Britain: The Land of Chumocracy and Cronyism

Covid-19 has wrought terrible devastation across the globe, and perhaps nowhere has felt the most amount of damage and uncertainty than America and the U.K. With record numbers of deaths per capita, a flood of terrible decisions and a onslaught of misinformation, managing the virus has been extremely difficult. The U.K especially have zigzagged in and out of lockdown enough times to confound any journalist, social commentator and of course, the millions of citizens who don’t know where they stand from one day to the next.

Throughout the entire ordeal, No.10 have had their feet held to the fire as Boris Johnson kept the U.K “open for business” and that it has also unravelled that the government has consistently handed out more than a handful of contracts to private companies – without going through the usual channels of putting said contracts out to tender. The test and trace scheme was handed to Dido Harding and produced by Serco with astonishingly bad results. For instance, the bespoke contract was delivered using Excel instead of custom-made software and, despite businesses across the U.K taking in all the information they needed from customers, it was all for nothing when the test and trace system failed to conglomerate the data. What’s worse is that the government still claims, at every opportunity, that it is the NHS test and trace system.

Please, don’t let them get away with that one.

The choice to give out contracts and not put them out to tender is not just an example “chumocracy” among the Conservative elite, it is also evidence of cronyism. The Conservatives have closed their ranks and they bully out those who might try to put forward their ideas and expertise or ways in which to improve the country. Conservative donors and friends (in one instance, a pub landlord) have widely benefitted from this chummy approach and, whilst this kind of treatment would be baffling at the best of time, it feels more like a slap in the face during such a turbulent period in our lives.

There is, however, a more severe level of cronyism which was highlighted in today’s newspapers, and that is the one in which a contract was given to a Russian-owned firm to design a new briefing room for No.10. The company, Megahertz, has also worked on projects for Russia Television (RT), Channel One and Public Television of Russia,  which has raised concerns regarding the security of No.10’s new media suite. This might seem unconnected to what has transpired throughout the Covid-19 crisis but we need to go back a little to understand why this briefing room debacle raises so many questions.

Back in 2016 ex-MI6 agent, Christopher Steele, released a document stating (among other things) that Donald Trump was subject to Russian control after Moscow had managed to acquire compromising material (kompromat) on the then-to-be president of the United States. The kompromat – the infamous prostitute sex tape recorded in Moscow’s Hilton Hotel. When the information that Trump could be a Russian puppet was handed further up the chain toward Theresa May’s office, a blanket was thrown over the investigation and interest dwindled. But this wasn’t the first time that Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s government have ignored crucial information regarding Russia.

The Russia Report has long been an article of particular importance to the U.K media, and for good reason. The report claims that Russian money has flooded into London and upholds (and has fractured) the London property market. Property investment a tool of choice for money launderers and Bill Browder (known as Putin’s number one enemy and proponent against corruption) even goes so far as to say that London is “floating on a sea of Russian money.” The Russia Report thus raises the question as to whether or not Russian Roubles have made their way into the U.K’s political system. The report has been constantly sidestepped by Prime Minister Johnson and, before him, Theresa May.

Although heavily redacted in order to (one would guess) protect people within the government “the report notes that links between the Russian elite and the U.K allow access to business and politics that can be used for influence. “To a certain extent, this cannot be untangled and the priority now must be to mitigate the risk and ensure that, where hostile activity is uncovered, the tools exist to tackle it at source,””. So, do we have a party in power who might very well be at the beck and call of Russian financiers and Russian interests?

Well, it might seem like a tenuous connection between the Russia Report and the hiring of Megahertz to design and build No.10’s new media briefing room, but the more you peel back the layers, the stronger the case becomes. After all, it is not simply a link between Russia, it is the way that the government now responds when faced with issues.

Over the last couple of days the U.K has been the subject of a new law which prohibits that thing we claim to love so much: free speech. Cancel culture is used by the right and left to claim that the other side is silencing their right to free speech. The truth is that both parties are involved in cancel culture but what we perhaps did not expect was that Home Secretary, Priti Patel, would push through a new law which prohibits peaceful protests, marches and public demonstrations illegal if they cause “serious annoyance”. The law also means that the Home Secretary can decide on what protests are legal and which are illegal. This could technically mean that the Priti Patel could allow protesters to walk the streets if they are marching for a Conservative party initiative, but block those who are standing against the government.

Barrister and author Chris Daw told the Big Issue:

“The bill hands over the power of deciding whether a protest is justified or should be allowed — decisions we as citizens have had for generations — directly to the Home Secretary. That’s an extremely chilling development. It’s completely contradictory to everything the liberty of the free citizen is about in Britain.”

“A politician could use that power to prevent protests in favour of causes they disagree with. This law gives power to whatever government is in charge to decide what causes can take to the streets.”

So what the hell are we looking at here? Why is it that a Conservative government, under a man who calls himself a libertarian, should act so willingly against the people whilst hiding secrets about financial backing from Russian interests? And we should never forget that this is all being done in a liberal democracy where we supposedly champion the people’s voices.

All the evidence points to Conservative links with Russia (though it might spread to parties beyond the Conservatives – time is yet to tell) but the truth is that we may never really know what is going on with money sieved through the London property market. What we do know, however, is that the British government have showed themselves capable of acting like Vladimir Putin’s own thuggish kleptocracy and we are happy to have RT’s own design company into an area where sensitive information is shared. Using a Russian company does not mean that the government is puppets to Putin’s regime, but why was the contract to design the room not put out to tender? Isn’t that something they do when their chums are involved? 

A new nuclear power struggle

On 8th August, the inhabitants of Moscow were surprised when their televisions flicked from their standard programmes to a blue screen with a single star. It was a weather warning telling the people to find shelter. It then disappeared leaving people wondering just what had happened. At the same time in Severodvinsk, a small town in the North-West not far from the Finnish border was exposed to gamma radiation 3x higher than is permissible for human health after an explosion at the nearby Nyonoksa top-secret testing facility.

The explosion at Nyonoksa facility killed several including nuclear scientists. Russian weather service, Rosgidromet, recorded levels of radiation 16x higher than normal levels within the vicinity of Nyonoksa. In true Cold War style, residents were quick to stockpile iodine, known to stop the Thyroid from absorbing radiation. The explosion killed several including nuclear scientists working on the project.

After more correspondence it was finally let on that the explosion was down to the failure of an “isotope” power source. Russia was testing the infamous Storm Petrel missile at the Nyonoksa site. The Storm Petrel missile – called Skyfall by NATO – was unveiled by Russian president Vladimir Putin at the State of the Union address in 2018 and boasts a propulsion system powered by a miniature nuclear reactor which gives a potential flight time that could be measured in days, weeks or even months.

Having extended range plus cruise-missile capabilities – meaning that it can change direction, move around objects and evade interception – would mean that the missile would be harder to detect and defend against.

Another new and chilling piece of kit that Russia are working on – Poseidon – is an autonomous drone submarine which is programmed to unleash nuclear warheads on key enemy locations on the US west coast should Russia “go dark.”

Due to a series of agreements, Russia and America have not tested nuclear devices for twenty years. However, Russia have breached the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. Donald Trump responded by removing America from the pact. The New Start agreement which ensures Russia and the US have a limit on how many intercontinental nuclear missiles they can produce, runs out in 2021 and may not be renewed, thus giving America and Russia free reign to progress their arsenals and potentially make another power grab.

The US has been stepping up spending in nuclear warfare infrastructure with former President Barack Obama developing a $1.2tn plan to “maintain US air, sea and land-based nuclear weapons.” Donald Trump has gone much further putting an additional $500bn including $17bn for the production of a “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapon, essentially a mini-nuke that can be used on the battlefront.

It is rumoured that some factions within the Pentagon and within the defence contractor sector believe that Russia’s move away from agreements is a step in the right direction.

America’s nuclear defence capabilities are ageing and therefore, like many wars before, this will drive innovation and strengthen America’s standing.

Tensions are rising not only between the US and Russia (who between them hold little over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal) but with China, Iran and North Korea all flexing their muscles, we could be looking at the age of a new Cold War with new frontiers.

The point by point scaling up of nuclear armaments is not the only evidence of a new Cold War. Russia and China flexed their muscles during the Brexit and Presidential election campaigns with industrial scale levels of spreading disinformation. Seeing their success during these campaigns, Vladimir Putin is pushing further. At what cost?