Saturday, 4 November 2017

Brexit: and Exeter's MP asking for scrutiny

The MP for Exeter is not a fan of Brexit:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and making bold predictions from Exeter

Ben Bradshaw has been calling for official investigations to be made over any subterfuge in the lead up to the Brexit vote:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and the use of data analytics
Futures Forum: Big data and big lies...
Futures Forum: Fake news, the UK general election and local news

Matters are widening to asking how any of this might have been financed - and to what extent there might have been 'collusion' going on...

From last week's FT:

DUP accused of taking illegal donation ahead of Brexit:
Labour MP calls on Electoral Commission to investigate source of money

OCTOBER 19, 2017

by Robert Wright, Political Correspondent

The Democratic Unionist party received an illegal donation ahead of last year’s Brexit referendum, a Labour MP has claimed, asking the government to look into “worrying reports” of dark money in politics.

Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, asked Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons, to examine the reports on the Open Democracy website to “reassure the country” that all the money spent in the referendum campaign came from permissible sources.

The Electoral Commission said in August it had investigated a “regulated entity” over failures to comply with election law and fined the entity £6,000. Further information was withheld under provisions of election law dating back to Northern Ireland’s Troubles that allow details of political donations in the province to be kept secret.

Mr Bradshaw’s question in the House referred to claims that the fine related to a substantial donation made to the DUP ahead of the Brexit referendum campaign. As well as referring to the DUP story, Mr Bradshaw also pointed to a report on the website examining the wealth of Arron Banks, the entrepreneur who funded the Leave.EU campaign in the Brexit referendum.

Mrs Leadsom said Mr Bradshaw had raised an “incredibly important point. I absolutely share his concern that we need to make sure that all donations are indeed permissible and legal,” she said.

Mrs Leadsom recommended that any specific information should be reported to the commission, the UK’s elections regulator, to “ensure that any wrongdoing is caught”.

Any new allegations of impropriety surrounding the DUP will be embarrassing for the government. A deal with the Northern Irish party’s 10 MPs to support the government in key votes has kept the Conservatives in power since they lost their parliamentary majority in June’s general election.

The reference to Mr Banks, whom Mr Bradshaw described as the “main financial backer of Leave”, concerned questions about how Mr Banks accumulated the funds he spent during the referendum. Mr Banks backed Leave.EU, the smaller of the two big campaign groups that successfully argued for a vote to quit the EU.

“Given the widespread concern over foreign and particularly Russian interference in western democracies, will she assure this House that the government and Electoral Commission will examine these reports and reassure the country that all the resources spent in the Referendum campaign were from permissible sources?” Mr Bradshaw asked Mrs Leadsom.

Neither the commission nor the DUP immediately responded to requests to comment on Mr Bradshaw’s question.

Mr Banks responded to a texted question about whether he had seen the question from Mr Bradshaw, who backed Remain, by replying: “Yes. Sore loser.”

The commission has investigated a series of allegations around spending on the EU referendum and issued some fines. But there continue to be so far unsubstantiated claims that some Leave groups spent more than permitted or otherwise breached donation and spending rules.

DUP accused of taking illegal donation ahead of Brexit - Financial Times 

From Business Insider:

A senior Labour MP wants a Trump-style independent inquiry into whether Russia meddled in Brexit

Jake Kanter Oct. 25, 2017

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw. Getty

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw wants a judge-led inquiry into whether Russia meddled in Brexit and the 2017 general election. 
Bradshaw said the government's approach to the question of Russian interference has been "stonewalling and obfuscation." He and other MPs plan to lobby Prime Minister Theresa May for an investigation over the coming months.

LONDON — A veteran Labour MP has demanded that the government open a judge-led inquiry into the possibility that Russia interfered in the EU referendum last year.

Ben Bradshaw, who was culture secretary in Gordon Brown's Labour government and campaigned to remain in Europe, said there is mounting evidence that Vladimir Putin's regime has "actively and deliberately" attempted to subvert democratic votes around the world.

He urged the UK government to treat the issue as seriously as the US, where former FBI director Robert Mueller is investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 elections and whether President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

Speaking to Business Insider, Bradshaw said: "We need the government to wake up to this. All we have had, up to this point, is stonewalling and obfuscation. There now needs to be a full government investigation into all aspects of [Russian] subversion. It should include concerns about the hybrid social media warfare, including paid-for Facebook adverts and fake Twitter accounts used as bots, as well as an investigation into impermissible donations."

Last week, Bradshaw said specific attention should be paid to the "dark money" used to fund the Leave.EU campaign. Leave.EU and other anti-EU ventures were financed to the tune of £9 million ($11 million) by UKIP donor Arron Banks. Leave.EU did not immediately respond to BI's request for comment.

Bradshaw said any government investigation should be led by an independent judge, who must have the power to subpoena documents. The Labour for Exeter added that he and other MPs plan to actively lobby the government to open the inquiry over the coming months.

Putting pressure on Theresa May

"We're applying pressure all the time," said Bradshaw, pointing to a question he put to Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this week. On Monday, Bradshaw asked if Mueller has requested help from Britain with his investigation. May did not address the question directly.

Labour MP Barry Sheerman also asked whether the Kremlin was discussed at last week's European Council meeting, given how "pleased the Russians are about Brexit and instability across Europe."

May said Russia was not discussed last week, but admitted that the country has been culpable of democratic interference. "The Russians have indulged in disruptive activity, not just the illegal annexation of Crimea, but also the actions it has taken to interfere in democratic elections in a number of countries. This is a subject that I am sure the Council will return to," the prime minister said.

Bradshaw's concerns were also put to the PM's spokesman this week, who said the "UK democratic system is amongst one of the most secure in the world and will continue to be so," according to Reuters.

Bradshaw said the government's reluctance engage with the issue comes back to two reasons: "It doesn't want to undermine the referendum result or embarrass Donald Trump and jeopardise a post-Brexit trade deal."

MPs demand evidence from Facebook

He was, however, encouraged to see that the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee wrote to Facebook this week demanding it reveals any evidence it holds that Russia tried to influence the Brexit vote and this year's election. Bradshaw expects the Intelligence and Security Committee and National Security Strategy Committee to ask similar questions.

Away from Facebook, the University of Oxford's Oxford Internet Institute analysed 1.5 million tweets from highly automated accounts, or bots, over a week in June 2016 in the run-up to the EU referendum. It found 54% were pro-Leave, while 20% were pro-Remain. The rest were neutral.

Samuel Woolley, who helped oversee the research, said the accounts were "megaphoning" anti-EU content. He told BI that it was difficult to assess who was behind the automated accounts, but admitted that Russia has got form in using Twitter bots to manipulate public opinion. "Russia has an incredibly sophisticated propaganda apparatus and a lot of the tactics in bot deployment that we see worldwide have come from Russia," he said.

SEE ALSO: Labour MPs think the government is hiding info about Russia interfering with Brexit

Ben Bradshaw calls for judge-led inquiry on Russia's role in Brexit - Business Insider 

Finally, from yesterday's Vanity Fair:

The rot in Westminster goes beyond sexual harassment, to other forms of subversion that have yet to be exposed.


As the Trump-Russia affair overwhelms the grosser Weinstein scandal in the United States, exactly the opposite is happening in Britain, where a spreadsheet detailing sexual misconduct by Conservative members of Parliament caused the resignation of the defense secretary yesterday but eclipsed allegations that dark money from Russia was involved in manipulating the Brexit vote last year.

As yet, there is no competition between the two scandals, because the abuse revelations constitute a crisis for a government already paralyzed by the Brexit negotiations. The unsubstantiated sex dossier, or “spreadsheet of shame” as the tabloids call it, has not yet been published in full because of Britain’s libel laws. However, other ministers are expected to follow Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who has admitted acting inappropriately on at least one occasion—a hand on the knee of conservative commentator Julia Hartley-Brewer years ago. Damian Green, the first secretary of state and effectively Prime Minister Theresa May’s deputy, is fighting for his political life after a separate accusation that he made sexual advances towards a young Tory activist, which he furiously denies.

If May loses Green, a close ally since they worked together at the Home Office, she could find that her premiership becomes unworkable. She looked very weak in Parliament yesterday when confronted by the talented, young Labour MP Lisa Nandy, who disclosed that three times in the past she had personally warned May that party whips, rather than investigating sexual abuse, were using the allegations to threaten miscreant MPs, a claim which visibly shook the prime minister. It was plain to the House that she had done nothing, and that she was to some degree complicit in covering up the abuse by male colleagues. (May said that she would review the allegation, and sexual harassment claims should be brought to the police, not party whips.)

The tabloids are in full cry, and there may be more revelations over the weekend. While it was always said that Labour party members were likelier to succumb to financial misconduct and the Tories more prone to sex scandals, it seems unlikely that the Labour opposition will be completely unscathed by the developments over the next few days—indeed, Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins was suspended from the party yesterday. What this scandal has done, apart from signal a very big change in the power relationships between men and women in U.K. public life, is deliver another shock to the British polity.

Whatever the grim necessity of these revelations, they contribute to a sense of decline and institutional failure, and thus to an increasingly dangerous lack of trust. But the rot in Westminster goes beyond alleged sexual harassment, to other forms of subversion that have yet to be exposed. As May prepared to go to the House of Commons for the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions, there was a very significant development in the continuing but almost unnoticed investigations by a handful of journalists—most operating outside the mainstream media—into the financing of the Vote Leave campaign in 2016. After inquiries led by the independent media outlet OpenDemocracy, Britain’s Electoral Commission announced an investigation to see whether an insurance entrepreneur named Arron Banks broke the law by allegedly channeling $11 million in loans and gifts to a campaign for the U.K. to leave the E.U. (Banks, in response, tweeted, “Gosh I’m terrified.”)

The source of the money is somewhat of a mystery. OpenDemocracy, led by editor Mary Fitzgerald, carried out an analysis by Iain Campbell and Alistair Sloan of Banks’s financial affairs that allegedly showed he was not nearly as rich as he claimed, and suggested the $11 million came from elsewhere. Some suspect the source is Russia, whose dark money has allegedly been used to fund operations of destabilization across Western democracies. While Labour MPs Chris Bryant and Ben Bradshaw have consistently promoted the need for scrutiny on this and other possible Russian influence, Banks mocked the idea. “Allegations of Brexit being funded by the Russians . . . are complete bollocks from beginning to end,” he said. Meanwhile, his representatives tried to menace OpenDemocracy. “Make sure you get it right—it’s clearly a political hatchet job and our lawyers will take action if you get one bit wrong,” read a recent e-mail to Fitzgerald.

The Russian ambassador to Britain, Alexander Yakovenko, was quoted on the Russia Today site as saying the story was “outright insulting for the British government and the British people,” which is not, if you read it carefully, a categorical denial.

There are two other big concerns about the influences on the Brexit vote, which are equally important yet still ignored by the largely Brexit-supporting press and—more shockingly—by the BBC. In this respect, Britain differs radically from the United States, where media and institutions have taken seriously their duty to hold the Trump administration to account on possible Russian involvement in the presidential election a year ago. In the U.K., there is a kind of chill that surrounds the subject of the E.U. referendum—anyone who dares to doubt that the result was purely the “people’s will” is ignored.

The first area of doubt concerns a donation of $574,000 to the leave campaign from the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, which now props up the May government in Parliament. As OpenDemocracy has revealed, the money was channeled through a secretive group called the Constitutional Research Council (C.R.C.). Because Northern Ireland has special rules to allow donations to be made anonymously, it is impossible to discover whether the money comes from a legitimate source, as defined by British electoral law. But a hint of something unorthodox came when the Electoral Commission levied a fine of $8,000 in connection with C.R.C.’s activities.

The more worrying development, which Britain shares with the United States, is the use of big data and voter targeting on social media by the far right, which is now believed to have been very influential in the Brexit referendum. Where to draw the line between the activities of the Russians and the far right is difficult because their interests and methods overlap. However, a recent academic study has shown that a network of Twitter bots comprising 13,493 accounts tweeted on the E.U. referendum, only to vanish the day after the vote. It is hard to know whether these were controlled by Russia or the far right. “Putin’s agents tried to influence the U.S. election,” E.U. chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted this week. “We need to know if they interfered in the #Brexit vote too.” (If you want a very full explanation of this new peril, it is worth reading the research in full.)

Carole Cadwalladr, a freelance journalist who has pioneered the investigation for the Observer into the use of big data and social media in elections, principally by the British-based company Cambridge Analytica, which is partly owned by billionaire Trump supporter Robert Mercer, summed up the inadequacies of the British scrutiny at a recent meeting. “This is being taken very seriously in America. There are something like 17 agencies looking at this and the F.B.I. investigation is coming down with a lot of focus on what happened with the data. These are all live questions that are being investigated right now in America, but they are not being investigated in Britain. It is a bizarre, weird absence that we in the U.K. do seem to be in denial about the fact that our democracy may have been subverted by outside actors and billionaires and potentially foreign nations.”

For the last year, Cadwalladr—who tells me that she was probably thought of “some kind of crazy woman in a basement”—has been trying to draw together the dizzyingly complicated relationships between the British right, as represented by former leader of U.K.I.P. Nigel Farage; Mercer’s Cambridge Analytica; the firm’s former vice president, Steve Bannon; and WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange, who appears to be close to Farage and thus to the rest of the gang. She recently wrote in the Observer, “Try to follow this on a daily basis and it’s one long headspin: a spider’s web of relationships and networks of power and patronage and alliances that spans the Atlantic and embraces data firms, think tanks, and media outlets.”

What is clear is that Britain, in its weakened state, does not have the will or the wherewithal to deal with this widening scandal. Like the “sex dossier” allegations, it all comes down to the abuse of power. It is worth mentioning that apart from the reporters working for OpenDemocracy, Adam Ramsay and Peter Geoghegan, the two individuals pushing this important work, of holding powerful men to account, are women.

Britain’s “Sex Dossier” Has Eclipsed an Even Darker Scandal | Vanity Fair

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