For the first time in my life, I fear for my children and any future grandchildren I may have. For the first time in my life I wonder if it would be best to leave the UK, this ‘sceptered isle,’ that I love. As the daughter of a family who had to flee for their lives during the Partition, history sits in my head as a warning.
Travelling on the underground, I bump into a young woman in her late twenties, the daughter of family friends. Our conversation turns to politics: the disastrous threat of Brexit, the prime minister’s blocking of a report on Russian interference in the Brexit referendum, the weakening of our democratic processes and the dangers posed to us all. ‘I’m seriously debating now, whether I should ever have children,’ she says. The surprise is that I’m not at all surprised. At the risk of appearing alarmist, I believe we’re in dangerous territory; the UK is being subtly and insidiously attacked by a foreign power. As is the USA. The leaders in both countries colluding with the invisible aggressor and deploying mind-numbing, hypnotic language to sway their voters.
“Take Back Control.” Leave Campaign, UK 2016 referendum.
“Get Brexit Done.” Prime minister Johnson and Brexiteers.
“Leave means leave.’ Brexiteers.
“Make America Great Again.” Trump. USA
“Fakenews.” Trump. USA
In George Orwell’s novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ Newspeak, a language of restricted vocabulary and grammar is used to narrow the range of thought. ‘Because if you are able to numb the language, you in turn numb the mind.’
After restricting language, the next step is to turn language inside out and present lies as truth. Enter Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame – who, after a meeting with Donald Trump – announced Facebook will allow ‘posts by politicians or parties containing “deceptive, false or misleading content.” If this isn’t shockingly corrupt and dangerous in itself, Zuckerberg’s explanation twists language into its own enemy when he says: “I believe we must continue to stand for free expression.”
As a writer, and someone who attends the regular vigils for the imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, I fully support free expression and believe it to be the foundation of all freedoms. However, let’s be very clear, there’s no relationship between “deceptive, false or misleading content,’ and free expression. They’re simply not the same thing. And are in fact, bitter enemies, for one seeks to silence the other.
Free expression is the endeavour to present social and political truths to improve people’s lives. Misleading content is the endeavour to manipulate and exploit people.
A group of Facebook’s own employees have written a letter criticising the policy and refuting the claim of ‘free expression.’ “We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It doesn’t protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.”
Facebook’s policy and micro-targeting, weaponises the platform by tunnelling deep into people’s fears and terrors. Preventing recognition of political ads, scrutiny and discussion. Christopher Wylie, who worked for Cambridge Analytica, explained what they did with people’s data scraped from Facebook: “We … built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons.
‘Target their inner demons.’ A phrase to send chills down the spine.
To what end? To win a referendum for the UK to leave the European Union? And later to help Trump win a presidential election? Yes, to both, and so much more. Beneath the surface, the design is far darker, the aims far deeper, the power far more dangerous. Its name is Russia.
Gina Miller, writing in 2017, in The Guardian: “All 17 of the US intelligence agencies agree that the Kremlin interfered in the US presidential election – the only debate is to what extent the Trump campaign colluded. Now it seems Russia weighed in on the Brexit referendum for exactly the same reasons: to divide the west by breaking up Nato and the EU – and excluding the effective and influential US and UK from continental European affairs as far as possible.”
The article goes on to pinpoint the heart of the matter: “illiberalism…for Britain to become a deregulated, super-low-tax, small-state country… The things being smuggled in under the cover of Brexit will damage so much of what we hold dear. A cabal of tycoons would see their wealth and influence turbocharged, while the mass of the population would see their prosperity, their security and, ultimately, their liberty dwindle away.”
We may have thought the cold war was over, but John le Carré, ever the writer with his finger on the zeitgeist, still places the threats from Moscow Central at the heart of his new novel Agent Running in the Field. The cold war hasn’t gone away but changed its clothes, become sophisticated and social. An Open Democracy article outlines how Russian donors have stepped up donations to the Tory party, from buying lunch with Teresa May to tennis with Johnson and Cameron; over the years they’ve been pouring in millions. A few years ago, I watched a documentary on Russian oligarchs anxious to get their sons into Britain’s elite public schools, such as Stowe School situated in a ducal palace. Rather than academic excellence, the aspirations of these oligarchs were for their sons to establish friendships and connections, with boys who would later become part of Britain’s ruling class.
The Sunday Times edition of 10thNovember 2019 carries a damning article on Russian influence, the Russian friendships of Boris Johnson and the Tory party.
At the so-called ‘Internet Research Agency,’ in St. Petersburg, hundreds of paid bloggers, work in shifts, around the clock, to flood social media and forums in Russia and abroad, sowing disinformation and division. It’s been estimated the agency’s contribution to the Pro-Leave campaign was well over a million pounds.
Boris Johnson’s chief strategist, Dominic Cummings, spent several years in Russia in the 1990’s, is the architect of the ‘Take Back Control,’ slogan, led the Vote Leave campaign, which is now being investigated for electoral illegalities, and has been held to be in contempt of Parliament for refusing to appear before the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
In 2016 when the referendum result was announced, Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, commented ‘the vote to leave the EU was “a giant victory for Putin’s foreign policy objectives”.
Serious questions have been raised about Boris Johnson’s motives, and I would say loyalty, (though he’s hardly a man renowned for that noble quality) in refusing to publish the report on Russian interference in the Brexit referendum, by the Intelligence and Security Committee, chaired by the highly respected Dominic Grieve, who has described the reasons given by Boris Johnson’s staff as “bogus” and a “lie.”
It appears to me the Russian offensive has already begun; it’s certainly scraping away at our parliamentary institutions. Democracy depends on checks, oversight and accountability, through committees and established procedures. Chip away at the authority of these and you’re heading for chaos. And guess who’ll benefit from chaos?
The bad news keeps on coming: the UK’s Moody rating – Moody’s is the leading ratings agency – has gone into negative – due to “an erosion in institutional strength.” And there we have it!
The United Kingdom is composed of the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The economic roots of all four parts have been tied together for centuries. Scotland and Northern Ireland, voted to remain in the EU, and don’t want to be dragged out. In Scotland the demand for independence is growing and Northern Ireland might at some point decide its best interests lie in uniting with the rest of Ireland. Both would weaken the UK further. Recently, I went to a talk by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown – a man greeted by a standing ovation before he’d even said a word – who pointed out the economic disaster for businesses if Scotland became independent, particularly in the north of England, where people have traded with Scotland for hundreds of years. Couple this prediction with the unemployment caused by companies leaving Britain because of Brexit, and the spectre of poverty, homelessness and suffering begins to rise.
We’re facing a perfect storm: an existential crisis that few of us will ever have been challenged by. Composed of Facebook, Russia, Trump’s greedy eyes on our NHS, and the exodus of international companies from Britain.
If we come under the influence of a hostile power (fronted by the Etonian vowels of a Boris Johnson and sold as a ‘Great Deal for our country’), and a low-tax economy, the rights and protections of workers will be stripped away, making workers vulnerable to summary sackings and lower pay. Our independent judiciary will very, very gradually, imperceptibly, be changed into an entity that serves the state. The education system and social services (already struggling) will become skeletons of what they are now. I foresee a rise in racism and discrimination; social tensions, and probably an increase in hate against LGBTQ people. Authoritarian regimes foster division in order to control people. As far as healthcare is concerned, Trump will gobble up the NHS as fast as he can. This Channel 4 Despatches programme has one of Trump’s closest allies, congressman Mark Meadows, saying “Why should an American patient have to pay a thousand dollars for a drug when other countries can buy the same drugs at a fraction of the cost?” Post-Brexit we can say goodbye to the NHS, and hello to high priced medicines, financial debt and possible bankruptcy. We’ll be on our knees: the backbone of our country will have been broken.
These are no ordinary times and General Election 2019 is no ordinary election.
We must become active citizens, engage with the issues and keep in mind the combined threat from Facebook, Russia and Trump. Actively support candidates in marginal constituencies against Tory candidates; have reasoned and civil conversations with people of opposing political beliefs.
Facebook recognise their moral responsibility to fact-check if an advertisement for a can of baked beans is true, yet deny any moral responsibility to fact-check misleading and false political advertisements. This is corruption on the highest scale. Endangering our lives, homes and incomes. Designed to deceive and scare us into voting for politicians who will actually harm us. We wouldn’t allow a teacher, doctor or shop-assistant to lie to us, why then should we allow Facebook to do so?
Redress is available: mass temporary deactivation of Facebook accounts. In the last week of an election. Because the intensity of political advertising accelerates in the final week, I urge Facebook users in the UK, to deny faceless, political advertisers the opportunity to lie, mislead or target our ‘inner demons.’ Hands off our inner demons I say. I suggest temporarily deactivating from Friday 8th December to 12thDecember. Here’s how to do it.
Facebook users need to flex their muscles. Let’s encourage everyone to deactivate for a week. If enough of us do it, the message will reach Mark Zuckerberg. And he may suddenly find himself changing his policy.
Tactical voting is an absolute necessity in this election. At the moment the Tories are predicted to win 347 seats. With tactical voting this could be reduced to 309.
Chipping away at the predicted Tory majority is the only way to avoid a disastrous No Deal Brexit being foisted upon the country. I don’t believe Boris Johnson, Gove, Cummings et al, want the Withdrawal Agreement. If they have a large enough majority, they’ll bull-doze No Deal through at some point, perhaps the end of the Transition period. Thereby massively facilitating Russia’s aims. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
In the light of present danger, party loyalties have to be put aside. This is the election where tactical voting can make the difference between Russia gaining ever greater power over us, or us being able to preserve our European alliances, our position in the world, and most precious of all, our way of life.
Rob Castell, who was chosen as a Prospective Parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in the Beaconsfield constituency, explains why he’s standing down, in order to support Dominic Grieve’s candidacy saying “it suits my soul to break out of petty tribal allegiances and observe the bigger picture.”
Professor A. C. Grayling, advises everyone to vote tactically, by voting for the candidate most likely to defeat a Tory. It’s as simple as that.
Several sites have been set up to advise on which candidate to back for tactical voting. I recommend https://www.remainunited.org/ set up by Gina Miller. This website was first used in the MEP elections and succeeded in denting the Brexit victory.
And please temporarily deactivate your Facebook account for the final week of the election. This is the fight of our lifetimes.
I’m an optimist by temperament, and not someone who likes to trade in doom and gloom stories; neither am I a member of any political party or group, preferring my intellectual independence. Nonetheless, the mounting evidence of tampering in our elections by hostile foreign powers, the weaponsing of social media, and the destabilising of our democratic institutions, has gathered critical mass and can’t be ignored.
It’s up to each one of us now, to guard all that we hold precious: family, liberty and democracy. As Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has said: “We are now embarking on the most important general election of our lifetimes without any confidence that it won’t be subverted by a hostile foreign power.”
Remember A. C. Grayling’s advice: just vote for the candidate most likely to topple a Tory.
Remain United tactical voting website:https://www.remainunited.org/
Temporarily deactivate Facebook accounts from 8/12 to midnight 12/12.
As I was finishing the blog this news hits the screens: Farage says Brexit Party will not stand in Tory seats, but will contest Labour seats.
Trump had been urging Farage to make a pact with the Tories. Additionally, as a journalist commented, hidden finance and political backers must have been leaning on Farage too. Trump may have got what he wanted, but ultimately it’s Russia that wins. Not just in the UK, but the US too.
The fight’s just got harder. Tactical voting essential now.