The Leeds Infirmary fake news is part of a greater problem

Ten years ago, the concept of Social Media being used to influence political outcomes and spread division was largely unthinkable. Indeed, Social Media a decade ago was simply a growing and exciting new way to connect with people, stay in touch with friends and, to the delight of teenagers and bored employees everywhere, play games. In the modern era, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are integral to the social and political state of the world. From breaking news alerts to the grandiose confusing tweets of certain world leaders, it is central to the spread of information, debate and the persuasion of electorates. It is also the most dangerous threat to our democracy and the most unregulated form of information in the world; a fact that the controversy surrounding the “Leeds Hospital” scandal has proved.

The development of Social Media for political engagement has led to it’s development as a tool of political manipulation. The major platforms, notably Facebook, profit from allowing for the “pushing” of content that is neither fact-checked or source-checked. Based on its data algorithms, this allows users to push content and ideas to target groups through social media, without needing to verify their source or provide proof of their claims. Similarly, there are no restrictions on account creation – all it takes is an email address and a name – meaning that any number of accounts can be entirely fabricated and held by an individual or group. Whilst this has benefited advertising and commercial interest greatly, who can user social media algorithms to reach target demographics much more effectively, the political implication is severe. 

No story encapsulates the risk of unregulated social media and content targeting more than the controversy surrounding Leeds General Infirmary. The event in question refers to a photo circulating of a four-year-old boy with suspected pneumonia who, due to short staffing and a lack of beds in Leeds General Infirmary, was forced to sleep on a pile of coats on the floor of the waiting room. As the image circulated, uproar grew over the lack of provision available by the NHS, restricted due to systemic budget cuts and failure to retain nurses. Indeed, Leeds General Infirmary have confirmed the photo in question was true, and have apologised to the boy’s family for the lack of provision available.

There are many caveats to this story that make it so significant. From Boris Johnson pocketing a reporter’s phone as they showed him the photo, to the proven falsehood of a “senior Conservative source” regarding the now disproved punching of Matt Hancock’s aide at the hospital, the scope and continuing curiosity of events make it hard to cover all aspects in 1500 words. However, the aspect that is most significant, and in no uncertain terms to our democracy, relates to the spreading of disinformation by unidentified “Bot Farms” and social media firms on major social media platforms. First appearing on one individual social media account – the user of which, who will not be named due to their personal concerns for safety – the following message was shared:

“Very interesting. A good friend of mine is a senior nursing sister at Leeds Hospital – the boy shown on the floor by the media was in fact put there by his mother”

The post then goes on to detail how the photo had been apparently fabricated, before describing it as “another Momentum propaganda story”. Whilst the details are concerning, they are also false – there exists no “Leeds Hospital”, the photo had been corroborated by Leeds General Infirmary itself, and the user in question claimed hacking having stated no affiliation to anyone in the medical profession or, indeed, the city of Leeds.

Within a matter of hours, hundreds of Social Media accounts had shared the message, in various online groups and locations seemingly designed to maximise impact. As shown by Marc Owen Jones, one target of the “March Cambridgeshire Free Discussion group” – a Facebook group with over 37,000 members – created significant engagement and disgust at the proposed fabrication of the photo. The beauty of a disinformation campaign, from an objective perspective that overlooks the egregious and disgusting campaign to vilify a young child in hospital, is that it only takes a few successful placements of the story for the lie to go viral. Indeed, most of the sharing and dissemination of the story after the initial period came from real accounts and verified users; notably conservative figures, a telegraph columnist and former international cricketer.

Now, the problem of political misinformation is not one that is brand new to politics. From the recent controversy surrounding CCHQ and its false branding as “@FactCheckUK”, to the actions of Cambridge Analytica, Social Media has become to political organisations a means of misleading, persuading and dividing electorates. It is entirely unregulated, and in fact facilitated by social media platforms themselves. Therefore, as two senior politicians put forward in April 2019, “We cannot allow these harmful behaviours to and content to undermine the significant benefits that the digital revolution can offer”.

These are the words of Sajid Javid and Jeremy Wright, formerly home secretary and culture secretary respectively, in their “Online Harms” white paper. The document, available here, was commissioned during the final months of Theresa May’s premiership. It outlines the dangers to society and politics that unregulated social media poses, both domestic and international, before recommending the introduction of regulatory frameworks and bodies to prevent the spread of harmful or misleading content, and actions that threaten the public safety or interest.  Whilst the exact details of their proposal have been condemned by some as Draconian censorship, the White Paper itself represented a concerted addressing of the dangers of unregulated social media to British society, politics and Democracy.

So where is the regulatory body and the white paper in the wake of the “Leeds Hospital” Scandal? Eight months after the publication of the White paper, it is nowhere to be seen in parliamentary discourse. Whilst perhaps the December election might explain this, the political landscape has not been in it’s favour either. Dominic Cummings, a veritable Tsar of Online disinformation and Social media manipulation, is now senior adviser to the Prime Minister. The PM in question spreads misinformation at an alarming rate, ranging from his former journalistic controversies to contradictions over the future trade relationship with Northern Ireland after Brexit. Sajid Javid, co-presenter of the White paper itself, now sits as Chancellor in a Government who’s political wing falsely branded itself as a fact checking service to spread political propaganda. No regulation exists; instead the governing party of the United Kingdom actively utilises the platform for disinformation and political manipulation for its own interests.

It is a point that needs repeating. Social Media offers a platform through which private interests can push disinformation, manipulate opinion and erode democracy. The governing party of the United Kingdom, having published a report and white paper on the dangers of this to our nation, have elected instead to use it to undermine their political opponents and deflect from their own shortcomings. The proclivity of the non-discerning user to believe their Twitter feed, and suspect their trust in media outlets, means that many will refuse to believe the truth of a young boy forced to sleep on coats due to the overstretching of a systemically reduced national health service.

The need for regulation has never been clearer. Social Media is one of the great developments of the digital age; facilitating the advent of new forms of communication, self-expression and connection. It is also the greatest threat to democratic institutions and political trust in the unfortunate post-truth era. Without regulation and restriction on Social Media platforms that facilitate disinformation, Politicians and private interest groups will continue down the past of post-truth and online manipulation to divide and conquer the electorate. Whilst the White Paper may not be the right course of action, it represents the right response to this.

If the trend of growth and digitisation continues, Social Media will not only become the central source of information in society, but it will also be filled with bots, fake information and private interests seeking to manipulate opinion and truth. Without regulation, we face a near-Orwellian threat to our lives; our democracy, our freedom of information and, perhaps, freedom of thought is at stake.

The horrifying reality of Cameroon’s Anglophone ‘civil war’

Children in Cameroon are bearing the brunt of the Anglophone crisis with schools becoming “battlefields,” says one resident. 
Since 2016, a wave of violence has swept the North West and South West regions of Cameroon – where English-speaking people in Cameroon reside.
The conflicts left children as young as seven in regions like Bamenda and Kumbo witnessing the everyday violence, says South west born James.
“A lot of these children have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. What they have seen and experienced I can not  explain it. It’s too awful and there are not enough services that can help them deal with this.”
“Anyone who speaks the Anglophone will be shot and killed, and when this is happening you cannot film, you can not even bring your phone out or else you will be targeted too,” he told The Peoples News.
Over the last three years 80% of schools closed as a result of the “crisis”, denying more than 600,000 children access to education. 450,000 people within the NW and SW regions – half of them children – have been displaced to neighbouring areas, according to a report published by the UN. 
The violence, which has often been described as a civil war, started after English-speaking lawyers and teachers protested against their perceived marginalisation and called for more autonomy away from the French regions. 
Instead, President Paul Biya used force to break up the Anglophone demonstrations – which James believes radically changed the atmosphere in the country and started an uprising of violence. 

Impact of violence 

 In November  2018, 80 people were kidnapped from the region of Bamenda from the Presbyterian Secondary School Nkwen.
Several months later a total of 176 people, mostly students, were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen at Saint Augustin’s College in Kumbo, in the North West region of Cameroon. They were released the next day – after negotiations to shut down the school were made.
James admitted that over the last three years it was not just the French-speaking who incited violence. 
He said: “They (Anglophones) kidnap or hurt you if you advocate for school resumption, just like my uncle who is a pastor in Bamenda was kidnapped because he is in support of schools continuing.”
“ To them they think when schools are not functioning, it will push the government to negotiate. But this is not the case.”
The two Anglophone regions have requested greater authority from the government since former territories held by the British and French were federated into one central African nation in 1961.
The 25 year-old said people, particularly the young, have become “scared to the point where they avoid going outside to identify their families bodies.”
This is to ensure no one identifies them as also being part of the English-speaking community.
“I had to move from the South West to escape everything that was happening but my family was still living there so I would visit often. But like others they have all moved from there now to neighbouring regions {Limbe}. No one is left in my home town,” James said.
 He added: “It makes me sad knowing that children in some of the cities in these regions can’t go to school, it’s almost like a battlefield for them. And the fact that my father cannot go back to the house he recently built before the crises began.”
“All of these things have had a toll on me mentally and sometimes I wake up at night when its raining thinking about those in the bushes in those regions with no shelter it sends chills down my spine each time I think about it.”


James believes that one day the violence in Cameroon will change the same way Rwanda’s violence did. 
“In my opinion I think the United Nations and African Union needs to set up some sort of a peace keeping mission to keep the military and the separatists at bay so the civilians can return.”
“The UN and other organisations push for dialogues by urging a monitored negotiation  but unfortunately the government is reluctant,” he said. 

Names of individuals mentioned in this article have been changed for their protection.

Image by: Stringer 2019

Nationalisation: a flawed idea, or an economic saving grace?

Nationalisation is often seen as a buzzword. It usually has a weird effect on people that causes them to start rabidly screaming the words “Marxist” at you every time it’s mentioned. With the Labour Manifesto in the public domain, this phenomenon is becoming more and more common. However, if you’re going to make such a comparison, at least give the Communist Manifesto a read first. The Labour party has pledged to re-nationalise industries such as the Royal Mail, British Energy, as well as Broadband services. Whether the policies put forward by Jeremy Corbyn are plausible or not isn’t the point of discussion, I’m more interested in establishing how or if nationalism fits into the modern-day.

Firstly, it must be established that nationalisation is not actually that radical. Corbyn’s manifesto has been called “Radical” by the BBC and even members of the Labour Party, but the actual policy of nationalisation isn’t as extreme at all. America has utilised nationalisation in various industries, and their Government the exact opposite of socialist. Nearly nine out of ten people in the United States receive their water service from a publicly owned utility and in the last 20 years. Since then, nationalisation of the water industry has only expanded. From 2007 to 2014, the portion of people with water from publicly owned water suppliers increased from 83% to 87%. France’s mass nationalisation of its energy industry in the 1980s, Germany’s re-nationalisation of the Print Office in 2008 after it was privatised in 2001, and Iceland’s re-nationalisation of its largest commercial banks in 2008, shows that it isn’t some outlandish or outdated idea. 

This isn’t necessarily a socialist idea, it’s simply economically liberal. What is then done with nationalised industries is what takes it a step further. Even the services stated above are only a partially nationalised industry, as the state does not have a 100% market share and neither does it legally obstruct private companies from entering the industry. The common question asked is, why on earth would the government want to do this? Simple, it’s because we can’t trust the market completely to operate fairly, and when it crashes, the market won’t protect the public.

In some industries – take water for example – it just makes more sense to have fewer entities providing the service because of the infrastructure involved. The economically savvy readers will recognise this as a natural monopoly. It’s even been used to pull banks and other private entities out of trouble. This is done by temporarily buying them to ensure they don’t collapse and cause damage to the economy as a whole. A good example was when the US government took over GM Motors. When the problem is resolved, the government simply sells the company afterwards. In the case of nationalising industry, it allows the consumer to get a cheaper or even free service whilst the government tanks the cost but runs the companies, they are purchased at a profit which can then go back into your pocket.

Some of you will be reading this and think “Why don’t we just do this for everything? Cheap Nationalised Broadband? Sounds great”. Don’t jump the gun. It’s not something to be taken lightly and isn’t always a good idea. When nationalising an industry, the assumption is the government will actually be good at running the businesses in that industry. You can very easily argue that the British Government, in combination with local government, just isn’t good at it.

To paint a picture, I’m going to use the Labour party promise to provide a state-run fibre broadband service across the country. I am a huge PC gamer nerd. I play mostly League of Legends and Counter-Strike, but anyone who plays video games regularly can unite and agree upon a common enemy, bad ping. Lag spikes are actually the worst, and usually, we all have little tricks we use to try and deal with them, but if they don’t work, we are comforted by the fact that we can just switch broadband providers or upgrade our service. If Broadband is nationalised, you might not be able to do that, leaving you with bad ping and poor gaming experience. 

The state wants to purchase broadband relevant parts of BT, but the BT group also owns Plusnet and EE which have their own broadband services. If only the state broadband service is available in the area you live in, and that service just isn’t good enough, you would have to move to get to a different service provider, because currently there are only 5 providers for commercial usage, and 3 of them (BT, Plusnet and EE) could end up under the state service. To make it even worse, Openreach (a BT Subsidiary) maintains the fibre networks that the other broadband services sell, so if a state broadband service was to exist, the government would either need control of that as well or sub-contract it to Openreach. Even with all those complications, it doesn’t even touch on the fact that everyone who currently works for those companies now becomes state employees, and that’s a whole different fiasco.

Although nationalisation isn’t a ‘pipe dream’ like some would call it. The belief that magically buying all these industries will solve itself is certainly naïve. As I have displayed by briefly exploring the result of the nationalisation of just one service, this is not a straightforward process by any means. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the nationalisation plans of the Labour Party as a whole is risky and would require a restructuring of the economy specifically in the area of taxation. This would be a slow and gradual process that would take around 10 years. This doesn’t just apply to the Labour Party’s plan, it applies the nationalisation as an idea. 10 years is two governments, maybe three, governments. Who says our economic situation doesn’t change? Who says halfway through the project it’s no longer economically viable and the whole thing gets put on hold?

Nationalisation isn’t the Marxist evil that many claim it to be, but it isn’t necessarily the undeniable saving grace of the British population that it is being peddled as either.

The Scottish Series: The SNP is an independence party, and on this it should focus

If you regularly watch Prime Ministers Questions you’ll know that the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has become a regular fixture of proceedings. He has become as much the voice of the party as Nicola Sturgeon as he is regularly heard asking questions to the Prime Minister. Blackford has drawn support (or at least sympathy) from many on the opposition benches, being unwavering in his criticism of consecutive Conservative Governments. As a friend of mine recently suggested to me though, he has become slightly “repetitive.”

The SNP’s opposition has begun to hit the same notes, ‘Scotland voted Remain and therefore Brexit is against what we were promised in the 2014 referendum, this gives us the right to another independence referendum,’ to summarise. Of course, this is an essential argument and one that needs to be made. The main goal of the SNP is to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom and Scotland having a distinctly different result to England and Wales does renew calls for an independence referendum, even after one was lost not so long ago. However, the SNP has taken this a step further and have begun to look like a distinctly pro-EU party, consistently voting with Remainer MPs and supporting the pro-EU Lib Dems in calls for an early election before Labour supported the motion.

The party edging on this ‘Remainer’ stance may be as a contrast to the Conservative Government, who represents the British system that the SNP seeks to escape from, or as a clearer cut option than Labour, whose stance hasn’t been fully understood by many in the public. This shift from arguing for Scotland’s right to self-determination due to a change in circumstances since 2014, towards becoming viewed as a Remain party, may dampen the SNP’s high election hopes.

SNP supporters aren’t inherently pro-EU, a survey by the National Centre for Social Research estimated that as high as 36% of SNP voters supported Leave in 2014. Ex-SNP leader, Gordon Wilson, gives similar numbers of between 30% to 34%. These numbers don’t even account for pro-independence Scots who voted Remain tactically in the Brexit referendum in the hope of generating the point of difference from England, which was a very real factor in how many Scots voted. Many Scots want out of both unions in order to be ‘fully’ independent.

Another possible thorn in the side of the Scottish National Party is Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader who took her seat from the SNP in 2017. The flagship policy of Swinson’s is to stop Brexit completely, any Scottish voter who is decidedly pro-EU could easily be turned away from the murky waters of the SNP and Labour into the clear waters of the Liberal Democrats.

The SNP have said they will be fighting hard to take Swinson’s seat back from her, to do this they will have to offer something completely different to her and not just be the other Remain option.

20,000 people attended a pro-independence rally in Glasgow last weekend, including SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. This may have been the change of direction needed for the party, as pro-EU rhetoric was toned down and the perceived importance of Scottish independence was back at the forefront. Sturgeon stated that independence was ‘within touching distance’ and that it was time to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands and not Boris Johnson’s.

Instead of opposing Brexit completely, the SNP must return focus on the uncertainty surrounding it and the opportunity Scotland has to go a different direction. Scottish voters were promised in 2014 that remaining in the United Kingdom was the safer and more stable option, this was untrue. If this is the direction that the SNP take throughout the campaign they will do as well as predicted, possibly reaching the heights of 2015. However, there is a real chance that Blackford’s broken record at Westminster and the perception of being pro-EU may have turned off much of the electorate from the party, which could leave many Scottish separatists very disappointed when they wake up on Friday the 13th of December.

The blues can never be green: why the pausing of UK fracking is an election ploy

After the calling of a general election for December 12th, British politics has taken yet another unpredictable and exciting turn. Already the major political parties have begun to outline their election strategies; from the repetition of Labour’s 2017 strategy that boasts all the optimism of a Manchester United fan’s opinion on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to the Europhilic platform of the Liberal democrats that so nearly distracts from their voting record. 

With headlines dominated for so long by the haze of Brexit that it may now be the national sport of the United Kingdom, one might be forgiven for forgetting the very identities and positions of the mainstream parties outside of the European question. Thus, when the Conservative party announced the “suspension” of fracking operations in the United Kingdom, anyone who has taken an interest in the growing environmentalist movement worldwide would be forgiven for assuming this as the actions of a party that cares about the planet.

Fracking – one of the more contentious methods of extracting shale and natural gas – has received a large degree of public scrutiny in recent years. The potential for geological disruption, resulting in the increased chance of earthquakes and threat posed to local communities, is one of many ecological risks associated with the process, implemented at various sites nationwide. Andrea Leadsom, Business Secretary in the Johnson Government, argued that it was the right move for the Conservative government, who were “following the science… until the science changes”.

Leadsom — who infamously questioned on her first day as Theresa May’s Energy Secretary if climate change was real — seems here to justify the suspension of an environmentally damaging practice; until the point that the facts and circumstances change to allow the government to continue it again sans critique. Here we see the government enacting a temporary suspension of a profitable but ecologically destructive practice, until the science or circumstances change that justify them continuing with the destructive business.

Despite the Orwellian doublespeak of Leadsom, the move is nothing short of part of the election campaign launch of Johnson and the Conservative party. Forgetting for the moment the irony of a campaign centred around the idea of Britain deserving better than the brutal imposition of austerity and political buffoonery masterminded by the Conservatives themselves, Johnson’s political ethos focuses on the notion of “getting things done”. Let us get Brexit done, as the Conservatives cry, and we can focus on getting things done for the police force we have cut, the health service we have dogmatically hollowed, and on resolving the environmental crisis. Suspension of fracking, regardless of its motivations, is in the eyes of the Conservatives at least something they have actually got done in the past years of political weakness and ambiguity.

Indeed, one might be forgiven for forgetting what the political parties of the United Kingdom still stand for in these uncertain to-say-the-least times. The Conservatives can certainly be pointed to as the party of action when it comes to environmental considerations; they cannot be pointed to as the party of environmentalism. This is the party that abolished the department of Energy and Climate Change in 2016; the party that removed subsidisation of renewable energy construction and restricted the ability of renewable energy sources to develop in the United Kingdom; the party that ended the programme of sustainable home development due to a lack of profitability for investors. This is to say nothing of the continued support and subsidisation of Nuclear and non-renewable energy sources; many of which are not only unsustainable, but themselves not profitable. The fact that the Johnson Government has acted to temporarily halt fracking operations in the United Kingdom is simply a drop in the polluted ocean that Conservative policies and ideological profit-focus has helped to create.

This is hardly surprising. It is long documented that free market policies such as those championed by the Conservatives are wholly incompatible with ecological considerations; considerations which require the sacrifice of short term and individual self-interest in order to protect the common long-term good. Such profit-focus is integral to the continued dogmatic adherence to Neoliberalism that runs in the very blood of the Conservative party; an ideology that champions the free pursuit of self-interest for all, giving no consideration to considerations outside of capital and profit. Since the days of Thatcher’s gutting of regional communities, to the willing ignorance to the risks of the most profitable course that led to the Grenfell disaster, the Conservative party have long established themselves as the party that cares only for immediate economic success above any and all else. This perhaps explains why, before the enacting of such an election stunt, the party has been such a champion of fracking; almost a perfect metaphor for the extraction of short-term value with no regard for local communities or long-term sustainability.

It may be worth a modicum of congratulations to the Conservative party. Since Johnson took over as leader of the party and the country, the suspension of fracking is perhaps the one true item that the government can, unlike parliamentary votes and PR visits to hospitals, say that it has achieved success in. Make no mistake, however, the suspension of fracking is in no way motivated by a desire to protect the environment or communities affected by fracking. It is nothing short of a rudimentary and basic election tactic and attempted evidence for its “get things done campaign”; a crumb of success that will be weaponised as a counter argument to the myriad of environmentalist criticisms. When the “Science Changes” in the event the Conservatives win majority in the next election, such a suspension will be quickly and quietly repealed, leading to the next inevitable story of a small community ravaged by fracking disaster. 

As far as Environmentalism is concerned, the Conservative party line is evident; that the planet and the people that rely upon it are an afterthought, until the next chance for Johnson, clad in an ill fitting sports top or hopefully at the top of another zip-wire, to weaponise it for his own party’s success.

Why are centrists so concerned about the ‘politics of division’?

‘The politics of division’ is surely the most banal of political clichés – the most lazy, yet tinged with benevolent intention. Scattered across the pages of history, an epithet to the bipartisan legacy of Obama, a monument to a noble ideal of a society without hate, fear, division; an expression of horror at our inability to communicate. But centrists too often treat is as a cause – rather than a symptom – of political failure. 

We condemn politicians from Johnson to Trump for cynically playing to people’s most base instincts – their jealousy, fear of the outsider, bitterness and nostalgia for an age of simplicity, where everyone could identify with a strong, secure national identity. In so doing, these populists accumulate support from those who have the least to lose. They perversely champion those whose livelihoods have been made less secure by the economic zeitgeist they advocated in the very first place.

Take our current Prime Minister, a man who seeks to portray himself doing battle with an establishment ostensibly bent on ‘suppressing’ the will of the people. This classical enthusiast seeks, like Cicero, to simultaneously appeal to the people and the senate – an ideological hallmark of Dominic Cummings’ Leave Campaign backed by businessmen, hedge-fund managers, Tory grandees and wealthy landowners. The notion that privately-educated Johnson has ever been anything other than an adornment of the establishment is simply nonsensical, yet this advocate of economic liberalism now seeks to be the ‘man of the masses’.

It is surely a sad irony that those who have lost the most are now defending an extreme government whose ideological commitments will hurt them even more. Of course, this is a generalisation – there was, for instance, and still is, a principled Lexiteer case. Nevertheless, the simple fact is that a no-deal Brexit may very well occur under the most right-wing cabinet in history.

To misappropriate the eloquent position of Grace Blakeley in her book Stolen, moments of radical political change often occur in times of crisis. There was no clearer example of this than the actions taken under the Thatcher administration. As she puts it, the Thatcher government asserted the interests of capital using ‘state warfare’: mobilising the state’s power to subdue labour, all whilst legislating for a light-regulation, low-tax economy that would further entrench the dominance of capital.

The circumstances would obviously be different in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but the basic principle still stands. Such an event, with all of the associated economic and political turmoil, would provide an excellent opportunity to solidify the power of capital, remaking Britain a la ‘Britannia Unchained’. This entrenchment of power, indeed, would be over a workforce already atomised and alienated by successive years of anti-union legislation and changing economic conditions favourable to the service economy.

But centrists must take their share of the blame. To return to the original point, there has been a fundamental failure of centrists to engage in any meaningful way with the economic and political circumstances defining our age. By merely seeking to condemn ‘aggressive rhetoric’, they fail to ask the truly important questions; why heightened, aggressive language appeals to people at all. By merely waxing lyrical about the politics of division, they tragically fail to see that politics inevitably involves division, and inevitably involves fighting your own corner.

There has been no better example of this failure than the response of centrist Democrats to Donald Trump. They have criticised – with justification – his homophobia, transphobia, racism and sexism. But declaring their outrage about the President’s rhetoric on Twitter won’t solve anything at all. By failing to offer structural change, and without listening to the voices of left-behind America, they merely offer hollow narcissism and petty sloganeering. By failing to actively engage in substantive, radical policy proposals to solve the contradictions of a broken economic epoch, they allow the President to present turbo-charged capitalism as a viable economic solution for industrial communities devastated by globalisation.

Indeed, the temptation to merely react to the immediately obscene statements of the President is invariably counterproductive. Trump thrives precisely because this is an age of cheap sensation, empty statements, information overload and contrived outrage generated, in part, by a media environment which needs to create a false sense of urgency. By denouncing his Twitter feed with vague insistences that we need to ‘come together’ and ‘unify’, they ironically distract from the devastating impact of his actual policies – playing into Trump’s tactics by allowing him to rally his support base against the ‘liberal media’.

Whilst the goal of rejecting ‘division’ is surely a noble one, treating it as an absolute is invariably a poor political tactic. During the Obama era, Democratic obsession with bipartisanship yielded political capital to the Republicans. As Cornel West asserted, this otherwise inspiring President bailed out Wall Street without helping ‘Maine Street’ – he oversaw a radical increase in drone strikes, he offered additional funds to the Israeli government, and in seeking to appease his Republican critics he called the Baltimore black youth ‘criminals and thugs’ – all in the name of ‘consensus’.

The tragic consequences of seeking unity over division are therefore clear. Politics is – to draw upon Christopher Hitchens, division by definition. Centrists have far too often appeared on the stage of history as the humanisers of the inevitable, bowing to a fundamentally conservative project.

Now, this is not to say that divisive rhetoric ought not to be condemned. It has left a bloody legacy, as the horrific murder of Jo Cox stands testament to. Neither should we accept the scapegoating of migrants, a cynical right-wing strategy that seeks to pit worker against worker merely on the basis of nationality, distracting from their fundamental class interest.

Nevertheless, centrists are obsessed with the politics of division precisely because their political framework has lost all credibility. Politics works where vigorous debate occurs. There is surely a dialectical relationship between the right and the left, each assuming radically different conceptions of human nature, society, the state and the economy; the flaws of each compensating for the other.

We ought to be suspicious of those who reject the ‘politics of division’ precisely because politics involves confrontation. Instead of merely condemning inflammatory rhetoric, progressives in the UK ought to offer a principled, grounded stance, revealing the cynicism of their opponents, persuasively putting forward an alternative vision which – crucially – appeals to those who are most likely to be disillusioned.

Merely complaining about ‘division’ puts progressives on the back foot,  ceding the dominant ideological position. Populism thrives on cheap sloganeering and provocative statements designed to invoke a reaction, engineered to put their opponents on the defensive. It’s time for the left to truly fight their own corner.

How Georgism can be the answer to environmental degradation

The Amazon rainforest has been burning for three weeks. This is devastating the lives of indigenous communities and the wildlife that inhabit this fundamental ecosystem of the earth. On Monday, the smoke covered the skies of Brazil’s biggest city, Sau Paulo, blocking out the sun of a city that is over 2700km (1700 miles) away. The Amazon is often referred to as the planet’s lungs, producing 20% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. The fact it has taken up to three weeks for the news of the fires to reach the West has been cause for concern to the public and many have taken to Twitter to express their sadness, anger, and disbelief, as seen below.

Indeed, it is important to identify the role of President Bolsonaro in enabling such catastrophic deforestation, which begun immediately after he took office in January with his assault on Amazon rainforest protections through the transference of regulations and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry. The agricultural ministry is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby and led indigenous spokespersons to highlight such an event as a symbolic concession to farming interests at a time when deforestation is rising again.

Such a statement has unfortunately been proven correct by data from the National Institute for Space Research, whom have reported the number of fires in Brazil this year is has increased by 84% than over the same period in 2018.

Nevertheless, it is time for more pragmatism in addressing environmental degradation. Calls to organise demonstrations and other forms of virtue signalling from the left simply aren’t good enough. Environmental disaster is here and now, calls to defeat capitalism are not. Capitalism is deeply ingrained into the global order, therefore to create a new global order takes time which we simply do not have at our disposal. Instead, I argue we must invoke the ideals of Georgism.

Georgist economic theory posits that whilst individuals should own the value they produce themselves, economic value derived from land should belong equally to all members of society because the resources of the land should be free for all to benefit from. Policy proposals that incorporate this are eco-taxes which tax polluters. This would include deforestation by farmers. In Georgist terms, this is a land-value tax which discourages waste. Therefore, for a land mass as large as the Amazon, which provides up to 20% of global oxygen, any attempts to deforest would see a huge financial burden placed on the individuals and businesses that seek to do so.

Although the majority of deforestation in the Amazon is illegal, the actions of President Bolsonaro in weakening the power of government agencies responsible for protecting the rainforest, implicate him as an enabler and as someone who doesn’t take climate concerns seriously. This is most recently evident in his dismissal of former head of agency and physicist Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, for releasing a report highlighting the alarming rate of Amazonian deforestation in Brazil.

However,  international sanctions on states which do not adhere to an international standard of land-value tax would demand much more action. This would make the continuity of such economically damaging activities politically nonviable. Therefore, this is a possible route to success in saving the environment from leaders such as Bolsonaro, whom seek to bypass the importance of protecting the environment in their pursuit of development.

If, and it’s a big if, the international community and world leaders can come together to implement a global, Georgist land-value tax, it would go a long way in beginning to reduce pollution and other damaging activities to our environment.