Weekly News Review 9th – 15th August

15th August 2020 / United Kingdom

Editors Review of the Week

It must surely be the understanding of most people that can afford an internet connection that Boris Johnson’s government has achieved in six months what Margeret Thatcher’s government took a decade to do – become the party that represents sleaze and indecency. Many political commentators in the mainstream media have quite wrongly stopped short of calling what this government really is – corrupt at its core and when it comes to a crisis – completely talentless.

Wednesday’s release of GDP numbers for the first half of the year is evidence that there is no beneficial trade-off between the lives that are lost and economic performance. Hence, this government has accomplished what the vast majority of countries around the world have not – killed the largest number of people whilst doing the most damage to its economy. Their response – to fill the right-wing papers and immerse social media with a fake news story about a ‘wave’ of people in boats – a ‘wave’ of just 500 people a month. And then go on holiday. Conveniently, they have forgotten to mention that because of Brexit, many thousands more Brits have left our shores permanently to live, work and study in the EU before we cut off their right to do so in just four months time. Then, on the 1st January, against the pleas of business leaders, groups and trade bodies – this government will deliver – deal or no-deal another crushing blow to the lives of millions and the economy. Britain is now in a lose-lose situation.

As we now know, Boris Johnson dished out lifetime appointments to the House of Lords to his own brother and the former editor of the Daily Telegraph. Theresa May’s husband was knighted – who also achieved nothing of note for the greater good of the country.  Spanish resident and cricketer Ian Botham, one of a number of Brexit cheerleaders was awarded a lifetime paycheck in the Lords. However, he can only be of service if he is a taxpaying resident in the UK. These are difficult decisions for Sir Ian, who owns in a Spanish Colonial-style home on the 17th fairway of Europe’s best-known championship desert golf course. Botham then bought a second property, a three-bed townhouse at the resort for his daughter Sarah, who was able to “fulfil her ambition to have a home in Spain” and buy a business in the sun.

Even Churchill’s grandson, Nicolas Soames – himself a staunch lifelong Tory but sacked by this government along with 22 other centre-right Tories, says Boris Johnson has created the ‘worst’ cabinet in decades and is nothing like his idol Winston Churchill (source).

Then there’s the ultimate middle finger by Johnson to the established norms of British democracy. Alexander Lebedev, the son of a Russian KGB spy, and the man who threw “anything goes parties” for Boris Johnson which Tory cabinet ministers said made Johnson “a security threat” and “open to Kompromat” (short for Russian agents gathering “compromising material”) is made a Lord. Let’s not forget Brexiteer Claire Fox, who most famously in her career backed IRA bombings is now able to influence terrorism laws for the rest of her life in the Lords and charge the beleaguered taxpayer £323 a day for doing so.

It is painfully clear that the Lords is not fit for purpose in a fast-moving 21st-century world. This absurd feudal relic and anti-democratic institution now has more unelected members skewing the principles of British democracy than the House of Commons. It is stuffed full of various cronies, failed politicians and rich party donors. An estimated 88 peers – about one in nine – have never spoken in the Lords, held a government post or participated in a committee, and 46 have never even recorded a single vote. Nearly a quarter of peers are now based in London compared to just 13% of the UK public. Over half (55%) live in the capital, or the East and South East of England. Is this what Boris Johnson really meant by ‘levelling up’ the country?

Depressingly, the government continues – week after week – to be caught dishing out multimillion-pound contracts to their buddies without public scrutiny. There’s a reason for this. This week, it was a contract given to the mates of Dominic Cummings for mass political surveillance (see below) of the general public. Taxpayers are now funding the activities of a government the East German Stasi would be proud of.

In the meantime, the government are now swimming in lawsuits. Accusations of everything from negligence to manslaughter. And they are coming from the general public, professional bodies and even the civil service. It’s simply not enough to give billions away in rampant cronyism – now millions has to be spent fighting its own incompetence and impropriety and more importantly – the people the government is supposed to serve.

Meanwhile – there’s a pandemic on that’s killed tens of thousands, a threatened second Covid-19 wave, an economic crisis not witnessed in living memory, unemployment soaring to that of four decades ago, Brexit – and the government strategy – is to go on holiday, you know – because they deserve one. Once again, we see our prime minster in hiding at a crucial moment. However, the one thing Dominic Cummings has proved beyond any doubt so far – is that he’s utterly useless – because if he was all those things he’s cracked up to be, Britain would not be in the awful state it’s in right now. Boris Johnson should sack him – stand up and act like a Prime Minister, not the coward he is. The true crisis Britain is facing is incompetence and self-serving malingerers who run at the first sign of danger. Soames is right – I can’t think of anything further away from Churchill than Johnson, can you?


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Inside Downing Street

Dysfunctional government. All the leading candidates have ruled themselves out to replace Sir Mark Sedwill as Cabinet Secretary. Cabinet secretary should be the most esteemed job in public service, the pinnacle of a career, with a guaranteed peerage at the end. But senior Whitehall sources say that a “dysfunctional” Downing Street and the unprecedented power wielded by Dominic Cummings has put off all the best and most qualified contenders. Dysfunctionality will be the key byword for an administration where ‘cronyism’ and ‘corruption’ are currently fighting it for top characterisation of Johnson’s government (source).

Cummings and Goings: Dominic Cummings is about to achieve his dream and get his NASA style mission control centre to run the government. Cummings wrote about this in his blog a couple of years ago. And so, Boris Johnson’s closest aides are leaving 10 Downing Street for new offices on Whitehall in the most ambitious attack yet in the government’s war on the civil service. The Times (source) has just reported that – “From next month the prime minister’s private office, policy unit and other key No 10 staff will work from a Nasa-style mission control centre at 70 Whitehall, currently home to the Cabinet Office, with the aim of imposing the government’s will on the officials with whom it has often clashed.” Make no mistake about the dangers of Dominic Cummings. In 2018 he wrote on his own blog – The country voted for profound change in 2016. The Tories didn’t understand this hence. This dire Cabinet, doomed to merciless judgement in the history books, is visibly falling: let’s ‘push what is falling’…” and push what is falling is exactly what he is doing – (READ MORE).

Covid Inquiry: British civil servants are nervous about an impending coronavirus inquiry. A breakdown of trust between senior officials and Downing Street has sparked fears Whitehall could be thrown under the bus in an effort to save Boris Johnson and his top team. At TruePublica we predicted this line of political flack jackets – first the experts, scientists, Public Health England, and then the last line of defence – the civil service. One Downing Street source says – “As the epidemic wanes, the blame game is going to get more intense. I think the civil service is absolutely expecting that.” (source) It appears though that the civil service is looking to strike back at Dominic Cummings by simply – doing nothing – to clog up the wheels of a functioning government. Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union for top civil servants, said he fears a briefing war in advance to frame the narrative, as, he says, has been the routine since Johnson took office. Three senior civil servants have already quit – one is suing the government for constructive dismissal. No-one should easily accept that this enquiry, whenever it finishes, will be open, transparent and fair – and no-one should expect it to be delivered before the next election (source).

British Union: There are growing worries that the Union, under Boris Johnson is going to splinter. Northern Ireland has had enough of Johnson’s lies over Brexit and the EU border and reunification with Ireland is rapidly gathering speed. Scotland is now showing strong support for independence with elections due in May where SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is expected to romp home on a ticket of independence. Boris Johnson will simply say no – but by the time this debate really gets going Johson will be heading towards a general election and won’t be concentrating on saving the union – more than his own bacon. The Institute for Government says – “If Johnson hasn’t sorted the question of Scottish independence by the next general election, he will have bigger problems than holding on to Scotland” (source).

America Report: The long-awaited Russia report was published with a call for “immediate action” by the government and intelligence services to tackle the threat from just one country – Russia. The reality was that while Russia may have been meddling at the edges of Britain’s democracy, America has been actively involved in centrally funding the breakdown of democracy, the rule of law and the British way of life. So where is the America Report? This article spells out just how deeply imbedded America really is in forcing a hard Brexit and all of the disastrous implications that it will bring (READ MORE).


Inside Brexit

Kent Border Emerges: Under extraordinary government proposals, truckers driving on designated roads to Dover and the Eurotunnel at Folkestone come January 1st 2021 will need a digital, 24-hour “Kent access permit” which would be issued to them in advance of travel if they can confirm they have the required paperwork to take their goods across the border. Chris Yarsley, policy manager for Road Infrastructure at Logistics UK, said the “Kent permit” plan was tantamount to creating an “internal U.K. border.” Drivers who don’t have one would face £300 fines and their lorries could be impounded if they don’t pay. (source).

Gove in La La Land: On the 6th August – Germany’s European affairs minister, Michael Roth told AFP – Britain needs to be more “realistic and pragmatic” in Brexit negotiations with the European Union. Expressing deep disappointment over deadlocked negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the bloc, Roth also voiced astonishment that London also “does not appear to have any increased interest in discussing foreign and security issues” with the EU (source).  On the 7th August – Michael Gove, Britain’s top minister overseeing Brexit talks said he was confident a free trade deal would be clinched with the EU as there had been a distinct change of tone from the bloc in recent weeks (source).

Sweetheart deal: A Conservative donor that was one of the only large UK businesses publicly to back leaving the European Union will get a tariff break worth up to £73m next year in one of the government’s first post-Brexit trade reforms, an Unearthed investigation has found. Tate & Lyle Sugars (T&L) stands to be the sole beneficiary of a government decision to allow tariff-free imports of up to 260,000 tonnes of raw cane sugar next year, when the UK’s post-Brexit ‘transition’ arrangements with the EU come to an end (READ MORE).

Smallprint: We were told it was an “oven-ready deal”. But despite the withdrawal agreement having pride of place in the Conservative party manifesto and no Conservative MPs voting against it, some Brexiter Tory MPs have now turned against it – including David Davis and now the truly short-sighted and ill-informed Iain Duncan Smith. IDS praised Boris Johnson’s article exulting the withdrawal agreement and ridiculed the idea of debating the agreement at length on the grounds that it had been examined in detail already, but now says bits of it were “buried in the fine print” – to the tune of a £160 billion liability for the UK. The reality of actually reading the document and then understanding what the Tories actually signed up to is only dawning on them 18 weeks from a massive car-crash called Brexit (READ MORE).


Inside the Economy

Mixed Messages: We all knew the economy was going to sink over the pandemic. However, as Britain is officially declared in recession this week for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis, the Boris Johnson government can add another record to top death toll – the worst drop in GDP of any major economy (source). The Bank of England (never a reliable source of predictive modelling) has already backtracked (source) on its initial assessment of the future – and now states lasting damage will be caused by the pandemic and that unemployment will rise! It was only four days ago that the BoE gave an upbeat assessment – now it says that it expects the biggest decline in economic output for over 100 years. In the meantime, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimates that GDP will not return to the level recorded at the end of 2019 until the second half of 2023 (source). The BoE also expects unemployment will reach a peak of 2.5 million – everyone else expects a minimum of 3.5 million but most are looking at 4 million (source).

Reality Message: IFS boss Paul Johnson said – “If we come out of (the recession) very quickly as the virus recedes, then we might be able to look back on this as a bit of a bad dream. But much more likely, we’re going to be living with the consequences of this for a very long time to come, with the economy being significantly smaller in even four or five years’ time than it would have been if the pandemic had never happened.  It depends on [if we get a] vaccine or not, it depends on how quickly the virus disappears, it depends on what happens around the rest of the world, it depends on the effectiveness of government interventions and a whole series of other things. We will have a huge amount of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next. But we have almost certainly lost a lot of jobs for a long period and a big chunk of national income for a long period” (source).

Brexit to Damage Economy: Dithering, a lack of strategy, and a general void of policy direction by Number 10 and Westminster politicians over Brexit may have severely undermined the UK’s negotiating powers, a study by the Institute for Government (IfG) has said. A lack of vision by Westminster over its post-Brexit trade “priorities” meant that other countries had the upper hand at the negotiating table. It also said that Boris Johnson’s ‘lucrative’ post-Brexit trade deals were inherently ‘bound to damage UK economy’ (READ MORE).

Jobs Lost: Three-quarters of a million people have officially lost their jobs in the last four months. July saw 114,000 people getting a P45 and add their names to Job Centres (source). However, the biggest job losses are expected next month when the furlough scheme winds down, where one in three companies expect to shed employees. Construction, IT and manufacturing will lead the wave of job losses. There are currently 7.5 million furloughed employees (source). Don’t forget, the biggest employer in the country are small businesses and they don’t make announcements.

Bank Losses: The five biggest banks in the UK; Barclays plc, HSBC Holdings, Lloyds Banking Group, NatWest Group and Santander (UK) Holdings reported losses through bad loans of GBP9.1 billion in the first quarter of 2020. Between them, they have reported that there is an expectation they will collectively see somewhere between GBP20 billion and GBP28 billion for full-year losses (source). Public sympathy for the banking industry is practically nil as last year complaints rose by 27 per cent to an all-time high (excepting the 2008/09 financial crisis of course) (source).


Inside the media

Mass Political Surveillance: Privacy campaigners have expressed alarm after it was revealed that the government had hired an artificial intelligence firm to collect and analyse the tweets of UK citizens. Faculty, which was hired by Dominic Cummings to work for the Vote Leave campaign and counts two current and former Conservative ministers among its shareholders, was paid £400,000 by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for the work, according to a copy of the contract published online. Silkie Carlo, the director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, which discovered the updated contract, expressed alarm at the details. “This is effectively AI-powered mass political surveillance, and it’s been done in a very secretive way, apparently to inform policy.” (READ MORE).

Countering Misinformation: Many have experienced the frustration of hearing a friend or family member repeat rumours and hoaxes around Covid-19. While researchers still don’t advocate for a single approach to countering misinformation, many agree that empathy can be a powerful tool. Here is a report, recommended by ‘First Draft’ which is a project to fight misinformation online. It should help you get your point over without punching that irritating family member in the face! (READ MORE).

Peddling Propaganda: The Daily Telegraph supports the governments’ hostile new approach to Beijing taken by its former columnist and current prime minister Boris Johnson. Scorning those who say the UK shouldn’t let concern about human rights jeopardise trade with China, its editorial declares: “Such realpolitik is characteristic of authoritarian regimes and we are right to stand up to it.” Telegraph columnists agree. “Too many in the West are still blind to the inconvenient truth about China,” harrumphs William Hague, while Charles Moore is scathing about British businesses and universities who kowtowed to “organisations ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – which is to say, all important organisations in China”. You wouldn’t guess from this that over the past decade Moore’s employers earned an estimated £750,000 a year from one such organisation, the state-controlled China Daily, which produced a monthly “China Watch” in the Telegraph that looked like part of the newspaper but was, in fact, a propaganda supplement (READ MORE).

Evening Standard – is set to cut staff after its business model was left in tatters by the coronavirus crisis and UK lockdown. Up to 115 staff are affected, including 69 in editorial. This is equal to a 40% staffing cut in the newsroom, which has some 167 journalists, the business title reported (source). 90 of 140 journalists are going at Reach – Britain’s biggest newsgroup and regional newspapers have lost up to 20 per cent of circulation in the lockdown.



Lawsuits mount: Tory Ministers are facing a wave of legal actions over government responses to the Covid19 crisis, with families preparing challenges over everything from failure to protect key workers to care home residents. Already, there are at least eight significant legal challenges that have been launched relating to the government’s handling of the pandemic (source). Just one of them has 1400 bereaved families who are suing the government (source). Separately is a call for a judicial review – another calls for a statutory review and CovidJusticeUK represents hundreds of families crowdfunding (source) to sue the government. The government is now soon to be swimming in legal challenges. This is the reason why any Covid inquiry will be a whitewash because it will stop payouts to the bereaved.

Another lawsuit: The initial decision to allow the infection to spread unchecked was in breach of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, campaigners say. In other words – the Government may have acted “criminally” over its initial plan for herd immunity to infect the entire country. The result – campaigners are preparing to initiate a prosecution against senior cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister, on allegations of Misconduct in Public Office (READ MORE).

Pestfix: The company that gets rid of rats, now inexplicably supplying PPE to the NHS through the governments’ unaccountable system of dishing out contracts to the unaccountable – was found not to have won one contract but eleven. It’s now flogging respirators with poor safety ratings (because profit is more important than saving lives). It’s amazing that the mainstream media haven’t got their teeth into this story. However, legal letters from Pestfix are flying about all over the place to silence those reporting it – mainly because they now have the resources to do so having earned from contracts given by the government with taxpayers money. This company had just £11k of known resources on its books before applying for multi-million-pound contracts (source).

Cant breath: As Covid-19 spreads throughout Africa, a potentially deadly lack of oxygen is leaving patients gasping for breath. Many are having to go without this essential treatment. Some experts apportion considerable blame to the two multinational gas suppliers who dominate the market for oxygen cylinders in most African countries, saying their high prices make the treatment unaffordable. Ex-employees, industry insiders and hospital staff have told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that in their opinion the Linde Group and Air Liquide have overcharged for medical oxygen and on occasion limited hospitals’ supply. They perceived the Linde Group as trying to reduce competition and making it difficult for clinics to switch to cheaper systems (READ MORE).

Blame Game: In its search for as many scapegoats and blame-shifting options as possible Supply Chain Coordination Limited, a company wholly owned by the Department of Health and Social Care is in the crosshairs of a government review. SCCL manages NHS Supply Chain, which in turn is responsible for buying common consumables such as PPE, and medical devices, for the NHS. What the government will do is blame SCCL for the initial PPE crisis and blame it more by stating the government was then pushed into immediately buying PPE equipment in an emergency situation which led to billions being wasted and PPE not actually being delivered (READ MORE).


Could it get any worse…

Corporate Immorality: Companies bailed out with public money have paid shareholders billions of pounds in dividends while cutting tens of thousands of jobs in the UK. Campaigners and commentators have criticised the bail-out for being offered with minimal conditions, and say that companies have put shareholders’ interests above those of their employees. An astonishing 30 per cent of the companies currently accessing emergency funds through this facility have paid out an estimated total of £11.5 billion in dividends to shareholders and investors (READ MORE).

Sexual abuse in church: Church of England guidelines say that if complaints about sexual abuse, or safeguarding failures in the way such complaints are treated, are made against a member of the clergy, the local bishop should immediately form a local “core group” to consider the claim. If the accusation is against a bishop or a dean, the core group is formed at a national level. One might expect such allegations against bishops to be pretty rare – so members of the General Synod were aghast to learn in July that there are currently no fewer than 27 active national core groups – out of just 40 dioceses (READ MORE).

Cult supplies PPE to NHS: Following on from TruePublica’s article this week on why we have had a Russia Report but not an America Report – At least £180 million – and up to £300 million – in ventilator and PPE contracts appear to have been awarded to companies linked to an evangelical movement described as a “cult” by former members which has multiple ties to the Conservative Party. The Exclusive Brethren is a subset of a Christian group, often described as Plymouth Brethren in the UK. It came to prominence after being investigated by the Charity Commission over whether it was delivering enough “public good” to maintain its charitable status. Many of its trustees appear to be directors and shareholders at companies awarded PPE and ventilator procurement contracts by the Department of Health and Social Care (READ MORE)

Corporate Cronyism: Six thousand workers from the coronavirus contact tracing scheme are to be axed when the current NHS Test and Trace initial contracts expire on 23 August, the Department of Health announced this week. But the firms in charge of the outsourced operation, Serco and Sitel, will continue to work on the project and get public funding for it, beyond this period. Sitel has told staff it has already won a contract extension. So these two companies who have failed to provide a working tracing scheme will fire thousands, get paid for them to be there and still not provide the service they were hired for (READ MORE).

Afghan War Crimes: A senior UK commander in 2011 feared a British military unit in Afghanistan had a “deliberate policy” of killing Afghan men, even when “they did not pose a threat.”  Nine years later, the UK government is doing its best to ensure it is almost impossible to prosecute such crimes. This commander’s concerns, along with other evidence about possible unlawful killings by UK forces in Afghanistan, came to light this week after being disclosed to a court. No senior military or political figure – has after 2001, been prosecuted, let alone convicted and there’s a reason. Successive British governments have repeatedly interfered in criminal justice, most blatantly by ministers shutting down criminal inquiries into UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this current government is about to go one step further by putting a Bill before parliament creating a “presumption against prosecution” for alleged crimes committed by UK soldiers overseas more than five years ago (READ MORE).

Gadget passwords: In his foreword to a newly published policy paper on regulating consumer smart-product cybersecurity, the U.K. Minister for Digital Information, Matt Warman MP, has said that his is an “unashamedly pro-tech government.” Warman stated that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been working with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to “urgently address” the problem of poor Internet of Things (IoT) device security. How urgently? How does making weak passwords for all such gadgets illegal before the end of 2021 strike you? Any idea what password your toaster or fridge is using to access your wifi? Me neither. (READ MORE).



Good news

Editors comment: It’s not all bad news – there is some glimmer that Britain can do some things without completely screwing up. Over the course of this crisis, the NHS is almost universally seen by everyone as having risen to the challenge – and most people were expecting it to crash as the pandemic approached. The ability of the government to sell off parts of it through a US/UK trade deal are now further limited because of it. The University of Oxford is right up there leading the race in research and development of the first reliable coronavirus vaccine for international distribution. This was backed with timely and significant government cash and although there are significant political gains if one is developed – it remains that Britain is doing its bit. There were new hospitals that were built practically overnight and treatments discovered with extraordinary speed and although the welfare system did not collapse, that in itself is a miracle given the huge and extraordinary pressure it suddenly faced. We shouldn’t forget that a national economic safety net was rolled out super-fast and although we don’t really know how quickly the economy or what percentage of it will fully return – a lot of money has been thrown at protecting people’s work and incomes even though predictions are looking dire.

  • The construction industry will heavily benefit from two major infrastructure initiatives that add up to about £12billion – which even includes a £500million wind farm to be built in the Shetland Isles, Scotland.
  • Small and micro businesses have benefited from £35billion of support through the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, with an additional 13 billion pounds channelled through U.K. lenders via the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. That’s made finance more readily available and eased stress in the country’s money, equity and bond markets. In other words – it could have been a lot worse.
  • Staycations and sunshine have boosted demand for summer dresses and playthings. July’s 2.6% drop in annual consumer spending was the slowest decline since the start of lockdown, according to Barclaycard. Britons spent more on non-essential items, with categories such as sports and outdoor equipment, including camping gear, all standing out last month. John Lewis department stores have seen an increase in demand for outdoor toys, with sales of paddling pools up almost 1,000% from last year.
  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s “Eat Out to Help Out” initiative in August, Mondays through Wednesdays, is luring people back to all retail destinations, including food and beverage outlets, which climbed 12.2% on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of August from a week earlier, according to data provider Springboard.
  • Figures last week from mortgage lender Halifax suggest the stamp duty tax break, introduced at the start of July and scheduled to run until the end of March, had the desired effect – and house prices have not fallen. Although this is really state intervention into a free market – it’s still welcome relief to homeowners who frightened of the effects that negative equity can achieve.

Fact File

  • Analysis by TaxWatch UK found that £4.8 billion in taxpayers bailout cash was handed to companies that are located in or have links to tax havens (source).
  • Universal Credit is failing millions of people, particularly the most vulnerable, according to the influential Lords Economic Affairs Committee. The Committee, which agrees with the original aim of Universal Credit, blames the scheme’s design for soaring rent arrears and the use of food banks.
  • Sex doll companies have doubled sales since coronavirus lockdowns came into effect—with many dolls going to married couples (source).
  • Lebanon, 2020: Ongoing anti-government protests – Economy set to shrink by 12% – Hyperinflation – Highest number of refugees per capita in the world – Electricity supply crisis – Explosion at Beirut port – Government resignation – Next?
  • Parents, family carers and disabled people are at least twice as likely to be made redundant than the rest of the working population, according to new research by Citizens Advice (source).
  • US trade deal in Brexit Britain will add just “0.2 per cent to UK GDP but only after 15 Years” (source).
  • The UK has among the highest mortality rates for cancer patients with COVID-19, as well as rates of hospital-based transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (source).
  • The credibility of GDPR could be “completely undermined” if a fine is reduced on British Airways’ by 90pc, experts have warned. The airline is expecting a reduction of up to 90pc of its original fine as the pandemic has forced it into immense cost-cutting.
  • Rural crime in England hit an eight-year peak last year according to the latest figures. There was a 9 per cent overall rise but sheep rustling went up 15 per cent with “organised gangs” targeting expensive vehicles like tractors and quad bikes (source).

Tech File

  • A Brazilian Supreme Court judge slapped Facebook with a 1.92 million reais ($367,710) fine for not complying with an order to block certain accounts controlled by supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro implicated in a fake news inquiry (source).
  • A flagship artificial intelligence system designed to predict gun and knife violence before it happens had serious flaws that made it unusable, police have admitted. The error led to large drops in accuracy and the system was ultimately rejected by all of the experts reviewing it for ethical problems (source).
  • Facebook agreed earlier this year to pay $550 million to settle the case, which claims that the tech giant illegally used facial-recognition technology in its “tag suggestions” service. Next week, it’s back in court in an attempt to defend the same case where the judge thinks the fine is woefully short (source).
  • It seems no social media platform is safe from online crooks. During June 2020 alone, Action Fraud received 169 reports from Instagram users who had fallen victim to fraudulent investment schemes, commonly referred to as a ‘money flipping’ service. The UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime said these reports have amounted to a total loss of £358,809 (source).
  • Criminal groups have been quick to adapt to Covid-19. Trade in counterfeit medical supplies has soared, while lockdown regimes are changing patterns in cybercrime, fraud and money laundering (source).
  • At least 12 universities and 50 charities affected in the UK and North America have been caught up in a new ransomware attack. All the personal information stolen has since been destroyed after it paid the ransom to prevent further risk. The UK organisations affected by the breach include The National Trust, Young Minds, The University of York and University College, Oxford. (source)

Tweets of the Week


Recommended Weekend Reading

Britain’s Brutality: Tom McTague has written a truly incisive piece in the Atlantic that exposes exactly why Britain unilaterally failed in its response to the pandemic. McTague interviews a former PM’s, cabinet ministers, diplomats, half a dozen influential officials working in Downing Street and in the NHS; along with specialists associated with the government’s response, including professors of epidemiology, mathematics, history, and psychology. His conclusion that serious structural weaknesses that have built up were “exposed with appalling brutality” during the crisis. “When the pandemic hit, then, Britain was not the strong, successful, resilient country it imagined, but a poorly governed and fragile one. The truth is, Britain was sick before it caught the coronavirus” (READ MORE).

Dominic Cummings – a cover story obscuring something far darker: This article gives a frightening insight into what is really going on behind your back in Downing Street right now. Quotes like – “How else did you think that this group of political anarchists would ever get this through, would enrich themselves beyond their wildest dreams and walk away after the fog of a pandemic drifts away and we are left with the rubblemakes for sobering reading (READ MORE).

Corruption of Conservatism: In an extract from his new book, Peter Geoghegan writes about how the European Research Group or ERG became a tightly organised ‘party within a party’ that set the UK on course for a no-deal Brexit. It’s a fascinating read about political fanatics and fantasists on the hard-right, where they came from and what they want. If you want an understanding of just how fragile democracy really is when there is no constitution holding it together and toothless enforcement of the rules – then this gives the reader a deeper insight to the inner workings of a small group of people destined to ruin the future prospects of a generation (READ MORE).

Your political profile: Political parties are profiling voters across the UK, using personal data purchased from the same people who give you a credit score to try and guess information about your religious and political beliefs, family life and social status. Often those guesses are completely wrong. This matters, a lot. It determines your political relationship with that party, and whether they talk to you, engage with you, care about you. All because of who they think you are. Here is an automated tool to help you access your data rights. You have a right under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to request the personal data held about you by data controllers. Built by Open Rights Group and MoreOnion, this tool will send subject access requests to political parties across the United Kingdom (Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (READ MORE).

Not letting a crisis go to waste: The coronavirus crisis once again saw the UK divided — between those putting their trust in public health experts, and those quick to question the science on which the government claimed to base its decisions for controlling the pandemic. For those who have watched the decades-long efforts to slow climate action, this was a familiar phenomenon. And the coronavirus pandemic seemed to give fresh ammunition to some familiar political actors. How UK climate deniers used a pandemic crisis to further their agenda is exposed is this article written by Zac Derler (READ MORE).



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