Feminism & Democracy

Events

Youth Politics UK returns in partnership with the People’s History Museum’s Radical Lates programme and 50:50 Parliament to provide a free training event to inform and inspire young people. The focus of the event will be women in politics and modern feminism, covering the reality of women in politics as well as some basic feminist theory. We hope that this will be a great chance for you to learn more about the role of modern feminism today, with a special focus on women’s representation and experiences in the political system.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/feminism-and-democracy-tickets-49645152989?aff=ehomecard

The event will feature a panel discussion with Beverley Hughes (Baroness Hughes of Stretford PC and Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime), Sam Audini (President of Durham University’s LGBTQ+ Association, History and Politics student), and Afzal Khan (MP for Manchester Gorton), followed by an audience Q&A and an interactive workshop on the issues covered. Jess Molyneux, 50:50 Ambassador and member of the YouthPolitics team, will chair the panel.

The event will take place in the Coal Store, where you can also explore information stalls about other current campaign groups involved with the Radical Lates programme. You may also like to visit the Represent! exhibition currently on show at the People’s History Museum, exploring the progress made since the Suffragete movements in female representation in politics. More information on this can be found at:

https://phm.org.uk/exhibitions/represent-voices-100-years-on/

This event will also be a great chance for schools and individuals who are interested in working with Youth Politics UK to see more of what we do and to get involved with our work.

The evening will run as follows:

5:45pm – 6.30pm Panel discussion and audience Q&A

Approx. 6.45pm Workshop activity

7.40pm Close

If you have any questions about this event or any of Youth Politics UK’s work, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by contacting our community outreach officer, Beth at bethany.molyneux@gmail.com

For more information on the People’s History Museum, or to connect with them on social media, please use the following links.

Tel: + 44 (0)161 838 9190 | Web: phm.org.uk | Twitter: @PHMMcr | Facebook: /PHMMcr | Instagram: @phmmcr | Blog: PHMMcr

 

 

 

Facebook, Fake News, and the Threat to Modern Democracy

Facebook, Fake News, and the Threat to Modern Democracy

Articles, Current Affairs

Facebook, Fake News, and the Threat to Modern Democracy

In a recent announcement, Facebook revealed new measures to help combat the problem of ‘fake news’ on the website, after growing concerns from both sides of the political spectrum over the effect of the spread of misinformation. We often hear the phrase ‘undermining democracy’ thrown around in the media, but what exactly does this mean, and can Facebook’s new measures do anything to stop this in its tracks?

In order to understand whether the new measures will successfully reduce the prevalence of fake news, we must understand the causes of the problem. The issue of inaccurate information being disseminated as ‘news’ on Facebook can be traced back to its decision to reshape the way it delivers the ‘trending’ feature in 2016. When it was first introduced in 2014, the ‘trending’ topics were determined by a team of people within Facebook, who were obligated to check if a story was credible with a respectable news outlet before putting it into the trending section. However, after complaints that the team showed anti-conservative bias in their editing, they were replaced by an algorithm that did not perform the same rigorous accuracy checks on stories, which almost immediately resulted in ridiculous hoaxes skyrocketing to the top of the trending list. For example, false headlines about Fox News’ Megyn Kelly were promoted, along with false reports of the existence of an inappropriate video involving a McDonald’s sandwich.

Considering this, Facebook’s plan to take down the ‘trending’ feature seems like a sensible first step in tackling the problem of fake news; it will be much harder for fake news stories to reach a large number of people quickly. However, the company acknowledged that this would by no means eradicate the problem, and thus are currently working on a breaking news feature to highlight important news stories from legitimate sources, so users are encouraged to read accurate updates on developments both locally, and around the world. This measure has the potential to be highly successful, as it recognises the growing importance of Facebook as the primary news source for many in the Western world, and assumes some responsibility for pointing its users in the right direction of reliable news. However, ultimately, we must acknowledge that it is largely down to the individual user to employ a greater level of scepticism to the information they view on Facebook. It would be unreasonable to expect the company to take responsibility for every single piece of false information spread on its website, especially considering the sheer mass of content uploaded every second. 

Now let’s think about how fake news might ‘undermine democracy’, and why it is important that Facebook and its users work together to reduce the prevalence of false stories. If people are frequently exposed to misinformation, many are likely to be in some way influenced by it, whether this be outright believing something false to be true, or forming subconscious biases against certain things, people, or groups of people. Thus, those affected by fake news are more likely to make less informed choices when voting, which threatens the benefits our society gains from democracy; for example, it is much more difficult to use one’s vote to hold someone in power to account if you are misinformed on the actions of that individual.

While this danger to the democratic process can seem frightening, the future of Facebook and fake news is looking increasingly positive. For the first time, Facebook is taking direct action, and doing what it can to limit the spread of misinformation. The planned steps address both the original cause of the problem, and the changing nature of Facebook as a hub for news stories as well as updates on family and friends. However, all this will be for naught if we as individuals do not recognise our own responsibility to not take everything at face value, and actively seek out reliable information. So, if you plan to share this article, how about taking a few minutes to do a quick Google search and check that what I’ve told you is accurate?

The Significance of this Year’s Unusual G7 Summit

The Significance of this Year’s Unusual G7 Summit

Articles, Current Affairs

The Significance of this Year’s Unusual G7 Summit 

 

The Group of Seven (G7), consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, is a forum that was founded to facilitate discussion and cooperation on shared economic and political goals by the seven largest economies. It began as an informal meeting between US Secretary of the Treasury George Shultz and the Finance ministers of key US allies, namely West Germany, France, and the UK, in 1973, and was eventually expanded to include Japan, Italy, and Canada. The EU has also been represented at G7 summits since 1977.

Russia was included from 1998 onwards, resulting in the forum being called the G8, but was ejected from the forum following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Previous summits have focused on improving and facilitating international trade, reducing trade barriers, and discussing coordinated approaches to crises such as the Syrian Civil War, which was discussed in the 2012 summit held in the UK. Traditionally, a Joint Communiqué is written at the end of each summit, which reaffirms the views expressed and commitments made by member nations.

This year’s G7 summit was unusual in that it was characterised by marked hostility between the US and its traditional allies and trading partners; whereas previous summits have focused on shared values and commitments, with the US standing alongside its allies in condemning Russia and upholding liberalism in international trade, the 44th summit has made it clear that US interests and priorities have shifted away from those of its allies, and has been described by some commentators as being more akin to a ‘G6+1’ meeting than a G7 one. This hostility is perhaps best exemplified by the clash between US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Given that US-Canada relations in the period leading up to the summit were damaged as a result of the imposition of tariffs by the US on Canadian steel and aluminium, and President Donald Trump reportedly accusing Canada of having burnt down the white house in 1814 in a call with Mr Trudeau, among other things, the clash between the two leaders is perhaps unsurprising – however, there was still an expectation that some common ground would be found, as Mr. Trump had backed last year’s G7 joint communiqué reaffirming the group’s traditional united approach, despite making it clear that the US view on climate change, among other issues, differed from the remaining six nations.

This year, Mr. Trump spent most of the summit criticising the other nations for being ‘unfair’ and taking advantage of the US, and paid lip service to the idea of shared values while making it clear that ‘America First’ was his main concern. Furthermore, he expressed support for including Russia in the forum once again, which was met with a negative response from all the leaders present except for the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who said he believed including Russia “is in the interests of everyone,” and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who made no comment, clearly attempting to balance Japan’s desire for improved relations with Russia with his commitment to the G7 nations.

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s desire to continue business as usual at the summit by discussing the issues of gender equality and climate change, and reaffirming shared commitments, appeared to clash with the need to protect Canadian interests. Despite attempting to address the US concerns over international trade, his efforts ultimately backfired as, soon after leaving the summit, the US president launched a personal attack on Trudeau, calling him “dishonest and weak”, and stated that he had instructed US representatives to reject the joint communiqué that had been agreed upon at the G7 summit.  The events of this summit have implications for every nation involved, as well as the entire international community, as it has demonstrated a new US approach to international diplomacy. The fact that the US President left the summit early and pulled his support for the joint communiqué while prioritising his bilateral meeting with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be an indication that the US will continue to play an active role in international issues but is no longer concerned with building consensus with its allies.

Overall, it appears that the UK, France, Germany, and Canada remain committed to maintaining the ‘rules-based international order’, as referred to by Prime Minister Theresa May in her address to the House of Commons following the summit, though what this means in the context of Brexit is unclear. French President Emmanuell Macron went so far as to imply that the US was no longer needed in maintaining this international order, stating that “we don’t mind being six, if needs be”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed disappointment with the US, while German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated that there will be consequences, and implied that Germany will have to reconsider its approach to international trade.
The situation with regards to the remaining two members of the G7, Japan and Italy, is more complicated.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who was appointed only 48 hours before the G7 summit to represent a government comprised of the anti-establishment ‘Five-Star Movement’ and the right-wing populist Northern League, took a balanced approach at the G7 summit. Despite siding with President Trump on the issue of Russia, he did not oppose the EU consensus on issues of trade, which suggests that the Italian Government is still evaluating its approach to foreign policy despite having been elected on an anti-EU and anti-immigration platform.

On the other hand, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is faced with a delicate balancing act – he requires US support on the issue of North Korea, but US tariffs will significantly damage the Japanese economy, especially given that President Trump has proposed tariffs of up to 25% on vehicle imports into the US. Vehicles make up approximately 15% of Japan’s overall exports and 38% of those vehicles are exported to the US, meaning that any tariffs imposed by the US would affect Japanese businesses significantly.
Moreover, Japan has been attempting to negotiate with Russia to resolve their territorial disputes over the Kuril Islands, and has held several meetings over the past few weeks with Russian leaders with the goal of ‘cultivating closer security and economic ties’ in order to bring the two nations closer to resolving their disputes . This means that Mr. Abe is unwilling to fully side with the UK, France, Germany and Canada on the issue of excluding Russia from the G7/G8, as that would jeopardise his efforts to reach a settlement with Russia.

Overall, this G7 summit may represent a turning point in global trade and international relations, and is yet another indication that economic liberalism and the international order that dominated the past several decades is now in decline.

By Bilal Asghar

Edinburgh Launch

Edinburgh Launch

Events

Calling all young activists based in Edinburgh – we shall be launching in November 2018!

The venue is yet to be confirmed…

Keep revisiting this page to find out more information closer to the time!

London Launch

London Launch

Events

Calling all young activists based in London – in October 2018 we shall be holding our Launch Event!!

The venue is yet to be confirmed, but will most likely be in the Houses of Parliament…

Keep checking this page to find out more details closer to the time!

Campaigning Training Session – COMPLETED

Campaigning Training Session – COMPLETED

Events

Following the success of our pilot training workshop and launch conference earlier this year, YouthPolitics is excited to announce a free of charge hands-on campaign workshop where you can learn what makes a successful campaign and explore the issues which you’d like to advocate for. We’re also offering some exciting opportunities to get involved with our organisation, so come along, meet our team, and see how you can contribute to giving young people the opportunities they need to get involved in the political process and shape their future.

What: Panel discussion on running a campaign, what makes a campaign successful, and what you can achieve, followed by a Q&A where audience members can grill our experts and voice their own opinions. Learn how to run a campaign effectively and lobby decision makers to make a change. You’ll then have the chance to plan the key points of your own campaign on an issue which means something to you.

We’ll also be announcing upcoming opportunities to get involved with YouthPolitics UK, so come along to hear about those.

Where: Event space, Manchester Central Library

When: Saturday 5th May 2pm – 4pm

(We ask that audience members arrive promptly so that the event can run smoothly for everyone!)

Why: Learn the basics of successful lobbying and think about the issues which matter to you, and find out about how you can become a bigger part of our organisation.

Central Library is a 5 minute walk from Oxford Road train station, St Peter’s Square tram stop, and several bus routes. Hot drinks and snacks will be available at the cafe on site.

Thank you for attending our Launch Conference!

Thank you for attending our Launch Conference!

Articles

Note from the Editor,

Thank you so much to everyone who attended the conference on Saturday 3rd March. We were completely tacken aback by the amazing turnout, despite the snow, in addition to the levels of engagement on show. A huge thank you to all of our workshop leads, campaigns and speakers, including our keynote speakers Alastair Campbell and Andy Burnham. Also a huge thank you and congratulations also, to the rest of the YouthPolitics team, especially Ben Fleming, James Sullivan-Mchale and the conference committee for all of their hard work and dedication, which made the day possible.

The organisation and conference attracted lots of a press due to our work. This link will take you to an article written by Mancunian Matters, who captured the essence of what we are trying to achieve perfectly.

Myself and the YouthPolitics team thoroughly hope that you enjoyed the day and will stay posted for any future events. Below is an article written by Manchester University student, Bella Jewell about the conference. We have got so many exciting things coming up and we’re so excited for the future.

The journey has only just begun,

Dan Lawes

YouthPolitics UK Launch Conference

By Isabella Jewell

“Happiness is not about the moment, but what you do and achieve over time” were the wise words of the final key note speaker, Alastair Campbell. This final address captured the essence of the dynamic YouthPolitics UK Launch Conference: that of creating change through activism, campaigning, and positive debate.  

The daylong event at Manchester Grammar School was made up of a detailed schedule of poetry, workshops, debates, and speeches, commencing with an opening speech from the YouthPolitics UK founder and editor, Dan Lawes. After outlining the key aims of the organisation, and the upcoming events of the conference, Dan handed over to Alice Spencer, who kick-started the day with an impressive poetic performance, highlighting the important role that the arts hold in activism.

What followed were a variety of workshops which focused on advocacy, a central aspect of YouthPolitics UK. These workshops ran alongside the YP campaigns fair, which featured GreenPeace and the Women’s equality party among others. Sarah Vickers ran an informative workshop centred around debating called ‘Getting your voice heard’, whilst in other rooms the formidable Mary Gibb from Amnesty International, and the advocate Clare Workman led empowering workshops focused on activism, and fighting for greater protection of human rights.

The most popular workshop, however, was the ever-relevant Brexit debate chaired by the BBC broadcast journalist Raph Sheridan. Fighting the corner for Brexit was Oliver Kingsley, an ex-Manchester Grammar pupil and former intern at Conservative HQ, and the gutsy sixth form student James Welch. On the opposite side of the table was the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, and former MEP, Afzal Khan. To mediate this clash of rhetoric, however, was Matthias Klaes, an Economist from Buckingham University, whose role was to provide ‘unspun’ factual analysis of the economic implications of Brexit. The debate provided yet another insight to the main issues which dominated the Brexit campaigns: the impact Brexit will have on immigration and the economy.

The next speaker in the star-studded line up was Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester. Amongst the range of issues covered in his address, what stood out was his will for greater devolution from Westminster, so to give the North more control over their own issues which is often overlooked by Westminster. He then went on to discuss the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, in particular the Youth division. His speech focused on empowering young people, exclaiming “go out and change the world”: a message which continued to ring in the ears of the young and politically engaged attendees for the rest of the afternoon.

The final item before lunch was a Q and A session with another ex-Manchester Grammar student, Michael Crick. As a founding member of Channel 4 news, a BBC journalist, and most recently as a Political correspondent for Channel 4 News, Crick’s list of achievements appears even longer than the list of UKIP leaders since 2016! On stage he was Interviewed by the Deputy Head of Events at YPUK, Sarmed. The confident speaker informed the audience about the journey into a journalistic career, and how to navigate it successfully given the high level of competition. Overall, it was an informative ending to the packed morning of the YPUK Conference.

Following lunch, the afternoon session commenced with a talk by James Cathcart, the former CEO of the British Youth Council. His speech focused on the importance of youth engagement in politics, claiming that we should all seek to ‘make [our] mark’ if we want to pursue change. Carhart discussed how he has worked with YouthPolitics UK, providing expert help to guide the organisation going forward. On this note, the audience filed through into the next round of workshops which, in addition to another round of the ones already mentioned, included a workshop titled ‘Northern Concerns’.

In the theatre a large audience settled down to watch the ‘Northern Concerns’ debate chaired by the journalist, Patrick Christys. The members of the debate, Kate Green, Sean Anstee and Laura Evans, represented a range of political stances and priorities, ranging from devolution, to HS2, to Brexit. Whilst differing on some issues, such as the necessity of increasing devolved powers (which Anstee labelled “a waste of time”) they were united in the opinion that the North is a powerhouse which is often underrepresented in Westminster.

Despite the recent polarisation of political debate, Anstee described how the devolved committees have become “too political” and that “if you want to use politics for the force it can be, we ought to be mature” and unite behind fixing current: a positive note that rang true with a youth growing up in the middle of an ineffective ideological fist-fight.

Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for: a talk from the political celebrity, and famously uncouth Alastair Campbell. After an introduction from Dan Lawes, Campbell recounted his proudest political moments namely working on the peace process in Northern Ireland, on Gay Rights, and the banning of smoking in public areas. In conversation with Lawes, Campbell recounted his struggles with mental health, an issue that he is very vocal about, and his disdain of the current Government and Brexit (an issue we couldn’t seem to escape!).

In a typically straight-talking manner, he described how May “hasn’t got the imagination to deliver” on Brexit, whilst the “blatant liar and charlatan”, Boris Johnson, and his “clan” merely act as an argument for remaining in the EU. He then moved on to discuss the issue of votes for 16 and 17-year olds, a cause which he greatly supports, claiming that the Scottish Referendum was a key example of the policy’s success. In keeping with the sentiment of the organisation, he described how the youth must become engaged, as the future needs “the brightest and best” in politics.

On a lighter note, Paul Fletcher MBE joined Campbell on stage to promote their new book, ‘Saturday Bloody Saturday’, a thriller recounting the dramatic events of February 1974 when political dissent and football coincide: an “excellent gift for mothers’ day”, Campbell dryly remarked.

The conference was drawn to a close with a powerful speech from the founder of YPUK, Dan Lawes, who thanked all those who had helped him establish the organisation, and organise the impressive first conference. His speech was a call to arms to the “young snowflake generation”, who are often dismissed, yet, he claimed, can cause a Nation-halting blizzard when united.

After an exhausting yet deeply inspiring day, no one can deny that young people are not politically engaged. YPUK is working to change that perception, so that we, young people, can have the power to change our future for the better.

 

 

 

YouthPolitics UK Annual Conference – COMPLETED

YouthPolitics UK Annual Conference – COMPLETED

Events, Uncategorized

Thank you so much to everyone who attended our Launch Conference. It was an amazing day of debates, talks and workshops and an incredible turnout. The team at YouthPolitics really hope that you enjoyed it as much as we did. Stay tuned for future events!

 

We are delighted to announce the details of the first YouthPolitics Annual Conference!

 

Over the past few months the team here at YouthPolitics have been laying down the foundations of the organisation which will culminate in our official launch at the first Annual Conference on Saturday 3rd March at The Manchester Grammar School.

 

The day will involve a range of workshops in campaigning, debating, and economics, along with Q&A sessions with high-profile figures. We are delighted to confirm that our keynote speakers will be Mayor of Manchester,  Andy Burnham, and former Director of Communications and Strategy under Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, who will also be taking part in a book signing event. The leading journalist Michael Crick and MPs such as Kate Green and Afzal Khan will also be speaking, and representatives from nationwide and local campaigns, such as Amnesty International, will be hosting workshops.

All prospective and current A Level students studying A-level Politics, History and Economics and Law will find this conference invaluable but we wish to welcome all pupils (14-18) interested in current affairs. Throughout the course of the day, pupils will have an opportunity to learn the skills needed to make their voices heard and take actions to bring about social change.

Details: Saturday 3rd March 2018

09.00-17.30 Manchester Grammar School

Old Hall Lane, M13 OXT

Ticket prices include a hot lunch:

£5 under 25 /£10 over 25/ bursaries available *excluding booking fee

Tickets can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/youthpolitics-launch-conference-tickets-37529108574

 

 

Timetable:

08:30-09:00 – Arrival

09:30-10:00 – Opening Ceremony

10:15 – 11:00 – 1st Workshop session (and panel debate on Brexit)

11:15-12:00 – Keynote speech from Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester

12:15-13:00 – 2nd Workshop session (and Q&A with Michael Crick)

13:00-14:30 – LUNCH (hot lunch included in price)

14:30-15:15 – 3rd Workshop session (and panel debate on Northern Devolution)

15:30-17:00 – Q&A with Alastair Campbell and Closing Ceremony

17:00-17:30 – Book signing with Alastair Campbell, the YouthPolitics team will also be around so individuals can find out more about how to get involved.

 

Workshops in debating, campaigning, and economics will be running throughout the day – these will be available for booking at a later date. We will be holding two panel debates will be held on the subjects of ‘Northern Devolution’ and ‘The Impact of Brexit on the Youth’.

It is our priority that anyone can attend the conference, regardless of their financial situation. That is why we are offering financial support for those who may struggle to attend otherwise. Bursary inquiries should be emailed to youthpoliticsevents@gmail.com.

 

DRESS CODE: Casual clothes

ARRIVAL: Please arrive at The Manchester Grammar School between 8.30am-9.00am and make your way to Reception (through the arch).

DROP-OFF: There will be a drop-off zone inside the school grounds – come down the front drive and follow the signs. Alternatively, you can park on Old Hall Lane outside of the school.

TICKETS: There is no need for paper tickets or to print this confirmation email. Your name will be on an attendee list at the entrance.

PICK-UP: The event will finish at 5.30pm. There will be a pick-up zone inside the school grounds. Again, come down the front drive and follow the signs.

 

For all information or enquiries regarding conference, please email the events team at youthpoliticsevents@gmail.com

Or alternatively, contact our events manager, Ben Fleming, at bda.fleming@btinternet.com 

 

Manchester Training Session – COMPLETED

Manchester Training Session – COMPLETED

Events

We are delighted to announce that our first training session will take place in Manchester at the Manchester Central Library in January 2018!

YouthPolitics UK launches its very first training event for young people with a bang. After a talk by Danny Langley, campaign manager for Britain Stronger in Europe during the 2016 referendum, breaking down the various ways in which the Brexit deal will impact young people, an audience Q&A will allow you to dig deeper into the issues raised.

Debate activities will follow, which will allow you to think in more depth about both sides of the argument, and help you to develop skills in critical thinking and argumentation.

The evening will run as follows:

5.30pm – 5.45pm: Audience members arrive
5.45pm – approx. 6.45pm: Talk by Danny Langley followed by Q&A
6.45pm – 7.30pm: Debate activities in smaller groups focussing on issues raised
The event will finish at approximately 7.40pm.

 

BOOK YOUR TICKETS HERE: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-impact-of-brexit-on-the-youth-tickets-41621929311?aff=es2

 

The Central Library Cafe will be open on arrival, where audience members can buy hot and cold drinks and snacks.
We ask that audience members arrive promptly so that the evening runs as smoothly as possible for everyone attending. If you have booked a ticket and know that you will be unable to attend, please get in touch to let us know, so that someone else doesn’t miss out.

Please email jessica.molyneux@gmail.com for more information.

 

The Role of Dark Money in Politics

The Role of Dark Money in Politics

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s Note – In this article, written by Michael, an analysis of the influential role that ‘dark money’ can play in modern day politics, especially here in the UK and US, is made. Money fuels the economy, but to what extent does it fuel politics?

The Role of Dark Money in Politics

We are all, to some extent, afraid of the dark. Whether it stems from fear of imaginary monsters, to a fear of criminals lurking in the shadows ready to deprive you of your dearly earned possessions, or even your life, we all have our own reasons to fear the dark. We humans as a species have feared the dark for millennia, stretching back to the dawn of man when we discovered fire, in order to warm us, and of course, fend off the darkness of the encroaching night. It is clear to say, that the word itself, dark, has deeply negative connotations.

So what is “Dark money”? From the title, you can guess it is no benevolent thing, and it is not. It is one of, in my opinion, the most severe threats to democracy as we know it and it is not a problem faced only in the USA but here in Britain as well. Dark money refers to money that is given by undisclosed donors to non-profit political organisations which is then spent on trying to influence your vote (that is, if you can vote). Essentially, it’s money given by anonymous donors who seek to buy the election. People use dark money to buy the election; and they sometimes succeed.

The US is probably one of the most notorious examples of dark money influencing politics. Wealthy billionaires or corporations fund vast organisations known as SuperPACs (PAC standing for Political Action Committee. They can’t officially coordinate with the campaign of any candidate, but it’s not really too hard to write and pay to air ads that favour of them/attack their opponent) and 501(c) groups (non-profit, politically active groups who don’t have to disclose their donors or pay taxes, as long as their primary activity isn’t politics. In practise, this means less than 50% total expenditure on politics) who pay for ads, staff, voter database analysis, door-to-door knocking, etc. for candidates that the shadowy donors back. The mechanics of dark money are complex, but the basics boil down to this (in the US at least). 501 (c) groups receive an anonymous donation. Now, the group must adhere to spending below the limit of 49.9% of their total budget on political activities. What happens is that multiple 501 (c) groups coordinate money transfers between one another, inflating their expenditures, and thus allowing them to spend more than the limit on political activity. This network of organisations obscures both the organisations’ budget, but also helps obscure who the original donor was. A SuperPAC can spend any amount it wants on politics, but must, however, disclose their donors. The true genius comes in when 501 (c) groups donate the money they received to the SuperPAC, thus the SuperPAC can spend all this clean, legal money that the 501 (c)s can’t, whilst the 501 (c) is listed as the donor to the SuperPAC, thus anonymising the true donor.

This is vastly different to how the dark money situation in the UK works, and is also merely a basic overview (I have left out vast chunks of the mechanisms), but is an, in my opinion, an interesting insight into the sort of mechanics and loopholes dark money exploits, and gives an idea of what dark money involves. Whilst the dark money situation in the US is far worse than in the UK; we have electoral agents through which all money spent by the candidate is monitored, and unlike the US post Buckley v. Valeo, there is a limit on how much each candidate can spend; £7150, plus 5p for every registered voter in the borough, or 7p in a county. We aren’t however, immune from the influence of dark money in the UK.

Under the Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act of 2000, all donations £7,500+ must be reported (lump sum or multiple totalling to), or £1500+ if from a source reported prior in the same year. This act (PPERA) also prohibits donations from “impermissible sources”, or sources that are unknown. These legal requirements of disclosing publically who donated the money, and also knowing who donated the money, don’t apply to Northern Ireland. You may ask yourself why, and the reason is simple; terrorism. During the period of civil unrest known as the Troubles in NI, there was intense domestic terrorism there. Parliament decided that, in the interests of safety, political parties in Northern Ireland don’t need to disclose publically who gave them a donation, in order to protect the donor, who could become a target for the IRA or UFF as a result of their donation.

This exists for good reason; to protect lives and allow for freedom of expression whilst maintaining one’s freedom from fear. The DUP, who you may have heard of, have bastardised the spirit of this provision, and allowed the entry of dark money. In 2016, the DUP, a pro-Brexit party, decided to buy four pages of advertisements in the Metro newspaper, promoting Brexit and the Leave campaign, a move totalling £282,000. It would be arguable that this was perfectly fine, and the DUP were entitled to buy the ad, but for the fact that the Metro doesn’t publish in Northern Ireland. This begs the question-why did the DUP buy the ad in the first place? It clearly had no benefit to the DUP, as no one who could vote for the DUP would read the ads. For many the answer is simple; through the DUP, unknown, anonymous donors could funnel vast sums of money to press for a Leave result, without fear of being publically disclosed. This is more than speculation however; we know where the £282,000 came from; a DUP MP admitted the ad was funded by a £425,000 donation from a croup known as the Constitutional Research Council, headed by a Scottish business man, Richard Cook. Where the CRC got their money from is not public knowledge, and there has been much baseless speculation in regards to its origin.

It doesn’t really matter where the money came from, and really who paid for it. It probably didn’t even affect the referendum result-far more important factors came into play there, such as misinformation from the Leave campaign, anger at the establishment, the immigration debate, etc. What really makes me worry is that it sets a dangerous precedent; this time, it may have not affected us much, and was a relatively meagre sum compared to how much was spent in total by both sides (£32 million+), but it potentially could lead to the encouragement of more dark money flowing into our elections in the future. This was not the sole example of dark money in UK politics; Robert Mercer’s firm Cambridge Analytica was alleged by some to have also tried to influence the Brexit vote, and the now dissolved charity Atlantic Bridge are both other examples of dark money in UK politics.

Ultimately, we should prevent such things from happening here, and rein in unlimited, anonymous political spending. Some argue that this would be a violation of free speech; I would argue that using your financial power to speak louder than others drowns out those who don’t have the resources to do so, and violates the free speech of the many. Going back to the US, engraved on the US Supreme Court building is the motto “Equal justice under law”. Here, we must ensure everyone has a free, but equal, voice. Democracy is the rule of the people. In a world where dark money is allowed free reign, we can no longer be sure whether or not we are a democracy anymore, or are a mere plutocracy.