Effective web regulation will not be easy, and ministers must take the time to get it right

They must eschew the fire-and-forget approach which gave us the Electoral Commission.

This week’s press has been thick with bullish noises from the Tories about cracking down on social media. Ministers are expected to decide within weeks whether or not they will introduce a “single regulator for internet companies”.

Jeremy Wright, the Digital Secretary, has already announced that social media companies will face deadlines to delete content, and penned an op-ed announcing an end to the internet’s “era of self-regulation”.

Other suggestions include: social media bosses being “arrested and held personally liable” if harmful content isn’t taken down from their sites; another minister decrying tech giants as “above a law”; the Prime Minister has been urged to back a ‘crackdown’; and both the Health and Education Secretaries have got in on the game too.

And that’s just the Government: Labour are calling for a regulator with the power to “break up monopolies” and levy multi-million pound fines, whilst the Information Commissioner’s Office has called for a halt to Facebook political ads until new rules are agreed.

But does all this sound and fury signify anything? Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow, and there’s a long road from strong talk about the need to rein in the wild web and setting up an effective regulatory regime – especially for a Government whose bandwidth looks set to be consumed by Brexit for the foreseeable future.

For starters, ‘web regulation’ covers several quite distinct areas. Designing up-to-date rules for political campaigning, such as those Cheryl Gillan called for on this site yesterday, is a distinct challenge to combating fake news, which is different again from protecting children and vulnerable people from harmful content on social media.

Whilst it may garner easy headlines, “set up a regulator” can only be the bare bones of a solution to any one of them. Consider all the unintended consequences which have stemmed from the decision to set up the Electoral Commission, and its flailing attempts to uphold even the electoral law we already have. If a new regulator or regulators are to be introduced, its vital that the Government takes a pro-active approach to monitoring their efficacy and remit.

Even the more straightforward-seeming policies have their drawbacks. Take the prospect of steep penalties for social media giants floated above. A similar approach has proven very popular with the public when it was introduced in Germany, but attracted fierce criticism from human rights advocates for turning risk-averse private companies into over-zealous, un-accountable censors.

As we wrote last year, conservatives in particular ought to be mindful of the fact that when it comes to massive media platforms such as Facebook, their power to stop people seeing things is as important as their power to put things in front of us. Britain, where existing law is already sending the police after bloggers and tweeters, ought to take seriously the risk of doing inadvertent damage to free speech.

If they really mean to take these issues on – and they are worth taking on – ministers face a balancing act. They need to create policies tailored to meet the various different and specific challenges which might be caught up under the heading ‘web regulation’, whilst at the same time maintaining a big-picture view of how new laws or enforcers in one area might have unintended consequences for the others. It might be possible, but it can’t be rushed.

Iain Dale: Replace Hammond with Gove, promote Mordaunt, bring back Raab

Plus: Snubbed by a Remainer. Delighted for Beth Rigby. Tusk japes, May spooks, Francois almost self-combusts. And: is Brexit Brecksit or Breggsit?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

I spent much of Monday afternoon in the Commons catching up with a few MPs. Ok, Ok – it was a massive gossip session. Very useful for getting some background info on what the next Brexit developments are likely to be.

I did have one rather disconcerting experience, though. I was walking past the tables reserved for MPs when I spied one who I have known for years and always enjoyed sharing a few words with.

The MP looked up, I smiled in acknowledgement and went to start a conversation, but the MP immediately looked down at their phone without any sign of acknowledgement at all. I was officially blanked.

I’m sure the fact that this MP is the archest of arch-remainers and no doubt sees me as the Brexit-supporting enemy had nothing to do with it…what a state of affairs.

– – – – – – – – – –

Like many in Westminster, I was delighted to hear that Beth Rigby has been appointed to succeed Faisal Islam as political editor of Sky News. She’s a brilliant story-getter and has adapted to a broadcast role incredibly quickly, having been a print journalist for many years.

She won’t be starting her new job until May because, I gather, Islam is on a very long notice period which Sky News has decided to enforce. She beat off a lot of competition for the role, including two very well-known names in political journalism. I think she’ll be excellent in the role.

– – – – – – – – – –

At some point in the not-too-distant future everyone in the political media is going to start to obsess about the date on which Theresa May will announce she’s quitting.

So let me get ahead of the pack. I have always thought that she would go fairly soon after we (ostensibly) leave the EU on March 29th. But since Conservative backbenchers can’t now force her departure until the end of the year, it’s highly possible that she many stay on quite a bit longer than that.

One senior Tory told me he expects herr to announce her departure at this year’s Party conference, with the leadership contest concluding in January 2020. It’s a reasonable prediction but, if that is truly the plan, may I suggest that in early April she conducts a Cabinet reshuffle to enable all the potential contenders to test themselves properly?

This would entail Penny Mordaunt being given a big department, Philip Hammond being replaced by Michael Gove and Dominic Raab being brought back into the Cabinet. That last one might be a stretch, but the Party needs to be given a wide choice of candidates. I could argue the same thing about Boris Johnson, but it’s difficult to see how he could be brought back in any position which he would accept.

– – – – – – – – – –

Why do some people pronounce Brexit as ‘Brecksit’ and others ‘Breggsit’? I’m in the former camp, but there seems to be no rhyme nor reason as to which camp someone falls into. Any explanation?

– – – – – – – – – –

I doubt whether anyone believes that the prospects of a deal with the EU in advance of March 29th have been enhanced this week. Donald Tusk’s merry little jape on Wednesday was clearly calculated to spook Theresa May on the day before she arrived for several hours of apparently fruitless talks with the Commission.

Despite pressure from several member states, the Commission shows now sign of budging on the backstop and, if that continues, I can see no way for anything to pass through the Commons.

ERGers were also spooked by May’s words in Belfast, where she said that she is trying to amend the backstop rather than abolish it altogether. Cue Mark Francois almost self-combusting. As of today, there are 48 days to go until we are supposed to formally leave the EU. The odds on that happening reduce by the day. Just as Brussels has planned…

Rights group says global democracy ‘in retreat’ for 13th year

Freedom House criticizes Hungary and Poland.

Global democracy has been “in retreat” for 13 consecutive years, according to the annual report by the watchdog Freedom House.

In its Freedom in the World report for 2018, out Tuesday, the Washington-based rights group said that between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries it ranked as “not free” fell from 37 to 23 percent, while the share of so-called free countries grew from 36 to 46 percent. However, between 2005 and 2018, the share of “not free” countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of “free countries” fell to 44 percent.

As a result, political rights and civil liberties have become weaker in 68 countries since last year’s report, and improved in 50 countries.

The report cites a shifting global balance of power in favor of countries including China, and “anger and anxiety in Europe and the United States over economic inequality and the loss of personal status,” as underlying causes of the strains on democratic institutions.

In Europe, the report says Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “has presided over one of the most dramatic declines ever charted by Freedom House within the European Union,” citing increasing attacks on media independence. As a result, Hungary is described in this year’s report as “partly free” after “five consecutive years of decline and 13 years without improvement.”

In Poland, the report says the conservative Law and Justice party’s attempt to “laid waste to the country’s legal framework in its drive to assert political control over the entire judiciary.”

Other countries in the EU also saw a decline in their democracy score — Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and the U.K.

The report said the U.S. has fallen behind the likes of the U.K., France and Germany over the past eight years.

The Freedom House blames longstanding problems such as political polarization, loss of economic mobility, the influence of special interests and the rise of partisan media. But it also warns that President Donald Trump “exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system.”


Read this next: Irish backstop is ‘toxic,’ would ‘break up’ UK, says DUP leader

Nick Clegg: It’s time to write the rules for Facebook

‘There is a huge difference between taking down hate speech and taking down content of politicians you don’t like,’ ex-British deputy PM tells an event in Brussels.

Facebook’s head of global public relations, Nick Clegg, used a stopover in Brussels to announce that the social media company — which has faced a string of crises over the past year — is ready to adopt rules for its world-spanning platform.

The question is: Which ones?

“We are at the start of a discussion which is no longer about whether social media should be regulated, but how it should be regulated. We recognize the value of regulation, and we are committed to working with policymakers to get it right,” Clegg told an event in Brussels.

The point echoed what Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic last year following a global outcry over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a third-party analytics company illegally obtained the personal data of some 87 million of the platform’s users.

Zuckerberg and Clegg both underscored that after a period of advocating self-regulation, the world’s biggest social media company now wants to help lawmakers draft regulation for tech — a point the former head of Britain’s Liberal Democrats stressed during opening remarks at the event in Brussels.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives to testify before a joint hearing of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C. in April last year | Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

But in a discussion with POLITICO’s Ryan Heath, Clegg stopped short of spelling out what those rules should be, instead warning that poorly designed regulation would stifle innovation and restrict information exchange. (The company has previously pushed back against attempts to regulate its business in the European Union.)

‘We agree with Macron’

Speaking at an invitation-only event, Clegg addressed criticism of Facebook’s alleged flaws and said the company “couldn’t agree more” with French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent call for business and lawmakers to regulate the internet together.

“There is a clear role here for the EU to demonstrate a middle path — a model that combines the dynamism of Silicon Valley with the regulatory rigor of Brussels,” he said.

The former U.K. deputy prime minister, who was recently hired to represent Facebook’s global push to turn around its reputation, also warned of too-strict requirements on removing politically sensitive content.

“Where anybody indulges in hate speech, that content will be taken down. But I cannot stress enough — there is a huge difference between taking down hate speech and taking down content of politicians you don’t like,” he said.

The social media network has faced repeated calls to open up more. EU lawmakers have asked for access to how its algorithms work, hoping to craft rules that would prevent privacy intrusions, discrimination, fake news and other ills of the internet.

“Opaqueness understandably breeds suspicion,” Clegg said. But the company’s business model is not to sell data, he said, but rather to charge advertisers to show ads to users that fit within “broad categories” based on personal data. “We have both an ethical and financial incentive to protect people’s information,” Clegg said.

Election interference in Europe

A few months before European voters head to the polls to elect a new Parliament, Clegg also presented the firm’s plans to prevent attempts to influence the campaign.

People and organizations wishing to run political ads on Facebook would now have to be approved by the platform, and “paid for by” disclaimers would be added to the ads, Clegg announced. Issue-based ads, which attempt to influence voters on an issue such as immigration rather than pull them in favor of a particular candidate, would be covered by those new rules, and Facebook will keep a library of the ads for researchers and journalists to scrutinize.

Clegg ruled out stopping political advertising completely on Facebook.

EU lawmakers fear their election at the end of May is vulnerable to interference, and they have tried to force Facebook, Twitter, Google and others to implement measures to counter hackers, trolls and state-backed disinformation campaigns.

In an attempt to address the problem of calls to violence spreading on the platform, Facebook has a new weekly meeting that includes COO Sheryl Sandberg, and a list of “critical countries” where problems like violence or election interference could spiral out of control is discussed, Clegg said. The move is a result of last year’s information campaign that led to large-scale violence against a Muslim minority in Myanmar. He didn’t say whether European countries were part of the list.

However, he ruled out stopping political ads completely on the platform, even if there is no “commercial incentive” to keep them.

Clegg was the British deputy prime minister in a coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives from 2010 until 2015 | Andrew Winning/AFP via Getty Images

The British former politician said he discussed the matter with Facebook’s top executives Zuckerberg and Sandberg when he arrived at the company, but came to the conclusion that excluding political ads is not relevant.

“If you block [political ads], you need to define what you’re keeping out. It’s not a cost-free option to decide to exclude something. How can you say you’re for an open world … and at the same time not allow people to use your platform to participate in and appeal to voters,” Clegg told the Brussels crowd.

Social media platforms adopted a fake news code of practice in September. The companies earlier this month provided the European Commission with a first update on how they are handling troll accounts, advertising spending and other issues, and the Commission is set to release a report this week.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Tech policy coverage: Pro Technology. Our expert journalism and suite of policy intelligence tools allow you to seamlessly search, track and understand the developments and stakeholders shaping EU Tech policy and driving decisions impacting your industry. Email pro@politico.eu with the code ‘TECH’ for a complimentary trial.


Read this next: Facebook to roll out ad transparency rules ahead of European election

Nick Hargrave: In an age of post-truth politics, moderate politicians must prepare to work across party lines

I have reluctantly concluded that there needs to be greater regulation of the veracity of claims made by registered participants in political campaigns.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

It’s a common trope that we live in an age of post-truth politics. It increasingly appears that politicians have impunity to say things that are either demonstrably false or – more often in the UK at least – promise a future that is not supported by a rational reading of the evidence at hand.

The EU referendum and the subsequent process after serve as good exhibits for the prosecution. The Leave side of the fence is probably the more egregious with the £350 million red bus, the promises that a free trade deal with the EU would be the easiest such undertaking ever and – most pressingly now – denunciations of those who suggest that a ‘No Deal’ Brexit would come with a cost.

The Remain side of the divide is not without fault either though; lest we forget the ‘punishment budget’ that never happened, the pre-referendum modelling on the impact of the vote that ludicrously assumed no policy response from the Bank of England – not to mention every piece of bad economic news now being held up as a ‘told you so’ with no examination of whether the real cause is Brexit or not.

We should not of course  hark back to a mythical golden era where those with power dispassionately handed down truth to the people. From the hagiographical Anglo Saxon Chronicle in the ninth century to the 1945 General Election campaign, where our wartime hero, Winston Churchill, said that a British Gestapo would be needed to implement Labour’s policies – politicians of the day have always presented their interpretation of the truth to try and win support.

It is all a matter of degrees. But nonetheless it does feel like something has changed for the worse in politics in recent years. Certainly since the extension of the franchise in the nineteenth century, I do not think there has been a period in modern British history where politicians pay such scant regard to objective evidence and where the general public are willing to suspend disbelief in response.

The causes for this are well-rehearsed enough; the explosion of the internet in the past 20 years that has given the charlatan and the populist an unvetted voice and forced ‘moderate’ politicians to engage in an arms race to catch up; a declining trust in traditional sources of authority because of the profound economic effects of the financial crisis, globalisation and automation; the exponential growth of data, meaning that it’s easier to build a surface argument no matter how flimsy; a news cycle that moves so quickly that the best and speediest rebuttal in the world still comes too late; an increasing divide on values which means people shut out information that they don’t want to hear.

Less well tested is how we might rectify the situation.

There are two options. We can accept that, short of banning the internet and censoring political discourse, there is very little we can do. We are at the mercy of events and will have to accept a mid twenty-first century characterised by demagogues winning elections and referendums, chaotic policy making, a gradual erosion of the global rules-based order – with evidence only coming back into vogue after a series of shocks and recessions that lead us to see the error of our ways.

There is another school of thought though, which I much prefer – if only because the alternative is unlikely to be peaceful or economically stable. While there is no silver bullet, there are certainly things we can and should do to raise the standard of political debate in this country.
First, we need better politicians who the public are willing to trust in a face-off with the charlatans of the hour. Part of this is about getting people who have genuinely achieved things outside of Westminster into the Commons, and speak with gravitas and knowledge of what the real world is like. We could frankly do with more Andy Streets and Geoffrey Cox’s going into the frontline.

But there is more to it than that. We should also be honest that self-defined moderate politicians of this era stick to the line too much, and are obsessed with repeating back what they think people want to hear. As someone who spent several years in the bowels of Downing Street and Conservative Campaign HQ, raised on a diet of Clinton 1992 and Blair 1997 as model campaigns, this has been a humbling and gradual realisation. Most effective public policy is difficult and involves trade-offs; campaigning is very different to governing.

There is no better illustration of this than the current mess we have reached in the implementation of Brexit where our political leaders were not honest about the compromises needed to give practical effect to the referendum result. The temptation to boil political communications down to a form of cereal marketing will always be there. But I suspect that future leaders who level that there are no moral absolutes or easy answers will do better than is commonly supposed; the electorate are many things but they are not stupid.

Second, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there needs to be greater regulation of the veracity of claims made by registered participants in political campaigns. There are important free speech considerations here and unregistered mendacious participants will still slip through the cracks online. But a more developed regulatory regime would nonetheless remind mainstream politicians that they should not stoop to this level.   One could, for example, trial a role for the Advertising Standards Authority – who currently cannot adjudicate complaints and impose sanctions on electoral material – in an upcoming campaign in the UK.

Finally, and perhaps a little uncomfortably, we have to get better at working on difficult issues across traditional party lines. If we are constantly saying the other side have nothing good to impart then there are consequences. The electorate do not know who to believe. They think everyone is as bad as each other. The door is opened to those who take the easy way out and propose mythical ‘unicorns’ rather than evidence-based solutions. Cross-party coalitions on issues such as fixing social care, an honest conversation about the right balance of tax and spend to fund twenty-first century public services – or dare I say it implementing a version of Brexit that respects the narrow mandate of the referendum – would lend credibility to viewpoints because they don’t look politically driven.

Some will of course cry ‘establishment stitch-up’ and ‘Westminster cartel at its best’. It will be the responsibility of the moderate politicians of the future to demonstrate that evidence, and developed understanding of the issues at hand, remain the most reliable route to improved living standards and a better tomorrow.

Iain Dale: It’s time for Cabinet members of both sexes to show some balls

Plus: People vote for me to shave off my beard. But the decision was only advisory. And did they have enough information…?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Just because you keep chanting the mantra ‘Nothing Has Changed’ doesn’t mean it hasn’t. And after Tuesday’s massive defeat for the Prime Minister’s ‘Meaningful Vote’, it clearly has.

Well, it’s clear to everyone but her. Instead she keeps buggering on, pretending to herself that all is well and that she will eventually get her deal passed. She won’t. It is a dead parrot. It has ceased to be.

Even if she manages to drag the EU into giving her some concessions on the Northern Ireland backstop, I just don’t see how she can persuade 118 of her own party’s MPs to vote in a different way in any Groundhog Day re-vote. The DUP is in no mood to be conciliatory, as Sammy Wilson, the party’s Brexit spokesman, has made abundantly clear. He believes that the Theresa May has betrayed the DUP by crossing her own red lines and, from what he told me in an interview this week, trust has almost completely broken down.

Even worse, when the Prime Minister stood up to say that she would be consulting other parties about the way forward, people naturally assumed that would mean talks with the leaders of those parties. Apparently not. And she won’t be talking to anyone who believes in staying in a form of Customs Union. Okaaaaayyyyy….

– – – – – – – – – –

I haven’t a clue what the Prime Minister will say on Monday when she is obliged to return to the Commons to tell us how she plans to take things forward.

I wonder if her Cabinet even knows. She has apparently decided that it is so leaky that she won’t take its members into her confidence, because the one sure consequence is that the details will be on James Forsyth’s Twitter feed within five minutes of a Cabinet meeting ending.

Now is the time for the Cabinet to assert itself and tell her that she can’t persist with her form of ‘bunker’ government. ‘Trust no one’ might have worked for Mulder and Scully in the X Files, but it’s no way to run Number 10.

– – – – – – – – –

I did have a quiet snigger to myself when both Peter Mandelson and Norman Lamont on my show predicted the rebellion against the Prime Minister would be far smaller than people were predicting. Three minutes later, they were both having to eat their words.

For once in my life, I got the size of the majority against the deal almost bang on. Earlier in the day I had predicted between 180 and 220, but later revised it to above 220. My producer brought me back down to earth by reminding me that a monkey would get a prediction right every once in a while too.

– – – – – – – – –

In any normal political environment, May would now be contemplating a happy retirement. And if there were any obvious alternative to her, maybe that could have happened now, too. But there isn’t.  Boris Johnson is a busted flush, and none of her cabinet ministers have given us any confidence that they would do any better than the current incumbent.

It is remarkable that the Prime Minister is still in post after this defeat, but there is scant talk of the men in grey suits paying her a visit. In the end, it ought to be the Cabinet that tells her that her position is untenable, but you have to own a pair of bollocks (and I’m talking about both sexes here) first.

– – – – – – – –

Bianca Nobilo, one of my CNN colleagues, made a very telling point on Tuesday night. She said that Machiavelli wrote that in order to be a successful politician you have to be either feared or loved.

She was bang on. By whom is Theresa May feared? Apart from her husband, who loves her? I respect her. I even like her – but does she instil fear? Does she inspire love in the same way that Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair did from their tribes?  No. Buggering on is an admirable quality but it may not prove to be enough.

– – – – – – – – –

I’ve spent more hours on College Green this week than is good for any human being. Mind you, LBC did provide a nice electric blanket on my chair for my three hour stints on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was like sitting on a car’s heated seat – always a rather perverted experience in my view. And vastly overrated.

David Davis came on to react to the defeat on Tuesday, and was rather shocked that I had grown a beard. By the time you read this, the beard will have been shaved off. Yesterday, I had to have photos taken for some new LBC publicity pictures. I couldn’t decide whether to shave it off or not although, after someone said I looked like Alan Yentob, I was solely tempted to whack it off immediately.

I then did a Twitter poll. More than 4,000 people voted, and it ended up 51-49 in favour of it being shaved off. I decided to implement the result of this vote – even though it had only ever been an advisory vote. The questions remains, though. Did I have enough information to decide whether to shave it off or not, and were people telling me lies when they said they liked it?

Nadine Dorries: Thuggery. Abuse. Threats. Unacceptable everywhere. But no-one came to Brexiteers’ defence when we were victims.

The abuse became so bad that I felt the need to stop giving media interviews, writing articles and to remove myself from the public arena.

Nadine Dorries is the Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire and a Sunday Times top ten bestselling author.

“I want to see you, trapped in a burning car and watch as the heat from the flames melts the flesh from your face.”

Just one of a huge number of threats I have received since the day I became an MP. I decided not prosecute the originator of that remark, since he pleaded that his wife was pregnant, that he had just started a new job and his life would be in ruins if I took action.

That was the moment for me when Twitter transformed from being a platform of debate to one of abuse because within weeks, I had inherited a stalker who stuck with me for eight long years. I wasn’t his first victim. He had targeted his local female MP for three years before me, but she didn’t have a Twitter account and wasn’t on social media, so he moved across the country, rented a house, yards from my own, and then began eight years of intimidation and torment that affected me, my family, my job and my wellbeing.

Did anyone care? Was anyone bothered? Did anyone understand? No, not a bit. Especially not the Crown Prosecution Service, which appeared to believe that, since as an MP I was accountable to the electorate, it followed, unfortunately for me, that this accountability could manifest itself in a variety of ways. I had to move out of my own home and constituency because I was terrified – and it appeared, I was entirely on my own.

I didn’t think things could get much worse after that.  But then came the EU referendum, and it was as if the floodgates of abuse had now opened to the full, leaving my own stalker looking like a third rate amateur.

In addition to the social media and email onslaught, I have barely been able to use my own office for over a year, thanks to the ‘Stop Brexit’ campaigners outside of my window – meaning that, most of the time, I am displaced as I work on a canteen table, or in the Commons library. Month by month, the threats have intensified and they reach the darkest corners of the all-abusable me.

Forget the ‘C’ word. That comes as standard – usually as a subject header on an email. I have become immune. Forget the death threats – for goodness’ sake, there are, so many; so gruesome. It had become very obvious, by the standard of notifications on social media and the comments aimed at me as I walked to Millbank to give interviews, that something was afoot. The language of social medial via the immunity of the keyboard was becoming normalised. I haven’t given an interview on College Green for months, thanks to the stop Brexit protesters. I haven’t walked to Millbank without a male member of staff for over a year. What people would once only have said in private, they have been saying in public, as discourse noticeably deteriorated.

This Christmas, I deactivated my Twitter account. It hurt. There are things I care about, deeply. When you post a tweet that has 10,000 likes and almost three quarter of a million impressions, you know you have an effective platform. To advance my views is one of the reasons I became a politician. Not to duck down behind the sofa, but to jump on the parapet, to put myself in the public space of debate. What’s the point otherwise?

However, the abuse became so bad that I felt the need to stop giving media interviews, writing articles and to remove myself from the public arena. To get off the bus. It was all too much. People were becoming far too angry.

And it’s not just here in the UK. You only have to look around the globe to see how the internet is empowering people – not always in a good way. How minority groups can bully and dominate social media platforms to establish acceptable norms on so many issues. In politics, the paradigm is shifting. Walking the corridors of Westminster is like trotting through quicksand, and many are struggling to understand the new politics.

The Remain Metro Elite thought it was all absolutely fine to project fearmongering, scream “Stop Brexit”, campaign for a second referendum and present themselves on TV to systematically denounce and traduce the result of the referendum and to even, via the courts, try to have the result overturned.

Alastair Campbell of dodgy dossier fame, who proclaimed that the will of Parliament alone was enough to take us to war in Iraq, now endlessly calls for a second referendum, yet no one has died as a result of the referendum vote. He campaigns for a second poll so that the people vote again until they vote the establishment way. The metaphorical equivalent of removing the pin from a hand grenade.

The BBC thought they could spout pure unadulterated bias. Give Gary Lineker a free pass as he abuses elsewhere those 17.5 million people who agonised over their vote, and believe that there would be no consequence as a result. Broadcasters describe working classes leave voters as “gammon” and thick, and so much more besides. Well, I am gammon. I am working-class and proud. I never for one moment thought that these developments would end in anything but tears, and the very worst is still to come.

The handling of Brexit. The fudged negotiations. The deceit, the lies, the attempt by Number Ten to Brexit in name only will soon come home to roost.

People said it was impossible for America to elect Donald Trump, that it would never happen.  That Angela Merkel would go on and on and on in post. Emmanuel Macron was a slap in the face to the French establishment. Shifting political sands.

People here in the UK have reached their own tipping point. Some will become totally disenfranchised, remain at home and will possibly never vote again. Some will vent on social media and the abuse will continue. Others will step away from the keyboard and out onto the streets, and that is already happening. Journalists, Westminster elite, MPs, Prime Minister – we are all to blame, as while we fiddle, Westminster may burn. And someone not at all committed to democratic norms – someone we haven’t yet thought of, or maybe we have – will rise from the ashes, and we will only have ourselves to blame.

My take on Channel 4’s Brexit: The Uncivil War

When I, as a Brexiteer, heard that Channel Four had commissioned a film about the EU referendum campaign, my heart sank: this was surely going to be an account designed to appeal to the Remain-voting liberal, metropolitan elite. But when I heard that it had been written by James Graham – whose excellent This House […]

The post My take on Channel 4’s Brexit: The Uncivil War appeared first on BrexitCentral.

When I, as a Brexiteer, heard that Channel Four had commissioned a film about the EU referendum campaign, my heart sank: this was surely going to be an account designed to appeal to the Remain-voting liberal, metropolitan elite.

But when I heard that it had been written by James Graham – whose excellent This House about how the 1970s Labour Government clinged to power I had seen at the Garrick Theatre in 2016 – I held out some hope that it would be a fair and reasonable representation of events.

The result – Brexit: The Uncivil War (which airs on Channel Four tonight, Monday 7th January at 9pm) – was certainly based on considerable research by Graham into the events of the campaign and by the actors into the protagonists they are playing; and it draws heavily on the Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman’s authoritative All Out War as well as Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of Brexit, the memoir of David Cameron’s former spin doctor, Sir Craig Oliver.

But if the film does end up confirming the prejudices of the anti-Brexit #FBPE crowd, it is by virtue of what it doesn’t cover as much as what it does.

Graham has revealed, for example, that the initial draft of the script included David Cameron and George Osborne as characters; that would have opened up the possibility of including scenes which would have helped to expose how the Remain side exploited government resources, the Whitehall machine and taxpayers’ money to the tune of millions to skew the vote in their favour and promote their Project Fear narrative.

But those characters were dropped and the focus is instead far more on the work of the non-politicians at the helm of the campaigns: by far most extensively the victorious Vote Leave campaign, but also the official Stronger In campaign and Arron Banks’ renegade Leave.EU outfit.

The film reminds us that Vote Leave was established by Matthew Elliott (full disclosure: he is of course our Editor-at-Large) and John Heffernan portrays how his calm but constant presence as CEO kept the show on the road during what would be at times a very bumpy ride (and alas the script fails to give a nod to his vital prior experience in running the successful 2011 No2AV national referendum campaign and Business for Britain as a precursor to Vote Leave).

It is, however, Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Dominic Cummings – the Vote Leave Campaign Director – on which the film focuses more than anything. Cummings doesn’t especially care for politicians of any hue – and they don’t care for him either – and that clash is shown as central to his running an insurgency against the establishment. He is shown to hold in contempt even most of the politicians backing the Leave campaign in some notably tense scenes.

The intensity of Cummings’ mission comes through as his campaign theme morphs from “Take Control” to “Take Back Control” and his disregard for politicians and their traditional campaign methods leads him to expend considerable energy and money on state-of-the-art technology to identify potential Leave voters and persuade them of the case with targeted online advertising.

This is doubtless where the recalcitrant Remainers will cry foul and claim that it vindicates all manner of conspiracy theories, but what the film fails to make clear is that the Remain campaign had an equally ambitious (though ultimately less successful) digital operation of their own. It was run by Jim Messina, who had overseen the micro-targeting of voters for Barack Obama, yet for some reason while the campaign methods he embraced for the former US President were viewed as a positively ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘revolutionary’ development, when they were aped by Brexiteers even more successfully here, they are somehow deemed to be dubious or inappropriate.    

And while the internal divisions within the Leave camp are on full display, we only get a relatively brief glimpse of the chaos and tensions within the Remain camp: there is, however, one glorious scene featuring a conference call (taking place while Oliver, played by Rory Kinnear, is attempting to dish up dinner to his children) in which its leading lights complain about Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to throw his full weight behind their efforts and Downing Street’s failure to sanction “blue on blue” attacks on Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Johnson and Gove are portrayed on screen, although without any substantial scenes, while Vote Leave Chair Gisela Stuart’s appearances are even more fleeting. As I noted above, the politicians are not the focus of the film, so there are some key players whose efforts go unrecognised as most of the leading political figures are instead shown through occasional video montages of genuine TV footage from the campaign trail.

The depiction of events covered is for the most part, I think, extremely historically accurate (although pedants will point out that Gisela Stuart was not in London but in Manchester with Matthew Elliott on referendum night); the one definite concession to artistic licence is when Cummings and Oliver go for a drink on the eve of the vote to mull over the campaign.

But while the resulting dramatic spectacle is extremely well executed, I can’t help feeling that the inevitably selective focus required for a TV film lasting barely 90 minutes has resulted in significant aspects of the story being left untold.

The post My take on Channel 4’s Brexit: The Uncivil War appeared first on BrexitCentral.

POLITICO’s most-read stories of 2018

A combative US president, the dying days of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship and a ‘heretic’ in the Vatican all make the list.

It was the year of Trump vs. the world.

From his breakup with one-time bestie Emmanuel Macron, to his animosity toward long-time foe Angela Merkel, China and even Queen Elizabeth II, the increasingly combative U.S. president made 2018 the year of the bar-room brawl. And if it wasn’t Donald Trump, it was Brexit ruining Europe’s good mood.

We revisit the news events that shook the Continent and the world in this look back at POLITICO’s most-read stories of the year.

20. German politicians call on US to withdraw ambassador

Daniel Bockwoldt/AFP via Getty Images

Germany waited … and waited … and waited for a new U.S. ambassador. But when Richard Grenell arrived in Berlin and promptly announced in an interview that he wanted to boost conservatives across Europe and encourage people to rise up against “elites,” the German political establishment decided it wanted to send him back.

19. EU to UK: Lose-lose Brexit deal is best you will get

Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

In the first (but most certainly not the last) Brexit-related entry in our Top 20, POLITICO reported on November’s extraordinary EU leaders’ meeting — or as we christened it, the “Lose-lose Summit.”

18. Angela Merkel on Trump’s G7 show: It’s ‘depressing’

Jesco Denzel /Bundesregierung via Getty Images

The 2018 G7 summit in Quebec was the site of the political photograph of the year: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders confronting a visibly smirking and belligerent Donald Trump. Merkel’s verdict on the U.S. president’s performance? “Sobering and a bit depressing.” Ooph!

17. Latvia, a disappearing nation

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Since joining the EU in 2005, Latvia has lost nearly a fifth of its population to other countries in the bloc. That gives it the dubious accolade of being the country with the most precipitous fall in population — 18.2 percent according to U.N. statistics — since 2000. Atis Sjanits, Latvia’s ambassador responsible for relations with his country’s diaspora, revealed how he planned to respond to the exodus.

16. POLITICO 28 Class of 2019

POLITICO once again identified the 28 people who will shape Europe in the coming year, with Italian Deputy Prime Minister and League leader Matteo Salvini topping the list. Joining him were Berlaymont “monster” Martin Selmayr, firecracker Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and “hot new thing” Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez.

15. Trump blows up Theresa May’s party in his honor

Pool photo by Chris Ratcliffe/EPA

On his first official visit to Britain as U.S. president, Donald Trump warned in an interview that May’s new Brexit strategy will “kill” any future trade deal with Washington, backed her rival Boris Johnson for PM and accused the mayor of London of being weak on terrorism. Oh, and the interview dropped just as May was lauding Trump at a grandiose gala dinner in his honor at Blenheim Palace. What we wouldn’t have given to be a fly on that wall … But luckily, we had the next best thing: Jack Blanchard’s insiders’ account of how it all went down.

14. Europe’s losing streak

Daniel Mihailescu/AFP via Getty Images

Mid-way through 2018, it felt like Europe was living through the malaise, drift and depression of 2016 all over again. Our Executive Editor Matthew Kaminski captured the mood in his Brussels Notebook.

13. Call for giant baby-Trump balloon to fly over Scottish golf course

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Sometimes, a headline says it all. This is one of those times.

12. The most valuable military real estate in the world

Carl de Souza/AFP via Getty Images

Strategically placed at the entrance to the Red Sea, Djibouti is home to more foreign bases than any other country. In the most-read dispatch from his The Coming Wars series, Bruno Maçães began with the chilling quote:  “World War III will start here.”

11. Macron’s Trump containment operation

Daniel Jayo/Getty Images

It started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this? French President Emmanuel Macron demonstrated at commemorations in Paris for the World War I Armistice centenary in November that he would no longer simply appease Trump — instead, he was prepared to push back against the U.S. president if necessary.

10. Poland offers US up to $2B for permanent military base

Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images

Poland desperately wants a permanent U.S. military presence — and it’s willing to pony up as much as $2 billion to get it, as this scoop revealed.

9. EU and China break ultimate trade taboo to hit back at Trump

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The EU and China teamed up in November and launched explosive cases at the World Trade Organization, arguing that Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, imposed in May, cannot be justified on national security grounds. Trump was not amused. Are you sensing a theme?

8. A desperate Merkel gets Trumped

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Before the “sobering and a bit depressing” G7 gathering in Quebec, Angela Merkel tried to get Trump on-side, arriving at the White House in April hoping to resuscitate the transatlantic relationship and convince the U.S. president to back away from his belligerent positions on trade and Iran. She left with nothing but a headache.

7. Where Brexit will hurt most in Europe

Niklas Halle’n/AFP via Getty Images

This early-2018 scoop came courtesy of a 72-page document, obtained by POLITICO, that outlined the concerns of the EU’s regions when it came to future trade, agriculture, fisheries, citizens returning from the U.K. and cuts to the EU budget post Brexit. It’s almost as if they had a crystal ball …

6. Brexit Britain: Small, boring and stupid

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

It was the primal scream heard in Britain, around the Continent and beyond. Ryan Heath is bored of Brexit. And he doesn’t care who knows it.

5. Trump lawyer Giuliani got paid to lobby Romanian president

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was being paid by a global consulting firm when he sent a letter to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in August that contradicted an official U.S. government position, POLITICO revealed.

4. Angela Merkel’s political near-death experience in Bavarian brawl

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Back in June, Merkel’s standoff with her party’s Bavarian partners over refugee policy exploded onto the front pages, threatening both the stability of Germany’s government and the conservative bloc that has been the bedrock of its political establishment for decades.

3. Trump claims Queen Elizabeth kept him waiting

Pool photo by Richard Pohle/Getty Images

Really, Donald, picking a fight with a nonagenarian? Sad!

2. ‘Heretic’ in the Vatican

Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

Celebrated by progressives around the world for his push to update and liberalize aspects of church doctrine, Pope Francis is now facing blowback so strong he’s been labeled a “heretic” by the church’s arch-conservatives.

1. Sweden’s violent reality is undoing a peaceful self-image

Johan Nilsson/AFP via Getty Images

Trump asked for it, POLITICO delivered: We looked at what’s happening in Sweden, and found that in a country long renowned for its safety, shootings have become so common, they don’t make top headlines anymore.

2018: The year in figures and charts

Telling the story of the last 12 months through data.

What a tremendous, nebulous year.

Very much like last year, 2018 was full of endless Brexit drama. And endless Trump drama. And then there was some more Brexit drama. And some more Trump drama. But hey, other stuff happened too (right?).

The French proved that they are still the global champions of street protests, the far right grabbed headlines across the Continent and Angela Merkel prepared to abdicate.

From politics to climate change, gay rights and technology giants, here are the figures behind the topics that defined 2018.

Eddy Wax contributed reporting.


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