Monday 11 March 2019

Fake Charities, 10 Years On

We reached a significant milestone recently which should not go unmarked. It was just over a decade ago that legendary blogger Devil's Kitchen and his co-author The Filthy Smoker began the fightback against the widespread abuse of government funding being handed to lobby groups to lobby government. 
That was the date and time that your humble Devil first registered the domain—19th January 2009. I built the first site that night, using a simple Open Source CMS called WebsiteBaker. 
I then populated this simple site with a few organisations that I, and Kitchen contributor the Filthy Smoker, had identified as being particularly egregious specimens of the type we called "fake charities"
The fake charities site may not be around now but it was the first step in shining a light on the sly deceit on the public that state-funded lobby groups had quietly worked to build for many years.

Even government ministers were not aware that taxpayer money was being shovelled to single interest lobby groups to spend on attacking the government and demanding legislation that the government - who awards the cash - wanted to see passed.

It is one of the most corrupt aspects of the way this country is run and should have been banned years ago. The blogosphere-originated fake charities site exposed the de facto corruption - because that's what it is in all but name - where mainstream journalism had not only failed to even notice it, but actively encouraged it whether unwittingly or not.

As DK explained in 2012, it was (and still is) a stain on the way the country is run.
Some years ago, your humble Devil and his Kitchen colleague, the Filthy Smoker, noticed that more and more charities were being cited by news media—and, most especially, the BBC—in connection with government initiatives. 
These charities almost always reinforced these policies: and these policies were almost always ones that aimed to reduce freedom and liberty in this country. 
Out of curiosity, we started to investigate these charities in a very simplistic way: when a charity was quoted as being in favour of yet more grossly invasive legislation, we went to the Charity Commission website and looked up the public accounts. 
In the majority of cases, we found that these quoted "charities" were, in fact, largely funded by the government whose policies they were enthusiastically endorsing. 
I would like to say that what we unearthed shocked us, but that would be a lie. What did surprise us was just how many of these organisations there were. 
People tend to think of charities as being... well... voluntary organisations, doing actual, physical good deeds in the community—whether that be running soup kitchens, cancer hospices or homeless shelters. 
But most of these organisations were indulging in little more than flat-out lobbying. And they were using our money to do it. In our view, these charities were being deliberately disingenuous. 
And we came up with a name for these organisations—"fake charities".
DK's initiative has since moved on and now these organisations are described more as "sock puppets". In 2012, a report detailing "how the government lobbies itself and why" eventually resulted in a law which caused uproar among those who were incensed that their mouths might one day be removed from the comfy taxpayer teat they had suckled on for years.

Naturally, the term fake charities was resisted by fake charities and the troughers tried every condescending trick in the book to derail any criticism of their grubby antics, as DK described in 2016.
When we were (inevitably) attacked in various articles by the BBC and the Third Sector, they tended to ignore the "lobbying" clause—we were horrible, sweary, libertarian bloggers who wanted to do down the valuable work that charities were doing. Nevertheless, all these protests did was to bring the concept of fake charities to a wider audience—with the phrase becoming regularly used amongst the politically-aware.
The rearguard action against this abuse of public money has continued and just last week an update on the corruption was produced by the IEA with a report named "Still Hand in Glove" (which you should read, by the way).

The ten year anniversary of the fake charities site is one that we should not forget for two reasons. Firstly, it highlights that only the blogosphere can highlight these things, the idea that mainstream journalists are somehow investigative and able to tackle abuse like this is a fantasy. There are no Woodward and Bernsteins around anymore, anything that pretends to be investigative journalism nowadays is more likely to be conspiracy bullshit directed at those who oppose a big state.

Far from exposing the corruption of government lobbying government, the mainstream press has singularly failed to get any handle on it at all. Even now we are seeing pliant articles from lazy hacks - who have lost the ability to distinguish between state-funded activism and real life fact - simply regurgitating press releases from organisations funded by the government, to lobby the government.

Secondly, just about every liberty that we have lost in the past 20 years has come about because of fake charities and sock puppets. Government has actively used fake charities by handing them cash to lobby for their latest public-bashing schemes as I illustrated during the plain packs 'debate' with the gloriously now defunct Smokefree South West.

Fake charities/sock puppets take your taxes and lobby for more government, more restrictions, more bans. Not one of them has ever lobbied for a liberalising of laws or a de-regulating of restrictions, and they never will. When government doesn't ban something they are in uproar, but even when the fake charity community is caught out, they just stay silent for a while and come back regardless. No-one is punished, no-one loses their job.

As I wrote just the other day, there is a huge elitist monolithic hegemony in the public sector which self-perpetuates and its existence depends on not upsetting the tax-funded apple cart. The result is rules being applied on a whim against our liberty while any relaxation of rules will be resisted as if their lives depend upon it. In the case of lobbyists whose income is in the fake charity sector, this is undoubtedly true from a financial standpoint. If their scam is extinguished they might have to go get a job that doesn't involve shitting all over the choices of ordinary people. was a ground-breaking blog-led awareness raising campaign which opened many people's eyes to how government is feeding an unelected, unaccountable and unregulated prohibitionist gravy train with your money, whether you like it or not. It's creation 10 years ago was a much-needed breath of fresh air. 

Thursday 7 March 2019

A Ban If It's Law, A Ban If It's Not

In answer to a parliamentary question tabled by Liz Saville-Roberts of Plaid Cymru yesterday, the government's Home Office spokesperson, Victoria Atkins, gave us a small glimpse into how the choices of staff and the public are treated with contempt by the elites, and how they really only have themselves to blame for some of the abuse they receive.

Saville-Roberts asked which Home Office premises do not operate a no-smoking policy. It turns out that not only is the answer none, but that the Home Office has been massively gold-plating restrictions demanded by the smoking ban.
Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 
The Home Office supports the right to work in a smoke-free environment. The Health Act 2006 and similar laws in Scotland and Wales ban workplace smoking. 
Home Office staff must not smoke or use e-cigarettes anywhere on Home Office premises including: 
• buildings, vehicles and land – this includes all walkways, access areas and car parks
• outside entrances and exits of buildings
• private vehicles parked on Home Office premises
I really don't know where to start with a policy as hideous and daft in equal measure as this.

Why Atkins bothers to cite the Health Act 2006 is baffling because that merely bans smoking in any building that is more than 50% enclosed, it has absolutely no bearing on all the extra restrictions she seems proud to boast about. The justification given in that Act was that there was {cough} scientific 'evidence' that passive smoking harms bystanders in enclosed public places, otherwise politicians would have never dreamed of removing the right to use legal products, oh no! It was merely to protect those poor bar workers. They had no choice, see?

So where did the idea that bans outside in "walkways, access areas and car parks" should be included come from? Where is the {cough} scientific 'evidence' for banning smoking "outside entrances and exits of buildings"? And how does banning an employee smoking in their own parked car, alone, "support the right to work in a smoke-free environment"? Surely, to borrow from one of the most clichéd anti-smoking tropes of all time, the Home Office's right to protect an employee from their own secondhand smoke ends at the door of their own fucking vehicle.

It's not really about health, is it?

What's more, how is also banning the use of e-cigs in all of those places conducive to a "smoke-free environment" when they don't emit any smoke? In the past year or two we have seen Public Health England advocating for vapers being afforded somewhere in the workplace to vape, the government's Tobacco Control Plan clearly stating that vaping "should not be included in policies which ban smoking", and the Science and Technology Committee recommending that "rules around e-cigarettes should be relaxed so they can be more widely used and accepted in society".

It's scary that a policy so devoid of common sense has been written by a department which is tasked with our security, because its terms mean that although soldiers can face live firing on Salisbury Plain, they'd better not even think about having a smoke or a vape while they're there or they could face disciplinary action. Utterly absurd.

It's like different departments of the government don't even talk to each other anymore. How can you take politicians seriously when, on the one hand, you have health departments giving out guidance and a Home Office Minister trumpeting on Hansard about how they are proud to be completely ignoring it?

It also tells us that the smoking ban was a quite hideous piece of legislation which lifted up a rock and let every belly-crawling prohibitionist maggot slither out and run riot. I am pretty sure that prior to 2006 the Home Office wouldn't allow smoking in its offices, but the green light the Health Act gave to civil service regulators desperate to regulate something - anything - has led us into this situation where smoking is banned even if you are sitting at nose level with a car's exhaust pipe, and every weapons-grade bigot with an axe to grind about other people's choices is encouraged to chip in their personal gripe and a policy will be drafted to ban it. It's becoming the national sport.

Whether there is a law against it, whether there isn't, and even when the very government itself would prefer the opposite.

There has been a lot of talk today about how politicians are receiving abuse on social media and how it's very, very bad. But those are just words. Politicians and the system they have administered - badly - in recent years are attacking the public like no other time in history. Their ratchet has gone only one way for the past decade or so, if they want to gain a bit of respect, perhaps they might consider recommending a relaxation of pointless and draconian bans and restrictions instead of forever dreaming up new ways to beat the public about the head for simply wanting to use legal products.

Where is the cabinet minister who will stand up and declare that, you know, the public is there to be served. Not a target to attack and be moulded into something they'd rather not be? And maybe that the public might appreciate not being told what to do. Every. Fucking. Day!

Further reading along the same lines today here: "This will leave the Government in the absurd position of officially advising people to drink pure orange juice as one of their five a day while banning adverts for it because it is junk."

Monday 4 March 2019

Reality Bites In Snobland

Oh frabjous day!

Long time readers may remember when the sugar tax was installed by a timorous, erm, 'Conservative' government quaking in their boots under pressure from a gullible TV chef. I called it "a triumph for repulsive anti-social snobbery".
The sugar tax is born out of the same vile and scum-infested middle class base as the smoking ban. The only difference being that back then it was smokers, now it is the overweight. The precedent was set a decade ago, a precedent which gave a green light for the most hideous in society to point fingers, criticise the choices of others, publicly vomit insults, and demand government force be brought to bear on people who they feel offended at seeing.
Since then we have seen the laughable spectacle of Jamie Oliver's menu offerings being found to be more unhealthy than Burger King and Pizza Hut and Public Health England have come out with draconian measures of what is deemed to be unhealthy.

This has come as a bit of a shock to some of the food snobs amongst us. Farmdrop is a company which has advertised "fresher, fairer" food on the London tube for a few months now. I've seen their adverts and I personally wouldn't buy from them because I just know it will be expensive but I have no problem with their business angle at all, I wish them the very best of luck. I'm sure most of their customers wouldn't think the same about ads for Burger King or KFC, but then that's the difference, isn't it?

Well Farmdrop just got a dose of reality. L. O. L.
To combat childhood obesity, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has enforced a ban on junk food advertising across London’s public transport network, which we fully support. But is it really a ban on junk food as we know it?
For a company which is in the food business, to not see this coming is a fatal error. And, sorry guys, if you fully support this you just lost any sympathy from me.
Preventing brands from aggressively advertising junk food to children on the transport network is a step in the right direction and we fully support it. The link between heavily processed junk foods and obesity is well established (it's not - DP) and recent studies suggest that diet-related diseases like diabetes are rising among children, which is hugely concerning. The majority of Londoners support the decision as well, including respected figures in the food industry like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
I could go into the concept of polls which ask airy questions without going into detail but I don't think these guys would get it, but they should because what if the poll said "would you be in favour of banning advertising of 'junk food' which includes farm-produced butter, eggs and bacon?" because that's the PHE definition. I reckon they would get a different result and wouldn't be so supportive of the results.
Naturally, we were pretty shocked that a picture of some fresh groceries with a healthy mixture of fruits and vegetables, dairy, eggs and cupboard staples would flout TfL’s new junk food rules. But it turns out that TfL score foods individually according to a nutrient profiling model created by the Government. It’s a pretty crude measure and means that foods you would still think of as junk, like fizzy drinks with artificial sweeteners or low-fat fried foods, could in some scenarios comply with the new regulations.
At this point I imagine the Farmdrop guys be like ...

Well yes because ...
We fully support the Mayor of London’s decision to prohibit junk food advertising on the transport network but we’re concerned about how it’s being applied. We hope that TfL sees some sense and starts to apply the ban with a little better judgement. 
Hey, it's not TfL's judgement of what is HFSS food, it is towards PHE that you should be directing your complaint. Reason being that if snobs call for bans on products they find icky because chavs like them (come on, own up, that's what it is about really) then the constituents of those foods need to be analysed and a policy formulated based on the ingredients. Just a feel-good about who makes it won't wash once you get the big state involved.

It is quite hilarious to see a company piggy-backing on hipster snobbery being hoist by a petard entirely fashioned by its snooty customers. The replies on Twitter to Farmdrop's astonished tweet were testament to it.

Here's the rub though. The companies that Farmdrop fully support having their ads banned - they touch upon McDonald's in their article - will, at some point, get round the rules by reformulating their products. Farmdrop, however - if it is true to its unique business selling point - will not be able to reformulate natural butter, eggs and farm-produced bacon. Their ads will still be banned unless PHE changes the rules.

And the only way that they can do that is by admitting that it's all snobbery after all and that the restrictions will only apply to large fast food chains and not to Jamie Oliver's sugar-laden hypocrisy or Farmdrop's perfectly natural, but sadly high in fat sugar and salt, produce.

Then we will see some pretty momentous court cases.

There is one thing that might help Farmdrop though. They could stop pandering to snobbery and join us in attacking ridiculously arbitrary rules and object to any restrictions on what we are allowed to see on advertising billboards. Now they have worked out that it really isn't about health, would they be prepared to join we who are on the side of the angels? I doubt it.

Once they and the people they sell to learn to be accommodating of the choices of others maybe we might get somewhere as a society. Until then, chalk one up for those of us who have been warning them for a long time about this and revel in the discomfort.