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Beeb’s John Sweeney Attack Parliamentary Lobby System as Source of Fake News

Very interesting article in next week’s Radio Times for 16th-22nd November 2019. John Sweeney, a former journo with the Corporation’s Panorama, has written a piece attacking the parliamentary lobby system, ‘Time to name your sources’, on page 9. The subtitle states very clearly why he objects to it ‘Why are political reporters feeding us fake news?’

The article runs

As the country gears up for a general election, TV viewers and newspaper readers are being lied to from within a secretive system that reduces political journalists and Westminster correspondents to underbutlers, protects power and poisons our democracy. It’s called the lobby and its two most powerful players are a career psychopath (Conservative) and a neo-Stalinist (Labour).

The lobby was created after an Irish terrorist bomb in 1885 caused MPs to lock out the journalists who used to mingle freely inside Westminster. Reporters complained and a permitted few were allowed back, so long as they followed rule number one: when a source says a story is on lobby terms, you don’t identify that source. 

The lobby’s most elegant defender, Andrew Marr, wrote in his book, My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism, “Sophisticated social animals are necessarily hypocrites… who really wants to know less?”

But Marr wrote that before King Brexit turned everything it touched to Novichok. So where do those political stories based on anonymous oft-quoted “sources close to…” come from?

The PMS (the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman) is a many-headed beast, but one set of jaws is snapped by James Slack, who, as Nick Cohen pointed out in the The Spectator, in a previous life wrote the words underneath the infamous 2016 Daily Mail headline “Enemies of the People”, attacking three judges. Another set of jaws are those of Rob Oxley, Boris Johnson’s press secretary, but the sharpest teeth belong to “career psychopath” Dominic Cummings. David  called him that five years ago. It was an understatement.

Cummings, Slack and Oxley jointly and separately use reporters in the lobby system to tell unattributable whoppers while the system as a whole is given coverage by BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the papers. Veteran political reporter Peter Oborne nailed a series of lies about Brexit on “lobby terms” recently. Perhaps the most poisonous was the “lobby terms” claim, reported in the Mail on Sunday in October, that Remainers Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Hilary Benn were being investigated by the government because of their involvement with foreign powers. The story was a lie. The BBC, etc, didn’t tell that lie. But they prop up the system in which the lie could be told.

That system also encourages acquiescence among political hacks. If you don’t toe the line and ask awkward questions instead you are excluded from the regular drip-feed of anonymous briefings. It was reported that Boris Johnson when Foreign Secretary was considered a security risk by MI6 because of his dodgy private life. But has the lobby asked if Boris will launch an inquiry into himself? Nyet.

Another potential security risk is Jeremy Corbyn’s spin commissar, Seumas Milne. He oversees Labaour’s lobby operation but the system shields his shenanigans behind the arras. In 2014 Milne appeared on a panel at a summit in Sochi alongside Vladimir Putin. Milne, a former Guardian journalist, has in the past bigged up both Stalin and East Germany. Creepy.

Has the lobby asked Putin’s pal Milne if he is a security risk? Again, nyet.

In these toxic times, the lobby has become a lie factory. We need to scrappy “lobby terms”. If power speaks with a forked tongue, we need to know whose tongue it is that’s lying.

Okay, Sweeney’s correct to call out the lobby system. I’m irritated myself by stories that begin ‘sources close to the Prime Minister’ or ‘Ministers are considering’, as quite often this means that the source is sounding out a policy. And that policy is quite often something monstrous. I remember a story in the Sunday Express back in the early 1980s, when AIDS first appeared and everyone really was afraid it would decimate the global population like a new Black Death. It was so strongly associated with gays that a Beeb science documentary on it had the title ‘AIDS: The Gay Plague’. In this climate of fear, the Sunday Depress announced that ‘ministers’ – who were never named – were considering a radical solution to the problem. This was the construction of an ‘AIDS island’ following the Swedes’ example, where AIDS victims could be isolated and treated. It harkens back to the location of lazarettos – leper hospitals – on islands. But it was also frightening coming as it did from a government that had very far right tendencies and a reputation for aggressive homophobia. Maggie had just tried to introduce her law banning the positive teaching of homosexuality in schools. To many people, this seemed like the beginning of a campaign against homosexuals and the left which would end up with internment camps. The nightmare Fascist Britain of Alan Moore’s and Dave Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, running in the comic Warrior, seemed all too possible.

Others have also challenged the very close relationship between the press and the political class. When David Cameron was PM, it was pointed out that many leading journos, including editorial staff at the Guardian, I believe, also lived in Cameron’s village of Chipping Norton. Over on the other side of the Pond, some of the left-wing news shows on the Net, like The Young Turks, Sam Seder’s Majority Report and the David Pakman Show, have also commented on the way the press is content to parrot stories and claims by right-wing politicians, because they’re afraid that if they start challenging them, those politicians will simply stop talking to them and they’ll lose their stories. The result has been a decline in journalistic standards, as papers no longer attempt to hold politicos to account, but simply repeat their lines and lies. I’ve no doubt that this also partly accounts for the utter complicity of the press in repeating the claims and assumptions of the neoliberal right over here.

But this also doesn’t exonerate the Beeb. Despite the protestations of its political editor, the Beeb does platform right-wing figures over the left. Mike put up a graphic from Tory Fibs a few days ago, which showed very clearly how massively biased the Beeb was in its inclusion of figures and spokesmen for the right on its news shows and panels. Its newsroom is stacked full of Conservatives, like Nick Robinson, and Fiona Bruce and her producers on Question Time scarcely hide their right-wing bias. And the Beeb is still under investigation for the massive bias in its Panorama documentary on anti-Semitism in the Labour party.

The lobby system is a major part of the problem, but not the whole. The whole journalistic system and its cosy relationship with right-wing politicians is rotten, and needs to be overturned. And the Beeb is very much part of it.

Labour Promises State Pharmaceutical Company to Guarantee Affordable Drugs

This is really going to drive the Tories and the private healthcare companies that are funding them and dictating policy on the NHS up the wall. According to today’s I for 25th September 2019, Jeremy Corbyn has declared that Labour would set up a state-owned pharmaceutical company to make sure everyone had access to affordable medicines. It’s discussed in the article ‘Corbyn vows to ‘put power back into the hands of the people’ by Nigel Morris on page 17. The article states

Jeremy Corbyn announced that Labour would would set up a state-owned pharmaceutical company to provide cheaper life-saving medicines to all patients regardless of their wealth.

Insisting that the “tide is turning” against the Conservatives, he urged activists to prepare for an election victory that would “put the power back into the hands of the people.”

The Labour leader, whose address was brought forward 24 hours following the Supreme Court judgment on the Prime Minister’s decision to close parliament, won cheers as he denounced pharmaceutical companies which deny vital medicines to ill patients by charging extortionate prices.

And he promised that Labour would redesign the system to “serve public health, not private health” by ensuring all patients had access to generic versions of patented medicines.

Mr Corbyn cited the case of nine-year old with cystic fibrosis, Luis Walker, who is denied the drug he needs because its manufacturer refuses to provide it at a modest price. “Luis, and tens of thousands of others suffering from illnesses like cystic fibrosis, hepatitis C and breast cancer, are being denied life-saving medicines by a system that puts profits for share-holders before people’s lives,” he said.

This is excellent, but it’s really going to rile Trump and his attempts to get his hand on Britain’s NHS. The exorbitant prices charged by the pharmaceutical industry is a continuing scandal in America. A few years ago, Martin Shkreli, the head of one of the American drug companies, found himself vilified when it was revealed that under him his company and massively increased a drug used to treat AIDS to several hundred dollars per tablet from only a couple of dollars. The reason? He didn’t want it bought by poor Indians. The American private healthcare system is such an expensive sham that one of the campaign groups put a video about it up on YouTube, narrated by Stephen Fry. This opened by revealing that in America, simply calling an ambulance can get you charged $200 +. The whole point of the video was to warn people about the dangers to the NHS posed by the Fuhrage and the Brexit party. Farage is in favour of introducing private healthcare, like America. And Trump wants to get his mitts on the NHS. One of the things that annoys him about the NHS, quite apart from the fact that it’s supposed to provide free healthcare, is that it also acts at the moment to stop the American pharmaceutical companies charging what they like. Farage, of course, isn’t the only right-winger to hate the NHS. So do the Tories and the Blairites. They’re just quieter about it.

The only people you can trust with the NHS is Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

The article also mentioned some of the other policies Labour were putting forward, stating that Corbyn had received standing ovation after standing ovation for them. In the words of the article, Corbyn

vowed to repeal Thatcherite trade union legislation, introduce a £10 an hour living wage, nationalise railways, mail, water and the National Grid, and trigger a “record investment blitz ” in the UK’s infrastructure.

The Labour leader denounced Boris Johnson as part of “an elite that disdains democracy” who was not fit to be in Downing Street and demanded his resignation.

All absolute correct. And you can see how much the Tories disdain democracy by the frenzied denunciations of the 11 Supreme Court judges by the Tory press. Who really can’t stand the fact that we live in a constitutional country, governed by the rule of law, rather than the arbitrary whim of an unelected populist leader. Like Putin. Or Boris as he’d like to be.

We definitely need Corbyn to be put in No. 10. The health of our people, and the prosperity of our country, and the security of our democracy absolutely depends on it.

 

The Tories and Blairites Cannot Be Trusted to Defend the NHS from Trump

Last week the orange generalissimo managed to cause massive offence and outrage on his state visit here. And it wasn’t just for merely being present, although that was certainly a major factor in the protests his visit provoked. No, Trump and his spokesman were touting for a trade deal with Britain after Brexit. And he demanded that ‘everything should be on the table’, including healthcare.

Which means the NHS.

MPs from all sides of the House immediately swung into action to condemn the Fascist cheeto’s demands that the NHS should be opened up to private American healthcare companies. There were a string of high profile Tory MPs, including former health secretary Andrew Lansley, loudly denouncing Trump’s demand, and stating that they weren’t going to include the NHS as part of the Brexit deal and were going to defend this most precious of British institutions. Lansley in particular was scathing about Trump’s opposition to the way the NHS controlled drug prices. He was afraid that if Trump has his way, this would be discarded to allow predatory American pharmaceutical companies to charge excessive and unaffordable prices for needed drugs.

He’s absolutely right.

One of the current scandals with the American private, insurance-driven healthcare system is that the drug companies can and do charge whatever they like for their products, which means that these are often beyond the ability of ordinary Americans to afford. I’ve blogged on here about a piece from The Young Turks about how Americans are hoarding drugs or buying those intended for animals from vets because they can’t afford them. And the worst example of a drug company actually raising prices is the case of Martin Shkreli. When he took over one company, he raised the price of an anti-AIDS drug to well over $300 a pill. He said he only wanted rich Americans to be able to use it, not poor Indians. He was rightly massively vilified for his gross racism and profiteering, but continued to defend himself, as he really couldn’t see that he had done anything wrong.

But while it’s heartening to see all these politicians stand up to defend the health service, I don’t believe them. With one exception, of course: Jeremy Corbyn. The Tories and the Blairites simply can’t be trusted to defend the NHS because they haven’t done it up to now. Indeed, they’ve done the exact opposite, all the while denying it.

Remember how Maggie Thatcher loudly declared that the NHS was ‘safe with us’, and she would keep her wretched claws off it. She even put it in her memoirs, denouncing the claims of the Labour party that she was planning to privatise the health service as lies. But she herself was lying. Cabinet minutes released a couple of years ago showed that she very much wanted to privatise the NHS. She was only stopped because of a massive cabinet revolt and the fact that her Personal Private Secretary, Patrick Jenkin, had visited the US and had seen personally what a travesty American private healthcare was.

So she satisfied herself with cutting its budget and trying to encourage Brits to take out private health insurance instead. She was aiming for about 11 per cent of the British population to take out such insurance.

She was followed by John Major, whose health secretary Peter Lilley was, I believe, one of the others who attacked Trump’s demand for a slice of NHS action. But Lilley was responsible for the Private Finance Initiative, under which private firms were to be allowed to bid for NHS contracts and building and running hospitals in partnership with the government. It was deliberately introduced with the intention of opening up the health service to private healthcare companies. And Lilley was advised in his health policies by John Lo Casio of the American private health insurance fraudster, Unum.

Well, the government changed with Labour’s 1997 electoral victory, but the Thatcherite privatisation of the NHS remained on course. Blair was an unashamed Thatcherite, and she had reciprocated his feelings by calling him and New Labour her greatest achievement. Blair also took over Lo Casio and Unum as his advisers on health policy, and continued the stealth privatisation of the NHS. The Community Care Groups of GPs he set up to contract in healthcare services were given the power to purchase it from the private sector and to raise funding privately themselves. The health centres and polyclinics he set up were to be run by private healthcare firms, like Circle Health, BUPA and Beardie Branson’s Virgin Health. NHS contracts, including out of hours services in many regions were privatised and the contracts awarded to private healthcare firms.

And yes, American healthcare firms were among them. Private Eye reported how Blair was surrounded by American public sector contractors, all lobbying for their share of British state business. Like the private American prison company, Wackenhut. And this included private healthcare companies. Blair was particularly impressed by the private American healthcare provider, Keyserpermanente, which he thought provided better value for money than the traditional NHS structure. It doesn’t, but that was ignored, and the American company provided the model for his NHS reforms. His health secretary, Alan Milburn, wanted the NHS to become nothing but a kitemark for services provided by private companies.

And this continued under David Cameron and Tweezer. Despite the loud shouts by Lansley and Jeremy Hunt that they ‘treasure’ the NHS, both of them preferred private healthcare and previously stated that they wanted the NHS effectively abolished and the lines blurred between state and private provision. There’s also a solid block of Tory politicians that would like the NHS sold off completely. Like the Devon Tory MEP, Daniel Hannan, dubbed by Guy Debord’s Cat ‘the Lyin’ King’ because of his gross mendacity. The majority of NHS contracts are being awarded to private healthcare firms, rather than kept in-house, and they have been angling to win the contracts for whole regions. Which brings the complete privatisation of the NHS even closer.

Andrew Lansley’s convoluted Health and Social Care Act of 2012 also enabled its privatisation by removing the obligation of the health secretary to provide healthcare to everyone in the UK, which had been a statutory requirement since the founding of the NHS in 1948. The Tories have also consistently voted to introduce charges for certain NHS services. Mike over at Vox Political has frequently given the voting record of some of the worst Tories, who have not only done this, but also supported other attacks on the poor like cutting welfare services, raising tuition fees and supporting the bedroom tax.

And I don’t trust the Lib Dems either. They went into coalition with the Tories and did absolutely nothing as their partners in government continued to attack the welfare state and the NHS. Indeed some of them, like the former MP for Taunton Dean, strongly supported it.

I have to say that I think that the outrage from the Tories at Trump’s demands is largely hypocritical. They’d very much like to make a deal with Trump, that includes the NHS along with other essential services that should only be run by the state. But, as with the cabinet revolt against Thatcher, they’re afraid that if they agree, they will be voted out in a devastating landslide, possibly never to get back into power.

The only person, who can be trusted to defend the NHS and keep it safe from Trump and the other privatisers, is Jeremy Corbyn.

Don’t trust the Tories. They still want to and  are privatising the NHS. Nor the Lib Dems or ‘Centrist’ Labour, who are exactly the same. The only real hope of defending and reviving the NHS is with Corbyn and the victory of a genuine, socialist Labour party at the next election. 

Australian ‘Charity’ Fined Record $1.5 Million

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