uk politics

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Court Case Backlog Worse Now than Before £477 Million Investment to Curb Delays, New Report Reveals

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/05/2024 - 9:01am in

The Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) plan to reduce the record Crown Court backlog of 67,573 cases to 53,000 by March next year is no longer achievable, National Audit Office (NAO), Parliament’s spending watchdog has revealed.

Instead the figure is expected to be closer to 64,000 – a reduction of 3,500 cases, a report released Friday says.

This is despite some £477 million being allocated by Boris Johnson’s Conservative government in 2021 to improve case backlogs in the criminal justice system.  The size of the backlog is now 11% higher than when Dominic Rabb was Lord Chancellor in 2021. He is standing down as an MP when Parliament prorogues next week.

Boris Johnson's Conservative government pledged £477 million to reduce the backlog in 2021. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

The figure is 78% higher than at the end of 2019 when the UK faced a national lockdown because of the pandemic. The report found over a quarter of the backlog cases have been waiting a year or more to be heard, and 6,523 are two years or more old.

The main reason why the backlog has grown is that prisons are filled to near capacity – which led the government to announce a week ago that it has started releasing prisoners early to try and clear space. This controversial move led to a clash between Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after it was revealed this included stalkers and those convicted of domestic abuse which alarmed victims.

The prison population is also swelled by the number of people held on remand – which has reached 16,000, the highest figure in 50 years, while they wait for their cases to be heard.

Meg Hillier, Labour chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Victims, witnesses and defendants are waiting an unacceptable amount of time for their cases to be heard, with the average Crown Court case taking almost two years. 

“Longer waits are damaging to victims’ mental wellbeing and increase the risk of the trial failing. Changes made to one part of the criminal justice system affect other parts of the system, for example increasing prison population pressures. The Ministry of Justice must get a grip on these impacts - understand them better and take coordinated, timely action so justice is delivered quicker, and the case backlog is reduced.”

 The report also revealed that lack of oversight of the criminal justice system also contributed to the problem. For two years, the Criminal Justice Board, which brings together representatives from across the criminal justice system including the judiciary and is chaired by the Secretary of State for Justice, did not meet. This reduced oversight of action was to help the justice system recover from the pandemic. 

Other issues contributing to the backlog included a shortage of legal professionals working in criminal law; high rates of ineffective trials; an increase in complex cases such as adult rape; and cases delayed by Covid and the criminal defence barristers’ industrial action. The NAO also found that the actual levels of incoming and completed cases have been consistently lower than the MoJ forecast at the 2021 Spending Review.

The courts also suffered from a lack of maintenance, with some court rooms being closed because of heating failures or water leaks. The ministry says this is no longer the main problem why cases are delayed.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told Byline Times:

“The Crown Court sat for over 107,000 days last year, more days than at any point in the last seven years.

“We are also investing more in the system, rolling out remote hearings, extending the use of Nightingale courts and recruiting hundreds of judges to get victims the justice they deserve and put more offenders behind bars.

“The Government is pushing ahead with the largest prison expansion programme in 100 years – with 10,000 of the 20,000 additional places to be delivered by the end of 2025.”

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 Claimed Inflation is Back to Normal and Brighter Days are Ahead – he’s Completely Wrong About Both’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/05/2024 - 11:18pm in

Tags 

uk politics

UK inflation has dropped to its lowest level for three years to 2.3%, within spitting distance of the Bank of England’s official target of 2%. The government have not been slow to take credit, with Rishi Sunak claiming that inflation is “back to normal”, that the “plan is working” and “brighter days are ahead”. Not a single part of his ebullient statement is correct.

The fall in inflation has little to nothing to do with what his government has done, plan or otherwise. Since the Bank of England was made independent in 1997, it, and not the government, has responsibility for managing inflation, which it attempts to do primarily via changing interest rates. 

 Rishi Sunak took credit for a drop in inflation as he announced the date for the next general election. Photo: Imageplotter / Alamy

But, the drop, has nothing much to do with the Bank of England either. Inflation surged over the last few years as a result of some very big, global events that disrupted supplies across the world. Covid lockdowns disrupted supply chains, pushing prices up for some critical goods. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine resulted in massive disruption to energy supplies, particularly in Europe, but fertiliser and some grain supplies were also affected. And harvests for foods like cocoa, olive oil and now potatoes have been battered by extreme weather, linked to both climate change and the side-effects of El Nino, the multi-year warm water cycle in the Pacific Ocean that disrupts weather across the globe.

Changing interest rates in London won’t stop Vladimir Putin invading Ukraine. They won’t make more olives or tomatoes grow in Morocco. They can’t stop torrential rain deluging potato crops in Holland. Interest rate rises may even make inflation worse: there’s a growing argument amongst economists that when so many people don’t pay a mortgage – one-third of UK households are now outright owners – and so many have significant savings, interest rate rises actually hand them more money, potentially adding to inflation.

And, by putting up interest rates today, you make investment for tomorrow more expensive. Major wind farm projects have been cancelled on the back of interest rate rises, threatening future energy supplies – and risking future energy price shocks.

Those huge, global events over the last two years are now washing out of the inflation figures. It’s mathematics, not smart economic policy, that is doing the work for Sunak’s government – since inflation is measured as the rate of price increase since a year ago, it takes a while for sudden surges in prices to wash out of the numbers. That is the major driver of falling inflation, in the UK and across the developed world.

"Back to Normal" - the new Normal, More Instability

And, we aren’t going “back to normal” – if “normal” means a more-or-less stable inflation rate around 2%, much as we had back in the 2000s. Put the combination of geopolitical instability and climate and nature crises together, and you’re looking at a world where supply shocks of the kind we’ve seen in the last few years are more and more likely. Houthi militias are still restricting shipping through the Suez Canal. Oil prices have surged since Hamas’ attacks on October 7 last year. The World Bank has warned, in its latest Commodity Markets Outlook, that geopolitical tensions had the potential to disrupt supplies and prices over the rest of this year.

And climate change isn’t going away – our best forecasts have the situation worsening over the rest of this decade and beyond, as average temperatures rise and extreme weather events become more frequent. A study of 121 countries, over 25 years, in the scientific journal Nature earlier this year suggested rising temperatures were going to lead directly to higher prices. Put all this together, and our best guess for future inflation should be that it is likely to be both higher and more unstable, as the world is becoming increasingly unstable. Even the Bank of England’s own forecasts show inflation rising again by the end of this year.

"Brighter Days are Ahead' - no They're not!

'Brighter days" are also not on the horizon. A lower rate of inflation does not mean prices are, on average, falling. It means they are, on average, rising more slowly. Those huge price rises of the last few years are a permanent loss in living standards. Energy prices remain 50% higher than they were in 2021, despite falling recently. Food prices have risen 50% more than prices in general. Unless people’s incomes rise sharply to compensate for these new, higher prices, people will be worse off in real terms. This hasn’t happened for those in work – wages and salaries today are 2.3% lower than in early 2021, before big price surges.

And there are further surges down the line. While the energy price cap, which regulates prices for household energy, is likely to come down at the end of the week, the privatised water companies are lobbying hard for household water bill increaaes between 24% and a shocking 91%. With Britain dependent for 80% of its food on imports, including both what we buy directly and the fertilisers we need, disruption to agriculture across the rest of the world turn into rising prices and even shortages in this country. 

As if to demonstrate the point, on the same day the government was talking up its non-existent inflation “success”, it launched its domestic emergency preparedness plan, suggesting households stock up on essential supplies like “tinned food, batteries and bottled water”. There’s nothing like a home stockpile of tinned food to really scream “brighter days ahead”.

Some, as we’ve seen, do very well out of shortages, cornering the market and creaming off fat profits from high prices: energy company profits have been notorious over the last few years, but the four biggest global agribusinesess have been making more money than ever before

Dealing with a more unstable world, where climate change impacts are beginning to creep into our daily lives, and geopolitical tensions rise, will require more than fiddling with interest rates and feel-good statements from Downing Street. We will need, in the short term, to be prepared for government to apply the brakes on price rises for essentials, whether household energy or basic food items – halting price rises when they become excessive after shocks.

Windfall taxes on excess profits, not only in the energy sector, would make sense. Inflation-busting pay rises, to protect households, are still essential, but in the longer term, instability demands investment in making our food, energy and water systems more resilient, driving out the profiteering, and securing essential supplies. 

Vast Majority of Those Turned Away Over Voter ID in Local Elections Were ‘Non-White’ According to Polling Station Observers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/05/2024 - 8:51pm in

Seven in ten voters turned away due to issues with photo ID during this month’s local and police commissioner elections in England appeared to not be white, according to the first major analysis of the May 2nd voting process. 

That compares to just a quarter of the population in England and Wales who are not white, according to the latest 2021 census. The research by the non-partisan group Democracy Volunteers suggests that people from ethnic minorities are far more likely to have faced issues with the voter ID rules – posing serious risks of discrimination in the imminent General Election on July 4th. 

One in fifty voters – 2.1% of those observed – overall were turned away for lack of ID, mostly in urban areas, the report out today (May 23rd) has found. 

The demographic differences were stark, according to the 150 volunteers who observed 725 polling stations on May 2. Fifteen percent of those excluded were 'white passing' men, 26% were 'non-white passing' men, 15% were 'white passing' women, and 44% 'non-white passing' women.

That comes to over two-thirds of those turned away appearing to be from ethnic minority backgrounds, and is a significant rise from the 55% in last May’s elections. While that could partly be due to London having mayoral elections this year, the figure is "much higher than the population and needs to be addressed," Democracy Volunteers warned. 

In contrast, observers noted 12 voters were allowed to vote without showing ID; most of whom were 'white passing'.

Via Democracy Volunteers

The 2.1% figure of voters observed being turned away is nearly double what Democracy Volunteers observed in the 2023 local elections, where 1.2% of voters were turned away for not bringing the appropriate identification.

Director Dr John Ault described it as a “worrying rise” in the numbers of those being prevented from voting because of the new rules around having show photo ID. 

The report on the May 2024 local election calls for the next Government to extend the list of acceptable forms of photo ID, to ensure ID checks are conducted at the presiding officer's desk rather than by ‘bouncers’ at the door of the polling station, and to consider setting up a system of “attestation”, where a reigstered voter can legally vouch for the identity of someone who lacks ID.

The report also found that 24% of polling stations lacked adequate privacy for ID checks, and a similar number of polling stations had issues with so-called ‘family voting’, where family members enter a voting booth together and collude or direct the family’s voting intentions as a bloc.

Harry Bush, deputy director of Democracy Volunteers, said: “A lot of [alarm] bells are ringing” about ID checks.

“At a large number of polling stations, ID was being used as a way to get access, but wasn’t properly checked at the desk. That’s worrying. The whole point of an ID check is to prevent personation…It defeats the point of having an ID check in the first place.

“ID checks are not being conducted in an equal way,” he added, calling for extra training for staff. “Their role has changed significantly to become [that] of a bouncer or border agent,” he said. 

In some cases, staff let people vote without proper checks if they recognised or were friends with them, which is against the rules. 

John Ault, director of the group, told Byline Times: “A big part of what we do is speaking truth to power… 2.1% of voters being turned away is 2.1% more than who should be turned away.”

Asked about the risks at the July 4th General Election, he said: “I think we’ll see more people turned away…People forget that Scotland has only had one parliamentary by-election where voter ID is required. Voters in Scotland may be completely unaware.” The voter ID rules are from Westminster legislation, and aren’t used for Scottish locals or Holyrood elections. But everyone in the UK will need ID for the General Election.  

Harry Busz added: “An attestation system could really help break the back of the problem. It won’t be in place before the General Election. So it’s about education.” 

Voters who don’t speak English well are more likely to struggle with the rules, he said. But many could also be hit by the fact that names on ID and the electoral roll must match.

“If you’ve changed your name recently, you need to re-register with your correct name. We need more detail in the messaging than just ‘register’,” he said. 

Update: This piece has been amended to correct a typo - it originally said the election was June 4th. It is of course July 4th.

If you have a political story or tip-off, 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.

    Government ‘Anti-Extremism’ Protest Report Launched in Westminster by Think Tank with Ties to US Hard Right

    Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/05/2024 - 2:30am in

    Tags 

    uk politics

    A controversial Home Office-backed review into protest law in the UK was launched at a private event in Westminster, hosted by an opaque lobbying group with alleged ties to the US hard right.

    Former Labour MP John Woodcock – now styled as crossbench peer Lord Walney – launched his report calling for more restrictions on protest groups at an event hosted by the Counter Extremism Group, a think tank that does not disclose the sources of its funding, whose founder was accused of having ties to extreme “alt-right” groups in the US. 

    It comes as the Government’s so-called ‘independent’ adviser on domestic extremism singled out defence companies and energy providers for protections through draconian new anti-protest measures in his report. His report fails to point out that he is a paid lobbyist for organisations representing arms and fossil fuel giants. 

    In the report, released through official Government channels, he calls for ministers to consider allowing businesses to sue protest organisers for damages on the grounds of ‘disruption’ caused to their firms. He also suggests charging protest groups the cost of policing demonstrations, which would effectively render nearly all large-scale demonstrations unviable.

    As reported by Byline Times in 2022, the Counter Extremism Group (CEG) is run as a profit-making business through a private limited company – Counter Extremism Network Ltd – which was founded in January 2020 by its then-director Robin Simcox.

    Company records show that Simcox held “significant control” over the company until January this year, holding more than 75% of shares and voting rights. Its latest accounts show reported net assets of £1 and just two employees. 

    Robin Simcox was appointed by then Home Secretary Priti Patel as the UK’s Commissioner for Countering Extremism at the Home Office in 2021. He recently made the front page of the Telegraph claiming that Gaza protests had made central London a “no go zone for Jews”, a claim contested by many Jewish people including the sizable regular Jewish bloc on the anti-war marches. 

    In 2022, Byline Times reported on Simcox’s "wide-ranging" ties to hard-right, pro-Trump US networks.

    https://twitter.com/zoenora6/status/1792927792138530837

    As Nafeez Ahmed wrote, two years prior to founding the CEG in 2021, Simcox spoke at the US-based Center for Immigration Studies, which has been accused of circulating "antisemitic white nationalist materials over a 10-year period – including articles by noted Holocaust deniers and eugenicists." It has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), a civil rights law firm tracking extremist groups in America.

    The CEG hosted today’s report launch at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in Westminster, to a room of around 50 people. It is not clear who was invited, and the event was chaired by New Labour peer Peter Mandelson.

    The group’s current director and holder of its controlling stake is Hannah Stuart. She joined the self-described “neoconservative” Henry Jackson Society think tank in 2011. According to two of the Henry Jackson Society’s (HJS) founders, Matthew Jamison and Marko Attilo Hoare, the HJS became a “far-right, deeply anti-Muslim racist organisation” dominated by “right-wing anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views” around 2011. There is no suggestion that Stuart was behind this. 

    After HJS, Stuart went on to join the conservative Policy Exchange think tank. Policy Exchange is close to Rishi Sunak and senior right-wing Conservatives. Stuart led a Policy Exchange commission’s flagship extremism report to the Conservative Home Secretary from 2017 to 2018, as Byline Times previously reported.  

    Since Stuart’s departure the conservative policy group has called for protest clampdowns, while receiving funding from oil firms that had been targeted by climate groups.

    Just Stop Oil, the direct action group named repeatedly in Lord Walney's report, accused the Government adviser of being "funded by oil and gas companies". A spokesperson added that his "direct financial ties" to companies whose profits are threatened by the groups he’s proposing to crack down upon render the findings illegitimate.

    Lord Walney, the Home Office and the Counter Extremism Group have been contacted for comment.

    Update: This piece was amended post-publication to note that the report was not published in Parliament, but the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in Westminster. Our apologies for the error.

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

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