Posts Tagged ‘Nudge Unit’

Frightened May Holds Out Possibility of Undoing Tory Reforms of NHS

May 29, 2018

For all the repeated smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party as a nest of vicious anti-Semites and Trotskyites, the Labour leader clearly has the Tories worried. Last week Tweezer made a couple of pronouncements about the NHS, which showed more than a hint of desperation in one, and a fair amount of the usual Tory deceit and double standards in the other.

According to the I, Tweezer had made a speech in which she discussed the possibility of trying to improve the NHS by going back and repealing some of the Tories’ own recent legislation. The article, which I think was published in Wednesday’s edition of the newspaper, but I could be wrong, stated that she was specifically considering repealing part of the 2012 Social Care Act. This is a nasty piece of legislation, which actually needs to be repealed. It was passed when Andrew Lansley was Dave Cameron’s Health Secretary. The verbiage within the Act is long and confused, and deliberately so. Critics of the Act, like Raymond Tallis, one of the authors of the book NHS SOS, have pointed out that the Act no longer makes the Health Secretary responsible for ensuring that everyone has access to NHS healthcare. The Act gives the responsibility for providing healthcare to the Care Commissioning Groups, but these are only required to provide healthcare for those enrolled with them, not for the people in a given area generally. It has been one of the major steps in the Tories’ ongoing programme of privatising the NHS. For more information on this, see Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis, NHS SOS (OneWorld 2013).

The fact that Tweezer was prepared to hold out the possibility of repealing, even partly, her predecessors’ NHS legislation suggests to me that Corbyn’s promise to renationalise the NHS has got her and her party seriously rattled. It shows that this policy, like much else in the Labour programme, is actually extremely popular. And so Tweezer is doing what she had done elsewhere with dangerously popular Labour policies in the past. She’s going to try to make it look as if the Tories are going to do something similar. Like when Labour talks about renationalising part of the electricity grid, the Tories immediately start going on about how they’ll cap energy prices.

Actually, I doubt very much that Tweezer has any intention of revising Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act, or about restoring the NHS to proper public ownership. The Tories have been trying to sell off the NHS and support private medicine since Maggie Thatcher back in the 1980s. But if Tweezer did repeal part of the 2012 Act, my guess is that it would only be to make it much worse. In the same way that Cameron announced he was going to clean up the lobbying industry and make it more transparent, and then passed legislation that actually made it far less so. This gave more power to the big lobbying firms, while making the kind of lobbying done by small groups like charities much more difficult. You can see something similar being done by the Tories with their proposed NHS legislation.

And then there was the report last week, which stated very clearly that due to the terrible underfunding of the past nine years or so, the NHS would need an extra tax of £2,000 to be paid by everyone in the UK. Or so Tweezer and the Tories claimed. Mike dealt with that projection in a post yesterday, where he noted that the Tories have been reducing the tax burden on the rich. He went on to quote Peter Stefanovic, a blogger deeply concerned with the crisis in NHS care and funding created by the Tories. Stefanovic said

“Or alternatively the Government could tax those earning over £80,000 a little more, scrap tax breaks for the very rich, stop PFI deals bleeding the NHS dry & companies like Boots accused of charging NHS over £3,000 for a £93 cancer pain-relieving mouthwash.”

Mike makes the point that with the increasing privatisation of the NHS, the call for more taxes to be spent on it is in fact a demand for more to be given to private healthcare providers, who are delivering less.

Mike concluded with the words:

These people are trying to make fools of us. They are to be challenged. Let them explain why they think the poor should be taxed more when we all have less, thanks to Tory policies.

I also wondered if there also wasn’t a piece of subtle, ‘Nudge Unit’ type psychology also at work in the statement that we’d all have to stump anything from £1,200 to £2,000. This is a lot of money for those on very low incomes. And the Tories see themselves very much as the party of low taxation. Hence their attacks on ‘high spending’ Labour and claims that their tax reforms allow working people to keep more of their money. Though even this is a lie. The Tories have actually moved the tax burden from the rich on to the poor, and made the poor very much poorer through removing vital parts of the welfare safety net. My guess is that they’re hoping that some people at least will see that figure, and vote against increasing spending for the NHS on the grounds that they won’t be able to afford it. It also seems to me that they’ll probably try asserting that Labour will increase everyone’s tax burden by that amount when the Labour party starts fighting on the platform of NHS reform.

And with frightened working class voters rejecting an increase in taxation to pay for the NHS, they’ll go on to claim that the NHS, as a state-funded institution, is simply unaffordable and so needs further privatisation. Or to be sold off altogether.

This is how nasty, duplicitous and deceitful the Tories are. And I can remember when the Tories under Thatcher were similarly claiming that the NHS was unaffordable in the 1980s. Just like the Tory right claimed it was unaffordable back in the 1950s.

In fact, a report published in 1979 made it very clear that the NHS could very easily continue to be funded by increased taxation. And that taxation should be levelled on the rich, not the poor. But this is exactly what the Tories don’t want. They don’t want people to have access to free healthcare, and they really don’t want the rich taxed. And so they’re going to do everything they can to run down the NHS and tell the rest of us that it’s too expensive. Even though this country’s expenditure on healthcare is lower than that of many other countries in Europe, and far lower than the American’s expenditure on their massively inefficient and grossly unjust private healthcare system.

If we want to save the NHS, we have to reject May’s lies, and vote in Corbyn and a proper Labour government.


Kitty S. Jones on Cambridge Analytica’s Datamining of Facebook

March 23, 2018

Aside from the Skripal poisoning, one of the major issues this week has been Cambridge Analytica and their datamining of Facebook to get the personal particulars of something like 50 million people, so that they could be targeted for political manipulation. Kitty’s article is a long one, but she makes some very good points. Not least is that GCHQ and the other western intelligence services discussed ways of using the internet to target particular individuals to manipulate them or disrupt groups that posed a threat to national security. She also connects this to ‘behavioural economics’ and the infamous Nudge Unit, which uses subtle psychological techniques to manipulate people into making decisions the government wants. With those two, we are well into the kind of dystopian future, where a totalitarian government manipulates the minds of its subjects portrayed in the Beeb’s classic SF series, Blake’s 7. Some of this datamining appears to have been done to benefit Russian oil interests. Michelle, one of the great commenters here, posted this to her piece, commenting on the immense value of personal information on the Net:

“The Wiley disclosure certainly had quite a media make over, he sits in a trendy bare room with a big photo shoot light for the Guardian and in a graffiti tunnel for ITV news, yet with all his intellectual prowess his deductive reasoning interestingly falls short on his employer making a link with Russian oil: “It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?”


The spotlight on this company must be just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2010 I had blogged about the EU intending to make it clear how internet users would have their digital data exploited and the New York Times had a comment re the intended EU overhaul of privacy regulations. I had written that the publishers value was not based on content or brand but on the information that can be collected about each digital visitor, as we click away our preferences and online patterns are being delivered up to the advertising market because the ability to sell this information about us is the true value a publisher holds. Here is the comment in the New York Times (20 Nov 2010) about the E.U´s intention to overhaul the online privacy rules to protect personal data which would hamper the “development of services” – a great euphemism for snooping:

“Rules requiring Internet companies to secure users’ consent upfront could hamper the development of services that align online advertising with Web users’ personal interests, as reflected in the Web sites they visit or the preferences they express in social networks and other online forums. From a marketer’s perspective, this could dilute one of the big advantages of the Web over traditional media.”


Evidently the misuse of data has been understood for many years, (as you have pointed out Sue), I also noted in 2010 a New Scientist article: “EVERY move you make, every twitter feed you update, somebody is watching you. You may not think twice about it, but if you use a social networking site, a cellphone or the internet regularly, you are leaving behind a clear digital trail that describes your behaviour, travel patterns, likes and dislikes, divulges who your friends are and reveals your mood and your opinions. In short, it tells the world an awful lot about you.”


So how did the ‘security services’ miss Cambridge Analytica’s flagrant misuse of data when it has been clearly understood even in the public realm for almost a decade? These supposed revelations at this juncture come at a time when the hype to cold war status is already far too high…”

Kitty’s article is at:

And the Americans are not alone in using Cambridge Analytica, it seems. I found this report by RT about our government also using them and their parent company, SCL, to gather data on us. RT’s presenter, Polly Boiko, states that the two were hired by the Ministry of Defence, and paid for providing staff with training and for keeping government secrets on their computer, amongst other services. Yvette Cooper has demanded a wider investigation into their activities. They have also been hired by some very dodgy governments around the world. Like Kenya, where Cambridge Analytica was hired by the ruling party to gather data on its opponents, and create a psychological strategy that would allow them to hold on to power. The company has been accused of stirring up ethnic tensions as part of this. They were also hired by Ukraine to undermine the breakaway Donetsk Republic. This ended in failure, but the company’s report not only went to the Ukrainians who commissioned it, but was also shared with the British government. She concludes that the next stage of the scandal will probably be the company’s connections to the world’s governments.

This has been touched on today in the I newspaper, which reported that Israel had also hired the company to swing elections Nigeria and St. Kitts and Nevis.

This is a real threat to democracy, but I doubt that many people are paying attention, because of the way May and her team are ramping up tensions with Russia to distract everyone from just how terrible they are. And if the MOD have been using them to gather data on British citizens, then the immediate comparison that comes to my mind is with the Stasi and the other totalitarian secret police. It ain’t Corbyn who’s a threat to democracy, but Cambridge Analytica and their Tory government paymasters.

Hammond Blames the Disabled for Fall in Productivity

December 7, 2017

This is another outrageous statement. But it really doesn’t come as a surprise, as it was mouthed by the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, a poisonous incompetent amongst a government of poisonous incompetents.

When Hammond was asked about the fall in British productivity, he responded by blaming it on the inclusion of various marginal groups in the workforce, such as the disabled. Mike over at Vox Political has posted a piece commenting on this stupid, insensitive and mendacious reply. He points out that if productivity has fallen, it might have something to do with a lack of motivation coming from insultingly low pay, poor nutrition, overwork, tiredness and anxiety due to zero hours contracts to care about profits or productivity.

He also points out that, thanks to May’s government fully supporting poor wages and precarity, employers now find it cheaper to employ people under these wretched conditions than invest in new equipment.

Mike also points out that Hammond’s comments follow the usual Tory line of blaming and demonising the disabled. But this doesn’t mean that they’re coming for them to throw them in the gas ovens just yet. No, they’re just content to let the stress of dealing with the benefit system either worsen their mental health, or force them to commit suicide. All while denying that people are being driven to take their own lives by the stress of their benefit reforms.

This is despite suicide notes left behind by those who have committed suicide, explicitly saying that this is why they have been reduced to taking their own lives.

And Mike also rightly notes how DWP staff are asking people with suicidal tendencies why they haven’t taken their own lives. Which sounds like a question from the infamous ‘Nudge’ Unit, the psychological manipulation department set up to manoeuvre people’s thinking so that they come to the decision the authorities want.

Mike also quotes Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, who has condemned Hammond’s comments, pointing out that disabled people are paying the price for the government’s failed austerity policy. This has included scrapping the schemes to get disabled people into the workforce. She states that we should be doing more to get disabled people into work, and definitely not denigrate their contributions. She went on to demand an apology from Hammond.

Abrahams also points out the contradiction that’s also hidden in Hammond’s statement. He states that there are more disabled people in the workforce, which we should be proud of, but the Tories have actually cut the programmes to get the disabled into work, as well as scrapping their manifesto pledge to halve the gap between the employment rates for disabled and able people.

You can’t have it both ways, so one way or another, Hammond is clearly lying.

Hammond’s comment is disgusting, but it is more or less standard Tory replies. The Tories’ entire economic strategy is to prolong the deficit crisis as long as possible, so they have an excuse for cutting welfare benefits, privatising whatever remains of the state sector, including education, and removing workers’ rights. All to create a cowed, beaten workforce that will accept starvation wages, for the benefit of ultra-rich profiteers, including the banksters, hedge fund managers and multinational corporations that are currently keeping their wretched party afloat.

At the same time, they desperately need a scapegoat. Usually this function is filled by the unions, who provide them with an excuse for taking away more workers’ rights while at the same time trying to dismember the Labour party by attacking its foundations in the trade union movement. But as no-one’s currently on strike, they can’t do it.

So Spreadsheet Phil has to blame the disabled.

As with everything else the Tories utter, a few moment’s thought can show that the reality may be the very opposite of what they’re saying. Let’s examine Hammond’s statement that the fall in productivity is due to too many disabled people in the workforce. Quite apart from the fact that, as Mike has pointed out, the Tories have actually cut initiatives to stop disabled people finding work, you can find reasons how disabled people in the workforce may actually be a boost to productivity.

Firstly, there’s the obvious point that just because a person suffers from one type of disability does not mean that they are totally incapable of work. One of the blokes I met years ago was a computer whizzkid, who was totally paralysed from the neck down. But he was very, very good at his job, and was earning a very high salary for his skill. Which he clearly earned and deserved. Despite the problems of dealing with this gent’s handicap, his firm clearly found it well worth their while to employ him. And he wasn’t the only one. I’ve heard of other, physically disabled people with mobility problems, who have also pursued successful careers in computing. Clearly, these peeps are anything but unproductive individuals.

Disabled people also act to stimulate innovation. I blogged a little while ago about how the robotics department at the University of the West of England in Bristol had set up a company to manufacture and sell their artificial hands, which are designed specifically for children. Never mind the hype and bullsh*t about self-driving cars: this is precisely the type of robotics we need. This technology is making it possible for disabled children and their parents to have more normal, better lives. It is positively enabling them, giving them the ability to do things that they otherwise couldn’t do, or would find more difficult. The technology is brilliant, and I’m sure will have other applications as well. And its effect on the children is liberating and empowering. If adults with similar disabilities also have access to improved artificial limbs, then you can expect that their productivity will also improve, as well as simply quality of life.

And this can be said of almost any technical innovation that improves the lives of disabled people, and gives them more independence and freedom, if only a little.

Then there’s the fact that disabled people, like everyone else, contribute to the economy. They have to eat, pay bills and the rent or mortgage. Getting disabled people into proper paid employment, rather than just subsisting on whatever benefits the DWP deigns to throw their way, means that they have surplus cash to spend. Which means that their purchasing power also pumps more money into the economy, and encourages manufacturers to produce more.

And the disabled have also contributed to British culture. Remember Evelyn Glennie, a drummer with one of our orchestras? She’s actually deaf, but that hasn’t prevented her from excelling at her instrument. And those of us, who were kids in the 1970s will remember the brilliant madness that was Vision On. This was a show for deaf children, so that the dialogue was signed as well as spoken. Much of it was silent, accompanied only by music. Among those on the show were Sylvester McCoy as a mad professor, a couple of young animators, who went on to form Aardman Animations, and the artistic genius that was Tony Hart. It also launched the career of another star, at least down here in Bristol: Morph, the mischievous plasticene man, who acted as a kind of comic foil to Hart’s artistic endeavours. The show brought joy to millions of kids, both deaf and hearing, and part of its legacy has been Wallace and Gromit, Creature Comforts and the other films to come out of Aardman. Vision On is remarkable because, by taking the job seriously and doing it well, it became more than a programme aimed at children with a particular type of disability, and was a massive source of TV creativity.

This makes me wonder about the possible potential out there for other programmes aimed at or with a disable audience, that could also do the same today.

But this is all too much for their Tories. Their whole philosophy is based around grinding their social inferiors down, and then blaming them for their poverty.

But this also shows how desperate the Tories are getting, and how they’re running out of plausible excuses.

Once upon a time, they would simply have blamed British workers, claiming that we’re too lazy, work shorter hours and go on strike more than our French or German competitors. But they can’t do that, as it’s notorious that we work far longer hours than them. In fact, the Germans even make jokes about how we work ourselves into the ground, but nothing in this country still works properly. So that excuse simply won’t do. You still hear though, occasionally, from the odd CEO windbag, who feels like giving the rest of us the benefit of his decades of ignorance. But it’s very definitely not true, and Hammond knows it. Thus he’s been reduced to blaming the disabled.

I’m sick of him, sick of this government, and sick of their lies and bullying – of the disabled and of ordinary working people. Debbie Abrahams is right: Hammond should apologise. And then I want him and his vile government cleaned out like the parasites they are.

The Tories’ ‘Nudge Unit’ and the Nazi Manipulation of Workers’ Psychology

March 31, 2016

Yesterday I posted a very well received article warning people about how the government is trying to deny automatic repeat prescriptions for people on medication for depression. Two of the commenters on the article, Shawn and Michelle, also added their observations on how the government was deliberately trying to manipulate the public’s psychology, especially that of the sick and disabled themselves, through the glib use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as the catch-all treatment for depression on the one hand, and the ‘Nudge Unit’ on the other. The Nudge Unit was the government’s attempts to set up a state department explicitly and blatantly devoted to manipulating popular psychology.

They weren’t the first regime to do this. Robert A. Brady in his book, The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd 1937), noted how the Nazis also tried to manipulate the psychology of the German workers through their totalitarian organisation, the DAF, or Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front). The Nazis based the techniques they used on German workers on schemes and techniques that had already been tried by industrialists as part in experiments in ‘welfare capitalism’ elsewhere. It’s a long passage, covering several pages, but I think it’s worth quoting in full, just to show how totalitarian this is.

Exploitation of Non-Commercial Incentives

Social philosophers, anthropologists and reformers have long held that “man does not work for bread alone.” But only recently has industry learned that significant as hours, wages and other conditions of employment may be, they do not of themselves call out the highest levels of labour productivity. Given the minimum on these grounds, non-commercial are far more potent than commercial incentives. All those factors that combine to give the “sense of workmanship,” of group participation, of unfolding creative power, fall into the non-commercial class. Interest and emotional drives lead to higher and better sustained levels of output than can be provided by mere wage and hour considerations. With non-commercial incentives fatigue is lowered, improvements in processes and methods are more easily introduced, and friction between management and men is reduced to a minimum.

The Nazis were not the first to make this “discovery”-more accurately, “rediscovery.” Drawing realisation of the possibilities inherent in non-commercial incentives lies behind the elaborate and varied programmes of “welfare capitalism” found in all the western industrial countries. It provides the principal drive behind the rapidly proliferating psycho-technical research institutes, personnel selection and training systems, occupational conferences, bureaux and committees, industrial and public relations counsellors. Pioneering work in this field has been done by the world famous British Institute of Industrial Psychology, Moede’s laboratory at the Technische Hochschule at Charlottenburg, the German Institute for Technical Education and Training (D.I.N.T.A.) and many others. In America the Industrial Relations Counsellors, the National Occupational Conference, and the Personnel Research Federation are merely the leading organisations in this field.

Many of the largest corporations in the world have been applying these techniques on a large scale for many years. Outstanding examples are the National Railways and the Dye Trust in Germany, and the Western Electric and the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in America. The “Hawthorne Experiments,” carried out in one of the largest plants of the Western Electric, for example, provide both the experimental results and the argument for a position with respect to organised labour identical with that held by the leader of the German Labour Front. Labour, if interested and made to feel important, would work harder without demanding more pay.

A publication of the British Institute of Industrial Psychology, The Problem of Incentives in Industry, lists, among the exploitable non-commercial incentives, the following: Interest and Pride in the Work, the Incentive of Appreciation, the Incentive of Knowledge, the Incentive of Loyalty, the Incentive of Welfare Schemes, Interest in the Firm, Encouragement of Suggestions, Co-operation in Time Study, and the Incentive of Efficiency. Experimentation with and study of the working effects of such incentives has shown, step by step, the preponderating importance on the worker’s whole attitude towards life. It is an American, not a Nazi, author, who penned the following lines in one of the most significant books of the past decade dealing with social-economic problems: “To study a subject merely as the doer of a particular piece of work is of little value; the work to the worker is part of a whole, made up his numerous reactions to situations, real and ideal, over and above his work. Sometimes it is the phantasy life that is of more importance to the individual than the apparent real life. It is clearly impossible to obtain a thorough knowledge of anyone, but it has proved possible to get the point of view of a subject with sufficient clearness to yield an insight into the relation of the work he does to his general attitude to life.

The author of the above lines was thinking of the Hawthorne Experiments as he wrote. At Hawthorne and other places it has been demonstrated that cleverly introduced non-commercial incentive schemes will bring increases in labour productivity of 50 per cent and more per worker without appreciable increase in fatigue-and, of course, without corresponding increase in pay. Uniformly these schemes are tied p with the worker’s “attitude towards life,” his willingness and interest in work for larger ends, his social and cultural values. Intelligent investigators have come quickly to see that that these factors are interwoven with the whole economic and social systems of our times, and that, hence, capitalism, socialism, and communism are up for review not only in their larger bearing on problems of equality and human rights, but also with respect to their direct bearing on the homely problems of high man-hour productivity.

Here as elsewhere it is realised that productivity is connected by a thousand intimate bonds with the problem of the “attitude to life”, the Weltanschauung, the social philosophy of the individual workman. Doctrine, purpose, and policies are intertwined as the efficiency fundamentals of the human factor just as rigidly as power, connecting belts, and organisation are key to the efficient functioning of machines. As Mooney and Reiley have put it, where “spirit is co-ordinated … the man who is permeated with … doctrine invariably sees everything, the hard causes as well as the small matters, in their relation to the whole …” and, because he sees, agrees, and supports, he will work harder and produce more.

Control over the inner life of the worker leads by slow degrees to control over the entire culture: the worker’s entire intellectual and emotional environment, the science and the arts. Once begun there is no turning back. Since philosophy of life is at stake, the underlying tenets of the economic system are being weighed in the balance. The Communists teach that only those who produce should govern, and, since none except the weak and the disabled should live from the labour of others, the ideal is classless society of producer-users. The Nazis seek to prove that the existence of separate and distinct social classes is not only indispensable but the necessary law of life and social organisation. To prove their point they resort to arguments not unlike those advanced by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. And like Plato they propose a socially stratified society, governed from on top, in which each belongs to that class allotted to him by virtue of his “natural” gifts and capacities, and in which complete harmony obtains so long as the point of view of each and every man in each and every class is controlled through appropriate education and propaganda.

The Nazi position boils down to this: How far can the “co-ordination of spirit” be used for the fullest possible exploitation of the working capacities of the German population on behalf of the business enterprise-the “works community”? How far can this exploitation be carried without giving rise to revolt, without causing labour to resort to strikes and sabotage? How far can labour opposition, labour class interest-and of the existence of these interests there is not the slightest question in any of the literature-be “neutralised” on behalf of “service to the public” by “self-governed” business?

The Labour Front is the Nazi answer. (Pp.121-4).

Now I have absolutely no problem with the benign use of industrial psychology to make workers feel that they belong in a certain firm, and they personally and their labour are valued. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed working in companies where there was a great sense of comradeship, or team spirit, amongst the workers. However, the Tories aren’t interested in promoting that. They have no interest in fostering any of this. The only object of Tory propaganda and psychological manipulation is to make the worker feel powerless, to force them to work harder and longer for less, because they have no other choice, and to stigmatise those who can’t as malingerers. It’s a nasty, bleak, callous view of humanity, and show the cruelty and callous mentality of those who promote this world view. And it’s being deliberately spread through the medical profession and what remains of the welfare state, through ‘work coaches’ who do nothing but harangue the unemployed for being unemployed, and by Tory plans to insert special official in health centres and doctors surgeries to make sure the proles get back to work as quickly as possible. It hasn’t got to the point of compulsory mass membership in Tory labour organisations. For one thing, the Tories really don’t want to concede any kind of class organisation to the workers. But the totalitarian mindset is there, nonetheless.

More on the Weird Psychology of Ian Duncan Smith

February 16, 2014

Ian Duncan Rimmer

Last week I put up a post showing how Ian Duncan Smith’s psychology conforms to the ‘drive to power’ identified by Nixon’s quondam psychiatrist, Dr Arnold Hutschnecker. As described in Alex de Jonge’s biography of Stalin, Hutschnecker

derives it from a painful sense of one’s own insignificance, a fear of death and the wish to have others die. It is associated with a low sexual drive and an inability to love. ‘It moves on the wings of aggression to overcome inferiority … Those whose power to love and consequently create has been broke will choose war inorder to experience an intoxicating sense of power and excitement’. (p. 510).

This seems to be a good diagnosis of a man, who has falsely claimed, amongst other things, to have a degree from an Italian institution that doesn’t issue them, and whose claim to have been an officer in the British army is also highly questionable.

laundry basket

A laundry basket, though not possibly the type IDS has been known to hide in.

Jaypot added a few more details to the discussion in her comment to the piece.

IDS is a narcissist and he enjoys the power he has over people’s lives. I truly believe that he enjoys hearing about the deaths of people as he can only feel enjoyment, and, perhaps a sexual release in his persecution of the poor.
Another emotion that IDS does feel is fear – he is absolutely terrified of everyone who is poor or beneath him, which has been seen on a number of occasions. One was hiding in a laundry basket in Edinburgh (PMSL) and one of the most famous ones is where he has the armed guards surrounding him when waiting to go into the committee about his “use of statistics and his waste of money on UC). Those armed police should NOT have had their guns pointed at anyone, least of all the small amount of people who had every right to also go into the committee hearing! I still think that should be dealt with by the police commissioner!
IDS is coming to the end of his failed “career”, just like his whole life has been one failure after another. Here’s hoping karma gets him and let’s hope it’s very soon.

Fear of the general public is another psychological trait IDS, and indeed Cameron and Georg Osborne, share with Stalin. None of them can be seen as ‘men of the people’ in the same sense of Hitler, Mussolini, or indeed, Oswald Mosely. While they like power, they seem to be definitely afraid of meeting the public except in highly organised and choreographed events. Until the 1930s, Stalin was very rarely photographed and granted very few interviews to the Soviet press. During the purges he was so terrified of the reactions of the Soviet people, that at the annual May Day parade in Moscow one year Red Square was empty of crowds, except for a group of children waving banner and slogans located a quarter of a mile away from Stalin and the other Communist leaders. All the cheering heard during that celebration of Communist power was recorded, and played over loudspeakers.

I similarly noticed that the Olympic Stadium was empty was David Cameron gave his speech imploring the Scots to stay in the United Kingdom. It was conspicuous that Cameron did not do the Scots the courtesy of addressing them directly in Scotland itself, but chose to make his statement in the London, the former metropolis of the British Empire. Furthermore, Alex Salmond has challenged him to a debate. Cameron has ducked this, saying that he will talk to the Scots people themselves later this year. This will, no doubt, be in a very carefully, micro-managed political walkabout, where hostile or dissenting voices can be side-lined or edited out to present an image of Cameron talking easily to an enthusiastic, or at least receptive, Scots public, rather than given the barrage of criticism and abuse he’s more likely to get north of the Border.

It also looks very much that Cameron knows that Salmond is the better debater, and is desperate not to lose face by being beaten in an argument with him in public. As for the general public south of the Border, it was very noticeable indeed that there was no-one except the media in the Olympic Stadium when he made the speech. If it had been Oswald Mosely, that stadium would have been full, along with heckling and mass fighting. This obviously wouldn’t look good for the leader of an ostensibly centre-right part, although Cameron shares Mosely contempt for the organised working class. And so Cameron stands to give a speech in an empty stadium.

George Osborne similarly appears anxious around the British public. One of my colleagues on the unemployment course I’m on at the moment remarked on how uncomfortable Osborne looked when he met a group of workers at an engineering factory on a political walkabout a few months ago. And so he well might. Osborne, like Cameron, is another aristocrat, who has nothing in common with the majority of the British people, and who clearly fears the reception he might get for his economic and social policies that are intended to shift the tax burden onto them and deprive them of even more public services in order to generate tax cuts for the rich.

As for workfare, Milovan Djilas, the Yugoslav Communist leader and dissident describes why the Yugoslavs tried to abolish forced voluntary work after their break with Stalin. He also states that he objected to it, not just because of the hardship and suffering it inflicted on the ‘volunteers’, but also because of the psychology behind it. He writes

Soon after Stalin’s death, we abolished voluntary mass physical labor for youth and disbanded the collective farms. The initiative for the first came from the youth leadership at its congress of March 6 and was promoted by economists: youth labor was too costly and inefficient. I supported their initiative, though more for political than for economic reasons. I felt that voluntary mass labor was an outmoded form that encouraged quasi-military, monolithic thinking among our young people-thinking more akin to slogans than to freedom.

This does, I think, also go straight to the heart of the thinking behind workfare in the definitely anti-Communist, private enterprise supporting Conservative party. The Conservatives like the army, or at least, they did until the Coalition decided to cut their funding too, and have tried to impose a military solution to social problems. I remember how they called for the re-introduction of conscription back in the 1980s to solve the problems of youth crime and poor education. A decade or so later, and Michael Howard was recommending US-style ‘boot camps’ to straighten out young offenders. The same mindset seems to permeate IDS’ and Osborne’s workfare. The Nudge Unit has been involved in shaping the various unemployment forms and procedures to that the unemployed see themselves and their own personal failings as the cause of their inability to find a job, rather than the economy or government policy. And mindless drudgery stacking shelves for Tesco and turning burgers also seems deliberately designed, not just to supply cheap labour to their corporate paymasters, but also to break the spirit of the unemployed. We have seen just how hostile the system is to anyone, who manages to get a fulfilling voluntary job outside of the menial drudgery prescribed by the DWP or Jobcentre Plus. Remember the case of the geography graduate, who was told that she couldn’t do voluntary work in a museum, and that she had to work instead at one of the supermarkets?

Now the army states that its training is designed to mould the psychology of its soldiers. A friend of mine, a former army officer, once told me that the army tries to break you, in order to put you back together. As with all the rest of the government’s policies, the Coalition has adopted only the negative parts of this process: the breaking of the individual’s spirit. While they claim that workfare encourages a proper attitude to work, clearly the other qualities the army seeks to inculcate in its soldiers and officers – courage, self-reliance, initiative, are not required. If they were, there would be absolutely no problem with that graduate doing her voluntary work at the Museum. But all that is really wanted is demoralised, obedient drones for corporate exploitation.

The Coalition conform to the psychology of tyrants like Stalin, who fear their own people, and attempt to destroy them physically and mentally. Workfare, like the mass ‘voluntary’ labour of the totalitarian regimes, is another tool in this process.

Manufacturing Compliance: The Nudge Unit and its Privatisation

February 10, 2014

Blakes 7 weapon

Federation scientist Cozer and his companion, the freed slave Rashel, await galactic freedom fighter Blake in the Blake’s 7 episode, Weapon.

Last Friday and today, the I newspaper has run articles reporting the impending privatisation of the Government’s Behaviour Insights Team, or Nudge Unit. The article describes the unit as using

‘insights from the emerging field of behavioural economics and psychology to subtly change the processes, forms and language used by government – to achieve outcomes that are in the in the “public good” and save money.’

A boxed article at the side then goes on to explain it more fully, stating that

‘Nudge articulates the idea that people can be persuaded to make the right decisions by simple changes in how choices are presented to them.’

It goes on to explain that the theory was first proposed in a book of the same name, published in 2008 by the economics professor Richard Thaler and law professor Cass Sunstein. They acknowledged that people frequently make bad decisions in their lives, thus contradicting one of the central tenets of economics – that people will always act rationally for their own good. The two authors then argued that the way choices are phrased or presented – the ‘choice architecture’ can be framed so that it nudges ‘people towards the most beneficial outcome without restricting their personal freedom.’

Although the two authors stated that “‘the libertarian aspect of our strategies lies in the straightforward insistence that, in general, people should be free to do what they like.” They then qualified this with the statement that it was ‘legitimate for choice architects to try to influence people’s behaviour in order to make their lives longer, healthier and better.”

Today’s I carries an interview with one of the founders of the Nudge Unit, David Halpern. He states that the Unit was set up four years ago under Tony Blair as his Strategy Unit, at a time when ‘the Blair administration was expanding the size of the state – spending more and regulating more’, often according to Blair’s own personal inclination. It did not, however, catch on with the Labour government, and only came into its own with the arrival of the Coalition in 2010. Halpern states that ‘Their instincts were generally ‘we’ve got no money and we’re going to constrain the size of the state and deregulate’.

The Nudge Unit is now about to be part-privatised into a company partly owned by the government, partly owned by the social-enterprise charity, Nesta, and partly owned by Halpern and his fellow employees.

As it is presented in the I, the Nudge Unit sounds very jolly and entirely innocuous. The piece opens with Halpern describing the work of the American psychologist, Carol Dweck, and her work showing how well school children perform in tests can be boosted simply by telling them that they’ve made a good effort.

It then describes the way the Unit experimented with personalised text messages to encourage people, who were about to be hit by the bailiffs, to pay their bills on time.

In the concluding paragraphs, Halpern describes his goal to unlock ‘hidden entrepreneurs’ ‘who never get beyond garages’. He mentions the way the mountain bike arose simply through someone experimenting in their garage with bits of other bikes. ‘Studies’, according to Halpern, ‘suggest 6 per cent of Britons have come up with a significant adaptation in the last year. But most never diffuse.’

The only doubts raised about the Unit and its methods are whether they are effective. The boxed article states that it has its critics, who have argued, like Baroness Julia Neuberger in the House of Lords, that there is little evidence that it works on large scales. The main article, however, leaves the reader in little doubt: ‘A lot in government were nervous of Nudge but the theory did work in practice – and the services of the Nudge team were suddenly in demand’. Hence its privatisation three years down the line.

Now all this seems entirely benign. Few people would cavil at methods that get people to pay their bills on time, thus avoiding a visit from the bailiffs, or get children to do better at their exams, or, indeed, just to have ‘longer, healthier and better’ lives.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In the 20th century, such departments like the Nudge Unit would have been the objects of considerable fear and suspicion, especially after the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century used propaganda and coercion to generate the mass obedience and approval they demanded from their captive populations. This found its expression in the various dystopian regimes portrayed in Science Fiction. One of the great Science Fiction series of the 1970s and ’80s was Blake’s 7. This was a space opera, whose heroes were a kind of ‘Dirty Dozen’ let loose in a strange, totalitarian far future. They were led, at least in the first two of their four TV seasons, by Roj Blake, a former dissident, who had been captured and then suffered psychiatric torture at the hands of the Federation. This was a future Fascist super-state, which governed through a mixture of military force, propaganda and advanced psychological techniques and drugs, that sapped the will to resist from its people. The Federation permitted no freedom of speech, belief or movement amongst its citizens. Dissidents were brutally murdered, and the survivors framed and re-educated. Heading its armed forces was the seductive Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce, and her henchman, the violent and psychotic Travis, played by Brian Croucher. Both Croucher and Pearce have appeared in Dr. Who; Pearce as a treacherous alien super-scientist, Jocini O’ the Franzine-Greeg in the Colin Baker/Patrick Troughton Story ‘The Two Doctors’, and Croucher in the early Tom Baker serial ‘The Robots of Death’. He has also appeared in Eastenders and as an East End hard man in the detective drama, New Tricks.

Blake’s 7 was influenced by Star Wars and Star Trek, though it’s characters and background were darker than either of those two SF classics. Blake’s second-in-command, Kerr Avon, was a ruthless embezzler with a cynical contempt for idealists. ‘Show me the man who believes something, and I will show you a fool’. Such attitudes were not a fictional exaggeration. Similar sentiments were expressed by the evolutionary biologist, Jacques Monod, who once said ‘Scratch an idealist, and an egotist will bleed’. It isn’t hard to feel that the show’s creator, Terry Nation, had modelled the cool, rational, scientific Avon on Monod and other scientists like him.

And the methods used by the Federation to keep its citizens enslaved were also chillingly real. The show several times covered conditioning and similar brainwashing techniques used by the Federation to break and then manipulate its victims’ psychologies. Blake himself had been conditioned by intensive psychological therapy after he was captured leading a revolutionary group. Under the influence of the therapists he betrayed the other members, confessed to his own guilt, and was then reprogrammed to forget all about the events, his arrest, trial and the mass executions of his friends and family.

This aspect of the Federation was based on the notorious brainwashing techniques associated with the Communist dictatorships, particularly Mao’s China and the brutal regime of ‘self-criticism’ for those who challenged the Great Leader’s precepts during the Cultural Revolution. It also bore more than a little resemblance to the Soviet abuse of psychiatry revealed by Solzhenitsyn in Cancer Ward. Soviet psychiatrists had invented a spurious form of ‘schizophrenia’, which was curiously amorphous, taking just about any form required by the doctors diagnosing it and their superiors. It was used to incarcerate in lunatic asylums any and all opponents of regime. These ranged from religious believers to Communist idealists, such as a general and Old Bolshevik, who vociferously felt that Brezhnev’s Soviet Union had betrayed the noble principles of the Revolution. It also harks back to Skinner’s experiments in conditioning in the 1960s, and his fictional description of a utopian system in which the citizens had perfected themselves through the use of such psychological techniques.

About a decade ago Adam Curtis described the way Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, had used Freudian theory to lay the foundations of modern PR in his landmark series, The Century of the Self. Curtis was similarly unimpressed by PR, and dissected the way such techniques were used by corporations, the government, and some of the more sinister self-improvement cults that sprang up in the 1960s to control people’s minds. He was particularly unimpressed by the way the self-realised people of the Hippy counterculture then went off and, from reasons of liberated self-interest, voted for Ronald Reagan. The existence of the Nudge Unit seems to suggest that Halpern and his fellows saw the theories, and instead of looking at the dangers and fallacies accompanying it like the rest of the viewing public, immediately thought it was all rather cool.

Blake Carnell Weapon

The psycho-social strategist Carnell and Supreme Commander of Federation forces, Servalan, contemplate the success of David Cameron’s ‘Nudge Unit’.

Apart from the use of conditioning and psycho-therapy, the Federation armed forces also included an elite corps of ‘pscho-social strategists’, nicknamed ‘puppeteers’ by the rest of the Federation’s Starship Troopers. These specialised in using advanced psychological techniques to predict and manipulate the behaviour of the regime’s opponents. For example, in the episode, ‘Weapon’, Servalan uses one such puppeteer, Carnell, played by Scott Fredericks, to predict the mental breakdown and then manipulate a scientist, Cozer, who has designed an unstoppable superweapon, IMIPAC. Her goal is to seize the weapon for herself, while at the same killing the Blake and his crew and taking over their spaceship, the Liberator. Of course it all fails, and the weapon is taken over instead by the former slave girl, Rashel, with whom Cozer had escaped, and the other weapon in Servalan’s plan, a clone of Blake. The two become guardians of the weapon, with Travis remarking wryly ‘The weapon protects itself’.

With fears of totalitarian states manipulating and abusing their victims’ minds in reality and SF, something like the Nudge Unit would have been enough to bring anyone with a distrust of authoritarian government out onto the streets, from old school Conservatives with a hatred of Communism and Fascism all the way across the political spectrum through Liberals, Socialists to members of the Hippy counterculture, who were extremely suspicious of what their own governments were doing about this through reading the reports about MKULTRA and the CIA LSD experiments in the underground press.

And there are real dangers to this. Who, for example, decides what project is going to make people happier, with longer, better lives? Cameron undoubtedly claims it’s the Tories, but with something like 38,000 people dying per year thanks to welfare cuts and benefit sanctions, we can safely discount his opinion. Mike has several times mentioned the Nudge Unit in posts on his blog over at Vox Political, pointing out that the forms and courses used by the Coalition as part of their welfare to work package have been set up by the Nudge Unit with the deliberate intention of getting the unemployed to blame themselves, rather than the government’s policies, for their inability to get a job. Like the children in Dweck’s experiment, they are being encouraged to do better in a situation that is not their fault. It tacitly reinforces the government’s values and the economic system which leaves the unemployed without a job, and frequently without hope. And this is most definitely malign.

This is quite apart from the dangers of ‘function creep’, in which an administrative technique or department gradually acquires more power and extends its scope, as more administrators see its potential for solving their problems. The Nudge Unit is perhaps only a minor part of British government at the moment, but it has the potential to become something far larger and much more sinister. If we don’t carefully monitor it and similar initiatives, it could easily expand into something every bit as totalitarian and manipulative as Blake’s 7 Federation and its psycho-strategists.

I found the opening titles to the first season of the Blake’s 7 on Youtube. They show some of the major themes of the Federation – the use of armed force, brainwashing and surveillance. I leave it to you to decide for yourself how much of this unfortunately is coming true, though there are surveillance cameras all over the streets and Boris Jonson has bought two water cannons to use on any more protesters in London. Here it is. Enjoy!