Mainstream media censorship?

800px-KCC2008Wildwood174Ever wondered why the BBC news seems increasingly bland and irrelevant? According to the BBC’s Farming Today programme, there was an official media blackout on the pilot badger culls last year.

The president of the National Farmers Union said the decision not to communicate with the media during the pilot badger cull came “from the highest levels of government”.

The BBC tells the whole story here, from 9 mins in.


UKIP makes any criticism of the EU appear as crazed xenophobia

Translated into Glaswegian, this reads: "Support the EU or Nigel will come and get you!"

Translated into Glaswegian, this reads: “Support the EU or Nigel will come and get you!”

I popped into my mum’s flat today. She was out, but the postie had deposited two UKIP flyers bearing Nigel Farage’s smirking mug on the mat. (If you’re not from the UK, UKIP stands for “The UK Independence Party”, and Nigel Farage is its leader.)

UKIP has been achieving its aim of “ruffling a few feathers among the chattering classes” with the launch of a hard-hitting poster campaign which has been branded as “racist”, for the forthcoming European Elections on 22 May.

I expect the reaction of my mum, who lives in the west end of Glasgow, will be like that of most people who live in the west end of Glasgow – something along the lines of: “I’m not one of those crazed xenophobic immigrant-bashers! I’m voting for a party that supports the EU!”

So in my twisted, Machiavellian way of thinking, I’m starting to see the whole UKIP theatre as a political ploy to make voting in support of the EU appear to be the obvious “rational” option. If you are deeply distrustful of the EU – as I have come to be, partly due to the secretive and undemocratic TTIP treaty (and why is there an EU Minister for Enlargement?) – people will see you as a xenophobic, immigrant-phobic UKIP supporter. You will be seen as a pompous fuddy-duddy.

(Just in case there is any confusion, I will NOT be voting for UKIP, on 22 May or at any other time.)

Could the Green Party have the answer? Their stated policy on Europe is this:

The Green Party wants a reformed Europe with governing institutions designed to resist capture by corporations and instead work democratically and cooperatively in the public interest. We will promote self-determination of nations and regions acting independently on local issues, whilst protecting the ability to cooperate on global issues that affect us all, like fisheries protection, climate change or human rights.

Sounds a bit wishy-washy to me. I like the bit about resisting capture by corporations, but what is the Green Party going to do to achieve this? Pray?

The statement on the EU from the Pirate Party is more robust. I would vote for them if they had a candidate in my constituency, which, sadly, they don’t. I suppose there’s only one answer to that. I’ll think about it.


Why pro-indy does not mean anti-English

In a speech delivered at the Edinburgh Book Festival, the broadcaster Andrew Marr warned that the independence debate could unleash anti-English feeling.

The Herald newspaper reported him as having said:

“There is a very strong anti-English feeling [in Scotland]. Everybody knows it. There always has been.

“If you go back to the origins of the SNP, the origins of home rule, Anglophobia [sic] was as well-entrenched then as it is now.

“I don’t think it is particularly serious most of the time, but it can become serious; it can become toxic.”

I have no anti-English sentiments

I strongly support independence for Scotland, and I would like it put on record that I am half English and have no anti-English sentiments whatsoever. I love my English friends and relatives.

I have never heard any Anglophobia expressed in connection with the Scottish independence debate. I do not believe, as Marr apparently does, that the treatment of Nigel Farage when he was heckled on a visit to Edinburgh, had anything to do with Anglophobia. I do not know of any other English politicians who have been treated in this manner during a visit to Scotland. Farage’s treatment, whether right or wrong, was a reaction to his political views, not to his Englishness.

The main reason I want independence for Scotland is because the Westminster political system is corrupt and unrepresentative to Scotland.

The government won only one electoral seat in Scotland

Scotland has been ruled by governments that the majority of its population did not vote for for more than 34 of the 68 years since 1945. We are currently ruled by a government that only won one electoral seat in Scotland.

Scotland’s voting system is the Additional Member System, not first past the post. This allows more political change, more voter representation, and smaller political parties can get better representation in parliament. It’s fairer.

The UK political system is dominated by voting representation from the south of England. This is primarily why I want independence for Scotland. It has NOTHING to do with anti-English sentiment!

I don’t want to be part of France. That doesn’t make me anti-French.

The Scottish independence campaign needs to be more robust in countering these “anti-English” claims. We need to be even more vocal about the fact that while we are in many ways different from England we are completely supportive neighbours.

Sleepwalking into a police state is no joke

Most of our politicians and mainstream media clearly want us to think any concerns about the Bilderberg Group are a big joke.

But in my opinion, there are many recent developments in our society and in those that surround us which are far from being a joke, and to simply ignore the role that high-powered secret summits like the Bilderberg Group could be playing in all this would be extremely complacent.

The introduction of secret courts is one example. In this BBC radio programme, Ken Clarke, the Minister Without Portfolio and a member of the Bilderberg Steering Committee, puts forward the case for secret courts, saying that they are necessary to prevent other countries and terrorist organisations from learning our secrets, for example about the possible involvement of our secret services in torture.

The leader of the racist English Defence League was interviewed twice on the BBC yesterday. The BBC is meant to be a public interest broadcasting service.

A man who works for Scottish Water has launched a group that aims to revive Oswald Moseley’s violent Blackshirts, who terrorised Jewish people in the East End of London in the 1930s. Incitement to racial hatred and violence is a crime that can lead to imprisonment and extradition for some – this has unfortunately failed in the case of Abu Qatada, despite the government’s efforts. Yet a man who operates a website proclaiming his revival of the violent Blackshirts is allowed to operate freely and is employed by a taxpayer-funded public body.

In the radio programme “Disability, A New History”, episode 6, the presenter Peter White described the parallels between the 19th century and today as “striking” in that disabled people were having to make a case for the severity of their infirmities in order to receive welfare or be allowed leave to visit the doctor. White’s reaction shows how quickly even some people who have a disability, as White himself does, have come to see this situation as normal, when it is really an example of how sharply the political clock has been turned back to the days when disabled people were forced to either work or beg on the streets. Programmes like this effectively normalise drastic political change.

Perhaps most worryingly, Greece is to convert military camps into debtors’ prisons for people who are unable to pay their tax, even if those taxes are emergency property taxes. Imprisonment could be the penalty for those who owe 5000 Euros or more in tax, who might be incarcerated for up to 12 months.

This sets a very worrying precedent. Once the measures are in place, the penalty threshold could be reduced.

Greece’s deputy justice minister Kostas Karagounis said that the special prison for debtors would improve their detention conditions, and would be more humane as they would not be held in the same prisons as murderers, drug dealers or robbers.

In the 1930s the Nazis claimed that the concentration camps were simply work camps. “Arbeit Macht Frei” – “work brings freedom” is the famous slogan that was placed at the entrances to some of the Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz 1.

I am not trying to suggest that the Greek debtors prisons will be concentration camps, but that the Greek government may be trying to play down the true significance of these prisons. They could evolve into tax-debt-slave camps, where people who are brought down into indebtedness through excessive taxation become fodder for cheap labour programmes.

When the Nazi concentration camps were liberated at the end of the Second World War, people said “How could we have allowed this to happen?”

Let’s not be fooled again. Let’s hold our politicians to account and refuse to allow them to casually brush aside our serious concerns about where our society might be heading with a scornful smirk.

MPs laugh off questions about the Bilderberg Group

This film shows some of the infantile politicians who are meant to represent us, whose salaries we pay, casually laughing off valid, serious questions placed on behalf of ordinary people by Michael Meacher, one of the few politicians who actually tries to work for the electorate instead of a nice comfy future as a highly-paid consultant for a multinational.

Ken Clarke, Minister Without Portfolio, has his smug composure briefly shattered when Tom Watson MP asks him this very interesting question at 16.50 mins in:

“Can the Minister confirm that he declared his trusteeship of the body that funds the Conference to his Permanent Secretary when he was appointed by the Prime Minister?”.

Clarke turns into a gibbering wreck at this point. Needless to say, that bit was edited out of the BBC’s Today in Parliament show, which allocated just under 5 minutes to the issue, from 25 minutes in.

In this film from the protest group We Are Change, people explain their genuine concerns about the secretive Bilderberg Group meetings.

World government discussed in Watford

World leaders are gathering at The Grove country club near Watford, England, this morning, where this year’s meeting of the elite Bilderberg Group is being held. Delegates include Henry Kissinger, Robert Rubin and Google’s Eric Schmidt. Some of the UK’s most influential politicians are also said to be attending, including George Osborne, Ed Balls, Dame Shirley Williams and Ken Clarke. They will be rubbing shoulders with chairmen and CEOs of the world’s biggest multinational companies and financial institutions.

Yet when searching the BBC website for “Bilderberg” today yields no mentions after the 21st June 2012. In the “Elsewhere on the BBC” column, “Bilderberg” is mentioned in a Blog titled “Lady Gaga for IMF boss?”; in BBC Leeds Entertainment section, and in a local radio station covering BBC Three Counties.

Elsewhere in the British media, this global summit, held in the UK for the first time since 1998, is being treated with the type of gently condescending humour usually seen in animal stories or royal visits to small remote countries. Entertainment writers rather than top political correspondents have been enlisted to report on the meeting – ie, to report on which politicians are rumoured to be attending, and on the colour of the upholstery, and the exotic topiary. The implication is that anyone who thinks this event something worth bothering about must be a bit nuts.

Here’s the London Evening Standard’s hilarious take on the Bilderberg summit:

Russia Today takes a more serious view in this article. It makes the salient point, for example, that “Among the 12 “key topics” for this year’s conference are “developments in the Middle East” and “Africa’s challenges.” The inclusion of “Africa’s challenges” is an interesting choice, as the guest list is notably absent of any major (or minor) political or academic figures from that vast continent.”

The article adds that six Turkish invitees are said to be the only representatives from the Middle East.

There are many people who believe that the Bilderberg Group’s ultimate agenda is to introduce a One World Government and an end to democracy. This theory is widely lampooned as a conspiracy theory, which is surprising as it the collapse of democracy seems to be happening right in front of our eyes.

Whatever the truth is about a One World Government, Bilderberg summits do appear to have a major influence on world affairs, and this influence is ultra-secret and undemocratic. A recent article entitled “The True Story of the Bilderberg Group And What They May Be Planning Now” quotes a 2005 book by Daniel Estulin. The book says about Bill Clinton, who attended the Bilderberg Group in 1991,

“There, David Rockefeller told [Clinton] why the North American Free Trade Agreement….was a Bilderberg priority and that the group needed him to support it. The next year, Clinton was elected president,” and on January 1, 1994 NAFTA took effect. Numerous other examples are similar, including who gets chosen for powerful government, military and other key positions. 

This funny film highlights the extent of the secrecy surrounding the event. The lone film-maker tried to enter The Grove, the location of the summit, three weeks before the start of the event. He got as far as the walled garden before being kindly told to make himself scarce.

Protesters who include the group We Are Change are holding an alternative summit at a location near the conference.

English water – profitable “cash cow” for global investors

My last post was about an English water company owned by an overseas bank making millions from British taxpayers. Today comes news of a bid for another English/Welsh water company which, if it goes ahead, looks likely to enrich – or should that be further enrich – its owners and investors.

British water company Severn Trent looks set to become a juicy investment vehicle for Canadian investor Borealis, the infrastructure arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, and the Kuwait Investment Office. The approach is said to be at an early stage, although shares in Severn Trent soared on the news, and shares in Britain’s two remaining listed water companies, Pennon Group and United Utilities, also rose, as their money-making prospects are enhanced by the news, as Securequity sales trader Jawaid Afsar explained to Reuters News:

“United Utilities and Pennon will attract further speculative interest. These are cash cows, generating huge amounts of profits and generating very good dividends, and these make attractive targets for overseas investors.”

The Reuters article continues:

“Yield-hungry investors have been showing strong interest in British water and sewerage firms as they seek stable cash flows and a favourable regulatory structure.”

Stable cash flows – that would be because council tax payers, whether rich or poor, HAVE to pay their water bills  – unless they have their own septic tank.

Let’s hope  Scottish Water stays in public hands.

Making money out of water

Privatisation is a controversial issue. The lines between “pro” and “anti” privatisation used to be clearly drawn between right- and left-wing, politically speaking. Those lines have become increasingly blurred.

Traditionally, left-wing parties like Labour advocated nationalisation of many industries, while right-wing parties like the Conservatives preferred privatisation. The Labour government of the late 1940s nationalised coal, iron, steel, gas, electricity and transport. The Thatcher government of the 1980s brought most of these industries and public utilities back into private ownership.

From 1997, New Labour continued the practice of privatisation, outsourcing central government services and building on the private finance initiatives (PFI) introduced by the Conservatives.

One of the biggest advantages of privatisation is that it introduces competition, and that can inspire research and development while reducing prices for the consumer. This has been the case in the telecoms industry, as well as gas and electricity – although many consumers don’t even bother to take advantage of it.

But in industries where competition is restricted or where contracts are awarded by the government rather than the consumer, the public can get a very bad deal indeed.

One such industry is water. Water was privatised in England and Wales in 1989, but in Scotland and Northern Ireland it is still publicly owned.

Not only was water privatised – there was no deregulation to allow competition. This means that if you live in England and Wales and you are not happy with your water and sewage treatment supplier, the only alternative is to go off-grid and get your own private water supply.

The Thatcher government proposed privatisation of the water supply in 1984, but there was such an outcry from ratepayers that the idea was quietly shelved in the run-up to the 1987 general election. Once the Thatcher government was comfortably back in power, the water privatisation went ahead, initially only in England and Wales.

The Conservatives intended to privatise the Scottish water supply in the 1990s, but there was such widespread hostility to the plans, including a referendum organised by Strathclyde Regional Council in March 1994 that returned a 97% vote against the proposal, that the government decided instead to restructure water regulation in Scotland. This eventually led to the creation of Scottish Water, a public body, in 2002.

There have been further attempts to privatise the Scottish water supply. Thankfully these have not been successful. Water is essential for life. If the public water supply becomes contaminated, it can lead to epidemics.

In my opinion water is not something that people should be allowed to profit from, yet this is what is clearly happening in the areas where the water supply is privately owned. The Thames Tideway scheme is one of the worst examples. It’s not so much the project that is at fault, but the way it is being financed.

The Thames Tideway scheme

The London sewerage system, originally designed and built in the 1850s, is now straining to cope with the increased population in the city. Overflows are increasingly common, averaging 50 a year, discharging raw sewage and rainwater.

A long-overdue project to upgrade the sewerage system is to be undertaken in the next few years. Known as the Thames Tideway Scheme, it will consist of a 25km tunnel running under central London. This will be built in conjunction with the Lee Tunnel, which is already under construction. The project is scheduled for completion in 2022 at an estimated total cost of £4.2 billion.

The project will be paid for by Thames Water’s domestic sewerage customers, which will result in an increase in their annual bills by an estimated £70 to £80 at 2011 prices. This is despite the fact that Thames Water’s owners have made significant profits, including dividends of £2.6 billion paid to shareholders in the past 10 years, and that there has been awareness of the imminent need of a major upgrade to the sewage system for years.

In January questions were asked in the House of Lords as to why shareholder dividends were not being reduced in order to finance the project. Questions were also asked about the amount of tax the company pays.

Although some of the figures quoted by the peers were apparently inaccurate, it is clear that they were making a very valid point. The Thames area water supply is clearly a goldmine for its shareholders and investors, but the people who have no choice but to pay for it seem to be getting a raw deal.

Private equity vehicle?

When Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stoneham asked whether Thames Water was simply “a private equity vehicle designed to save tax for its overseas investors at the expense of London customers and UK taxpayers, who are supposed to stump up for its infrastructure investment”, Conservative peer Lord de Mauley replied:

“Thames Water pays its tax. Tax relief is allowable against the capital expenditure incurred with the aim of encouraging investment by companies. Water and sewerage companies have significant capital programmes in comparison with their revenues. They therefore benefit from tax allowances proportionately more than others.”

Capital programmes? Isn’t it the customers and council tax payers who are stumping up for the capital expenditure in this case?

In a statement, Thames Water said: “It is important to note that many of Thames Water’s shareholders are pension funds in Britain and elsewhere, which rely on dividends to pay people’s pensions.”

Thames Water is owned by Kemble Water Holdings Limited, a consortium of investment funds led by the Australian Macquarie Group. Macquarie takes a management fee of around £3.5 million a year.

Here is a list of the Kemble Consortium:

Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund LP –            Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund II –            Macquarie Diversified Infrastructure Fund –            Macquarie-FSS Infrastructure Trust

–            Macquarie PRISM Pty Ltd –            LODH Macquarie Infrastructure Fund LP

•            Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP

•            Alberta Investment Management

•            AMP Capital Investors

•            Australian Super Pty Ltd

•            British Colombia Investment Management Corporation

•            United Super Pty Ltd

•            Finpro SGPS SA

•            Motor Trades Association of Australia Superannuation Fund Pty


•            OPSEU Pension Trust

•            Stichting Pensioenfonds voor de Gezondhelt, Geestelijke, en

Maatshappelijke Belangen

•            Queensland Investment Corporation

•            Santander Private Equity

•            SAS Trustee Corporation

You can read more about these companies from page 18 of this pdf document.

It seems clear that the London water supply has been converted into an asset for investors to make money out of. And there is a lot of pressure from big business and financial interests to find other public money-making vehicles. We can’t afford to ignore what’s going on, because ultimately, it’s us who will have to foot the bill.

Why are big political parties so similar?

In a recent Sunday Times article, Jamie Oliver said that said that although he did not support UKIP he loved the fact that the party was “stirring it up”.

I expect a lot of people feel the same way. One reason for the huge success of UKIP (the UK Independence Party) at the May local elections in England and Wales is that it offers change, at a time when the mainstream political parties all seem to be doing the same thing.

What a terrible situation, for people to be feeling so disenfranchised that they welcome the success of a party they don’t even support, just because it offers them a small feeling of influence in the political system, a system that seems to have been hijacked by wealthy business interests.

If the political parties are all saying and doing more or less the same thing, it effectively disenfranchises the voter. Although there are many smaller parties whose policies are very different from the three mainstream parties, they don’t have the slightest chance of achieving power – so what’s the point of voting for them? It would just be a waste of your vote. No wonder many people have given up on voting altogether – except in those rare times when a smaller party like UKIP seems to be in with a fighting chance. At those times, even people who might disagree with a lot of what that small party stands for might support it, simply because it offers the possibility of change.

But the chances are that even if a small party does achieve power, like the Liberal Democrats at the last general election, it will be forced to make such compromises that the policies that made it stand out in the first place will just evaporate. How depressing.

However, hope is at hand. Things could be different. Take the example of Scotland under devolution.

Why Scotland is different

Proportional representation is used for voting in Scottish elections – the partially proportional “additional member system” (AMS) or the “single transferable vote” system (STV) for local government elections.

This makes a big difference. The Scottish voting system gives smaller parties a much greater chance of achieving real power and growing into big influential parties, without having to water down the policies that made them stand out.

It also explains why UKIP made only very small gains in the three Scottish by-elections that have been held this year.

Under the “first past the post” system used in England and Wales, anyone who votes for a small party knows their vote is likely to be wasted – unless, like UKIP, one of these smaller parties is experiencing a huge surge in support.

But under the Scottish voting systems, small political parties and independent candidates have a much greater chance of winning seats. This means people can vote for a small party knowing that that party has a fair chance of achieving power, even if there isn’t an unusually large surge of support for it. If people in Scotland are feeling the same way as Jamie Oliver, they don’t have to rely on UKIP to “stir things up”.

It also means the Scottish political parties don’t have to keep their policies in the amorphous “centre ground” in order to achieve political power and influence. They don’t have to appeal to the “lowest common denominator” and achieve a huge groundswell of support in order to achieve even the slightest chance of power, as parties do under the “first past the post” system in England and Wales and in the United States, where the “first past the post” system is also used.

Despite the huge gains UKIP made in the local elections, they have little chance of achieving any real power in a general election. They are more likely to split the right-wing vote, increasing Labour’s chances. This is what happened in David Cameron’s constituency of Witney at the council elections. Winning candidate Laura Price (Labour) got 756 votes. The UKIP candidate won 746 votes and the Conservative candidate was pushed into third place with 697 votes.

If the AMS voting system had been used, right-leaning voters who wanted to protest or vote for a party that offered a clearer choice would have been able to vote for UKIP without contributing to a split in the right-wing vote. They could have made UKIP their first constituency choice and Conservative their second, regional choice. Or they could have done it the other way round. UKIP would then have a greater chance of achieving power.

This works for left-wing as well as right-wing parties. If the AMS system had been used for UK general elections in the 1980s, when the SDP-Liberal Alliance were briefly in the ascendancy, it might have prevented the left-wing vote being split.

Voting systems that are based on proportional representation put more political power in the hands of the electorate, the voters. Political parties are beholden to voters, not to business lobbyists, as they are under first past the post.

What difference does all this political theory make to my life?

A considerable difference. Free prescriptions and tuition fees are two things. The Small Business Bonus Scheme is another. These things have come about not because the SNP is more left-leaning than Labour, but because politicians in the Scottish Government are more beholden to the voters than to big business lobbyists. And that’s because the Scottish voting system offers voters greater representation.

Unfortunately in UK general elections, Scots are still stuck with first past the post.

North Korea – see any parallels?

I feel as if I’ve woken up in North Korea this morning. All the radio stations are carrying deferential reports of the grandiose military funeral for a former prime minister who divided opinion and never achieved a majority of Scottish votes. We will all have to contribute to the estimated £10m cost of her funeral, which is said to be the most expensive in British history.

This politically ostentatious funeral has been planned by a government that achieved power having failed to achieve an electoral majority, winning only 36 percent of the vote and just one electoral seat in Scotland.

The most expensive funeral in British history takes place at a time of austerity and economic precariousness

The most expensive funeral in British history takes place at a time of austerity and economic precariousness, when the government is making cutbacks to all areas of public life (except to the grant we pay to the Queen, which is being increased by more than £5 million).

It’s not surprising that some commentators believe England could be on the verge of social unrest.

I believe electoral reform is vital. We need politicians who actually represent the voters so that people can engage in the political process again.

Kings by Steely Dan seems an appropriate song to play.

  • About this site

    Our democracy in the UK is deeply flawed. Under the "first past the post" system, which is used to elect the Westminster House of Commons, the majority of UK voters are not represented in Parliament by the party they voted for.
    This website is not calling for anarchy or revolution, but for a fairer and more democratic parliamentary system.

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