Conservative Party

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A Veteran Blocked from Using Army ID to Vote ‘was Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer’s Sergeant Major’ in Afghanistan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/05/2024 - 3:41am in

A decorated army veteran, who sparked public outrage after being denied a vote when presenting his veteran ID at May’s local elections, says he was Veteran’s Minister Johnny Mercer’s Sergeant Major in Afghanistan, Byline Times can reveal. 

This outlet first reported that Adam Diver, a decorated former army officer who’s served in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Northern Ireland was turned away from voting as his veteran photo ID card was refused as ‘unacceptable’ on May 2. 

Adam Diver, 48, a British Army veteran who was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) for his service over 27 years, spoke to Byline Times about his ordeal when trying to vote in the local elections in his home of Fleetwood, Lancashire. 

All of the polling station staff told him his official MoD veterans ID couldn’t be used. “They were all apologetic, but it was a surreal and strange moment for me,” he told this newspaper at the time. 

“I felt deflated and invalidated for my service. I still feel rubbish about it…I served for 27 years, and the staff still said no. I thought if you could use it anywhere, you should be able to use it for voting.” 

Yet when he shared his story, which went viral on X, veterans minister Johnny Mercer replied – in response to a tweet expressing support for Diver from ex-army man Richard Foord MP – that it was “fake news from a fake bloke”, adding: “The individual hasn’t been barred at all.” 

Mercer claimed that the veteran ID card was “new” and would be on the accepted list at the next election. However, this is now untrue, as the election is six weeks away and there is effectively no time to change the law on permitted IDs.

When minister Mercer sat on the train from Devon to London at the weekend, totally barefoot following a soggy Dartmoor hike, he probably didn’t imagine his laptop notes would be seen by a nearby politico and shared with the world. 

In the process, the veterans voting row has erupted once again over the ID scheme – and a  policy failure that now appears to be hitting a natural Conservative demographic. 

As we reported earlier this week, the leaked memo from the veterans minister revealed that he had repeatedly lobbied Downing Street for veterans to be able to use their veteran ID cards in order to vote. 

But he wrote that his requests were denied by those around Rishi Sunak due to fears that it would “open the floodgates” to students also being allowed to use their ID cards to vote. 

Former army sergeant Adam Diver would like answers and potentially an apology.

Diver now works with veterans groups to support ex-soldiers. Photo credit: Adam Diver

The Ministry of Defence has now confirmed to this outlet that, far from being a “fake bloke”, as some readers of Mercer's Tweet may have assumed he meant, Diver is indeed a 27-year army serviceman. He says served as a Sergeant Major in an army B Company in Afghanistan, alongside Johnny Mercer.

In a new interview with this outlet, Diver tells Byline Times: “I was in an FOB [Forward Observation Base] with Johnny Mercer, as his Sergeant Major in Afghanistan. He was part of B Company, Lancashire Regiment, as a captain. I was the Sergeant Major of B Company. 

“So he was attached to my company. You couldn't make it up. So anything about this tweet, I'd like to know. Because I’d like to give him a sergeant major’s talk if required.”

Update 22:00, 23rd May: A representative for Johnny Mercer said: "[Diver] wasn’t his sergeant major...The Minister doesn’t know this man."

The representative for Mercer also denied that the tweet (below) was about Diver, when approached by this newspaper.

However, on the “fake bloke” allegation, Diver added: “If it was [meant for me], he needs to explain himself, 100%...He can explain himself to me, especially given my track record. 

“I'm actually keen to find out what he means by it. At the end of the day, I've not said anything personal about him.”

Diver went on GB News after the voter ID debacle and “sang [Mercer's] praises.” But he would be cautious about doing so again, having seen the minister’s tweet. “I’d say I wasn't happy with what he said. I wouldn’t have gone on saying what I did.” 

Asked if he’d heard from the Veteran’s Minister, or from the Government about the ID issue, since it all kicked off a few weeks ago, Diver said he hadn’t. 

“I've tried to meet him [before]. I went to Parliament last year to try and get welfare checks put in for veterans. I’ve been waiting for a response, to speak to [a minister]...

“We were waiting for Johnny to turn up, and waiting for some feedback on a veterans welfare check – we believe veterans should get a call when they leave the forces to see if they're okay, to then link them into the services.” 

“I'm a mental health therapist and I look after veterans on a weekly basis. I get all the facts, speak to them. And I've been through it myself… We put a calling notice out, and we went to Parliament, me and my team. It was about four of us. We met with probably around 15 MPs of all parties, and we were hoping that Johnny would be there. But sadly, I'm not sure he could make it or not,” Diver said.

An adviser for Mercer said that he had delegated the meeting to the Ministry of Defence (who, it seems, didn’t turn up). 

Asked if he’d meet with the MP now – who is standing for re-election in his forces-stronghold Plymouth seat, he said: “It would be good to speak to him. But after what’s happened he probably doesn’t want to speak to me anymore.” 

Diver is concerned about veterans ID being denied by accident – or by design so as to not ‘open the floodgates’ to other demographics’ ID cards.

“If veterans ID can't be used due to red tape, that's a shame because we have had our veterans ID cards for years. if it's done by design, that’s even more of a shame.” 

A Cabinet Office official claimed the broad approach the Government takes around voter ID is to “strike the right balance between security and accessibility, and this being manageable for staff in polling stations.”

They added that individual university student IDs will vary in format and their processes across each university, but acceptable ID cards are kept under review. National Union of Students cards are accepted if they are PASS accredited.

It's the latest in a series of voter ID scandals, some of them hitting the Conservative party itself. Ipswich Conservative MP Tom Hunt was forced to beg for someone to cast a proxy vote on his behalf after forgetting his ID, according to a leaked WhatsApp. He told the Mirror: “I'm a dyspraxic MP…one of the top characteristics is unfortunately we just tend to lose things from time-to-time…when you've got a complicated life split between two places it makes it challenging."

MP and ex-Conservative cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has previously admitted voter ID was a “gerrymandering” scheme designed to help the Conservative party - while adding that it had potentially “backfired” due to older people sometimes lacking identification. 

This piece has been updated to include an additional response from Johnny Mercer's team received after publication.

Spotted something strange or face issues voting during the election campaign? Email josiah@bylinetimes.com

Rishi Sunak Takes Staged Election Questions from Conservative Councillors Posing as Ordinary Voters

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/05/2024 - 7:34pm in

Rishi Sunak has been accused of faking support for the Conservative party, after taking two questions from supposedly ordinary members of the public, who turned out to be Conservative Councillors.

Broadcasters on Thursday morning carried footage of an individual wearing a hi-vis jacket, asking the Prime Minister a question about his Rwanda scheme, during an event at a warehouse in Derbyshire.

The man told Sunak that "the biggest issue is going to be immigration over this election campaign" before asking him whether "your Rwanda plan is going to see results and stop the small boats coming."

The Prime Minister thanked the man for his "important question."

However, neither Sunak, nor broadcasters informed viewers that the man asking the question was actually Conservative Leicestershire County Councillor Ross Hills.

Hills confirmed to Byline Times that he had been the individual asking the question.

"That was me yes," he told this paper, before confirming that he had been asked to appear at the event.

Asked whether the Conservative party had asked him to ask Sunak the specific question about Rwanda, he insisted that he had to get to work and ended the call.

Hills lists his job online as being a "part time dentist" alongside his job as a councillor.

This paper later identified a second hi-vis jacket-wearing individual asking Sunak a question at the event about the economy as local Erewash Conservative Councillor Ben Hall-Evans.

Conservative Councillor Ben Hall-Evans asking Rishi Sunak a question. Photo: Sky News

Hall-Evans, who lists his profession online as a 'Functional Consultant', told Sunak that "You've talked a lot about the economy, specific to everybody, the cost of living crisis... What's been done and what sets you apart for the future to benefit that pound in the pocket."

Sunak replied that this was a "good place to start" without revealing to viewers who the man was.

A Labour spokesperson said it showed that Rishi Sunak was "running scared" of the electorate.

"Rishi Sunak spent months dodging the verdict of voters and even now, he’s still running scared.

"The reality is that 14 years of Tory chaos have cost the country dearly and have left working people worse off."

The Conservative party was contacted for comment.

The row comes after Byline Times revealed that the Conservative party had staged a fake "protest" against Labour's Deputy Leader Angela Rayner.

This paper identified one of the protesters as local Conservative Councillor for Yarm, John Coulson.

Coulson admitted to this paper to taking part in the protest, alongside other local Conservative councillors.

Rishi Sunak Says no Rwanda Flights Will Take Off Before General Election – Spelling Likely Death of Toxic Scheme

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/05/2024 - 6:22pm in

Rishi Sunak has admitted that no flights will go to Rwanda before the general election, on July 4th.

The Prime Minister told LBC that the flights, designed to forcibly take hundreds of asylum seekers to the country, would now not be scheduled to take off until “after the election”.

The admission means that the scheme, which has already cost the Government hundreds of millions of pounds and been the subject of multiple legal and parliamentary battles, is unlikely to now go ahead given the state of current opinion polls.

The opposition Labour Party, which holds an average poll lead of more than 20 points over the Conservatives, has promised to scrap the scheme if they are elected in July.

Keir Starmer’s spokesman told this paper earlier this month that "we will not be sending any flights to Rwanda" under a Labour government.

The project, which was first announced by the former Home Secretary Priti Patel, under Boris Johnson, was ruled unlawful by the UK’s Supreme Court last year.

The court upheld a legal challenge against Sunak’s claim that Rwanda, which is a brutal dictatorship which was recently blamed for the bombing of a refugee camp in neighbouring Congo, would be a “safe” country to send refugees.

Despite this ruling, Sunak pushed ahead with the scheme by passing a new law which permanently redefines Rwanda as a safe place, no matter what conditions prevail in the country.

The passage of the law flew in the face of global perceptions of the country. Just last week a representative from Human Rights Watch was denied entry to Rwanda following the organisation's criticism of humanitarian infringements in the country.

The law also flies in the face of the UK’s own official positions.

Despite branding it a safe country, the UK has continued to accept refugees from Rwanda, while the Foreign Office’s own advice warns that LGBT+ travellers may experience "discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities”.

The scheme has become a kind of talisman for the Conservative Party, with former Home Secretary saying that her "dream" was to see flights take off to the country.

However, public opinion about it has remained split, with an opinion poll commissioned by this paper finding that just 26% of voters believed it would make any meaningful difference to immigration numbers.

The Prime Minister has continued to back the scheme as a "deterrent" against small boat crossings, despite the number of such crossings actually rising so far this year.

He also intends to make his support for it a central part of his coming general election campaign.

Just this morning Sunak told the BBC that he intends to push ahead with it, and cited support for the scheme from the Austrian Chancellor, who he met this week.

However, his admission that no flights will now take off to Rwanda before the election means that the scheme is now unlikely to ever take off at all.

That is likely deliberate. Despite all of the claims to the contrary, one of the biggest drivers of Sunak's decision to hold an election now was fears inside Downing Street that the supposed "deterrent" of Rwanda would prove to be a mirage once flights started taking off.

As Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper put it this morning, "Rishi Sunak's words [this morning] confirm what we've known all along - he doesn't believe this plan will work and that's why he called the election now in the desperate hope that he won’t be found out."

Whatever the motivation, after two years in which it has completely dominated political and moral debate in the UK, the fact remains that the Government's "dream" of sending desperate refugees to the brutal Rwandan dictatorship now looks all but over.

Conservative Politicians and Press ‘Driving Spike’ in Disinformation on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and 15-Minute Cities, Report Finds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/05/2024 - 9:01am in

Cases of online disinformation and conspiracy theories about Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) increased fivefold from 2022 to 2023 – a problem exacerbated by the Government’s hostile rhetoric about the traffic-easing schemes, according to a new report by think tank Demos. 

The increase in disinformation has led to heightened community divisions, with a swathe of cases of infrastructure damage, and even death threats against local councillors during the past few years.

The study paints a portrait of a "failed policy introduction" and fierce local splits over the issue, partly driven by cynical media coverage and electioneering from right-wing figures.

In 2020, the Government instructed councils across the country to implement LTNs “swiftly”. However, last July – amid widespread disinformation, accusations of undemocratic governance and death threats directed at councillors – Rishi Sunak ordered a formal review of the schemes.

Following this announcement, the Conservative Party continued to double-down on an anti-LTN stance – and went further. 

The report points to media outlets such as the Mail on Sunday running segments including: "How 15-minute cities could be coming to the UK" – linking Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, which are designed to reduce rat-runs through residential areas, to conspiracy theories about supposed Government plots to stop people leaving their local areas. 

In practice, the idea of a '15-minute city’ is a simple one: planning laws for urban areas should encourage density and good public transport to make them easily accessible and walkable. In the same Mail piece published last March, the newspaper stated that the residents who vandalised the LTN planters in Rochdale "launched a rebellion".

The story of the 'Rochdale fire' was also latched onto by hard-right figures. An unknown member of the public set fire to several planters hours after they had been installed to
restrict traffic on 25 March 2023. In the next couple of days, anti-LTN activists and a journalist from GB News, Martin Daubney, expressed support for the act of arson online, declaring it a "revolutionary spirit". He has previously criticised non-violent activists such as Just Stop Oil for being "reckless".

Social media analysis conducted for the report found that levels of LTN-related disinformation with significant reach and engagement doubled from 2022 to 2023.

Some Conservative figures have latched onto the online anger.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper, for instance, gave a speech stating that he would end “the mis-use of so-called 15-minute cities” and “ensure no government money” funds LTNs in the future. It was seen as a dog-whistle to the fraction of voters who believe they are part of a sinister plot. 

Just last week, Women’s Minister Maria Caulfield faced calls to apologise for 'dishonest' claims that residents would have to pay road charges to drive more than 15-minutes from their home, in an election campaign leaflet. Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper MP told Yahoo News that she was “spreading baseless claims” and “misleading the public to try to save her own job".

Stark Findings

Analysis of the most popular social media posts on the subject between 2022 and 2023 reveals that the proportion classed as 'disinformation’ – including conspiracy theories – rose from 5% to 28% year-on-year, the report by the cross-party think tank Demos and the Public Interest News Foundation found. 

In parallel, the proportion of the same posts that could be classified as anti-LTN rose from 48% in 2022 to 79% in 2023.

Demos says that the stark rise in disinformation came in the year that “Rishi Sunak attacked councils for the introduction of the policy his Government had previously championed”.

There were also concerns that councils failed to properly engage and consult communities as the Government funding was dependent on fast implementation of the schemes. Direct attacks on the infrastructure such as planters, cameras and bollards have followed, as well as death threats against local councillors, the study found. 

The report – 'Driving Disinformation: Democratic deficits, disinformation and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ – involved researchers analyse more than half a million social media posts, with interviews of residents, local politicians and journalists in three LTN hotspots. 

It reveals that: 

  • Levels of LTN-related online ‘disinformation’ with significant engagement exploded between 2022 and 2023, with the proportion classified as anti-LTN rising from 48% to 79% in 2023. 
  • Where this disinformation had previously been blamed for the vicious local rows over LTNs, interviews with those at the heart of the local rows revealed that weaknesses in local democracy, the lack of quality local journalism, and national politicians’ interventions all worsened community tensions. 
  • Councils failed to properly engage or consult residents in what the researchers call a growing “democratic chasm” between communities and their local elected officials.
  • The decimation of news ecosystems at a local level, as well as increases in the harassment of journalists, reduced capacity for local accountability and factual information available at a local level, with residents turning to the “cesspit” of Facebook for information.
  • National politicians adopted language used in disinformation campaigns, including referring to the 15-minute city conspiracy theory and labelling supporters of LTNs “anti-motorist”. 
  • Levels of LTN-related online ‘disinformation’ with significant engagement exploded between 2022 and 2023, with the proportion classified as anti-LTN rising from 48% to 79% in 2023. 
  • Where this disinformation had previously been blamed for the vicious local rows over LTNs, interviews with those at the heart of the local rows revealed that weaknesses in local democracy, the lack of quality local journalism, and national politicians’ interventions all worsened community tensions. 
  • Councils failed to properly engage or consult residents in what the researchers call a growing “democratic chasm” between communities and their local elected officials.
  • The decimation of news ecosystems at a local level, as well as increases in the harassment of journalists, reduced capacity for local accountability and factual information available at a local level, with residents turning to the “cesspit” of Facebook for information.
  • National politicians adopted language used in disinformation campaigns, including referring to the 15-minute city conspiracy theory and labelling supporters of LTNs “anti-motorist”. 
  • On Lyham Road in Lambeth, a street sign is vandalised with black spray paint in October 2023, on a road with traffic-calming measures. Photo: Anna Watson/Alamy

    Residents in Oxford, Enfield and Rochdale, where the research was focused, had previously complained of consultations which were poorly advertised, mistargeted and inaccessible for residents without digital access, resulting in the exclusion of vulnerable communities. 

    There was also concern about how councils had interpreted evidence of the success of local trial schemes and the results of consultations, leading to accusations of deceit and citizens describing the overall processes as “undemocratic”.

    The report said disinformation narratives emerged around the schemes being “totalitarian” and “authoritarian”, and that these encouraged other extreme positions, including the burning of LTN barriers. 

    A Department for Transport spokesperson told Byline Times: “Traffic schemes must work for everyone in the area and should have local engagement and community buy-in before being implemented, which has not been the case for a number of LTNs. 

    “Through our Plan for Drivers, we’re strengthening statutory guidance to ensure councils have the support of local residents, businesses and emergency services before implementing any new LTN schemes.”

    The Government has threatened to take over council roads or pull local authority funding if they "fail to deliver sensible road schemes", using powers from the Traffic Management Act.

    Officials pointed to the Transport Secretary setting out his opposition to conspiracy theories around so-called ‘15-minute cities’, on Times Radio and during a statement in Parliament on October 16.

    Lights Ahead

    The report makes three main recommendations: 

  • A new anti-disinformation standard in public life, ensuring politicians educate themselves on narratives that weaken relationships with democratic institutions and the rule of law before deploying them in their own messaging. 
  • A new ‘Local Civic Accord’ to restore trust in local democracy in local communities, including the creation of a council ‘local democracy’ strategy and a set of principles that are published and transparent.
  • A central government funding package to stimulate a new era of vibrant local news, starting at £50 million per year administered via Local News Funds.
  • A new anti-disinformation standard in public life, ensuring politicians educate themselves on narratives that weaken relationships with democratic institutions and the rule of law before deploying them in their own messaging. 
  • A new ‘Local Civic Accord’ to restore trust in local democracy in local communities, including the creation of a council ‘local democracy’ strategy and a set of principles that are published and transparent.
  • A central government funding package to stimulate a new era of vibrant local news, starting at £50 million per year administered via Local News Funds.
  • Hannah Perry, lead researcher at Demos’ Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, said there were shortcomings with the pandemic-era schemes. But "instead of working to bring a sense of calm, the government performed a screeching U-turn, in both policy and rhetoric, and ultimately fed the public backlash".

    Demos’ analysis "shows how this pivot coincided with the spike in LTN-related disinformation," she added.

    “It is absolutely essential that lessons are learned and that we radically transform how democracy takes place locally," Perry said. "There is a worsening democratic chasm between councils and communities."

    The think tank is calling for extra local participation so councillors work "in partnership" with communities.

    Jonathan Heawood, executive eirector of the Public Interest News Foundation, which backed the report, said: "Local journalists are keen to cover important issues such as LTNs, but we’ve found that they’re being held back by public abuse, online harassment and lack of investment in original reporting. 

    “Whether they are for or against LTNs, the public are wary of journalism that sensationalises their arguments to create clickbait or treats them as conspiracy theorists. By contrast, they respect journalists who are rooted in the communities they serve, and who strive to present a rounded and objective view of the complex LTN debate.” 

    He added that new Local News Funds across the UK, funded by dormant bank assets, could revitalise local news and strengthen local democracy.

    If you have a political story or tip-off, email josiah@bylinetimes.com.

    The Spectacle of Impunity: Phone-Hacking Cover-Up Claims Cross the Atlantic

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/05/2024 - 9:43pm in

    This article was first published in the June 2024 print edition of Byline Times

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    It’s nearly exactly 10 years since I sat in the hushed court 12 of the Old Bailey to hear the jury forewoman read out the verdicts in the eight-month-long phone-hacking trial of Rebekah Brooks, then CEO of News International, on charges of conspiracy to hack phones and pay public officials for stories, and – along with her assistant Cheryl Carter, head of security Mark Hanna, and her husband, Charlie Brooks – charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice. All were found not guilty.

    The verdict felt momentous.

    An estimated £100 million had been spent on the legal teams, police ­investigations, and court costs – more than 70% of that privately by Rupert Murdoch. I’d also been told that, if senior News International executives had been convicted, the police and Crown Prosecution Service were considering ­corporate charges against the company and its ‘controlling mind’. However, all that was swept away by the verdicts.

    Minutes later, Brooks’ Deputy Editor at the by then defunct News of the World, and close companion, Andy Coulson, was found guilty of conspiracy to intercept voicemails.

    The majority of the other Murdoch journalists in Coulson’s position, with such clear evidence against them, had pleaded guilty before the trial began. But by staying in the trial, Coulson had helped Brooks – the strength of the case against him, made that against her seem ­comparatively weak and more inferential.

    Coulson had gone from the News of the World to Downing Street, where he was David Cameron’s head of communications at No 10. Minutes later, the then Prime Minister had to answer questions in the House of Commons from the then Labour Leader Ed Miliband. Cameron said he had given Coulson a “second chance” and regretted it.

    It could have been a defining moment.

    Boris Johnson, Tony Gallagher, and Rebekah Brooks at the 2020 The Sun Military Awards 2020. Photo: PA

    The trial, and the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices, and ethics of the press – launched following the full exposure of the phone-hacking scandal by the Guardian in 2011 – had unleashed a torrent of information about the ‘merry-go-round’ of clandestine social contacts between senior news editors and newspaper proprietors and top politicians: Rupert Murdoch meeting prospective British Prime Ministers as if he were the ultimate power in the land, and then being invited through the back door to Downing Street when they succeeded, as if in benediction.

    It was as if a light had suddenly been turned on in a dark room.

    We saw Brooks herself partying with Tony Blair and David Blunkett, and ­enjoying ‘country dinners’ and horse-­riding trips with her Oxfordshire ­neighbour David Cameron. We glimpsed the plush interiors of an elite political-media class that manipulated the public through a series of back-door deals and revolving-door appointments.

    But then the light turned off and we were in the dark again.

    The Restoration

    At the time of the phone-hacking trial verdicts in 2014, it would have been fair comment to suggest that, though Rebekah Brooks was found innocent of several criminal charges, she was guilty of being one of the most incompetent editors and CEOs in recent history – somehow not noticing what the lead prosecutor called the “criminal enterprise” ­operating beneath her.

    People speculated that she would have to find another career. So it was almost as great a shock that, within a year, Brooks was back in her old job as head of the now-rebranded News UK, and one of the most influential figures in British media.

    And that is how the spectacle of ­impunity became embedded in our lives.

    Thanks to a decade of dogged and detailed civil litigation since, we now know much more about the things the media wasn’t punished for.

    News UK had started claiming that phone-hacking was the product of a ‘rogue reporter’ and then, by shutting the News of the World, suggesting that it was a ‘rogue’ newspaper – and the criminal news-­gathering operation had nothing to do with Murdoch’s flagship daily tabloid The Sun, which Brooks also edited.

    This turned out to be bunk.

    More than 1,600 privacy cases have been settled by the company, many of them claims against The Sun, and News UK has paid out about £1 billion to date. Nor was ‘unlawful information-gathering’ limited to voicemail interception. Many of the settled claims involve blagging, theft, landline phone-tapping, surveillance, and unlawful access to private medical and financial records.

    On the corporate scale, the evidence of systematic cover-up has only increased during the last decade. My live tweets from the Old Bailey were the basis of ­lawyers seeking disclosure about News UK’s ‘email deletion policy’ (clever Murdoch lawyers tried to rename this their ‘email retention policy’) and it now appears, according to a ‘concealment and destruction’ claim, that the company destroyed vital evidence every time it was asked to preserve it. Some 31 million emails were deleted as civil and criminal cases loomed.

    The journalist Nick Davies, who first reported the phone-hacking scandal in the Guardian in 2009, has come out of retirement to dig deeper into the new evidence lodged in these civil claims for Prospect magazine, now edited by his former Guardian Editor, Alan Rusbridger. He reports on the concerted cover-up by News UK, and how journalists or investigators who might have blown the whistle were rewarded with jobs, or cash payments, and required to sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements).

    Davies reveals that it was not only emails that went missing.

    Following Brooks’ arrest in July 2011, 125 items were seized by the police and placed in a secure area at the ­company’s Wapping HQ under the supervision of two Murdoch executives, Simon Greenberg and Will Lewis. When ­detectives returned to complete a detailed search of all the equipment, they ­discovered only 117 items remained. Eight filing cabinets seized from the offices of the Editor and the Managing Editor had been removed. They have never been recovered.

    But the sense of lawlessness and ­impunity goes further.

    Escalation to Espionage

    In an account that sounds more like the actions of the East German Stasi secret police, Davies suggests that News UK continued its unlawful news-gathering even as Parliament was investigating it – and that it was using criminal methods to hack the phones of MPs, not for tittle-­tattle or tabloid sleaze, but for “political and commercial espionage”.

    From the payments and phone logs ­disclosed by News UK to the civil ­claimants, Davies reports that News UK “employed numerous private investigators to hack private individuals, and also MPs – including Cabinet ministers”. These criminal methods were used to target politicians of every rank including the Attorney General, Business Secretary, and up to the Chancellor, and Prime Minister.

    More than 1,500 suspicious calls from the generic number of Murdoch’s Wapping HQ targeted 16 Liberal Democrat MPs and many MPs from other parties. There were suspicious calls to Dominic Grieve, then Attorney General, when as Director of Public Prosecutions he was considering possible prosecutions against journalists.

    Five members of the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee – perceived to be hostile to Murdoch’s commercial interests – received hundreds of “inexplicable” calls.

    One MP who was hacked told the High Court that the pattern of behaviour was a “cynical and outrageous attempt to ­subvert the legitimate process of ­parliamentary scrutiny”.

    Both as Chancellor and then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown was targeted 24 times from the Wapping “hub”. He is now considering joining the civil ­claimants against News UK and has written to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley requesting a meeting as a precursor to a new “criminal ­investigation” into these allegations of espionage. He is also asking the police to look at the ­corporate cover-up at News UK.

    Whether the police will reopen its ­investigations remains unclear. There is a civil trial against News UK scheduled for next year.

    In the meantime, this spectacle of ­impunity of the last decade has served as a stern lesson to the entire political-media class: if they can lie and cover-up vehemently and shamelessly enough, they can get away with it.

    It’s not just Rebekah Brooks. For many prominent parties in the phone-hacking scandal, it seems to have helped rather than hindered their careers.

    Will Lewis, the News Corp ­executive who should have been overseeing the disclosures to the police, was recently elevated to the role of CEO at The Washington Post – the newspaper once famed for exposing Richard Nixon’s Watergate cover-up with the fearless reporting team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

    Former Sun Editor Tony Gallagher, now Editor of The Times, faces civil claims of ‘unlawful information-­gathering’ for ­allegedly commissioning private ­investigators during his time at the Daily Mail as a senior editor.

    So too, does Victoria Newton, now Editor of The Sun.

    Piers Morgan, who a judge last year concluded ‘must have known’ about phone-hacking when he was Editor of the Mirror, was given a reported £15 million a year three-year contract by Murdoch as a host on Talk TV. No bad deed goes unrewarded.

    And it’s not just the media figures.

    The example of impunity embodied by these press luminaries shines out over the entire political landscape and goes a long way to explaining the forces underlying many of the disasters of the last decade.

    The Rot Spreads

    It is surely no accident that the media figures and newspapers involved in ­covering up the ‘dark arts’ of Fleet Street were key players in the lies, dirty data, and electoral dark arts of the EU Referendum campaign in 2016.

    Nearly all of these papers pushed the propaganda and disinformation of the official Vote Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, or its unofficial rival Leave.EU led by Nigel Farage. The Sun even registered itself as a campaigning organisation with the Electoral Commission in its fervent ­support for a leave vote in the referendum.

    The owners of the Telegraph, having previously been fined for sharing readership data with the Conservative Party during the 2015 General Election, were invited to meetings with the infamous Cambridge Analytica data harvesting company and Leave.EU.

    After David Cameron resigned in the wake of the shock result, his successor Theresa May became the next focus of the emboldened political-media class. She was pressured into dropping the overdue second part of the Leveson Inquiry, into the relationships between journalists and the police, which could only take place after the criminal cases had concluded.

    Sunday Times columnist Michael Gove and former Telegraph columnist and Spectator Editor Boris Johnson on the Vote Leave campaign bus in Lancashire, during the 2016 EU Referendum campaign. Photo: PA

    Her then Culture Secretary Matt Hancock suggested to the House of Commons that Lord Justice Leveson ­himself did not want part two of the inquiry to go ahead – when in fact he had said no such thing, merely that he could not be the presiding judge.

    In 2018, when Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer revealed massive data harvesting and misuse, unlawful electoral overspends by Vote Leave, and a riot of meetings between Russians and Leave.EU, these same newspapers did their best to mock or minimise them.
    And so the rot spread from Fleet Street to Westminster, undermining all of the norms of political life, both written and unwritten.

    The same political-media class went on to topple May and foist Boris Johnson (who called phone-hacking “left-wing codswallop”) on the country.

    They applauded his unlawful prorogation of Parliament (the Mail branded the Supreme Court judges who ruled on it ‘enemies of the people’) and his hard exit from the EU. They lauded his handling of the pandemic as ‘following the ­science’ (when Johnson was in fact resisting it).

    And, for two years, they ignored the ­multiple breaches of the Ministerial Code, the conflicts of interests with hedge fund donors, and the billions wasted in crony Covid contracts through a ‘VIP’ lane.

    During this time, the newspaper cartel benefited from what Johnson’s former chief advisor Dominic Cummings referred to as “bungs” that were “dressed up as COVID relief” – hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidies from the Government in the form of pandemic adverts and VAT relief, as circulation figures dropped during the early days of the crisis.

    The rot has not stopped. The impunity lives on.

    When Johnson’s self-serving lies and complete lack of standards became too much, the Mail, Telegraph and The Sun boosted his even worse replacement, Liz Truss, whose short tenure in Downing Street caused a run on gilt-edged securities, a near collapse of pension funds, and a massive hike in interest rates.

    But both Johnson and Truss are regularly still heralded as ‘true Conservatives’; their historically bankrupt ideas paraded in the pages of the right-wing papers as worthy of our attention. Their past mistakes and misdemeanours papered-over by a press that has too many mistakes and misdemeanours of its own to know the difference.

    Who is really ‘blackmailing’ whom? Who is really the client and who is the provider? Or have media and politics so merged that they have become a single entity, corrupting both representative ­politics and the politics of representation?

    As we head towards a general ­election, expect this spectacle of impunity to ­intensify and accelerate. Both politicians and the media are like a couple in a danse macabre, locked in an embrace of ­complicity and guilt they cannot escape.

    Until the music stops.

    Beyond Contempt, Peter Jukes’ account of the phone-hacking trial, is published by Canbury Press

    Stop the Student Votes: Leaked Memo Exposes the Real Purpose of Voter ID 

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/05/2024 - 6:52pm in

    A leaked memo from the Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer has finally given the game away about what the real purpose of the Government’s Voter ID law was.

    In the memo, Mercer reveals that he repeatedly lobbied Downing Street for veterans to be able to use their veteran ID cards in order to vote.

    His requests were denied by those around Rishi Sunak due to fears that it would “open the floodgates” to students also being allowed to use their ID cards to vote.

    This is particularly revealing as it suggests that the Government’s real motivation for imposing voter ID was not to prevent fraud, as they claim, but to prevent certain groups of voters from voting. 

    The omission of student IDs from the list of accepted voter IDs was always suspicious. As Byline Times reported at the time, the list includes multiple forms of photo ID used by older voters, while deliberately excluding forms of ID used by younger generations.

    The Government has always struggled to justify this. Now we know why.

    Mercer is not the first Government figure to give the game away about the real purpose of voter ID. 

    As we reported last year, the former Brexit minister Jacob Rees-Mogg admitted to the National Conservatism Conference that the ID law which was dreamt up by Boris Johnson’s Government, was in reality a “clever scheme” to "gerrymander" elections towards the Conservatives.

    However, he suggested that the plans had “backfired” due to many older Conservative voters being less aware of the changes.

    “Parties that try and gerrymander end up finding their clever scheme comes back to bite them, as dare I say we found by insisting on voter ID for elections”, Mogg said.

    One of those bit by the scheme was Johnson himself, who was reportedly blocked from voting at this year’s recent local elections due to not having the correct ID.

    However, while the Johnson story grabbed the headlines, the changes also disenfranchised large numbers of ordinary voters, often for obscure reasons.

    Individuals this paper spoke to say they struggled to get their ID accepted at polling stations, with one attempted voter barred from voting due to him having grown a beard.

    The exclusion of veteran ID cards as an acceptable form of ID also had an effect with British Army veteran Adam Diver telling this paper that his veteran ID was refused as “unacceptable”.

    “I felt deflated and invalidated for my service" he told us.

    "I still feel rubbish about it, hours later. I served for 27 years, and the staff still said no. I thought if you could use it anywhere, you should be able to use it for voting.”

    “Initially, I felt angry, but now I just feel deflated. I’m concerned that other veterans might not know about these rules. I run veterans groups and have conversations with them every day”.

    Following our report a Government spokesperson told this paper that they were now “consulting” on allowing veteran ID card.

    However, no such consultation on also allowing student ID yet appears to be taking place.

    Sunak’s ‘Anti-Extremism’ Adviser Demands Protest Bans to Protect Defence and Energy Firms While Working as Lobbyist for Arms and Fossil Fuel Industry Groups

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/05/2024 - 10:52pm in

    The Government’s so-called ‘independent’ adviser on domestic extremism has singled out defence companies and energy providers for protections through draconian new anti-protest measures – while himself being a paid lobbyist for organisations representing arms and fossil fuel giants.

    John Woodcock – now known as Lord Walney – states in a new Government commissioned review of protest groups that “Defence companies and energy providers that are vital to local economies, national security and resilience are being particularly targeted by extreme protest groups" adding that "they are fringe groups with few supporters yet are causing significant damage. "Far too little is in place to support businesses and industries that are impacted by disruption or targeted by extreme activists blocking their premises and causing criminal damage.”

    He calls for the Government to consider bringing in new measures allowing businesses to sue protest organisers for damages on the grounds of 'disruption' caused to their business.

    “Defence companies and energy providers that are vital to local economies, national security and resilience are being particularly targeted by extreme protest groups. They are fringe groups with few supporters yet are causing significant damage", he states.

    “The Government should consider ways to ensure increased resilience of supply for defence manufacturers and energy providers whose operations are being disrupted by illegal protest. This could include setting a protective buffer zone around certain sites or expediting injunctions on certain protestors not to enter such a Zone,” the former Labour MP writes. 

    As reported by Byline Times last week, Woodcock’s own House of Lords register interest declarations reveals that, among other roles, Lord Walney is:

  • Paid chair of the Purpose Defence Coalition, members of which include Leonardo, one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers, with “extensive links” to Israel’s military. Leonardo has been targeted by Palestine Action, which is mentioned over 100 times in the report
  • Paid adviser to lobbyists Rud Pederson, clients of which include the oil and gas giant, Glencore.
  • Paid adviser to the Purpose Business Coalition, members of which include fossil fuel giant BP.
  • Paid chair of the Purpose Defence Coalition, members of which include Leonardo, one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers, with “extensive links” to Israel’s military. Leonardo has been targeted by Palestine Action, which is mentioned over 100 times in the report
  • Paid adviser to lobbyists Rud Pederson, clients of which include the oil and gas giant, Glencore.
  • Paid adviser to the Purpose Business Coalition, members of which include fossil fuel giant BP.
  • Lord Walney even mentions BP by name in his review, critically writing: "Since the submission of this report, a new UK-based protest group identifying itself as Energy Embargo for Palestine forced the British Museum to close. Its leadership published a statement on the leftwing Jacobin website demanding the museum sever ties with BP after Israel granted the company gas exploration licences off the coast of Gaza. A banner displayed by the group read ‘Sponsored by BP=Sponsored by Colonial Genocide’."

    The former Labour MP does not mention his business interests in the report.

    The Conservative Government adviser also visited Israel in January this year, funded by Elnet, an NGO promoting cooperation between Europe and Israel. It was founded in 2007 as a European pro-Israel advocacy group, to counter “widespread criticism of Israel in Europe”.

    According to NGO Action on Armed Violence, Purpose Defence Coalition member Leonardo “equips Israel with Aermacchi M-346 aircraft and parts for Apache attack helicopters” while the “company’s site in Edinburgh is responsible for producing the laser targeting system used in F-35 fighter jets”.

    Walney also calls for new powers to force protest groups to pay towards policing of their own protests and for police forces to be able to restrict the "frequency" of protests on the grounds of costs.

    Tim Crosland, director of the climate group Plan B, told Byline Times: “This is not an independent report. Lord Walney is a paid lobbyist for the defence and energy industries. He is recommending more protection for defense and energy companies and more repression for those exposing the immense harm they are causing to the public, not just in terms of health but also in twisting the discourse.

    “The commentary has focused on Lord Walney, but no one has questioned why he is presenting this as an independent report to the public. The Home Secretary must have done due diligence, but he is still a paid lobbyist. The report was commissioned by James Cleverley and sponsored by the Home Office.

    “The right to protest is a universal right, and charging for policing would be the privatization of our basic rights. Many people are not in a position to take those risks and would be unable to participate in our politics.

    “This approach seems to stem from the perceived success of some of the injunctions around Insulate Britain taken out by e.g. Transport for London, which have been extremely harsh, costing tens to hundreds of thousands of pounds in some cases. 

    “This seems to be a way to silence people, but it doesn't seem very practical. How would it work in practice? This idea makes rights and justice inaccessible, allowing those with deeper pockets to dominate.”

    Following our report, the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas raised a point of order with the House of Commons Speaker on Tuesday.

    "This morning the Home Office commissioned report from Lord Walney was presented in Parliament using the motion for unopposed return procedure, effectively protecting it from any kind of legal challenge", Lucas said.

    "However, the report reads as a highly political document and it includes proposals, for example, for very serious restrictions on civil liberties and human rights...

    "I understand... Lord Walney's interests as a paid advisor for the arms and oil industry are registered in the Register of Lords interests. But could you advise the House... whether it would be at least healthy for scrutiny for that to be an additional requirement for any relevant interests by report's author to be specifically flagged for this house as well?"

    In the same official review of protest groups, Woodcock argues: “Brute force must not be allowed to win the argument." But he backs tougher enforcement by police that would in many cases prevent public displays of disagreement taking plays.  

    The crossbench peer calls on the Government to "expand the grounds on which a police force can recommend a march is not permitted to go ahead on a particular date beyond the narrow grounds that it risks serious public disorder," representing a major additional restriction on the right to protest.

    Walney also supports a "broadening" of the definition of "encouraging terrorism" to include anyone who praises a terrorist group, likely meaning anyone sporting logos or espousing slogans shared by groups like Hamas would face prison. 

    And he backs shifting the balance of resource requirements of policing the public's right to protest “with other frontline priorities" – in order to reduce the "frequency" of some protests, effectively banning or limiting the weekly Palestinian solidarity protests that have taken place in London since October. 

    The lobbyist and Government adviser proposes exclusion orders around Parliament, effectively making it illegal to protest outside the Palace of Westminster. 

    Woodcock's review criticises the “extreme left” for allegedly “systematically” seeking to undermine faith in parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. He cited polling claiming it shows public dissatisfaction with the current legal balance, between maintaining order and supporting the right to protest. However, he appears to have ignored other polling data indicating that many believe the Conservatives’ clampdowns on protests have gone too far

    Woodcock also calls for his own role to be made permanent and “properly resourced” to monitor so-called extreme protest movements.

    He proposes new mechanisms to restrict activities of non-violent direct action groups like Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain, and Palestine Action. 

    One method proposed is to restrict these groups' ability to organise or fundraise if they engage in activities that could lead to imprisonment or cause serious disruption or injury. This would, in effect, be a ban, as movements require funds to operate. 

    He also wants the police to have the power to apply to the Home Secretary to prohibit processions if they believe they will likely result in “intimidation”. This broad remit could effectively allow the police to ban any protest in advance, if they think it could intimidate someone. 

    And his call for protest groups to pay for policing marches is viewed by critics as an indirect ban on protest. 

    A spokesperson for the left-wing group Momentum, which is mentioned in Walney's report, said: "This blatant conflict of interest further discredits the Walney Review. Lord Walney has well-documented financial ties to the defence and energy industries – it is absurd and wholly improper for him to be proposing Government policy which benefits these industries at the expense of the right to protest. His 'review' should be left to gather dust – and Lord Walney removed from his position."

    Lord Walney and the Home Office have been contacted for comment.

    If you have a political story or tip-off, email josiah@bylinetimes.com.

    ‘Huge Victory for Democracy’ as Rishi Sunak’s Protest Crackdown Found Unlawful by High Court

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/05/2024 - 8:33pm in

    Rishi Sunak's anti-protest regulations have unlawfully put peaceful protesters at serious and unfair risk of prosecution, the High Court has ruled, in a major victory for civil liberties campaigners.

    The High Court agreed with a challenge by the campaign group Liberty claiming that the Government had unlawfully extended the definition of protests which cause “serious disruption” in the legislation to cover protests which had merely caused normal levels of disruption.

    The court agreed that this had led a “a substantially increased exposure to criminal sanctions on the part of protestors exercising their civil rights”.

    They also found that the Home Office under the leadership of Suella Braverman had also failed to properly consult with those likely to be affected by their anti-protest legislation and regulations.

    Campaigners welcomed the finding as a “huge victory for democracy”.

    “This ruling is a huge victory for democracy, and sets down an important marker to show that the Government cannot step outside of the law to do whatever it wants”, Akiko Hart, Liberty’s director, said in a statement.

    Legislation passed by Sunak’s Government in 2022 gave ministers the power to alter the definition of “serious disruption” without full parliamentary scrutiny, under so-called Henry VIII powers.

    This decision led to ministers being able to hand power to the police to intervene to limit protests, even when no such serious disruption was occurring.

    “We all have the right to speak out on the issues we believe in, and it’s vital that the Government respects that” Hart said.

    "These dangerous powers were rejected by Parliament yet still sneaked through the back door with the clear intention of stopping protesters that the Government did not personally agree with, and were so vaguely worded that it meant that the police were given almost unlimited powers to shut down any other protest too.

    “This judgment sends a clear message that accountability matters, and that those in power must make decisions that respect our rights.” 

    The finding came shortly before the Government’s ‘anti-extremism’ adviser unveiled a report recommending further draconian restrictions on the right to protest.

    As this paper has previously reported, Lord Walney was commissioned to write the report, despite his own links to defence and business lobbyists, set to be affected by his recommendations. 

    Among the measures recommended by Walney are effective bans on certain protest groups, plus new powers for the police to outlaw protests on the grounds of cost, or frequency.

    The proposals could lead to several leading protest groups being effectively banned from operating, while outlawing the regular Palestinian solidarity marches that take place in London.

    The Curtain Comes Down on the Conservatives’ Theatre of Cruelty

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/05/2024 - 10:01pm in

    Since its inception, Byline Times has aimed to not merely tell its readers what is happening that the established press does not report, but why it is happening. What are the underlying forces at play that can help explain seemingly inexplicable external events that pass without scrutiny? 

    Often, this has involved analysing the structural elements within our politics, media and society – rising inequality, cronyism, oligarchical tendencies, the problems of class, the vulnerability of our unwritten constitution, and more – and how these have led to the disturbances we witnessed through Brexit, the Boris Johnson years, the pandemic, and now the cost of living crisis and ‘broken’ Britain.

    Sometimes, we also need to examine the ideas we think with, not just the ideas we think about.

    Our special report in the June 2024 print edition of Byline Times hopes to foster a deeper understanding of how politicians on the right are targeting a base of people, not with policies, but with a performative type of politics that aims to make cruelty its aim.

    As political scientist Brian Klaas explains, at its heart is the key takeaway: that, for many people, politics is not actually about politics – but an arena for their more emotional, and sometimes primal, projections to be given expression.

    Much has been made since the Brexit and Trump shocks of the notion that politics is being driven increasingly by emotion. Both of these shocks were the ultimate ‘culture war’ fronts: eras in which the ‘normal rules’ of politics seemed to have been suspended and alternative realities erected around what is expected of those in public life, and politics itself.

    SUBSCRIBE NOW TO THE JUNE 2024 PRINT EDITION

    Combined with the rise of the social media age, there isn’t a way to simply ‘go back’. 

    Although polling shows that the Government’s culture war distractions are not priorities for the British people – who consistently indicate that they intend to elect a Labour government at the next general election – this doesn’t mean that there are no lessons to be learned, particularly by those on the left, about what politics represents today. 

    While policies are important for some, an emotionally-resonant ‘big vision’ of how politics can change people’s lives is taking primacy for potentially many more – in addition to the minority base for whom the extreme emotion of cruelty hits the mark (and on which an arguably disproportionate focus is targeted by our media).

    People want something to believe in.

    That is why, in this edition, we dissect the Government’s ‘theatre of cruelty’ – which puts asylum seekers, the sick and disabled, homeless people, the trans community, and the poor centre-stage in its attacks – and show why such a strategy is unlikely to work.

    Not only does it not tackle any of the real challenges many more people are now struggling with in their day to day lives – beyond promising a sense of psychic justice to a minority of individuals – it does nothing to inspire a sense of progress or how things could truly be different. That they could even be different.

    Cruelty is the point. To a point. Many, many more of us want something to hope for. 

    To tackle the performative politics of cruelty, our politicians need to understand what it taps into, and what they can learn about what politics represents for people today. 

    Bringing down the curtain on the Conservatives’ theatre of cruelty, as the recent local election results indicate is now happening, will help set the stage again for a politics that really matters.  

    Lawyer Explains How Lord Walney’s ‘Extreme Protest’ Groups Report Makes ‘Criminal Law Redundant and is Draconian and Dangerous’

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 20/05/2024 - 9:51pm in

    A report expected to recommend a new category proscribing Just Stop Oil and Palestine Action as extreme protest groups is an attempt to silence voices the Government doesn't like and will lead to a further escalation of violence against demonstrators, a leading protestor has suggested, while a lawyer has argued it will make criminal law redundant.

    The report by crossbench peer Lord John Walney, the Government's Independent Advisor on Political Violence and Disruption, will sanction certain protest groups in similar ways to terrorist organisations, and will reportedly target those who routinely use criminal tactics to try and achieve their aims. The move could restrict a group's ability to fundraise and assemble.

    Last June, the Metropolitan Police said that policing the actions of the Just Stop Oil group had cost more than £4.5 million – and the equivalent of almost 13,770 officer shifts the Guardian reported – with the environmental group causing regular traffic chaos through marches and roadblocks, as well as disrupting major culture and sporting events.

    Palestine Action has sprayed red paint on the walls of several buildings across the UK in recent months, including the Ministry of Defence in central London, among other actions.

    Palestine Action sprayed Britain's Foreign Office with blood-red paint, "to commemorate 75 years since the ethnic cleansing of Palestine began". Photo: Alamy

    The BBC, according to a report on 12 May, has seen extracts of Lord Walney's recommendations and quotes him as saying: "Militant groups like Palestine Action and Just Stop Oil are using criminal tactics to create mayhem and hold the public and workers to ransom without fear of consequence.

    "Banning terror groups has made it harder for their activists to plan crimes - that approach should be extended to extreme protest groups too."

    Ahead of the report being published, the Byline Times Podcast spoke with Gail Bradbrook, one of the founders of Extinction Rebellion, who has been found guilty of criminal damage for protesting; and Francesca Katyayani, a senior associate at Hodge, Jones and Allen, which regularly represents protestors in court.

    Lord Walney encounters a protest by campaigners against the arms trade as he arrives at the ADS Annual Dinner in January 2024. Photo: Mark Kerrison/Alamy

    "When you conflate us with terrorists who threaten life, when we're here to protect life, and you use words like 'extremists’... one of the dangers is that one of us is going to get killed one day off the back of that," Bradbrook told the podcast.

    She added that the move was also a "march further into authoritarianism, to the Government deciding whether protesting suits them or not", and was something people should be "extremely worried about".

    "It does smack of 1930s Germany, some of the enabling powers that have been given to the Home Secretary," Bradbrook said.

    She further argued that applying the word 'extreme’ to protest groups was as inaccurate as it is dangerous. Extreme, Bradbrook said, is when something "threatens a life. It either intends to harm life or it is going to harm life. That's what we mean when we think about terrorism. And we're the opposite of extreme. Non-violent, peaceful protestors".

    The term, she suggested, would be more suitably applied to ministers and business leaders, who through climate-damaging policies and decisions are harming lives.

    Podcast host, Adrian Goldberg, spoke to Bradbrook about the already significant impact protesting has on the individuals involved, including prison time and career advancement, remarking: "It's not as though it is cost-free to you to take part in the kind of disruptions that you've been involved with."

    Bradbrook said: "I was in the dock last year, three different times I had a prison bag with me because I've been threatened. We've been sent to jail for simply mentioning climate change in front of the jury."

    But she said that the climate emergency "agenda is too big" to cower to the threat of punishment.

    Just Stop Oil protestors during a slow walk in Westminster last May. Photo: Denise Laura Baker/Alamy

    "We know from our history books, and from social science research into civil disobedience, that these methods are more likely to work than ordinary protest," she added.

    The Government was "conflating" disruption with violence when the two are "very, very different", Bradbrook told the podcast. Marathons, and other sporting events, she noted, also cause disruption to the public.

    Goldberg quizzed Katyayani about how protestors were being silenced in court with the accused being told "what they can't say" – preventing them from providing context and establishing a defence.

    He cited the case of three Insulate Britain activists who were jailed for contempt of court because they were told not to mention the climate crisis, fuel poverty, and the history of peaceful civil rights movements.

    Katyayani: "I think it's hard to imagine how you would be tried, justly and properly, in a court of law, if you are completely prevented from explaining where you're coming from and what motivated you to commit the acts they are alleged to have committed."

    Goldberg asked Katyayani if she had recognised any "extreme protest groups" during her time defending protestors.

    She said it was a "difficult definition" which was "quite dangerous" and, given that some protestors may be cleared of charges but still punished under the proposed legislation for belonging to a proscribed group, "it's a way of overstepping the judiciary and saying 'well, I don't care'".

    "It sort of makes the purpose of criminal law redundant," she argued. "Where you're trying to punish people and limit their freedoms, before they've even done anything, simply by virtue of belonging to a certain protest group, just in terms of the groups that they'd mentioned."

    Katyayani added that "anything difficult to implement leaves open a lot of space for it to be used in the wrong way or abused in the wrong way".

    The lawyer suggested that the Government is "losing sight of", or just ignoring, "the fact that the right to protest is the right to cause disruption", which is covered under the Human Rights Act. "To suggest that to cause disruption is inherently unlawful," she told the podcast. "That's legally simply incorrect."

    Bradbrook added that the focus of the legislation was politically motivated, with the Conservatives happy to back protest groups if it suited them, as demonstrated by this Led by Donkeys YouTube video.

    To start criminalising people because they "care about the fact that there's a genocide in Palestine and care about the fact that the climate systems and life support systems the Earth had are been destroyed by policies of our Government and others... it's just highly political," she added.

    "Democracy is always been fairly fake in the last few years. But this is really ending the democracy in the UK, for me."

    Katyayani noted that the Government's approach to protests is similar to its approach to crime – rather than deal with the root cause, it seeks to increase the punishment, and just like the 'War on Drugs’, it will fail.

    Bradbrook: "You read these rulings, and they all have a line that says, 'well, we've got a functional democracy'. So if you've got an issue you just say, 'take it to Parliament'... like you've got the same amount of lobbying money as Big Oil has. It's a very circular argument of power that's trying to keep itself in place. It's damaging the world. And we're all going to pay the price of this."

    Goldberg asked Bradbrook if she sympathised with Brits disrupted by protests and she argued that public sentiment was being fuelled by the right-wing press, which was making readers angry about delays, rather than telling them that "the health service is falling to pieces".

    "If the Government would actually get on with doing [the UK's] duty as so-called climate leaders – which is frankly a joke – if the UK would speak up about a genocide and stop providing Israel with arms etc. then people wouldn't be protesting and protesting for reasons that are proportionate and incredibly serious."

    Goldberg concluded the podcast by asking Bradbrook if being put into the same "category as people might see a terrorist" might stop her from taking action. She said she was already subjected to considerable abuse.

    "I had somebody saying that I should be shot in the face in front of my kids," she told the podcast. "[The public] have been told that we are terrorist threats and extremists and a threat to the country... I mean, what could possibly go wrong?"

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