“Votes for Brexit and for Mr Trump were often cast as an expression of anger at a system that seems rigged. Unless policymakers grapple seriously with the problem of regional inequality, the fury of those voters will only increase.”
The Economist, 21 October 2017 (1)
The massive disparity between the rich and the poor in the UK, as so clearly demonstrated by this shameful chart, is partly driven by the mechanisms of globalisation. When countries with lots of low-wage workers begin trading with richer economies, pay for similarly skilled workers converges. Those in poor economies grow richer while in rich countries workers get poorer.
The forces that drive regional disparities are built into the mechanisms of globalisation, which makes them hard to resist, but even if globalisation were to stop in its tracks, the regions it has weakened, such as the UK, would not magically improve.
Votes for Brexit (and for Trump) may be seen as an expression of anger at a system that seems rigged against the poor. Unless policymakers grapple seriously with this problem of inequality, the fury of those voters will only increase.
According to Oxfam, Britain is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world and this contributed to the vote for Brexit. (2) The forces of globalisation driving such inequality will not be reduced by Brexit, if anything they will be multiplied. Brexit will not resolve inequality in the UK. Only sustained, coherent action by governments can address the genuine grievances of so many and Brexit is a hugely damaging distraction that simply compounds the problems and delays solutions.
Accepting the referendum results as ‘the will of the people’ is like accepting a miscarriage of justice when we know the accused is innocent, the prosecution lied to the jury, and the defence were asleep throughout the trial. Just because the jury found the accused guilty by a split majority does not make it the correct verdict or one that should be accepted.
The argument that the referendum result demonstrates the ‘will of the people’ does not stand up to scrutiny: 63% of the electorate did NOT vote to leave the EU (1); 16-18 year olds, those most affected by the referendum, and UK citizens living abroad were disenfranchised; the campaign was rife with lies and misinformation; the electorate certainly were not asked, and did not vote, to leave the single market or customs union.
Sixteen to eighteen year olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum on the basis that they are the people who would have to live longest with the consequences of the referendum decision. In June 2015, the Scottish Parliament also raised the voting age to 16 for Scottish Parliament elections and Scottish local government elections. So why have we taken away from young people the future they were promised without allowing them a say?
There is also a ridiculous view currently being promulgated by David Davis, Brexit Secretary, and others, that at least 80 per cent of Britons voted for Brexit. (4) This is nonsense. The false logic they are applying is that eighty percent of people voted for pro-Brexit parties in the recent general election and therefore must support Brexit. This is clearly untrue as, for example, many people voted for Labour because of their anti-austerity position, not because they supported the triggering of Article 50.As pointed out by the fact checking platform The Ferret, David Davis’ attempt to use this an endorsement of the government’s Brexit position is misleading. (5)
The reality is that only 34.71% of the electorate voted to leave the EU and this percentage would have been much smaller had 16-18 year olds been allowed to vote. It is ridiculous that such a fundamental change to our future has such little support from the country.
It is also interesting that there is a strong correlation between level of eduction, and voting preference, with better educated voters strongly voting to remain.
So generally, the younger, better educated voters favoured remain, while older, less educated voters favoured leave.
This was a hugely divisive referendum cutting across part lines, age, and education and to claim that Brexit is the will of the people is undemocratic and is simply untrue. Recall that in May 2016, prior to the referendum, the prominent leave campaigner Nigel Farrage said:
“…in a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way.”
Well that’s exactly what we got, although not the way around that he was expecting.
As a society we do not accept miscarriages of justice where innocent people are locked up due to a flawed trial. Likewise, we cannot accept the results of a hugely flawed, advisory referendum, that will do untold damage to our country and the future of younger generations.
On 3rd June 2015 the government published a briefing paper explaining the EU Referendum. This paper made it clear that the EU referendum would be advisory only and non-binding on Parliament and government.
“This Bill requires a referendum to be held on the question of the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) before the end of
2017. It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to
implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented…”
Briefing Paper 07212, European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16 (1)
It was accordingly for Parliament to debate the outcome of the referendum and decide what to do in the best interests of the country. Parliament was not bound by the results in any way and, given the very close result (and the fact than only 37% of a unnecessarily restricted electorate voted to leave the EU) Parliament had a duty to debate the outcome before deciding on its EU policy. Parliament has never debated the outcome of the referendum. Why not?
The advisory nature of the referendum was also used as an argument for not needing a super-majority in the referendum (where a majority of say 66% would be required in order to make such a major change to our nation). Most democratic nations would require a super-majority in order to change their constitution so why not the UK on such a fundamental decision .
It is a travesty that we now have the results of a split vote in the advisory referendum being quoted by the Government as “the will of the people” that must be implemented without any parliamentary debate.
It’s undemocratic EU bureaucrats telling us what to do
How many times have we heard this? From tabloid media to politicians, we have heard them all using this as a lazy excuse for our own policy failings. Instead of understanding the real underlying problems and developing policy options to address them, our politicians have for decades simply blamed faceless EU bureaucrats. It’s no wonder so many people have a negative view of the EU. And where have our politicians been in explaining all of the enormous benefits of being in the world’s biggest single market?
There are two parts to this claim: that the EU is undemocratic and that unelected bureaucrats set EU regulations and tell us in the UK what to do. Let’s take a look at these claims.
How does EU regulation come about?
The European Council
EU regulation does not appear in isolation. The European Council comprised of the heads of state/government of the member states sets EU policy and is the highest political body in the EU. The current president of the European Council is Donald Tusk. So the European Council, with our Prime Minister as one of its 28 members sets the strategic framework in which everything else in the EU operates.
Within this framework citizens of member states can ask for specific new laws to be considered by the EU, through a European Citizens’ Initiative. Where the policy agenda set by the European Council requires new regulation, the European Commission is responsible for developing appropriate draft regulations.
The European Commission
The European Commission is the executive arm of the EU, rather like the Civil Service of the EU. Each member state, including the UK, appoints one of the Commissioners who are responsible for drafting all law of the EU and for proposing new law (bills) in support of the strategy agreed by the European Council. The current UK Commissioner is Julian King, a former UK ambassador to France and politically neutral. All Commissioners are required to be independent of national interests. They are also responsible for day to day running of the EU and upholding its laws and treaties.
The Commission is led by the president (currently Jean-Claude Juncker) who is nominated by the European Council and approved by the European Parliament. The remaining 27 commissioners are nominated by member states, in consultation with the president, and have portfolios assigned by the president. The European Council has to agree the list of nominee commissioners and the European Parliament then interviews and casts its vote upon the commissioners before they can take office.
As an institution, the European Commission relies on the work of about 33,000 officials, staff, and special advisers. Before you jump to the conclusion that this is a huge, unnecessary bureaucracy please remember that the UK has more than 400,000 civil servants, according to 2015 figures from the Office for National Statistics. So the UK, on its own has 12 times the number of civil servants than the whole of the EU.
So the European Council (including the UK Prime Minister) sets the strategic direction for the EU. Any required regulation to support that strategy, or requested by EU citizens, is drafted by the European Commission (the EU Civil Service, including one Commissioner nominated by the UK). Then what? All proposed regulation is reviewed by both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and can be amended by both before it is either adopted or rejected (11).
The European Parliament has 751 members directly elected by EU voters every 5 years by proportional representation and representing nearly 500 million citizens. It is the only directly elected body in the EU and shares budgetary and legislative authority with the Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers). The UK has 73 elected MEPs (7) with the next election in 2019. The UK is divided into 12 electoral regions, each region has between 3 and
10 MEPs and each MEP in a region represents every person living there.
In the last European election in 2014 UKIP came out top with 24 MEPS, Labour second with 20 seats, Conservatives third with 19 seats, Greens 3, SNP 2, Lib Dems 1, others 4 (8).
Council of the European Union (The Council/Council of Ministers)
The Council of the European Union (often called the Council of Ministers) is composed of 28 national ministers (one per state). The ministers attending vary depending on the topic being discussed. The 28 ministers represent their governments and are accountable to their national political systems. It is the main decision making body of the EU holding legislative and limited executive powers. It’s presidency rotates every 6 months (with every 3 presidencies cooperating on a common programme). Votes are taken by majority or unanimity with votes allocated according to population. They share legislative and budgetary power with the European Parliament and lead on common foreign and security policy.
This is separate from the European Council.
Working together these institutions ensure that EU regulation only exists within a strategic framework agreed in the European Council (including the UK Prime Minister), is drafted by a professional civil service (the European Commission, including a nominated UK Commissioner), is debated, amended and agreed or rejected by the directly elected European Parliament including 73 directly elected UK MEPs, and debated, amended and agreed or rejected by the Council of Ministers (including the appropriate UK minister or prime minister). National parliaments also now have the power to consider and to challenge any EU laws that they think should be made at a national rather than an EU level (13).
This does not sound like faceless bureaucrats telling us what to do!
There are also two supporting institutions that exist to ensure fair play between member states and that tax payers money is being well spent.
Court of Justice of the European Union
The Court of Justice of the European Union, located in Luxembourg, is responsible for Ensuring EU law is interpreted and applied the same in every EU country; ensuring countries and EU institutions abide by EU law. It includes one judge from every EU country.
It is NOT the same as The European Court of Human Rights and is NOT responsible for adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Court of Auditors
The European Court of Auditors is an independent institution established to ensure that taxpayer funds from the budget of the European Union have been correctly spent and provide audit reports to the Council and Parliament. The Parliament uses this to decide whether to approve the Commission’s handling of the budget. The Court also gives opinions and proposals on financial legislation and anti-fraud actions. It is composed of one member from each member state appointed by the Council every six years.
There is also a European Central Bank that is the central bank for the eurozone. The UK is outside the eurozone.
So how democratic is it?
There are many ways in which the EU is truly democratic and may be more democratic than the UK. Here in the UK we have an unelected upper chamber (the House of Lords) unlike many countries where the upper chamber is directly elected, and we are not able to directly elect the prime minister, unlike countries where the head of state/president is elected by citizens independently of the ruling party (e.g. the USA and France).
That’s not to say the EU is perfect! Clearly, no democracy could claim perfection, so in what ways could EU democracy be improved?
The EU can be seen as too distant from its citizens and too complicated for the citizens to be sufficiently involved in its decision making. There are actually some very good attempts at addressing this (e.g. 11) but no doubt the EU needs to continually work at improving the way it communicates with citizens through better education, information sharing, engagement, and transparency.
Elections for the European Parliament suffer from a low turnout. In the UK only 35.6% of people voted in the 2014 EU election, so many citizens are not accepting the opportunity (responsibility?) to influence EU decision making. Those who do vote tend to vote more on the basis of their opinions on national issues rather than European issues,. It should be noted that turnout in UK elections generally is a problem not restricted to EU elections. In the 2017 Mayoral elections turnout was as low as 21% (Tees Valley) and the first Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2012 had a turnout of only 14.9% (14). This is something that should concern everyone.
The European Commission is an entirely appointed institution, not directly democratically elected and, some would argue, is too powerful. However, the Commission can only propose EU laws in areas where the UK government and the House of Commons has allowed it to do so. A Commission proposal only becomes law if it is approved by both a qualified-majority in the EU Council (unanimity in many sensitive areas) and a simple majority in the European Parliament. In practice this means that after the amendments adopted by the governments and the MEPs, the legislation usually looks very different to what the Commission originally proposed. In many ways, the way the Commission is chosen is similar to the way the UK government is formed. Neither the British Prime Minister nor the British cabinet are ‘directly elected’. We cannot vote on the choice for the Prime Minister, but rather vote for individual MPs from different parties. Then, by convention, the Queen chooses the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons to form a government. This is rather like the European Council choosing the candidate of the political group with the most seats in the European Parliament to become the Commission President. Then, after the Prime Minister is chosen, he or she is free to choose his or her cabinet ministers. There are no hearings of individual ministerial nominees before committees of the House of Commons, and there is no formal investiture vote in the government as a whole. From this perspective, the Commissioners and the Commission are more scrutinised and more accountable than British cabinet ministers. (3)
You get what you wish for
There is a detailed and complex debate to be had about any potential democratic deficit in the EU and how it might be improved (4, 5 and 6). Indeed it would be childish over simplification to think democracy could not be improved in the EU, and in the UK or any other existing democracy. There is also a real debate to be had about what level of democracy is appropriate for the EU, given it is not a state, and neither is it like any other international organisation such as the UN, NATO, WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc.
However, a strong argument can be made that the EU is at least as democratic as the UK: the UK having a monarch and a partly-hereditary House of Lords would strike some as ‘un-democratic’ in comparison to an elected head of state or upper chamber.
It is also clear that the EU is not able to simply impose its wishes on us in the UK without our consent – we have great power through our MEPs and Commissioners to stop anything we don’t like.
In the last European election in 2014 (8) UKIP came out top with 24 MEPS, Labour second with 20 seats, Conservatives third with 19 seats, Greens 3, SNP 2, Lib Dems 1, and others 4.
UKIP was founded in 1993 to campaign for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (9).
With 24 MEPs out of 73 for the whole of the UK UKIP is the largest group of UK MEPs. So we used our democratic power to elect to represent us in the EU 24 MEPs whose sole policy aim is the destruction of the vary institution we have elected them to. They have, not surprisingly, failed totally in representing UK interests. UKIP MEPs attended the fewest European Parliament votes of any party in the EU’s 28 countries (10). Oh, and the UK as a whole has the worst rates of participation in votes of MEPs of all member states (10). So instead of complaining about the EU and it’s democracy why don’t we elect MEPs who want to actively work to make things better instead of MEPs whose sole purpose is to destroy the EU.
If you still believe that the EU is run by unelected bureaucrats ask yourself the following questions:
Despite what the tabloid media tell you, EU immigrants do not drive up unemployment, drive down wages, sponge off the state, stop us getting houses, cause queues at GP surgeries or damage our culture. The evidence is clear and yet we seem determined to risk the prosperity and development of future generations in order to solve a non-existent problem.
Consistent with our membership of the EU the UK Border Force checks the passport/identity card of every person entering the UK and refuses entry to travellers who do not travel with valid identity documents, even if they are from another EU member state. You might assume, therefore, that we always know who is in the country legally. Unfortunately we don’t. Until 8 April 2015 we did not conduct checks on people leaving the UK (1) and even now, putting together entry and exit checks seems to be beyond our government’s capability.
This means we do not currently have accurate immigration data, EU or non-EU, so all policy decisions are based on estimates (2). Fortunately we have a mass of census data and data collected by the Office for National Statistics that supports detailed research and analysis. What do these data tell us?
They’re taking our jobs and undercutting our wages!
Has EU immigration into the UK been economically harmful to people born in the UK? The simple answer is no. Research indicates that EU immigration has benefited the UK. The research (3), published by the London School of Economics, found:
Jobs: The large increase in immigration in the UK has not significantly harmed the job prospects of UK-born workers.
Wages: Median real wages for those born in the UK were growing from the late 1990s until the global financial crisis. Since then, wages have fallen by about 10%. The cause of the fall of wages is the impact of the Great Recession – not immigration.
It is clear that there is absolutely no statistically significant relationship (negative or positive) of EU immigration on unemployment rates or real wages of those born in the UK.
So why do some people believe that immigration hurts jobs? Think about two local authority areas – dots A and B in Figure 1.
Both have had increases in the EU immigrant share of over 8% – well above the national average. In area A unemployment for the UK-born has risen by over 3%, which is also above the national average. So in area A it feels like immigrants are bad for jobs. However, area B has had a similar increase in immigration rates, while unemployment rates have fallen by 2%. These ‘local’ effects are important as they need to be addressed but they do not detract from the broader conclusion that overall immigration does not hurt jobs.
They’re living on benefits and our public services can’t cope!
Wrong again. In a detailed study in 2014 Dustmann and Frattini (5) found that EU immigrants made a positive fiscal contribution to the country: they paid more in taxes than they received in welfare payments. UK nationals on the other hand received more in benefits than they paid in taxes. This means if we reduced net immigration to zero, as some would like, thus losing the positive fiscal impact of immigration, the UK’s national debt could be 40% higher by 2062 (6).
What about our local services?
The LSE research (3) found:
there is no impact of immigration on crime.
no effect of immigration on aspects of educational attainment and actually some positive effect from Polish children on UK-born pupils. The disadvantage in having English as a second language seems to be outweighed by a stronger immigrant push to work hard at school.
no greater usage of doctors and hospitals by immigrants relative to the UK-born; and little effect on NHS waiting times. These studies do not distinguish between EU and non-EU immigrants, but since EU immigrants are younger than non-EU immigrants, they are less likely to use health services, so the results are actually likely to be stronger.
there is a general perception that immigrants are given better treatment when applying for social housing. This is not true. Controlling for demographic, economic and regional circumstances, immigrant households are less likely to be in social housing than their UK-born counterparts. Lack of access to social housing has more to do with the falling supply of social housing.
the failure to create enough housing supply would be a problem even in the absence of EU immigration. It is rooted in the failure of the UK planning system to make appropriate infrastructure decisions, not immigration . The research evidence also does not show a correlation between immigration and local house prices.
The fact that the government has been cutting back on public services cannot therefore be blamed on immigration. In reality, immigrants are bringing extra resources that could be used to increase spending on local health and education for the rest of us. Rather than causing problems for our public services, immigrants are actually subsidising us to use them. The fact that we have enormous problems in our public services has everything to do with government policy and nothing to do with EU immigration.
But they don’t integrate !
You would think from what many people seem to believe that Britain is a swamp of culture clashes due to EU immigration. This is simply not true. It does take time for immigrants to assimilate but that does not equate to massive problems (7):
Britain is not riven by a large-scale culture clash
The longer immigrants remain in Britain, the more likely they are to think of themselves as British
Immigrants from poorer and less democratic countries assimilate faster into a British identity.
As to speaking English, 13% of the population was born abroad, but only 138,000 people, less than 0.5% of the population, could speak no English at all and in total only 1.6% of residents could speak it not well or not at all (8). These figures people who don’t speak English because they use sign language! The tiny group who speak little or no English are mainly older immigrants who arrived in the UK after they turned 50 (9).
Immigrants are often accused clinging on to the national identity of their birth, of not wanting to integrate into their local communities in the UK. To try to assess this researchers first had to find a way of measuring ‘cultural assimilation’ – to what extent and over what time frame do immigrants adopt a British identity and think of themselves as British. The researchers used a list of rights and responsibilities.
Rights of those living in the UK:
Freedom of speech
Freedom of thought, conscience, religion
Treated fairly and equally
Free education for children
Be looked after by the state if cannot look after yourself
Protected from crime
Free health care if you need it
Have a job
Responsibilities of those living in the UK:
To help and protect your family
To raise children properly
To work to provide for yourself
To behave morally and ethically
To behave responsibly
To help others
To treat others with fairness and respect
To treat all races equally
To obey and respect the law
To respect and preserve the environment
For each of these they collected data on whether people think they ‘should have’ and ‘actually have’ these rights and responsibilities as a measure of the extent to which individuals considers themselves British. Interestingly on these measures not all white UK-born people see themselves as British either!
The key findings of interest however are that new immigrants rarely think of themselves as British initially but the longer they remain in the UK the more likely they are to do so. Second generation immigrants are only slightly less likely to think of themselves as British than the white UK-born population and it seems that the gap narrows further with each generation.
The research concludes: “The data on national identity do not support any alarmism about the effects of immigration in general … on national identity.” (7)
Breaking point – politicians have failed us all
We must break free of the EU to take back control of our borders. Really? We already have significant powers to control our borders that we do not use.
Also, the implication behind much of the Brexit propaganda is that the EU is to blame for all or our problems in the UK and so leaving the EU will solve them all. This is nonsense. All the evidence shows that immigration is actually good for our country. Where there are short-term local problems caused by concentrations of EU immigrants in a small geographic area, these can be addressed by policy decisions at the local, regional and national level, and can be dealt with without leaving the EU. There are no long-term problems with EU immigrants integrating into UK society.
There are very real problems in the UK today with social services, employment, housing, wages, education, the NHS and so on, but as the evidence shows these problems are not caused by EU immigration or EU membership. The underlying causes are down to the decisions, and lack of decisions, by successive governments over many years. The solutions similarly lie with government policy and leadership. Leaving the EU will seriously damage our economy and services and hence exacerbate these problems rather than solving them.
(3) Wadsworth, Jonathan, Swati Dhingra, Gianmarco I. P. Ottaviano, John Van Reenen, London School of Economics and Political Science., and Centre for Economic Performance. Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK, 2016.
(4) BREXIT 2016: Policy Analysis from the Centre for Economic Performance
Holger Breinlich, Swati Dhingra, Saul Estrin, Hanwei Huang, Gianmarco Ottaviano, Thomas Sampson, John Van Reenen and Jonathan Wadsworth June 2016 http://cep.lse.ac.uk/BREXIT/
(5) Dustmann, C. and Frattini, T. (2014). The fiscal effects of immigration to the UK. The economic journal, 124(580).
(7) Manning, A. and Roy, S. (2007). Culture clash or culture club? The identity and attitudes of immigrants in Britain. Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics and Political Science.
(8) Full Fact: https://fullfact.org/immigration/immigrants-learning-english/
(9) Official Labour Market Statistics
There is both money and political advantage to be gained from internet misinformation so think carefully before you retweet/post/link to anything – is this real, where is the evidence, what are the counter arguments?
Fake news (1)
People all over the world are getting rich by fabricating stories (2). The method is simple: fabricate a sensational story, preferably involving someone famous, and post it on a web site. The story attracts visitors to the site intrigued by the sensational headline and for ever site visitor, advertisers pay you a small fee. The more visitors the site gets, the higher up the search engine rankings it goes, so the number of visitors increases and the associated advertising revenue increases. One 18 year old in Macedonia made $60,000 in 6 months. These sites look very professional, and carry advertising from major international corporations such as Amazon and so appear very credible sources of information. So how do you know they are fake?
There are also groups and individuals being paid to deliberately mislead the public in order to advance the interests of a particular individual, group, or industry. For example, Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, funded by anonymous donors and linked to coal-fired power companies in Europe, uses similar tactics to the tobacco lobby to sow misinformation about climate change (3).
And then there are politicians. Political advantage can be gained by being ‘economical with the truth’ (4), spreading deliberate misinformation or only partial information, carefully selected to support one particular view point. The selective (mis)use of statistics, particularly percentages, is a particularly common method adopted by politicians to support their own position. Similarly the use of carefully selected time periods to demonstrate an apparent trend that, when a broader perspective is taken simply does not exist.
Truth or fabrication? Our filter bubble
There is no doubt that it is increasingly difficult to tell truth from fiction and this is a profound threat to our democracy – if we don’t know the facts how can we make appropriate judgements. We must, therefore, work harder at discerning the truth and must be much more careful about sharing, liking, up-voting on social media than we are at present. We should also be aware of the filter bubble that surrounds our social media interactions. Web site algorithms are now very effective at identifying our likes, dislikes, political opinions and view points. Driven by advertising where revenues directly correlate with clicks, search engines and social media increasingly show us content that *they* judge is what we want to see, filtering out material that has differeing views and opinions. This can leave us having our existing views reinforced without ever seeing alternative perspectives.
The good news
The good news is that the internet, the enabler of many of these problems, also provides some great tools to help us navigate the fake news oceans. It is up to us, indeed it is our duty, to make use of these tools to challenge those who would deliberately mislead us, and to be aware of the biases inherent in many sources. For example, if you read The Daily Mail you should be aware that it has a strong conservative bias through story selection and political affiliation, and has a poor track record with fact checkers. They may publish misleading reports and omit reporting of information that may damage conservative causes (5).
What to do
So, before you despair at the state of the world, here’s how you can fight back.
Always check the veracity of something before you share it. It’s very easy to click the ‘like’ button or repost something in a rush. Don’t! Please always check first – how do you know this is true?
It’s great to share something with like-minded people (assuming they don’t already know) but it’s much more powerful to share information to help those who have only seen a distorted or erroneous view of a subject. Show them the facts.
Don’t let misinformation go unchallenged. Use the fact checking resources below to find the data/facts you need to counter ill-informed opinions. Stick to the facts and avoid emotive language, it will only antagonise.
Seek out web sites that peddle fake news and misinformation and use the same resources to challenge entrenched opinion. You may just prick someone’s information bubble because they are not used to seeing alternative view points.
If you always use the same sources to get your news firstly check them for media bias and then find an alternative source with the opposite bias and compare the two before coming to a conclusion.
Always base your arguments on facts and evidence from credible sources, not emotion. The scientific method of having your peers challenge your work has proved robust and effective for over 200 years, so try to use sources that have been peer reviewed before publication.
Be very wary of articles that do not identify sources, and of sites and organizations that are not transparent about their fuding.
Think Tanks are often quoted in the media and some are given enormous coverage. Many of these are small organizations that are little more than lobbying organizations for special interest groups, companies or industries. Reputable think tanks are transparent about their funding so you can use sites like Transparify to check the funding of a think tank before you take too much notice of it.
Don’t expect to see anything change quickly – this is going to take time. With everything going on in the world from Trump to global warming, Brexit, terrorist atrocities, the rise of the far right, all fed by fake news, there has rarely been such a dark time. But, we can change things for the better if we consistently and jointly challenge lies and half truths whenever we see them. Hopefully you will find some of these resources useful in that fight.
The oldest and largest fact-checking site on the Internet.
One of the leading websites on the Internet that deals with debunking Internet hoaxes, hearsay, rumours and fake news. UK based.
Media Bias/FactCheck https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/
An independent online media outlet dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices.
A global community dedicated to fighting for people over profits.
Sleeping Giants https://www.facebook.com/slpnggiants
Dedicated to stopping racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and homophobic news sites by stopping their advertising dollars.
Dedicated to debunking myths, pseudoscience, grand conspiracies, quackery, and the supernatural.
Explains what peer reviewed science has to say about global warming and counters the most used climate myths.
Connecting people across geographic and cultural borders to support causes they care about.
One of the world’s largest reference websites.
The first-ever global rating of the financial transparency of major think tanks.
UK specific resources
The UK’s independent factchecking charity.
Takes open data from the UK Parliament, and presents it in a way that’s easy to follow. Check the voting history of every MP.
Campaigning organisation focused on UK issues.
Scientists for EU http://scientistsforeu.uk
A campaign by UK scientists to keep the UK in the EU
European Movement http://www.europeanmovement.co.uk
The European Movement is an independent, cross-party organisation committed to keeping the UK in the EU
The European Union https://europa.eu/european-union/index_en
Official website of the European Union
The BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32810887
Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU
In a proposal yet to be made public BT/Openreach has proposed a behind closed doors deal with the Government that would make 10Mbps broadband available to the remaining 5% of homes in the UK by 2022.
This is a blatant attempt to undermine the USO, allow BT to keep their monopoly control over our Broadband infrastructure and protect their profits. BT, a multinational private company, received £1.7bn in taxpayer cash as part of the Broadband Development UK (BDUK) initiative, money used to pay for basic infrastructure that BT should have paid for themselves. At a time when the UK badly needs investment in infrastructure to help grow the economy, why is the government not investing in a broadband infrastructure fit for the digital future?
The proposal would cost BT between £450m – £600m (“…depending on the final technology solution…”, Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT). This would obviate the need for USO regulation, they say, and they would recover the cost of their investment by leasing rural networks to its rivals. I think its rivals might have a view on this!
Also, it is not clear
what would be the cost to the consumer?
what data caps/limitations would be imposed?
what technologies would be used – BT are talking about a mix of fibre, copper, fixed wireless and satellite?
how will their proposed solutions (including satellite) meet the long term UK infrastructure requirements such as voice over IP telephony?
It is also arguable that 10Mbs is insufficient to meet future requirements – in 2016 Peers pushed the government to introduce a 30Mbps minimum speed, a demand that the Government later watered down. According to Ofcom “A 10Mbit/s download speed may be sufficient now but may need to evolve over time.” (1)
In March 2016, Karen Bradley the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (now the Department of Digital, Culture, Media ans Sport) wrote to Ofcom requesting technical advice and recommendations on the design of the broadband USO. Their findings were published in December 2016 (1)
The Ofcom report considered three possible USO scenarios:
Scenario 1: a standard broadband service, characterised only by a 10Mbit/s download speed;
Scenario 2: a more highly specified standard broadband service, adding upload speed (1Mbit/s), latency (medium response time), maximum sharing between customers (a ‘contention ratio’ of 50:1), and a defined data cap based on current usage profiles (100GB per month); and
Scenario 3: a superfast broadband service, with download speeds of 30Mbit/s, upload of 6Mbit/s, fast response times, a ‘committed information rate’ of 10Mbit/s (i.e. guaranteed 10Mbit/s at all times) and an unlimited usage cap.
They estimated the cost, based on current (2016) network availability, for delivering universal broadband would range from £1.1bn for a standard broadband service to £2.0bn for superfast broadband. So, for £2bn we could have superfast broadband delivering benefits to homes and businesses across the whole of the UK and future proofing our broadband infrastructure. Compare this to the £56bn currently estimated for HS2 that would deliver limited benefits to only a very small part of the UK. The cost per premises connected is a mere £680 for Scenario 3, the lowest cost per premises connected of the 3 Ofcom scenarios.
Ofcom also analysed available technologies and considered their capability to meet their 3 technical scenarios. Technologies considered included Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC), Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), fixed wireless and mobile, and satellite.
Satellite solutions are not capable of meeting scenarios 2 and 3 and would be difficult to scale up to meet scenario 1. They also suffer from significant latency making them inappropriate for applications such as video calling (Skype, Facetime, etc) so they do not provide a good long term infrastructure solution.
Finally, Ofcom calculated the cost per premises connected for each of the 3 technical scenarios and it turns out that Scenario 3, the ‘superfast’ scenario is the most cost-effective long term solution.
It is clear from the Ofcom analysis that an investment of £2bn (£680 per premises connected) would provide a ‘future-proof’ infrastructure investment, using a mix of FTTC and FTTP, providing super-fast broadband across the whole of the UK. This investment would generate huge economic and societal benefits and put the UK at the forefront of the digital future. BT are set on preventing this from happening so they can protect their own commercial interests and will continue to do what they have always done – refuse to invest in the future infrastructure of our country until someone else pays for it. It’s time the UK government confronted BT, broke up the BT monopoly, and provided the infrastructure investment the country needs, not what BT condescends to provide when it gets around to it.
On 23 June 2016 the UK voted to leave the EU.
On 29 March 2017, 9 months later, parliament voted to trigger Article 50 and officially start the 2 year process of leaving the EU.
One of the main reasons given for voting to leave the EU was that we need to control immigration by taking back control of our borders. Reducing immigration was presented by the leave campaign as a win-win scenario with no downsides. Remain campaigners pointed out that we rely on European immigrants to support many of our key industries including the NHS, agriculture, and hospitality so there would be serious economic impacts caused by reducing immigration. It is likely that some voters did not understand that we can already control all immigration for outside the EU and this accounts for well over half of all immigration to the UK (1).
We also have existing powers to control EU immigration should we choose to use them (2):
for stays under 3 months we could register all EU immigrants;
for stays over 3 months immigrants must either be working or have sufficient resources and sickness insurance to ensure they do not become a burden on social services;
right of permanent residence is only granted after 5 years of uninterrupted legal residence;
EU citizens and their families may be expelled from the UK on grounds of public policy, public security or public health.
In the event of abuse of these rights, or fraud, such as marriages of convenience, we have the power under EU directives to refuse or terminate entry to the UK, and withdraw any right of these rights.
The UK has chosen not to implement these restrictions under Theresa May both when she was Home Secretary, and subsequently while she is Prime Minister. Germany, on the other hand, requires all EU migrants to register if they are staying for more than 3 months (3).
Today, 27 July 2017, Amber Rudd the current Home Secretary announced the independent Migration Advisory Committee is to carry out a detailed analysis of the economic and social contributions and costs of EU citizens in Britain. This committee will not report until September 2018, just 7 months before we formally leave the EU. This is extraordinary – it means we called a referendum, voted on it, and triggered article 50 without knowing the economic and social impacts of the decisions we were taking. In addition to the broad analysis, the committee will be asked to examine:
Which sectors are most reliant on EU labour
The impact of a reduction in EU migration and the ways in which both business and the government could adjust to this change.
Whether there is any evidence that the availability of unskilled labour has led to low UK investment in certain sectors.
Whether there are advantages to focusing migrant labour on high-skilled jobs.
That we didn’t know the answers to these questions when we voted to leave, that parliament didn’t know the answers when they triggered article 50, and that we won’t know the answers to them until just before we leave is government negligence on an unacceptable scale.
What short memories we have! Dr Liam Fox, in his role as Secretary of State for International Trade is currently in Washington negotiating a trade deal between the UK and the USA – except that would be breaking the law because we can’t negotiate trade deals while we are still in the EU. So he is ‘exploring’ possible trade deals that might include allowing chlorine washed chicken, genetically modified crops and beef laced with antibiotics and steroids into the UK.
However, that’s for a different article on another day. What none of us should forget is that:
– in 2011 Liam Fox resigned in disgrace from his post as Defence Secretary, and
– in the 2009 expenses scandal he was the Shadow Cabinet Minister found to have the largest over-claim on expenses.
He was forced to resign as Defence Secretary because he gave his mate, the lobbyist Alan Werritty unfettered access to the Ministry of Defence and allowed him to join official overseas trips, despite having no official post and no security clearance.
“The disclosure outside the MoD of details about future visits overseas posed a degree of security risk not only to Dr Fox, but also to the accompanying official party.”
In the expenses scandal he had to repay more expenses that he wasn’t entitled to than any other Shadow Cabinet Minister.
It is disgusting that he is now all over our television screens representing us on the international stage as if nothing ever happened.