Swire gets his hands in yet another iffy-sounding money-making business pie – this time in Malaysia

“Whilst Foreign Secretary the front runner in the present Conservative leadership race appeared mainly concerned with selling weapons on behalf of British business, barking at visiting Malaysian dignatories “Aren’t you interested in buying arms?” in lieu of a more conventional welcome. To which the answer has so far been a sensible no.

The question is how will trade and investment flow if Boris takes charge? Brexit to one side (having to an extent performed its purpose in making him leader) it seems likely that Johnson will soon respond to some of the financial interests which supported his rise. These include businessmen behind what is termed as the ‘Commonwealth Agenda’, keen to revive what they see as the UK’s special ties with countries such as Malaysia.

Barely known in the UK, but long since recognised as a key promoter of this agenda and also of former prime minister Najib Razak is Lord Jonathan Marland, who set up a two pound limited company called the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council and appointed himself as Chairman after stepping down from a short stint as a working peer in the Department for Energy in 2014.

The Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) has a ‘small secretariat’ at the Malborough House headquarters of the Commonwealth according to its website and Marland has hired the former Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire (from the Swire commercial family and previously in charge of Malaysian matters) to be his Deputy.

The focus of CWEIC is concentrated on channelling foreign money into the UK as per a new so-called ‘Commonwealth Partnership Programme’ signed last week with the well-known off-shore haven of Jersey purportedly designed to:

“.. unlock opportunities for Jersey to increase its visibility and access to key decision makers in priority Commonwealth markets through CWEIC’s extensive cross-border networks and in-country expertise.
Lord Marland said: “I am delighted the Government of Jersey is strengthening its partnership with CWEIC. Together we will continue to support the ambitions of the Government of Jersey to increase trade across the 53 members countries of the Commonwealth.”
Senator Gorst [of Jersey] said: “I hope … CWEIC’s support will maximise opportunities and encourage UK-based programmes or inward delegations to visit Jersey.”

As readers of Sarawak Report may be aware Lord Marland likewise claims he was the driving force behind the massive investment of Malaysian public money into London’s most costly ever development project at Battersea Power Station during his short term as a minister:

I think the only legacy [of his role] that… lasting legacy will forever exist would be Battersea Power Station which I was the minister responsible for getting that going… it is fascinating seeing the towers coming down and going back up again which I was utterly insistent upon and actually getting the Malaysians, they were brilliant, they are still. …

Q: What do you regard as your big achievement in office?
LM: .. I think opening trade relationships with some of the biggest countries in the world which had completely died. I mean, Malaysia for example, you know, the amount of Malaysia monies coming in… Getting those relationships going and then buying into British. [Lord Marland]

As testimony to his role Marland attended the earth-turning on the project in 2013 together with private developers SP Setia, former PM Najib Razak (Malaysian Government concerns Sime Derby and EPF already owned 60%), former PM David Cameron and the then London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Swiftly, the major shareholder of SP Setia, Liew Kee Sin, managed to sell out his stake in the company to the Minister of Finance (also Najib) controlled fund PNB the following year at what could only be described as a surprisingly advantageous price of RM3.95 for each of his 67 million shares, which was RM1.00 above the market rate.

Having cashed out so handsomely Liew was perhaps equally surprisingly permitted to remain as Chairman thanks to the acquiescence of the new publicly owned shareholders. Meanwhile he transferred most of the SP Setia staff to a new company under his control, namely the now burgeoning property development company Eco World, which soon got down to a number of rival developments next door to Battersea itself in London.”


“Heatwaves test limits of nuclear power”

Not true, as the article implies, that because Hinkley C uses seawater, which is cooler, it is not at risk. There are many examples of coastal nuclear reactors having to close down because seawater has become too warm in heatwaves – including in places such as Finland, Sweden and Germany. Here’s the evidence:


“Enthusiasts describe nuclear power as an essential tool to combat the climate emergency because, unlike renewables, it is a reliable source of base load power.

This is a spurious claim because power stations are uniquely vulnerable to global heating. They need large quantities of cooling water to function, however the increasing number of heatwaves are threatening this supply.

The French energy company EDF is curbing its output from four reactors in Bugey, on the Rhône River near the Swiss border, because the water is too warm and the flow is low.

Some reactors in the US are also frequently affected. This matters in both countries because the increasing use of air conditioning means electricity demand is high during summer heatwaves and intermittent nuclear power is not much help.

This does not affect nuclear power stations in the UK because they draw their water supplies from the sea, which stays relatively cool. However, it may affect plans to build small reactors on a lake in Trawsfynydd, Wales. And it may also reduce some of the UK’s power supplies during the summer.

As heatwaves intensify, the flow of electricity from French reactors through the growing number of cross-Channel interconnector cables cannot be relied on.”


“Something fishy is going on with the Tory leadership race online”

“Two of the most prolific Twitter accounts supporting Boris Johnson have displayed bot-like behaviour, while three of Jeremy Hunt’s top followers have suspiciously high post rates.

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a London-based think tank researching political extremism, monitored the tweets mentioning either Jeremy Hunt’s or Boris Johnson’s handles, or their respective campaign hashtags, #HastobeHunt and #BackBoris, between May 24 and June 30.

The ISD researchers found that three of the top ten accounts engaging with Jeremy Hunt posted over 100 tweets a day, while another account in the top ten had been suspended as of June 30. The ISD sets the threshold for suspiciously high activity levels at more than 50 tweets a day.

Out of the top ten accounts mentioning Boris Johnson or his campaign, three produced over 100 tweets per day; two of those three accounts, the ISD says, presented “bot-like” behaviour and had already been spotted by the organisation when researching online “inorganic amplification” of UK political parties.

The majority of the tweets targeting Hunt do not seem to be directly connected with his leadership bid, but rather with his tenure as foreign secretary, mentioning topics such as war, human rights, and refugees rights. The suspended handle, @Kazem24529196, was the third most active Hunt-mentioning account and mostly tweeted about Iranian refugees’ resettlement in Turkey. Another account in Hunt’s top ten, @Ali85972170, has been suspended by the time of publication and seems to have mostly been tweeting about Sudan and other refugees issues.

Most of these issue-focused accounts were not hostile or aggressive towards Hunt himself. In contrast, the fifth most active account targeting Hunt, @EUVoteLeave23rd, has a decidedly anti-Hunt and pro-Johnson slant. It also appeared in Johnson’s top ten as the third most active account.

First created in 2016, @EUVoteLeave23rd pushes a pro-hard Brexit, pro-no deal agenda. It has over 35,000 followers, the identity of its owner is unknown, and its profile image features a Brexit Party rosette overlaid with a Back Boris tag.

According to the ISD, during the EU election campaign, @EUVoteLeave23rd was the most active account engaging with the Conservative Party; until recently, it was strongly opposed to the Conservatives, and to Theresa May’s leadership in particular. From late February to late June 2019, @EUVoteLeave23rd directly mentioned the outgoing prime minister in 10 per cent of its tweets.

The account styles itself as belonging to a former Conservative turned Brexit Party fan; now, it supports the Johnson campaign. According to the ISD, the account’s posts appeared times 1,309,493 between its creation on February 22, 2016 to June 27, 2019 – a figure that includes tweets, retweets, other accounts retweeting its posts, and deleted tweets. Although many of the account’s tweets appear to be original content, the volume and frequency of its posting, with an average of over 90 tweets a day, and a high number of retweets evince that at least some elements of automation might be at play.

Over the past few days, the account has been particularly active amplifying tweets that mention Boris Johnson’s account in a positive context, or feature the #BackBoris hashtag. Out of the last 3,200 tweets the account posted, over 500 contained Johnson’s handle and almost 1,000 contained the campaigning hashtag.

The account also mentioned Jeremy Hunt in 937 tweets, most of them rather scornful – one recurrent thread being that Hunt’s Brexit policy would be just a rehashed version of May’s. “It seems to pick up and retweet tweets that have either hashtags or flags in their handles,” says Chloe Colliver, head of the digital analysis unit at ISD.

“You could easily automate an account to pick up certain things and automatically retweet them if they had certain messaging. This looks like a managed account that is set up to pump out pro-Brexit accounts and messaging.”

Yin Yin Lu, a research affiliate at the Oxford Internet Institute, says that the account’s blend of human-generated content and aggressive retweeting caught her eye already back in 2016 during the EU referendum campaign. “It was quite interesting how it spits out original content at high volume, and the volume is so high that it has to be pre-programmed,” she says.

“From April to June 2016, it was very engaging, compared with the average sort of automated accounts or bot accounts,” Lu says. “On average, bot accounts had about 1.5 retweets, and non-bot accounts had 4.4 retweets. This account, even though it’s partially automated had an average retweet count of almost 11. It shows that the network it’s involved with is quite extensive – it’s got 36,000 followers.”

The ISD points out that, according to the Information Operations Archive, the account, had 172 interactions (mostly retweets) with accounts known to be associated with Iranian or Russian state-backed disinformation operations.

“This shows that even if these are not important accounts in themselves, they are useful as part of a wider strategy to polarise people online,” Colliver says. @EUVoteLeave23rd did not reply to a direct message asking for more information.

Another emphatically pro-Boris account, @WeBackBoris, was also flagged by the ISD for what looks like automated behaviour. The account was created in 2011, but only started operating on June 3, 2019 when it tweeted 245 times. Over the following month, the account posted almost 15,000 tweets and tens of thousands of retweets. It did not reply to a direct message asking for more information.

Twitter, in an emailed statement, said that “platform manipulation and spam are against the Twitter Rules and we take aggressive enforcement action when we identify violations of our policies.”


“Audit review raises prospect of new transparency rules for s151s” [Finance Officers]

“A review of local government audit announced by the government this week will consider new measures to give the public better access to financial information produced by section 151 officers.

Local government secretary James Brokenshire this week revealed the review, which will report next Spring, will be headed up by former Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) president Sir Tony Redmond.

Brokenshire told the House of Commons this week that the review will examine the purpose, scope and quality of statutory audits of councils in England and the supporting regulatory framework.

The review follows concerns about the quality of local authority audits following the abolition of the Audit Commission in 2014.

Speaking to CIPFA’s annual conference in Birmingham this week, Brokenshire said: “Concerns have been recently raised about audit quality and whether the audit framework is too fragmented.”

But he said that restoring confidence in the audit regime needs to be accompanied by improvements in the way financial information is presented by local authorities.

He said: “As a result, I have also asked Tony to include transparency of financial reporting within the scope of his review.

“To be absolutely clear, I am approaching this with an open mind but our aim must be to ensure that the financial reporting and audit framework helps members, section 151s and chief executives to make informed and responsible decisions about improvements and is more open and accountable to our citizens.” …”

Audit review raises prospect of new transparency rules for s151s

“If you want to build a better society you need to build better homes”

“In the end almost every important domestic issue comes back to housing.

If you want to know why the economy is skewed towards the rich, why social mobility has stalled, why opportunities are curtailed and why health inequalities persist it is impossible to discuss any of these themes without reference to housing.

Having a decent home to live in should be a basic right but there are more than one million people on the waiting list for social housing.

Rent takes up 40% of our income on average, the highest in Europe where the average is 28%.

This consumes money which could, for instance, be spent on purchasing better quality food.

It is no accident the poorest people have the poorest diets.

Those on low-income are more likely to live in low quality homes with short-term tenancies.

A survey in 2016 found 60% of Londoners who rent were living in homes with unacceptable conditions such as damp or vermin.

Lower income families tend to live in areas with higher levels of air pollution and fewer opportunities to play outside either because of a lack of green spaces or high traffic densities.

This in turn puts pressure on the NHS and affects school performance.

Studies have shown that people who live on streets with high levels of traffic are less likely to interact with their neighbours.

Short term tenancies mean families in rental accommodation end up moving more often, disrupting schooling and fracturing social networks.

If you live in an area without decent public transport and cannot afford a car your chances of finding work or studying are more limited which curtails social mobility.

It is hardly surprising that the lack of social housing has driven up rents in the private sector.

A study by Shelter this week says private renting is unaffordable for working families on low wages in two-thirds of the country.

Help to Buy, which has so far cost £12billion, had the perverse effect of stimulating demand while doing nothing to address supply.

Wealth is accumulated in the hands of property and land owners but our local tax system is based on outdated property values rather than wealth and therefore entrenches inequality.

There are few more crucial issues and few of such importance which have been neglected by successive governments.

We are our on 16th Housing Minister in 18 years.