Conflicts of interest and the privatisation of the NHS
Articles - Health
National Health Action, 15 January 2013

'You'd think that the people who run our country would avoid conflicts of interest that would make them serve private companies rather than the people. You'd be wrong.

The National Health Action party was formed by a group of like-minded healthcare professionals, who strongly support the original principles of the NHS and are shocked by the failure of the democratic process as demonstrated by the appearance and the passage through parliament of the Health and Social Care Act.

'Burying bad news' lives on: coalition government tries to slip out 'unhelpful' stories 'without any fanfare'
Articles - Government spin
Nicholas Jones, 9 January 2013

Among the seventy or so broken pledges which were to be slipped out 'without any fanfare' on a Whitehall website was the coalition government’s unfulfilled pledge to reduce the number of politically-appointed special advisers.

The revelation that David Cameron’s closest advisers were in precisely the same mind-set as the spin doctors who worked for Tony Blair a decade earlier was a powerful reminder of a continuing obsession with media manipulation.

A Downing Street discussion paper giving advice on how to avoid the publication of 'unhelpful stories' and 'unfavourable copy' mirrored Jo Moore’s infamous edict after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre that 'it’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury'.

Clearly the presentation of the coalition’s mid-term review had been a cause of considerable anxiety within the Prime Minister’s office and the restricted advice notice says that while it was possible to explain why some promises had not been proceeded with, this did not apply to 'some of the abandoned pledges e.g. numbers of special advisers'.

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What is perhaps so ironic about this classic illustration of the spin doctors’ compulsion to want to 'bury bad news' is that the adviser responsible for publicising the gaffe should, like David Cameron, have been one of the notorious 'Patten’s Pups' from the Conservative Party’s ultimately victorious campaign in the 1992 general election.
The Compassionate Conservatives go to war
Articles - Government spin
Tom Mills, 3 January 2013

This article was originally published at New Left Project

 As the left prepares for a year of political struggles in defence of public services, the forces of reaction, and the corporations who fund them, are doing the same.

The Telegraph yesterday published an article by Sean Worth, a former 10 Downing Street ‘spad’ who is now at Policy Exchange – Cameron’s favourite think-tank, which played a key role in the modernisation of the Conservative Party.  The article is entitled ‘Fighting back against the Left-wing guerrillas’ and is remarkably explicit, invoking both Sun Tzu’s Art of War and imperial counterinsurgency theory as tools to ensure that opponents of ‘public sector reform’ will be ‘roundly beaten’:

The hard Left... which vehemently opposes change to how our public services operate, is shifting its attack. Its activists are mobilising to infiltrate the very public bodies being set up to deliver the reforms they oppose, aiming to undermine them from within.
A New Year challenge for politicians: unfinished business from Leveson Inquiry
Articles - Media spin
Nicholas Jones, 2 January 2013

While all the post-Leveson skirmishing has been about newspaper editors trying to stitch up a deal with the government on press regulation, there is other unfinished business from the Leveson Inquiry which will require attention in the Prime Minister’s New Year in tray.

Although woefully inadequate, the judge did make a series of recommendations designed to strengthen the Ministerial Code and to ensure greater transparency in future about meetings between politicians and media owners, editors and senior executives.

In the wake of the outrage over the phone hacking scandal in July 2011, David Cameron asked ministers to publish a quarterly declaration of all such meetings – ‘regardless of the nature of the meeting.’

But the Prime Minister and his colleagues made a mockery of the need for greater transparency because except for identifying who, when and where they met the lists gave no hint of the purpose or the outcome of their deliberations. Cameron used the catch-all term ‘general discussion’ alongside eight of his entries for meetings with Rupert or James Murdoch and other News International executives.

An over-arching failure of Lord Justice Leveson’s examination of the closeness of relations between press proprietors and the government of the day was his lofty disregard of the covert daily currency of political collusion and media manipulation.

From the outset he concluded that ‘a number of issues...“spin”, so-called anonymous briefings and the practice of “feeding” favoured journalists with stories in return for an expectation of a certain type of treatment’ were not ‘central to the work of the inquiry’.
Opposition and opportunism in the debate on lobbying transparency in Scotland
Articles - Lobbying
William Dinan, 31 December 2012

The opening salvos have been fired in the debate on lobbying transparency in Scotland. While we await the official analysis of responses to the consultation on lobbying transparency some interested parties have entered the media fray, with (as it is the season of goodwill to all men, I will try to be charitable here) some rather misguided suggestions about what should happen next. The latest intervention comes from Mark Cummings, director of the Invicta public affairs agency, who, according to the Sunday Herald yesterday (December 30th), has ‘broken ranks’ with his industry by supporting a lobbying register. 

On closer reading it is obvious that Cummings supports a form of professional enclosure, involving a two-tiered lobbying system, rather than supporting transparency. While Cummings is right in his assessment that many lobbyists are ‘totally unaccountable’ and that industry self-regulation is never going to pass a public credibility test, he is completely mistaken regarding the democratic purpose and intent of a lobbying register. Cummings argues ‘If you are going to regulate the public affairs industry, it should be from the point of view of protecting the clients’. Sorry Mark, but the whole point of a lobbying register is to serve the public, not commercial interests! By protecting clients it appears that Cummings actually means promoting secrecy – the Sunday Herald reports that ‘Cummings is sceptical of the requirement to disclose fees and clients’.

It is not at all surprising that some commercial consultants might seek to use the proposed register to advance their own narrow interests to try to create a system of licensed practitioners. This is exactly the kind of bureaucracy that the current proposals are trying to avoid, and is a system that will not deliver meaningful transparency around who is trying to shape the policy agenda and influence legislation. However, opposition and opportunism relating to the proposed lobbying register are not confined to the commercial consultancy sector.
Nuclear safety watchdog criticises Sellafield's emergency readiness
Articles - Nuclear
Terry Macalister and Richard Cookson, 26 December 2012   

This article, drawing on a report obtained by NuclearSpin, was originally published by The Guardian

A damning report by safety experts has revealed that staff at Britain's most important nuclear site did "not have the level of capability required to respond to nuclear emergencies effectively".

In response to a freedom of information request, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), an arm of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said errors by senior fire officers in a preparedness exercise at Sellafield "could have led to delays in responding to the nuclear emergency and a prolonged release of radioactive material off-site".

The criticism is revealed at a critical time for the nuclear industry, which is trying to build public confidence after the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant while drawing up plans to construct a new generation of atomic power stations in Britain.

It is also an embarrassment to Nuclear Management Partners, the private sector consortium which runs Sellafield and is part-owned by Areva, the French engineering company that has prepared the design for a proposed reactor at Hinkley Point in Somerset.
The propaganda campaign against Pat Finucane: What did Stella Rimington know?
Articles - Northern Ireland
Tom Griffin, 21 December 2012

The 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane has long been a source of potent controversy for the British secret state. The Government had admitted the existence of state collusion in the killing, even before last's week's report by Sir Desmond de Silva, which itself owed a great deal to the previous investigations by Sir John Stevens and Judge Peter Cory.

However, there was at least one major new revelation in the report. Chapter Fifteen describes, albeit, in the vaguest terms, a previously unknown MI5 propaganda campaign which targeted Finucane in the years before his death:
Security Service officers later referred to the dissemination of information within the loyalist community, in such a way that it would be likely to become known by PIRA figures, as having the potential to make "an impact on the republican target." However, whilst the focus of the propaganda was aimed at PIRA, it is also clear that the initiatives were not particularly focused or controlled. The initiatives certainly came to include within their scope individuals who were not members of terrorist organisations but prominent figures in the broader nationalist and republican communities.
According to De Silva, Pat Finucane was one of several solicitors who came within the ambit of this campaign as a result of his legal work defending republicans:

The information relating to Patrick Finucane that was being circulated effectively involved fanning the rumours and speculation linking him to the IRA. The effect of the propaganda would certainly have been, in my view, to associate Patrick Finucane with the activities of his clients.

I have found no evidence that the Security Service circulated Patrick Finucane's personal details, nor that they proposed that any individual or group attack him. In line with the broader objectives of the initiatives, the propaganda against Patrick Finucane appears to have been designed to discredit and 'unnerve' him rather than to incite loyalists or anyone else to target him. However, even if the propaganda was not intended to incite loyalists in that respect, I must consider the question as to whether it could have legitimised him as a target for loyalist paramilitaries.
This propaganda campaign was the subject of some controversy within MI5 according to De Silva, who notes 'the difference of views between the Security Service officers working on operational issues and the analytical staff working in the Assessments Group'.
Smelling a corporate rat
Articles - GM Industry
Jonathan Matthews, 12 December 2012

A new study suggesting a Monsanto GM maize and the company's Roundup herbicide may pose serious health risks has been widely attacked, not just by scientists and commentators but also by scientific bodies and regulators. This article by Jonathan Matthews of GMWatch looks at the role of industry-linked scientists and lobbyists in a campaign aimed at getting the paper retracted. Spinwatch also plans to publish a separate piece looking at some of the study's European critics, including science academies and the European Food Safety Authority. This article is also available to download as a PDF.

At the end of November Reuters ran the headline Science Journal Urged to Retract Monsanto GM Study and New Scientist also reported the growing pressure for retraction. These articles marked the latest stage in a campaign that kicked off the moment the study was published in mid-September, when researchers led by Prof. Gilles-Eric Seralini at the University of Caen in France announced their findings of serious health problems in rats that had been fed a Monsanto maize genetically engineered to be resistant to the company's herbicide Roundup, as well as in rats just fed low doses of the herbicide itself. In both cases the rats fed with the GM maize and/or minute amounts of the herbicide in water were several times more likely to develop lethal tumours and suffer severe liver and kidney damage when compared to the controls.
It's a class war, but not as we know it
Articles - Education
Howard Stevenson, 10 December 2012

This article was originally published at Howard Stevenson's online blog

DfE on ‘war-footing’

On the 9th December, a few days after the STRB report had followed Michael Gove’s exhortation and swept away national pay scales for teachers, the Sunday Times newspaper (no doubt briefed by an informed source) announced that the DfE was on a ‘war-footing’. The government is, apparently, in preparation for a conflict with teacher unions.  There can be little doubt that as this issue escalates (as it is meant to) it will be teacher unions cast as villains. However, it is important to remember, and in due course remind others, that it is the government that is picking this fight.

It is necessary therefore to pose the question – why? Why court confrontation (Ministers know this is a ‘line in the sand’ issue for teacher unions) when there is no compelling reason to introduce the changes?  Before seeking to answer this question it is worth rehearsing some of the arguments relating to teachers and performance-related pay...
Clear the smoke in Brussels - demand lobbying transparency now!
Articles - Lobbying
The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU), 7 December 2012

A major lobbying scandal has been unraveling in Brussels after one of the European Commission’s top officials was forced to resign following allegations of cash-for-influence. The tobacco industry claimed they’d been asked for tens of millions of euros by a lobbyist linked to health commissioner, John Dalli, in exchange for influencing EU tobacco policy. But with new tobacco legislation in the pipeline, there are fears that Dallimay have been caught in a tobacco industry set-up designed to delay changes the industry don't want.

The trouble is that nobody knows what really went on, because the European Commission is refusing to make the facts public. They won't admit that the scandal happened because current EU rules on contacts with lobbyists are too weak.

Help us clear the smoke and demand stronger rules on lobbying transparency now:

Sign the petition
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