The Russian Report, State Failure and Corruption

On the 21st of July, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) finally published its long-awaited report on Russian interference in the UK’s democratic process. Allegedly the report has been ready since before the election in 2019 but the Johnson led government has been accused of deliberately delaying its release until after they were elected. The chair of the ISC himself, Dominic Grieve, said that the reasons given for the report’s delay were “bogus”. The version of the report that is available to the public has been heavily redacted as it contains a lot of information related to the Intelligence Services, but it still shines an interesting light on the way the government has failed to mitigate the threat of Russian cyber attacks and political interference. It also points out a serious issue of Russian Oligarchs with ties to the Russian Government using London as a haven while also helping to fill the Conservative Party’s coffers.

Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the amount of resources allocated to protection from Hostile State Activity has rapidly fallen; twenty years ago, MI5 devoted around 20% of its resources to this cause. As the threat of terrorism grew, Hostile State Activity resources continued to dwindle; by 2008/9 around 97% of all of MI5’s resources were tied up in counter terrorism activities. It was not until 2013/14, in response to an increase in Russian cyber activity, that resources increased back to 14.5%. The report states –

‘Since 2014, Russia has carried out malicious cyber activity in order to assert itself aggressively in a number of spheres, including attempting to influence the democratic elections of other countries.’

In spite of an increase of resources in the intelligence community to try and deal with this problem it is obvious that the response has been completely disorganised with many different agencies expected to deal with the issue with no clear chain of responsibility in place. After describing all the different agencies involved, the report goes on to state –

‘Overall, the issue of defending the UK’s democratic processes and discourse has appeared to be something of a “hot potato”, with no one organisation recognising itself as having an overall lead.’

This shows a worrying lack of cohesion and a clear weakness in the supposed stated goal of the UK’s intelligence agencies in “the defence of the realm”. It is clear that since the inception of these agencies the definition of what the ‘realm’ is has changed and more needs to be done to update what it means to defend it.

In the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union there seemed to be a genuine hope that Russia could be seen as a potential partner in the upper echelons of UK businesses and political parties. As a result, the UK has been incredibly open in accepting Russian money and investment which has resulted in London becoming something of a recycler of illicit finances and has been referred to as “Londongrad” or the “London Laundromat”. On this matter the report states –

‘Several members of the Russian elite who are closely linked to Putin are identified as being involved with charitable and/or political organisations in the UK, having donated to political parties, with a public profile which positions them to assist Russian influence operations.’

Probably of little surprise to most it also describes a possible issue of corruption within the House of Lords –

‘It is notable that a number of Members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state – these relationships should be carefully scrutinised, given the potential for the Russian state to exploit them.’

So, in which direction is all of this Russian money and influence going then?

Since 2014 the Conservative party has received millions of pounds in donations from Russian oligarchs, nouveau riche that emerged like vultures picking apart the corpse of the USSR for profit.

The largest donor among them has been Lubov Chernukin, the wife of a former Russian deputy finance minister. In the last year she has donated more than £450,000 to the Tories (more than £1.2 million since 2014) and has repeatedly purchased one on one time with high ranking Tory members. In February while attending the Black and White ball- an event held for major Tory donors in Battersea Park- she paid £135,000 at an auction to have dinner with Theresa May. Chernukin also gave almost £15,000 to the constituency office of the Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis MP who is now the Minister of State for Security. In 2014 she also paid £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and David Cameron and £30,000 so that she could have dinner with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. We don’t deal in conspiracy theories at ACU but various Tory MP’s prostituting themselves to Russian elites seems very strange indeed.

Another prominent Russian donor is former arms tycoon Alexander Temerko. Over the past 7 years Temerko has gifted over £1.2 million pounds and speaks kindly of his “friend” Boris Johnson. He revealed how close he is with the now Prime Minister when talking with Reuters, claiming that when Johnson was the Foreign Secretary the pair would often “plot” late in to the evening over a bottle of wine on the balcony of Johnson’s office at parliament. The two men reportedly call each other “Sasha”, the Russian nickname for Alexander, this being Johnson’s real first name, which only close friends call him. Alexander Temerko has links to the highest levels inside the Russian government.

There seems to be many on the left that think that the Russian state deserves support as a great anti-western power in the world. This is a dangerous position to take as the current Russian state power is increasingly shown to be incredibly corrupt, confrontational and has many ties to the criminal underworld. It’s not one or the other, it is possible to acknowledge that both the western governments and that of Russia are at least as corrupt as each other. The findings in this ISC report appear very damaging, despite Johnson trying to downplay the revelations in Parliament. In yet another facet of governing, the Tory party has completely dropped the ball and now appears, pretty convincingly, to be heavily influenced by the elites of Russia.

Keir Starmer: King of The Ashes

As of April, the Labour party now has a new leader in Sir Keir Starmer and a new Shadow Cabinet appointed by him. Starmer won the leadership contest with 56% of the vote on a wave of sentiments such as “electability”, “moderate” and “sensible” and has been a staunch Remainer in the Brexit debate. Starmer was instrumental in his role as Shadow Brexit secretary in tempering Labour’s position on Brexit and forcing Corbyn to support a second referendum going into the 2019 general election. This, for many, was the death knell for Labour as they alienated millions of working-class voters that voted for Brexit and pushed them towards the Conservatives, leaving the UK in a strange place with the Conservative party now having a larger working class base of support, at least in England.

The appointment of Sir Keir Starmer, a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, has also alienated the members of the Labour party that still believed in Labour as a left-wing party that would push for meaningful, socialist changes to society. He has been compared to Tony Blair and many believe he will steer the party back towards a “New Labour” way of working that operates more in the mythical centre of the political spectrum and tries to strike a balance between the left and right wings of the party. Something that has been applauded by members of the Conservative party such as the architect of austerity himself, George Osborne, who tweeted –

“Keir Starmer’s reshuffle is impressive – the Marxist nutters are out; moderate left are in. When this crisis is eventually over, and politics is resumed, the Tories are going to find that the 5 years when there was no opposition and no alternative has come to an abrupt end”

A bold statement but one that has very little meaning coming from someone that should be a political enemy of the Labour movement, especially when you look at the people that Starmer has appointed to his Shadow Cabinet. At a time where the Conservative government have clearly, seriously mishandled the Covid-19 crisis amid false scientific claims of the validity of “herd immunity”, a failure to provide clarity and protections for the people most at risk and a wilful dismissal of a report in 2016 that predicted what would happen in a pandemic situation; new Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy claimed in an interview that “this wasn’t a foreseeable crisis” despite the fact that the Government had foresaw a crisis like this happening four years ago. A statement that Starmer would be proud of as he himself stated that now is “not the time” to ask if the Government has been too slow in responding to this crisis. A strong opposition indeed.

To anyone who denounces criticism of the government in a time like this as trying to politicise a tragedy I would like to say this to you specifically – Whether you like it or not, everything is political. It was a political choice to suppress the 2016 report on pandemic response from the public. It was a political choice to not heed the warning of countries like China and Italy when it came to the lax response to the pandemic. These political choices have caused a lot of unnecessary strain, suffering, deaths and the government must be held accountable for that.

As to the rest of the Shadow Cabinet, we have Ian Murray who failed in his bid for the Deputy Leader position but is being kept on as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. He claimed to have been “honoured” by an endorsement from Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and has been a vocal critic of Corbyn and his policies.

Appointed as Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding is Jess Phillips; a person that has been caught out bragging about telling MP Diane Abbot to “fuck off” during a parliamentary meeting, a claim that turned out to be a complete lie, and has a worrying track record of supporting transphobic groups and diminishing the rights of sex workers. Oh and Jess was also was one of Corbyn’s loudest critics and was quoted in an interview with the Guardian as saying to Corbyn “The day that… you are hurting us more than you are helping us, I won’t knife you in the back, I’ll knife you in the front”.

In at the position of Shadow Exchequer Secretary is Wes Streeting, a man that doxxed a person on twitter over a doctored picture and has taken every opportunity to attack Jeremy Corbyn over the claims of anti-Semitism in the Labour party but who also told a campaigner against anti-Semitism to “fuck off” when he pointed out he was defending proven anti-Semite Ali Milani. He also seems very comfortable working with his colleague Rachel Reeves who has also been awarded a place in the Shadow Cabinet; a woman that has admitted her admiration for the first ever sitting woman MP Nancy Astor, a known anti-Semite and avid supporter of Adolf Hitler. Another example of a worrying trend in British politics where people like to pretend the first female MP was a Nazi sympathiser and brush over the Irish Socialist Constance Markievicz. British politics is grim, but maybe Labour shouldn’t be the party working to erase Socialism from British politics and fawning over fash?  

You may be wondering why I have made an effort to point out that Starmers new Shadow Cabinet seems to be propped up by the people in the party that were the most critical of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. It has recently been announced that the internal report entitled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019” will not be submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on the advice of the Party’s lawyers as they fear it could harm the Party. This story was broken by Sky News who claimed to have seen the 860 – page report and stated that it “concluded factional hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn amongst former senior officials contributed to a ‘litany of mistakes’ that hindered the effective handling of the issue”. A polite way of describing many of Keir’s supporters and shadow cabinet as fifth columnists.

The report has since been leaked online and is very damning for those involved.Through thorough examination of more than 10,000 emails and thousands of WhatsApp messages it was discovered that a faction inside the Labour party that were doing everything they could to make sure Corbyn lost the election in 2017. This included deliberately mishandling work, sabotaging anyone they believed to be a ‘trot’ (a Trot being anyone to the left of Brown) and lying to manipulate outcomes that they wanted. There is a lot in the report but some of the worst revelations from the WhatsApp messages include –

  • Conversations which show senior staff hid information from the leader’s office about digital spending and contact details for MPs and candidates during the election
  • A discussion about how to prevent Corbyn ally Rebecca Long-Bailey gaining a seat on the party’s governing body in 2017
  • Constant references to Corbyn – supporting staff as “trots”
  • Conversations in which the same group refers to Corbyn’s former chief of staff Karie Murphy as “medusa”, a “crazy woman” and a “bitch face cow” that would “make a good dartboard”
  • A discussion in which a member of the group said they “hope” that a young pro-Corbyn Labour activist, who they acknowledge had mental health problems, “dies in a fire”

One of the more damning paragraphs that show the level to which members of this group were trying to sabotage Corbyn is the following about Emilie Oldknow who is now the COO of the Unison trade union. It states –

‘WhatsApp discussions among senior Labour HQ staff show that LOTO (Leader of The Opposition) was unhappy with the NCC panel’s decision to suspend Ken Livingston for another year rather than expel him. Emilie Oldknow wrote that “Karie has been telling Shadow Cabinet members that I’ve orchestrated the Ken situation so… Tom got his people on the panel to make a soft decision, all in order to embarrass JC and create a crisis.”

Sir Keir Starmer claims that he wants a more moderate party that bridges the left-wing/right-wing divide so as to win back the trust of voters. This reconciliation is as convincing as Keir pishing into my ear and telling me it’s raining. What we really see is a group of moderates that never liked how popular the policies of Jeremy Corbyn were and did everything in their power to purge the party of the further left leaning people involved. Forcing Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit, purposely sabotaging the Party and colluding to bully members they believed to be too far left and then accusing Corbyn of losing two elections all by himself because he was so unpopular and had bad ideas. It is the same type of Neo-Liberal machinations that were set on Bernie Sanders over in America and it makes it clear that whether here in the UK or over in the US there will never really be an opportunity to have any real choice in government. Neither in the UK or the US is there a party structure that can make a home for the Left. They all wear different colours but campaign for slight variations of the same formula. Keir Starmer is being hailed as the electable saviour for the Labour Party, but I would argue the Labour Party is now so far removed from where it was supposed to be that he now has nothing worth saving.

I’d like to leave you with a quote from the legend of the Labour Party Tony Benn. “We are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and to define its finer values.”

He said this in response to the push for Labour to adopt more right-wing ideas in the 80s. A task completed by Tony Blair and now furthered by the ghoulish machinations of the right leaning members of the Labour Party. Sir Keir Starmer has been propelled to leadership of a Party that his supporters have eroded from the inside. Keir is not the saviour of the Labour party, but it’s undertaker.

The Drug Crisis in Ayrshire

Ayrshire has always been an area affected by poverty and unemployment. These issues, combined with strained social services meant that a drug crisis in the area was almost inevitable.

Unfortunately, as the drug trade has boomed, organised crime has moved in, with police reporting there are now four serious and well organised groups profiting off the back of Ayrshire’s drug habit. Among the numerous measures the police have taken in response, some give cause for concern.

The police recently presented a report to South Ayrshire council stating that they had, over the previous year, put more funding into combating the rise of drug related crime, highlighting their tactic of targeting suppliers to strangle the gang’s income, as well as preventing these drugs from reaching buyers. This increase in funding has already shown results, with an increase in the number of drug apprehensions in Ayrshire compared to the same period last year.

New blood has been introduced with the appointment of Mark Hargreaves, taking over the role of Divisional Commander. Nicknamed the “Hammer of the drug dealers of Ayrshire” by the Daily Record- a title that’s a mouthful but invokes the right feeling of the man- Mark is a veteran of the police force of nearly twenty years and before moving to Ayrshire worked in the East End of Glasgow, as well as Pollock and Govan.  

Mark appears to be a man well suited to taking on the drug trade in Ayrshire, both in experience and in attitude. When appointed to the role he specifically called out drug use as a poison in communities, arguing that the presence of drugs in an area leads to an increase in more serious violent crimes.

One facet of this new anti drug trade strategy that is being implemented across Ayrshire is an increased emphasis on coordinating with the community and local businesses. This includes Taxi Marshals, street pastors and even pubs. One such incident resulted in three individuals being caught with drugs in their possession while out in Ayr in early September.

And therein lies the problem. The new spotlight on the drug problem across Ayrshire appears to target drug dealers, the people and gangs that profit from the trade and users together. Tactics like this have a history of falling apart, where the drug user is seen as a criminal rather than a victim. Instead, in areas like Portugal, where drug users are given treatment rather than jail time, far lower rates of drug use and drug related deaths are reported. Treating drug users like criminals leads to higher drug user rates and drug related deaths.

There are doubts surrounding whether or not the drug problem is getting worse in Ayrshire, or if we have simply been an area with historic issues. Ian Cavana, Counsellor for South Ayrshire, has in the past raised concerns over the narrative of increasing drug related issues in the area, instead suggested police are getting better at detecting these issues. Either way the rampancy of drug related issues is not a problem unique to Ayrshire, despite the 82 deaths reported last year; Scotland as a whole tops the charts in drug related deaths across the EU, and not by a small margin. We have nearly double the rates of Estonia, who placed second, and around three times the rate of the UK average; We also have one of the highest rates of drug use in the EU. With around 1.6% of the population estimated to be active drug users the reason behind Scotland’s depressing accolade is clear.

Benzos(like Valium and Xanax) are relatively new in terms of recreational use yet are now topping all other drugs as the leading reason for drug user deaths, with North and East Ayrshire ranking third and fourth respectively in areas of Scotland where Benzos make up the highest proportion of deaths, more so than all other drugs combined.

With new drugs entering into our community and claiming lives, what else is being done to cut off the impact of drugs in our area? The NHS offers services to help users quit drug addictions and groups like Addaction are now active in Ayrshire, trying to close any gaps in rehabilitation services. The question however, remains: Just how much enthusiasm and support do these services really receive from the powers that be?

In a recent East Ayrshire Council meeting Councillor Tom Cook said that a number of constituents had stated they find the presence of people picking up methadone from town centre pharmacies “off-putting”, with many saying “they don’t come in to the town centre because of that.” It was then suggested that the distribution of this treatment should be moved to pharmacies outside the town centre, which would further stigmatise and ghettoise sufferers of addiction, widening the gap between physical and social rehabilitation. While South Ayrshire has an incredibly high rate of supporting people to access alcohol and drug recovery services, constantly topping the Scottish Government’s target, the language of finding people recovering from addiction as “off-putting” speaks to the ongoing need to collectively undo decades of denigrating and dehumanising disinformation propagated by media and governments. This being considered by the council gives me doubts about the faith these institutions have in rehabilitation’s importance in fighting Ayrshire’s drug crisis.

While policies that seek to help users are showing to be successful abroad, is a policy of tarring drug dealers and drug users with the same brush really going to be the policy that helps our community?

Photo by Jonathan Gonzalez on Unsplash