Book review. Twyford Rising: Land and Resistance

Book review. Twyford Rising: Land and Resistance by Helen Beynon with Chris Gillham
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
23 February 2021

IN 1989 the Thatcher government announced the “biggest road-building programme since the Romans”. One of the new schemes was the M3 extension past Winchester across Twyford Down.

With local groups having fought the planned road for decades with little success, in the early 1990s there was a shift to direct action. Concerned about the proposed road’s impact on the land, the so-called Dongas Tribe – named after the ancient trackways in the area – set up camp on the Down.

Skilfully using original interviews, letters, memoirs, photos and poems, the authors paint a vivid picture of outdoor living, with many people recalling a deep, spiritual connection to the land.

The Dongas were soon joined by members of radical environment network Earth First!, while local residents, such as ex-Tory Councillor David Croker, continued to lobby against the road through more conventional methods (some also participated in actions too).

There were tensions between the different groups, of course, but from summer 1992 onwards they were able to carry out regular nonviolent direct action, often forcing a stop to work on the site. In 1993 the Department of Transport claimed the protests were adding £20,000 a day to the costs of the road.

The crunch came on 9 December 1992 – known as “Yellow Wednesday” – when the camp was violently evicted by a small army of private security guards. The authors painfully highlight just how traumatic the clearance was for those who experienced it. Activist Becca records “Female protesters were sexually assaulted and had their clothes ripped off.”

With the camp forced off the Down, people continued organising, with large rallies and mass trespasses taking place at the work site in 1993 and 1994, including one in which Kinder Scout trespasser Benny Rothman spoke at.

The road was eventually built but not before the resistance at Twyford Down had lit the touch paper for the wider anti-roads movement. There were protests against the M11 Link Road in east London, Fairmile in Devon, Jesmond Dene in Newcastle and, most famously, the Newbury Bypass. Like Twyford, these hard fought battles ended in defeat for the protesters, though arguably they won the war.

“When we began campaigning there were 600 proposed schemes in the Government’s roads programme”, John Stewart, then chair of the anti-roads group ALARM UK, noted in 1998. “Now there are 150 and we expect that number to be cut further… we have done our job.”

More broadly, Twyford “begat a hundred campaigns”, activist Shane Collins notes, including Reclaim The Streets and the anti-GM movement of the late 90s. Key figures also assisted Plane Stupid with their campaign against airport expansion, and there is a clear link between the anti-roads movement and the climate camps of the 2000s and Extinction Rebellion.

Hugely inspiring, Twyford Rising is an engrossing account of one of the most important protests in recent British history. As the authors conclude: “Twyford richly deserves to be part of the legends of these Islands, for it is a lost land now, which once was filled with beauty and hope.”

To order Twyford Rising visit https://twyfordrising.org/.

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How They Made Us Doubt Everything

How They Made Us Doubt Everything
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
25 February 2021

“The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance”, Alex Carey noted in his seminal 1995 book Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: “the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”

The Australian writer’s analysis is well illustrated by the engrossing ten-part BBC Radio 4 series How They Made Us Doubt Everything.

Presented by Peter Pomerantsev, author of the 2019 book This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality, the series looks at how corporate public relations firms engineered doubt about the connection between smoking and cancer in the 1960s, and then used similar tactics to manufacture doubt about climate change.

The story begins in December 1953 soon after the publication of an article titled “Cancer by the carton” in the popular US magazine Reader’s Digest. The heads of the major tobacco industry companies hold a secret crisis meeting in New York, having hired John Hill, the founder of Hill & Knowlton, the world’s first international PR firm, to assist them.

“Because of the grave nature of a number of recently highly publicised research reports on the effects of cigarette smoking widespread public interest had developed causing great concern within and without the industry”, noted a Hill & Knowlton memo written a few days later, titled ‘Preliminary Recommendations for Cigarette Manufacturers’. “These developments have confronted the industry with a serious problem of public relations”.

Hill had made his name helping steel companies undermine trade unions and protecting big business. And, true to form, Hill & Knowlton put together the PR playbook the tobacco industry used to protect their profits – most infamously the 1954 A Frank Statement advertisement.

Appearing in nearly 450 newspapers and reaching an estimated 43 million Americans, according to a 2002 article in Tobacco Control journal, the advert emphasised there was no agreement amongst scientists on what caused lung cancer, and pledged tobacco industry “aid and assistance to the research effort into all phases of tobacco use and health.”

Ingeniously, Hill didn’t reject the science, but selectively used it to confuse the public. “It is important that the public recognise the existence of weighty scientific views which hold there is no proof that cigarette smoking is a cause of lung cancer”, he argued. Pomerantsev calls this the “White coats” strategy, with the tobacco industry using scientists often funded by the industry to call into question the work of independent scientists. “You undermine science with more science”, he notes.

A 1969 secret tobacco industry memo perfectly distilled Hill’s approach: “Doubt is our product. Since it is the best means of competing with the body of fact that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing controversy.”

It is now well understood the tobacco industry’s manipulation of the public delayed regulation and behaviour change, leading to hundreds of thousands of avoidable early deaths. However, years later the playbook was dusted down and put it into action again – this time by an oil industry whose profits were under threat from the public’s increasing concern about global warming. And the stakes were even higher than with tobacco, both in the scale of the threat to humanity and for the companies involved: in 2000 the oil company Exxon Mobil logged $17.7 billion in income, giving it the most profitable year of any corporation in history, according to CNN.

Shockingly, How They Made Us Doubt Everything highlights how Exxon knew about the dangers of climate change, and their role in it, by the early 1980s. Speaking to Pomerantsev, Exxon scientist Martin Hoffert explains he successfully modelled the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change in 1981, passing the results onto management. However, ignoring their own research, in 1996 Exxon CEO Lee Raymond stated “the scientific evidence is inconclusive as to whether human activities are having a significant effect on the global climate.”

This was likely part of Exxon’s broader strategy to confuse and manipulate the public about the reality of climate change. A 1989 presentation by Exxon’s Manager of Science and Strategy to the company’s Board of Directors noted the data pointed to “significant climate change, and sea level use with generally negative consequences”. Furthermore, the long hot summer of 1988 “has drawn much attention to the potential problems and we are starting to hear the inevitable call for action”, with the media “likely to increase public awareness and concern”. His recommendation? “More rational responses will require efforts to extend the science and increase emphasis on costs and political realities.” Discussing the presentation with Pomerantsev, Kert Davies from the Climate Investigations Center says it shows “they are worried that the public will take this on and enact radical changes in the way we use energy and affect their business.”

Indeed, by 1988 Exxon’s position was clear, according to a memo written by their Public Affairs Manager, Joseph M. Carlson: “emphasise the uncertainty in scientific conclusions regarding the potential enhanced greenhouse effect.”

Similarly, in 1991 the green-sounding Information Council on the Environment (ICE) – which in fact represented electrical companies in the US – set out their strategy: “reposition global warming as theory (not fact).” Surveys commissioned by ICE recommended targeting specific segments of the population, including “older, lesser educated males from larger households who are not typically information seekers” and “younger, low income women”, who they believed were more easily influenced by new information. Thankfully, following an embarrassing leak to the New York Times, the organisation quickly folded.

Just as the public’s concern about smoking and health led to industry competitors working together to save their businesses, following the signing of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol committing states to reduce the carbon emissions, Exxon joined forces with Southern Company and Chevron to design a “multi-year, multi-million dollar plan to fund denial and install uncertainty.” This Global Climate Science Communications Plan noted: “Victory will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in the climate science”.

In many ways this corporate-funded climate denial propaganda campaign was hugely successful in its aims. Pomerantsev quotes the results of a 2016 Pew Research Center poll of Americans, which found just 48 per cent of respondents understood that the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity, with just 15 per cent of conservative Republicans agreeing.

And like the tobacco industry strategy of doubt, the fossil-fuelled PR campaign has undoubtedly confused the public in the US and beyond and delayed action on the biggest threat facing humanity, meaning perhaps millions of unnecessary deaths. However, there are reasons to believe the fossil fuel corporations are now losing the war.

Speaking to the Morning Star in March 2019, David Wallace-Wells, the author of The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, explained there have been significant shifts in US public opinion over recent years. For example, a 2019 Yale University/George Mason University survey found six in ten Americans were either “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change, with the proportion of people “alarmed” having doubled since 2013.

A January 2021 poll by the United Nations Development Programme – the largest poll ever conducted on climate change, with 1.2 million people questioned in 50 countries – confirms these hopeful results: two-thirds of respondents said climate change is a “global emergency”, including 65 per cent of respondents in the US.

Indeed, it is important to remember Democrat Joe Biden was elected to the White House after campaigning on what Nature journal called “the most ambitious climate platform ever put forth by a leading candidate for US president.”

Two important conclusions can be made from listening to How They Made Us Doubt Everything. First, while Pomerantsev himself has written extensively about Russian propaganda and disinformation efforts directed at the West, his BBC Radio 4 series suggests the main threat to the wellbeing of Western publics actually comes from Western corporate propaganda rather than Russian troll farms and cyberwarfare groups like Fancy Bear. And second, there is an ongoing struggle between corporate power and democratic forces across the globe – what former US Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards called an “epic fight”. The outcome could not be more serious: future generations will only inherit a liveable planet if we are able to successfully confront corporate propaganda and tame corporate power.

How The Made Us Doubt Everything is available to stream or download from BBC Sounds.

Is the most popular form of feminism today Imperial Feminism?

Is the most popular form of feminism today Imperial Feminism? 
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
16 February 2021

In the last decade or so there has been a resurgence of feminist writing and activism in the UK and beyond, which has raised consciousness in both women and men. Best-selling British Young Adult fiction author Holly Bourne, Nigerian-American writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates have been three key figures in this important and necessary upsurge. I think they have all done, and continue to do, brilliant work popularizing feminism and feminist arguments for young people, and those who don’t identify as feminists, which has helped to improve the lives of women across the world. Indeed, I have given books written by all of them to family members in recent years. 

However, while I am an admirer of their work, I also think it is important to understand the dangerous limitations of the brand of feminism they propagate. 

Asked in a 2016 online Q&A “If you were going to create an all-girl group of superheroes who’d you choose (real people and/or cartoon characters)?”, Bourne replied “Hillary Clinton.” She continued: “There’s so many awesome people in the world”, before also choosing “Malala” – that is Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani female education activist who was shot in the face by the Taliban in 2012. 

Adichie is also a big fan of the former US Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate. Sitting down for an obsequious Q&A with Clinton at a 2018 Pen America event, Adichie opened by noting “When I said hello to Mrs Clinton backstage, I had to try very hard not to get emotional.” She also explained she had recently written an article titled “Why is Hillary Clinton so Widely Loved?” The event ended with the two women embracing for a long time on stage.  

And writing in her inspiring 2016 book Girl Up about women and leadership, Bates highlights how Condoleezza Rice became US Secretary of State and “pioneered the policy of Transformational Diplomacy to increase the number of responsible democratic governments internationally”. 

Undoubtedly Clinton – and to a lesser extent, Rice – are role models for many women, and have been public advocates for women’s rights and other causes that impact women around the globe, such as female education. 

However, the inescapable fact is Clinton has been a senior member of the US government and wider US political establishment since the early 1990s, and therefore her crimes have been extensive and hugely destructive.  

As Secretary of State Clinton played a leading role in NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011. With the mission quickly morphing into regime change, in September 2016 the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee concluded the intervention resulted in “political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.” In November 2014 the Guardian reported on research conducted by Dignity, the Danish Institute against Torture, in Libya after the US-led intervention. “Our data supports the allegations that widespread… and gross human rights violations have taken place in Libya”, the report noted after conducting a household survey. 20 per cent of households had a family member who had disappeared, and 11 per cent had had a family member arrested. Of those arrested 46 per cent reported beatings, 20 per cent positional torture or suspensions and 16 per cent suffocation. 

Clinton also backed Obama’s surge of US forces in Afghanistan in 2009 and the covert US intervention against the Assad government which played a role in escalating the conflict in Syria. While she was Secretary of State, the US support for women’s rights champion Saudi Arabia continued, and the US conducted hundreds of drone strikes across the world. Indeed, when Malala Yousafzai met Obama in 2013 she expressed concern that US drone strikes were “fuelling terrorism”, according to CNN. 

As a US Senator Clinton voted for the illegal 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which a 2013 PLOS Medicine journal study estimates led to 500,000 Iraqi deaths. According to the 2004 Lancet study “most individuals reportedly killed by [US-led] coalition forces were women and children”. More broadly, Brown University’s Cost of War research project estimates, as of 2020, 9.2 million Iraqis are internally displaced or refugees abroad due to the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation. A 2008 Brookings Institution think-tank policy paper noted “some 80 percent” of Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq “are women and children”.  

Back in the United States, it is worth mentioning Clinton’s role, as first lady, in President Bill Clinton’s move in 1996 to “end welfare as we know it” by signing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. “It would be hard to imagine a bigger blow to the material well-being of poor women in America”, Liza Featherstone noted in The Nation in 2016. “As first lady, Hillary wasn’t a mere spectator to this; within the White House, she advocated harsher policies like ending traditional welfare, even as others in the administration, like Labor Secretary Robert Reich, proposed alternatives.” 

In summary, as Dr Patrick Barrett Professor Deepa Kumar noted in Jacobin magazine in 2016, Clinton’s record is “one which has been devastating for millions of vulnerable people (especially women and children) both at home and abroad”. 

Feminist scholar bell hooks concurs, explaining in 2016 she couldn’t support Clinton because there are “certain things that I don’t want to co-sign in the name of feminism that I think are militarist, imperialist, white supremacist.”  

Indeed, a Clinton-supporting feminism is, by definition, Imperial Feminism – what Zillah Eisenstein, Professor of Politics at Ithaca College, defines as “feminism that operates on behalf of American empire building.”  

Clinton, then, can only be a feminist icon if you ignore, or are ignorant of, her deadly impact on non-white women and their families in nations like Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.  

The young people who engage with – and look up to – Bourne and Adichie deserve to be exposed to more humane, non-racist versions of feminism than this. 

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair. 

Book review. In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action. Vicky Osterweil

Book review. In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action. Vicky Osterweil
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News

March 2021

Written in the wake of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Vicky Osterweil’s central argument is that looting and rioting are positive actions, which ‘in most instances… transform and build a nascent moment into a movement’. She maintains looting makes ‘day-to-day life easier by changing the price of goods to zero’, redistributes wealth and ‘reinforces bonds of solidarity’, concluding ‘we need to argue for and defend every tactic that might overturn white supremacy, capitalism, empire and property. [my emphasis added]

A significant part of the book is devoted to criticising nonviolent struggle which, at one point, she claims ‘is structured around victim blaming and anti-Blackness.’

Centred on the US, there are, to be sure, interesting sections – on the racial roots of property, the slavery origins of the police, and the Black-led resistance to these oppressive historical forces. There is a reliance on secondary sources, which wouldn’t be a problem if all the provocative arguments were referenced adequately. Instead, one can go pages without any citations, rendering assertions like Black riots formed ‘a central part of the [1960s civil rights] movement’s power and effectiveness’ largely meaningless.

I’m often attracted to polemical writing, but Osterweil is maddingly simplistic. One chapter is titled ‘All cops are bastards’. Elsewhere, she claims FDR’s New Deal ‘did nothing more than strangle a revolutionary movement in its cradle’ [my emphasis added], and seems to think pointing out Martin Luther King travelled with an armed entourage fatally undermines the case for nonviolence (there is no reference for this, of course, though a 2016 Associated Press report I found suggests this only applies to King’s early activism in the mid-50s).

Tellingly, Osterweil fails to engage with any of the academic or historical literature highlighting the efficacy of nonviolence, with no mention of the work of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, researchers in the orbit of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Gene Sharp or George Lakey.

She is also blasé about the fact looting and rioting often leads to people being injured, and sometimes killed – either by state repression or the rioters and looters themselves – and shows little interest in evidence confirming nonviolence engenders more support from the public and media. For example, a June 2020 Reuters/Ipsos poll of Americans about the Black Lives Matter protests found 73% of respondents supported ‘peaceful protest and demonstrations’, but only 22% backed violent protests. A recent peer-reviewed article in the American Political Science Review by Omar Wasow came to similar conclusions, as well as finding violent protest caused a rightward shift amongst voters.

Unserious and incurious, this book won’t change the minds of seasoned peace activists though, worryingly, it might influence those who are in the process of forming their views on protest and political change.

In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action is published by Bold Type Books, priced £16.99.

“There is no acceptable level of transmission”: Zero Covid campaign interview

“There is no acceptable level of transmission”: Zero Covid campaign interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
20 January 2021

On 13 January official figures showed a record daily 1,564 new covid fatalities in the UK, shamefully taking the total number of deaths from covid in the country to over 100,000.

In response to this ongoing government-made national catastrophe, the Zero Covid campaign was established in October 2020, supported by trade unions, academics and health experts.

Ian Sinclair asked Roy Wilkes from the campaign to explain what ‘Zero Covid’ actually means, whether other nations have had success following this strategy and what concerned citizens can do to support the campaign. 

Ian Sinclair: What, exactly, does ‘Zero Covid’ mean? The total suppression of the virus?

Roy Wilkes: Zero Covid is an aspiration, based on the premise that there is no acceptable level of transmission. There are two alternatives to a Zero Covid strategy: herd immunity, and containment.  Several governments flirted with the herd immunity strategy – allowing the virus to circulate unhindered, while supposedly protecting the most clinically vulnerable as far as possible – in the early stages of the pandemic; but they soon realised that the resultant mass death tolls would be politically untenable. So they moved on to a containment strategy, of allowing the virus to circulate until health services were at risk of being overwhelmed, and then taking partial suppression measures until transmission (and hospitalisation) rates are reduced. 

The containment strategy is motivated by a desire to maintain normal economic for as long as possible. But even on its own terms it has failed miserably. At £380bn, the UK has suffered an 80% higher state deficit than the G7 average. We have also experienced a 90% greater decline in economic output, and a 60% higher death toll.

The repeated cycle of on-off lockdowns has damaged both lives and livelihoods. The death tolls (and long term health damage) have been considerably worse in deprived communities, among disabled people and among black and ethnic minority people. It is those same communities who have been most impoverished by the government’s handling of Covid. Those who live in the leafy suburbs on the other hand, can more easily avoid the risks of contagion. Billionaires have seen their wealth rise at an astonishing rate, stock markets have boomed, and the corporate privatisation vultures like Serco have gorged profusely on the state coffers.

The alternative to this is an elimination strategy, a Zero Covid strategy. Some experts have argued that total elimination is now impossible, that the virus is endemic. That may or may not be the case.  However, by pursuing the aspiration of Zero Covid we will put ourselves in the strongest position to successfully contain small outbreaks as and when they occur. We will also give the vaccines a much better chance of working effectively. 

Pandemics are becoming more frequent, almost certainly as a result of ecological degradation. There will be further pandemics, and the next one might be considerably more dangerous than Covid.  Pursuing a Zero Covid strategy will help us to build the infrastructure and the expertise that we will need to deal with those future pandemics as and when they arise. 

IS: What policies does the Zero Covid campaign believe the UK government should be implementing to achieve Zero Covid?

RW: The Zero Covid strategy is very simple. We need to close all non-essential workplaces until community transmission is close to zero. That will necessitate the state paying workers to stay at home. Can we afford it? Yes. To pay 20 million workers £400 per week for five weeks would cost the exchequer £40bn. A lot of money, but a tiny fraction of the £380bn deficit the Johnson government squandered in 2020. Independent Sage estimates that by closing schools and non-essential workplaces we can halve community transmission each week.

While we are driving down transmission we need to build the second strand of the Zero Covid strategy: a locally based, public sector system of Find, Test, Trace, Isolate and Support. That means first and foremost closing down the failed Serco operation and transferring those resources to local health authorities, so they can recruit local contact tracers who know the areas they work in. The ‘support’ part of the package is in many ways the most important. We found in Liverpool that mass testing is useless if people don’t take the tests; and in the most deprived boroughs less than 10% took the tests because they feared a positive result, knowing that they couldn’t afford to self isolate should they receive one. Again, the state must pay people to stay at home if they or their dependents need to self isolate, and there must also be a full package of community social and mental health support available too. And finally, we need a proper system of public health screening at all ports of entry, with adequate quarantine where necessary. 

IS: Have any countries around the world successfully implemented a Zero Covid strategy?

RW: New Zealand has now lifted all restrictions, having reduced community transmission to zero.  Vietnam, with a population of over 90 million and long land borders with several other countries, has suffered 35 deaths in total. Vietnam’s locally based public sector test, trace, isolate and support system really is world beating. Taiwan, with a population density higher than ours, has had a total of 7 deaths. Australia is an important example that we should study carefully, since it shows that even from a poor starting point it is possible to shift towards a successful elimination strategy. Transmission rates in Australia were as high as they were in the UK a few months ago. On 13 January 2021 Australia only had 8 new recorded cases. China was widely mocked for their Wuhan lockdown at the outset of this pandemic; no one is laughing at them now. All of these countries have shown that a Zero Covid strategy is both feasible and effective.

IS: The Morning Star has provided extensive coverage of the Zero Covid campaign. Can you give an idea of the level of support the campaign has in the wider media, in parliament and in the expert community?

RW: The scientists and medics of Independent Sage have consistently advocated an elimination strategy. Other scientists on the other hand, are happy to serve the interests of capital. Patrick Vallance was until recently President, R&D at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, and shares the same corporate world view as Boris Johnson. The Great Barrington Declaration was funded by the same billionaires who have previously promoted climate change denial and skepticism over the links between tobacco and cancer. 

The Morning Star has provided exemplary coverage of this crisis. The wider mainstream media have played a far less salutary role. The worst coverage has come from the BBC, which has been little better than a propaganda mouthpiece for government policy. Most of the media gleefully parrot the false government narrative that the current catastrophe is the fault of irresponsible members of the public. 

The front bench of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition has been almost as bad. This is all the more astonishing when we consider that the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus has acknowledged the failure of containment and the need for a more serious elimination strategy. However, a handful of MPs, notably Richard Burgon and Diane Abbott, have swum against the stream and consistently advocated a principled Zero Covid strategy.

IS: Regular lockdowns and restrictions on movement and socialising have negatively impacted people’s ability to organise and take action. What can concerned individuals do to support your campaign?

RW: Despite the lockdowns and restrictions, we have over the past year learned new ways to organise and take action. Who among us had heard of Zoom this time last year? We are now able to meet regularly with others not only in different cities of the UK, but also globally. This new and enhanced capacity to communicate and organise will stand us in good stead for the future. We are also finding new ways to organise for safety in the workplace. The National Education Union has played an exemplary role in this regard. Their action last week was instrumental in forcing the government to close the schools as part of the current lockdown. The NEU was motivated not only by concerns for the health and safety of its members in the workplace, but more importantly by the needs of the wider community. That is the scale of solidarity we want to encourage. 

If and when the government lifts the current lockdown, we will once again return to the streets in safe, masked, socially distanced protest action. We know now that the public overwhelmingly supports measures to bring this pandemic under control. Our job as a campaign is to mobilise that opinion into an unstoppable movement, through both online and safe outdoor protest action.

Find out more at https://zerocovid.uk/

How Advertising Fuels the Climate Crisis: Interview with Tim Kasser

How Advertising Fuels the Climate Crisis: Interview with Tim Kasser
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
12 January 2021

With the climate crisis likely to be high on the political agenda this year – the UK is hosting the next round of United Nations climate talks in November 2021 – a new publication from the New Weather Institute think tank and the climate action charity Possible is well timed.

The report, Advertising’s Role in Climate and Ecological Destruction: What Does the Scientific Research Have to Say?, is written by Tim Kasser, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Knox College in the United States, and author of books such as Hypercapitalism (2018) and The High Price of Materialism (2002).

Ian Sinclair asked Kasser about the connection between advertising and climate change, the role of television and what governments and citizens can do to address the issue.

Ian Sinclair: How does advertising contribute to the climate and ecological crises we are now experiencing? 

Tim Kasser: Some industries have direct effects on climate and ecological crises. For example, the auto, oil, airlines, and many other industries release CO2 and pollution, and industries like agribusiness destroy habitat. Other industries have indirect effects on climate and ecological crises. For example, some banks provide financing to the auto, oil, airlines, and agribusiness industries. So, while the banks themselves don’t have a big direct effect on the climate or ecology, their actions support those industries that do have big direct effects. Our recent report suggests that advertising has similar indirect effects on the environment. 

The report presents scientific evidence for four pathways through which advertising indirectly causes climate and ecological damage. These four pathways include two products, beef and tobacco, that research shows are both damaging to the environment and whose consumption is increased as a result of advertising. The two other pathways we examine are materialistic values and “the work & spend cycle.” I’ll say more about those in a moment, but the main point for now is that research shows that both materialism and the work & spend cycle are increased by advertising and that both are associated with negative environmental outcomes. 

We suspect that there are other pathways through which advertising has indirect negative effects on the environment, but these were the four pathways that had the most solid scientific evidence behind them, and so they were the ones that we wrote about.    

IS: The report highlights the important role played by television in this process. What does the evidence show? 

TK: In many nations the biggest television channels are owned by for-profit companies whose revenue depends upon selling advertisements. The vast majority of those advertisements are designed to encourage viewers to spend their money on certain products (like pizza), services (like automobile repair), or experiences (like trips on a cruise ship). These advertisements almost inevitably suggest that a viewer’s life would be happier, safer, or better in any number of ways if the viewer would buy what is advertised. 

When people are exposed to these messages thousands of times per day, day after day, year after year from early childhood onward, the research shows that they come to prioritize the acquisition of money and possessions, or what researchers call “materialism.” Many studies show that the more that people watch television, the more materialistic they are. Further, experimental studies show that people become more materialistic after being exposed to the kinds of advertising messages they see on television, compared to being exposed to more neutral messages. 

Research studies with people of many ages and from many nations also show that when people are more materialistic, they care less about environmental damage, are less likely to behave in ways that help the environment (e.g., by recycling), and are more likely to behave in ways that hurt the environment (e.g., by owning petrol-guzzling autos and living in large homes). 

In sum, this body of research suggests that advertising on television (and elsewhere) has an indirect effect on climate and ecological degradation through encouraging materialistic values and goals. 

IS: The report also argues there is a link between advertising, a long hours work culture and the environment. Can you explain this? 

TK: As I said earlier, the primary goal of most advertisements is to convince people to spend their money on the advertised product, service, or experience. In order to spend money, one either has to go into debt or to earn money, and the way that most people can earn money is by working. Some studies document that the more that people see advertisements, the more hours they work. Researchers think that when people see a lot of ads they decide that working in order to earn money to buy stuff is more important than other options for one’s time, like relaxing, spending time with friends and family, or volunteering. 

The problem is that the research also shows that working long work is associated with more climate and ecological damage. There are two explanations for this. One is that when a lot of people work a lot of hours and make a lot of money which they use to consume stuff, that all “scales up” and creates a lot of ecological damage. The second explanation is that when people work long hours, they have less time to pursue more sustainable ways of life – it takes more time to ride one’s bike or take public transport than to hop in one’s car and drive somewhere.  Both of these explanations are probably valid. 

IS: Though the report doesn’t look at it, how do you think governments and citizens might reduce the negative effects advertising has on the climate and our ecology? 

TK: There are many governmental actions that could reduce advertising’s negative effects. I’ll mention just four that some governments have already tried. 

First, cities like Sao Paulo, Brazil and Grenoble, France place limits on where advertisements are allowed. Other cities could develop similar policies that only allow ads in commercial locations and that remove ads from public locations like highways, buses and subways, schools, parks, etc. 

Second, the nations of Sweden, Norway, and Brazil have each banned advertising to children. Other nations could develop similar policies to help the next generation from being socialized into the consumerist mindset.

Third, the nation of Hungary and the US state of Maryland have attempted to remove the tax breaks that advertisers currently enjoy. These attempts have received substantial push-back. But if other governments developed similar policies, they would not only obtain needed revenue, but they would make advertising more expensive and therefore potentially less desirable for companies. 

Finally, governments all over the world have banned certain types of advertisements for cigarettes, in the recognition that this product is extremely unhealthy. Similar policies could be put in place to ban ads that encourage consumption of environmentally-damaging products, like SUVs, and services, like airline flights.

Citizens can become involved by voting for representatives who support such policies and by petitioning their local governments to enact such policies. In their personal lives, citizens can use ad block apps on the Internet and unsubscribe from media that are replete with advertisements. 

Advertising’s Role in Climate and Ecological Destruction is free to download from http://www.badverts.org/reports-and-publications.

Are governments doing enough on the climate crisis? Interview with Climate Action Tracker

Are governments doing enough on the climate crisis? Interview with Climate Action Tracker
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
23 December 2020

Set up in 2009 by Climate Analytics and New Climate Institute, Climate Action Tracker (CAT) conducts independent scientific analysis that tracks the response by governments across the world to the climate crisis.

In particular, CAT measures government action against the globally agreed 2016 United Nations (UN) Paris Agreement aim of “holding warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.”

For context, in 2018 the Guardian’s environment correspondent Fiona Harvey noted “even 1.5˚C of warming would cause sea level rises, coral reef die-off, extinction of species and droughts, floods, storms and heatwaves that would threaten the world’s stability.” Worryingly, she explained “Levels of warming greater than that would devastate parts of the globe, wiping out agricultural productivity, melting the Arctic ice cap and rendering many areas uninhabitable.”

With the UK hosting the next major UN climate change conference, COP 26, in November 2021, Ian Sinclair asked Sofia Gonzales-Zuñiga and  Ryan Wilson from CAT about where the world stands today in terms of government policies and temperature rise, how recent events in the US and China will likely impact global temperature, and the UK’s own policy response.

Ian Sinclair: You work highlights the importance of differentiating between the pledges made by governments, and the policies they actually implement. What is the likely global temperature increase by 2100 that will result from the currently implemented policies of all the world’s governments? And if governments stick to their pledges made under the 2016 Paris Agreement what would this mean for temperature rise? 

Sofia Gonzales-Zuñiga: We estimate the temperature increase from current policies in 2100 will be 2.9˚C (a range of 2.1-3.9˚C). If they stick to their pledges made under the Paris Agreement this would come down to 2.6˚C. Note: we don’t analyse all countries, rather all the biggest emitters and a selection of smaller emitters, totally around 80% of global emissions.

IS: How many countries are currently on track to meet the pledged emissions reductions they signed up to in the Paris Agreement? And how many countries does CAT assess are acting consistently with the Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.5˚C

SG-Z: Who is on track? That’s an interesting question, because many countries don’t have very strong pledges. India and China, for example, are both set to overachieve their pledges, a strong indication they could increase them. Russia has always had a pledge that it will well overachieve.  

In terms of being on a 1.5˚C pathway, there are few countries on that track. We assess India to be nearly there, plus The Gambia and Morocco, and, if it achieves its Paris Agreement pledge, the UK.  We rate their pledges and not the policies currently in place to meet them, thus more work is required by all to get onto a Paris Agreement pathway.

IS: Two recent global events have increased hopes the world can address the climate crisis – China’s September 2020 announcement it will “aim to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060”, and Joe Biden from the Democratic Party being elected President of the United States. What effect are these two events likely to have on the climate crisis? 

SG-Z: These will make a huge difference. We estimate the China pledge would shave 0.2-0.3˚C off global warming, and the US around 0.1˚C. We have now modelled the warming estimate for the combined net zero pledges made by 127 countries, and this, if achieved, would bring warming in 2100 down to 2.1˚C.  

IS: The UK government presents itself as a “world leader” when it comes to addressing climate change. What is CAT’s assessment of the UK’s current policies? 

Ryan Wilson: The UK’s recent commitment to achieve at least a 68 per cent reduction in domestic GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions below 1990 levels by 2030 is a world leading target, and places the UK on a 1.5°C Paris Agreement compatible domestic emissions reduction pathway. To ensure it is contributing its fair share to global mitigation efforts though, the UK needs to ramp up its support for less wealthy nations to achieve emissions reductions through measures like climate finance or direct funding for sustainable development projects. A 1.5°C compatible fair share level of effort for the UK combining such measures with its domestic target would see the UK reaching net-zero emissions by around 2030.

Despite a number of significant recent policy announcements, the UK will require a considerable scaling up of climate action just to reach its new 2030 target. Recent announcements like a 2030 ban on the sale of fossil fuel vehicles and a drastic scaling up of offshore wind energy are positive steps in the right direction, but strong ongoing commitments will be needed to achieve deep emissions cuts across all sectors of the economy. Setting a strong emissions reduction target is just the first step, the UK government must now back it up with action.

IS: Due to the pandemic, COP26 in Glasgow, the next major UN climate change conference, has been postponed to November 2021. What should governments being doing to prepare for this? 

SG-Z: We expect governments to continue cutting emissions and, if they haven’t done so already, to submit a strengthened target to the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], as they agreed to do every five years under the Paris Agreement.

Read more about the work of Climate Action Tracker at http://www.climateactiontracker.org

It was the Blair and Bush, not Saddam Hussein, who lied about Iraq’s WMDs

It was the Blair and Bush, not Saddam Hussein, who lied about Iraq’s WMDs
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
21 December 2020

As the famous quote – commonly attributed to US writer Mark Twain – goes: “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes”.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that while the case for the 2003 Iraq war has been largely discredited, an unnerving amount of propaganda spread by the US and UK governments at the time still has some purchase today.

For example, Gerd Nonneman, Professor of International Relations and Gulf Studies at Georgetown University Qatar, recently tweeted about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD): “Saddam’s aim was to keep everyone at home & abroad guessing.” Similarly a November Financial Times review by Chief Political Correspondent Philip Stephens of two books on UK intelligence matters noted the then Iraqi leader “believed his domestic authority in Iraq rested on a pretence that he still had WMD.”

The thesis that Hussein tricked the rest of the world into thinking Iraq had WMDs is surprisingly common. Appearing on a 2013 BBC Newsnight special Iraq: 10 Years On veteran correspondent John Simpson said “It came as a shock to Blair and Bush to find that Saddam had craftily got rid of his weapons” before the 2003 invasion. And during his testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry in 2009, Sir John Scarlett, Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) in 2003, argued Hussein wanted to create the impression he had WMD to “project power in the region”.

Compare these claims with public statements from Saddam Hussein and other members of the Iraqi government.

In early February 2003 Hussein told Tony Benn in an interview screened on Channel Four “There is only one truth and therefore I tell you as I have said on many occasions before that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever”. Later that month he referred to “the big lie that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction such as biological, chemical and nuclear weapons” in an interview with CBS News. In December 2002 the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told ABC News “We don’t have weapons of mass destruction. We don’t have chemical, biological or nuclear weaponry”.

As the US Brookings Institution think-tank noted in December 2002: “Iraq has repeatedly denied that it possesses any weapons of mass destruction.”

On 13 November 2002 Iraq told the United Nations it had neither produced nor was in possession of weapons of mass destruction since the inspectors left in December 1998. And two months earlier on 19 September 2002 CNN reported “Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri delivers a letter to the United Nations from Hussein stating that Iraq has no chemical, nuclear or biological weapons.”

What’s going on? Why are supposedly smart and informed people claiming Hussein tried to trick the world into thinking Iraq had WMDs when the evidence clearly shows the exact opposite – that the Iraqi leadership repeatedly denied having WMDs?

The answer is to be found in the part of Nonneman’s tweet preceding his claim about Hussein’s duplicity: “The problem wasn’t [US and UK] mendacity, it was intel being skewed by group think & failure to contemplate alternative explanations.”

If Hussein was deceiving the world, then it means the US and UK governments mistakenly, but sincerely, believed there were WMD in Iraq. In short, there were no lies about WMD. The 55 per cent of respondents to the July 2004 Guardian/ICM opinion poll who said UK Prime Minister Tony Blair lied were wrong.

Like the belief the Iraqi government was deliberately ambiguous about WMD, this thesis doesn’t stand up to elementary evidence either.

As anyone who had a passing interest in the news circa 2002-3 will remember, the UK government’s lies and deceptions on Iraq were numerous, relentless and increasingly blatant.

For example, Blair repeatedly said he wanted to resolve the issue of Iraq and WMD through the United Nations. The historical evidence suggests something very different. In a March 2002 memo to Blair’s chief foreign policy advisor, the UK Ambassador to the US set out a plan “to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and UN SCRs [UN security council resolutions]”. How? A July 2002 Cabinet Office briefing paper explains: “It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community.” The goal, then, was to use the weapons inspectors and the UN process to trigger war, not to negotiate a peaceful solution.

In July 2002 – fully eight months before the invasion and before UN weapons inspectors returned to Iraq in November 2002 – Blair also wrote to US President George Bush, telling him: “I will be with you, whatever.”

The minutes of a July 2002 meeting in Downing Street with Blair and senior government officials – recorded in the leaked Downing Street Memo – highlight further deceptions. The Head of MI6 is summarised as saying “Military action was now seen as inevitable” in Washington. “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” The minutes summarise Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as saying the case for war “was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.”

Furthermore, the JIC’s Assessment of 21 August 2002 noted “We have little intelligence on Iraq’s CBW doctrine, and know little about Iraq’s CBW work since late 1998”, while their earlier assessment on 15 March 2002 explained “Intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programme is sporadic and patchy.”

In contrast, Blair’s foreword to the infamous September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s supposed WMDs boldly stated “I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current”, with the Prime Minister noting “the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.” 

Largely ignored by the media at the time, and rarely mentioned since, is the testimony of Iraqi general Hussein Kamel, the head of Iraq’s weapons programme in the 1980s and 1990s, which was leaked to Newsweek magazine. Speaking to UN inspectors in Jordan in 1995 Kamel, who was Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, said “I ordered the destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed.” However, not only did the Blair government fail to disclose this important information in the run up to the war, Blair shamelessly cited Kamel when he pushed for war in parliament on 18 March 2003: “Hussain Kamel defected to Jordan. He disclosed a far more extensive BW [biological weapons] programme and for the first time said Iraq had weaponsied the programme.”

What does all this show?

First, it highlights the power of what British historian Mark Curtis called “a government propaganda campaign of perhaps unprecedented heights in the post-war world”. For example, a 2006 Harris Interactive poll found half of Americans believed that Iraq had WMD when the US invaded in 2003.

Second, it suggests supposedly highly educated, critically-minded members of the elite, such as Nonneman, Simpson and Stephens, are as susceptible to government propaganda as anyone else. Indeed, US dissident Noam Chomsky suggests intellectuals are likely the most heavily indoctrinated sector of society: “By and large, they’re part of the privileged elite, and share the interests and perceptions of those in power.” Chomsky notes “the respected intellectuals in virtually every society are those who are distinguished by their conformist subservience to those in power.”

And finally, it highlights the upside down moral world we live in.  So while Blair, his spin doctor Alastair Campbell and Chancellor Gordon Brown all played a central role in the illegal and aggressive invasion of Iraq that led to 500,000 dead Iraqi men, women and children, millions of refugees and created the conditions for Islamic State to prosper, all three continue to appear regularly in the mainstream media.

In a sane and just world the only public appearances these men would be making would be at The Hague to answer for their crimes.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. Ian tweets @IanJSinclair.

Book review: The Media Manifesto

Book review: The Media Manifesto by Natalie Fenton, Des Freedman, Justin Schlosberg and Lina Dencik
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
December 2020

A product of the Media Reform Coalition – a group of academics, activists and journalists working for progressive media reform in the UK – The Media Manifesto is a tightly-argued, inspiring call to action.

One of the book’s central arguments is that the misinformation underpinning developments like the rise of Trump, and the media’s failure to adequately challenge power, shouldn’t – as many liberals would have you believe – be blamed solely on fringe ‘fake news’ elements and the right-wing press. All this actually ‘reflects the insulation, complacency and commercial interests of our major legacy news organisations’.

The authors note that ‘levels of concentration of press power are actually increasing’ in the UK.

In 2015, three companies controlled 71 per cent of national newspaper readership. By 2018 it was 83 per cent.

The authors also have little time for the idea that social media and the internet have disrupted and fragmented traditional media power. Instead, they argue that established news organisations dominate the online space, ‘reproducing and intensifying existing patterns of agenda-setting power’.

This has huge repercussions for how journalism addresses our most pressing problems.

Frameworks and solutions that run counter to the establishment will likely be marginalised – see the pro-City coverage of the financial crisis and the ferocious press assault on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party – while the existential threat of climate change is rarely seriously grappled with.

In its current form, Freedman argues, the BBC is part of the problem: ‘far too implicated in and attached to existing elite networks of power to be able to offer an effective challenge to them’.

However, in the last chapter, the authors highlight the importance of independent and devolved public service media, alongside other proposals, including laws to reduce concentration of ownership and alternative ownership models, such as the pioneering media co-op, The Bristol Cable.

Indeed, there are many brilliant media organisations in the UK today – Declassified UK, Novara Media, Media Lens and, yes, Peace News among them.

Historically, though, Left media have been very weak. Arguably, the independent media were incapable of defending the most anti-imperialist leader of a mainstream party since the Second World War from an entirely predictable media onslaught, let alone able to go on the offensive and decisively shift the national conversation on key issues such as climate change, nuclear weapons or UK foreign policy.

There is much work to be done, then. With its unashamedly socialist politics, The Media Manifesto will no doubt become an important primer, perhaps even a foundational text, in the struggle for media justice.

Groundhog Day: The government’s shameful response to the second COVID surge

Groundhog Day: The government’s shameful response to the second COVID surge
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
December 2020

The UK government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been a ‘national scandal’, as I wrote in PN six months ago. (See PN 2642 – 2643) Reaching its peak in terms of infections and deaths in March and April, the virus killed an estimated 65,400 people in the UK by mid-June, according to the Financial Times. At the time, this huge death toll was the highest in Europe, and the second-highest in the world after the United States.

Following the introduction of the national lockdown on 23 March, the prevalence of the virus reduced significantly in the UK over the summer. However, despite a warning from its own expert scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE) that coming out of lockdown too early could lead to 100,000 deaths by the end of the year (Sunday Times, 10 May), the government pursued a reckless strategy of opening up the economy from May onwards.

Shops were allowed to re-open on 15 June, international travel restrictions were relaxed on 6 July, and people were urged to return to work after 1 August. On 3 August, the government introduced its ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme which encouraged people to eat in restaurants by providing money off their bills. Supported by the Labour party leadership, the government reopened schools and universities in September.
The predictable outcome of all these measures has been a huge surge in the virus, with Imperial College London estimating 96,000 new cases every day in England alone by the end of October (BBC News, 29 October).

On 2 September, the government’s scientific pandemic influenza group on modelling reported that people returning to the UK from abroad were spreading the virus – because of poor compliance with quarantine and the lack of testing at airports (Guardian, 18 September). On 22 September, the government U-turned on its earlier advice and began asking people to work from home if they could (Guardian, 22 September). A University of Warwick study found that the Eat Out to Help Out scheme had caused a ‘significant’ rise in new infections (Sky News, 30 October).

Untested, untraced

Despite the World Health Organisation warning that an effective contact-tracing system needed to be in place before lockdown was lifted (Guardian, 14 June), the UK’s privately-run test-and-trace system has lurched from one crisis to the next.

On 14 September, LBC radio requested a test in all of the top 10 virus hotspots in England. They discovered that no walk-in, drive-through or home tests were available.

In the week ending 7 October, the test-and-trace system recorded its worst-ever week for contact-tracing, reaching only 62.6 percent of close contacts of people who had tested positive in England (Independent, 15 October).

Moreover, documents released by SAGE in August noted that less than 20 percent of people in England fully self-isolate when asked to do so (Guardian, 11 September). This was even though SAGE have said 80 percent of the contacts of all symptomatic cases must be found and isolated to stop the virus spreading (Independent SAGE, 11 June).

Unsurprisingly, on 21 September, SAGE concluded the test-and-trace system was still only ‘having a marginal impact on transmission’.

Too little, too late – again

In August, experts began warning of the dangers of the surging virus, with a government report suggesting a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ of 85,000 deaths across the UK this winter due to COVID-19 (BBC News, 29 August).

On 21 September, SAGE warned the government that the country faced a ‘very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences’, and recommended immediately introducing a national two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown to reduce the spread of coronavirus (Guardian, 13 October).

The government ignored this advice, instead introducing an ineffective 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants, followed by a three-tiered system of restrictions in England on 12 October.

At the press conference announcing the new three-tier system, England’s chief medical officer, professor Chris Whitty, said: ‘I am not confident – and nor is anybody confident – that the Tier 3 proposals for the highest rates… would be enough to get on top of [the virus]’ (Sky News, 12 October).

Whitty was proven right. On 31 October – five and a half weeks after SAGE’s 21 September recommendation – the prime minister finally announced a national four-week lockdown for England, starting on 6 November. Primary and secondary schools and universities were to remain open.

Noting that there is ‘substantial transmission’ in secondary schools, professor Andrew Hayward, an epidemiologist at University College London and a member of SAGE, said that not closing them would likely mean ‘we may need to be in lockdown for longer than we might otherwise have to be’.

Hayward also explained that, if the government had instituted a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown when advised to by SAGE on 21 September, ‘we would definitely have saved thousands of lives and we would clearly have inflicted substantially less damage on our economy than the proposed four-week lockdown will do’ (BBC Radio 4 Today programme, 2 November).

Into action

As with the first wave, the government’s response to the recent surge has often been evidence-light, contradictory and, importantly for activists, vulnerable to external pressure.

For example, the government has twice been forced to change its policy on free school meals vouchers – which are given to around 1.3 million children in England. The Johnson administration had said these vouchers would stop during the summer holidays, but were driven into a U-turn in June. They then said that the vouchers would not be distributed over the Christmas holidays, but had to retreat on 8 November. Both times, the government were forced to climb down because of campaigns led by professional footballer Marcus Rashford, who received free school meals during his childhood.

The introduction of the second lockdown itself was another huge U-turn.

As late as 21 October, Boris Johnson said he opposed a national lockdown (Guardian, 31 October).

When Johnson announced the restrictions, he claimed ‘no responsible prime minister’ could ignore new data which showed ‘the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst-case scenario of our scientific advisers’.

However, the Observer (31 October) reported ‘private anger among the government’s scientific advisers, who say that concerns about exceeding the reasonable worst-case scenarios had been known about for weeks’.

It seems likely, then, the government’s hand was forced by the reality of the surging virus combined with pressure from SAGE and the Labour party, public support for stronger measures (YouGov, 22 September), and the response of other nations (Ireland announced a second lockdown on 19 October, with France and Germany following on 28 October).

There are a couple of potentially game-changing issues that grassroots activists could rally around.

First, a campaign to transfer the crisis-ridden privatised track-and-trace system into public hands would be hugely popular with the public (Survation/HuffPost UK, 21 September) and unite trade unions, the Labour party, the Green party and groups like Keep Our NHS Public.

Second, activists could support the Socialist Campaign Group of 34 Labour MPs and the People’s Assembly who, along with the Independent SAGE expert group (7 July) and professor Devi Sridhar, chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh (Guardian, 22 June), are pushing the government to adopt a ‘Zero COVID’ strategy – in other words, the elimination of the virus from the UK.

With the UK death toll cautiously estimated to be 72,300 as of 10 November, according to the economics editor at the Financial Times – more than the number of UK civilians who died in the Second World War (House of Commons Library, 10 July 2012) – the extent to which progressive activists are able to challenge and help shift the government’s dangerous response to the pandemic continues to be of the utmost importance.

Ian Sinclair and Rupert Read have compiled – and are regularly updating – a detailed timeline of the government’s response to coronavirus:
www.tinyurl.com/peacenews3511