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Emrys's Journal
Emrys's Journal
October 20, 2017

Suspected Network Of 13,000 Twitter Bots Pumped Out Pro-Brexit Messages In Run-Up To EU Vote

Researchers have uncovered new evidence of networks of thousands of suspect Twitter bots working to influence the Brexit debate in the run-up to the EU referendum.

The findings, from researchers at City, University of London, include a network of more than 13,000 suspected bots that tweeted predominantly pro-Brexit messages before being deleted or removed from Twitter in the weeks following the vote.

The research – which is published in the peer-reviewed Social Science Computer Review journal and was shared exclusively with BuzzFeed News – suggests the suspected bot accounts were eight times more likely to tweet pro-leave than pro-remain content.

"This is research that corroborates what Facebook and others say: that there are bots that serve to falsely amplify certain messages," co-author Dan Mercea told BuzzFeed News.


How decisive this might have been is open to debate - and I'm not convinced that we who generally spend substantial amounts of time online don't overestimate the influence of memes compared to the chit-chat down the pub and the deluge of misinformation in the more widely available print and broadcast media - but it's another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that shows how we got where we are, and in a vote that was too close to call, any influence is potentially decisive.
October 19, 2017

Report on Effects of "No Deal" Brexit Revealed

Jolyon Maugham QC may be familiar if you've been following some of the legal proceedings and arguments about Brexit. He's an ardent Remainer. He tweeted the following this evening (you can access the thread by clicking on the tweet below, but I've transcribed and copied the relevant bits):


Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 4 hours ago
So a wee bird has dropped into my inbox what a major newspaper has described as a report from HM Treasury. THREAD

Jo Maugham QC?@JolyonMaugham 4 hours ago
It deals with the consequences of us leaving the EU without a deal - exactly what the "wing-growers" are pushing on us now. /1

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 4 hours ago
"Wing-growers" because their strategy is to leap off a cliff and believe very hard that we will grow wings. Would you like some extracts? /2

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 4 hours ago
Thought so. Coming right up. But first let me tell you that it dates to shortly before the Referendum vote. /3

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 4 hours ago
Ok. Well, the headline is that it won't be as pleasant as @KateHoeyMP and her Hard Right pals told you last night. We won't grow wings. /4

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 4 hours ago
We won't have a very open economy. Which isn't great if the magic plan is to be a great trading nation. /5

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 4 hours ago
Woah! It won't just hurt our access to the EU. It will also hurt our access to over 50 other countries. How many does that leave left? /6

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 4 hours ago
And in relation to the world's biggest market, we'll have worse access than Yemen. Dunno about you, but that doesn't sound good to me. /7

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 4 hours ago
Man! 61% of our agri-food exports will face average tariffs of between 36% and 70%. Still, it'll be good for (inadvertent) set-aside. /8

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 4 hours ago
How much of our economy is made up of services again? I can never remember. Really? That much? Ooh. /9

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 3 hours ago
But, I mean, lots of countries trade on WTO terms just fine. Don't they? Lots of advanced economies? Are you sure? /10

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 3 hours ago
So prices are gonna go up for consumers or our producers are gonna get shafted. But the wings. Think of the wings. /11

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 3 hours ago
Still, at least we won't be a rule-taker. We'll make our own. Take Back Control and all that. Won't we? /12

Jo Maugham QC?? @JolyonMaugham 3 hours ago
Remember what it used to be like? If the big guy knocked over your pint he bought you another, because you had lots of mates. /13

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 3 hours ago
To compete, we'll slash environmental standards and labour protection. "Caution - some might argue that we should emulate" that model. /14

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 3 hours ago
And the great argument for Leaving? That the EU stops us trading with the rest of the world? /15

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 3 hours ago
56% of our trade will be hit if we leave on WTO terms. 44% is quite a lot. 56% is even more. /16

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 3 hours ago
Only 7% of foreign investors view a substantial decline in access to the Single Market positively. 80% would lose a reason to invest. /17

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 3 hours ago
Farming subsidies. Gove can promise you'll keep them. But, you know: it's Michael Gove. /18

Jo Maugham QC?? @JolyonMaugham 3 hours ago
Up to 28.6% of profitable farms will become loss making. But that's fine because, you know, umm... it was on the tip of my tongue. /19

Jo Maugham QC? @JolyonMaugham 3h3 hours ago
Still. Onwards and over. Just wait til you feel those little nubs, pushing through your shoulders, where the wings will grow. /Ends

Maugham has been prodding James Cleverly MP about it on Twitter:


Jo Maugham QC @JolyonMaugham
Paging @JamesCleverly... James? Are you there, mate?

Jo Maugham QC retweeted,
Jo Maugham QC @JolyonMaugham
So a wee bird has dropped into my inbox what a major newspaper has described as a report from HM Treasury. THREAD
11:56 AM - 19 Oct 2017

Which hasn't gone down well:


James Cleverly? @JamesCleverly 2h
Replying to @JolyonMaugham

“Mate” if I wanted to read your obsessive outpourings I would follow you. I don’t, so I don’t.

One Leave-supporting journalist was very quick to join what turned into a Twitter pile-on:


Christopher Snowdon? @cjsnowdon 36m36 minutes ago

Big news, James. The intrepid Mr Maugham has read a report that was published 18 months ago. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/517415/treasury_analysis_economic_impact_of_eu_membership_web.pdf

Unfortunately for Mr Snowdon, it looks like the report he links to himself, HM Treasury analysis: the long-term economic impact of EU membership and the alternatives, a command paper released in April 2016, doesn't feature any of the phrasing Maugham quotes in the screencaps above, so it's presumably a different one.

I hope Maugham isn't the only one who's received a copy of this report, whatever its provenance, and that some in our media follow it up and make a splash, at the very least.

If Labour was on surer ground over Brexit at the moment, I'd hope it would form the basis for a spectacular Prime Minister's Questions session and some interesting scenes in committee.

Whatever, let's hope it's not the last we hear about it ...

ETA: Somebody has used Thread Reader to produce an "unrolled" version of the above thread, which may be easier to read and link to: https://tttthreads.com/thread/921068161692205057

October 13, 2017

Hostile Conservative rebels force No 10 to delay flagship Brexit bill

No 10 has been forced to delay its flagship Brexit bill after Conservative rebels backed a series of hostile amendments.

Ministers had planned to push the EU Withdrawal Bill, which has passed its second reading in the House of Commons, through to committee stage next week.

But the timetable has slipped after the Tory whips decided they needed more time to strike compromises with rebel MPs in order to avoid a series of damaging defeats.

In total 300 amendments and 54 new clauses have been tabled to the bill, which transfers European law onto the domestic statute book after Brexit, underlining the resistance within the Commons from both opposition parties and some Conservative MPs.

October 13, 2017

Electricity consumers 'to fund nuclear weapons through Hinkley Point C'

The government is using the “extremely expensive” Hinkley Point C nuclear power station to cross-subsidise Britain’s nuclear weapon arsenal, according to senior scientists.

In evidence submitted to the influential public accounts committee (PAC), which is currently investigating the nuclear plant deal, scientists from Sussex University state that the costs of the Trident programme could be “unsupportable” without “an effective subsidy from electricity consumers to military nuclear infrastructure”.

Prof Andy Stirling and Dr Phil Johnstone from the Science Policy Research Unit at the university write that the £19.6bn Hinkley Point project will “maintain a large-scale national base of nuclear-specific skills” without which there is concern “that the costs of UK nuclear submarine capabilities could be insupportable.”

Their evidence suggests that changes in the government’s policy on nuclear power in recent years will effectively allow Britain’s military nuclear industry to be supported by payments from electricity consumers.

October 8, 2017

Theresa May under pressure over 'secret advice' on halting Brexit

Theresa May is under pressure to publish secret legal advice that is believed to state that parliament could still stop Brexit before the end of March 2019 if MPs judge that a change of mind is in the national interest. The move comes as concern grows that exit talks with Brussels are heading for disaster.


Disquiet has been growing among pro-remain MPs, and within the legal profession and business community, about what is becoming known as the government’s “kamikaze” approach. Ministers insist that stopping Brexit is not an option, as the British people made their decision in last year’s referendum, and the article 50 process is now under way, however damaging the consequences might turn out to be when negotiations are concluded.


The prominent lawyer Jessica Simor QC, from Matrix chambers, has written to May asking her to release the legal advice under the Freedom of Information Act. Simor says she has been told by “two good sources” that the prime minister has been advised “that the article 50 notification can be withdrawn by the UK at any time before 29 March 2019 resulting in the UK remaining in the EU on its current favourable terms.

“Such advice would also accord with the view of Lord Kerr, who was involved in drafting article 50, of Jean-Claude Piris, former director general of the EU council’s legal service, and of Martin Selmayr, a lawyer and head of cabinet to the European commission president.” She says “there is no time to waste” and adds: “It is important that this advice is made available to the British public and their representatives in parliament as soon as possible.”

October 5, 2017

From Boris the Lion King to Theresa May's P45 - my malarial week at the Tory conference

The Guardian's Marina Hyde is at it again:

By the end of the Conservative party conference, Theresa May had suffered so many painful betrayals and humiliations that she should have ditched her speech and dropped
" target="_blank">a 60-minute visual album on Tidal instead. A lot of people wouldn’t have begrudged her the chance to stalk along the street in a yellow dress, baseball-batting a few cars.

That, clearly, would have been a show of strength a million miles beyond the prime minister: currently third among equals, dropping down the rankings fast, and agonisingly handed a P45 by a bottom-tier comedian during her own coughed-out conference speech. Even bits of the set were trying to escape. She had already spent four days in Manchester having to suck up all manner of indignities, while Boris Johnson’s address concluded “Let the lion roar!” Thanks, Uncle Scar! But you probably want to wipe Mufasa’s blood off your chin before you get the party faithful to sing along to The Circle of Life.

I lost count of things that were obviously being said for a dare. “We were pleased with the way it went,” judged May’s spokesman of her speech. “I witnessed a great speech from a prime minister at the top of her game,” declared Michael Gove. “That is their cosmic role in life,” explained James Cleverly about Labour, “to screw things up, so we can come and fix them.” Has he been watching the past two years on tape delay? The Tories are like something out of Cowboy Builders: they tell you that you need a new boiler, and by the time they’re done, you’ve got no roof, a sinkhole and euro parity. For the love of God, guys, please stop fixing things.


But before we go on: the science bit. Last year, the Tories were bedding in for a good 15 years of uninterrupted rule; this year, they were coming to terms with the fact that the bed had been shat. “We had an election that nobody expected to take place,” said party chairman Patrick McLoughlin. The snap election had caught the Tories off guard, May explained to the House magazine, recalling that moment a highly emotional Withnail accosts a farmer and explains: “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!” The Tories seemed to have called an election by mistake.

October 4, 2017

'Burning inside me'? The five worst moments of Theresa May's speech

There are many accounts of what's immediately entered legend as "Theresa May's car crash speech" to the Tory Conference - and much resulting ribaldry on social media - but here's one I've plucked at random:


Set the stage

“Building a country that works for everyone” announced her backdrop. Except it turns out the Conservatives couldn’t even build a sign for everyone, as the letter F dropped from the wall. (Leading many to joke about telling the Tories to “eff off”). Shortly afterwards, the E disappeared – but this is Manchester, the city of rave: Es are dropped a lot. At the end of the speech, one journalist tweeted a picture of what remained of the sign, a few sad letters, like the dregs of Scrabble tiles in the bag. It’s difficult to take the Conservatives’ message seriously when it’s literally disintegrating in real time.


Don’t be sick

In fairness, it isn’t May’s fault she was ill. She had better hope she perks up, though, because soon we won’t have a publicly funded NHS to speak of, and good luck with getting sickness benefit or, you know, a GP appointment. It might have made more sense after the first splattering of lung pushed its way up the oesophagus to abort the speech or skip straight to the meat of policy. As someone in an already weakened position, the optics were … how should one put this? Not good.

It did, however, mean we got to witness the hilarious moment when May was given a standing ovation for receiving a glass of water from a runner. Because, honestly, that is the level of competence we are operating at at the moment.


Don’t get pranked

It’s sort of incredible how, just weeks after the country’s terror threat was at critical, a prankster – who turned out to be comedian Simon Brodkin – was able to get this close to the prime minister. Handing her a P45 was a neat trick, but the most absurd thing here was that May TOOK IT. Don’t take it!

The other two are here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/04/worst-moments-theresa-may-speech-p45-prime-minister

There are plenty more, e.g.:

Theresa May's speech was such a nightmare she must have been disappointed to discover she wasn't naked

It was when the set started falling apart that the Prime Minister realised everything was going to be all right. Phew, she thought. Thank goodness for that. I’ll just glance down at myself now, see that I’m fully naked, then all my teeth will fall out and I’ll wake up and start getting ready for that speech that I’ve got to give to save my career.

But, much to her disappointment, the Prime Minister found that she was not naked. The cameras were rolling. The hall was packed. At her feet was a P45 form she’d just willingly taken from a serial prankster. There were still ten pages of a seventeen-page speech to go, and she was entirely unable to speak.

It was a nightmare so richly layered it was almost as if it had been directed by Christopher Nolan. Time passed, seconds warped into hours, and as Theresa May moved deeper and deeper down through the levels of her own never-ending anxiety dream it became impossible to see how she might ever find her way out.


May - given the alleged fragility exposed in recent revelations - is coming dangerously close to being a figure to be pitied, and it's hard kicking somebody when they're down.

Then you remember "There's no magic money tree" and her incompetence and wholehearted embrace of the Cruella DeVil stereotype as an immigrant-bashing Home Secretary, and her attempted bullying of Corbyn at their earlier PMQs while safely backed by her braying backbenchers, the disabled dead or miserable because of her policies, etc. etc. etc. - and any sympathy instantly dissipates.

Just go. Go now. Even if it's Boris, we'll cope somehow.

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