US sanctions blacklist. Deripaska is best known in the UK for hosting meetings between George Osborne and Peter Mandelson, one aboard his yacht in 2008.</p><h2>Economic pain</h2><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2018/04/10/lord-barker-pressure-exit-en-wake-us-sanctions/">EN</a>+ was pulled from trading on the LSE this week after billions were slashed from its value. It suffered consecutive days of massive losses, down 20 percent on the first, 27 percent the next. In Moscow the value of Rusal halved. </p><p>This is the war being fought by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control. And it has effect on UK soil. EN+’s non-executive chairman is Lord Barker, the former energy minister and former adviser to the former chancellor, George Osborne. Lord Mandelson’s Global Counsel company was recently hired by Barker to offer policy advice. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Barker says he plans to battle on and remain at the helm of Deripaska’s company. His appointment as chairman last year ahead of a share stock sale in London that raised $1.5 billion, was more about adding House-of-Lords respectability for EN+ than his business acumen.</p><p dir="ltr">But in the wake of sanctions, experienced board members have resigned, there has been an exodus of investors, and detailed questions are now being asked about EN+’s environmental credentials and of its alleged links to Russia’s military.</p><p dir="ltr">One MP with frontline experience in international relations told openDemocracy: “Greg [Barker] is heading a company owned by one of Putin’s pals, which is being ripped apart by US sanctions. Meanwhile the UK is potentially risking an escalation into God knows where by again marching behind the US in military action in the Middle East. What does he think he’s there for? He should get out.”</p><h2>Putin</h2><p dir="ltr">Chilcot found that in the run-up to war against Saddam, “peaceful diplomatic options to avoid instability” had not been exhausted. Sir John could have added that there is also economic weaponry which can be deployed – and these can, and do, cause damage. With the head of Hermitage Capital Management recently telling the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington DC that he believed Putin to be the “world’s richest man” with a net worth of $200 billion, it’s likely that the Russia president knows how markets rise and fall. But does he care? You should know the answer to this before you do anything else.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/james-cusick/putin-s-pal-and-british-lords-cleaning-up-russian-energy-giant">Putin’s pal, the British Lords - and the ‘clean up’ of a Russian energy giant</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk James Cusick Fri, 13 Apr 2018 11:59:04 +0000 James Cusick 117254 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Putin’s pal, the British Lords - and the ‘clean up’ of a Russian energy giant https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/putin-s-pal-and-british-lords-cleaning-up-russian-energy-giant <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>With relations between Britain and Russia in severe crisis, the timing of a Russian company’s efforts to raise billions on the London Stock Exchange couldn’t be worse.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/640px-From_left_to_right_John_Sweeney_and_Gregory_Barker_MP.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/640px-From_left_to_right_John_Sweeney_and_Gregory_Barker_MP.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Greg Barker (right). Wikimedia, Creative Commons 2.0. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">The network of embedded Russian business interests with direct connections to the City of London’s markets will make it difficult for the UK government to deliver effective financial sanctions against the Kremlin or associates of President Vladimir Putin.</p><p dir="ltr">With Theresa May replaying the role of &nbsp;‘iron lady’ and lining up the United Nations, Nato, the European Union and the Trump White House to back the UK’s anticipated punitive response for the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, firms officially listed in London run by oligarchs with close links to Putin are expecting a rough ride.</p><p dir="ltr">The decision of the UK government, so far, to expel 23 Russian diplomats, along with some flight checks and the suspension of high-level bilateral contacts, is being seen as an opening move rather than the final package of sanctions.</p><p dir="ltr">Russian-owned companies, especially those with chequered international reputations, which have created a veneer of boardroom respectability by employing “puppet” executives from within the UK financial establishment, are understood to have hired expensive reputation-rescue specialists experienced in crisis-management. Their strategy? Survive whatever happens next. </p><p dir="ltr">One firm in the firing line is the En+ Group. Well before the attack on the former Russian double agent and his daughter, investors in the Russian energy company, En+, were increasingly questioning the leadership of its non-executive chairman, the former UK energy and climate change minister, Lord Barker.</p><p dir="ltr">En+ Group is owned by Oleg Deripaska, one of Putin’s inner-circle of favoured businessmen and perhaps <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/3236659/George-Osborne-met-Russian-billionaire-Oleg-Deripaska-five-times.html">best known</a> in the UK for hosting meetings with both George Osborne and Peter Mandleson on his yacht in 2008.</p><p dir="ltr">Deripaska’s company, listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE), <a href="http://www.enplus.ru/en/media/press-releases/2018/enplus-announces-management-changes.html">will formally have a new president this week when Deripaska steps down</a>. He is replaced by the company’s former CEO, and deputy, Maxim Sokov. &nbsp;Deripaska will remain as a non-executive director.</p><p dir="ltr">Although Greg Barker, a former adviser to George Osborne when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, described the new internal appointments as business-as-usual, the “management changes” are anything but routine. The initial ultimatums to Russia over the poisoning scandal issued by Downing Street, and Moscow’s dismissal of any UK threat, simply piles up the boardroom pressure.</p><p dir="ltr">Barker was appointed last year, according to insiders, to help give Deripaska’s company a House-of-Lords respectability. Before his political career, Barker worked for Sibneft, an oil company owned by oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezofsky. </p><p dir="ltr">He stepped down as an MP in 2015 and now sits in the Lords. He retains close links to David Cameron and George Osborne, now editor of the London Evening Standard newspaper. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Sokov described the appointment of Lord Barker in October last year as reinforcing "En+ Group's commitment to best standards of corporate governance." </p><h2 dir="ltr">Corruption allegations – and the Mueller investigation </h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Vladimir_Putin_19_March_2002-4.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Vladimir_Putin_19_March_2002-4.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Putin and Deripaska. Image, the Kremlin, Creative Commons 4.0</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Why did En+ need Lord Barker of Battle? The answer is simple enough: En+ wanted access to London’s money markets, and a British lord looked better as the front man on a prospectus than a Russian oligarch (Deripaska), who is banned from entry to the United States because of allegations of his connections to organised crime. Deripaska has denied that this is the reason he wasn’t granted a visa.</p><p dir="ltr">Deripaska is also the target of<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/02/opinion/trump-russia-prostitute-instagram.html"> new corruption allegations </a>made by the Russian opposition politician, Alexey Navalny. His <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/09/24/manaforts-russia-connection-what-you-need-to-know-about-oleg-deripaska/?utm_term=.96dce8712387">documented financial connections </a>to the former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort - who recently pleaded not-guilty to money-laundering charges – are being investigated in the US by Robert Mueller, the head of the Special Counsel probe examining Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election.</p><p dir="ltr">And at the beginning of this year, Deripaska’s name was included in <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/30/politics/full-us-list-of-russian-oligarchs-with-putin-ties-intl/index.html">a US Treasury list</a> of oligarchs with close links to the Kremlin.</p><p dir="ltr">Sanctions against those on the “Putin list” remain a possibility. </p><p dir="ltr">Market analysts in London raised private concerns that there was a serious name-brand risk for any company associated with Deripaska. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Lord Mandelson's Global Counsel, and the “puppet chairman”</h2><p dir="ltr">Lord Mandelson’s Global Counsel firm is reported to have been hired to <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/57f8a214-23aa-11e8-add1-0e8958b189ea">advise En+ on its climate change policy</a>. However the issue of Deripaska’s ownership and his links to Putin are now – after the Salisbury attack – significantly larger problems for any corporate PR strategy. </p><p dir="ltr">Global Counsel has unofficially insisted that Peter Mandelson will not be working directly on the En+ account. Those who are have their hands full. </p><p dir="ltr">UK corporate governance rules make it clear that “directors should lead from the top” to ensure good standards permeate through a company. Openness and consistency of information given to investors is deemed critical. &nbsp;One senior fund investor, with knowledge of En+’s internal affairs (who asked not to be named), said Barker was essentially a “puppet chairman” and that Deripaska remained in full control. </p><p dir="ltr">Another potential investor told openDemocracy: “There were serious doubts about full information being absent from the prospectus last year which raised $1.5 billion in an IPO (initial public offering). The company, with Lord Barker’s approval, was describing itself as an ‘integrated clean energy’ organisation when there were serious allegations which centred on the environmental stewardship of many of their assets.”</p><p dir="ltr">Global Counsel have so far made no formal statement on their work for En+.</p><h2 dir="ltr">‘Green business?' </h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/640px-Baikal-seal_4747-pho.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/640px-Baikal-seal_4747-pho.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="201" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A Baikal seal on Lake Baikal. By Per Harald Olsen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">The Russian environment protection group, Rivers without Boundaries (RwB), contacted the Financial Conduct Authority (the UK’s financial watchdog ) ahead of the IPO. &nbsp;RwB complained that En+ were describing themselves as a “green business” when hydro-electric projects and at least one coal-fired power station run by En+ were adversely affecting water management systems around Lake Baikal.</p><p dir="ltr">RwB alleged that En+ were failing to fully comply with ecology guidelines agreed with Unesco’s World Heritage Committee. Water level fluctuations around the lake – which caused destruction of low-lying lake banks, and affected the population of freshwater organisms, birds and other wildlife – were, RwB claimed, being affected by the industrial activity of En+Group in the Baikal region. </p><p dir="ltr">The investor added: “The noble lord chose to ignore En+’s questionable &nbsp;environmental credentials, and now he’s calling the corporate chess moves to take Deripaska off the main billing, ‘well-earned promotions’. That’s not leadership, that is Neanderthal PR – and the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) should begin to take an interest.”</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://www.enplus.ru/en/media/press-releases/2018/enplus-announces-management-changes.html">Barker recently </a>repeated the assurances given by Sokov saying that, under him, the board were “committed to the highest levels of good corporate governance”.</p><p dir="ltr">An international coalition of environment pressure groups, including RwB, claim that the FCA promised last year that they would look into En+’s disclosures about the environmental impact of their Russian businesses connected to Lake Baikal. The FCA would make no comment on whether or not that promise had been acted on.</p><p dir="ltr">At the end of last year, in the run up to En+ being listed on the LSE, Barker's appointment was seen as no big deal; a traditional move designed to give establishment respectability to a Stock Exchange listed company. Others saw Barker, <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1516276/Cameron-turns-blue-to-prove-green-credentials.html">the former shadow environment minister who accompanied David Cameron</a> on his husky-dogs trip to the Arctic in 2006, and a Tory MP badly snared in the 2009 expenses scandal, as there to do what Deripaska told him to.</p><p dir="ltr">openDemocracy tried to&nbsp;contact Lord Barker at his office in parliament and through En+ in Moscow.&nbsp;We received no reply. </p><h2 dir="ltr">$1.5 billion IPO</h2><p dir="ltr">The En+ Group is one part Rusal, Russia’s largest aluminium producer, and one part En+ Power, which owns some of Russia’s biggest hydro-electric plants. Most of the funds gathered in the share stock sale – some $940m out of the $1.5 billion – paid down a loan from the sanctioned Russian VTB bank. The London Stock Exchange (LSE) was chosen, according to some analysts, because London’s listing rules are less stringent than New York, and because the exercise in some international quarters was seen as simply evading sanctions to channel money to a Russian state bank.</p><p dir="ltr">Equally important for the LSE, the En+ offer was <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/10/05/oleg-deripaska-list-11bn-energy-group-en-london/">the first Russian entity </a>to come to the London market since Russia’s military operations in Ukraine and Crimea led to the US and EU imposing sanctions that began in 2014.</p><p dir="ltr">However, for Russian environmental activists the IPO was less about cash being raised and more about the opportunity to focus on the company’s environmental and social practices and its responsibilities.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Unesco and Baikal crisis</h2><p dir="ltr">En+’s hydro-electric assets include dams linked to Lake Baikal, a Unesco world heritage site and the world’s largest lake, holding a fifth of the world’s unfrozen fresh water. Ecologists say the lake’s eco-system is in crisis, with key fish populations falling and evidence that putrid algae is now causing wider damage. Identified culprits for the crisis include over-fishing by commercial fisheries, climate pressure, and waste run-off from increasing levels of tourism. President Putin recently visited the lake and said the extremely high pollution levels needed action, and that preservation was now a government priority. “<a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/04/vladimir-putin-goes-fishing-warns-high-pollution-levels-russias/">Baikal belongs to the entire planet</a>” Putin claimed. However the Russian president’s track record on ensuring that industrial plants near the lake behave responsibly remains uneven.</p><p dir="ltr">En+’s Angara Cascade hydro-electric plant depends on water flowing out of Lake Baikal. The Baikalsk pulp and paper mill, once owned by Deripaska, is now closed. Along with the Irkutsk dam, these are industrial developments recognised as causing the greatest degradation of the lake.</p><p dir="ltr">The <a href="http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/3618">United Nations formally recognised that water management</a> was critical to the lake’s survival and notified the Russian government it had concerns about how fluctuations of the lake’s maximum and minimum water levels were being ignored. The En+ Group were accused of failing to have a long-term environmental plan that put ecology before profit.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Full disclosure demands</h2><p dir="ltr">Eugene Simonov, the director of RwB said potential investors had a right to know the full environmental picture of En+’s &nbsp;industrial activities linked to Lake Baikal. Simonov said that unless there was “full disclosure” by En+ in their LSE prospectus, those investing in the company risked “substantial material losses and under-performance.”</p><p dir="ltr">Simonov told openDemocracy that four months after writing to Barker, there had been only silence. He said: “We heard from a local En+ official in Russia and were told we should go straight to the Lord [Barker] who is chair of the board. So we did – and we’ve heard nothing back from him. Since the IPO we believe the Russian government have allowed Mr Deripaska to drop and raise the level of Lake Baikal as he pleases.”</p><p dir="ltr">En+ called Simonov’s criticism of the environmental record “false”. A company statement said that all applicable regulations had been complied with.</p><p dir="ltr">Last month, <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-russia-en-sharesale-exclusive/exclusive-russias-en-invites-banks-to-pitch-for-1-billion-share-sale-sources-idUKKCN1FY2B8">En+ invited international banks</a> to pitch for the sale of $1 billion worth of shares in the Deripaska company. For any chairman, let alone one taking orders from a Russian oligarch, the share sale will be difficult to navigate. US banks, given Deripaska’s name on the “Putin list”, are said to be ultra-careful and hesitant about the potential risks of association. The nerve-agent attack in Wiltshire, and the UK’s response, only adds to the uncertainty.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite his new role as a mere EN+ director, Deripaska still owns 76 percent of the company, and 48 percent of Rusal. In November of last year, ahead of the LSE listings, the net debt of En+ was $13 billion. That was reduced by almost a billion with the loan repayment to VTB.</p><p dir="ltr">What happens now, and what form the high-stakes diplomatic and financial battle takes between Moscow and London, is expected to have a direct effect on the UK’s markets at a time when they can least afford to have any global company like En +, Russian or not, left out in the cold.</p><p dir="ltr">In Britain, Russian oligarchs – and their money – have been welcomed with almost unquestioning open arms. The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal will test if that welcome remains unconditional.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrey-kalikh/my-baby-knows-how-to-speed-up-judges-when-he-needs-to">“My baby knows how to speed up judges when he needs to”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/kasparov_test_4628.jsp">Russia&#039;s unequal struggle</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk James Cusick Thu, 15 Mar 2018 13:53:53 +0000 James Cusick 116669 at https://www.opendemocracy.net MPs should reject the government’s attempt to cover up for the DUP’s Brexit dark money donation https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/mps-should-reject-government-s-attempt-to-cover-up-for-dup-s-brexit-dark-m <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Theresa May is trying to cover-up for her scandal-prone Northern Irish allies. MPs must call her bluff.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/May Foster.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/May Foster.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Theresa May and Arlene Foster. Image, BBC.</span></span></span></p><p>Tomorrow afternoon the House of Commons will be asked to legitimise a con trick, a crass act of political and financial dishonesty, by passing a flawed law that does the very opposite of its title. </p><p> If the government, as is likely, wins and delivers cynically time-limited new rules on the “Transparency” of donations and loans in Northern Ireland it will have succeeded, for now, in hiding the original source of £435,000 that was channelled through the Democratic Unionist Party for its Leave campaign in the EU referendum.</p> <p> The money was spent mostly on the UK mainland on campaigning to take the UK out of the EU. It passed through the hands of a secretive organisation in Glasgow, the Constitutional Research Council. But where exactly did the money come from? Right-leaning groups in the United States wanting to see a populist rising in Britain they could subsequently build on at home? Russia, who now see state-sponsored interference as an attractive tool of disruption? Or perhaps a UK-based group who wanted to keep their political influence private? We don’t know. And it’s likely that the Electoral Commission doesn’t know everything either. But there are things they do know. And they want to tell us – but the government is gagging them.</p> <p> Regardless, this lack of transparency only builds mistrust and dissent. If our politics is dark and our governments believe they can manufacture financial secrecy without accountability, we are risking the foundations of our democracy.</p> <p> Should the government win, ministers are likely to indulge in a faux celebration, declaring a new era of openness in Northern Ireland political funding. It will be a lie. They will, in reality, have deliberately circumvented the right for us to know what interests this minority government and the small party that props it up, may be answerable to beyond those it supposedly represents.</p> <p> This is why openDemocracy has spent months investigating the sources, processes and pathways that led to the DUP receiving almost half a million pounds and how the money was subsequently used. We have tried, and partially succeeded, in breaking through the barriers that protect where the money came from, and explored the wider institutional unease which still surrounds this cash.&nbsp; </p><p> The watchdog authority, the Electoral Commission, responsible for upholding the law, want to give the public the details of their own investigation into this money. They have pointed out that the government already has the power to simply back-date the new transparency rules to 2014 and therefore allow the publication of all the information held on the DUP funding.</p> <p> The former Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, announced last year that the political climate in Northern Ireland had changed significantly and that an era of “full” – his word and one not difficult to define – transparency should begin.&nbsp; </p><p> Yet the government’s gift to this landmark of openness is instead a reflex protection of itself and its DUP partners, limiting “transparency” to include only the period since July last year. This legally seals all information about political donation from the past two general elections, two Assembly elections, the EU referendum and the period covering the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.</p> <p>When we most need faith in politics, this debacle has instead given us the elements of a fraudulent pantomime. Tomorrow in the Commons, MPs are being asked to authorise the building of a large wall and vault around a sum of money that clearly holds a significance beyond mere currency. Truth, as they say, never damages a cause that is just. So, what exactly is the government and its DUP allies determined to hide? Why are they installing legal barriers that will block those trying to throw light on this dark corner of Northern Irish and UK political finances? In other words, what are they determined to prevent the electorate, those who put them in power, from knowing?</p> <p> This intense circus of secrecy, this deception, this con, can begin to end tomorrow afternoon. MPs, all of them, should ask why their constituencies put them there. The stark answer is we have a representative democracy and at its core is accountability – and there is no accountability if the public are denied the right to know who funds and is hiding behind our political decision-making.</p> <p> The House of Commons should throw out this law and demand the “full” transparency the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to. And if the DUP are serious about wanting to be treated the same as the rest of the UK, they and their “dark money” should not be allowed to hide behind a wall they helped Theresa May’s government to build.</p>&nbsp;<fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-mary-fitzgerald/why-is-northern-ireland-office-protecting-dups-dirty-little">Why is Theresa May protecting the DUP&#039;s dirty little (Brexit) secret?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/what-weve-discovered-in-year-investigating-dark-money-that-funded-brexit-me">What we&#039;ve discovered in a year investigating the dark money that funded Brexit means we can&#039;t stop now</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/dup-dark-money-cover-up-officials-dismiss-minister-s-reassurances-on-north">DUP dark money cover-up: officials dismiss minister’s reassurances on Northern Ireland transparency</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Inc. DUP Dark money James Cusick Tue, 06 Mar 2018 17:26:54 +0000 James Cusick 116502 at https://www.opendemocracy.net DUP dark money cover-up: officials dismiss minister’s reassurances on Northern Ireland transparency https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/dup-dark-money-cover-up-officials-dismiss-minister-s-reassurances-on-north <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">“No one should read a great deal into what the minister was saying.”</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Lord Duncan of Springbank.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Lord Duncan of Springbank.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lord Duncan of Springbank. Image, BBC, fair use.</span></span></span> </p><p dir="ltr">The government continues to contort its normal rules in order to cover up a secret donation to the DUP, openDemocracy can reveal. In the House of Lords last week, a Northern Ireland Office minister appeared to leave the door open to the government honouring a previous commitment to publish details of all major donations to Northern Irish parties since 2014 – including a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/dup-dark-money">£435,000 donation to the DUP</a> ahead of the European referendum. However, officials have undermined his claims.</p><p dir="ltr">In response to concerns raised by peers that the government was covering up for the DUP, the Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Duncan of Springbank told the House of Lords last week: “Right now, we are not ruling out the re-examination of the period that precedes 1 July 2017. Indeed, the draft order will allow consideration of it... We will not rule anything in or out on that point. I stress that. It is important that we recognise it.” </p><p dir="ltr">However, officials from the Northern Ireland Office have privately briefed that “no one should read a great deal into what the minister (Lord Duncan) was saying.”</p><p dir="ltr">The extraordinary dismissal of Lord Duncan of Springbank’s statement by officials from his own department came after he told a Lords debate on donor transparency last week that he recognised “the issue of backdating will remain sensitive”, and acknowledged that the Electoral Commission has called on the government to now introduce a new measure allowing it to publish details of all major donations to Northern Irish parties from 2014, as previously promised. </p><p dir="ltr">Since the Conservative/DUP pact last year, the Northern Ireland Office has pushed a revision of their previously agreed donor rules that would avoid making public the full details of the cash given to the DUP from 2014-17, including its notorious Brexit donation. The money, spent mostly in England, Scotland and Wales, came from an unknown source via a secretive organisation based in Glasgow, the Constitutional Research Council. </p><p dir="ltr">The CRC is run by <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/meet-scottish-tory-behind-425000-dup-brexit-donation">Richard Cook</a>, a former vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservatives. It was fined £6,000 by the Electoral Commission last year for failing to comply with Commission rules.</p><p dir="ltr">Lord Duncan’s promise that “We are ruling nothing in and nothing out” was regarded as a small, though significant concession by opposition parties who have been calling on the government to honour previous commitments that all major donations to Northern Irish parties from 2014 would be published.</p><p dir="ltr">The stark Northern Ireland Office briefings which undermine Lord Duncan’s words in the Lords, leaving his assurance effectively worthless, were described by a senior Whitehall official as “disgraceful”. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The official said: “A minister is there to deliver the government’s message. If his own department’s officials are under-cutting what he says, then something is not right. So he should return to the House of Lords and explain what the hell is going on.” </p><p dir="ltr">Although the Electoral Commission investigated the origins of the £435,000 donation to the DUP – as they were legally required to do – they are prevented from publishing further details because of current laws protecting political donations and loans in the province. </p><p dir="ltr">A law passed in 2014 committed the government to one day publishing details of all major donations to Northern Irish parties from that year onwards. Northern Irish civil society organisations have consistently backed transparency from 2014, and consultations with the Northern Irish public have shown widespread support for transparency from that date. However, when the former Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire finally got round to consulting on the issue in January 2017, he only canvassed views from Northern Irish parties. Of those he wrote to, only the Alliance Party expressed a specific wish that all donations made since 2014 should be made public. </p><p dir="ltr">However since the May 2017 general election and the subsequent minority Conservative government deal with the DUP, openDemocracy has established that all the parties in Northern Ireland – apart from the DUP – formed a new consensus that even they agreed that the government should honour the 2014 legislation. Mr Brokenshire was told of their change of views during numerous one-to-one negotiations and exchanges of letter since last year’s general election. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Officials in the Northern Ireland Office told openDemocracy last week that they have no other information than those expressed to Mr Brokenshire in the first months of 2017. </p><p dir="ltr">During the Lords debate Lord Duncan also skated over the new consensus on backdating donor transparency, although he did note that of the parties that responded to Mr Brokenshire “at that time” the Alliance Party was alone in suggesting that publication should be backdated. </p><p dir="ltr">The Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Suttie, a member of her party’s foreign affairs team, suggested an amendment to the government’s proposal, expressing regret that the government had not used powers provided in a 2014 law to allow the DUP donation to be disclosed. She said this was “preventing proper scrutiny of donations to political parties in Northern Ireland during the European Union referendum.</p><p dir="ltr">She later told the Lords, as a result of the assurances from Lord Duncan which have now been dismissed, that it would be “inappropriate to test the opinion of the House” and withdrew her amendment.</p><p dir="ltr">Another Liberal Democrat, Lord Tyler, asked “was it a coincidence” that the ministerial decision to restrict the new laws on &nbsp;transparency till after July 2017 “came just a few days after the government had to pay a price for DUP support in the Commons having lost its majority [at the general election]?”</p><p dir="ltr">Lord Tyler asked if checks had been made by the government and suggested that as Russia had taken a “considerable interest in the outcome of our referendum” perhaps “Russian money” had been channelled covertly through the DUP. He said his concerns on donor transparency went further than just Northern Ireland. </p><p dir="ltr">With Lord Duncan’s now weakened reassurances, the Lords backed the legislation that will allow publication of political donations and loans in Northern Ireland from July 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">The House of Commons is expected to vote on the measure on Wednesday.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/dup-dark-money"><strong><em>Read openDemocracy’s full investigation into the DUP’s dark money.</em></strong></a></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-mary-fitzgerald/why-is-northern-ireland-office-protecting-dups-dirty-little">Why is Theresa May protecting the DUP&#039;s dirty little (Brexit) secret?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Inc. James Cusick Mon, 05 Mar 2018 17:36:33 +0000 James Cusick 116477 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The secrets of 'Black Ops' advertising. Who is paying for our news? https://www.opendemocracy.net/james-cusick-crina-boros/blurred-lines-and-black-ops-disappearing-divide-between-uk-news-and-adverti <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>"I think the public would resent knowing they are being tricked. So best not to always tell them."</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555700/Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 11.15.41.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555700/Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 11.15.41.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="238" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Are the 'glory days' of advertising back? (Mad Men, Lionsgate)</span></span></span></p><p>It's a "legitimate con", according to one former executive at ESI Media, the Russian-owned company that controls London’s Evening Standard and the online Independent. A writer working for Spark, the Telegraph’s branded content division, calls it “creative deception”. For the American communications academic, Mara Einstein, it’s simply “black ops advertising”. But whatever name you give to the growing practice of blurring the separation between impartial editorial and paid-for advertising, readers of UK newspapers and their linked online sites are increasingly unable to notice when the news ends and the hidden sales pitch begins.</p> <p>With close to <a href="https://digiday.com/media/print-advertising-uk/">£1 billion of revenue estimated</a> to have disappeared from the UK print news industry over the last seven years, the combination of shrinking circulation and declining traditional ad revenue has boosted the commercial importance of paid-for content – which is increasingly covertly assimilated into news and features pages.</p><p class="mag-quote-right">“It’s a given that straight ads no longer work, so we bend and blur."</p> <p>According to one leading agency sales executive who spoke to openDemocracy: “It’s a given that straight ads no longer work, so we bend and blur. As the advertising industry guru, David Ogilvy, said ‘There’s no need for advertisements to look like advertisements’. Now they don’t. But unlike Ogilvy, I think the public would resent knowing they are being tricked. So best not to always tell them.”</p> <h2>Darkest Hour, brought to you by...</h2> <p>The Telegraph’s “creative commercial department”, Sparks, currently has a lucrative content deal with Focus Features and Working Title, the distribution and production companies responsible for the multiple US Academy Award- and Bafta-nominated film, Darkest Hour. The Churchill epic is flagged up by Sparks as a “live content marketing example” along with other high-paying clients that include British Airways; Disney and Pixar; the Norway tourist office in London; and the luxury jewellers, Jessica McCormick.</p> <p>Live campaigns and examples of “the latest branded content pieces” are stated as including “articles, videos, interactive games, maps and more”. The words “brought to you by” or “in association with” appear in the Telegraph’s paid-for content. The company maintains there is now a “thick Chinese wall” between paid-for content and impartial editorial.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/chuchill and clemmie focus pictures jack english.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Image: Darkest Hour, Focus Pictures/Jack English"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/chuchill and clemmie focus pictures jack english.jpg" alt="" title="Image: Darkest Hour, Focus Pictures/Jack English" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: Darkest Hour, Focus Pictures/Jack English</span></span></span></p> <p>However articles on Churchill, clearly connected with Darkest Hour, have been published which the Telegraph maintains are simply not part of the commercial deal with the film company. They include those headlined: <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/fact-checking-darkest-hour-true-history-behind-gary-oldmans/">“Fact Checking” the Darkest Hour</a>, an <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/gary-oldman-interview-playing-churchill-free-ever-hidden/">interview with Gary Oldman on “playing Churchill”</a>, a <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/darkest-hour-review-gary-oldmans-churchill-will-galvanise-nation/">Churchill speech in cinemas receiving a standing ovation</a>, a piece on the <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/darkest-hour-make-up-secrets-gary-oldman-became-winston-churchill/">film’s make-up skills</a>, and an examination of a Churchill memo. These pieces, including the main film review, are given a small strap head that says "premium".</p> <p>If there is a distinction between paid-for features, and independent evaluation of the film’s merits, it is not clear to Telegraph readers which is which. openDemocracy has tasked the Telegraph to comment on whether its journalists would feel free to openly criticise a company (like the producers and distributers of Darkest Hour) that was paying tens of thousands for positive coverage.</p> <p>Dr Michelle Amazeen, a professor in the department of mass communication, advertising and public relations at Boston University, says “It’s becoming harder to distinguish whether the content you are reading is news or something else… like advertising.” A recent piece of her research showed that <a href="https://www.themediabriefing.com/analysis/study-why-publishers-need-to-approach-native-advertising-with-caution/">unless articles were specifically branded</a>, few people were now able to recognise paid-for advertising.</p> <h2>“A fraud on readers”</h2> <p>The Telegraph’s record on telling readers what they need to know is chequered. Writing for openDemocracy in 2015, the paper’s former chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, resigned and called the Telegraph’s coverage of HSBC <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/peter-oborne/why-i-have-resigned-from-telegraph">“a fraud on its readers”</a>. He said the traditional distinction between the editorial and advertising departments had “collapsed” and claimed this was a pattern discernible in other parts of the paper’s news coverage.</p> <p>Oborne said the paper had discouraged stories that were critical of HSBC, and that one former Telegraph executive had told him the bank was “an advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend.” The story made global headlines, and the Telegraph committed to stricter guidelines separating advertising from editorial in the wake of the scandal.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/oborne.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Image: C4, advertising their Oborne content"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/oborne.jpg" alt="" title="Image: C4, advertising their Oborne content" width="460" height="230" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: C4, advertising their Oborne content</span></span></span></p><p>openDemocracy re-contacted current and former journalists at the Telegraph, and others with knowledge of the group’s commercial practices. All were reluctant to speak about any aspect of the company. However there was near unanimity that Oborne had not over-stated the problem. One journalist told openDemocracy: “If anything the situation from 2015 has deteriorated. Advertorial, however disguised, is now more important to the company than it ever was. But I doubt we are alone in this.”</p> <h2>“Content creators embedded in editorial departments”</h2> <p>ESI Media, the parent company of the online Independent and the London Live TV channel, now barely disguises to potential commercial clients any division between editorial and advertising. One former commercial executive in the company told openDemocracy “The old line between church and state often gave a newspaper its identity and reputation. That’s long gone.”</p> <p>ESI’s dedicated “commercial content creation team”, called Story Studio, boasts to clients that their “content creators are embedded within editorial departments”. Other execs say there is really no dedicated “creation team” and that the majority of paid content is written by either staff journalists or freelancers.</p><p class="mag-quote-right">“The holy grail for advertisers is now controlled content that is barely distinguishable from editorial text."</p> <p>An ESI insider, who spoke to openDemocracy on a strictly confidential basis, said: “The holy grail for advertisers is now controlled content that is barely distinguishable from editorial text. They want it written by in-house journalists, not by sycophantic copywriters. With the old power of traditional advertising seriously eroded, native advertising – essentially anything with the commercial source of the message well hidden and incorporated into supposedly impartial news and features – is what the big clients want.”</p> <p><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/james-cusick-crina-boros/how-gm-giant-bought-control-of-what-millions-of-londoners-read">See: ‘How a GM giant bought control of what millions of Londoners read’.</a></strong></p><p><strong>&nbsp;</strong>When Story Studio started – before ESI shuttered the print edition of The Independent – newly-appointed commercial managers attempted to get senior writers at the Independent to deliver paid-for articles. One client, an international education company, wanted an eight-page supplement to be entirely written by a senior specialist writer. The request was refused on the grounds that an editor or senior writer’s reputation would be affected if they were associated with a product that was evidently paid for. News editors, with limited staff resources, were forced into fending off further requests for other correspondents to deliver tailored commercial articles.</p> <p>openDemocracy spoke to current and former young journalists working for Independent Digital News and Media, which <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/2091d0c4-7442-11e7-90c0-90a9d1bc9691">recently received new investment from a Saudi sultan</a>. </p> <p>One said that to refuse or even question an order that had “come from advertising” could result in a threat to end their employment contract. Sources from the “crèche” (as a group of young journalists at the Kensington office call themselves) said that because they were beginning their careers, they “had little option but to do what we are told. And it is particularly bad for lifestyle and fashion writers.” Another writer said: “I was directed to interview a leading figure from academia and was told to leave out anything negative. The reason? There was a connected advertising campaign.”</p> <h2>Everything for sale – at the right price</h2> <p>At the Evening Standard, currently edited by the former Tory chancellor, George Osborne, ESI commercial representatives have told some potential clients that many parts of the paper are “for sale” for the right price. A deal with Virgin Media saw the broadband company “take over” the prestigious Londoner’s Diary every Friday. Other paid-for Virgin content was described as “easily packaged into native stories” for the i100 news website. Although the content was marked as “in association with Virgin”, the layout design was generally indistinguishable from neighbouring editorial.</p> <p>Virgin were also the launch partners of the Standard’s “staying in” channel. The content of the channel focused on “must-see streamable” material and trending videos. Distributed free to London commuters at tube and rail stations, the Virgin deal was lauded for being able to “target readers on their way home.” A former commercial administrator at ESI, now working for another national media title, told openDemocracy:</p> <p>“The only game in town is survival. Readers are no longer won with stand-out editorial, instead we ‘target’ readers for their passive and monetised role as consumers of barely-disguised advertising. Once they rumble their current role, we will urgently need to invent a new method of persuasion, or pack up the whole fucking print news industry and go home.”</p> <h2>Is it a clear advert? Who knows?</h2> <p>At ESI, some commercial relationships are made very clear, for example when the furniture manufacture DFS “sponsored” the Standard’s Rio Olympics 2016 coverage. DFS was given a “daily front page call to action” urging Standard readers to get behind Team GB. The company sponsored the paper’s preview supplement and carried sponsored daily coverage on the sports pages. For the two Olympic weeks, 350 Evening Standard vendors around London wore t-shirts promoting the DFS and Team GB association.</p> <p>Less clear for Standard readers, however, is the current involvement of Betfair, the sports betting company, on the sports pages. The Betfair logo currently appears at the top of major sports stories on the back pages. One ad executive explained to openDemocracy: “The association of sport with betting is now so ingrained that Betfair know if outcome odds are discussed in a sports article and their logo is in view, then it’s likely that a link will be mentally made. That’s all Betfair want. Is it a clear advert? Who knows, because nothing is a clear advert anymore.”</p> <p>Mara Einstein, professor of media studies at City University New York, says the level of “covert selling” has so blurred the lines between editorial and marketing, that it has become a sophisticated, “black ops” industry. She has written: “Instead of telling us to buy, buy, buy, we are now told to “engage” and share, share, share – it is the ultimate subtle sell, and it is impossible to tell the real news from paid endorsements.”</p> <h2>Separation of church and state</h2> <p>Last year Enders Analysis predicted that native advertising would grow by over 150 percent over the next three years. The New York Times, wary of the both the financial attractions and the ethical pitfalls, began their own T Brand Studio – which organises branded content – by promising to keep the church and state line “strong and clear”. As one of the NY Times’ T-Brand executives in London noted: “The second you start blurring the line you get in a hell of a lot of trouble and lose a hell of lot of credibility.”</p> <p>Guardian Labs (GL), which runs content funding for Guardian News and Media, have a similar promise to hold an ethical line and make clear how content has been commissioned and produced, and who has funded it. GL say <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/info/2016/jan/25/content-funding">one of three labels</a>&nbsp;will appear on its paid-for content: “supported by”, “Paid content/paid for by” or “advertiser content/from our advertisers”.</p> <p>However, for a former Guardian commissioning editor who spoke to openDemocracy, “supported by” is a “grey area for many writers”. The Guardian maintain that “supported by” is still “editorially independent content” because the editor-in-chief has the final say over whether a funding deal is accepted, and that the commissioning editor is not obliged to accept ideas from the funder. GNM say they do not show copy to funders for approval.</p> <p>“Supported by” is also used to mark content that has been produced from funding from the larger global foundation. Currently GNM take money <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/info/2016/jan/25/content-funding">from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (for their Global Development site), from the Rockefeller Foundation (for the Cities Project), and from the Skoll Foundation (for climate and environment reporting)</a>.</p> <p>“This is a sensitive area for many contributors and staff writers,” one former section head told openDemocracy, “and it can lead to self-censorship because the question of critical funding for the paper is always hovering in the background. So you ask – ‘Do I really want to piss off a major funder?’”</p> <h2>“A multi-layered approach to storytelling’</h2> <p>GL recently produced a five months long paid-for campaign with Airbnb, the home rental website. The focus of the partnership was to show how using Airbnb can lead to a “deeper holiday experience.” Imogen Fox, executive editor at GL, said the Airbnb campaign and connected podcasts were a “fantastic example of how Guardian Labs can bring in world-class talent and build a multi-layered approach to storytelling for brands.” GL said all the Airbnb content was “labelled in line with the Guardian’s commercial guidelines.”</p> <p>Other parts of the Airbnb deal with GL was a series of “immersive features” that included a Q&amp;A about Airbnb, and personal accounts from “real families” who had used the rental site for their “perfect Airbnb family holiday.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/airbnb.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Image: Airbnb"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/airbnb.jpg" alt="" title="Image: Airbnb" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: Airbnb</span></span></span></p> <p>GL claimed the campaign resulted in 33 percent of Guardian readers having an “improved opinion” of the company, and that Guardian readers were “twice as likely to go out of their way to recommend Airbnb.”</p> <p>However during late 2017, months after the official deal with Airbnb concluded, the Guardian continued to write positive stories about the company. An article in November last year praised Airbnb for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/nov/27/airbnb-expands-into-stays-for-disabled-travellers-accomable-rental">“expanding its stays for disabled travellers.”</a> In December there was a positive piece reporting a 600 per cent rise in bookings for 2018 for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/travel/shortcuts/2017/dec/10/the-ryokan-the-ancient-japanese-inn-that-is-the-next-big-airbnb-thing">“traditional family-run hostelries – ryokans – in Japan”</a>. A month after the Airbnb deal wrapped there was a feature about a couple headlined: <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/sep/15/experience-i-fell-in-love-through-airbnb">“Experience – I fell in love through Airbnb.”</a> In October there was a piece that praised an Airbnb loan scheme that would help the owners of homes offered for rent to pay for improvements. The scheme would <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/14/airbnb-to-offer-loans-and-advice-to-hosts-under-new-scheme">“help Airbnb cement its position as an alternative to traditional hotels.”</a></p> <p>None of these positive articles about Airbnb were marked as sponsored or paid-for content, and were presented by the Guardian as impartial editorials.</p> <p>Inside the same late 2017 timeframe, there were some qualified negative comments in the Guardian about Airbnb. In November there was a published letter in the “Consumer Champions” part of Money Guardian that criticised a host renter for cancelling a booking at the last minute. Airbnb were quoted as saying cancellations were rare, and there was a penalty system to discourage hosts from cancelling.</p> <p>In October another letter, also in Consumer Champions, criticised the flaw of double-booking and disappointment over the alternative provided which was “flea infested.” Airbnb said the client had failed to post a review within the required 14-day period, but admitted that the Competition and Market Authority had stepped in and forced Airbnb to rectify a flaw in their review system which had meant the worst listings escaping bad reviews.</p> <p>But for one City analyst involved in travel industry investment, GNM’s commercial partnership with Airbnb, however time-limited, opens up a potential conflict of interest. She said: “When deals like this end, does normal service resume? Because no serious business would work like that. Airbnb and other companies become valued clients to Guardian Labs. So Guardian readers, if they’ve noticed at all, must place their trust in the paper’s editors and managers to restore the divide between editorial and paid-for messages, after that line has been eroded for entirely commercial reasons.”</p><p>A Guardian spokesperson has told openDemocracy: "It is manifestly untrue that any advertising or branded content affects our editorial procedures, decisions or position. The Guardian’s journalism is always entirely independent and any advertising or branded content is very clearly labelled. We remain free to, and often do, challenge the activities of companies and organisations that are either our advertisers or sponsors."</p> <h2>BBC Energy news – with “assistance” from Exxon</h2> <p>“Supported funding”, which is claimed not to interfere with editorial independence, also affects Britain’s largest news organisation: the BBC.</p> <p>Reports were given to openDemocracy from leading environment campaign groups which claimed the commercial branch of the BBC, BBC Worldwide, had accepted financial assistance from the US energy company, Exxon, to aid its coverage in the United States of story strands linked to the environment. Under BBC Worldwide rules, advertising is allowed.</p> <p>The deal was not a secret, with the Exxon logo and acknowledged assistance appearing in web pages. The BBC’s relationship with Exxon is alleged to have helped cash-strapped commissioning editors deliver strong content that would otherwise have been too expensive to undertake. No involvement or editorial interference from Exxon is said to have taken place.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/exxon baton rouge refinery louisiana.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Image: Exxon Baton Rouge refinery, WikiCommons"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/exxon baton rouge refinery louisiana.jpg" alt="" title="Image: Exxon Baton Rouge refinery, WikiCommons" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image: Exxon Baton Rouge refinery, WikiCommons</span></span></span></p> <p>However, when the BBC UK re-ran some of the US-based pieces on the environment which had acknowledged Exxon’s help, the logo of the energy company did not appear on the UK site. Advertising on the BBC in the UK is prohibited by the BBC’s charter. </p> <p>Did UK readers of the BBC not have the right to make their own judgement on sponsorship or “help” from Exxon? openDemocracy contacted the BBC asking for details of its arrangement with Exxon, and why the logo had not appeared on certain stories published in the UK when the company’s assistance had been made clear to US audiences.</p> <p>The BBC refused to divulge or discuss the Exxon link or any commercial arrangement with BBC Worldwide. It said information requests to parts of the BBC, including its Worldwide division, were not subject to Freedom of Information laws. The corporation stated that “All advertising must comply with the BBC’s advertising and sponsorship guidelines.” And added: “The BBC’s reputation for providing impartial and independent news will always take precedent over wider commercial goals.”</p> <p>Dr Michelle Amazeen at Boston University has warned that the current attitude of a struggling mainstream news industry towards native and disguised advertising is dangerously short term. While there may be valued incremental revenue arriving at a critical time when publishers “are bleeding ad dollars”, she says, there will be a cost down the road if readers are alienated. In the words of one of her research participants: “Everything is a goddamn ad now”. If that becomes the accepted norm, the industry – and in particular its ability to hold the powerful to account – will face a far graver threat.</p> <p>News organisations, Amazeen says, need to be transparent about who is funding them. Integrity matters, not least because “journalism demands transparency” from everyone else.</p> <p><em><strong>This article is part of </strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmedia"><strong>openMedia</strong></a><strong>, a project funded by the Adessium and Democracy and Media foundations to investigate and expose commercial interference in editorial decisions across Europe’s media. If you are a journalist who recognises any of the issues described here, please fill out our confidential survey below, anonymously if you wish. Thank you.</strong></em></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><em><strong><br /></strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/fallout-from-oborne-files">Fallout from the Oborne files</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/james-cusick-crina-boros/how-gm-giant-bought-control-of-what-millions-of-londoners-read">How a GM giant ‘bought control’ of what millions of Londoners read</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openmedia/mary-fitzgerald/welcome-to-openmedia">Why we&#039;re launching openMedia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/mara-einstein/facebook-new-york-times-corporatised-fake-news-advertising">How Facebook and the New York Times corporatised &#039;fake news&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/jonathan-hardy/sponsored-content-is-blurring-line-between-advertising-and-editorial">Sponsored content is compromising media integrity</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk openMedia Crina Boros James Cusick Thu, 08 Feb 2018 15:05:57 +0000 James Cusick and Crina Boros 116019 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How a GM giant ‘bought control’ of what millions of Londoners read https://www.opendemocracy.net/james-cusick-crina-boros/how-gm-giant-bought-control-of-what-millions-of-londoners-read <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Evening Standard’s lucrative deal with Swiss chemical giant Syngenta shows how commercial giants pay for news – with readers left in the dark.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/PA-30577710.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/PA-30577710.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="359" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Yui Mok/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">London’s Evening Standard, the city’s flagship free newspaper read by millions of commuters every week, struck a lucrative deal that helped to varnish the reputation of one of the world’s largest agribusiness companies – with readers unaware that the firm was paying for positive coverage, openDemocracy can reveal today. </p><p dir="ltr">Billion dollar lawsuits the company was facing from farmers in the US were not mentioned in the paper’s coverage, and the ongoing controversy over UK plans to soften post-Brexit rules on GM seeds in farming was also bypassed.</p><p dir="ltr">As part of a major commercial deal in 2017 between the Swiss giant Syngenta and ESI Media – a major UK media company owned by Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev and run by his son Evgeny – a series of public ‘debates’ and articles on the ‘future of food’ were run by London’s Evening Standard.</p><p dir="ltr">In the debates and related content, paid for by Syngenta, there was no examination of the financially damaging billion-dollar legal challenges Syngenta was facing across the United States.</p><p dir="ltr">Also omitted from the Standard’s coverage was the emerging political controversy over plans by the UK government to rewrite post-Brexit rules on the use of genetically modified seeds in farming – which Syngenta continues to back through expensive lobbying.</p><p dir="ltr">Syngenta’s paid-for debates and coverage in the Evening Standard are part of a growing practice inside ESI Media which deliberately blurs the division between advertising and editorial content, senior inside sources have told openDemocracy.</p><p dir="ltr">As part of a wider investigation by openDemocracy into the commercial pressures now affecting Europe’s media, former executives, journalists, and other insiders at ESI described a culture where senior editors play a subservient role to commercial masters who effectively run ESI’s operations – with readers left in the dark about who pays for their news, and on what terms.</p><h2>Coverage ‘money can’t buy’</h2><p dir="ltr">“Content creators” are described by ESI’s own marketing materials as “embedded” within the company’s editorial departments. High-profile brands like Virgin and Sainsbury’s are promised an “emotional relationship” with Evening Standard readers. As an ESI client, Syngenta, one of the world’s largest crop chemical producers that has previously been accused of orchestrating <a href="https://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/21/silencing_the_scientist_tyrone_hayes_on">attacks on scientists</a> who challenge the safety of their products, would have been promised “cut through” content and coverage that “money can’t buy.”</p><p dir="ltr">Inside sources claim that the difference between commercial and editorial content at ESI has become so weak at the paper, now edited by former Conservative chancellor George Osborne, that one former executive told openDemocracy: “The sleight of hand is so routine that if they renamed it the London Advertiser, that would be more appropriate.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/PA-31149400.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/PA-31149400.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Former chancellor George Osborne arrives at the Evening Standard offices to begin new role as editor. Victoria Jones/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2>China takeover and a new commercial “partnership”</h2><p dir="ltr">When the lucrative deal between Syngenta and ESI Media was agreed in early 2017, the Swiss agri-chemical company was on course to be taken over by ChemChina, the state-owned Chinese chemical company. The $43 billion take-over figure was mentioned in a March 2017 article in the Evening Standard.</p><p dir="ltr">But it is what the Standard omitted to tell its readers about Syngenta – and what it failed to highlight in the public debates it hosted, paid for by Syngenta – that marks the difference between editorial information intended to inform readers, and commercial content paid for by a company looking to boost its balance sheet.</p><p dir="ltr">An executive source from within ESI has confirmed to openDemocracy that&nbsp;<a href="https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/hungry-for-solutions-the-scientists-trying-to-satisfy-londons-soaring-demand-for-food-a3484261.html">the March 8 piece last year</a>, written by a Standard news and technology reporter, was part of the commercial “partnership” between Syngenta and ESI. (ESI Media also owns the Independent, now an online-only UK newspaper, and the London Live TV channel.)</p><p dir="ltr">In the article, pictured below, there was nothing to tell readers the piece was part of a lucrative commercial relationship with Syngenta.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 4.11.35 PM.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 4.11.35 PM.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="366" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">However, under a sub-heading, ‘Join the debate’, the Standard said it had 25 pairs of tickets to “give away” to a series of debates on the future of food that were being run “in conjunction with Syngenta.” A deadline and internet address for the ticket offer was included.</p><p dir="ltr">The piece described Syngenta as “one of the world’s leading crop protection firms” and stated that the Swiss firm believed “future shoppers face a stark compromise” – accept innovation or face higher prices and supply shortages.</p><p dir="ltr">The company, whose net income in 2016 was put at <a href="https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170207006658/en/Syngenta-2016-Full-Year-Results">$1.2 billion</a>, was described as “believing that ‘technology is key to sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture, including new genetic techniques, such as genome-editing…’”</p><p dir="ltr">Almost two thirds of the article was devoted to a positive presentation of Syngenta by senior company executives. Although GM (Genetic Modification) is still regarded as highly controversial by many UK farmers and consumers, the Standard described GM as simply a “more rapid process of what has been undertaken by seed breeders for centuries.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Swiss company’s often controversial technologies were described in the article as “the best possible outcome”, with those campaigners critical of genetically engineered crops dismissed as holding a “deep suspicion of technology.”</p><h2>Public ‘education’ – paid for by Syngenta</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/esilive.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/esilive.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="730" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">The first of the ESI-Syngenta 'future of food' events, on March 22, was chaired by the then-editor of the Standard, Sarah Sands, now editor of BBC Radio 4’s prestigious Today Programme.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Industry sources told openDemocracy that given the high profile involvement of the editor (Sarah Sands) in the event, and the global importance of well-timed positive editorial, Syngenta would have been expected to pay north of £100,000 to ESI for their overall deal. The marketing agency, Green Street Media, were also paid to assist ESI with the public events.</p><p dir="ltr">Both Syngenta and ESI have declined to reveal what the deal was worth.</p><p dir="ltr">But for ESI, revenues from the Syngenta “partnership” and other paid-for content which blur the divide between editorial and advertising have become increasingly important. Three months after the food conference, the paper announced that profits had <a href="https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/london-paper-profits-fall-vtn7tc9mk">fallen by a third</a>, down from £3.3m the previous financial year, to £2.2m. A further fall in profits is anticipated by City analysts when new figures are released later this year, linked to the fall in traditional advertising revenue and increased costs in distributing the freesheet across London.</p><p dir="ltr">Although the March 22 'future of food' discussion panel in Somerset House, chaired by Sands, was described as containing “industry experts”, discussions were dominated by those making the case for the importance of technology, with the North Europe head of Syngenta, Alex Steel, given a prominent role in the event.</p><p dir="ltr">A Standard staff reporter covered the debate, later stating it was between “Syngenta at one end and the co-owner of the healthy eating restaurant chain Leon [Henry Dimbleby] at the other.”</p><p dir="ltr">Yet Dimbleby – a long-term friend of the current environment secretary, Michael Gove – repeated what others on the panel had stated: that technology was critical and that UK consumers were not technology-averse. Concluding, Dimbleby said: “I’m very optimistic that technology is going to solve our problems.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/7504103800_9b61c0b46a_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/7504103800_9b61c0b46a_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Michael Gove, Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent from Leon Restaurants visit the breakfast club at Lauriston School in Hackney on 4 July 2012. Image used under Fair Use: Flickr/educationgovuk. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Syngenta’s own company website used the content from the Standard debate, stating it had been a “pioneering example of the mainstream media highlighting the issues we face and educating the public on how food is produced.” There was no mention that the public’s “education” had been bought by the company itself.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><h2>What they also failed to mention...</h2><p dir="ltr">At the time of the Standard extolling the virtues of Syngenta’s technology, legal trials in the US were pending, with lawsuits from some 350,000 corn growers across 20 US states claiming as much as $13 billion in losses.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2013 China had tested corn shipments from the United States and discovered they contained a specific genetically modified corn seed. Two years earlier Syngenta had marketed two varieties of corn seed to farmers in the US – Viptera and Duracade. Both were approved in the United States, but several other markets, including China, had not given formal approval for their use.</p><p dir="ltr">Farmers claimed Syngenta had rushed the genetically modified seed to market before getting export approval from China. The legal actions also claimed that Syngenta had misled them over when China would licence the GM seed.</p><p dir="ltr">Lawsuits against the Swiss company began piling up. The loss of the Chinese export market decreased overall demand for US corn, resulting in falling prices for US crops. Farmers affected included big producers in Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Alabama, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin.</p><h2>‘Devastating losses’</h2><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/PA-31856130.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/PA-31856130.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Syngenta logo in a corn field near Basel, Switzerland. Xu Jinquan/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">With more than 90% of corn grown in the US genetically engineered, the loss of the Chinese market was devastating. Farmers and other companies involved in the corn industry filed a series of lawsuits against Syngenta. Studies by the US National Grain and Feed Association and the North American Export Grain Association estimated the minimum damage to the industry was north of $3 billion.</p><p dir="ltr">The Swiss multinational claimed it had done nothing wrong and that the Chinese had not been interested in food safety, but were instead intent on lessening its dependence on the US corn market.</p><p dir="ltr">The massive China-related lawsuits had featured in coverage by international wire services such as Reuters, with Syngenta’s financial difficulties also spelled out in articles in the Financial Times and the Mail. Rumours early last year that the scale of Syngenta’s lawsuit liabilities in the United States would lead to a credit-rating downgrading were confirmed later in 2017 when the two ratings agencies, Standard &amp; Poor, and then Fitch, both put Syngenta “on notice” for a potential downgrade. In October last year, Fitch rated Syngenta at BBB, two notches above junk.</p><p dir="ltr">However, the ESI-Syngenta coverage focused only on the positives of new genetic technology.</p><p dir="ltr">One international trade broker in London, who asked not to be named because of his continuing involvement in global agribusiness, told openDemocracy: “The scale of Syngenta’s problems in early 2017 pointed to a potential credit rating downgrading. And though Syngenta has now reached settlement with a large number of litigants, there still remains concern about how these high-level settlements will be funded. I’d want to know all of this kind of stuff if I was attending a conference or reading about global food safety.”</p><h2>The Brexit context</h2><p dir="ltr">The timing of the Standard’s “partnership” was also politically critical for Syngenta. Early last year, Andrea Leadsom, then agriculture secretary, told a conference in Oxford: “as we prepare to leave the EU, I will be looking at scrapping the rules that hold us back and focusing instead on what works best for the UK.”</p><p dir="ltr">After Leadsom’s hint, the government confirmed that as part of the preparations for Brexit it would be reviewing regulations surrounding genetically modified organisms. It remains possible that GM crops could be licensed for commercial purposes as part of the UK’s post-Brexit regime, and the “precautionary” principles that have been a signature of Brussels’ rules could be ended.</p><p dir="ltr">This agricultural turnaround, given the enduring scepticism about the merits of GM, will not come without a loud public debate. In anticipation of this, leading GM companies including Monsanto and Syngenta are understood to have increased their budgets for high-profile lobbying campaigns to change public hearts and minds on genetic biotechnology.</p><h2>Lobbying for GM</h2><p dir="ltr">What the ESI Media partnership indicates, according to a leading UK lobbyist, is that in addition to some much-needed reputation-boosting after the China-related lawsuits, Syngenta “wanted to begin the assault on changing consumer attitudes to GM. From the highly controlled debate [in the Evening Standard], it would appear the message the company wants the public to hear, and were prepared to pay for, is: ‘accept-our-technology or face more expensive food’”.</p><p dir="ltr">Tamsin Cave at the transparency group Spinwatch said: “Syngenta is doing what lobbyists always do: trying to shape public opinion. It’s the only thing standing in the way of GMOs in the UK. So, it is framing the debate as this fictional choice between food shortages and price increases (the problem) and GMOs (the solution). Plus, we’re being told not to listen to their critics, who are apparently all Luddites. None of this is fact, it’s all just manufactured PR, and the Evening Standard is just the latest vehicle willing to spread it.</p><p dir="ltr">“Expect to see a lot more of this as we approach Brexit, which lobbyists see as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to roll back regulations. We should all be extra vigilant.”</p><p dir="ltr">openDemocracy asked Syngenta how its content contract with ESI Media was intended to work, and whether image and reputation was considered a key ingredient of its deal with Evgeny Lebedev’s company. We also asked if the London debates were deliberately timed to address the difficult commercial backdrop that at one point was looking to cost the company billions of dollars. In addition we asked what ESI Media was paid for the deal, and whether the company stipulated that background details from Syngenta’s global operations should be “held back” from London’s Evening Standard readers.</p><p dir="ltr">The full statement from a Syngenta spokesman reads:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Syngenta partnered with the London Evening Standard in 2017 to undertake a series of events in London with the aim of engaging Londoners in open debate about the challenge of sustainably feeding major cities worldwide. Whilst many living in the rural environment have a direct understanding and relationship to farming and food production those in cities are sometimes less engaged despite forming the largest number of food consumers.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Through the events Syngenta demonstrated that it is open, engaged and responsible in promoting its technologies and responding to concerns of consumers. The events were fully advertised and included a fully public all-day pop up at Kings Cross Station. At both of the events held in 2017 we were happy to engage and discuss any issue with anyone.”</p><p dir="ltr">ESI Media were also asked to comment on the commercial details of their deal with Syngenta, and why there was no mention of the global financial difficulties the Swiss company was experiencing that had been widely reported elsewhere.</p><p dir="ltr">The company’s managing director, Doug Wills, said the partnership had been “news driven” and claimed the public debate about the future of food had been “an issue of considerable interest to our readers.” Wills said the Standard’s coverage around the event and a subsequent article later in the year “reflected both sides of the debate”.</p><p><strong><em>This article is part of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmedia">openMedia</a> a project funded by the Adessium and Democracy and Media foundations to investigate and expose commercial interference in editorial decisions across Europe’s media. If you are a journalist who recognises any of the issues described here, please fill out our <a href="https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/MediaFreedom2017_English">confidential survey</a> below, anonymously if you wish. Thank you.</em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/james-cusick-crina-boros/blurred-lines-and-black-ops-disappearing-divide-between-uk-news-and-adverti">The secrets of &#039;Black Ops&#039; advertising. Who is paying for our news?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openmedia/mary-fitzgerald/welcome-to-openmedia">Why we&#039;re launching openMedia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay/climate-change-reporting-for-sale">Climate change reporting for sale?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/peter-oborne/why-i-have-resigned-from-telegraph">Why I have resigned from the Telegraph</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk openMedia Crina Boros James Cusick Thu, 08 Feb 2018 10:55:26 +0000 James Cusick and Crina Boros 116003 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Six of Theresa May’s cabinet are paid up “members” of secret group demanding a total break from the European Union https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/six-of-theresa-may-s-cabinet-are-paid-up-members-of-secret-group-demanding <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The head of the secretive European Research Group won’t reveal which senior ministers are members of the hardline anti-EU group. Why not? Because the answer and the reach of the ERG leaves the Prime Minister looking like a Brexit hostage.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/fernandes.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/fernandes.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="272" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Suella Fernandes, ERG chair, being interviewed by Channel 4 News - fair use.</span></span></span></p><p>Six leading members of Theresa May’s cabinet are paid-up subscribers of the secretive European Research Group, the hard-line anti-EU caucus of Conservative&nbsp;MPs who have serially refused to publish their membership list. </p> <p>New data collected by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority covering the last year, show that the six cabinet members, along with the chief of staff and special adviser to the Brexit secretary, David Davis have each claimed £2,000 in parliamentary expenses for “professional” and “pooled” services from the ERG. Five other subscriptions from former Tory cabinet ministers and whips, plus the current chair of the ERG, means this group alone have claimed more than £32,000 from the public purse.</p> <p>Michael Gove, the environment secretary, Penny Mordaunt, the newly-promoted defence secretary, David Gauk, the work and pensions secretary, Sajid Javid, the communities and local government secretary, Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House of Commons, and Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, have all used official expenses claims to pay for “ERG subscriptions” over the last 12 months. </p> <p>Stewart Jackson, who lost his Peterborough seat in June’s general election, and is now chief of staff to David Davis at the Department for Exiting the European Union, also used his official expenses to pay for ERG services during the last years. </p> <h2><strong>Private list</strong></h2> <p>In September this year, during a live <a href="https://www.channel4.com/news/conservative-mp-suella-fernandes-warns-theresa-may-not-to-keep-britain-in-single-market">television interview</a> from the lobby in Westminster on the back of an <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick-adam-ramsay-crina-boros/revealed-tory-mps-using-taxpayers-cash-to-fund-sec">openDemocracy investigation</a> into the group, the current chair of the ERG, Suella Fernandes, refused to say which ministers were members of her organisation. </p> <p>The ERG’s membership is routinely rumoured to be around 80 MPs, with Eurosceptic cabinet ministers having previously signed up to letters that effectively mirror ERG objectives.</p> <p>However, today’s revelation shows the group’s paid-up subscribers reach deep into the core of Theresa May’s administration, and have been seen as deeply worrying. </p> <h2><strong>Hidden hurdle </strong></h2> <p>One senior Whitehall official, who asked not to be named because he was currently involved in preparations for the next phase of talks with the EU’s negotiators, told openDemocracy: “2018 will be a difficult and critical year and those from Brussels we have to engage with, have already voiced concern that our future position could be clearer. But there will be added suspicion that this secretive group – and if they won’t publish who their members are and what they do, then secret is the correct word – represents a hidden hurdle by Brussels that the UK government has to jump over. This will hinder, not help, the prospects of a deal.”</p> <p>Other data collated by IPSA show that 58 MPs have recently used taxpayers’ money to fund the ERG’s activities. Among the leading Brexiteers who have paid for ERG subscriptions over the course of the last two parliaments include Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is still being touted as a future Tory leader should May be forced out of 10 Downing Street. </p> <p>The group is often described as a party-within-a-party of hardline Brexiteers capable of holding the prime minister hostage or removing her from office if she deviates from their stated aim of severing all ties with the European Economic Area, the single market, the European Court and the Customs Union.&nbsp; </p><h2><strong>The re-invented ERG</strong></h2> <p>The Brexit minister and Wycombe MP, Steve Baker, is regarded as the most powerful figure linked to the ERG. Baker was the head of the group before he was promoted into the government. Though it was founded in 1998, Baker is credited with turning the ERG from a backwater of low-profile Eurosceptic malcontents into a powerful organisation capable of deciding the terms and merits of any deal with Brussels. </p> <p>He has described any move towards a soft Brexit or any retention of links with the EU as “a vote for the UK to be powerless and poorer than we can otherwise be.”</p> <p>Although he now holds no formal role in the group, restricted meetings of ERG members in Westminster have been addressed by Baker since June, with his speeches enthusiastically applauded. </p> <p>openDemocracy has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/new-brexit-minister-arms-industry-american-hard-right-and-e">previously revealed</a> that Baker took a £6,500 donation from the Constitutional Research Council to pay for an ERG event before Christmas 2016. We have also revealed that the CRC chairman, Richard Cook, founded a company in 2013 with the former head of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/secretive-dup-brexit-donor-links-to-saudi-intelligence-service">Saudi intelligence service</a> and a Danish spy implicated in a controversial <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/mysterious-dup-brexit-donation-plot-thickens">Indian gun-running case</a>. Our research has also shown that Baker has previously accepted cash and foreign travel from a wide-range of groups, including the arms industry, and a number of American pro-corporate lobby groups.</p> <p>Fernandes, who only became an MP in the 2015 election, took over as chair of the ERG in June this year following Baker’s move to David Davis’s department. She has described negotiations with Brussels over the terms of Brexit as “begging the EU for mercy”. She has told ERG members in texts sent on a highly-protected WhatsApp messaging group, that they should not forget the referendum was an “instruction to parliament to free the UK from the shackles of Europe.”</p> <h2><strong>Channel Four News </strong></h2> <p>In her interview with Channel Four News – which followed an <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick-adam-ramsay-crina-boros/revealed-tory-mps-using-taxpayers-cash-to-fund-sec">investigation by openDemocracy</a> which discovered over a quarter of a million pounds of public funds had been channelled to the ERG through MPs expenses – Fernandes refused to say how many government ministers were in the ERG.</p> <p>Told repeatedly by the Channel Four News presenter, Krishnan Guru-Murthy that if her group took public money then the public should have a right to know, Fernandes looked uneasy. Resorting to awkward laughing, and clearly unsettled she replied, “The list of MPs is known to the ERG.”</p> <p>Both Channel Four News and openDemocracy have repeated requests to Fernandes’ office for a full list of the ERG membership, its research, and the cost of its publically funded operations. No list has been provided. </p> <p>Following complaints by MPs that public cash was being misused by the ERG because it focused on a single-issue, Brexit, and operated as a party-political organisation, IPSA recently carried out an updated review of its claimed research. </p> <p>IPSA identified “party-political language” in some of the material produced by the ERG. However it concluded that because the ERG had been in existence before the EU referendum, and because “the vast majority of material produced was factual, informative” and not in conflict with IPSA regulations, no action was being taken. </p> <p>However IPSA would not comment on the ERG continuing to keep its membership lists private and largely out of public reach. </p> <p>Francis Grove-White, Deputy Director of Open Britain, said: &nbsp;</p> <p>“It is illuminating, and deeply worrying, to see who is really pulling the strings of the government’s hard Brexit trajectory. </p> <p>“The ERG are in favour of the most destructive Brexit possible: they want to tear up all our economic co-operation with Europe in pursuit of a low-regulation, race-to-the-bottom agenda that most people in Britain do not support.</p> <p>“If Ministers are claiming taxpayers’ money as allowances to pay for membership fees of this group, then the public have every right to know exactly who in the Government is a registered ERG member. </p> <p>“The ERG should publish this information immediately. If they have nothing to hide, they will have no problem doing so. If they do not make this information public, people will draw their own conclusions.”</p> <p>The ERG was contacted by openDemocracy and invited to comment on the subscriptions of cabinet members. No reply was received. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/new-brexit-minister-arms-industry-american-hard-right-and-e">The new Brexit minister, the arms industry, the American hard right… and Equatorial Guinea</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick-adam-ramsay-crina-boros/revealed-tory-mps-using-taxpayers-cash-to-fund-sec">Revealed: The Tory MPs using taxpayers’ cash to fund a secretive hard-Brexit group</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/northern-ireland-electoral-commission-in-new-bid-to-honour-transparency-la">Northern Ireland Electoral Commission in new bid to honour transparency laws from 2014</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Inc. DUP Dark money James Cusick Fri, 22 Dec 2017 10:57:05 +0000 James Cusick 115460 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Northern Ireland Electoral Commission in new bid to honour transparency laws from 2014 https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/northern-ireland-electoral-commission-in-new-bid-to-honour-transparency-la <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The government has been accused of trying to cover up for the DUP as it reverses a law which promised transparency in Northern Irish political donations from 2014.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/DUP deal.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/DUP deal.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Image, BBC News, fair use</span></span></span></p> <p>The head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, Anne Watt has repeated her demand to the UK government that legislation should be put in place to allow the publication of full details of donations and loans to political parties made since 2014. </p> <p>The call by Ms Watt was made less than a day after a special committee in Westminster advanced the progress of a new law on political donations in Northern Ireland that will limit full transparency only to funds received after July this year.&nbsp; </p><p>By a majority of one, the government effectively succeeded in keeping secret the full details of a £435,000 donation to the DUP that was made during the Brexit referendum in 2016.&nbsp; The majority of the cash was spent on the UK mainland on pro-leave campaigning and included payments to two digital analysis groups currently under investigation by the UK authorities.&nbsp; </p><p>The origins and full details of the record DUP donation, were arranged through a former vice-chair of the Scottish Conservatives, Richard Cook, who runs a small Glasgow-based organisation called the Constitutional Research Council (CRC). </p> <p>The CRC was fined £6,000 by the Electoral Commission in August. However the current law in Northern Ireland protects any details of the fine from being published. </p> <p>Watt’s demand is deeply embarrassing for the Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, and his junior minister, Chloe Smith.&nbsp; During the heated and often angry debate in Commons committee, Smith claimed the government had consulted the Electoral Commission, fulfilled its statutory obligations and insisted there was “widespread support” among parties in Northern Ireland for no backdating of transparency other than from July 2017. </p> <p>Although the Commission’s head welcomed the planned new law – that will now be voted on by the full House of Commons soon after the holiday recess –&nbsp; her statement added : “We continue to call on the Secretary of State to put in place the necessary legislation that will allow us to publish details of donations and loans received since January 2014.”</p> <p>Chloe Smith’s claim of “widespread support” among Northern Ireland parties to limit transparency from only 2017, was challenged by Owen Smith, Labour’s Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary. </p> <p>Smith quoted recent comments from Sinn Fein that limiting any changes to July 2017 would continue to cover up “the dark money given to the DUP”. He said that with the Alliance Party always in favour of back-dating new transparency rules to 2014, and the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP also not opposed to the three-year back-date, the government were simply “protecting the DUP.”</p> <p>Smith said that during the recent EU negotiations the DUP had protested at not being treated like the rest of the UK. “Now they want a special status for transparency in Northern Ireland…. this affair stinks,” Smith said. He added the DUP could clear the mess “by telling us where this shady money came from.” </p><p>Ben Bradshaw, a cabinet minister in Gordon Brown’s government, and a leading campaigner on transparency, accused the government of being “complicit in this cover-up”. He said if the DUP had nothing to hide, they should “open up” and say where the £435,000 came from. </p><p>He told the committee that £282,000 had been spent by the DUP on pro-leave advertising on mainland UK with £32,000 also given to AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica. The two data-mining companies also held lucrative contracts with other pro-Brexit campaigns. Bradshaw said the two companies&nbsp; were under investigation in the UK and USA and therefore there should be concern about the DUP donation. </p><p>“The DUP was used by the CRC to funnel money to the leave campaign that to this day keeps the source of that money secret,” Bradshaw said. He added that regardless of the proposed legislation, the government should publish details of why the CRC were fined by the Electoral Commission and what law was broken. He asked Chloe Smith if she had satisfied herself on the source of the DUP donation and whether it had been legal.&nbsp; </p><p>He told the committee “There is nothing stopping the minister asking the Electoral Commission about this. She is hiding the true source of this donation and the only conclusion here, is this protects the deal the government has with the DUP.” Bradshaw called the government’s proposed legal change “a shabby little order.”</p> <p>Chloe Smith accused Bradshaw of “inviting her to commit a criminal offence”, saying, “we do not have access to this information, “ she said. </p> <p>In often heated exchanges and interruptions by two DUP MPs – Ian Paisley Jnr and Sammy Wilson – who were attending the committee debate but were not eligible to vote, both accused Labour of remaining fixated on the result of the referendum and on failures to address the “millions” Sinn Fein received in foreign donations. </p> <p>Owen Smith told the committee: “This is nothing to do with views on Brexit, but is about transparency.” </p> <p>In heated exchanges before the committee vote was taken, Labour’s Jess Phillips accused the government of “conducting a pantomime” .</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-mary-fitzgerald/why-is-northern-ireland-office-protecting-dups-dirty-little">Why is Theresa May protecting the DUP&#039;s dirty little (Brexit) secret?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/mary-fitzgerald-adam-ramsay/do-you-know-where-brexit-dark-money-came-from-tell-us-anony">Do you know where the Brexit dark money came from? Tell us anonymously</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/did-dups-controversial-brexit-donors-break-law-by-refusing-">Did the DUP&#039;s controversial Brexit donors break the law - by refusing to reveal the secret source of their cash?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Inc. DUP Dark money James Cusick Wed, 20 Dec 2017 12:17:40 +0000 James Cusick 115414 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: the new commercial masters of the ‘branded’ newsroom https://www.opendemocracy.net/openmedia/james-cusick/good-bad-and-ugly-new-commercial-masters-of-branded-newsroom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>openMedia pan-European survey throws up an early warning for the next generation of journalists.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563300/8573457815_cde872eb32_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Newspapers stand, March 19, 2013. Image by Flickr/(Mick Baker)rooster</span></span></span></p><p>If Fleet Street, or what’s left of the shrinking print collective, ever decides to open the equivalent of an advanced training college, it should be located somewhere which looks like Compton Sinbury.</p> <p>Scandal, secrets and sin, both venial and mortal, were the covert characteristics&nbsp; of novelist Guy Bellamy’s imaginary commuter village;&nbsp; a place where a potential page lead lurked round every corner and the twin curses of English civilisation, Christianity and journalism, lived side-by-side in grand delusion.</p> <p>But it’s the accidental modernity of Bellamy’s village that out-trumps any potential rival. If Rupert Murdoch lodged in a nearby grand manor house, or the Barclay twins occupied a Restoration palace on the parish borders, none of these grandees would add much to the cultural failures on show. As the cleric in the novel, Owen Gray, was told, “Reporters don’t believe in anything, vicar, it’s an article of faith.”</p> <h2><strong>Independence as a luxury</strong></h2> <p>With the government still wrestling with Murdoch’s latest power grab on the UK media, as British academics draw a deeply sloping graph line towards the Street’s financial funeral, and proprietors, boards or trusts either hold out their begging bowl or inflate cultural stereo-types in the vain hope they will appeal to dwindling readerships, the idea that belief or independent thought should be the business of&nbsp; news gatherers is almost becoming quaintly anachronistic. These are broad generalisations of course, and there are notable exceptions. But paid-for, untainted news, specifically gathered and analysed, rather than being cut and copied from elsewhere, is becoming a luxury product.</p> <p>Political or proprietorial loyalties were once explained away as simply tribal. And the old Fleet Street simply learned to live with the tangential and commercial realities of proprietorial pomp. Now harsher financial and ideological expectations are in play. What is written and how it’s written is not just about what’s out there. Instead content has become a driven derivative, ruled by commercial needs, party political worship, and, crucially, the reflex demands of suspect proprietors and their advertising directors. Content is now the prime territory of the marketing director; it is sponsored, monetised, sold at auction and branded.</p> <p>Desk editors once in charge of a specific domain, are now the sub-servants in a chain of command that reaches up and deep into the ad department. News and its tangential neighbours can now be bought, sponsored, flipped or, crucially, silenced.</p> <h2><strong>‘Peak ink’</strong></h2> <p>Just as oil companies have been pushed to environmental extremes to keep the cash flowing in the tough economic era that has followed “peak oil”, the shrinking of profits in the national news industry has brought about its own “peak ink” ethic. Gone is any firm divide between editorial and advertising. Almost gone is the need to offer a political balance on events or policy. And the neutral benevolent proprietor, if he ever existed? They have become almost a made-up character in highly-funded public relations operations – who fool only a few sycophants and committee advisers who bestow honours like cheap confetti.</p> <p>For the new-entrant reporter, who perhaps once thought the minute hand of history might be just as important as the hour hand, their critical sphere of work is largely centred on commercial obedience and the delivery of what is ask for. Freedom of expression and the choosing of targets is now a far-off fantasy for the crèches of cut-and-paste journalists; learning a craft is almost off-limits and instead their role is to serially mimic news written elsewhere and increase the clicks that please senior faux-editors who’ve long forgotten why they came to this industry in the first place.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>The new command structure, driven not by a sense of the public good but by either raw survival or old-fashioned greed, now involves the critical input of commercial directors. With traditional advertising seen as less effective, or capable of being ignored, editorial written by journalists rather than copy writers is seen as more effective in the capture of attention; with attention, however low and fleeting, now nothing less than news’ gold standard.</p> <p>This era of the implanted commercial message has already kicked off, and those journalists who challenge it risk losing their jobs.</p> <h2><strong>openMedia survey</strong></h2> <p>OpenDemocracy’s openMedia project – researching commersial pressures and patterns across European Council member states - is an attempt to map out and measure the extent of commercial influence. It looks beyond the simplistic idea of ‘fake’ news to asks how the era of&nbsp; ‘peak ink’ impacts the role of journalists across Europe.</p> <p>Early soundings from openMedia’s pan-European survey paints an uncomfortable picture. A third of those who responded indicated their publication consistently protects or promotes the various interests of companies and politicians. It shows self-censorship in play when the commercial adventures of proprietors come too close in an investigative project;&nbsp; with the ‘friends’ of the proprietor off-limits if anything negative is about to be written.</p> <h2><strong>Blurring the lines</strong></h2> <p>With the business model that once centred on steady streams of ad revenue and circulation income now in tatters in the advancing digital age, those industries prepared to pay well to control all aspects of content, including strategic silence - &nbsp;– big pharma, energy, construction, IT and tech – find themselves with paid-for power and no longer subservient to the trade cycle of rolling news. For reporters this can now mean a dual role as journalist and copy-writer, where a marked clarity between straight editorial and advertorial becomes blurred and the obligation to inform reader of where the divide falls doesn’t exist.&nbsp;</p> <p>Many reporters across Europe in the openMedia survey point to editors who simply forget, or no longer much care, where the divide now lies. And for those uneasy with the added role of ordered copy writer rather than career reporter? Journalists who responded in the survey, describe work-place tensions, the threat of dismissal and the acknowledgement that many feel overwhelmed at the increasing amount of work they are expected to carry out to keep jobs that are both scarce and low-paid.</p> <h2><strong>Transition and warning</strong></h2> <p>These are of course early days for an industry in transition. And the openMedia survey, due to the understandable hesitancy and fear-factor of employed journalists, will not be capable of laying out in full this evolutionary change. But the death of Fleet Street and its European equivalents, and the rise in influence of “content” no longer free from external commercial influence, comes with a potential high price.</p> <p>When those who consume news lose trust, and feel they can no longer distinguish between content that is being controlled for a price, and what is actually out there, there will be only one course of action. They will stop. Stop reading. Stop believing. In the process of extinction, there are always critical points where warnings should be listened to. This is one of them.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay/times-misleads-its-readers-about-climate-denying-research">The Times continues to mislead its readers about climate change denial &#039;science&#039;</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Civil society openMedia branded content mass-media financial pressure commercial interference media freedom press freedom freedom of speech fake news Journalism James Cusick Wed, 29 Nov 2017 16:38:45 +0000 James Cusick 114975 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Government confirms its “full transparency” changes to Northern Ireland electoral laws will not be backdated https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/government-confirms-its-full-transparency-changes-to-northern-ireland-electoral-laws <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Details of the DUP’s “dark money” will remain secret.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>The precise details behind a controversial £435,000 donation to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party will continue to be protected in law, according to new draft legislation published by the government.</p><p>A draft order to bring political donations and loans in Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom was laid before parliament in Westminster earlier this week.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span>A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, described the proposed legislative change as bringing “full transparency” which would receive “widespread support” from the people of Northern Ireland.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><h2><strong>Donor details before 2017 will remain confidential</strong></h2><p><span></span>However the new law will only cover funding received on or after July 2017. All donations and loans received before the 2017 cut-off will be kept confidential.</p><p>Westminster will process the law change in Northern Ireland through secondary rather than primary legislation. This means the government will not take any amendments to Brokenshire’s draft, with MPs examining the proposed legal changes only in a fast-tracked small all-party committee.&nbsp;<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span>When the full House of Commons eventually votes, it will effectively be on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.&nbsp;</p><h2><strong>The DUP ‘dark money’</strong>&nbsp;</h2><p><span></span></p><p>The £435,000 donation to the DUP in 2016 was made by a Glasgow-based organisation called the Constitutional Research Council (CRC). The money, a record donation and far larger than any previous DUP campaign, was used throughout the UK as part of the Brexit campaign.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>openDemocracy earlier this year published details on the CRC and its head, Richard Cook. Cook, a former vice-chair of the Scottish Conservative Party, founded a company in 2013 with <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/secretive-dup-brexit-donor-links-to-saudi-intelligence-service">a Saudi spy boss</a> and another individual <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/mysterious-dup-brexit-donation-plot-thickens">connected to </a>a major arms scandal.</p><p>Though both Cook and the DUP have maintained they fully complied with all Northern Ireland’s electoral laws on donations, the Electoral Commission recently levied a £6,000 fine on a “regulated entity” after an investigation found deficiencies.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>The Electoral Commission were legally bound to protect donor identity and other information. However openDemocracy revealed that Richard Cook and the CRC were linked to the penalty. Although a fine was paid in August, the Commission’s investigation is still in progress.</p><p>The penalty fine is believed to relate to the CRC failing to disclose to the Electoral Commission where the money it gave to the DUP actually came from.</p><p>Following this year’s June election result, Theresa May’s minority government agreed a deal with the DUP’s 10 MPs which kept her in power. A £1 billion promise for extra funding in the province helped seal the arrangement.</p><h2><strong>Brokenshire to ignore new consensus</strong>&nbsp;</h2><p><span></span></p><p>In January this year, Brokenshire consulted Northern Ireland’s political parties over greater donor transparency. He said the “political and security context in Northern Ireland had changed significantly” and that “full transparency” in line with the rest of the UK, should now be considered.</p><p>All parties supported greater transparency, but only the Alliance Party initially stipulated this should be backdated to 2014.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>Since the election a new consensus for retrospective transparency has emerged. Now only the DUP are firmly committed to ruling out any attempt to backdate donor laws.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>openDemocracy contacted the main political parties last month and was told that during negotiations, talks, and private meetings held with the Northern Ireland Secretary over the last four months, it was made clear that the situation had substantially changed since the January 2017 consultation.</p><p>The draft laid before the Westminster parliament this week by Brokenshire does not acknowledge any such discussions taking place. An explanatory memorandum accompanying the draft states only that “all parties … expressed broad support&nbsp; for the future publication of donations and loans, only one party expressed support for backdating publication.”</p><h2><strong>Westminster’s limited scrutiny</strong></h2><p>The government’s use of primary legislation through a statutory instrument effectively blocks opposition parties from insisting on an amendment that would introduce a form of retrospective transparency.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>Following the draft publication, a UK government statement said: “There remains widespread support for full transparency among the people of Northern Ireland. There has been a welcome recognition by the political parties of the importance of transparency to the broader political process and confidence in the democractic process.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>“In line with that aim, we have brought secondary legislation before parliament that would provide for the publication of all donations and loans received by Northern Ireland parties. This would take effect in respect of donations and loans received on or after 1 July 2017.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-phoebe-braithwaite/mp-demands-answers-on-dup-brexit-funders-fine">MP demands answers on DUP Brexit funders’ fine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/hiding-dup-dark-money-fraud-of-so-called-transparency">Hiding the DUP dark money: The fraud of so-called transparency</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/did-dups-controversial-brexit-donors-break-law-by-refusing-">Did the DUP&#039;s controversial Brexit donors break the law - by refusing to reveal the secret source of their cash?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/following-banks-money-who-provided-payment-in-paraphernalia">Following Arron Banks&#039; money: who delivered the payment in paraphernalia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/what-is-it-electoral-commission-is-investigating-banks-for">What (precisely) is the Electoral Commission investigating Banks for?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/arron-banks-charity-investigated-by-charity-commission">Arron Banks’ charity investigated by Charity Commission </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk James Cusick Fri, 24 Nov 2017 16:30:59 +0000 James Cusick 114882 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Bought and paid for – how Romania’s media is pressured by corporate and political masters https://www.opendemocracy.net/openmedia/crina-boros-james-cusick/bought-and-paid-for-how-romania-s-media-is-pressured-by-corporate-and-polit <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Journalists in Romania failing to conform to pressure from private companies and advertisers face intimidation and risk losing their jobs.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563300/14298383858_fa5a8df082_k.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="357" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Man holding a newspaper. Image: Nicolas Alejandro/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Journalists in Romania failing to conform to pressure from private companies – and from advertisers demanding editorial control – face intimidation and risk losing their jobs, according to the latest reports on the country’s media.&nbsp;</p> <p>With Romania’s cash-strapped private-sector media increasingly influenced by political interests, a Romanian media watchdog, <a href="http://www.activewatch.ro/ro/acasa/">ActiveWatch</a>, has told openDemocracy that the situation has deteriorated to the point where the press risks becoming substantially financially controlled.</p> <p>Mircea Toma, head of ActiveWatch, said: “we’ve put together a guide that shows from our press monitoring just how Romania’s media is being bought.”</p> <p>Toma said private companies and politicians had been interfering in news coverage “for years”. But now with very few broadcasters or news publishers making a profit, there was an increasing reliance on advertising revenue.</p> <p>With job-insecurity and low pay commonplace, many Romanian journalists face the stark choice between obeying orders that effectively come from corporate or financial masters, or – if refusing and asking too many questions – being sacked.</p><h2><strong>Silence is golden</strong></h2> <p>Concerns over deteriorating press freedom in the country were initially highlighted in a 2010 joint report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX).</p> <p>A third of the journalists interviewed in the IFEX/RSF survey said what they wrote was influenced by advertising.</p> <p>To look deeper into the state of Romania’s press freedom, Toma’s watchdog group launched a media monitoring project which surveyed the output of seven Romanian national newspapers and the public television broadcaster TVR. The project focused on a proposed gold and silver mine in Roşia Montană, which would be the largest open-pit gold mine in Europe.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Anti-mining NGOs have been challenging the company and the government in court every step of the way for years. Plus, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/claudia-ciobanu/revolution-begins-with-rosia-montana">country-wide protests</a> opposing the project spread across the country and through some diasporas. The riots peaked in 2013, pressuring the <a href="http://actmedia.eu/daily/special-parliamentary-committee-rejects-gov-t-version-of-rosia-montana-gold-mine-bill/49085">government to vote down a bill</a> allegedly designed to greenlight the goldmining.&nbsp;</p><p>In 2015, after approximately 14 years of trying and failing to reopen the ancient gold mine in Roşia Montană, Gabriel Resources, the company in possession of 80% of the mine's shares,&nbsp;<a href="http://gabrielresources.com/documents/BIT_release_210715_final_for_filing_000.pdf">filed a complaint</a>&nbsp;against Romania to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), which is still being addressed.</p> <p>ActiveWatch's analysis – called “Silence is Golden” – examined coverage of the mine in western Romania, which had planned to use a controversial process involving cyanide to extract gold.</p> <p>The survey followed on from Mircea Toma's own experience working for the satirical weekly magazine, Academia Caţavencu, which is known for its investigative reporting.</p> <p>Seven years ago, one of Toma’s Academia colleagues was invited on a group press trip to New Zealand. This included a tour of a gold mine where journalists observed a specific extraction technique in action.</p> <p>The New Zealand mine removed the precious metal using a process called “gold cyanidation”. The same process was intended to be used at Roşia Montană. The technique – banned in a number of countries due to the toxic nature of cyanide – aids the extraction of gold from low-grade ore by converting the metal into a water-soluble complex.</p> <p>Cyanide spills near mines using this process have been proven to have devastating environmental effects on rivers, causing pollution which lasts years.</p> <p>Major mining-related cyanide spills in the United States, Papua New Guinea, Guyana and Kyrgyzstan have prompted national bans on the potentially toxic process in the US, the Czech Republic and Hungary.</p> <p>In Romania, there have been several attempts to ban gold cyanidation which have all been rejected by the Romanian parliament.</p> <p>After <a href="https://www.paginademedia.ro/2010/08/cine-e-in-noua-zeelanda-cu-ro%C8%99ia-montana-turcescu-tatulici-hurezeanu-livia-dila">the group of Romanian journalists</a> returned from the trip to New Zealand, described as “extravagant” by those who took part, all their expenses were later proved to have been invoiced to the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), a subsidiary of Gabriel Resources, a company headquartered in Canada, and registered in the Channel Island of Jersey in 1995 for tax purposes.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563300/RM3_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Cârnic Massif may disappear if the mine reopens. Image: Caelainn Barr, Roșia Montana, Romania, 2013. Trip sponsored by Journalism Fund</span></span></span>Gabriel Resources was founded by a Romanian-born Australian, Frank Timis. He began negotiations with the Romanian government in 1996 to advance extraction of the country’s gold resources. A geological survey in 2000 estimated around 300 tons of gold and 1600 tons of silver could be extracted from four mountains surrounding the town of Roşia Montana. A mining licence was granted to RMGC in 1999.</p> <p>Toma began investigating the New Zealand trip, along with aspects of the mining process and the activities of the Romanian company. But the information he found and the articles he wrote were not published by Academia Caţavencu.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Disinformation and censorship allegations</strong></h2> <p>After Toma claims that a series of articles on the mine were spiked, the reporter accused the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) of involvement in disinformation and censorship. He left the magazine when he says a healthy debate in the newsroom on the mine became a taboo subject.&nbsp;</p> <p>The ‘Silence is Golden’ survey carried out by Toma's ActiveWatch revealed that six of seven national papers, and the state TV broadcaster, had either delivered positive reports on the gold mine development in Roșia Montană, or went silent, many accepting substantial advertising and paid-for press trips from the company.</p> <p>Over the timeframe of the survey, which covered 2011, only one daily newspaper, Adevărul, had published neutral or unfavourable articles on the mine.</p><p>Other areas of concern have included a regional news website (www.cluj-am.ro) removing an article about the forced expropriation of property in areas linked to the mine.</p> <p>Two open letters addressed to some of Romania’s most popular newspapers – <a href="http://www.activewatch.ro/ro/freeex/scrisoare-deschisa-cenzura-la-romania-libera/">Romania Libera</a> and <a href="http://www.activewatch.ro/ro/freeex/cenzura-si-la-capital/">Capital</a> – accused editors of censoring reports on the mining project by deleting articles or removing critical content on their linked websites.</p> <h2><strong>Fake claims</strong></h2> <p>Press investigations of RMGC revealed that the mining company paid for television and online advertising which purported to show that unemployment was high in areas near the mining operation and that jobs in mining would help offset economic hardship.</p> <p>However, the accuracy of the advertising content was questioned by ActiveWatch. One spot featured a Roşia Montană villager who claimed to be unable to make a living from tourism. But subsequent field reporting found that the resident had a thriving business and was planning to build a villa for tourists.</p><p>Over the months of August to November of the same year, the survey also identified "a dramatic fall" in the presence of the topic at TVR: from 27 news items in August (26 of which on prime-time), to 15 in September, and only three over the next two months with just one on prime-time according to Toma.&nbsp;</p><p>In one month, 12 out of 15 items were shown in peak-audience slots. However, in the month that followed, only one item was shown at peak time, and in the subsequent month, reports on the mine were downgraded to a TVR secondary channel.</p> <p>ActiveWatch noted that the marked change in the mine’s coverage on main news programmes correlated with comments from the then Romanian president, Traian Basescu, who began openly offering his support for the controversial Rosia project.</p> <h2><strong>Political influence from the top</strong></h2> <p>According to <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2015/romania">a report by Freedom House</a>, the US-based organisation that researches global human rights and political independence: “The parliamentary majority [in Romania] generally changes the leadership of the public broadcaster, ensuring a pro-government bias to its reporting.”</p> <p>openDemocracy found that RMGC filed an official complaint to TVR in 2011, accusing the broadcaster of a having a “malicious attitude” towards its operations in its current affairs programmes. Former TVR news programme director Rodica Culcer said the complaint was “an attempt to intimidate” their reporting.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563300/9657938728_b7a3376282_b.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Roșia Montană Gold Corporation CEO Dragoș Tănase at Antena 3 TV, September 2 2013. Image: ANTI.USL/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Positive news coverage of Roşia Montană throughout 2011 coincided with the parent company, Gabriel Resources, almost doubling its public relations budget from 10 million Canadian dollars in 2010, to 19 million Canadian dollars over the following 12 months.</p> <p>For its 2011 annual report, Gabriel Resources, said the increased PR budget reflected “the continued efforts by the company to provide relevant and timely information to the Romanian population to maintain the positive momentum of public support for the project.”</p> <h2><strong>Educating the public</strong></h2> <p>The mining company RMGC told openDemocracy that it did not have an effective communication programme before 2008 and that “a lot of the public knowledge was inaccurate due to misrepresentation and rumour.” RMGC previously stated its “on-going communication strategy” was “critical” to “educate the public on modern mining.”</p> <p>The respected financial magazine, <a href="http://www.forbes.ro/cati-bani-a-cheltuit-rosia-montana-gold-corporation-in-publicitatea-din-presa-scrisa_0_8686-10173">Forbes (Romania) reported in 2013</a> that the period covering 2011 was “pivotal” for the mining company’s PR operation. Over that year it had spent £538,000 in print media advertising – a 152% increase from 2010 and 86% above the 2012 spend.</p> <p>Despite the jump in the PR budget and the aggressive national ad campaign, there were widespread demonstrations across Romania opposing the opening of the mine. The project has also faced organised resistance from environmental pressure groups and from countries along Romania’s border.</p> <p>Protests against the reopening of the gold mine involving thousands of participants took place between 2010 and 2013, which influenced the government’s decision to halt the project.</p> <p>However, ActiveWatch found that large parts of the Romanian media simply ignored the protests – such as occupations of important buildings, or profile support by leading pop stars – by devoting little or no coverage.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563300/9898713573_0a6be06a57_b.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="104" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Romanians protesting against the reopening of the mine in Roșia Montană in University Square, Bucharest, 22 September 2013. Image: Andrei Tiut/Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>A 2013 <a href="https://www.riseproject.ro/articol/pe-cine-a-platit-rmgc-in-2013/">investigation by Rise</a>, a group of Romanian investigative journalists who are members of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), looked at revenue from RMGC which went to television channels. It found that national broadcasters, academics, influential politicians and some prominent businessmen had all benefitted financially from RMGC’s PR operations.</p> <h2><strong>Selling silence</strong></h2> <p>A report by Naşul TV, a commercial channel in Romania, accused the country’s mainstream media of “selling their silence” by under-reporting anti-mining protests.</p> <p>Naşul claimed that RMGC had spent 12 million euros over three years on advertising and PR. The channel alleged that RMGC had changed its ad-buying strategy and had moved from a 2009 campaign which focused on media ratings to, in 2010, prioritising its “political affinities” which looked beyond simple audience measurement.</p> <p>As part of their new strategy, RMGC sponsored entire programmes on the state-owned channel. Reports in the Romanian press showed that RMGC bought 1,349 radio ads over three years, and described the 2011 spend as a “bombardment”.</p> <p>Toma told openDemocracy that the activities and commercial relationships forged by RMGC were a text-book warning for other media organisations around the world concerned about the growing influence of outside commercial pressure on independent editorial voices.</p> <p>Gabriel Resources were not available for comments on the latest developments addressing the gold mine in Romania.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/claudia-ciobanu/another-rosia-montana-despite-public-outrage">Another Rosia Montana, despite public outrage</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/claudia-ciobanu/revolution-begins-with-rosia-montana">&quot;The Revolution begins with Rosia Montana&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/mihai-gotiu/romanian-spring-or-carpathian-autumn">Romanian spring or Carpathian autumn?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/raluca-besliu/romania%27s-unsolved-communist-ecological-disaster">Romania&#039;s unsolved communist ecological disaster</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/claudia-ciobanu/romanias-1989-revolution-redux">Romania&#039;s 1989 revolution redux</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/claudia-ciobanu/romania-and-bulgaria-occupy-transition">Romania and Bulgaria: occupy the transition!</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Romania </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Romania Civil society openMedia corporations: power & responsibility censorship corporations RMGC Romania Rosia Montana Gabriel Resources mining freedom of speech Freedom of the press freedom of expression media press freedom democratic media media plurality James Cusick Crina Boros Wed, 22 Nov 2017 15:03:50 +0000 Crina Boros and James Cusick 114838 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Hiding the DUP dark money: The fraud of so-called transparency https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/hiding-dup-dark-money-fraud-of-so-called-transparency <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Theresa May's government is cowering behind walls of secrecy.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Ukraine_Forum_on_Asset_Recovery_(14038928986).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Ukraine_Forum_on_Asset_Recovery_(14038928986).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Theresa May. Image, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. </span></span></span></p><p>If a government is more about what it hides than what it shows, then Theresa May’s dysfunctional administration deserves a monument in Whitehall that resembles a dark hollow tower of bricks that lets out no light. </p> <p>The link between accountability and transparency is as weak inside May’s misfiring, mismanaged government as it has been in any post-war Westminster regime.&nbsp;Given the warped culture of dishonesty and narcissistic sense of righteousness that marked Tony Blair’s later years in office, the alarm bells should be loud for what currently passes as democratic disclosure. </p> <p>The business of government is, on May’s watch, none of our business. Rather than “sunlight as disinfectant”&nbsp;– once a stated ambition of David Cameron – May prefers only an illusion of transparency. &nbsp;Her administration’s openness comes with walls designed to hide behind, such as the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/molly-scott-cato/if-hard-brexiteers-have-nothing-to-hide-theyve-nothing-to-fear">50 “secret” studies on the impact of leaving the European Union</a> that David Davis’s Brexit department has refused to publish. </p> <p>The formal Whitehall excuse? Simply that the government cannot divulge any detail which would impact the deal Britain wants from Brussels. And what is that deal? They won’t say. </p> <p>This dysfunction, a parody of honesty, was also on show in the faux-resignation letter of Priti Patel to the prime minister. The former international development secretary wrote that “her actions …fell below the standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated.” </p> <p>What transparency? Patel got caught holding meetings she kept secret from Number 10 and the Foreign Office. She was conducting a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/we-cant-ignore-patels-background-in-britains-lobbying-industry">freelance foreign policy operation aided by the Conservative Friends of Israel lobby group</a>. Openness was never in the frame. </p> <h2><strong>A wall to hide behind</strong></h2> <p>The latest wall for the government to hide behind – just as they proclaim “full transparency” is necessary and right – is being constructed by the Northern Ireland Secretary.</p> <p>Earlier this year James Brokenshire said the political and security context had “changed significantly” and there should be r<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/adam-ramsay/opendemocracy-has-forced-change-in-law-on-dark-money-but-we-still-need-to-do-more">eform of the practice that protects the identities of donors and lenders who give money to political parties in the province</a>. He suggested voters in Northern Ireland would “welcome more information about how their political parties are funded.”</p> <p>From provisional power already available to him in a 2014 law, Brokenshire could decide to deliver “full transparency” of political donations dated from then. All donations to Northern Irish parties have been recorded by the Electoral Commission since 2014 on the assumption that they will one day be published. </p> <h2><strong>Demand for transparency</strong></h2> <p>Seeking the views of Northern Ireland’s parties at the beginning of this year,&nbsp;only the Alliance Party expressly told him they wished to see the transparency rules back-dated to 2014, as the original legislation specified. However that situation has now radically changed. </p> <p>In subsequent private meetings, negotiations and exchanges, a new consensus on transparency being imposed retrospectively has emerged. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/release-details-of-dup-brexit-dark-money-mps-tells-northern">Now only the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) wants any back-dating to be ruled out</a>. </p> <p>All parties except the DUP have told Brokenshire that what they hesitated on in January is not what they now want. Northern Ireland ministers are now ignoring what the leaders of Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP, and the Greens have been telling them in recent months. Chloe Smith, the Northern Ireland junior minister, continues to sell the official misrepresentation that only the Alliance want transparency “imposed retrospectively” back to 2014. </p> <h2><strong>Illegal donation?</strong>&nbsp; </h2><p>Why? <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/secretive-dup-brexit-donor-links-to-saudi-intelligence-service">Before the 2016 referendum on EU membership, the DUP took a £435,000 campaign donation from a one-man-band organisation based in Glasgow, the Constitutional Research Council (CRC)</a>. The money was barely spent on Brexit campaigning in Northern Ireland, it was mostly spent in England, Scotland and Wales.&nbsp; </p> <p>The Electoral Commission, unable to legally identify the CRC or its <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/meet-scottish-tory-behind-425000-dup-brexit-donation">chair, Richard Cook</a>, has said nothing. But others have. A <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/substantial-fine-linked-to-dup-s-secret-brexit-donors">record £6,000 fine levied by the commission in August</a> this year over unspecified “failures” to comply with electoral laws, was, we discovered, linked to the CRC.&nbsp;An <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/did-dups-controversial-brexit-donors-break-law-by-refusing-">investigation into the donation is continuing</a>. </p> <p>Why was the money channelled through the DUP? And where, precisely, did it come from? </p> <p>The DUP’s version of transparency goes only so far. They want what was previously sealed to remain sealed. And now that its 10 MPs are propping up May’s minority Tory government – in exchange for an extra £1 billion kicked into Northern Ireland’s budget – &nbsp;they assume Brokenshire and the Westminster government are, according to one former NIO official, “sensitive to their needs”. </p> <h2><strong>Questions on Leave campaign</strong></h2> <p>May and the hard-line Brexiters sustaining her weak hold on Number 10 also require protection from further probing questions on how the winning Leave campaign was funded, and therefore on the credibility of the referendum result itself. &nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>The con trick</strong></h2> <p>So, the part of transparency that usually involves scrutiny and accountability? It’s not there. The government’s plan for the imminent legal reform on donor identity, is to deploy an affirmative statutory instrument (SI) in Westminster, which means only a specially delegated committee will get to debate the issue, and amendments will not be taken. When the full House of Commons gets to vote it will be on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Knowledgeable insiders suggest MPs will accept donor transparency in Northern Ireland from July 2017 rather than risk losing the chance for another generation. And <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/uk-government-set-to-ignore-northern-ireland-parties-transparency-calls">Brokenshire will conveniently hide behind the wall his department helped build, claiming this is what the people of Northern Ireland want</a>. It is a con, nothing more.&nbsp; </p><p>Just as Patel’s definition of transparency was suspect, and Davis’s Brexit department twists the electorate’s right-to-know by hiding anything that might expose its own incompetency,&nbsp;Brokenshire’s idea of transparency is based on nothing but the survival of his party in government. The national interest? Not on the order paper. </p> <p>Barack Obama, both before he entered the White House and during his two terms in office, insisted that democracy required accountability, and accountability requires transparency. He said there can be no faith in government if it tries to put itself beyond scrutiny. The United States independent legal system, outside of the errant command of Donald Trump, is currently testing that democratic principle to its limit.&nbsp; </p> <p>A culture of secrecy is equally damaging for Britain’s democracy. Theresa May’s place in political history is already marked out in the dunces’ corner reserved for the most politically incompetent, those simply not up to the job. Near her tipping point, she should now mark her final days by accepting that the walls, built to ensure her own survival, were always going to crumble. </p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/did-dups-controversial-brexit-donors-break-law-by-refusing-">Did the DUP&#039;s controversial Brexit donors break the law - by refusing to reveal the secret source of their cash?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/we-cant-ignore-patels-background-in-britains-lobbying-industry">We can&#039;t ignore Priti Patel&#039;s background in lobbying</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/james-cusick/uk-government-set-to-ignore-northern-ireland-parties-transparency-calls">UK government set to ignore Northern Ireland parties’ transparency calls</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Inc. DUP Dark money James Cusick Mon, 13 Nov 2017 12:54:50 +0000 James Cusick 114615 at https://www.opendemocracy.net UK government set to ignore Northern Ireland parties’ transparency calls https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/uk-government-set-to-ignore-northern-ireland-parties-transparency-calls <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p> Brokenshire loses his excuse for hiding DUP’s lavish Brexit donors, but still refuses to reveal their identity</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/james-brokenshire.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/james-brokenshire.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire: gov.uk, fair use</span></span></span></p><p>The UK government is planning to ignore new demands from Northern Ireland’s political parties for backdated transparency on political donations – effectively barring the public from knowing who gave a controversial £435,000 to the Democratic Unionist Party’s Brexit campaign.&nbsp; </p><p> After openDemocracy <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/you-aren-t-allowed-to-know-who-paid-for-key-leave-campaign-adverts">first reported</a> the scale of the record donation to the DUP’s lavish Brexit campaign, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire announced an end to donor secrecy in NI. But he has now ruled out backdating the law change to 2014, which would have revealed the source of the DUP cash. </p> <p> The record £435,000 donation – a far larger sum than the DUP has ever spent on an electoral campaign – attracted particular controversy because almost none of the cash was spent in Northern Ireland. Yet the donor secrecy laws which apply to Northern Ireland, and not the rest of the UK, meant the donors are allowed to remain anonymous.</p> <p>Since the June election result, which forced Theresa May to seal a £1 billion deal with the DUP to keep her government in power, openDemocracy has learned that Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, and the Greens have all told Brokenshire in writing or during talks that they want transparency on political donations backdated to 2014, thereby revealing the source of the DUP’s Brexit funding. </p><p> The Ulster Unionists have also told Brokenshire in private talks that they too do not oppose retrospective legislation and backed a consensus for the 2014 date, although their support is on the strict condition that Sinn Fein cannot opt out of any new rules by being treated as an all-Ireland political entity.</p> <p> Only the DUP has not updated its position on transparency since the June election. A spokesman for the DUP said they had called for “openness” in their May 2016 manifesto and would “comply with whatever date and decision the government brought it.” </p> <p> They also said that backdated transparency to 2014 would make little difference as “We have already said where the £435,000 donation came from. It came from the Constitutional Research Council”.&nbsp;</p> <p> The CRC, as openDemocracy has previously reported, is a secretive group which has refused to disclose its donors, its members, or to deny allegations that it had to pay <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/substantial-fine-linked-to-dup-s-secret-brexit-donors" target="_blank">a substantial fine of £6,000 to the Electoral Commission</a> last month, the reasons for which remain unknown. In reality, as openDemocracy has also previously reported, backdating the law to 2014&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/electoral-commission-contradict-dup-on-brexit-donor-transparency">would&nbsp;force the CRC</a> to reveal where they had got their money from.</p> <h2> <strong>Transparency, now</strong></h2> <p>In January this year Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire wrote to all NI’s parties, stating “the political and security context in Northern Ireland has changed significantly” and he wanted their views on “ending the current arrangement.” &nbsp; </p><p> In the initial responses over January and February this year, all the main parties backed transparency in principle. Only the Alliance Party specifically asked that the commencement of full transparency should be January 2014. </p> <p> However, since Theresa May struck the deal with the DUP in June to keep her government in power, a senior Northern Ireland Office source told openDemocracy that the tone on transparency [in Northern Ireland] “has completely changed.”</p> <p> The source said: &nbsp;“What was once regarded as sensitive and seen as a necessary diplomatic omission is now a full blown demand. A Commons debate on transparency without an examination of the merits of when it [funding transparency] should start is now seen as politically unacceptable.”</p> <p> Since June, Brokenshire has held a series of negotiations on donation transparency with all of Northern Ireland main parties. </p> <p> openDemocracy talked to all the main parties and was given details of the post-election private discussions held with Brokenshire. Either in writing or during these private negotiations, the Secretary of State was told that every party – except the DUP – wanted or would not oppose full transparency regulations beginning in 2014.</p> <p> However Brokenshire has refused to update his plans. Barely a fortnight after the DUP arrangement with the Conservatives was agreed in June, he said that new secondary legislation would apply to “all donations and loans received on or after July 1, 2017.”</p> <p>&nbsp;A statement by the Northern Ireland Office issued yesterday said Brokenshire had received “no further correspondence from parties on this matter [transparency].” </p><p> In addition, Brokenshire’s office said that new legislation on donations was now “at an advanced stage of drafting” and would be brought before the Westminster parliament “shortly”.&nbsp; </p><h2> <strong>‘Debate’ in the Commons - but no changes</strong></h2> <p> The government intends to drive the legislation through Westminster using a procedure (an affirmative statutory instrument) that will involve a Commons debate, but avoid amendments – which removes the risk of a challenge. Northern Ireland Office insiders told openDemocracy that the prize of donation transparency in Northern Ireland outweighs any concern over when it commences. &nbsp;</p> <p> Despite the recent talks, exchanged correspondence, and public announcements on the preference for transparency rules to be backdated three years, the Northern Ireland Office dismissed the idea that anything had changed since the general election and the £1 billion deal with DUP.&nbsp; </p><h2> <strong>Origins of the £435,000 donation</strong></h2> <p> openDemocracy earlier this year published details of the obscure Glasgow-based organisation, the Constitutional Research Council, which organised the transfer of the cash to the DUP. Run by Richard Cook, whose business associates include a former Saudi spy boss and an individual with alleged links to a major arms scandal, the CRC has refused to answer any questions on the origins of the DUP cash.</p> <p> Although the DUP and the CRC maintain the funds complied with the law, a £6,000 fine was imposed by the Electoral Commission in August this year. Mr Cook, given the opportunity to deny his organisation had been fined by the Commission, refused to comment. </p><p>The Northern Ireland Office were formally asked about the change of position on transparency by the main political parties that has taken place over the last three months. A spokesman said: &nbsp;“We do not discuss details of the private discussions held by Secretary of State and the other political parties.”</p><p><em>This is day three of openDemoracy's #BrexitDarkMoney series. See coverage from <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/pro-union-donors-deny-brexit-dark-money-involvement">day one</a> and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/substantial-fine-linked-to-dup-s-secret-brexit-donors">day two</a>, and our <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/mary-fitzgerald/who-bankrolled-brexit">reasons</a> for publishing the series.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/pro-union-donors-deny-brexit-dark-money-involvement">Mystery deepens over secret source of Brexit &#039;dark money&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/mary-fitzgerald/who-bankrolled-brexit">Who bankrolled Brexit?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Inc. DUP Dark money James Cusick Wed, 18 Oct 2017 09:02:52 +0000 James Cusick 114087 at https://www.opendemocracy.net ‘Substantial’ fine linked to DUP’s secret Brexit donors https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/substantial-fine-linked-to-dup-s-secret-brexit-donors <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><span style="font-size: 11.0pt; font-family: Arial;">Former minister demands answers on £6,000 fine, questioning legality of DUP’s mystery source of Brexit cash<br /></span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong></strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 10.03.45.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 10.03.45.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="373" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>DUP leader Arlene Foster and UK prime minister Theresa May. Image, gov.uk, fair use.</span></span></span><br /><strong></strong></p><p><strong> </strong>A former Europe minister has today called for a “full and proper investigation” into a controversial £435,000 donation towards the DUP’s Brexit campaign, as new details emerge of a substantial fine linked to the transaction.</p> <p>Theresa May’s allies in parliament, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), have always insisted that the donation, channelled via a secretive group known as the Constitutional Research Council (CRC), complied fully with the law. </p> <p>However, openDemocracy has now learned that a £6,000 fine imposed by the Electoral Commission and paid in full last month was connected to the CRC. Labour MP Chris Bryant has written to the Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, stating that it “cannot possibly be right” for details of one of the highest-ever fines imposed by the Electoral Commission to be kept secret.</p> <h2><strong>“Failures by a regulated entity”</strong></h2><p><strong> </strong><br /> The Electoral Commission revealed on its website last month (as first spotted by <em><a href="http://www.thedetail.tv/articles/electoral-watchdog-issues-6-000-fine-over-ni-political-donation">The Detail</a></em>) that it had imposed a £6,000 sanction connected to a political donation in Northern Ireland, but gave no name, offence, or summary of the decision. The Commission stated only that it imposed the penalty due to “failures by a regulated entity” but could not “disclose further information” because of legal restrictions.<br /> <br /> Bryant has asked Brokenshire to confirm who the “regulated entity” is, and whether the fine relates to the unprecedented £435,000 donation given to Mrs May’s Westminster allies, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in order to campaign for Brexit.</p> <p>The £435,000 donation – a much larger sum than the DUP has ever spent on an electoral campaign in its history – attracted particular controversy because almost none of the cash was spent in Northern Ireland. Yet the donor secrecy laws which apply to Northern Ireland, and not the rest of the UK, have allowed the donors(s) to remain anonymous.</p><p> In his letter to the Northern Ireland Secretary, Bryant says of the Electoral Commission’s £6,000 fine: </p> <p>“Whatever the rights and wrongs of maintaining secrecy about financial donations in Northern Ireland, it cannot possibly be right to keep secret the details of a regulated entity being found to have broken electoral law and being fined a substantial amount. No other judicial or quasi-judicial decision of this nature is kept secret in the UK.”</p> <h2><strong>“No comment”</strong></h2> <p>The Electoral Commission’s office in Belfast would make no comment on their own investigation nor on the casework that led to the high-level fine. <br /> <br /> However, political sources in Northern Ireland with knowledge of the Commission’s affairs have confirmed to openDemocracy that the substantial sanction was connected to the Constitutional Research Council (CRC) – the secretive group that channelled the £435,000 to the DUP in Belfast. </p> <p>The £6,000 fine was paid in full to the Commission on August 30.<br /> <br /> openDemocracy contacted the CRC’s chair, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/meet-scottish-tory-behind-425000-dup-brexit-donation" target="_blank">Glasgow-based Richard Cook</a>, and asked him to confirm details of the fine; why his organisation had been sanctioned by the Electoral Commission, and what part of Northern Ireland’s electoral law had been broken. He was also repeatedly asked why both he and the DUP had insisted no laws had been broken, and when he had learned that the Commission was investigating the cash transfer.<br /> <br /> Throughout the conversation, Mr Cook was given multiple opportunities to dismiss the listed £6,000 fine as nothing to do with the Constitutional Research Council or the DUP. He declined to do so, or to make any further comment.</p> <h2><strong>End donor secrecy</strong></h2><p><strong> </strong><br /> After openDemocracy <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/you-aren-t-allowed-to-know-who-paid-for-key-leave-campaign-adverts" target="_blank">first revealed</a> the scale of the secret donation to the DUP earlier this year, we reported on Mr Cook’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/meet-scottish-tory-behind-425000-dup-brexit-donation" target="_blank">business connections</a> to a former Saudi spy boss and to an individual with alleged links to a major arms scandal, and yesterday published the results of our <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/pro-union-donors-deny-brexit-dark-money-involvement" target="_blank">investigation into a list of key figures in relation to the donation</a>. </p> <p>Although current electoral rules in Northern Ireland allow political parties to protect the identities of donors and funding, the government is expected to announce this will soon change.</p> <p>However the UK government’s policy strategy on full transparency is likely to be highly influenced by their £1 billion deal with the DUP. The Conservative party's&nbsp;minority government is being propped up in parliament by the DUP, and any change which exposed the DUP-CRC donation arrangement is likely to be resisted.</p> <p>Rather than backdate transparency rules to 2014 – which would reveal the source of the £435,000 DUP cash – Brokenshire announced earlier this year that the change, which will be made through secondary legislation, would only apply to donations and loans received after 1st July 2017.</p> <p>Government and DUP sources have denied that this is ‘protection’ for the DUP, as part of their deal to keep the Conservatives in power.</p> <h2><strong>‘A full and proper investigation?’</strong></h2> <p>Last month the Electoral Commission published details of a £3,500 fine on UKIP related to campaign expenditure.<br /> <br /> In June, the Commission fined the owner of Butlin’s, Peter Harris, £12,000 for breaking spending return rules. Mr Harris spent £420,000 on the Leave campaign in last year’s EU referendum.<br /> <br /> Also in June, the DUP were fined £4,000 for failure to complete campaign expenditure returns for the 2016 Assembly elections.</p> <p>Bryant’s letter to Mr Brokenshire regarding the mystery £6,000 fine pointedly ends: “Does the fine relate to the DUP’s donation from the CRC? Will you launch a full and proper investigation into how the money was spent? And will you ensure that the truth comes to light?”</p><p><strong><em>This is day two of openDemocracy's week-long #BrexitDarkMoney series. See yesterday's revelations <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/pro-union-donors-deny-brexit-dark-money-involvement">here</a> and our reasons for publishing this series <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/mary-fitzgerald/who-bankrolled-brexit">here</a>.<br /></em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/pro-union-donors-deny-brexit-dark-money-involvement">Mystery deepens over secret source of Brexit &#039;dark money&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/mary-fitzgerald/who-bankrolled-brexit">Who bankrolled Brexit?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/new-email-release-shows-how-leave-campaigners-used-vast-loo">Revealed: how loopholes allowed pro-Brexit campaign to spend ‘as much as necessary to win’</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/mps-demand-full-investigation-of-hard-brexit-backing-tory-party-within-par">MPs demand full investigation of hard-Brexit backing Tory &quot;party within a party&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick-adam-ramsay-crina-boros/revealed-tory-mps-using-taxpayers-cash-to-fund-sec">Revealed: The Tory MPs using taxpayers’ cash to fund a secretive hard-Brexit group</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/key-poll-which-boosted-leadsom-s-leadership-bid-funded-by-d">Key poll which boosted Leadsom’s leadership bid funded by DUP’s dark-money donors</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/release-details-of-dup-brexit-dark-money-mps-tells-northern">Release details of DUP Brexit ‘dark money’, MPs tells Northern Ireland Secretary </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay/opendemocracy-has-forced-change-in-law-on-dark-money-but-we-still-need-to-do-more">We&#039;ve forced a change in the law on &#039;dark money&#039;. But we still need to do more</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/new-brexit-minister-arms-industry-american-hard-right-and-e">The new Brexit minister, the arms industry, the American hard right… and Equatorial Guinea</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/meet-soopa-doopa-branding-agency-who-delivered-brexit">Meet the Soopa Doopa branding agency that delivered Brexit</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/dark-money-driving-scottish-tory-surge">The dark money driving the Scottish Tory surge</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/how-dark-money-is-drowning-british-democracy">How dark money is drowning British democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/meet-scottish-tory-behind-425000-dup-brexit-donation">Meet the Scottish Tory behind the £425,000 DUP Brexit donation</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/dup-donaldson-can-t-remember-why-his-brexit-campaign-spent-more-than-">DUP Donaldson can’t remember why his Brexit campaign spent more than £32,000 on controversial data analytics company linked to Trump</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/democratic-unionist-party-brexit-campaign-manager-admits-he-didn-t-kn">Democratic Unionist Party Brexit campaign manager admits he didn’t know about its mysterious donor’s links to the Saudi intelligence service</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/electoral-commission-contradict-dup-on-brexit-donor-transparency">Electoral Commission contradicts DUP on Brexit donor transparency</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/mysterious-dup-brexit-donation-plot-thickens">The strange link between the DUP Brexit donation and a notorious Indian gun running trial</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/secretive-dup-brexit-donor-links-to-saudi-intelligence-service">Secretive DUP Brexit donor links to the Saudi intelligence service</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/you-aren-t-allowed-to-know-who-paid-for-key-leave-campaign-adverts">The &#039;dark money&#039; that paid for Brexit</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit2016 Brexit Inc. DUP Dark money James Cusick Tue, 17 Oct 2017 09:25:08 +0000 James Cusick 114053 at https://www.opendemocracy.net MPs demand full investigation of hard-Brexit backing Tory "party within a party" https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick/mps-demand-full-investigation-of-hard-brexit-backing-tory-party-within-par <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Labour MPs are demanding that the pro-Brexit European Research Group is investigated by parliament's expenses watchdog on the back of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick-adam-ramsay-crina-boros/revealed-tory-mps-using-taxpayers-cash-to-fund-sec"><em>openDemocracy</em>'s revelations</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 16.57.51.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 16.57.51.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="340" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Suella Fernandes. Image, Channel4, fair use.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">Labour MPs are demanding a full investigation by parliament's expenses watchdog, IPSA, into the ''funding and activities'' of a group of hard-line Conservative MPs who have been branded a ''party within a party'' .</p><p dir="ltr">More than a quarter of a million pounds in official expenses has been claimed by a group of 40 Tory MPs for ''research'' carried out by the European Research Group (ERG). All the MPs are members or supporters of the ERG whose stated aim is a hard, uncompromised exit from the European Union. </p><p dir="ltr">The Tory MPs, including members of Theresa May's cabinet, have channeled the money to the ERG over the last five years, covering the period of both the David Cameron and May administrations. </p><p dir="ltr">Under IPSA rules, MPs cannot claim for research or work ''done for, or on behalf of a political party.'' </p><p dir="ltr">Following an <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick-adam-ramsay-crina-boros/revealed-tory-mps-using-taxpayers-cash-to-fund-sec">investigation by openDemocracy</a>, the former Conservative minister, Anna Soubry, called the operation of the ERG ''a party within a party'' and stated that there were &nbsp;questions over whether or not public money should be given to the group.</p><p dir="ltr">No accounts or membership list of the ERG is published, despite repeated requests from openDemocracy in recent weeks. During an interview with Channel Four News this week, the current chair of the ERG, the Fareham MP Suella Fernandes, refused once again to reveal who were members of the ERG and said that information was only available to the group itself.</p><p dir="ltr">Fernandes looked increasingly uncomfortable after she accepted that the ERG did take public money, but dismissed the suggestion that transparency of its activities should be automatic. </p><p dir="ltr">Labour MPs led by Steve Doughty have written to IPSA stating that the ERG has an effective 'secret' list of members and that the way it receives public money through the claims of some Tory MPs ''is significantly different from the funding that is used for other pooled research facilities'' including the policy research unit used by the majority of Conservative MPs . </p><p dir="ltr">The ERG's last chair was Steve Baker, who was promoted in June this year to a minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union. He is widely regarded as effectively in control of the 80 or so members of the ERG who this weekend are expected to back a public statement by pro-leave MPs demanding that Britain must be ''well and truly'' out of the EU by March 2019. </p><p dir="ltr">Baker is seen by many Tories on both sides of the European divide as capable of holding the government hostage over Brexit issues. If Downing Street begins leaning towards a softer Brexit or an lengthy transition with the UK still governed by rules from Brussels, the ERG is likely to be the front line of any revolt that could see May ousted as prime minister.</p><p dir="ltr">The Labour MPs want IPSA to clarify what funds are permitted to be claimed for and whether there should be greater ''transparency'' of the funding of ''closed pooled research services''.</p><p dir="ltr">The group also want IPSA to reveal the total amount of public money handed to the ERG through MPs expenses.</p><p dir="ltr">Clarification has also been demanded on the status of the ERG's senior researcher, Christopher Howarth.</p><p dir="ltr">openDemocracy revealed that details for who Howarth works for in the Commons, and the way he effectively runs the ERG as an independent organisation, do not to match the rules laid down by the Sergeant at Arms office. The Segeant's office is responsible for the administration and security of the Hose of Commons.</p><p dir="ltr">IPSA have also been asked to investigate who Howarth is currently sponsored by and whether or not he is located in offices inside the Palace of Westminster and on ''what basis'' is he working.</p><h2 dir="ltr"><em><strong>Full text of letter from Labour MPs, led by </strong></em><em><strong><em><span><span>Stephen Doughty.<br /></span></span></em></strong></em></h2><div dir="ltr"><em><span>For the attention: Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.</span></em></div><p> <em><span><span> </span></span></em></p><div class="m_4184673054724760044PlainText"><em><br /> *^Allegations surrounding the funding and activities of the European Research Group**<br /> <br /> You will be aware of allegations that have surfaced in recent days regarding the alleged use of IPSA funding claimed by a number of Members - it is suggested at least 40 - with total funds claimed for "research" in the hundreds of thousands, which is apparently being funnelled to the European Research Group, a hard-right, hard-Brexit grouping within the Conservative Party that has a restricted and secret membership.<br /> <br /> You will note this arrangement appears to be significantly different from the funding that is used for other pooled research facilities such as the PRS, PRU etc. which are open to all MPs. The current Chair of the group Suella Fernandes MP has allegedly refused to provide a full public list of members.<br /> <br /> Allegations have also been made about the use of Parliamentary facilities by Christopher Howarth who appears to be the senior official supporting the group.<br /> <br /> Could you advise us as to whether:<br /> - if IPSA funds are permitted to be claimed for research of this nature, what requirements exist around the registering of such claims, and the transparency required of the overall activities, funding and operations of closed pooled research services?<br /> - what the total amount of IPSA funding claimed for the ERG or other "European Research" by Conservative Members has been in each of the last five years, broken down by the Member blaming it?<br /> - whether the ERG or any of its staff are registered in any capacity that would allow them the use of Parliamentary offices, phones, passes etc.?<br /> - whether Christopher Howarth is currently occupying offices provided to his sponsoring member Steve Baker, or whether he is located elsewhere in the Palace of Westminster and on what basis?<br /> <br /> We look forward to your urgent reply <br /> <br /> Yours sincerely<br /> <br /> Stephen Doughty MP, Chris Bryant MP, Ben Bradshaw MP, Neil Coyle MP, David Lammy MP, Lead Supporters of Open Britain.<br /></em></div><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick-adam-ramsay-crina-boros/revealed-tory-mps-using-taxpayers-cash-to-fund-sec">Revealed: The Tory MPs using taxpayers’ cash to fund a secretive hard-Brexit group</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/new-brexit-minister-arms-industry-american-hard-right-and-e">The new Brexit minister, the arms industry, the American hard right… and Equatorial Guinea</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Inc. DUP Dark money James Cusick Fri, 08 Sep 2017 16:09:59 +0000 James Cusick 113265 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Revealed: The Tory MPs using taxpayers’ cash to fund a secretive hard-Brexit group https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/james-cusick-adam-ramsay-crina-boros/revealed-tory-mps-using-taxpayers-cash-to-fund-sec <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Senior MPs including Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom and Jacob Rees-Mogg have used their expenses to fund a 'party within a party' inside Westminster – effectively holding the government hostage over its negotiations with the EU.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/24358_16037395-large_5_600x315.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/24358_16037395-large_5_600x315.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="242" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"The People Have Spoken." Photo: Avaaz. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Taxpayers’ money is being used to fund an influential group of hard-line pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who are increasingly operating as a “party-within-a-party”, openDemocracy can reveal today.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite expenses rules stating that MPs cannot claim for research or work “done for, or on behalf of, a political party”, the European Research Group has received over a quarter of a million pounds from MPs who claimed the public cash through their official expenses.</p><p dir="ltr">The ERG, according to its current chair, MP Suella Fernandes, exists to ensure that Brexit will not be rendered “meaningless”. The group, regarded as an 80-strong private Tory caucus, wants Britain out of the EU single market and customs union. Its previous head, Steve Baker, now a minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, said his group aimed to end EU’s “despotism” and give Britain back its borders.</p><p dir="ltr">Forty MPs have paid money to the ERG and claimed it back as ‘research’ over the period covering the David Cameron and Theresa May governments. These include current ministers and members of May’s cabinet. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">But the true number could be higher. Other MPs regarded as ERG members have claimed expenses for “research services” on European issues without specifying the ERG.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">According to a Whitehall analyst who has reviewed MPs’ expense statements for openDemocracy, the amount of taxpayers’ money received by the ERG is likely to be well above the officially listed quarter of a million pounds.</p><p dir="ltr">Anna Soubry, who served as a minister under David Cameron, and who has been critical of &nbsp;Theresa May’s approach to Brexit, told openDemocracy that while MPs legally used collective research services: “The ERG operates like a party within a party”. She added she was “surprised that it’s [ERG] being funded by taxpayers especially as it is a single issue organisation and would be of little use to a Conservative MP who doesn’t support their views.”&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Ms Soubry said the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) should investigate the ERG payments to ensure taxpayers money “was being spent responsibly.”&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Andrea Leadsom, the former Tory leadership contender who is currently Leader of the Commons, has claimed almost £10,000 for ERG research. Sajid Javid has listed £8000 for ERG work. Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, has claimed almost £8000, and the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, £2000. All are high profile cabinet figures who have voiced clear support in favour of the UK making a clean break with the EU.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The office of backbench MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, currently being touted as a future leader of the Conservative Party, confirmed he was a member of the ERG. His staff insisted he had claimed no money through his expenses for the group. However his filed accounts state he claimed almost £10,000 for ERG research.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">openDemocracy repeatedly requested an official list of members of the ERG from Suella Fernandes. The former barrister has only been an MP since 2015 and took over as chair of the ERG from Steve Baker following his ministerial promotion in June this year. &nbsp;Although her office insisted the list was “not a state secret” it would not reveal any details of the group.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite Ms Fernandes’ leading role, her office said all matters relating to the group had to go through Christopher Howarth. He holds the basic title of “senior researcher” of the ERG.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">One of Ms Fernandes staff said Mr Howarth effectively ran the group from a separate Westminster office. “Christopher holds all the information. Only he can help. That is often a problem for us, especially if he is on holiday,” she said.</p><h2>“Their own whipping operation”</h2><p dir="ltr">Christopher Howarth worked for the MP Mark Francois when he was shadow Europe minister, and for Baker when he chaired the ERG. Baker, now a minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, has also <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/new-brexit-minister-arms-industry-american-hard-right-and-e">received money from the secretive Constitutional Research Council</a>: the same outfit that channeled £435,000 of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/release-details-of-dup-brexit-dark-money-mps-tells-northern">‘dark money’ to the DUP</a> to campaign for Brexit.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Baker is regarded by both front and backbench Tory eurosceptics as a key figure capable of using the influence of the ERG to ensure a hard Brexit is not watered down or compromised. His ministerial promotion by May was seen as necessary if she wanted to survive as prime minister after the debacle of the general election.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The government’s continuing position on a hard Brexit without compromise in negotiations with Brussels is said to reflect fear that if there is any softening, the ERG will immediately move to oust May from 10 Downing Street.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Tory MPs who spoke to openDemocracy on a strictly non-attributable basis, described ERG members as engaged in “their own whipping operation”, using a closely-guarded WhatsApp messaging network, and sticking rigidly to the ERG’s agreed policy-line on any matters relating to Brexit. One MP said “Their private newsletter is not a subject for discussion, it is a directive to be obeyed.”</p><p dir="ltr">No MP contacted by openDemocracy contradicted the notion of the ERG as a party-within-a-party, with many saying it had been transformed under Baker’s command.</p><p dir="ltr">In June this year Christopher Howarth helped organise a meeting of ERG MPs in a Commons committee room. Two ministers, one from Davis’ Brexit department, the other from Liam Fox’s international trade department, gave the gathered MPs assurances that Brexit still meant the UK being outside the customs union and the single market, with UK law returning to supremacy. Baker described the gathering as “hugely encouraging.”</p><p dir="ltr">The meeting coincided with confirmation that Steve Baker, then chair of the ERG, would be joining the government as a minister.</p><h2>“Running his own operation”</h2><p dir="ltr">There is more than some confusion – even among senior Tory MPs – over who exactly the ERG’s “senior researcher” Christopher Howarth now works for, and in what capacity.</p><p dir="ltr">In August, the name “Christopher Howarth” is listed twice in the official Register of Interests of Members’ Secretaries and Research Assistants as working for the MP Steve Baker and Nick Herbert, a former Home Office and Justice minister in David Cameron’s coalition government. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Baker’s office referred questions on the ERG to Suella Fernandes. The Christopher Howarth who works for Nick Herbert has no connection with the ERG.</p><p>Howarth, the ERG’s senior researcher, is also officially listed by the Sergeant-at-Arms office, responsible for the security and administration of the Commons, as working for Chris Heaton-Harris. The Daventry MP was chair of the ERG between 2010 and 2015 before Baker.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Heaton-Harris’s office was also contacted by openDemocracy. They said Howarth did not work there, that they had no formal connection with him, that he had no desk in their office, and that Howarth had his own office elsewhere on the Westminster estate.</p><p dir="ltr">Other Tory MPs said they believed Howarth had no connection with any one MP and effectively “ran his own operation from his own office.”&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The Sergeant at Arms office said that researchers who held passes to the Palace of Westminster had to be employed by an MP whether backbench or at ministerial level. The Sergeant’s office said that researchers employed as staff by a think-tank or outside pressure group were not permitted to have their own office on the parliamentary estate or to enjoy independent access to the Palace of Westminster.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Although Howarth has his own phone extension inside the parliamentary estate, the main Westminster switchboard do not have his name listed anywhere.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">openDemocracy repeatedly contacted both Mr Howarth and Ms Fernandes asking who employed him, where his office in the Palace of Westminster was, what research he had carried out, and how much he was being paid by the ERG.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The questions were acknowledged but no information was received. &nbsp;</p><h2>“Amusing but entirely fanciful”</h2><p dir="ltr">Earlier this year the ERG’s former chair Steve Baker, after being promoted to a minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, confirmed he had accepted £6,500 from the Constitutional Research Council in 2016. He claimed the money was used to fund an event for ERG members and their staff in late December 2016.</p><p dir="ltr">Under pressure from openDemocracy, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 MPs now prop up Theresa May’s minority government, reluctantly acknowledged it received a £435,000 donation from the CRC in the run up to the Brexit referendum last year – more cash than they had ever spent on a political campaign in their history. Both the DUP and Richard Cook, a Scottish Tory who runs the CRC, have repeatedly refused to reveal where the funds came from.</p><p dir="ltr">The money was not used by the DUP solely in Northern Ireland, but instead was used to buy pro-Brexit advertising across the UK. Under Northern Ireland’s limited transparency rules, the DUP are not required to reveal full details of their funding.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The CRC do not publish any accounts and have refused to reveal details of their political affairs. After Baker confirmed the donation from the CRC he was asked if he knew where the money had come from and the identity of those donating funds to Cook’s group. The Department for Exiting the European Union referred all enquiries to Christopher Howarth.</p><p dir="ltr">In a brief reply this week, Howarth described the ERG link to the CRC as “amusing but entirely fanciful”. He repeated the explanation that the £6,500 had been from a “permissible donor.”</p><p dir="ltr">James McGrory, Executive Director of Open Britain, the cross-party campaign group who believe the government’s Brexit strategy is destructive and chaotic, said: “It will surprise many people to learn that their taxes are being used to fund a group of hard-line Brextremists operating as a ‘party within a party’ in the Conservatives. IPSA &nbsp;should investigate this quickly and thoroughly to judge whether this is the legitimate use of public funds its members claim it is.”&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">He added : “Given they are hoovering up hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ cash, the ERG should also be a lot more transparent about who its members are and what the money is being spent on.”</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Note: This article was changed to reflect the fact that the Christopher Howarth who works for Nick Herbert is a different person from the Christopher Howarth who works for the ERG.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/leadsom-campaign-chair-denies-involvement-in-dark-money-funded-poll-which-b">Leadsom campaign chair denies involvement in dark-money funded poll which boosted her campaign</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/new-brexit-minister-arms-industry-american-hard-right-and-e">The new Brexit minister, the arms industry, the American hard right… and Equatorial Guinea</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/meet-soopa-doopa-branding-agency-who-delivered-brexit">Meet the Soopa Doopa branding agency that delivered Brexit</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/meet-scottish-tory-behind-425000-dup-brexit-donation">Meet the Scottish Tory behind the £425,000 DUP Brexit donation</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/peter-geoghegan-adam-ramsay/dup-donaldson-can-t-remember-why-his-brexit-campaign-spent-more-than-">DUP Donaldson can’t remember why his Brexit campaign spent more than £32,000 on controversial data analytics company linked to Trump</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay-peter-geoghegan/democratic-unionist-party-brexit-campaign-manager-admits-he-didn-t-kn">Democratic Unionist Party Brexit campaign manager admits he didn’t know about its mysterious donor’s links to the Saudi intelligence service</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Inc. DUP Dark money Crina Boros Adam Ramsay James Cusick Thu, 07 Sep 2017 11:48:16 +0000 James Cusick, Adam Ramsay and Crina Boros 113232 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Trust is in recession: and there is little sign of recovery https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/trust-is-in-recession-and-there-is-little-sign-of-recovery <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Where does trust end and continuous fear become the norm?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563544/31964518554_5667d5f7ce_k.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563544/31964518554_5667d5f7ce_k.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Big Ben. Mariano Mentel / Flickr. Some rights reserved.&nbsp;</em></p><p>Political scepticism and suspicion, civic disengagement, chequered confidence in those we contract to protect us, have been terms thrown around academia for centuries. And though the connected debates are often over-dry and abstract, a sequence of events has just reminded us that without raw trust, the very ability of democracy to function is at serious risk.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>Get careless with the small stuff - to paraphrase Albert Einstein - and you won’t be trusted with big ticket business. If this advice was pinned outside every committee corridor, every MP’s room, every debating chamber, every quango office, would it make a difference? On recent performances, the answer is, sadly, no.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>Where to start? Those who work in the Palace of Westminster have been worried about the consequences of a catastrophic fire for years. This is not about altruistic concern for those living in sub-standard public housing.</p><p>It is about how £5.7 billion is needed to refurbish parliament, to bring a neo-gothic building into the 21stcentury; and about how the electrical system in Westminster is dangerous and maintenance might not be working. It’s also about security, and digital communications and protecting Pugin’s interior design, all with a sky-high price.</p><p>This work will get done and billions will be spent. But it will probably not take the lives of ministers, MPs or the staff of the Palace of Westminster to force through the project. It is unlikely a catastrophic fire will engulf the palace and destroy Sir Charles Barry’s work. And when the upgrade is complete it will remain a fitting monument to our democracy.</p><p>But what kind of monument is the blackened skeletal structure of Grenfell Tower? What is the significance of dozens of council-owned blocks that are either clad in the same combustible material that contributed to the horrors of Grenfell, or found to be sub-standard when experts carried out a thorough safety evaluation?<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span>If one of the key roles of the state is to protect its citizens and to ensure their rights are upheld, then what is left of Grenfell – and I choose these words carefully, intending to upset no one – is a giant tombstone to democratic failure.</p><p><span></span></p><p><span></span>Whatever form or part of government you examine, whether federal or the UK’s parliamentary and local administrative system, trust is the glue, the belief even, that decisions will only be taken if the public are protected.</p><p><span></span></p><p>Living in an advanced civic society has its risks. Government, those we elect, is there to protect and minimise such risks – to ensure food is safe, roads are safe, energy is provided, waste disposed of, the environment protected. We learn, as political consumers, to trust the government and to trust the technical experts the government says it trusts.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span>But what happens when trust fails and we learn there is more focus on a £5 billion upgrade of parliament’s home rather than homes supposedly built for those unable to enter the private market?&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>The expenses scandal fostered concern that those who represent us may instead be stealing from us. Broken political promises and basic lies compound the problem - and trust slides. During the EU referendum, an extra £350m every week was promised for the NHS if Brexit happened. That pledge vanished quickly, along with the meaningless ‘Take back control’.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span>An election that Theresa May repeatedly said would not happen, subsequently resulted in her authority being abruptly removed. The marketing of a ‘strong and stable’ leader was rumbled as an unconvincing, feeble con.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>Political trust, thin on the ground before the election, has since the Grenfell fire morphed into a deeper anger. And while we may accept conflicts over the outcome of competing economic arguments, we have no stomach to accept life-ending hazards that have been ignored or dismissed as unworthy of prioritising.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Political trust, thin on the ground before the election, has since the Grenfell fire morphed into a deeper anger.&nbsp;</p><p>The residents of Grenfell Tower knew where they lived was dangerous. Their concerns were well documented. Yet their voices, and their rights, were sidelined. Their concerns were not centred on advanced technological systems. It was far less complex. They knew sprinklers would help, that better alarms mattered, that a single stair exit was far from ideal.&nbsp;</p><p>That anyone slept well in this fated tower block says more about the tragic acceptance of risk than it does about faith and trust. And now? If Grenfell is to mean anything, then the low trust we have in politicians and in the commercial relationships formally connected to the state, must change. Business as usual is not an option, nor is a drawn-out judicial inquiry that tries to lean on the ability to forget and move on.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span>Trust is lost easily, but it is usually a slow learning curve. It produces a drip-feed of suspicion that those supposed to be on your side have their attention elsewhere. This fosters the idea that even tried-and-tested expertise should be questioned or rejected. From the state’s perspective, a wait-and-see approach to catastrophe then begins to look attractive.</p><p>The UK is perhaps more guilty of this approach than elsewhere. We improve rail safety after major accidents (Paddington, Clapham Junction); we improve oil rig safety after lives are lost in a major fire (Piper Alpha), we improve ferry safety after a sea disaster (Zeebruge). And now we will improve the building and safety of high-rise blocks after Grenfell.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span>Our mounting loss of trust could be offset through formal links to international organisations, which monitor safety on a global scale. Instead the UK’s withdrawal from Europe risks a retreat to an ‘own-back-yard’ school of safety when we should be drawing on expertise beyond our borders.</p><p><span></span></p><p><span></span>openDemocracy has <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/north-sea-air-safety-and-brexit">already pointed out</a> inconsistencies in air safety in the North Sea where the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority and its Norwegian regulatory counterpart both decided they will make decisions on their own rather than take directions from the European Union’s air regulator, EASA.</p><p><span></span></p><p><span></span>In February this year the CAA discussed proposals to allow a “phased return to service” for a helicopter (Airbus’ EC225) that had been banned from operating in the UK. Despite being deemed airworthy by the EU and returned to service by military and air sea rescue services world-wide, there are currently no Super Puma 225s flying from the UK or Norway.&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p>The CAA stated that provided conditions were met on equipment checks and other issues, the aircraft could return to its business of ferrying personnel to the North Sea oil fields.</p><p>On the surface, this looks like the type of thorough safety regime absent from many tower blocks in the UK. Evidence was being judged and evaluated, and risks were being assessed.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span>However a month later the CAA opted for a two stage approach: the first where the UK and Norway regulators would decide if they are satisfied everything is safe; and a second stage where the crew and passengers who use the helicopters offer their assessment.&nbsp;</p><p>If this is an indication of how far institutional trust has been eroded, where industry regulators no longer believe their own expert opinion is enough, then the work of the inquiry into Grenfell ordered by the Prime Minister will be a&nbsp;far harder task than expected.<span></span><span></span></p><p><span></span>The UK is about to start work on a new generation of nuclear power stations. Park the questions over their economic viability. If we no longer trust the authorities that will evaluate nuclear safety, if we no longer trust the politicians who take decisions on our behalf, and instead want a local or DIY approach to public safety, then where do we draw line? Before we board a jet to fly off on holiday, do we want to inspect the engines ourselves? Where does trust end and continuous fear become the norm?&nbsp;</p><p><span></span></p><p><span></span>Grenfell is already more than an appalling loss of life. It may be a bonfire of our remaining political trust, trust any future government will need to work very hard to restore.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/james-cusick/north-sea-air-safety-and-brexit">North Sea, air safety and Brexit</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk James Cusick Tue, 27 Jun 2017 11:14:06 +0000 James Cusick 111916 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Did Jeremy Corbyn perform better than expected? Yes. Does that mean he should stay Labour leader? No. https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/did-jeremy-corbyn-perform-better-than-expected-yes-does-that-mean-he-should-stay-lab <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Labour’s future cannot be left to depend on a relic, who, for a brief few weeks, performed beyond expectations.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563544/34292338920_bb073a72d3_h_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563544/34292338920_bb073a72d3_h_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span><em>Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, UK. Chatham House / Flickr. Some rights reserved.&nbsp;</em></span></p><p>On the unique calculator that Jeremy Corbyn uses, there must be a sequence of numbers – somewhere between meltdown and minimal respectability&nbsp;- that most psephologists won’t recognise. This is where ‘victory’ in the general election resides. Not the win that would take Labour into Number 10, but the result that will keep Corbyn as Labour’s leader – and finally bury his party as an electable political entity.</p> <p>Labour’s expectations going into the general election campaign were so low that simply avoiding a disaster, or a cataclysmic collapse, was seen as a reason to be cheerful. For those of us struggling with Corbyn’s election as leader, and in almost-permanent mourning over the attritional weekly loss of credibility, the election was a justifiable period to contemplate hiding behind the sofa.&nbsp;</p> <p>The last six weeks merited a retreat into petitionary prayer, a begging-bowl plea even, for the electoral arithmetic to deliver a simultaneous Labour wipe-out and decorous recovery. But that kind of fantasy math doesn’t exist, even in the minds of quantum physicists.</p> <p>Until Theresa May delivered the Conservatives’ stillborn manifesto and the noise level surrounding her claimed leadership talents began drowning out all talk of an in-the-bag landslide, the Corbyn campaign had looked predictably lame. Jeremy as Prime Minister was either an amusing what-if, or a passing nightmare.</p> <p>However, the abject failure to sell May as “strong and stable”, alongside the misjudgement that her authority was unassailable, handed Corbyn an unexpected opportunity. When May began to look more like a fabricated fraud than Thatcher mark II, Corbyn’s so-called authenticity, which gives his followers reasons to believe, was now sold as the game-changing magic to make 2017 the year of revolution.</p> <p>May’s wooden and out-of-place performances in a personality-led campaign, handed Corbyn the gift of media focus. His excruciatingly weak performances at PMQs, the inept, organisational chaos surrounding his leadership, his inability to engender any common-cause between the hard-left and the pragmatic centre of his party, suddenly gave way to a calmer, softer, Corbyn-in-the-spotlight.</p> <p>The vacuum created by May’s monotony and the Liberal Democrats’ failure to be taken seriously, turned Corbyn into the 2017 election’s centre-stage politician. From a hidden leader, edited out of most Labour campaign leaflets, and dismissed in doorstep canvassing as a temporary phenomenon unlikely to get in the way much longer,&nbsp;Corbyn – and Labour’s proto-Marxist manifesto – began to be taken seriously. His back-to-the-future socialist agenda, as untailored and unchanged as Michael Foot’s donkey jacket, was now an outed celebration of an alternative UK.</p> <p>Barely concealed pork barrel give-aways were presented as a planned festival of Keynesian revivalism and state-planned growth.&nbsp; Corbyn has contradictions over the IRA, there are issues over his claimed peace-making in terrorist circles and his abhorrence of the nuclear deterrent remains. The cost of large-scale re-nationalisation, his perceived weakness over anti-Semitism, and – most important of all – the widespread assumption that he is simply an accident, an incompetent socialist relic out of his depth, have all had to be revised as opinion polls narrowed.Initially branded a ticket to the Dignitas clinic, the manifesto morphed from an uncosted wish-list of resurgent state economic power, to something that sounded as politically obvious as ‘Make America Great Again.’ &nbsp;</p> <p>When the gap between Labour and the Conservatives is 20 points, and a landslide is forecast, it is valid to assume that Corbyn is the root cause of the mess. But when the numbers shrink to nine, to seven, to five, to three, and when another coalition becomes the subject of serious debates, Jeremy Corbyn is no longer a hapless, hopeless clown prince, but the left’s saviour-elect a heartbeat away from Number 10. &nbsp;</p> <p>So even if Labour lose, and perhaps lose badly, does Corbyn’s decent electoral performance and the way he seemed to revive hopes of another Labour government, mean he should be given another chance? Did his revival of a hard-core distributist agenda, whether it translates into votes or not, mean Corbyn has a right to remain at the helm of Labour? No. Absolutely no.</p> <p>Leave aside the project fear analysts who claim a Labour victory would mean a surge in public borrowing, a run on the pound, a plunge in the value of the UK’s global market share, the cost of the UK’s borrowing reaching record heights, an immediate hike in interest rates, and any UK Brexit deal left to the mercy of Brussels’ negotiators. That scaremongering – and we have heard it before when the Conservatives are in danger of losing (remember the poster of Tony Blair’s demon eyes) – is simply part of May’s campaign.</p> <p>Instead, we should ask how Corbyn got to where he is. It took sympathetic votes from Labour MPs to get him on to the post-Miliband leadership ballot. He was there supposedly to widen the debate. It was a favour to the left.</p> <p>In that contest, Corbyn was initially an in-house joke for the parliamentary party. Though when he won, it left them powerless in Westminster. The same trick is being played out again with the widespread appeal that Corbyn cannot win, so Labour voters should remain loyal and limit the damage.</p> <p>Underpinning this covert appeal is the assumption that Labour still remains a party capable of government, capable of being elected at a future date, as long as Corbyn or John McDonnell or Diane Abbott and others, are no longer in control. For those Labour supporters who have tolerated Corbyn, but flirted with the prospect of taking their vote elsewhere, his adequate performance during the election may have made a difference. This however suggests the weight of Labour’s vote should not vindicate the continuance of the Corbyn regime.</p> <p>Even if Labour are left with shrunken numbers on the Opposition benches, Corbyn and McDonnell will, regardless, still see the validity of running a class war, their signature policy, from Westminster. A reduction in Labour MPs matters little if this is the sole objective.</p> <p>The prognosis for Labour’s survival could be bleak. Corbynism is a terminal affliction that Labour cannot recover from. A six-week campaign has not a redesigned or relaunched Corbyn’s claim to resurrect state socialism. When he returns to the Commons, Labour will still have the same problems any organisation has when it is run by an ideologically restricted incompetent.</p> <p>Party activists may not care. They will cheer and will re-elect him should there be another leadership contest. The parliamentary party will have a different view. And there is no reconciliation there to suggest a constructive peace will break out. The result? For Labour – business as usual, well away from government. For the Tories? A bit of May – then a new leader to fight 2022.</p> <p>Even if Corbyn marginally improves the percentage success of Ed Miliband in 2015, or just falls short, he should go. The left could claim the equivalence of sainthood and insist he changed the future. The centre would have to accept some good was done, even it meant improved morale.</p> <p>Labour’s future cannot be left to depend on a relic, who, for a brief few weeks, performed beyond expectations. That isn’t enough. For the benefit of the next generation of Labour politicians who should want more than the wilderness of endless opposition, Corbyn and whatever ‘ism’ he stood for, should return to the backbenches – quickly.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/david-boyle/why-i-cant-vote-labour">Why I can&#039;t vote Labour </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay/we-have-real-choice-between-different-economic-futures">We have a real choice between different economic futures</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk James Cusick Thu, 08 Jun 2017 15:54:11 +0000 James Cusick 111529 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Selling Theresa May: Why the Conservatives will never gamble on her again https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/selling-theresa-may-why-conservatives-will-never-gamble-on-her-again <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Tory campaign scared off potential customers. How much that let in competitors we will soon know.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563544/34111074883_0f01bae83a_k.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563544/34111074883_0f01bae83a_k.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Theresa May blank eyes. Matt Brown / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</em></p><p>There is an old commercial maxim, which states you don’t close a sale, you just open a relationship. And if it stands a chance of surviving, there has to be a degree of honesty: as the saying goes, you can’t sell a doughnut if you don’t acknowledge the hole.</p> <p>No one holding responsibility inside the Conservative campaign team seems to have understood this, or any other basic principle of selling. The result has been a badly-packaged election pitch which has tried to offload Theresa May as a strong and stable leader, when those with experience of her, especially at cabinet level, knew this was always going to be a suspect product unlikely to pass any stringent consumer test.</p> <p>May as a charismatic politician, capable of using her personality to shoulder a cultish, crowd-pleasing campaign where leadership sidelined everything else, now seems like a fantasy dreamt up by bargain-basement advertising agency.&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet that is what the British electorate have been being asked to buy. And over the course of the election, if polls are correct, they have seriously hesitated.&nbsp;</p> <p>As the election campaign closes, there is a degree of group despair among some of the more corporately savvy Tory figures, which suggests that even if May wins, regardless of the scale of the victory, she will never again be asked to front an election campaign.</p> <p>One senior insider told openDemocracy: “The last six weeks have been a hard lesson. People may still buy her. But will we risk betting the entire family silver on her again? No. That will not happen. The hunt for a new leader is, sadly, already under way.”</p> <p>Six weeks ago a carefully evaluated sales strategy was seen as unnecessary, an indulgence even. The Prime Minister enjoyed a 20-point lead over Jeremy Corbyn, an opponent so ill-equipped for office that the vast majority of his own parliamentary party prayed for a humiliating defeat, or one just damaging enough to force a return to the back-benches from whence he came.</p> <p>In the world of sales, this is dangerous territory to be in. Whenever a business decides that success has been achieved, progress usually stops. Politics is no different.&nbsp;</p> <p>Having dismissed the need for an election on multiple occasions, May based her U-turn on the assumption of guaranteed slaughter. The excuse of improving her weaponry for the imminent fight against Brussels sounded only faintly plausible.</p> <p>In sales who controls what someone buys is an important concept.&nbsp; And it’s customers decide. If they believe you have already made the decision for them, that you are trying hard to control the process, they don’t like it and begin to look around for alternatives. &nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If they believe you have already made the decision for them, that you are trying hard to control the process, they don’t like it and begin to look around for alternatives.</p> <p>May looked awkward, joyless and robotic as she delivered the campaign messages designed by Sir Lynton Crosby. Her decision to refuse any confrontational TV debates, suggested she believed she was above popular accountability. The electorate had a right to vote, but&nbsp;<em>why</em>&nbsp;they should vote for her was none of their business.&nbsp;</p> <p>Delivered by an empathetic, highly loved authoritarian politician, such a strategy might be understood. But Theresa May has never fronted a major campaign nor played&nbsp;a leading role in a critical election.</p> <p>It’s dangerous in sales to approach a deal with the preconception that the customer wants what you are selling. It’s equally unwise to assume what the customer is thinking. &nbsp;Yet that is exactly how the Tory campaign was geared.</p> <p>The presidential pitch May repeated, again and again and again, was that only she was capable of turning the office of prime minister into a general-in-chief. Forget the Conservative Party; this was her election, her campaign. She was the only choice.</p> <p>Did she deserve this approval? On what information would consumers buy her? They say in sales that the most effective technique comes from listening to, rather than talking at, people. But in tense, jittery, wooden, often flat performances, it became clear that explanation formed no part of the Tory bargain being offered.</p> <p>If the Brexit negotiations needed an improved mandate, what would May do with her increased authority? How would this deliver a better Brexit, a better deal?</p> <p>Consumers buy products they believe will improve their lives. The higher the benefit, the higher the price. Someone’s vote is a major decision, similar to&nbsp;a major purchase, something that happens only every few years. People can change cars more often than they vote. They shop around, acquire detail, ask about value.</p> <p>So what was May going to do with all this approval if she won? Beyond “strong and stable leadership” the electorate are still in the dark. Brexit remains a black box of hidden consequences. Where information was needed, there was none. She was instead merely saying:&nbsp; ‘Vote for me. I deserve your vote because I’ve told you I’m strong and stable. ‘</p> <p>One adman, who worked on Labour’s “Shadows” campaign in 1987, said “Selling Theresa May as they’ve tried to do, is one of the most insulting campaigns I’ve come across in the last 20 years. When an ad agency takes the piss, and assumes consumers won’t notice, it usually spells disaster – and a lost account.”</p> <p>In sales, before a product can be successfully marketed, a number of key questions must be answered. Does the product break through above other noise? Will people want to know more? Will it give them something they don’t have? Will it capture their hearts or minds? Will it engender belief or trust? People buy what they like, so what will convert them?</p> <p>In the post-referendum internal warfare that followed the resignation of David Cameron last year, and after the fratricide that took out Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom emerged as the two left standing. Leadsom was seen as a potential disaster-in-waiting and was persuaded to exit gracefully, leaving May the keys to Number 10 without facing any challenge.</p> <p>The campaign designed for her seems to have forgotten this. She has never been a noisy, profile politician. There is nothing standout about her. Likeability has never been discussed. She openly says, “I am not showy.”</p> <p>What is equally obvious is that she is not a conviction politician either. Though a remainer, a week after the referendum she offered “Brexit means Brexit”, ditching her previous position.&nbsp;There have been other U-turns on a UK bill of rights, on nuclear energy, national insurance, energy policy, and during the campaign on social care. &nbsp;Yet the election sales campaign projected her as a new Thatcher, a needed Churchill, the Wellington required for an imminent Waterloo. “Strong and stable” was offered without explanation.</p> <p>Why Corbyn broke through, why he gained credibility against all expectations, and how a badly misjudged Tory manifesto resurrected Labour’s hopes, will all be dissected in detail. &nbsp;</p> <p>But it is the misjudged selling of Theresa May that may yet be the signature failure of the 2017 general election. The Tory campaign scared off potential customers. How much that let in competitors we will soon know.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/james-cusick/theresa-may-democratic-accountability-television-debate-refuse">Theresa May regards television debates an intrusion into Britain’s real democratic process</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/gilbert-ramsay/theresa-may-offers-gig-economy-approach-to-counter-terrorism">Theresa May offers a gig-economy approach to counter-terrorism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk James Cusick Wed, 07 Jun 2017 08:53:01 +0000 James Cusick 111458 at https://www.opendemocracy.net North Sea, air safety and Brexit https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/north-sea-air-safety-and-brexit <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Does the political fight about who controls safety in the North Sea reveal just how difficult Brexit is going to be? </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563544/2273049228_9464beec56_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/original_size/wysiwyg_imageupload/563544/2273049228_9464beec56_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="640" height="444" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-original_size" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Crew change. arbyreed / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</em></p><p><strong>Political writer James Cusick worked on a North Sea oil platform during his early 20s, and has reported on the major successes and disasters of an industry which remains economically important to Scotland and the UK. But is the North Sea facing a new fight over who controls safety? Has it become a political battleground revealing just how difficult Brexit is going to be?</strong></p><p>Over the last 40 years almost 70 million people have flown in helicopters between the mainland and offshore oil and gas rigs in the UK side of the North Sea. That works out at over 8 million flights ferrying a skilled workforce from mainly Scottish airports over some of the most treacherous seas in the world.</p> <p>In the early 1980s, I contributed to these statistics when working on one of the deep-water platforms. Before each trip I remember an adrenalin-fed focus that took in every word of the flight safety briefing. That’s still how it’s done, even for seasoned oil-workers.</p> <p>Over those last four decades, accidents have claimed the lives of around 130 oil staff and flight crew. While the total fatal and non-fatal accidents is short of 100, this number offers little comfort if getting to work involves using&nbsp;a helicopter&nbsp;with a safety record you believe has been compromised.</p> <p>Critical to any decision to boarding an aircraft is the reassurance of safety. But which organisation is monitoring, assessing and continually re-evaluating airworthiness? That basic question is not easily answered at the moment when it comes to the North Sea. &nbsp;</p> <p>You might be forgiven for assuming there would be one&nbsp;global, supra-national standard,&nbsp;allied to local&nbsp;regulations. In which case you would be wrong.</p> <p>Following the accident in Norway last year of a&nbsp;Super Puma 225&nbsp;and the loss of 13 lives, investigators began a forensic analysis of what had happened. The 225 and its close variant, the 332, were grounded while detective work took place.</p> <p>Subsequently, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) decided that what they had discovered, allied to a series of protective safety orders, meant&nbsp;“an acceptable level of safety” had&nbsp;been restored.&nbsp; EASA said Airbus, who makes the Super Puma, had followed all their recommendations and enough had been learned to merit the&nbsp;“return to service of the fleet”.&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the world’s military and air-sea rescue Super Pumas are now back in the air. The military users include the Saudis, Germany, France, Japan, Brazil, China and others. Oil companies in China, Vietnam and elsewhere, are flying their personnel on Super Pumas; and national search and rescue operations in China, Japan, Spain, South Korea use the helicopter, as do seven world leaders including the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.&nbsp;Yet, thanks to the helicopter being grounded by both the civil aviation authorities of UK and Norway, no Super Puma is currently flying in the North Sea.</p> <p>What is acceptable&nbsp;to EASA, the Cologne-based bureau of the European Union which regulates air safety, remains unacceptable to the regulators in the UK and Norway.&nbsp;&nbsp;This contradiction cannot be good for an industry that supports 330,000 UK jobs and&nbsp;remains vital&nbsp;to the Scottish economy.</p> <p>The&nbsp;“root cause”&nbsp;of the Norwegian crash has remained elusive. A 225 carrying oil workers from a Statoil platform crashed near the island of Turoy. Witnesses described a mid-air explosion and seeing the rotor blade detach from the helicopter. All 11 passengers and the two flight crew were killed.</p> <p>Pilot error was ruled out. Accident detectives focused heavily on a crack in the rim of a gear in the main gearbox. Although the “root cause” according EASA, remained elusive, new engineering specifications recommended to Airbus were followed and a European directive allowing the helicopters to fly was issued in October.</p> <p>Was that enough for the UK and Norwegian authorities?&nbsp;No. The involvement of gear failure echoed problems of a 332 accident in 2009 off Peterhead where 16 men were killed. The Fatal Accidident Inquiry that followed however concluded that the crash could have been prevented with a better maintenance regime.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Canadian company, CHC, which operated the Turoy flight, also found themselves in familiar territory. In 2013 they grounded all Super Pumas when one of their 332 crashed near Sumburgh airport in the Shetlands. Four people lost their lives. No evidence of engineering failure was found.</p> <p>Britain's&nbsp;CAA maintains the Turoy accident is still an investigation-in-progress, and they want more information. A recent CAA statement suggests the UK and Norway are&nbsp;“united”&nbsp;in determining it is they, and not EASA, that will decide on&nbsp;“the safety of those who travel on offshore helicopter flights.”</p> <p>The danger here is that helicopter safety&nbsp;has become a political football to be kicked between national and international organisations. Norway recently announced it will ignore any helicopter regulations from an outside body, claiming only Oslo can deal with its peculiarly local weather conditions and the often treacherous business of flying in the North Sea. This carries a Brexit echo of “take back control”.</p> <p>The Super Puma 225, once the North Sea's "workhorse", remains mothballed. Oil and gas workers have had to put their faith in another aircraft, the Sikorsky S-92.</p> <p>Operators are leasing more 92s to fill the gap left by 31 grounded Super Pumas. &nbsp;Yet the S-92 is not problem-free.&nbsp; In&nbsp;2017, an S-92 crashed at Black Rock Island off the coast of Ireland, killing all four crew. A preliminary report by&nbsp;Ireland’s Air Accident Investigation Unit&nbsp;found&nbsp;the tail of the helicopter had struck rocky surfaces on the western end of the island before losing control. Investigations are ongoing.</p> <p>In 2016, an S-92 spun out of control during an emergency on a North Sea rig. Though all 11 passengers and crew were not injured,&nbsp;Sikorsky grounded all S-92 aircraft worldwide for safety checks. Operators were instructed by the manufacturers, Lockheed-Martin, to carry out the checks immediately, and to focus on the&nbsp;tail rotors of the aircraft.&nbsp;The knock-on effect was severe disruption to North Sea travel, already hit by the Super Puma ban.&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier this year the US Federal Aviation administration issued an emergency airworthiness directive following three reports of S-92 pilots losing tail rotor control caused by failed bearings. They said&nbsp;S-92s must undergo inspections every 10 hours.&nbsp;</p> <p>Before the Turoy crash, the North Sea’s fleet of long-range helicopters was dominated by Super Pumas and S-92s. A mix of aircraft in a dangerous industry where safety is paramount, is not co-incidental, it is essential.&nbsp; Any further incident involving a S-92 could leave the North Sea without a long-range transport helicopter. Remote oil fields would be left out of reach.</p> <p>Norway's grounding of Super Pumas, pending the final report from its own air accident investigators, is understandable. Harder to justify would be a never-ever ban on the 225, allied to hints that it will not be swayed by other regulators. Also difficult to comprehend &nbsp;is the UK CAA's hard-line opposition, despite EASA stating clearly it considers safety has been restored.</p> <p>So has helicopter airworthiness and the ability of the North Sea rigs to continue drilling for oil and gas, emerged as one of the first fall-guys in the push towards Brexit? No debate on safety is ever wasted, but the North Sea should not become a battleground that helps defines what ‘take back control’ actually means.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/patrice-de-beer/brexit-le-pen-france">Brexit and France: a divorce by mutual consent?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/grahame-thompson/populism-biggest-winner-from-uk-referendum">Brexit and the rise of populism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Inc. James Cusick Mon, 05 Jun 2017 16:20:05 +0000 James Cusick 111406 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Theresa May regards television debates an intrusion into Britain’s real democratic process https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/theresa-may-democratic-accountability-television-debate-refuse <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Prime Minister has refused to take part in a TV debate. What else will she throw out? Could Prime Minister's Questions be the next accountability casualty?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/33678788606_22ca65242e_z_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/33678788606_22ca65242e_z_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="459" height="317" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Theresa May going to Prime Ministers Questions and to her statement on her letter triggering Article 50. Number 10/Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>In the United States, anyone seeking the office of president knows that while they are not constitutionally mandated to appear in televised debates, even a hint of refusal would be&nbsp;<em>de facto</em>&nbsp;political suicide and regarded as the highest form of contempt for the audience, namely, the American electorate.</p> <p>The first Kennedy-Nixon shoot-out in 1960 drew an audience of 66 million. The opening 2016 Trump-Clinton debate was watched by 84 million and millions more on streaming platforms. The reach and impact of these televised gladiatorial contests, however imperfect, are now seen as a necessary democratic link between the prize of the kingdom of Washington DC and would-be rulers.</p> <p>Yet, in the United Kingdom, despite the half-century stand-off between broadcasters and politicians ending in 2010 with the first live televised election debate, with the exercise repeated again in 2015, Theresa May has said ‘no’ to any live TV contest that would see her battle Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Nicola Sturgeon or any other party leader.&nbsp;</p> <p>US broadcasters may over-romanticise television and its relationship with politics. Nevertheless, its ability over the last 50 years to generate and stimulate political debate, means that on accountability alone, television has become a pillar of&nbsp;Capitol Hill’s democratic process. Politics is the business of DC and DC is under threat from Donald Trump’s inept, imbecilic administration. His serial attacks on the major networks’ credentials mirrors the fightback since his election.</p> <p>Television in the UK is not under political attack. Public service remits, good regulatory clarity, and an evolved, symbiotic culture between performer-politicians and a wide spectrum of programming that accommodates both brief and longer-form debate, means TV politics is regarded as robust and democratically healthy.</p> <p>The Prime Minister's saying “we won’t be doing television debates” – adding that she “believes in campaigns where politicians actually get out and meet with voters” – is therefore either a denial of television’s ability to deliver a sentient audience of voters (which is luddite nonsense) or it is a leading politician saying she alone will determine what accountability looks like.</p> <p>May’s decision to hide and avoid the inconvenience of a live broadcast debate suggests a dangerous disregard for scrutiny unlikely to end with just the shredding of a few invites from the BBC, ITV and Sky. Others forms of traditional political accountability are likely to feature in Downing Street’s post-election assessment of what is and isn’t needed.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">May’s decision to hide and avoid the inconvenience of a live broadcast debate, suggests a dangerous disregard for scrutiny unlikely to end with just the shredding of a few invites from the BBC, ITV and Sky.&nbsp;</p> <p>On the advice of the political strategist, Lynton Crosby, May’s election campaign is intended to be risk-averse, safe; the objective is a de-militarised zone free of curious correspondents, her opponents, and any over-inquisitive non-Tory public. Scrutiny and accountability are not in Crosby’s dictionary.&nbsp;His past successes as a back-room Robespierre means May listens to him. She turned down TV invitations before they were issued; she quickly learned the election Haiku prepared for her, now repeating mantra-like “strong and stable leadership/coalition of chaos”.</p><p>Her stump speeches, reserved for selected Tory-faithful, depict Corbyn in Downing Street as Dracula in a blood bank. And there is every indication that the Conservative manifesto will be short on detail, light on policy and vague on May’s vision of post-Brexit Britain.</p> <p>Election events held in workplaces where everyone has already gone home, or safe rallies where the audience has been strip-searched for dangerous thoughts or questions, do nothing to dispel worries that the signature of the 2017 general election is silence, convenient silence.</p> <p>Corbyn’s far-left playbook advocates a similar strategy of the leader operating in similar comfort zones. So the criticism of ‘silence’ is not directed solely at May. The Labour leader initially accused May of “running scared”. The refusal to take part in TV debates, he said, meant she had failed in her “duty to democracy.” Yet a few days later Corbyn announced he too would not take part in debates that had been down-graded to opposition-only.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">May and Corbyn are merely narrow-casting to their converted, operating in like-minded cocoons of unchallenged facts.&nbsp;</p><p>A series of live televised political debates, while not a panacea for an uncertain and ill-defined election, nevertheless would be an opportunity to enliven and publicly dissect core issues. May and Corbyn are merely narrow-casting to their converted, operating in like-minded cocoons of unchallenged facts. Televised debate, even if too stiff, or too controlled, at least offers the opportunity of observing a would-be leader under fire – before you tick the ballot box.</p> <p>In 2010, 10.3 million people tuned into the first “I’m with Nick” debate, where Nick Clegg, then leader of the Liberal Democrats found a new audience listening to him, including David Cameron and Gordon Brown. Millions tuned into the live TV debates five years later, with 38 percent stating they had been “influenced” by what they heard.</p> <p>Theresa May, by refusing the broadcasters’ invitations, shows contempt for one of the most basic rights in a democracy – accountability.&nbsp;</p> <p>If polls are correct, or just slightly wrong, the Prime Minister will return to the dispatch box after June 8 to face decimated opposition benches. The forecast massacre of Labour MPs will come 20 years after Tony Blair found himself with the power that comes with a majority of 179, the result of a Tory massacre.</p> <p>One of Blair’s first announcements, taken without any parliamentary consultation, was to shift the twice-weekly sessions of Prime Minister’s Questions at 3.15pm, to a once-a-week bout at noon on Wednesdays. Alistair Campbell, Blair’s communications and strategy chief, has insisted the change was pushed through as a matter of efficiency, claiming it saved his boss a day-and-a-half in preparation. Many MPs, not all of them Tories, claimed the shift lessened the accountability of the PM in the Commons.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Theresa May, by refusing the broadcasters’ invitations, shows contempt for one of the most basic rights in a democracy – accountability.</p><p>While Corbyn is a routine disaster at PMQs, May is better, though no dispatch box star. This perhaps suggests that a televised debate would be a no-brainer, even if the risk-averse Crosby thought a landslide was more than enough, and that Corbyn’s only chance was sympathy for the wounded.</p> <p>More than half a century of presidential TV debates in the United States gives them the status of an entrenched institution. Two general elections worth of similar debates in the UK? Even without the stamp of tradition, does this mean May had the right to refuse?</p> <p>If her refusal is based solely on her own definition of accountability, and on how she wants to interact with the electorate, does she therefore have the right, as Blair did, to tinker with PMQs, to change it, or lessen its democratic importance? If she doesn’t like PMQs and wants to communicate with&nbsp;parliament on her terms, could she refuse to turn up, delegate authority to other ministers, dismiss it as she dismissed the TV debates?&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If May's refusal is based solely on her own definition of accountability, does she therefore have the right, as Blair did, to tinker with PMQs, to change it, or lessen its democratic importance?</p> <p>PMQs is just a constitutional convention. Prime ministers were once expected to answer questions without notice like any other minister. That convention was shifted in 1881 to help an aged William Gladstone. In 1953, it was agreed that questions for Winston Churchill would be arranged for Tuesdays and Thursdays. Harold Macmillan changed it to two fixed sessions in 1961 – and prime ministers since then have mostly hated the ordeal it represents. Macmillan said the prospect of PMQs made him feel “physically sick”. Jim Callaghan thought it a “complete waste of time”.</p> <p>The Hansard Society examined public attitudes to PMQs in 2014 and found it was regarded as “pointless”, “noisy” and “over the top”. A third of those questioned said it “put them off politics” and few thought MPs behaved professionally.</p> <p>If&nbsp;Theresa May doesn’t feel comfortable with public scrutiny, then PMQs may go the same way as televised debates. The Hansard Society have given her the ammunition and the excuse. Victory in June, achieved without the electorate knowing exactly what she stands for, means accountability could become&nbsp;an irregular gift of Number 10. What a Prime Minister with a massive majority doesn’t like, won’t happen.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/benjamin-ramm-paul-cartledge/democracy-the-brexit-vote">Democracy after Brexit: We are at a &#039;point of decision&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/jen-stout/mission-impossible-british-left-and-future-of-europe">Mission (im)possible? The British left and the future of Europe</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/james-cusick/we-re-having-election-george-osborne-must-put-his-evening-standard-job-on-hold-until">We’re having an election. George Osborne must put his Evening Standard job on hold until it’s over</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/shinealight/frances-webber/uk-government-s-inversion-of-accountability">The UK government’s inversion of accountability</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Brexit Inc. James Cusick Thu, 04 May 2017 07:43:44 +0000 James Cusick 110575 at https://www.opendemocracy.net We’re having an election. George Osborne must put his Evening Standard job on hold until it’s over https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/james-cusick/we-re-having-election-george-osborne-must-put-his-evening-standard-job-on-hold-until <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Can the former UK Chancellor, who masterminded the Tory victory in 2015, really deliver ‘straight facts and opinion’ as editor of London’s flagship paper during this election campaign?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/3542341781_2e07e18657_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/3542341781_2e07e18657_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>George Osborne, by alltogetherfool.</span></span></span></p><p>This week’s news that the former Chancellor George Osborne had “fallen on his sword, a bit” and decided not to seek re-election as an MP in June’s general election was greeted with applause, however limited, from within senior ranks of the UK Conservative Party. </p><p>Many agreed Osborne was juggling too many post-Treasury roles – in investment, finance, academia, and imminently in journalism as the editor-elect of London’s <em>Standard</em> newspaper – to continue representing his Tatton constituency with any effectiveness.</p> <p>Writing in the paper he will shortly be in charge of, Osborne admitted that despite walking away from the House of Commons, he wanted to stay “active in the debate about our country’s future”, that he wanted a Britain that is “free, open and diverse”, and promised to give his readership “straight facts and informed opinion.”&nbsp; </p><p>What this sudden outbreak of self-declared independence omitted to mention was that Osborne’s damascene conversion to the “facts” of politically neutral journalism, will all kick-off (presumably with a flashy fanfare of new-era celebrations at the <em>Standard</em>) at the very beginning of a critical election campaign. </p> <p>The political perspective is difficult to grapple with here. If Osborne wants ‘straight facts’ then he should consider these. It is less than a year since he was in Chancellor in a Tory government. He <em>ran</em> the last Conservative general election campaign. He admits his political ambition remains strong. And he says the choice about the kind of country Britain wants to be, “starts with the coverage of this general election.” </p> <p>So while there is applause for Osborne finally accepting he may be juggling too much to continue adding ‘MP’ to his new and expanding portfolio of lucrative roles, there is virtual silence over him slipping into the editor’s chair at the Derry Street offices of the <em>Standard</em> just as the paper will begin explaining and decoding the election for London. </p> <p><em>There “used to be something called ‘conflict of interest’, but today we all bathe in the same river.”</em></p> <p>The American political writer Gore Vidal once remarked that there “used to be something called ‘conflict of interest’, but today we all bathe in the same river.” </p> <p>America seems to no longer care much. Donald Trump in the White House renders such concern constitutionally and legally meaningless. But in Britain, in London, we should care that the capital’s branded newspaper, which reaches nearly two million people each day and has no like-for-like competitor, will effectively become a Tory-led free-sheet for the duration of an election campaign that will help determine the UK’s future relationship with Europe. </p> <p>London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan – ironically writing in the <em>Standard</em>, which opposed Khan’s multi-ethnic campaign in favour of the closed-Conservatism of Zac Goldsmith – said the June 8 poll was Londoner’s “last chance to stop the extreme forms of Brexit that the Tories have pushed at every opportunity.”</p> <p>Osborne loyalists can point to the former chancellor’s pro-EU credentials, which put him at odds with the current Conservative government. The Russian oligarch owner of the <em>Evening Standard</em>, Alexander Lebedev, and his son Evgeny, say they are proud to have hired a politician of “substance” whose views they claim are “socially liberal and economically pragmatic”. Others can identify plain and simple continuity, asking “The <em>Standard</em> backed David Cameron’s Conservatives at the last elections. Osborne just continues to carry the flame. Where’s the problem?”</p> <p>The problem is that before Osborne gets the opportunity to deliver on his promise of “straight facts”, before the Standard has the opportunity to fully decipher the precise Brexit risks for the City, or what future in London there is for EU citizens who have made their life in the UK, or what a vote for another party will mean in practice, the priority focus of the man in the editor’s chair will surely be delivering another Conservative government.</p> <h2><strong>Political ambitions on hold – ‘for now’</strong></h2> <p>Osborne has no experience of journalism. The only thing he can bring to the table between now and June 8 is the ammunition and weaponised tactics of a seasoned, hard-edged politician. If Osborne is in charge, how will these tactics and this ultimate goal not drive the front, comment and political pages of the <em>Standard</em> over the next six weeks?</p> <p>Osborne’s future in politics – which he says is on hold, “for now” – will depend on the clarity of his party loyalty during the coming weeks. In the Conservative Research Department since 1994, in John Major’s campaign team for the 1997 election, elected to parliament in 2001, and chancellor from May 2010 till July last year, it seems extremely implausible that Osborne will now suddenly abandon his party for, as some insist, a few years of cold revenge. </p> <p>So a little-disguised, force-fed diet of anti-Corbyn-Tory flag-waving coverage is what Londoners can expect during the formal campaign weeks. Other newspapers on the right of UK politics will do the same thing. But none of their editors will have been as close to the recent Conservative project as Osborne. </p> <p>And that is why this democratic deficiency, this accountability failure, needs one key gesture that should come from Osborne himself. He should immediately announce that he will postpone taking up the job of editor till the election campaign has finished and the result is announced on June 9. </p> <p>If Osborne does not see the conflict of interest himself, then pressure needs to be put on the owners of the <em>Standard</em> – and that can only come from Londoners who see this newspaper as more than few minutes of passive, harmless entertainment during their daily commute.&nbsp; </p><h2><strong>Business as usual?</strong></h2> <p>Even before Osborne announced he was not seeking re-election in Cheshire, there was a gathering of right-leaning commentators seemingly happy to point out, in a move-along-nothing-to-see fashion, that other cabinet-grade politicians had trodden the same path and moved quietly, with minimum fuss, into a senior role in journalism. </p> <p>Had not Iain Macleod, Colonial Secretary in Harold Macmillan’s government, become editor of the <em>Spectator</em> in 1963, whilst remaining an MP?&nbsp; And didn’t Macleod also become a non-executive director of Lombard Bank around the same time, proving our conflict-of-interest reflex is now over-used? Likewise, Richard Crossman, a senior and influential thinker in Harold Wilson’s cabinet, went on to edit the <em>News Statesman</em>. </p> <p>These comparisons are lightweight. Both the <em>Spectator</em> and the <em>New Statesman</em> are weekly journals with an established, politically-attuned readership that expects arguments to end in only one way – with allegiance to the right or the left, but rarely in between. </p> <p>Neither Macleod nor Crossman fashioned themselves into defenders of neutral fact-driven journalism as Osborne says he wants to do. Neither Macleod nor Crossman edited free-sheets handed out to commuters every evening in streets and tube stations across the capital, much as campaign leaflets reach a ‘captive’ audience. And neither Crossman nor Macleod were burdened with the equivalent of £650,000 a year for one day a week at US investment firm Blackrock, £120,000 for an academic position at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, and the £1 million the former chancellor has made inside a year by making speeches to banks and other financial institutions. </p> <p>The Lebedevs, who own both the Standard and the Independent and have courted Osborne’s friendship over the last few years as they have with other senior Tories, especially the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, will have to accept the clear conflict of interests their new editor brings with him. Staff journalists too, will need to find diplomatic ways of self-censoring some of their journalistic instincts if they are deemed potentially off-limits and embarrassing for the new boss. </p> <p>These, however, are important issues that should arise <em>after</em> the general election campaign has concluded.&nbsp; </p><h2><strong>A test of ambition</strong>&nbsp; </h2><p>Does Osborne have a right to resurrect the would-be career in journalism that stalled when he failed to win a place on a <em>Times</em> trainee scheme just after he left Oxford? He does. And if, as he says, he wants to be more than be an ex-chancellor, then the Evening Standard may indeed test such ambition. </p> <p><em>Londoners have rights – and expectations from the newspaper that floods their streets to be more than just party-political pamphlet thrust into their hands for an entire election campaign. </em></p> <p>But readers of the Standard however have rights too. They have the right to be more than the test-ground guinea pigs of a politician in transit to a new career, using a critical phase of Britain’s democratic process to cut his teeth.&nbsp; Londoners also have rights and expectations from the newspaper that floods their streets and tube stations to be more than just party-political pamphlet thrust into their hands for an entire election campaign. </p> <p>The editor of the Standard will be the former chancellor. That is a commercial decision, however flawed. But during this election campaign George Osborne should do the honourable thing, accept the democratic conflict of interest here is simply too blatant. He should announce, or be persuaded, that his job as editor needs to be put on hold till the middle of June.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk openMedia James Cusick Fri, 21 Apr 2017 11:46:40 +0000 James Cusick 110286 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Independent. In the end, it wasn't. What next? https://www.opendemocracy.net/james-cusick/independent-in-end-it-wasnt-what-next <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>James Cusick, former political correspondent for The Independent, spent five months investigating why other newspapers had shut down a story about Culture Minister John Whittingdale, only to see his investigation down too. This is his personal view of the Whittingdale scandal and cover up by the press.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/560649/indie shutterstock.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/560649/indie shutterstock.jpg" alt="A screen grab of The Independent's homepage from 2014." title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A screen grab of The Independent's homepage from 2014. Credit: Gil C/Shutterstock.com All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This year’s Academy Awards for best picture and best screenplay went to the film <em>Spotlight</em>. Its subject matter was the uncomfortable truth of widespread and systemic child abuse carried out by Roman Catholic priests that had been exposed by committed, investigative journalists on the Boston Globe, backed, crucially, by a committed and fearless editor.</p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/james-cusick/real-whittingdale-scandal-cover-up-by-press" target="_blank">READ: The real Whittingdale scandal: a cover up by the press</a></p><p>In the same awards season, another film, with no Hollywood stars and no significant production values on show, captured the spirit of what many regard as British journalism’s finest hour. <em>Attacking the Devil</em> laid out the detail of the Sunday Times’ lengthy campaign to uncover the truth about the thalidomide drug. The documentary was essentially a war story, with the paper’s legendary editor, Harold Evans, showing that when journalism’s great battles are analysed, he emerges as one of its finest generals.</p><p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/mary-fitzgerald/how-free-is-our-press" target="_blank">READ: How free is our press?</a></p><p>The overwhelmingly positive response to both films shows that we still have a deep visceral response to efforts which expose lies, half-lies and any institutional structure which attempts to cover up or massage the truth.</p><p>In Evans' memoir of his time at the helm of Sunday Times, <em>My Paper Chase</em>, he singles out the colleagues he valued most as those who are “scholars in scepticism”. &nbsp;That is the shared DNA of these two films. And our applause loud because it’s much easier to see where you’re going in the dark if someone provides a torch.</p><p>Elements of the fallout from Sir Brian Leveson’s inquiry and his recommendations for press reform, have been attacked as a threat to the future of open and investigative journalism in Britain. “Chilling” control, proposals for a royal charter described as “medieval”, an autocratic, draconian threat to liberty: the message is that unless all Leveson-related laws are buried or cremated in a symbolic pyre in Parliament Square, then there will no more Insight or Spotlight teams, no more stories exposing the next Philby or the latest Profumo, no more MPs expenses scandals, no Fifa cash-for-votes exposes, and perhaps no more offshore tax evasion scandals.</p><p>Mike Harris, the chief executive of the freedom-of-speech group, <a href="http://www.89up.org/" target="_blank">89up</a>, and author of the 'Leveson’s Illiberal Legacy' report, wrote in the Daily Telegraph last year, warning of Putin-style, state-imposed, press regulation and said Britain’s proud 300-year tradition of press freedom was under threat.</p><p>Despite the dark prophesy, Harris wrote: “All is not lost. There are friends of free speech in the Cabinet, including John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary.”</p><p>The irony is breathtaking.</p><p>The Whittingdale story that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/james-cusick/real-whittingdale-scandal-cover-up-by-press">Byline and openDemocracy carry today</a> should already&nbsp;<span>have</span><span>&nbsp;been read when it appeared on the front page of The Independent months ago. That was always the objective of those involved -- from senior editors to news editors, to those journalists who asked questions, and to the journalists in other papers who answered them.</span></p><p>It would have been far better had there been no Whittingdale cover-up to report. Other newspapers had the public interest justification to run this – and each, for their own reasons, opted not to.</p><p>In The Independent’s case, there was an understandable commercial pressure. But rather than be reduced to a tenant that had effectively become a client-state of the Mail, those in charge should have looked at the masthead, read the word 'Independent', and asked what Evans or Martin Baron, the former editor of the Boston Globe, now editor of the Washington Post, would have done? Sadly, that didn’t happen. And with the closure of The Independent, there is no second shot at redemption.</p><p><strong><span>Truly independent journalism brings you the stories others won’t. Support Byline&nbsp;</span><a href="https://www.byline.com/" target="_self">by clicking here</a><span>; support the work of openDemocracy by&nbsp;</span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/paypal_donations">clicking here</a><span>.</span></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/james-cusick/real-whittingdale-scandal-cover-up-by-press">The real Whittingdale scandal: a cover up by the UK press</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/mary-fitzgerald/how-free-is-our-press">How free is our press?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/damian-tambini/brexit-and-bbc-tough-call-for-britains-culture-secretary">Brexit and the BBC: a tough call for Britain&#039;s culture secretary?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> James Cusick Sun, 10 Apr 2016 11:46:31 +0000 James Cusick 101271 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The real Whittingdale scandal: a cover up by the UK press https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourbeeb/james-cusick/real-whittingdale-scandal-cover-up-by-press <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>I spent five months with another senior journalist at the Independent newspaper investigating why other papers had shut down a story about the culture minister, only to see my editor shut the investigation down too.&nbsp;Here is the anatomy of a press cover-up.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/560649/whittingdale crop_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/560649/whittingdale crop_0.jpg" alt="John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport speaks during the Conservative Party Conference in 2015." title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>John Whittingdale, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport speaks during the Conservative Party Conference in 2015. Jon Super/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, under siege for his shifting account of the Panama Papers, is facing an imminent second front of attacks as a consequence of his decision to bring John Whittingdale into the cabinet last year.</p><p><span>The promotion of the former chair of the House of Commons Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee to Culture Secretary last year means that&nbsp;</span><a href="https://www.byline.com/column/51/article/950">John Whittingdale’s lengthy relationship with a professional dominatrix and fetish escort&nbsp;</a>–<span>&nbsp;known to leading national newspaper groups who held back from publishing any detail – left him increasingly open to potential blackmail.</span></p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Whittingdale, according to one Whitehall source, became "The culture secretary Rupert Murdoch dreamt of" &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Although there is no suggestion that Whittingdale was explicitly coerced by any of Britain’s newspaper bosses, questions inevitably arise as to whether concerns about publication of aspects of his private life influenced his policy decisions inside the Culture department.</p> <p>As Culture Secretary, with a brief that includes media policy, Whittingdale has a powerful influence over press regulation, the mooted privatisation of Channel 4 and above all the future finances of the BBC.</p> <p>So far his key&nbsp;policy decisions&nbsp;have included:</p> <p><strong>*&nbsp;Serial attacks on the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/mar/13/government-choose-bbc-board-john-whittingdale">BBC’s independence and influence</a></strong></p> <p><strong>* Backing for the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/26/john-whittingdale-bbc-funding-still-dependent-charter-review">Treasury’s assault</a>&nbsp;on the public service broadcaster's finances</strong></p> <p><strong>*&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/apr/05/david-cameron-press-victims-gerry-kate-mccann">Unilaterally blocked legislation&nbsp;</a>recommended by the Leveson Inquiry into the press, passed by all three major political parties in parliament in 2013</strong></p> <p><strong>*&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/oct/19/john-whittingdale-press-regulator-ipso">Personal support</a>&nbsp;for the press industry’s new non-Leveson compliant regulator, the&nbsp;</strong><strong>Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO</strong><strong>.</strong></p> <p>Whittingdale, according to one Whitehall source, became “The culture secretary Rupert Murdoch dreamt of, and the cabinet insider those who fought Brian Leveson’s recommendations prayed they would get.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Keeping Whittingdale right where he is, rather than ousting him, perfectly suits those in Fleet Street who view Leveson as a commercial threat to business-as-usual.</p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Whittingdale.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Whittingdale.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="366" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>John Whittingdale. Credit: Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire</span></span></span></p> <p>Sources in Downing Street say the Prime Minister initially offered the job of Culture Secretary to Boris Johnson. But after the London mayor refused, Cameron, who initially doubted Whittingdale’s suitability, decided instead to give him the job after taking little or no counsel.</p> <p>More than a year before the May 2015 election, Number 10, according to Westminster advisers, knew some of the raw detail newspapers held on Whittingdale’s private life.</p> <p>This should have rung alarm bells when the prospect of a cabinet job was mooted in the immediate election aftermath. Instead the danger was dismissed.</p> <p>Number 10 was asked this week if Mr Cameron knew his culture secretary had engaged in a relationship with a prostitute, or if John Whittingdale had been open about it to the Prime Minister before he was appointed to the cabinet.&nbsp;</p> <p>Downing Street said they would be making no comment on the matter, and as it related to Mr Whittingdale’s private life, it was up to him to comment.</p> <p>The same sequence of detailed questions were put to Mr Whittingdale and his advisers. There was no response.</p> <p>With Cameron’s reputation on the line over Panama and off-shore finances, and the outcome of the referendum on Europe looking far from clear, the political risk the PM took in appointing Whittingdale now looks like another serious misjudgment.</p> <p><strong>How Whittingdale reached the position he holds, and manages to sustain it, is an uncomfortable chapter that does little for the reputation of Britain’s press, supposed to have cleaned up its act in the fallout from hacking.</strong></p> <p>The reality? The last chance saloon of press self-regulation, as famously described by David Mellor, has been given a convenient make-over on Whittingdale’s supplicant watch.</p> <h3><strong>Round One: Mirror Group and phone hacking</strong></h3> <p>During a five-month long investigation at&nbsp;The Independent&nbsp;last year, it was discovered that several newspapers had got wind of Whittingdale’s relationship with a dominatrix called Olivia King. There were rumours that she had connections to the criminal underworld, but they remain as yet unsubstantiated.</p> <p>The paper which mounted the first serious investigation, and put what resources they had into uncovering what was regarded as a classic tabloid tale, was the Mirror Group’s&nbsp;Sunday People.</p> <p>In November 2103, the&nbsp;People’s&nbsp;news editor, James Saville, was contacted by a woman who was a regular source of profile stories. She offered details of Ms King’s regular job at a London sex club near Earls Court, the London Retreat, where she was alleged to use the name “Mistress Kate”. The paper was told Whittingdale and King planned to attend the 2013 MTV Europe Awards together at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam that month. MTV were said to have paid all the travel and hotel costs with Whittingdale invited because he was chair of the DCMS select committee.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">A Mirror Group newspaper exposing Whittingdale in 2013 therefore carried a risk that he could retaliate through his committee and start an Inquiry into Mirror Group Newspapers.<em>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</em></p> <p>A well-known celebrity photographer is alleged to have organised a surveillance operation of the couple in Amsterdam and to have subsequently tried to sell a folio of photographs. He initially denied knowing anything about this. However, he later revised his explanation, saying the couple may have been followed, but that he had nothing to do with it.</p> <p>Two weeks later the picture desk at the&nbsp;People&nbsp;used Matt Sprake, a photographer working for a daily shift-rate at the paper, to take pictures at a sports awards ceremony where Whittingdale and King were expected to attend together. The main guest at the<a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/kate-middleton/10482436/Duchess-of-Cambridge-arrives-at-sports-ball-in-Temperley-dress.html">&nbsp;SportsAid Ball was the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/backs.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/backs.png" alt="Culture secretary John Whittingdale photographed with prostitute Olivia King." title="" width="240" height="363" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Culture secretary John Whittingdale photographed with prostitute Olivia King. Credit: Matt Sprake</span></span></span><br /></strong></p> <p>Pictures of Whittingdale and King arriving and leaving together, hugging each other as they walked, travelling home on the tube, were taken. Ms King was also followed the next day, with pictures secretly taken of her outside the Earls Court club. A young reporter was told to investigate and dig up what he could.</p> <p>Although Saville has subsequently downplayed the significance of Whittingdale as a tabloid target, the MP was no ordinary backbencher. He had been Margaret Thatcher’s political secretary, and a special adviser to Norman Tebbit and Leon Brittan.</p> <p>Between 2011 and 2014, the Department of Culture Media and Sport committee, which Whittingdale chaired, conducted an inquiry into the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmcumeds/315/31502.htm">future of the BBC</a>, conducted<a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmcumeds/903/903i.pdf">&nbsp;a lengthy and high-profile investigation into phone hacking at News International</a>. The committee brought&nbsp;<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-14193124">James and Rupert Murdoch to Westminster</a>&nbsp;to answer MP’s questions at a hearing which led to global news coverage.&nbsp;</p> <p>The furore around the phone hacking scandal led to the year long Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press, which concluded in&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/leveson-inquiry-report-into-the-culture-practices-and-ethics-of-the-press">a report by Lord Justice Brian Leveson</a>&nbsp;which&nbsp;recommended independent oversight of any new regulator which replaced the discredited Press Complaints Commission (PCC).&nbsp;A&nbsp;<a href="http://news.sky.com/story/1066422/leveson-cameron-defends-royal-charter-deal">cross-party agreement</a>, signed by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, endorsed both by a Royal charter-based system, and a&nbsp;<a href="http://hackinginquiry.org/comment/leveson-costs-incentives-cries-of-foul-from-the-dirtiest-players-on-the-pitch/">set of incentives</a>&nbsp;passed by parliament.&nbsp;</p> <p>However by October 2013 senior press figures had begun to resist any real change, stating they&nbsp;<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/press/press-fails-in-final-attempt-to-thwart-royal-charter-on-press-reform-8911680.html">would not sign up</a>&nbsp;and branded the proposed independent Charter oversight of self-regulation “state interference.” Although&nbsp;<a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130318/debtext/130318-0002.htm">Whittingdale initially backed the charter and its costs-incentives</a>, his position, at the time the&nbsp;People&nbsp;were probing his private life, was changing.</p> <p>In the Commons that month, he warned the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, that it would be “infinitely preferable” to achieve a system of press regulation that delivered the “objectives” of Lord Justice Leveson’s report, but which also&nbsp;<a href="http://www.johnwhittingdale.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=297:press-self-regulation&amp;catid=4:house-of-commons-&amp;Itemid=7">“commanded the support of as many newspapers as possible, rather than none of them”.</a>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although phone hacking turned out to have been deep and widespread inside Mirror Group Newspapers, in October 2013, a year after civil claims were first launched, the company was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/oct/22/daily-mirror-publisher-sued-alleged-phone-hacking">still vehemently&nbsp;</a>denying in public that there was any problem. It was only in September 2014 that<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/sep/24/phone-hacking-trinity-mirror-admits-liability-four-individuals">&nbsp;MGN formally accepted liability for hacking&nbsp;</a>and began paying any compensation to victims.&nbsp;</p> <p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Although&nbsp;<a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130318/debtext/130318-0002.htm">Whittingdale initially backed the charter and its costs-incentives</a>, his position, at the time the People were probing his private life, was changing &nbsp;&nbsp;</span><span>A Mirror Group newspaper exposing Whittingdale in 2013 therefore carried a risk that he could retaliate through his committee and start an Inquiry into MGN activity as they had done for News Group. That could have proved damaging, embarrasing and expensive for MGN executives.</span></p> <p>The&nbsp;People, as part of their investigation, did gather potential reaction to their story. One senior Labour MP says that he was approached by the paper for his views on the allegations but was “not surprised” to see nothing was published.</p> <p>Saville said MGN’s lawyers did look at the evolving story. But he didn’t know how high up inside the company the consequences of the Whittingdale investigation were discussed. He also said he didn’t know for sure if the story had been explored by other MGN titles. The outcome?&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>No Mirror paper published anything.</strong></p> <p><span>At the top of MGN’s legal chain was&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/mar/04/ipso-funding-body-trinity-mirror-hacked-off-paul-vickers">Paul Vickers.</a><span>&nbsp;In 2012 Vickers became head of the&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.newsmediauk.org/Latest/paul-vickers-resigns-as-rfc-chairman-">press industry group</a><a href="http://www.newsmediauk.org/Latest/paul-vickers-resigns-as-rfc-chairman-">&nbsp;</a><span>that produced proposals to sideline Leveson and&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmcumeds/uc143-ii/uc14301.htm">lobbied MPs and government</a><span>&nbsp;against the new charter. He later chaired the&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.regulatoryfunding.co.uk/">Regulatory Funding Company,</a><span>&nbsp;the body that went on to fund and control the Independent Press Standards Organisation(IPSO).&nbsp;</span></p> <p>Those expecting that the&nbsp;People’s&nbsp;expose would mean big bucks for their information were left disappointed.</p> <h3><strong>Round Two: the Sun and the BBC cuts</strong></h3> <p>The pictures of Whittingdale and King were nevertheless hard currency in the tabloid village. Sprake, with Saville and his source’s permission, now had an agency,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.fameflynet.biz/">FameFlynet</a>, which put the photographs on the market. He took them to Fleet Street’s biggest deal-maker,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/max-clifford-business-empire-wound-6794766">Max Clifford</a>, the now-jailed former king of kiss n’ tell. Conference calls involving the&nbsp;Sun&nbsp;and the&nbsp;Mail on Sunday&nbsp;are alleged to have quickly been arranged.&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Dominic Mohan.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Dominic Mohan.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="328" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dominic Mohan. Credit: Stefan Rousseau / PA Archive</span></span></span><br /></span></p> <p>A potential deal with the&nbsp;Sun&nbsp;was explored. The pictures were shown to&nbsp;<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominic_Mohan">Dominic Mohan</a><a href="https://twitter.com/DominicJMohan">,</a>&nbsp;then the&nbsp;Sun’s&nbsp;editor. No money is said to have changed hands. And nothing was published.</p> <p>Two - possibly three, if the&nbsp;People&nbsp;was not the first - UK national newspapers now had the Whittingdale story and access to the pictures, if they wanted them. It was suggested that £20,000 was the price tag.&nbsp;<strong>But still nothing was published.</strong></p> <p>In late 2013 Whittingdale was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gateway978.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2013-bbc.jpg">continuing his attacks on the BBC</a>, warning the corporation that revelations about six-figure payoffs given the issue of a fresh inquiry “more urgency”. &nbsp;<a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1946b0d0-18a9-11e3-bdb6-00144feab7de.html">He told the&nbsp;Financial Times&nbsp;</a>his committee would be looking at every aspect of the BBC, its structure, the role of the BBC Trust, and how the corporation was funded . If the threats sounded familiar, that’s because they had been said before –&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/aug/28/james-murdoch-bbc-mactaggart-edinburgh-tv-festival">often by James Murdoch.</a>&nbsp;</p> <p>The implied promise that the BBC would have its authority and power cut back, was delivered soon after the Conservative victory at the general election. Cameron’s first meeting with his new culture secretary had one item on the agenda – the BBC.</p> <p>A few MPs who know Whittingdale well, said he was at times relatively open about his relationship with Olivia King, but not open about what she did. He is said to have taken her to the river terrace of the Palace of Westminster to watch the 2014 New Year fireworks over the Thames.</p> <p>Whittingdale had given&nbsp;<a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmcumeds/362/362ii.pdf">Max Mosley a moral lecture in 2009</a>&nbsp;during a Commons hearing of his select committee. He told Mosley: “You are a public figure and you know the British press. You know the appetite of the British press for stories of this kind. Had you not always felt this was a time bomb that sooner or later was going to go off?”&nbsp;</p> <p>This was insight and advice he seemed incapable of using when it came to his own life.</p> <h3><strong>Round Three: The Mail on Sunday - 'No holds barred'</strong></h3><p>New information given to the&nbsp;Mail on Sunday&nbsp;in February 2014 prompted an editorial rethink about how important the Whittingdale story was. A small team of reporters, including some specialist correspondents, was put together by the paper's editor,&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/geordie_greig">Geordie Greig</a><span>.&nbsp;</span></p> <p>According to&nbsp;Mail on Sunday&nbsp;staff, Greig made a moving speech to the gathered team, saying this was the type of political story that defined great newspapers, and if the MoS backed off, it had no right to call itself a newspaper.&nbsp;</p> <p>Reporters were sent to the village in Essex where Ms King lives. Neighbours were spoken to, the ‘Dungeon’ club in Earls Court was visited, other addresses she used were checked.&nbsp;</p> <p>The&nbsp;Mail on Sunday&nbsp;operation was described by one journalist as “serious – no holds barred.”</p> <p>Another journalist involved said Whittingdale (or his close advisers) were told about the likelihood of publication and that Downing St had also been contacted. No formal response was received.</p> <p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Greig made a moving speech [and said] if the Mail on Sunday backed off, it had no right to call itself a newspaper.</span></p> <p>Months later, a friend of Ms King said Whittingdale had offered his partner an assurance that nothing would be published and all she had to do was essentially “sit tight” and do one important thing. He advised that she contact the press watchdog at the prime, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), and demand that the Mail on Sunday disclose what they had ahead of publication.</p> <p>The&nbsp;Mail on Sunday&nbsp;lawyers received a call that was, in the circumstances, unusual. The PCC, led at the time by&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/oct/13/lord-hunt-wirral-pcc-chairman">Tory peer David Hunt</a>, did not usually get involved in stories till after publication. It had no power to intervene before stories were published, and could only question news-gathering techniques. During the Leveson Inquiry the press made much of the need to ensure that no regulator could impose&nbsp;<a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/leveson-inquiry/9298486/Leveson-Inquiry-risks-undermining-precious-liberty-of-free-speech-Michael-Gove-warns.html">“prior restraint”</a>. Sir Brian agreed. So this was a marked break with routine protocol.&nbsp;</p> <p>Close to the Saturday deadline, with the Whittingdale-King story scheduled as the front page, an all-out effort was made to by-pass this legal hurdle: they needed to find King and secure a comment. To Greig’s frustration she couldn’t be found, and the story was pulled with a promise that the operation would resume the following Tuesday – the first working day of the next week.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Greig simply told them the investigation was to stop. No further explanation was offered. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>When the small team of journalists returned to the Mail’s Kensington headquarters on the Tuesday they expected to redouble their efforts to track down King. Instead Greig simply told them the investigation was to stop. No further explanation was offered.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Northcliffe.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Northcliffe.jpg" alt="" title="" width="400" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Northcliffe House - the Kensington office block shared by the Mail and the Independent. Credit: John Stillwell / PA Archive </span></span></span></p><p><span>Over the next few days, some&nbsp;Mail on Sunday&nbsp;journalists claimed Greig had been told to back off by Asssociated Newspapers' editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre. Others said Dacre didn’t need to lay down the law, that what he wanted was embedded in the DNA of the Mail Group. Another said Greig was simply told to drop the Whittingdale investigation by an executive higher up the Associated Newspapers chain.</span></p> <p>Two years on, nothing critical has been published on Whittingdale’s private life in any Mail title. When&nbsp;The Independent’s&nbsp;editor, Amol Rajan, made a similarly abrupt halt to his paper’s own Whittingdale investigation, he too offered no explanation. It was left to a senior editor at The Independent to say : “We’ve got no choice. We can’t take an asset away from the Mail.”</p> <h3>Round Four: The Independent and the new Cabinet minister</h3> <p>Throughout 2014 Whittingdale continued to attack the BBC, branding the licence fee “<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/oct/29/bbc-licence-fee-poll-tax-tory-john-whittingdale">worse than the poll tax</a>.” He called the fee “unsustainable” and claimed it&nbsp;<a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3112259/BBC-licence-fee-hits-poorest-hardest-says-Culture-Secretary-prepares-Corporation.html">hit the poor hardest</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Whittingdale also appeared to know more.... than IPSO’s chairman, Sir Alan Moses&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>By September 2014 Whittingdale was treating the industry-backed regulator, IPSO, with a high degree of respect. He called one difficult story a “test” of IPSO’s credibility, saying&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/sep/30/brooks-newmark-sex-sting-ipso-sunday-mirror">"we need to give IPSO a chance</a>."</p> <p>By February 2015 the BBC was back in the cross-hairs.<a href="https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/culture-media-and-sport-committee/news/report-future-of-bbc/">&nbsp;A DCMS report</a>&nbsp;questioned the size and remit of the corporation, suggesting it should be cut and asked: “What is it [the BBC] there to do?” It objected to the idea of BBC One +1 channel because iPlayer was already a catch-up service.&nbsp;</p> <p>Three months before the election, Whittingdale also appeared to know more about the inner-workings of press regulatory bodies than IPSO’s chairman, Sir Alan Moses. He told one committee hearing that he knew<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2015/mar/05/paul-vickers-steps-down-as-chairman-of-ipsos-funding-body">&nbsp;Paul Vickers was standing down as chair of IPSO’s industry-funding body&nbsp;</a>weeks before it was formally announced. Sir Alan responded to Mr Whittingdale’s insight saying “You have news that I do not.”&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">One Senior Independent editor&nbsp;said “Whittingdale is the Mail’s asset – we can’t take that away from them."</p> <p>By the time&nbsp;The Independent&nbsp;began investigating the reasons why the Whittingdale-King story had never been published, despite being known to at least three national newspaper groups, the relationship had ended and Whittingdale was now inside the cabinet.</p> <p>Key elements of the story however required confirmation. Did Whittingdale take Olivia King to Amsterdam and accept the hospitality of MTV? Matt Baker at Viacom International Media Networks [the parent company], confirmed in an email that return flights and hotel accommodation had indeed been paid by MTV and that Olivia King had travelled with the then chair of the DCMS select committee.</p><p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/cusick3.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/cusick3.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="253" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></strong></p><p>Whittingdale did not declare the trip in the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/10632/john_whittingdale/maldon">Register of Members Interests</a>. Under the Commons rules for MPs, if the trip’s costs were less than one percent of a current parliamentary salary (£66,300) he didn’t need to. Flights for two from London to Amsterdam, and an overnight in a swish hotel might indeed come under the £600 mark. But the basic rule, especially for members – let alone the chair - of a high profile select committee, is set out clearly. It states:<a href="http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/guide-select-ctte-members.pdf">&nbsp;“If in doubt, declare it.” &nbsp;</a></p> <p><strong>Asked to explain why he didn’t disclose anything about the MTV-Amsterdam visit with Olivia King, Whittingdale has remained silent.</strong></p> <p>There was also a clear public interest in investigating a politician who was a member of the&nbsp;<a href="https://cornerstonegroup.wordpress.com/about/">Cornerstone Group</a>, a group of traditional conservatives with the motto “Faith, Flag and Family” . That doesn’t sit easily with an MP who enjoyed a relationship with a dominatrix allegedly selling sado-masochistic services. Whittingdale’s record in the Commons on issues relating to Britain’s sex laws, including age of consent, sexual offences or prostitution, also saw him regularly voting against any greater liberalisation, this despite the secrets of his own personal life.&nbsp;</p> <p>By deciding against joining IPSO, along with the&nbsp;Guardian&nbsp;and the&nbsp;Financial Times,&nbsp;The Independent&nbsp;had no obvious reason to help sustain Whittingdale as Culture Secretary.</p> <p>Just as it did over phone hacking at News International and the Mirror Group,&nbsp;The Independent&nbsp;had always reported accurately any misuse of authority, including the subservience of the Chancellor, George Osborne,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/george-osborne-held-two-private-meetings-with-rupert-murdoch-before-deciding-on-bbc-cuts-hm-treasury-a6778541.html">who met Rupert Murdoch in Downing Street before the BBC was told it faced severe budget cut-backs.</a></p> <p><span>But as the investigation advanced nearer to publication, with the paper’s lawyers backing the investigation’s focus on a wider political and commercial cover-up rather than just the detail of Mr Whittingdale’s personal liaisons with a prostitute, it became clear the editor,&nbsp;</span><a href="https://twitter.com/amolrajan?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor">Amol Rajan</a><span>, had a problem.&nbsp;</span></p> <p>The Independent&nbsp;newspaper, before it was shut down, was housed in the Mail’s Derry St building. It was a tenant of Associated Newspapers, relying on their IT services, canteen, security, building services, and other functions. The online version of the paper is still run from there.&nbsp;</p> <p>In one meeting which discussed the investigation’s progress, it was suggested we might write the story without naming the&nbsp;Mail on Sunday, or that perhaps the&nbsp;Guardian&nbsp;or the&nbsp;New York Times could be given the story, and a deal arranged to ensure they went easy on the&nbsp;The Independent&nbsp;backing off. One senior editor suggested that wasn’t an effective solution because “The Mail know we are doing this and they’ll know we leaked it.” </p><p><strong>There was no suggestion that the story itself was something the paper had moral difficulties with, or was a subject matter&nbsp;The Independent&nbsp;shouldn't be wasting time on.</strong>&nbsp;<span>The plan to offload it to the Guardian&nbsp;or the&nbsp;New York Times&nbsp;suggested taste wasn't an issue and that several public interest factors&nbsp;</span><span>–</span><span>&nbsp;namely Whittingdale’s contradictory moral stance, his voting record in the Commons, the Mosley lecture, and questions over his expenses&nbsp;</span><span>–</span><span>&nbsp;all justified publication.</span></p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Amol Rajan had a problem... The Independent was a tenant of Associated Newspapers</p> <p>To complete a required legal element of the story before publication, it was important Olivia King be given the opportunity to respond. On October 19 last year “Mistress Kate” was scheduled to work at the London Retreat. Permission was sought from the editor to go the club and speak to her. The same day Amol Rajan was speaking at a Society of Editors conference. John Whittingdale was speaking at the same event just before him.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>The following day Rajan sent this email:</strong></p><p> <span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Cusick4.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Cusick4.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="162" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>The “explanation” promised in the email never materialised. Executives above Rajan, at board level in IPL (Independent Publishing), knew about the decision to end the investigation. Those outside the company who asked what had prevented the story appearing, were told there had simply been a failure to stand it up - which wasn't true.</p> <p>Over the next five months, till&nbsp;The Independent&nbsp;finally stopped printing, no explanation was offered by Rajan despite repeated promises. One senior editor however said it was the “least he could do” to explain. He said “Whittingdale is the Mail’s asset – we can’t take that away from them. “ He said it was a “ludicrous situation” to be the Mail’s tenant, adding “But - that’s where we are.”</p> <h3><strong>Feeling invincible: the Minister for Media</strong></h3> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Dacre.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/535193/Dacre.jpg" alt="" title="" width="400" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Paul Dacre. Credit: Ben Birchall / PA Archive</span></span></span></p><p><span>So three newspaper groups, Mirror Group, Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, and the Mail all had vested interests in keeping Whittingdale in place as the UK’s culture and media secretary.&nbsp;The Independent’s editor and proprietor had their own reasons. They were prepared to bury the Whittingdale story because they supposedly feared the wrath of a displeased landlord, or feared being ostracised by a larger conservative establishment. Between them all they managed to leave John Whittingdale, according to one of his Westminster colleagues, “feeling he must be invincible.”</span></p> <p><strong>The power Whittingdale believes he is entitled to use, greater than any of his predecessors, is reaching elevated proportions</strong></p> <p><span>By stalling indeterminately a critical element of the law passed by parliament in 2013, related to the</span><a href="http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/government-may-not-enforce-plan-make-publishers-pay-both-sides-libel-and-privacy-costs">&nbsp;imposition of costs penalties on newspapers</a><span>&nbsp;who fail to join a charter-approved regulator, Whittingdale effectively gave himself an unfettered executive power over the press. This was something that all sides at Leveson said should never happen. Although&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/apr/05/david-cameron-press-victims-gerry-kate-mccann">victims have complained of betrayal and broken promises made by David Cameron</a><span>, Number 10 is currently staying silent and allowing Whittingdale free rein.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>The power the Culture minister believes he is entitled to use, greater than any of his predecessors, is reaching elevated proportions.&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/mar/13/government-choose-bbc-board-john-whittingdale">Whittingdale recently suggested he should appoint the members of the BBC Trust</a><span>, rendering the corporation an effective “government-approved” broadcaster - a situation which would destroy its independence and erode public trust in one of the world’s most respected institutions. A legitimate question to ask is therefore: who exactly would benefit from a BBC whose powers and reach have been severely attenuated?</span></p> <p>He appears to have unilaterally decided to<a href="http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/part-two-leveson-inquiry-has-been-quietly-shelved-government">&nbsp;shelve the promised Part II of Leveson</a>.&nbsp; His reasons? None have been forthcoming,&nbsp;</p> <p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">A legitimate question to ask is therefore: who exactly would benefit from a BBC whose powers and reach have been severely attenuated? &nbsp;&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>During a</span><a href="http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/whittingdale-meet-hacked-and-says-decision-leveson-ii-must-await-conclusion-criminal-proceedings">&nbsp;recent meeting with victims of press abuses</a><span>, Whittingdale was quizzed on why he wanted to retain a unique executive power that allowed him alone to decide whether or not he would commence a provision on costs that parliament had passed into law 3 years ago.&nbsp;</span></p> <p>His answers mentioned everything from the Convention on Human Rights, to the right to freedom of expression. He said he cared “very deeply” about the freedom of the press and was concerned about the impact of imposed “sanctions” and “penalties” on the newspaper industry.</p> <p>He said his decision not to bring into effect a law voted through by parliament, which both he and the Prime Minister had previously acknowledged was an important incentive, didn’t mean he wasn’t ready to do so. He said the uncertainty kept the press&nbsp;<strong>“on their toes.”</strong></p> <p>When&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/culture-secretary-keynote-to-society-of-editors">Whittingdale spoke to the Society of Editors last October</a>&nbsp;he announced he had no immediate plans to sign into law any new financial penalties. He said he had listened to their concerns and would continue to review the matter.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>The gathered editors and newspaper executives didn’t sound as though they were being kept on their toes. They burst into spontaneous applause.</strong></p><hr /><p><strong><em>Read Mary Fitzgerald, openDemocracy's Editor-in-Chief, on the story <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/mary-fitzgerald/how-free-is-our-press">here</a>.</em></strong></p><p><strong><em>Read James Cusick's comment <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/james-cusick/independent-in-end-it-wasnt-what-next">here</a>.</em></strong></p><p><strong><strong><em><strong>Independent journalism brings you the stories others won’t. Support Byline who published this story by James Cusick&nbsp;<a href="https://www.byline.com/" target="_self">by clicking here</a>.</strong></em></strong></strong></p><p><strong><strong><em><strong>Support the work of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/donate">openDemocracy by clicking here</a>.</strong></em></strong></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/david-elstein/whittingdale-file-plea-for-better-journalism">The Whittingdale file: a plea for better journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/mary-fitzgerald/how-free-is-our-press">How free is our press?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/james-cusick/independent-in-end-it-wasnt-what-next">The Independent. In the end, it wasn&#039;t. What next?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourbeeb/ourbeeb-team/whittingdale-are-press-still-protecting-themselves">#Whittingdale: are the press still protecting themselves? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourbeeb/natalie-fenton/whitto-time-to-show-youre-not-beholden-to-press">Whitto, time to show you&#039;re not beholden to the press</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> OurBeeb OurBeeb uk openMedia James Cusick Sun, 10 Apr 2016 11:04:07 +0000 James Cusick 101265 at https://www.opendemocracy.net James Cusick https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/james-cusick <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> James Cusick </div> </div> </div> <p>James Cusick is editor of openMedia at OpenDemocracy and a former political correspondent at The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> James Cusick Sun, 10 Apr 2016 10:39:42 +0000 James Cusick 101268 at https://www.opendemocracy.net