Quick, blame the deep state! The tactics at play when Tories spout conspiracy theories

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Image of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng
Image of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng

 

Adam Koper, Cardiff University

Conservative MPs seem increasingly willing to use the rhetoric of conspiracy. Recently, Liz Truss claimed that her brief tenure as prime minister had been ended by the deep state – shadowy forces within the British establishment and the media.

A few days later, Lee Anderson, the Conservative party’s former deputy chairman, asserted that London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, is being controlled by Islamists. He was adding his own twist on a similar conspiracy theory put forward by former home secretary Suella Braverman, who claimed in a Telegraph article that Islamists are in charge of the whole country.

Why do politicians make conspiracy claims like these? It seems strange for MPs whose party has been in government for almost 14 years to imply that they aren’t really in control and that power is wielded by hidden actors.

Maybe Truss and Anderson mean what they say, and say what they mean. But even if they do believe that Britain is governed by a deep state or Islamist plotters, knowing a bit about rhetoric can help us to see that there is more going on when politicians use the language of conspiracy.

Context matters

A good politician will adapt what they say to fit the moment and their audience. For example, Truss’s deep state comments were made at CPAC, a conference for American conservatives. She was speaking in part to promote her new book, Ten Years to Save the West, and so had little reason to do anything other than give her audience what it likes. Conspiracy theories have become prominent in American conservatism (think QAnon and the claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen), so echoing the rhetoric is an obvious way for a CPAC speaker to ingratiate themselves with an audience.

Anderson, though, was speaking in the UK, where conspiracist language is more unusual. His comments were seen by many as deliberately divisive and Islamophobic, and quickly landed him a suspension from his party. That said, government ministers were evasive when asked why his comments were wrong and whether they were Islamophobic.

Part of the brand

Courting controversy carries risks, as Anderson’s suspension shows. But it can also thrust a politician into the limelight, giving them a chance to speak to a broader audience and potentially gain new supporters. Much of the time, politicians make their own character – or ethos, as it is known in classical rhetoric – part of their pitch.

In her comments alleging a deep state conspiracy, Truss took on a populist tone. She portrayed herself as an anti-establishment figure fighting for the British people against the elites. She didn’t mention her party’s long period in government in charge of the civil service that allegedly made her tenure so impossible. Nor did she refer to the economic problems brought about during her fleeting administration.

Speaking to an audience which is likely to be less familiar with her political career, Truss was able to present herself as the protagonist in a David and Goliath narrative – albeit one in which David is defeated.

Similarly, Anderson used the controversy around his comments to present himself as a man of the people. Rather than giving any evidence to back up his claims about Islamists controlling Khan, Anderson instead justified his views by citing the positive reaction he had received from his constituents. When told in an interview with Channel 4 News that people were puzzled by his refusal to back down, Anderson replied: “If you go and speak to people in Ashfield [Anderson’s constituency] and ask them if they’re puzzled about it, no they’re not.”

In the aftermath of the controversy, Anderson told GB News: “When I went into pubs in Ashfield at the weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I got a round of applause when I went in. And these are normal working-class people.”

Such comments can be seen as part of a broader trend. Politicians have learned to cite the opinions of ordinary people in order to justify spurious claims. Rather than explaining anything about how he came to view Islamists being in charge of London, Anderson’s response to questions has been to use them as an opportunity to present himself as an outsider to the political establishment – a man in tune with what voters really think.

Pitting ‘us’ against ‘them’

This focus on presenting a certain persona and using it to justify baseless comments tells us something important – that identity is a key ingredient in conspiracist rhetoric.

It enables a politician to construct a conflict between an in-group and an out-group – a struggle between “us” and “them” – and asks the audience to pick a side. Rather than focusing on policies or ways of improving life for the British population, this rhetoric wants the audience to identify with the speaker’s character and join them in opposing a threatening enemy.

In this way, conspiracist rhetoric is much like the Conservatives’ attacks on “woke ideology” – it deflects attention away from their record in government, and rallies their supporters against an enemy at a time when the party is down on its luck.

Counteracting this is no easy task. Rhetoric is an art, not an exact science. One strategy could be to focus more on what politicians are trying to achieve when they use conspiracist rhetoric. While it is important to determine whether or not they really believe in a deep state or Islamist conspiracy, we also need to challenge the personas that politicians craft for themselves, as well the us-against-them divisions they construct.The Conversation

Adam Koper, WISERD Civil Society Post-Doctoral Fellow, Cardiff University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue ReadingQuick, blame the deep state! The tactics at play when Tories spout conspiracy theories

How did we get to this Rishi Sunak & Co mess

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later: The King’s speech is today whereby King Charles reads a speech prepared by the UK government with details of what the government intends for the new parliamentary session. The UK government must call a general election before 17 December 2024.

One of the many occasions climate change denier and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak uses a private jet.
One of the many occasions climate change denier and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak uses a private jet.

Briefly, Liar and cheat Boris Johnson won the 2019 general election with a huge majority. He achieved this by lying and misleading the UK electorate promising to “Get Brexit done” and an oven-ready deal and similar associated lies. The UK electorate were tired of the Tories Brexit BS and wanted it finished. It’s still unfinished of course.

Image of Elmo and former Prime Minister Tory idiot Boris Johnson
Image of Elmo (left) and former Prime Minister Tory idiot Boris Johnson (right)

Boris was deposed as a result of the Partygate Scandal – repeatedly lying that there were no parties at Downing Street when there were so many at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic when such social meetings were forbidden.

Then we briefly had Liz Truss replacing Boris. She trashed the UK economy with her and Kwasi Kwasi Kwarteng’s bonkers budget. It may be worth investigating who has benefited financially from that budget.

Lettuce complains about being compared to Liz Truss. The lettuce says "It's bd enough getting compared to a Tory, never mind an imbecile"
Lettuce complains about being compared to Liz Truss.

Sunak replaced Liz Truss as Conservative Leader and therefore UK Prime Minister. His government has made huge assaults on the right to protest and is in thrall to the fossil fuel industry pursuing a climate-denying programme of fossil fuel expansion with huge fossil fuel subsidies. Many regard his climate-denying actions as criminal. He must be aware of the effects of his actions.

We have idiots like Lee Anderson repeatedly attacking the poor, Sue-Ellen Braverman wanting to take tents away from homeless people so that they die of exposure, open sewers full across the UK with UK abandoning EU pollution regulations.

Continue ReadingHow did we get to this Rishi Sunak & Co mess

Revealed: The Oil and Gas Lobbying Campaign to Water Down Windfall Tax

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Original article by Adam Barnett republished from DeSmog.

Industry figures held more than 200 meetings with key politicians in the year following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, new research finds.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tours a Shell gas plant in Aberdeen in July 2023. Credit: Number 10 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tours a Shell gas plant in Aberdeen in July 2023. Credit: Number 10 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The UK government’s weakening of its windfall tax on energy profits matched the demands of a high-level lobbying campaign by the oil and gas industry, new research reveals. 

Trade body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), formerly Oil and Gas UK, and its operator members including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, TotalEnergies, and Equinor, met with ministers at least 210 times in the 12 months following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The meetings – which include in-person talks with the then Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and his minister Greg Hands (now the Conservative Party chairman) – are revealed in research by Fossil Free Parliament (FFP), a group campaigning against fossil fuel influence on UK politics. 

They form part of a lobbying blitz by fossil fuel firms against the windfall tax, conducted through meetings, drinks receptions, letters, parliamentary groups, and a “fiscal forum” with the Treasury attended by the then chancellor (and now prime minister) Rishi Sunak. 

The evidence, published in a briefing today (October 24) and shared exclusively with DeSmog, indicates that certain changes requested by the oil and gas industry were accommodated by the government when developing the scope of the levy.

It comes as Sunak faces criticism for delaying some net zero targets and granting 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences, including Equinor’s Rosebank project. As DeSmog reported in March, the Conservative Party received £3.5 million from fossil fuel and polluting interests in 2022. 

A spokesperson for OEUK defended its contact with the government: “We will always champion our industry to all parliamentarians on a cross-party basis and do so in an open and transparent manner.”

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, described the research as “shocking”.

“Fossil fuel giants have been committing countless climate crimes, polluting our planet and reaping obscene profits – while everyone else faces sky-high energy bills and a cost of living scandal,” she told DeSmog. 

“This research reveals the extent to which the dirty fossil fuel lobby has been aided and abetted by this Tory government – taking their donations, offering privileged access, and handing over staggering tax breaks and subsidies to carry out yet more climate-wrecking damage.”

Windfall Tax ‘Loophole’

The Energy Profits Levy, known as the windfall tax, was announced by the government in May 2022 to tax energy companies’ billions in excess profits due to the global price spike fueled by Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. 

Then chancellor Sunak said the windfall tax would raise around £5 billion over the next year to help with cost of living. However, when the levy was passed in July 2022, it included a loophole where companies received 91p tax relief for every pound they invest in UK extraction, in what the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies called a “huge tax subsidy” for energy companies. 

As of September 2023 the windfall tax had raised £2.6 billion, just over half of what was promised, and following a year of record profits by five oil majors. Between them, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and TotalEnergies made a total of £195 billion in profits last year. 

The new research indicates this ‘loophole’ came about following a surge in meetings and lobbying between OEUK and its member companies with the government, 

In June 2022, the month the windfall tax was being consulted on and drafted, meetings between the government and OEUK and its members nearly doubled from 15 to 29, according to the new research. 

In the same month, OEUK also wrote letters to Sunak warning the proposed windfall tax would have a negative impact on oil and gas investments in the UK. The letters also called for an emergency summit, including a meeting of the “fiscal forum”, a talking shop between the industry and the Treasury. OEUK describes the fiscal forum as a tool for “facilitating coherent engagement with government authorities to drive the policy agenda”. 

On 20 June, the day before the consultation’s launch, the British Offshore Oil and Gas Industry All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), which is co-run by OEUK, held a summer reception at the Houses of Parliament. The reception saw speeches from Conservative MP Peter Aldous, the APPG’s chair, and Greg Hands, then a minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. 

At the reception, OEUK’s then chief executive Deirdre Michie gave a speech claiming the windfall tax could “undermine and disrupt” energy investment at a time when the UK needs to focus on “energy security and working for net zero”. 

Three days later, Sunak, Hands and exchequer secretary Helen Whately attended an “Oil and Gas Roundtable”. The meeting, also known as a fiscal forum, was held in Aberdeen, Scotland, with OEUK and members including BP, Shell, Equinor, and TotalEnergies. According to a 28 June letter from Michie, the meeting discussed the “negative impact” of the windfall tax “on investor confidence”, while companies warned of its “damage to the UK’s competitiveness”. 

Michie wrote: “While we remain disappointed at the decision to create the EPL [Energy Profits Levy], OEUK and our members want to work constructively with you to help rebuild investor confidence and ensure that the EPL is designed and implemented thoughtfully and is fit for purpose.”

OEUK’s concerns appear to have been taken into account by the government. 

For example, in Michie’s 28 June letter she insisted that the windfall must tax end in 2025: “Industry needs certainty that the EPL will be terminated by the end of 2025 at the latest and we would hope that ministerial statements will continue to reinforce the timebound nature of the EPL.” A deadline of 31 December 2025 was later included in the EPL bill. 

Michie’s letter also requested that the windfall tax should not apply to the Petroleum Revenue Tax (PRT), a tax break that oil and gas companies receive for decommissioning oil rigs, adding: “[we] have written to your officials with detailed proposals on the changes to the draft legislation and hope you will give this significant consideration”. The final windfall tax bill did not apply to PRT, as Michie had requested.  

“This research makes it abundantly clear that our government has an open-door policy when it comes to the fossil fuel industry”, said Carys Boughton, a campaigner with Fossil Free Parliament. 

“They ask for special treatment; they get special treatment, and the rest of us pay for it – with obscenely high energy bills, and a worsening climate crisis.”

She added: “Our political leaders should be channelling every effort into a just transition from fossil fuels, but this won’t happen until the industry with a vested interest in keeping us all hooked on oil, gas and coal is kicked out of our politics.”

Jeremy Hunt and the ‘Price Floor’

A tranche of additional documents, obtained by Fossil Free Politics and seen by DeSmog, shed further light on the extent of industry lobbying, which continued beyond the introduction of the windfall tax. 

After Liz Truss’s disastrous September mini-budget, newly-installed chancellor Jeremy Hunt used his Autumn statement in November 2022 to extend the windfall tax to 2028 and increase it from 25 percent to 35 percent. 

OEUK raised its opposition to these changes with Victoria Atkins MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in a meeting on 17 November 2022. 

Minutes of the meeting, obtained via a Freedom of Information request, show the body’s chief executive Deirdre Michie telling Atkins that the windfall tax extension “plays into investors being undermined”, and that the 10 percent increase “will impact companies borrowing and projects”. 

Michie also complained of a “lack of engagement” with ministers, and brought up “the previous HMT [Treasury] fiscal forum”. 

A few weeks later, on 9 December, Hunt hosted a fiscal forum in Edinburgh with OEUK and its members BP, Shell, Equinor, TotalEnergies and others. There he promised “more regular fiscal forum meetings in future”, according to a Treasury press release. 

Ahead of the meeting, OEUK said it would urge the government to “scrap the windfall tax on homegrown energy when oil and gas prices fall back to normal levels”. This would mean that if prices drop below a certain point, the windfall tax could be removed before 2028. 

Ahead of the Spring Budget in March 2023, OEUK repeated this demand, reportedly writing to Hunt to call for a “trigger price” which “switches off” the windfall tax. 

Lobbying continued through the spring. In a meeting on 15 March with Treasury’s Exchequer Secretary James Cartlidge, OEUK’s new chief executive David Whitehouse told Cartlidge that the industry was “extremely disappointed that oil and gas did not get a mention in the budget” and called for more engagement and “a public signal” to “shore up confidence”. 

On 9 June, OEUK got its wish. Hunt introduced a “price floor” to the windfall tax, which meant the tax would end before 2028 if wholesale energy prices fall back to normal levels – as OEUK and member companies had been requesting.

‘Cosy Relationship’

When contacted by DeSmog, OEUK did not address the evidence of lobbying specifically on the windfall tax.  A spokesperson said the industry body was “proud” to provide a secretariat function to the all-party parliamentary group for offshore oil and gas.

“The offshore sector is a crucial part of the UK economy, supporting over 200,000 jobs in communities across the country and in nearly every parliamentary constituency,” they said.  

“Our industry is playing a vital role in the UK’s low-carbon energy future and paid £11 billion in production taxes in 2022/23. It has paid a total of £400 billion in taxes over the lifetime of the basin.”

Shell referred DeSmog to OEUK for comment. All other companies named in this story were also approached but had not responded by publication.

The Conservative Party, Cabinet Office, and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero were also contacted for comment.

Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift, a North Sea campaign and research group, said the findings revealed the latest in the industry’s “long enjoyed unwarranted influence over our politics”.

“This is an industry that has made obscene amounts of money while millions of ordinary people – older and disabled people, families with young children – have struggled to heat their homes,” she said. “That they then lobbied in private against a windfall tax designed to claw back some of these profits, is disgusting if unsurprising.”

“The cosy relationship between government and profiteering oil and gas companies needs to end, not just for the sake of everyone facing unaffordable energy bills, but for a liveable climate too.”

Original article by Adam Barnett republished from DeSmog.

Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil's You May Find Yourself... art auction. Featuring Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch.
Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil’s You May Find Yourself… art auction. Featuring Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch.
Continue ReadingRevealed: The Oil and Gas Lobbying Campaign to Water Down Windfall Tax

Campaigners win permission to appeal against building of Sizewell C

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3D-generated image of the Sizewell C Nuclear Power Plant Photo: Public Domain
3D-generated image of the Sizewell C Nuclear Power Plant Photo: Public Domain

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/campaigners-win-permission-appeal-against-building-sizewell-c

CAMPAIGNERS have won permission to appeal against the building of Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk because the government did not ensure there was a sufficient water supply to meet its demands.

The Court of Appeal overturned a refusal by the High Court to grant a judicial review into the decision by Kwasi Kwarteng, the then-business secretary, to give the station on the Suffolk coast the go-ahead.

The case was brought by the Together Against Sizewell C (Tasc) campaign group.

Tasc’s case included an argument that because of the power station’s need for huge quantities of water for its cooling system, the development should include a desalination plant to avoid endangering local domestic water supplies.

Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Coulson said that given that Mr Kwarteng gave permission for the power station against the advice of the planning authority, and because of Tasc’s arguments about the need for a water supply, the appeal had “a real prospect of success.”

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/campaigners-win-permission-appeal-against-building-sizewell-c

Continue ReadingCampaigners win permission to appeal against building of Sizewell C

Mark Carney demolishes Brexit and Liz Truss’ economic policies

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Image of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng
Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng. “Some people said we were in too much of a rush – and it is certainly true that I didn’t just try to fatten the pig on market day, I tried to rear the pig and slaughter it as well. I confess to that.”

https://leftfootforward.org/2023/09/mark-carney-demolishes-brexit-and-liz-truss-economic-policies/

The former governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has taken apart the arguments of Brexiteers as well as the economic policies of Liz Truss during a speech at the Global Progress Action Summit in Montreal, where he praised “progressive” policies while attacking “far-right populists”.

Carney, who was governor between 2013 to 2020, accused those who backed quitting the European Union of wanting to “tear down the future” and also launched a scathing attack on the disastrous economic policies of Liz Truss.

Turning his attention to Truss, Carney said that when Brexiteers tried to create Singapore on the Thames, the Truss government instead delivered Argentina on the Channel – and that was a year ago.

“Those with little experience in the private sector – lifelong politicians masquerading as free marketeers – grossly under-value the importance of mission, of institutions, and of discipline to a strong economy.

“And the bad news is that while these tactics never work economically, they can work politically. Brexit happened, Donald Trump was elected. So we can’t dismiss the impact of anger, but we must resist its power.”

https://leftfootforward.org/2023/09/mark-carney-demolishes-brexit-and-liz-truss-economic-policies/

Continue ReadingMark Carney demolishes Brexit and Liz Truss’ economic policies