Theresa May’s Conservative government spent £2.25 million of our money funding a “fake news” campaign to undermine the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn – after claiming it was clamping down on fake news.
We’ve just spent months debating whether Mrs May’s handling of Brexit is acceptable but now it should be clear that the only thing she should be allowed to handle in the future is prison food.
Misuse of public funds is an offence.
The so-called Institute of Statecraft – based in an old Victorian mill in Fife, Scotland – runs a programme called the Integrity Initiative using military intelligence specialists and £2.25 million of our cash to post false information on the social media about Mr Corbyn and Labour.
According to the Daily Record, “The ‘think tank’ is supposed to counter Russian online propaganda by forming ‘clusters’ of friendly journalists and ‘key influencers’ throughout Europe who use social media to hit back against disinformation.”
But it seems clear the organisation used the money handed to it by the Foreign Office for party political purposes: “One tweet quotes a newspaper article calling Corbyn a ‘useful idiot’, that goes on to state: His open visceral anti-Westernism helped the Kremlin cause, as surely as if he had been secretly peddling Westminster tittle-tattle for money.’
“Another added: ‘It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem.’ A further message refers to an ‘alleged British Corbyn supporter’ who ‘wants to vote for Putin’.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry wants to know exactly what has been going on. She said: “It is one of the cardinal rules of British public life that official resources should not be used for party political purposes.
“So it is simply outrageous that the clearly mis-named ‘Integrity Initiative’ – funded by the Foreign Office to the tune of £2.25 million over the past two years – has routinely been using its Twitter feed to disseminate personal attacks and smears against the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour Party and Labour officials.
“And this cannot be dismissed as something outside the Government’s control, given the application for funding agreed by the Foreign Office last year stated explicitly that it would be used in part to expand ‘the impact of the Integrity Initiative website…and Twitter/social media accounts’.
“So the Government must now answer the following questions: Why did the Foreign Office allow public money to be spent on attempting to discredit Her Majesty’s Opposition? Did they know this was happening? If not, why not? And if they did, how on earth can they justify it?”
Labour MP Chris Williamson had tabled a Parliamentary question about the Institute for Statecraft, and received the following answer from FCO minister Alan Duncan: “The Institute for Statecraft is an independent, Scottish, charitable body whose work seeks to improve governance and enhance national security. They launched the Integrity Initiative in 2015 to defend democracy against disinformation.
“In financial year 2017/18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500. This financial year, the FCO is funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.”
Clearly, this answer is untrue. If the “Integrity Initiative” was intended “to defend democracy against disinformation”, then it had no business posting disinformation to the social media (in fact, nobody has any business posting disinformation to the social media).
An angry Mr Williamson, after the current revelations were published, said the Tories were “using public money to subvert democracy”.
Bizarrely, it is less than a year since Theresa May announced the creation of a “rapid response social media capability” intended to respond to the scourge of fake news, based in the Cabinet Office.
At the time, I wrote: “This is not an attempt to ensure a ‘fact-based public debate’. It is a bid to hijack the news and turn it into Tory propaganda.”
It seems I was right – they’ve just outsourced that function.
The Twitterati have, of course, been abuzz – and who can blame them?
Nothing to see here: just a government that set up a committee to look into infowars-style fake news funding infowars-style fake news on the opposition. https://t.co/jwpHGvpzIO
— David Schneider (@davidschneider) December 9, 2018
Here’s a very good point:
If the @InitIntegrity has a list of influencers/journalists it uses for taxpayer funded attacks on the leader of the opposition then that should be made public as a matter of critical importance.
— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) December 9, 2018
This is quite right – it would be a list of people who peddle fake news that would be invaluable to those of us who want to stamp it out, although I think it would be better to hand it over to proper investigators, rather than the Cabinet Office organisation, in whatever form it currently takes.
For those of you who may have been convinced that Mr Corbyn really was a Russian puppet, here’s a quick response:
Of course, senior members of the Labour Party are incandescent with rage:
If this is true this is an outrageous abuse of government powers and resources. We need an urgent statement from the government and an independent inquiry. https://t.co/TDb2n64myf
— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) December 9, 2018
The information contained in this leak seriously challenges our democracy and needs a full & open investigation. It stinks! https://t.co/c7mNqNEZP7
— 🌈 Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) December 9, 2018
But there is another level to this – the lack of interest exhibited by the mainstream media. This story has been in two Scottish newspapers – the Sunday Mail and the Daily Record – and on a few social media sites like Vox Political. And that’s all. It is a huge story as it involves the misuse of public funds for party political purposes.
Why are the newspapers and broadcasters not covering it (as if we didn’t know the answer already)?
I honestly thought this was a joke at first. But then you realise the Conservative Government are paying military intelligence specialists to smear the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. This is quite a story. https://t.co/ntg8lz019D
— Rachael Swindon (@Rachael_Swindon) December 9, 2018
Of course there was always suspicions of this, but to have it confirmed is sickening. £2m of taxpayer's money used to fund covert attacks against Corbyn and the Labour party. Yet more weight to bring this dreadful Govt down. https://t.co/uaUDL7ZdK6
— Matt Thomas #GrassrootsVoice (@Trickyjabs) December 9, 2018
Government linked to state-funded political attacks on HM’s Opposition is not something the British media can ignore, yet they are trying their best. We are in strange political times, but surely we can still expect democracy to be defended. https://t.co/fkwym3BGRU
— Dan Carden MP (@DanCardenMP) December 9, 2018
Yes, we should expect democracy to be defended.
Just not by right-wingers like those running the BBC and most of the print news media – or by our democratically-elected government.
Yet this is the government that wants to push us all through Brexit, in the name of democracy.
It doesn’t stack up. We need an election to get the Tories out of office, and then a police investigation to find out who authorised the Foreign Office to fund this offence.
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