Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference in Perth earlier this month. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband sharpens his attack on Ukip: more Thatcherite than Thatcher

The Labour leader's message is a smart way to turn working class voters off Farage. 

"I'm not that interested in Nigel Farage," Ed Miliband said recently when asked about the Ukip leader. But to paraphrase Trotsky on the dialectic, Farage is certainly interested in him - and in his voters. The Ukip leader has made it clear that he believes there are few Conservative voters left for his party to win over and that his focus is on attracting supporters from Labour. With Ukip taking the lead in the most recent European election polls, he appears to be having some success. 

In response, ahead of its campaign launch tomorrow, Labour is stepping up its Ukip attack. In an article in today's Daily Mirror, Miliband denounces the party's policies as "more Thatcherite than Lady Thatcher herself." 

Now we have Ukip and Nigel Farage pretending that they are the real champions of Britain’s hardworking people.

This is from a politician who likes to boast that he is the only one 'keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive'.

And the truth is that Ukip's policies towards working people are more Thatcherite than Lady Thatcher herself. 

His party promises higher taxes for working families and huge giveaways for the rich.

He wants bankers’ bonuses to be bigger, while risking 3.5 million jobs by pulling out of the EU and scrapping basic rights at work, like maternity or sick pay.

One of his MEPs has even claimed 'the very existence of the NHS stifles competition' and his party wants to impose charges for visiting a GP. 

I have a clear message for Ukip and Mr Farage: you cannot claim to be a party for working people when you would destroy jobs, our health service, and basic rights.

Rather than attacking the party over its stance on immigration and Europe (precisely the policies that attract working class Labour voters), Miliband has wisely chosen to fight on the territory of the economy and public services. This has the dual benefit of dissuading left-wing voters from supporting Ukip and of reminding right-wing Tories why they have jumped ship. Labour strategists regard the party's recent victory in the Wythenshawe by-election, where it won a comfortable majority of 8,960 (37.4 per cent) over Ukip, as a template for how to fight Farage. The party ran an effective get-out-the-vote operation and attacked Ukip over its support for tax cuts for the rich and GP charges. 

Most of Ukip's supporters, as I've noted before, favour a large state and higher public spending. Polling by YouGov shows that 78 per cent support the nationalisation of the energy companies and 73 per cent back the renationalisation of the railways. Rather than a "code of conduct" for employers, 57 per cent simply want zero-hour contracts to be banned. Rather than a flat tax, the same number support the reintroduction of the 50p rate. 

But there are signs that Farage is shifting leftwards on the economy in a sign to retain their support. He has recently called for tougher regulation of zero-hour contracts and for the abolition of the bedroom tax. Farage has also abandoned Ukip's previous policy of a flat tax of 31 per cent, arguing that higher earners should pay at least 40 per cent. 

Given Ukip's success in attracting working class supporters, it makes no sense for the party to alienate them by adopting a programme of turbo-Thatcherism. In this era of insecurity, there is a large market for a party that combines hostility towards the EU and immigration with a critical stance towards big business. As Farage and his allies know, it is this approach that has enabled the Front National to achieve such success in France.  The challenge for him will be to continue this reorientation without entirely alienating his party's libertarian wing.  

P.S. With both Miliband and Farage appearing on The Andrew Marr Show this Sunday, we can look forward to the first encounter between the pair on the usual sofa slot at the end. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Cambridge Analytica and the digital war in Africa

Across the continent, UK expertise is being deployed online to sway elections and target dissidents.

Cambridge Analytica, the British political consultancy caught up in a huge scandal over its use of Facebook data, has boasted that they ran the successful campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. In a secretly filmed video, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told a Channel 4 News’ undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s party.

Cambridge Analytica boasts of manipulating voters’ deepest fears and worries. Last year’s Kenyan election was dogged by vicious online propaganda targeting opposition leader Raila Odinga, with images and films playing on people’s concerns about everything from terrorism to spiralling disease. No-one knows who produced the material. Cambridge Analytica denies involvement with these toxic videos – a claim that is hard to square with the company’s boast that they “staged the whole thing.” 

In any event, Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

The work of this British company is only the tip of the iceberg. Another company, the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, has apologised for stirring up racial hostility in South Africa on behalf of former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged financiers – the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger has since gone out of business.

Some electoral manipulation has been home grown. During the 2016 South African municipal elections the African National Congress established its own media manipulations operation.

Called the “war room” it was the ANC’s own “black ops” centre. The operation ranged from producing fake posters, apparently on behalf of opposition parties, to establishing 200 fake social media “influencers”. The team launched a news site, The New South African, which claimed to be a “platform for new voices offering a different perspective of South Africa”. The propaganda branded opposition parties as vehicles for the rich and not caring for the poor.

While the ANC denied any involvement, the matter became public when the public relations consultant hired by the party went to court for the non-payment of her bill. Among the court papers was an agreement between the claimant and the ANC general manager, Ignatius Jacobs. According to the email, the war room “will require input from the GM [ANC general manager Jacobs] and Cde Nkadimeng [an ANC linked businessman] on a daily basis. The ANC must appoint a political champion who has access to approval, as this is one of the key objectives of the war room.”

Such home-grown digital dirty wars appear to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the rest of Africa. Most activities are run by foreign firms.

Ethiopia, which is now in a political ferment, has turned to an Israeli software company to attack opponents of the government. A Canadian research group, Citizens Lab, reported that Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins.

Citizens Lab says it identified the spyware as a product known as “PC Surveillance System (PSS)”. This is a described as a “commercial spyware product offered by Cyberbit —  an Israel-based cyber security company— and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

This is not the first time Ethiopia has been accused of turning to foreign companies for its cyber-operations. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists since 2013.

Much of the early surveillance work was reportedly carried out by the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. More recently it has turned for more advanced surveillance technology from British, German and Italian companies. “Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System,” wrote Human Rights Watch in 2014.

Britain’s international development ministry – DFID – boasts that it not only supports good governance but provides funding to back it up. In 2017 the good governance programme had £20 million at its disposal, with an aim is to “help countries as they carry out political and economic reforms.” Perhaps the government should direct some of this funding to investigate just what British companies are up to in Africa, and the wider developing world.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea and, with Paul Holden, the author of Who Rules South Africa?