UK professor condemns own university over collaboration with oil giant

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Original article by Ben Webster republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Fawley oil refinery in Southampton

Southampton University slammed after openDemocracy uncovered its involvement in Exxon’s ‘greenwashing’ project

A senior professor has accused his own university of betraying its values by working with ExxonMobil on a project that has been condemned as greenwash.

Ian Williams, professor in applied environmental science at the University of Southampton, made the allegations after openDemocracy revealed that Exxon had made misleading claims about capturing carbon at the UK’s biggest oil refinery at Fawley in Hampshire.

We reported last month that Paul Greenwood, Exxon’s UK lead, had admitted that the oil giant would need a “magic wand” to deliver the project, which has no funding and no licence to store carbon.

Exxon refers prominently to its collaboration with the University of Southampton in publications about the scheme.

Williams suggested the university had been “fooled” into joining forces with the oil giant to launch the ‘Solent Cluster’, an industrial decarbonisation scheme focused on CCS.

Lindsay-Marie Armstrong, the academic cluster lead at the University of Southampton, has joined senior Exxon executives at several events to promote the scheme, including a reception at the House of Commons in February.

Williams hit out at the partnership during a lecture entitled “Working with the enemy: Why universities should not work with ‘Big Oil’” on 24 April, as part of the University of Southampton’s annual Green Week.

He said Exxon had a long history of undermining climate science and funding groups that promoted climate scepticism, asking: “Why does the University of Southampton work with companies that operate against our values and deny our research data?”

Williams pointed out the university’s collaboration with Exxon is at odds with two of its stated core values: its commitment to “embed environmental sustainability in everything we do” and its pledge to work with partners to “improve the environment”.

He added that his decision to speak out means he is “not very popular in some quarters of the university” and might be branded a “rogue academic”.

But Southampton University’s decision to partner with Exxon has also been criticised by many who study there. Heidi Wheatley, a second-year environmental science student, told openDemocracy that “the university’s relationship with the fossil fuel industry undermines my whole reasoning for studying this subject at this institution”.

Wheatley added: “Students are already calling for the university to re-evaluate its relationship with the industry through its research activities and are petitioning the university to withdraw its multimillion-pound investments in fossil fuel companies. I implore the university to listen to its students and live up to its own strategic commitments to sustainability.”

Williams quoted from openDemocracy’s investigation during his Green Week lecture, including our revelation that Exxon had so far refused to commit its own money to build the CCS plant and had instead focused investment on increasing diesel production at the refinery, spending £800m to produce an extra six million litres a day.

He also quoted Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, who told openDemocracy that Exxon’s CCS scheme “stands out as greenwashing”.

openDemocracy revealed in November that fossil companies had ploughed more than £147m into British universities in seven years.

Williams said: “Universities must be robust and healthy enough to resist commercial lobbying and greenwash. We must not be fooled again.”

Urging Southampton University to extend its ban on working with tobacco companies to fossil fuel firms, he added: “Universities should say no to collaboration with fossil fuel companies, no to funding from or with fossil fuel companies, no to green washing, no to climate washing.”

He also recommended the university commit to “not work[ing] on any form of greenwash project”, including “CCS” and “blue hydrogen” – a product made from natural gas, where most of the carbon dioxide from the gas is captured and stored. Blue hydrogen has come under fire from scientists, who have branded it a distraction from proven low-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels based on renewable energy.

Williams also called on Southampton University to sign up to the People and Planet Fossil Free Campaign, which demands universities stop investing in and accepting funds from fossil fuel companies.

A University of Southampton spokesperson did not respond to any of Williams’ recommendations when contacted by openDemocracy.

Instead, they said: “Decarbonisation necessitates engagement with the sector that produces carbon and universities have a vital role to play in applying knowledge and expertise to address real areas of environmental concern.

“This is what the Solent Cluster was set up and receives government funding for, with our role here to work alongside 120 organisations and businesses, including nine local governments and three other universities.

“We uphold our value to embed environmental sustainability in everything that we do and require that all outputs from research undertaken with energy companies – and industry more widely – can be published, following our stated policies for responsible and open research.”

An Exxon spokesperson said the company would give further detail on the CCS project “in due course”.

Another recent openDemocracy investigation found that more than £281m of anonymous donations had poured into so-called Russell Group universities, including Southampton, since 2017. This prompted more than 120 academics, politicians and campaigners to sign an open letter calling for transparency over university funding in the UK.

The universities’ secrecy over donations means any potential conflicts of interest and commercial influences, including those related to fossil fuel production, remain hidden.

Some universities routinely invite fossil fuel companies to attend private meetings after donating millions of pounds.

Original article by Ben Webster republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingUK professor condemns own university over collaboration with oil giant

Where Labour and the Tories got their money from in 2023

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Original article by Ethan Shone republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak saw donations to their respective parties increase significantly last year
 | Leon Neal & Carl Court/Getty Images

Labour’s cash from private donors now dwarfs donations from unions, while the Tories got their biggest bung ever

Britain suffered a bleak economic landscape in 2023, with wages stagnant and costs rising across the board, but political donors and the parties they give to seem to have been unimpacted. All parties declared more than £93m in total compared with £52m in the previous year. And the cash looks set to keep pouring in ahead of the general election, which could take place as soon as May – although our money is on a November poll.

The Conservatives received the most donations by far, raking in £44.5m in cash, compared with Labour’s total of £21.6m, £6m for the Liberal Democrats, £610,000 for the Green Party and £255,000 for Reform – who now have their first MP in the form of ‘Red Wall Rottweiler’ Lee Anderson. The SNP registered only £76,000 cash donations in 2023, with £50,000 from the estate of a donor who passed away some years prior.

In addition to this, parties received non-cash donations – for things like premises, staff costs, sponsorship, consultancy services and more – worth £4.2m in total. Other regulated recipients like Labour Together, The New Conservatives, Labour First, and the Carlton Club Political Committee, took in £2.5m – these are campaigning organisations affiliated to political parties but legally separate from them, and often provide financial support to a particular faction within a party.

We’ve had a closer look at some of the underlying trends behind the numbers and picked out a few key points to look out for in the months ahead, based on what these donations tell us about the state of play in the two main parties.

Labour’s reliance on companies and individuals over trade unions

Much has been made of Labour’s increasingly close relationship with big business and the wealthy under Keir Starmer. Supporters of the party leadership argue that Labour has to be able to compete with the spending power of the Conservatives in the general election, and so has to look beyond the traditional funding source of the trade union movement toward people and businesses with deep pockets. Critics, however, might suggest that the interests of the trade union movement and the interests of those with the deepest pockets may not accord.

The concern among those of the latter view is that, as donations from the wealthy come to represent a larger proportion of the party’s war chest, there could be a shift in policy in that direction. Dark Arts has already reported on the access and influence enjoyed by corporate lobbying firms who employ Labour candidates to connect their clients with senior party figures. I’ve also written for openDemocracy about the millions that have poured into the party from bankers and financiers under Starmer. And our analysis of donations data for 2023 shows another potentially concerning trend for those worried about a corporate takeover of the party.

Of the £21.5m in cash received by the party in 2023, just £5.9m came from the trade union movement, compared with £14.5m from companies and individuals – a huge increase on the previous year, and indeed more than in the three previous years of Keir Starmer’s leadership combined. As trade union contributions have dipped slightly, from around £6.9m in 2020 and 2021 to £5.3m in 2022, donations from businesses and individuals have soared: they totalled £2.3m in 2020 and rose to £3m in 2021 and £7.6m in 2022 before nearly doubling last year.

Around £10m of this total comes from just four sources: Gary Lubner (£4.6m), David Sainsbury (£3.1m), Fran Perrin (£1m) and Ecotricity (£1m), the green energy firm owned by prominent eco-activist Dale Vince. This means that just two individuals gave the Labour Party more money last year than all the trade unions combined.

Lubner is the former CEO of Belron, a global firm specialising in vehicle glass repair. He has been donating to the party since meeting shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves at a dinner hosted by the big-four consultancy firm PwC in 2021. Sainsbury – of supermarket fame – has been an on-off Labour donor for decades, forging a close relationship with the party during the New Labour years when he got a seat in the Lords and served as a science minister. His daughter, Fran Perrin, was an adviser in Tony Blair’s Downing Street.

Including trade unions, there were 114 donors who gave £25,000 or more last year, while the overall average sum donated over the year was £111,499.

Tories in need of new funding sources ahead of GE

It is perhaps an indictment of the British political system that two of the largest individual donors to political parties last year were both men with the last name Sainsbury. David Sainsbury’s contribution to Labour was dwarfed by the £10m left by his cousin, Tory peer John Sainsbury, to the Conservatives in his will – the largest single donation ever received by the party.

Of the £44.5m in cash received by the Conservatives last year, more than £20m came from two sources: John Sainsbury and Frank Hester, an IT entrepreneur from Leeds who has given £5m personally and another £5m through his firm, The Phoenix Partnership. Hester’s firm has profited from public sector contracts and his ties with the party are under heightened scrutiny following the publication of an investigation by the Guardian that revealed he had said former Labour MP Diane Abbott made him “want to hate all black women” and should be shot.

A further £11.3m came from five individuals:

  • Mohamed Mansour, Egyptian-born billionaire who controls the behemoth conglomerate Mansour Group, which has interests in real estate, finance, retail and tech: £5m
  • Graham Edwards, co-founder of one of the largest private companies in the UK, Telereal Trillium, which owns thousands of properties and approximately 60 million square feet of land: £2m
  • Amit Lohia, son of billionaire petrochemical and fertiliser tycoon Sri Prakash Lohia, chair of Indorama: £2m
  • Christopher Barry Wood, founder of biotech firm Medannex: £1.3m
  • Alan Howard, hedge fund manager who co-founded Jersey-based Brevan Howard and has significant interests in crypto-currency: £1m

Even without the mega-donation from John Sainsbury, the party comfortably brought in more than Labour last year, and plans pushed through recently by the government raising the amount that political parties can spend at a general election have been widely seen as a sign the party still believes it can leverage its financial pull to good effect against Starmer’s Labour.

However, when the one-off £10m donation is discounted, the party’s fundraising efforts slowed down significantly in the latter half of last year. In the first six months of 2023 the party received £20.6m, compared with just £12m in the second half of the year. Without the £10m from Lord Sainsbury, the party would have taken in just £3m in the third quarter, a huge drop from Q2 (£9.2m) and Q1 (£11.4m).

This might suggest that, at least into the latter portion of last year, the Conservatives were not planning on holding an election in the early portion of 2024, as we would expect to see an uptick in fundraising in anticipation of that.

Overall, there were 286 donors who gave the Conservative Party £25,000 or more last year. The average Tory donor gave £90,811 over the course of the year.

If you’re concerned about the influence of money in politics and want to support our reporting in this area, sign up to our newly-launched newsletter, The Dark Arts, on Substack.

Original article by Ethan Shone republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingWhere Labour and the Tories got their money from in 2023

Braverman’s consultation on anti-protest laws was ‘only open to police’

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Original article by Anita Mureithi republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Liberty’s lawyers say police feedback was ‘directly incorporated into the final text’ of Braverman’s anti-protest laws  | Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images

High Court told government only sought feedback from people it knew would agree with its controversial changes

Only police were consulted on anti-protest laws before they were forced through by the UK government, according to human rights lawyers suing the home secretary.

Campaign group Liberty has been in court this week challenging James Cleverly over amendments to the Public Order Act that were pushed through by his predecessor, Suella Braverman, last year.

Liberty was given permission to take legal action against Braverman in October after she used secondary legislation – subject to less parliamentary scrutiny – to strengthen police powers to shut down protests that cause “more than minor disruption to the life of the community”.

The group says Braverman’s actions amounted to a “serious overreach” and that she acted unlawfully because the changes to the law had already been rejected in the House of Lords.

And Liberty has labelled a consultation on the proposed laws in 2022 as “one-sided” and “unfair” – because the Home Office only consulted police. The government gave the Met, Staffordshire Police, Essex Police, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and the College of Policing opportunities to give their views on the legislation, but did not seek input from anyone who might be impacted by the laws.

Liberty argued: “The [home secretary] voluntarily embarked upon a process of consultation about the contents and drafting of the regulations but then only consulted a narrow group of stakeholders in support of the amendments rather than an even-handed group representative of all those whose interests may be adversely impacted.”

Its lawyers also say police feedback was “directly incorporated into the final text” of the amendments to the Public Order Act, including on the definition of “serious disruption to the life of the community”.

The new powers have been criticised by Liberty and other human rights groups due to the vagueness of the new language, which campaigners say allows police to shut down almost any protests. The changes forced through by Braverman mean officers can interfere with and arrest anyone taking part in protests that they believe will cause “more than minor disruption to the life of the community”.

Police feedback on “cumulative disruption” was also included in the final amendments to the act. Under this law, officers must take into account all “relevant cumulative disruption”, regardless of whether or not your protest is related to any other protest or disruption in the same area. Before this amendment, there was no explicit requirement for police to consider this.

While the government held multiple meetings with police representatives in December 2022 to seek input and “refine policy”, Liberty argues that the fact that no rights groups or members of the public were consulted is rooted in “procedural unfairness” and that the changes must be reversed.

Katy Watts, Liberty’s lawyer leading the case said: “The government has shown it’s determined to put itself above the law, avoid scrutiny and become untouchable – so it’s no surprise it only consulted people it knew would agree with its new law.

“Our democracy exists to make sure a government can’t just do whatever it wants, and an important part of that is consulting a wide range of voices on new laws – especially those likely to raise reasonable concerns. This improves government decision making and helps to make our laws better. The government’s failure to do this is just one of the ways it acted unlawfully when it forced these powers though.”

The laws were initially brought in to clamp down on protests by climate activist groups like Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain, and Extinction Rebellion, but other protesters are now also being targeted.

The government has accused pro-Palestine protesters of “hijacking legitimate protests”, “shouting down and coercing elected representatives”, and has also called them “un-British” and “undemocratic”.

In a new ‘defending democracy policing protocol’ released this week, the government pledged £31m of additional funding to protect MPs after safety fears were raised.

The Home Office said it wants to “protect the democratic process from intimidation” but according to its own policy paper, only met with police representatives from the National Police Chiefs Council, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and the College of Policing.

The Home Office did not respond to a request for comment.

The two-day hearing ended yesterday and Liberty’s lawyers expect a decision could take up to three months.

Original article by Anita Mureithi republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International

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Protest isn’t harassment, says group suing UK government over law change

Home Office ‘did not discuss’ Islamophobia risk in wake of Hamas attacks

Continue ReadingBraverman’s consultation on anti-protest laws was ‘only open to police’

‘Utterly shameful’: Suspended Labour politician slams Starmer’s Gaza stance

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Original article by Ruby Lott-Lavigna republished from OpenDemocracy published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Four London councillors have been disciplined by their local party after calling for a ceasefire

A Labour politician suspended for backing a ceasefire in Gaza has labelled the party leadership’s stance on the conflict as “utterly shameful”.

Martin Abrams was one of four councillors in Lambeth, south London, suspended by the local Labour group on Monday night after voting for a motion put forward by the local Green Party.

It called for “an immediate ceasefire and the end to human rights atrocities in the Israel/Palestine conflict”.

Speaking to openDemocracy, Abrams hit out at Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership for its position on the conflict, which has seen over 50 Labour councillors resign since 7 October.

“It is truly a moment of great shame for the Labour Party for us to be in this place,” Abrams said. “I will continue speaking out for what I believe is right because there is a complete absence of that happening from Keir Starmer and the Labour Party leadership.”

Abrams said Starmer’s leadership on Gaza has been “utterly shameful”, adding: “It has been from the very beginning.”

He referenced an interview on LBC radio in which Starmer, the UK’s former top prosecutor, appeared to sanction collective punishment of the Palestinian people by Israel – which is illegal under international law. Starmer has since denied this is what he meant.

Last week, chaos ensued in Parliament as Labour refused to back an SNP-tabled motion on a ceasefire. Although Labour has now supported a ceasefire, the party has been criticised for doing so through its own parliamentary motion, which was less critical of Israel than the SNP’s original text.

Abrams, who is Jewish, said Lambeth Labour’s decision to suspend him had been “disproportionate” considering it was a vote on “calling an end to the slaughter of children”. But he said he would not resign from his position as a councillor and would continue “standing up for the oppressed people”.

End the bloodshed

Abrams told openDemocracy that the crisis had taken a toll on councillors hoping to represent their ward.

“Many of us are very emotionally impacted by this because we’re solid members of our local communities. Some of us are Jewish, some of us are Muslim,” he said. “The vast majority of us are humanitarians and want to see an end to the bloodshed and the fighting.”

Lambeth Labour, which decided to suspend the four members following a disciplinary hearing on Monday, had said the motion risked “exacerbating the impacts of the deeply worrying rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crime across London witnessed in recent weeks.”

Sonia Winifred, another Labour councillor who voted for the motion, resigned as a councillor after being suspended. Winifred is a veteran Windrush campaigner, and said on Twitter the decision had left her with “no choice” but to resign.

Grassroots group Momentum said: ​​“This is an outrageous attack on a Jewish Labour councillor for having the temerity to stand up for the people of Gaza. Martin is a principled socialist and internationalist – and it is shocking that he has been forced out for standing up for a position endorsed by the majority of voters. This anti-democratic decision should be immediately reversed.”

Lambeth Labour has been contacted for comment.

Original article by Ruby Lott-Lavigna republished from OpenDemocracy published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Zionist Keir Starmer supports Israel's Gaza genocide.
Zionist Keir Starmer supports Israel’s Gaza genocide.

Continue Reading‘Utterly shameful’: Suspended Labour politician slams Starmer’s Gaza stance

Home Office ‘did not discuss’ Islamophobia risk in wake of Hamas attacks

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Original article by Ramzy Alwakeel Ruby Lott-Lavigna republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Former home secretary Suella Braverman at a ‘Stand With Israel’ rally in London’s Trafalgar Square in January 2024. Braverman’s Home Office sent a letter to police chiefs warning of a potential rise in antisemitic hate crimes in the wake of Hamas’s 7 October attacks on Israel but did not even consider sending a similar letter about rising Islamophobia, new documents reveal. Both communities experienced significant rises in hate crime as the conflict in the Middle East escalated
 | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Government spoke about threat of antisemitism but did not consider making equivalent warning about anti-Muslim hate

The Home Office appears to have given no consideration to the threat of Islamophobic hate crime in the wake of Hamas’s attacks on Israel, despite warning chief constables about the “obvious risk” of rising antisemitism, openDemocracy can reveal.

It comes as the government is embroiled in a row about its perceived unequal treatment of antisemitism and Islamophobia. Incidents of both have soared since 7 October.

Oxford councillor Shaista Aziz said Muslim women were particularly at risk from rising hate crime, and told openDemocracy that the Home Office’s lack of action was “outrageous, yes, horrific, yes, but not surprising”.

On 10 October, then home secretary Suella Braverman wrote to police chiefs in England and Wales urging them to watch for rising antisemitism, particularly on pro-Palestinian marches.

The letter asked police to consider whether holding a Palestinian flag on a march or singing “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” could be considered a terrorist offence.

But requests made by openDemocracy under the Freedom of Information Act found that the Home Office held no evidence of any meetings, phone calls, emails or briefing papers from the same period of time regarding the possibility of publishing a similar letter about hate towards Muslim and pro-Palestinian groups.

Aziz said: “It sends a very clear message to British Muslims that ‘you’re not a priority for us,’ as opposed to: ‘You are facing a sustained rise in violence and extremism, and it’s our job as a government to put things in place to ensure that people are protected.’”

The independent councillor, who quit Labour in October in protest at Keir Starmer’s apparent suggestion that Israel’s attacks on Gaza were justified, also called out Labour’s own record on Islamophobia. She pointed to the fact no one had faced consequences for briefing a deeply offensive line to the press that Muslim councillors quitting the party meant Labour was “shaking off the fleas”.

Labour MP Clive Lewis told openDemocracy the “hierarchy of racism” in the government and society at large benefited only the far right. “This doesn’t help the Muslim community and it sure as hell doesn’t help the Jewish community,” he said. “This divide and rule policy is not just wrong – it’s dangerous.”

Lee Anderson, the Tories’ former deputy chair, was suspended from the Conservative Party this weekend after claiming in an appearance on GB News that “Islamists” had “got control” of the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Conservative ministers have been reluctant to criticise Anderson, who has not apologised. Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden yesterday refused to say whether his claims were Islamophobic in interviews with both the BBC and ITV, and transport secretary Mark Harper this morning again declined to call them racist – instead telling both the BBC and Sky News that they were simply “wrong”.

Anderson’s comments had echoed a column Braverman wrote in The Telegraph last week, in which she claimed that “Islamists” were “in charge” of Britain.

Braverman was forced out of office in November after she accused the police of left-leaning bias, helping incite a far-right mob to storm the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day. She is yet to face repercussions from the Conservative Party for the latest column.

Alba Kapoor, head of policy at the anti-racist Runnymede Trust charity, said: “This latest revelation shows what we have sadly already suspected: that this government has a flagrant disregard for its duty to protect Muslim communities.

“As instances of Islamophobia continue to skyrocket following last October, Muslim communities face persistent racist attacks. But instead of taking any action to challenge that, senior Conservative politicians and former cabinet members are busy stoking Islamophobic sentiment, and building divisive narratives.

“That the prime minister refuses to even call these instances out as racism is a clear sign of a government that is disgracefully failing Muslims across the country. This woeful situation will continue to cause profound harm unless meaningful action is taken to protect Muslim people at this time.”

The government stumped up funding to tackle both Islamophobia and antisemitism last year. It has committed £29.4m a year to providing security for mosques and Muslim schools, and £18m a year for equivalent safety measures for synagogues and Jewish schools, until 2025.

But it has had no independent adviser on Islamophobia for 20 months. Imam Qari Asim was dismissed from the role in June 2022, after being accused of backing a ban on a film that was said to exacerbate sectarian tensions between Muslims. Asim said the government’s claim that he acted to “limit free speech” was “inaccurate”.

A government spokesperson said: “There is no place for hate in our society and we condemn the recent rise in reported anti-Muslim and antisemitic hatred.

“We expect the police to fully investigate all hate crimes and work with the Crown Prosecution Service to make sure the cowards who commit these abhorrent offences feel the full force of the law.

“Following recent events, we have also made further funding available to Muslim and Jewish communities, to provide additional security at places of worship and faith schools.”

Original article by Ramzy Alwakeel Ruby Lott-Lavigna republished from OpenDemocracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence

Image quoting Suella 'Sue-Ellen' Braverman reads ‘Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati’.
Image quoting Suella ‘Sue-Ellen’ Braverman reads ‘Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati’.
Continue ReadingHome Office ‘did not discuss’ Islamophobia risk in wake of Hamas attacks