Category Archives: UK

Right to privacy “could be meaningless in 10 years under Tory and Labour plans”

Damien Gayle reports for The Guardian:

InternetThe private lives of Britons will be an open book to the state within 10 years, campaigners have warned, highlighting manifesto pledges from Labour and the Conservatives that promise more powers for spies.

Both parties have pledged to extend the powers of the security agencies, nearly two years after revelations by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden shone a light on the extent of state surveillance in Britain and the US.

Last month a committee of MPs called for an overhaul of laws governing the intelligence agencies’ use of mass surveillance to make them more transparent, comprehensible and up to date. Labour and the Tories both promise better oversight, but they also promise to strengthen the powers of the agencies.

[…] Only the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Scottish National party have pledged to curb surveillance powers. The Lib Dems, who helped to defeat the communications data bill from within the coalition, said they were opposed to the “blanket collection” of British people’s personal communications.’


Patriot gains: Sir John Sawers is the latest in long line of British spy chief sell-outs

Charlie Skelton writes for the International Business Times:

Sir John Sawers (left) at the 2014 Bilderberg conference in Copenhagen, with BP chair Carl-Henric SvanbergYet more fallout from the HSBC tax scandal. The former head of MI6, Jonathan Evans, known to his friends as Baron Evans of Weardale, has resigned from the board of the National Crime Agency. He stepped down to avoid any “perceived conflict of interest” between his role at the publicly funded NCA and his rather more lucrative position as a director of HSBC.

What’s troubling about this situation is not so much the conflict of interest, perceived or otherwise, as the fact the former director of our domestic intelligence service is now a director of one of the world’s biggest banks.

In fact, Baron Evans is just one of a growing line of British spy chiefs who have hopped off the top of the intelligence pyramid into corporate boardrooms and cushy consultancies. But it wasn’t always so. There was a time, not long ago, when outgoing spy chiefs styled their post-resignation lives a little more along the lines of Sherlock Holmes, who retired to the Sussex Downs to keep bees.’


TTIP: Is democracy threatened if companies can sue countries?

Michael Robinson writes for BBC News:

Protesters in London demonstrating against TTIPThose protesting against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the proposed new trade treaty between the European Union and the United States, are part of a growing international opposition to pacts that allow multinational companies to sue governments whose policies damage their interests.

Opponents claim this right, known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), poses a threat to democracy.

But what is ISDS and why does it provoke such controversy?’


TTIP: The US-EU Trade Deal Could Make the UK Election Mostly Pointless

René Lavanchy writes for VICE:

Picture the scene. It’s November 2015, and fresh from his unexpected election landslide in May, a smug Prime Minister Ed Miliband (bear with me) is admiring himself in the mirror of his office suite in Parliament, as he prepares for the Queen to deliver her annual speech in the House of Lords unveiling the new government’s policies. Top of the page is Miliband’s plan to bring the NHS back into full public ownership. This radical move has already had weeks of positive press coverage, even from the ‘papers that usually hate Labour, and now it’s time to seal the deal.

The phone rings. It’s an urgent call from the Attorney General, the government’s chief lawyer. “It’s, um, about the NHS thing, Prime Minister. I’m afraid we can’t do it – we haven’t got the legal powers”.

“What… What are you talking about?” stutters Ed. “We’re the government, we can do whatever the fuck we want… Can’t we?”

“Well, not quite, Prime Minister – remember TTIP?”‘


Regulatory cooperation in TTIP: united in deregulation

Corporate Observatory Europe reports:

‘Negotiations between the EU and the US to conclude a transatlantic trade and investment treaty (TTIP) continue to generate controversy. Many are concerned about the anti-democratic nature of private arbitration tribunals that would enable investors to sue states in private courts, but another aspect of the talks is just as threatening to the public interest: “regulatory cooperation”.

This project, which is unprecedented in the history of international trade, means the establishment of permanent institutional arrangements for communication and negotiation between European and American technocrats.

The objective is to continue the work of harmonization of regulatory frameworks between the EU and the US once the TTIP negotiations are done. In this way, roadblocks that were not resolved during the TTIP talks can be resolved while also ensuring that no new regulation is likely to become a “barrier to trade.”

The fundamental problem with this approach is that it considers regulations simply in terms of whether they impact or restrict transatlantic trade, whereas standards and regulations are the result of political and societal debates over much wider concerns. Therefore, far from being a simple technical discussion as claimed by the Commission, the risk is that regulatory cooperation talks follow the same logic as the arbitration courts: a bad law for trade is necessarily a bad law!

Regulatory cooperation could thus become the graveyard for public interest regulations.’


TTIP leak: EU proposal undermines democratic values

Lora Verheecke reports for Corporate Observatory Europe:

According to a leaked European Commission proposal in the ongoing EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, EU member state legislative initiatives will have to be vetted for potential impacts on private business interests.

The proposal forms part of a wider plan for so-called “regulatory cooperation”. Civil society groups have already denounced earlier iterations of this plan as being a tool to stop or roll back regulation intended to protect the public interest. The new elements in the leaked proposal expand the problem, according to civil society organisations.

Civil society groups have condemned the “regulatory exchange” plan as an affront to parliamentary democracy. “This is an insult to citizens, elected politicians and democracy itself”, says Max Bank of Lobby Control.

The “regulatory exchange” proposal will force laws drafted by democratically-elected politicians through an extensive screening process. This process will occur throughout the 78 States, not just in Brussels and Washington DC. Laws will be evaluated on whether or not they are compatible with the economic interests of major companies. Responsibility for this screening will lie with the ‘Regulatory cooperation body, a permanent, undemocratic, and unaccountable conclave of European and American technocrats.’


The Tony Blair connection: from Abu Dhabi to Colombia

Edward Malnick, Robert Mendick and Harriet Alexander report for The Telegraph:

P5210987Quartet Representative Tony Blair en route to Israel from a World Economic Forum meeting at Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt (Israeli fighter aircraft were scrambled to intercept Tony Blairs jet - the two warplanes adopting an attack position  no one on board was aware of any problem at the time). May 21, 2008     Perhaps Tony Blair always had half an eye on lining his pockets once outside the confines of Downing Street. Or maybe it was simply that the commercial opportunities presented themselves as he criss-crossed the globe on one do-gooding philanthropic mission after another.

Whatever the truth, the reality is that eight years after leaving high office, business is booming for Mr Blair.

His global consultancy offers investment and strategic advice to governments, corporations and billionaires. Mr Blair, although he denies it, is reckoned to be worth between £50 million and £100 million with several houses and a country estate among his assets.

The road to riches — make that the private jet flight to a fortune – began almost the moment he stepped out of the front door of Downing Street as prime minister for the last time in June 2007.’


Bahrain: Democracy Behind Bars

Quality has been sacrificed in the “melee of digital change” at the Daily Telegraph

John Jewell writes for The Conversation:

[…] The shift in emphasis from print to digital content appears to be bearing fruit. The Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), the industry body for media measurement, showed that in the period between June 2013 and July 2014 the Telegraph’s worldwide digital audience rose 46% while in June 2014 the number of people accessing the Telegraph online and on mobile phones reached 79m.

For some seasoned commentators the above developments have been to the detriment of journalistic standards at the Telegraph titles. Former Guardian editor, Peter Preston, wrote in the Observer in February that in “the melee of digital change” the Daily Telegraph no longer has an editor: “What they have instead is content managers who don’t sit on the editorial floor but reside elsewhere trying to make more clicks and more bucks for the [Barclay] brothers.”‘


Labour’s media plurality pledge: Campaigners want 30% ownership cap which would hit Murdoch’s News UK

Matthew Gilley writes for Press Gazette:

Media reform campaigners have welcomed Labour’s manifesto promise to tackle media plurality.

In its manifesto released yesterday the Labour Party said it would “take steps to protect the principle of media plurality, so that no media outlet can get too big”.

The party appeared single out Rupert Murdoch’s News UK with apparent reference to the hacking scandal which said: “No media company should have so much power that those who run it believe themselves above the rule of law.”

Labour has not set out how it would cap media ownership. But if it adopts the proposals of campaigners, it could limit national newspaper ownership to 30 per cent of the market.’


Labour Party manifesto pledge to change media ownership rules and implement Leveson recommendations

William Turvill reports for Press Gazette:

The Labour Party has today pledged “implementation of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry” in its 2015 election manifesto. (Labour leader Ed Miliband pictured, Reuters)

The party has also promised to “take steps to protect the principle of media plurality, so that no media outlet can get too big”.

The Conservative Party’s manifesto has not yet been released, but last month George Osborne said the government would launch a consultation on whether to introduce tax breaks for the English local newspaper industry in his Budget speech.

The Liberal Democrat Party, which is also yet to release its manifesto, said earlier this month that it would commit to a United States-style first amendment, protecting freedom of the press, in its manifesto.’


Secret US memo says Britain’s “special relationship” with America may be over

William Lowther and Glen Owen report for the Mail on Sunday:

Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama serve food  during a Downing Street barbecue in May 2011. When Cameron visited the White House in January, he insisted the President had said the special relationship was ‘stronger than it has ever been’Washington believes that the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US is over, according to a secret briefing document seen by The Mail on Sunday.

The memo for members of Congress states damningly that ‘the UK may not be viewed as centrally relevant to the United States in all of the issues and relations considered a priority on the US agenda’.

Dated April 2015 and drawn up to brief the Senate and House of Representatives on the impact of Britain’s General Election, the memo also warns that the UK faces turmoil if there is a hung parliament.

The document – prepared by the Congressional Research Service, an in-house intelligence body that gives confidential analysis to legislators – states that while Britain and the US are likely to ‘remain key economic partners’, a ‘reassessment of the special relationship may be in order… because its geopolitical setting has been changing’.’


British national press journalists said to be frozen out of stage-managed general election campaign

Dominic Ponsford reports for Press Gazette:

National press journalists are allegedly being excluded from covering carefully-managed general election campaign events organised by Labour and the Conservatives.

This is the claim of Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover… [who] speculates that Miliband and Cameron are so terrified of repeating Gordon Brown’s infamous encounter with Gillan Duffy that they are avoid real voters at all costs.

He said: “I submit that the chief reason is that, more than ever before, the main political parties are electioneering on their own terms, which means keeping the media — and in particular newspapers — at arms’ length. Never before was there such a sterile and stage-managed contest.”‘


Crippling PFI deals leave Britain £222bn in debt

Jonathan Owen reports for The Independent:

Every man, woman and child in Britain is more than £3,400 in debt – without knowing it and without borrowing a single penny – thanks to the proliferation of controversial deals used to pay for infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.

The UK owes more than £222bn to banks and businesses as a result of Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) – “buy now, pay later” agreements between the government and private companies on major projects. The startling figure – described by experts as a “financial disaster” – has been calculated as part of an Independent on Sunday analysis of Treasury data on more than 720 PFIs. The analysis has been verified by the National Audit Office (NAO).’


British banking scandals have wiped out 60% of profits since 2011

Lianna Brinded reports for Business Insider:

Financial scandals wiped out 60% of Britain’s biggest five banks’ profits since 2011.

According to the accountancy giant KPMG’s latest report, entitled “A Paradox of Forces,” the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC, Barclays and Standard Chartered forked out £38.7 billion ($57.6 billion) in customer remediation, conduct failings and fines since 2011.

KPMG warned that while conduct costs fell by 8% last year to £9.9bn, banking scandals “continue to be a major issue.”

It said that half of the costs related to financial scandal remediation went towards the compensating victims of the mis-selling of Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) and interest rate hedging products.’


George Osborne has created more debt than every Labour government in history

Another Angry Voice writes:

Over the years I’ve presented a lot of facts and statistics to demonstrate that George Osborne has been doing a terrible job as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that his ideological austerity agenda is spectacularly failing to achieve what he claimed it was going to when he came to power in 2010.

One of the main problems I’ve faced is that the facts and statistics I’ve presented contradict the almost ubiquitous mainstream media narratives that “George Osborne is doing a good job under difficult circumstances” and that“there is no alternative” to his ideological austerity agenda.

People find it difficult to accept the evidence that I’m presenting because it conflicts so badly with the narratives they’ve been conditioned to accept as true through their endless repetition in the mainstream media.

One of the assertions that people really struggle to accept is that George Osborne has created more new debt than every Labour government in history combined. This one is particularly hard for people to come to terms with because it conflicts with the (totally inaccurate) “folk wisdom” that Labour always spend loads of money, then the Tories have to tidy up the mess“. Further confusion is added by the way that Tory politicians (including the Prime Minister David Cameron) try to conflate the meanings of “the debt” and “the deficit” which are economic terms with completely different meanings.’


Scotland Yard chief: Put CCTV in every home to help police

Gregory Walton reports for The Telegraph:

CCTV cameras should be installed by homeowners and businesses to help detectives solve crimes in the age of austerity, Britain’s most senior policeman has said.

Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe also said that homeowners must make efforts to install equipment properly to avoid undermining inquiries.

When the Metropolitan Police Commissioner was asked if business and home owners needed to make greater use of CCTV cameras he said yes, adding: “We’ve got a strategy to encourage people, with their cameras, is to move them down to eye level.”

But the Commissioner warned those buying such devices to be sure to position them correctly.’


British public concerned about web snooping, says survey

David Barrett reports for The Telegraph:

Big Brother Watch claim a new privacy agreement on Google and other firms “failed to enforce any real change”.<br />
Eight out of 10 Britons admit to being concerned about online privacy, according to new research.

A poll commissioned by campaign group Big Brother Watch found a sizeable majority – 72 per cent – also want official watchdogs to offer them more protection.

It reported that 68 per cent of people interviewed said regulators should have obtained a stricter privacy agreement with Google, the internet giant, in an agreement earlier this year.

ComRes polled 1,000 adults about their views and found nearly six out of 10 believe companies should only be allowed to gather personal data if they explain why they are doing so and how they will use the information.

But campaign groups have expressed concerns the new agreement did not go far enough to protect the public from snooping.’


Jason Seiken’s departure marks latest stage in Barclay brothers’ permanent revolution at the Telegraph

Dominic Ponsford writes for Press Gazette:

[…] To outsiders the Barclays’ stewardship appears to have been unnecessarily disruptive.

As does the successive redundancy purges which have seen hundreds of experienced journalists lose their jobs to be replaced by younger, cheaper and more tech-savvy replacements.

And the questions raised by Peter Oborne in February about editorial content being corrupted by commercial pressure continue to cast a shadow over the integrity of the Barclay twins (promised new guidelines on how editorial should work with commercial have yet to materialise).

But the ultimate guarantee of journalistic survival in the commercial world is profit. And when it comes to turning a profit the Barclays have been model managers.’


Piers Morgan ordered revenge exposé of Private Eye editor over Have I Got News For You clash

Frances Gibb and Alice Hutton report for The Times:

‘Piers Morgan ordered a front page exposé of Ian Hislop, the Private Eye editor, after being humiliated on Have I Got News For You but was furious to learn that he had “led a clean life”, the Old Bailey was told.

In an appearance on the news panel show in 1996, the pair failed to keep their mutual contempt off camera until the host asked if they wanted to go outside and have a fight. The Daily Mirror editor warned Hislop after the show that he would be “getting new neighbours” — hinting that photographers would be outside his home.’


Chagos islanders ‘betrayed’ by UK failure to decide on their return

Jamie Doward reports for The Guardian:

DIEGO GARCIA.Supporters of the inhabitants of a British overseas territory deported from their homeland are furious that the government has reneged on a promise that it would decide before the election on whether they could return.

Shortly before parliament disbanded, the government said it would delay confirming whether the Chagossian people could go back to the Chagos Islands, a series of atolls in the Indian Ocean. The main island, Diego Garcia, has been leased to the US military since 1966. That agreement expires next year. Novelist Philippa Gregory, secretary of the UK Chagos Support Association, branded the delay “another serious betrayal of the Chagossian community”. She added: “Chagossians have suffered in exile for years, and it is disgraceful the government has failed to deliver a small measure of justice by supporting return.” Television presenter and author Ben Fogle will hand a petition to Downing Street after the election urging the next government to let the Chagossians go back.’


Britain Used Spy Team to Shape Latin American Public Opinion on Falklands

Andrew Fishman and Glenn Greenwald report for The Intercept:

Faced with mounting international pressure over the Falkland Islands territorial dispute, the British government enlisted its spy service, including a highly secretive unit known for using “dirty tricks,” to covertly launch offensive cyberoperations to prevent Argentina from taking the islands.

A shadowy unit of the British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had been preparing a bold, covert plan called “Operation QUITO” since at least 2009. Documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, published in partnership with Argentine news site Todo Notícias, refer to the mission as a “long-running, large scale, pioneering effects operation.”

At the heart of this operation was the Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group, known by the acronym JTRIG, a secretive unit that has been involved in spreading misinformation.’


Report: US police killed more people in March than UK did in 20th century

‘A new report by unearthed disturbing figures when it came to the number of police-related deaths that occurred in America in the month of March alone. Manila Chan takes a look at the statistics and how they compare to other countries.’ (RT America)

What’s wrong with our politics? The Westminster lobby…

Guardian journalist John Harris looks at the Westminster lobby – a small group of political journalists who are granted special access to prime ministerial briefings. (Channel 4 News)

Let’s not fool ourselves. We may not bribe, but corruption is rife in Britain

George Monbiot writes for The Guardian:

Andrzej Krauze on Transparency International's corruption indexIt just doesn’t compute. Almost every day the news is filled with stories that look to me like corruption. Yet on Transparency International’s corruption index Britain is ranked 14th out of 177 nations, suggesting that it’s one of the best-run nations on Earth. Either all but 13 countries are spectacularly corrupt or there’s something wrong with the index.

Yes, it’s the index. The definitions of corruption on which it draws are narrow and selective. Common practices in the rich nations that could reasonably be labelled corrupt are excluded; common practices in the poor nations are emphasised.

This week a ground-changing book called How Corrupt is Britain?, edited by David Whyte, is published. It should be read by anyone who believes this country merits its position on the index.’


‘We have a national myth… that Britain is not corrupt': Interview with Professor David Whyte

‘David Whyte, professor in the Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology Department at the University of Liverpool, talks to Going Underground host Afshin Rattansi about corruption in the UK. There is a ‘national myth’ that Britain is not corrupt, and has checks and balances that stop us falling into the traps of other, less developed countries, but that is wrong and we have a ‘serious problem’ with corruption.’ (Going Underground)

Britain’s Lib Dems to propose law protecting journalism from state interference

Patrick Wintour reports for The Guardian:

A right to protect journalism from state interference and an end to ministers appointing the heads of broadcasting regulators are set to be proposed by the Liberal Democrats in a new “first amendment”-style charter on press freedom to be outlined in the party’s manifesto.

The Lib Dem policy document is expected to suggest there should be a new statutory recognition of journalism so that newspapers and other media are not required to rely solely on the freedom of expression rights as spelled out under article 10 of the European convention on human rights.

It has been argued by some media organisations that article 10 does not hold the same weight as first amendment of the American constitution, which states that it is illegal for the US Congress to pass any law “abridging the freedom of speech or of the press”.


The Privatising Cabal at the Heart of our NHS

Tamasin Cave writes for Open Democracy:

The battle is on for the future of the NHS. Apparently.

Ed Miliband came out hard, declaring he will ‘put patients before profits and stop the privatisation’.

David Cameron’s camp countered with a commitment to fully fund the next wave of NHS reforms.

Like pro-wrestling, it’s a good show, but a phony fight.

How can you tell?

Just look at the players sitting round the table.’


‘Introducing the private sector into the NHS is madness': Interview with NHA Party co-leader Dr. Clive Peedell

Dr. Clive Peedell, co-leader of the National Health Action Party, talks to Going Underground host Afshin Rattansi about their plans to save the NHS in the upcoming general election. He argues that Labour is not doing enough to help the NHS, as they still want private sector provision to be part of the public health service. The NHS is still ‘wide open’ to the private sector, and especially at risk if TTIP goes through.’ (Going Underground)

Work less, play more

Lucy Purdy writes for Positive News:

Time is perhaps the most precious commodity of all. While we can buy more possessions and work new jobs, we can never make more time or recapture what has already been spent. But considering how much work dominates our lives, we question concepts around working and time relatively little.

While paid employment can provide security, for many, jobs are a means of putting “food on the table” within a work culture that feels more enslaving than natural or joyful. But now there is growing recognition that traditional working patterns no longer serve us. More and more people are searching for freedom from bosses, wages, commuting and consuming, seeking instead the lives we truly want to lead.’