Archive for the ‘lobbying’ Category

Failure of a lobby

Sherwood Rowland, one of the scientists responsible for discovering that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer and fixing the problem, has died. Realclimate has a good write-up, as does Eli Rabett, who makes the excellent point that we needed to invent quite a bit of the chemistry involved before we could discover there was a problem. Perhaps more telling is this NASA web page, which describes the output from the Goddard Space Flight Centre’s Chemistry-Climate Model given inputs corresponding to a world that kept using the stuff. It’s either utterly terrifying, or enormously inspiring, depending on how you look at it. Rowland, Paul Crutzen, the British Antarctic Survey people who did the fieldwork…they essentially saved the world.

But what really interests me was how they got the Vienna and Montreal protocols passed. I had the vague impression that something had changed since 1989, that the ex-tobacco industry unscience industry was only cranked up later to bash the climatologists. In fact, I’m wrong. A comment at Realclimate points out that they were indeed targeted by the usual suspects. Rowland was accused of being a KGB agent trying to destroy capitalism.

Jeff Masters of Wunderground has a really handy rundown of the pushback campaign against the ozone scientists, who were subjected to direct smears as above, plus a barrage of general-purposes PR, psuedo-scientific doubt-mongering, all with the assistance of Hill & Knowlton, Tom DeLay (for it is he) and (interestingly) some of the same characters who turn up both in Big Baccy and later on in the climate wars.

But here’s the interesting question, though. In the case of CFCs, it didn’t work. Thatcher’s late swing towards environmental issues is fairly well known, and prime ministers are certain of ratifying treaties they sign. Something must have induced Reagan to sign and Congress to ratify, though. Did the CFC makers just not give it one more heave, a few more millions?

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Here’s something interesting. You may remember this story from back in November about the CIA spy network in Lebanon that met at a Pizza Hut they codenamed PIZZA, and which was rolled up by a joint Hezbollah-Lebanese military intelligence investigation. The key detail is as follows:

U.S. officials also denied the source’s allegation that the former CIA station chief dismissed an email warning that some of his Lebanese agents could be identified because they used cellphones to call only their CIA handlers and no one else.

Lebanon’s security service was able to isolate the CIA informants by analyzing cellphone company records that showed the numbers called, duration of each call and location of the phone at the time of the call, the source said.

Using billing and cell tower records for hundreds of thousands of phone numbers, software can isolate cellphones used near an embassy, or used only once, or only on quick calls. The process quickly narrows down a small group of phones that a security service can monitor.

If the top paragraph is true, it would have been catastrophically ill-advised. Even somebody special, like a CIA agent under diplomatic cover, has a relatively large number of weak ties to normal people. This is the reverse of the small-world principle, and is a consequence of the fact that the great majority of people are real human beings rather than important persons. As a result, things like STELLAR WIND, the illegal Bush-era effort to analyse the whole pile of call-detail records at AT&T and Verizon in the hope that this would find terrorists, face a sort of Bayesian doom. We’ve gone over this over and over again.

However, phone numbers that only talk to special people are obviously suspicious. Most numbers with a neighbourhood length of 1 will be things like machine-to-machine SIMs in vending machines and cash points, but once you’d filtered those out, the remaining pool of possibles would be quite small. It is intuitive to think of avoiding surveillance, or keeping a low profile, but what is required is actually camouflage rather than concealment.

There are more direct methods – which is where electronic warfare and shopping mall management intersect.

Path Intelligence, a Portsmouth-based startup, will install a network of IMSI-catchers, devices which act as a mobile base station in order to identify mobile phones nearby, in your shopping centre so as to collect really detailed footfall information.

Similarly, you could plant such a device near that Pizza Hut to capture which phones passed by and when, and which ones usually coincided. Alternatively, you could use it in a targeted mode to confirm the presence or absence of a known device. Which makes me wonder about the famous Hezbollah telecoms network, and whether it was intended at least in part to be an electronic-intelligence network – as after all, nothing would be a better cover for a huge network of fake mobile base stations than a network of real ones.

Meanwhile, this year’s CCC (like last year’s) was just stuffed with GSM exploits. It really is beginning to look a lot like “time we retired that network”.

The question isn’t so much “did Eric Pickles eat all the pies?”, it’s “who paid for the pies, and how many did he declare in the register of members’ interests?”. TBIJ is on an absolute tear on Tory lobbying stories at the moment, and the combination of photo and caption for the Eric Pickles one is masterly.

But this story reveals more than it says. So, four cabinet ministers accepted donations to their private offices since May, 2010. Those would be William Hague, George Osborne, Liam Fox, and Michael Gove, or to put it another way, most of Atlantic Bridge and the core of the neo-conservative group within the Conservative Party. I do not think this is a coincidence.

Curiously, it seems that if you get donations to your private office you don’t also get them to your constituency party branch and vice versa, with the exceptions of George Osborne and Michael Gove, who would have more jam on it, wouldn’t they?

Pickles, for his part, received zero, which makes perfect sense. You can’t eat money, and as for spending it on unofficial advisers, that only makes sense if you ever take advice from other people and the Bradford food-mountain has always known he’s right.

Meanwhile, Lord Astor of Hever turns up as a trustee of the Bridge and an pal of the Werritty-funding SAS walt, Iraq contract hunter, and intimate of mercenaries Tim Spicer and Anthony Buckingham.

I think I’ve said before that Astor of Hever came out of the Lobster Project proof of concept script as being a surprisingly important gatekeeper – although in himself, he isn’t a major node, people who meet him also tend to get one-to-one meetings with the most important ministers. His weighted network degree, a measurement of how many links in the lobbying network involve him adjusted for how many people took part in the meetings, is 0.125, pretty low (78th in the league), but his gatekeepership metric is 2.533, the third highest overall and the very highest score for a minister with UK-wide responsibility. (I discount the gatekeepership numbers for Scottish and Welsh ministers, as their role is partly to represent Scottish and Welsh interests and they are structurally heavily lobbied.)

The gatekeepership metric in Lobster is the ratio of the average weighted network degree of those who lobbied a given minister to the average of all lobbies, to the ratio of that minister’s network degree to that of an average minister, thus capturing the degree to which meeting that minister was associated with meeting more or less important ones while taking into account the fact that some ministerial jobs are more important than others. If it is greater than 1, you’re likely to get a boost, if less, you’re being heard out.

A limitation is that obviously, the Prime Minister can’t help you meet a more important minister, so it doesn’t yet deal with the situation where you meet the PM to get your word across and are then referred to a junior minister for action. I accept that this is a problem, although you would expect that it is easier to lobby the small fry, so the metric is nevertheless useful. However, at a network degree of 0.125, Lord Astor is not affected by this phenomenon.

OK, so we have a prediction – other ministers involved with the Werritty/Fox/Atlantic Bridge case will demonstrate unusually high gatekeepership. Step forward Gerald Howarth MP, Minister for International Security Strategy, who achieves a gatekeepership of 2.36, the fourth highest overall and the second highest UK-wide, on a network degree of 1.2. That’s some pull, when you note that he’s a significant node in terms of quantity.

Lobster detected a sinister network of influence! How awesome is that?

In the recent case of Liam Fox and Adam Werritty, there was an issue that the news media spent an enormous amount of time and effort dancing around with innuendo, newspaper code, and carefully lawyered prose. It is a fact that the word “lawyered” is to the word “lawyer” as the word “doctored” is to the word “doctor”. Without understanding this hidden and sordid side of the issue, you would have been seriously misinformed. The matter was very sensitive, and there was an excellent chance of getting sued and probably also demonised as being deranged by shameful prejudices.

I refer, of course, to whether or not the Defence Secretary’s private office was having unprotected sex with other defence secretaries’ private offices.

It took a while to surface this at all – the Guardian let a wee squeak out on Thursday, and eventually it was the Sindy that took the plunge and surfaced it in the same way you surface a submarine, with an enormous roar of compressed air thundering into the ballast tanks under pressure while the nuclear reactor cranks up to full power. It’s a must read.

The fact that Werritty’s freebies included trips to the Herzliya Security Conference paid for by pro-Israeli lobbying groups should have been a screaming giveaway, but then, that’s what a good cover story is for. I presume that was what the Sindy eventually followed up.

I mentioned this element of the story to Daniel Davies earlier in the week. I can offer no special insight except for the enduring value of pattern recognition. This has, after all, happened before in recent memory, with really bad consequences.

Consider Mr. Michael Ledeen and the affair of the weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Ledeen, a professional neoconservative, claimed to have intelligence about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium and various other things, which came from his contacts in Iran, some of whom were recommended to him by his contacts in Israel, one of whom, Larry Franklin, was convicted of spying for Israel in the US State Department. Ledeen believed these contacts to be renegade members of the Iranian secret service. (He had never visited Iran, and I think to this day never has, and he doesn’t to the best of my knowledge speak Persian, so how he would have known is beyond me.) The CIA, for its part, believed that this was partly true. They just disagreed with the “renegade” bit. But Donald Rumsfeld had deliberately decided to ignore the CIA, so Ledeen’s intelligence was accepted. However, that wasn’t the end of the story. At some point, the Department of Defense became suspicious and called in its own Counter-Intelligence Field Activity to investigate.

At this point, a thick curtain of secrecy was drawn down on the story, even if we did eventually get the Phase IIA report. Whatever CIFA found out, Ledeen was able to introduce the famous forged documents on uranium from Niger, which seem to have come from the Italian secret service, as being Iranian information with Israeli approval, and this was used in the even more famous dossier.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if old blogging chum from way back in the day, 2004, Laura Rozen hasn’t also had this thought, as she was instrumental in digging into the whole Ledeen affair and she’s too smart to miss it. Also, hilariously, she and Spencer Ackerman had the honour of being targeted by Ledeen’s mates in Silvio Berlusconi’s intelligence service with a scurrilous smear-campaign. I should probably hat-tip the lady’s Twitter feed.

Note the elements of the story. Ledeen is a semi-official adviser with special, privileged access to policymakers. He is outside the formal requirements of government service, but has access inside it. He is seen to have special access to an important ally, and therefore to be trustworthy. A third party observed this, and took advantage of it to introduce information (or rather, disinformation) into the policymaking system. Does anybody see a pattern here? Similarly, Werritty was offered privileged access from outside the government firewall because he was ideologically congenial. It seems that this was considered acceptable because the influence exerted came from a country considered friendly. But then, there were the rogue Iranian intelligence agents, or were they just ordinary Iranian intelligence agents?

In May 2009, Mr Werritty arranged a meeting in Portcullis House between Mr Fox and an Iranian lobbyist with close links to President Ahmadinejad’s regime. In February this year, Mr Werritty arranged a dinner with Mr Fox, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, and senior political figures – understood to include Israeli intelligence agents – during an Israeli security conference in Herzliya, during which sanctions against Iran were discussed. Despite Mr Werritty having no official MoD capacity, an Israeli source said there was “no question” that Mr Werritty was regarded as anyone other than Mr Fox’s chief of staff who was able to fix meetings at the highest levels, and was seen as an “expert on Iran”.

Well, at least Werritty actually went to Iran. Unfortunately this is the worst of the story, as it seems he was going round encouraging Iranian dissidents, or people he thought were Iranian dissidents, and promising them British support. This is really incredibly, shamefully irresponsible – he could have got people killed, and it cannot be ruled out that he did, although it’s also quite possible that the whole affair was just a massive exercise in bullshitting and wanktankery.

Probably he really believes that he was in contact with the opposition. I’m fairly sure Ledeen doesn’t think he’s an Iranian agent either. This is where this classic Onion article comes into play. As I said at the time, why *do* all these Iranian agents keep sucking Michael Ledeen’s cock?

It is all reminiscent of Bruce Schneier’s thoughts on what happens if you create a backdoor into some computer system, so people like us can get in and out without anyone noticing. The problem is that once you do that, it immediately becomes the biggest security threat to the system as anyone else can use it too. Once this new interface to the MoD was created, with Werritty accepting connections from the wider Internet and forwarding them to Fox, of course it attracted dubious actors. Hence the parade of various people trying to sell aircraft spares and dodgy encryption software to the military or to get someone’s knighthood expedited.

For my next trick, what parallels do you see between Werritty’s role with Liam Fox and those of Andy Coulson and Neil Wallis with No.10 Downing Street and the Metropolitan Police (and of course the Conservative Central Office) respectively? Remember that both of them were at various times funded by third parties. Further, is it not interesting that the same key Conservatives who defended Coulson to the bitter end – George Osborne and Michael Gove – also tried to save Liam Fox? (Jonathan Freedland seems to have sensed something here – check out the reference to “Cheneyite Tories”.) And is it not even more interesting that George Osborne actually recommended Andy Coulson for the job? And is it not completely fucking outrageous that William Hague, Atlantic Bridge board member and Foreign Secretary (I think this is the right order of precedence), dares to claim that proper Cabinet government is back in the midst of this berserk threat-chaos?

So, I had a drink with the most popular man in England on Thursday. Something which came up in the conversation was that apparently, some UK and European central institutions’ press offices are handing out “tokens” to lobbyists. Tokens? This meant nothing to me, but apparently what was meant is that they are counting meetings with lobbyists and monitoring the counts to see if they appear to be giving one company or other preferential access. And the reason is that lobbying information is being analysed by journalists and other malcontents with their stinkin’ computer diaries.

Of course, they can always go and meet secretly at White’s or the meeting room of some dreadful wanktank, but they could do that before and they seem to find official lobbying worth their while or else they wouldn’t do it. I suspect that corporate lobbyists are the sort of people whose behaviour is accurately modelled by the toolkit of neoliberal economics, like psychopaths and economists themselves.

In tangentially related news, did you know that there was a serious proposal to rebuild the Houses of Parliament as a Benthamite panopticon in the 1840s? MP Joseph Hume thought Millbank Prison had been such a success that a parliamentary panopticon might be a good idea, or at least he did a piece for Bentham’s Westminster Review arguing for it. Whether he was in earnest or taking the piss I have no idea.

I suppose you could have a single citizen, chosen by lot, at the top of the tower…

OK, I’ve added hundreds more government meetings to the Lobster Project webscraper and run the analytics script. We’re up to 3,825 lobbying events between 2,725 entities, which lobster.py reports processing in 4.63 seconds.

Here are two depressing findings. First of all, Francis Maude is still the fourth most lobbied minister, although his gatekeepership has dropped somewhat. We retain our Strong Buy rating on him and also on Oliver Letwin. Second, there’s been a shakeup of the lobbies – Facebook has dropped out of the top 20 but the lobbying star is BAE Systems, which has surged into the top 5, scrabbling above Barclays Bank to become the UK’s biggest single private lobby. That’s right, banking has fallen behind armaments.

Is the government considering ordering the Type 26 frigates? Or backing out of the F-35? Or switching to the Sea Gripen fighter, which the Bungling Baron of British Waste O’Space has a 30-odd% finger in? Who knows…

Actually, this is probably just an artefact of the MOD being unusually conscientious about disclosing lobbying information and that theirs comes in a sensible format rather than in a locked filing cabinet, behind a door marked Beware of the Leopard…sorry, in a mangled PDF file.

Lobster Project tip of the day is probably Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, Tim Loughton, Education PUSS. With a gatekeepership of 1.228 (i.e. a 23% uplift in influence from lobbying him) he’s significantly underlobbied at a network degree of 0.075. Somebody, buy him an intern.

Although Nick Clegg is in third place overall, I note that his gatekeepership is down to 0.34 and that therefore, there’s little hope of getting access to the prime minister through him.

The Grauniad Dabatlog has produced a rather fancy network visualisation of the sources cited in Anders Behring Breivik’s personal manifesto/horse-shit compendium. This is great as I now don’t need to worry that I perhaps should have made one. It’s very pretty and you can click on stuff, and see that some of the sources are thinktanks and some of them are newspapers, and well, it’s very pretty and you can click on stuff. It also comes with a piece by Andrew Brown reprising his “Don’t be beastly to the creationists!” shtick but with Melanie Phillips, for some reason.

Unfortunately it’s almost completely intransparent, and gives little indication of what data is being visualised or on what basis, and there is really no obvious conclusion to draw from it. But did I mention pretty and click? If forced to take a view, I would reckon that the underlying data is probably a matrix of which sources appear together with others and the layout algo is a force-directed graph (aka the default in pretty much any visualisation toolkit), probably weighted by appearance count. There’s some sort of proprietary metric called “linkfluence” which appears to be given by(indegree/outdegree)*len(neighbourhood) or words to that effect.

As a result, the only information I got from it was that he linked to Wikipedia, the BBC, and big news sites a lot. Well yes; Wikipedia, bbc.co.uk, etc, generate a hell of a lot of web pages and people read them a lot. Obviously, to say the least, you need to normalise the data with regard to sheer bulk, or you’d end up concluding that Google (or Bing or Yahoo) was his inspiration because he did a lot of web searches, or that he was a normal man twisted by SMTP because he used e-mail.

In fact, I thought they actually did that until I realised that RSS.org is about the other RSS, the Indian extreme-right movement, not the popular Internet syndication standard. Harrowell fail. Anyway, it does show up rather nicely that the groups “European nationalists”, “Counter-Jihad”, and “American Right-Wing” overlap. However, I feel there’s something missing in the characterisation of MEMRI and various other sites as just “Think Tanks” as if they were just like, say, IPPR.

Also, an emergent property of the data is that there is an Axis of Barking running vertically through it: the nearer you are to the top of the diagram, the more extreme and crazy. MEMRI, FrontPage, Gates of Vienna, Melanie Phillips are near the top; the Wikipedia article on the Russo-Turkish War of 1878 is at the bottom. And the MSM is somewhere in the middle. (Although I do wonder if they allocated the sources to groups before or after running the force-directed graph.)

It seems to be one of those command the exciting world of social media with just one click! things.

Anyway, upshot. I want to avoid Project Lobster producing a diagram like this one. It’s too impressionistic and fluffy and reliant on basically aesthetic reasoning. (I think we’ve had this point before.) Of course, that’s partly the difference between the underlying data sets; it was at least thinkable if unlikely that there would be no grouping in Breivik’s sources, while presumably political lobbying is nonrandom and subject to intelligent design.

Elsewhere, a reader passed this along which I need to actually watch (isn’t video time consuming?). There’s a shindig in Warsaw in late October. And I want this on a T-shirt.

Did anyone notice that Liam Fox had an audience of Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, or I suppose they of him although you know how these things work around here, some time this spring? It’s in the latest MOD meetings disclosure, which runs up to March 2011. MOD is probably the most assiduous department for meetings disclosure – not only do they provide lists up to March, they have yet to randomly change the file format even once, insert random foreign characters, use multiple spellings of the minister’s surname, suddenly start publishing PDF files, or indulge in any other quirks. (On the other hand, the Cabinet Office has suddenly developed an addiction to PDFs.)

However, I notice that this meeting doesn’t have a date, nor a purpose. It’s just there – Liam Fox, Rupert, and Becks. It’s possible that this is a quirk, as immediately before it there is a meeting listed with John Witherow of the Sunday Times for a “Defence Briefing” in March 2011 and perhaps they interpolated the duplicate items. (The doctrine of just war, however, does require as well as just cause and reasonable chances of success that the decision be taken by legitimate authority.)

Meanwhile, WhosLobbying.com has a problem with the Home Office, in that if you try to look up the Home Office on their website, the site chokes and returns a 500 internal server error.

I suppose it’s understandable. If you want any other shocking document release stories, the Daily Hell has plenty. I especially like the image of Blair in the den, plugging through the borrowed prose of Saif Gaddafi’s PhD thesis. Haven’t I seen this before somewhere?

Peter Oborne‘s piece on post-Murdoch Britain is interesting, although mostly for the sheer otherness of his thinking. He’s at least got the good sense or moral minima required to end up on the right side of the debate, but he gets there through some truly odd reasoning. Can anyone remember even one instance when any of the News International outlets ever ran an editorial arguing that a republican form of government was desirable? But he ascribes “a powerful republican agenda” to Rupert Murdoch.

I’d argue that Murdoch has a powerful Republican agenda, as in the American political party, but not a republican one. The only newspaper that professes republicanism is the Guardian, or perhaps the Andersonstown News, which isn’t the same kind of republicanism and is interested in a different republic. The only way I can get sense out of it is to assume that he’s talking about Australia, which seems a bit of a distant concern. Further, David Miliband knows Polly Toynbee socially, and we’re asked to believe that this is worth mentioning in the same breath as the whole Murdoch system of government, as he describes it. Also, he seems to think Michael Gove, Eurabia-pushing ex-News International executive, is still a credible cabinet minister.

It’s like reading a leader written by a giant squid. It’s intelligence. But not as we know it.

Of course, he’s right that what has been revealed is a system, a sort of parallel government. One thing Oborne is extremely unlikely to ever say is that there was a qualitative shift in the late 2000s in how it worked, although I think he’s vaguely aware of it.

Labour leaders in the 1990s reacted to the power of the Murdoch system by trying to accommodate themselves to it. This is as good a way as any to define “The Project” – an effort to accommodate the party to the realities of the Murdoch system and to manage a transactional, bargaining relationship with it. The key figures in this effort – Peter Mandelson, Jonathan Powell, and Alistair Campbell – prided themselves precisely on their ability to manage the relationship, to negotiate a degree of freedom of action. The terms of business between NI and Labour can easily be criticised – would a Martian journalist dropped on a street corner between 1997 and 2007 have noticed that the Sun supposedly “supported Labour”? I think not. The paper didn’t actually call for a vote against, but it did pour abuse on Labour ministers, opposed basically all its policies except invading Iraq, and offered the Tories a sympathetic hearing.

By the end of the Blair era, this relationship was strained – the original breakdown might be traced to Iraq, in fact, and the exit of Alistair Campbell from No.10. In fact, what was under way was more fundamental than that. We might call it The Project 2.0.

This would involve the Conservatives rather than Labour, and critically would go much further than the original Project. Rather than a transactional, bargaining relationship with the Tories, mediated by powerful media managers belonging to the party, the Project 2.0 foresaw something very different. Whereas Alistair Campbell’s role was as “Emily” Blair’s bulldog, guarding the gate at the interface between the prime minister’s office and the press, alternately wagging and barking as seemed expedient, this new project would integrate News International’s men into the machinery of government.

Part of the legacy the original Project was the enlarged status of the government’s press officers at every level. In fact, it is unfair to blame this on New Labour. It is a great strategic trend that has been going for many years. Sir Bernard Ingham is not, I think, remembered for presenting an even-handed account of the Thatcher government’s record or acting with total equanimity towards critics and sycophants alike. Sir Gerald Kaufman, Joe Haines, Philip De Zueleuta – they all served their prime ministers in the dark art of propaganda and earned a reputation of sinister efficiency and great influence. Arguably, this goes all the way back to Lloyd George’s secretariat. Labour’s innovation was to bring in outsider professionals, and much else was up to the force of personality of those involved.

Another important trend was their integration with the core executive, the hard centre of the state centred around the prime minister, the Cabinet Office, the Treasury, the intelligence services, and the Ministry of Defence. At the top level, these strands all wind together in the prime minister’s office (which, I notice, has grown a domain name, pmo.gov.uk, recently). As a result, the prime minister’s official spokesman now has a sort of parallel management-information system that runs into the departments via their press officers, in much the same way the Treasury’s MIS extends into the departments through the system of public-service agreements. The two phenomena are quite closely linked, in fact – departments’ priorities are fixed through the comprehensive spending round and the PSAs, with reference to the political/press strategy defined on the PMOS’s network. Then, their success or failure is monitored via the Treasury reporting system and the No.10 policy unit, and the political response to it coordinated through the PMOS net.

One Blairite contribution to this which is unique was its militarisation. The Blair years turned out to be ones of war, and the emerging press-management network was heavily used in support of the wars, with the result that intelligence was increasingly redistributed from the intelligence-administrative complex into the press-political management system. At the same time, the military’s public affairs function was integrated into the system, with a common line for the civilian and uniformed spokesmen. Alistair Campbell’s invention of the Coalition Information Centre (a still under-reported creation) gave this an international dimension.

The Project 2.0 consists, then, of reversing the process. Rather than the politicians selecting press managers to control the interfaces between the political management network and the media, News International selected them and made recommendations to politicians, who incorporated them into key locations in the system – the very top at No.10, the Metropolitan Police, ACPO, and to be frank, who knows where else? We know that George Osborne recommended Andy Coulson to David Cameron, and that Rebekah Brooks thinks she recommended him to Osborne. Dick Fedorcio claims he can’t remember who recommended Neil Wallis to him, but he did admit that the motivation was to influence No.10 Downing Street, rather than to influence the press. (And who reckons Tom Watson wouldn’t have asked him if Brooks made the recommendation if he didn’t know the answer?)

Where Campbell bargained with NI and Mandelson cooperated with them, the situation in May, 2010 was more like Field-Marshal Montgomery’s remark that “I banned all talk of Army Co-Operation. There were not two plans, Army and Air, but one, Army-Air. When you are one entity you cannot cooperate.”

Now, Oborne is as I said, sort of aware of all this. A few weeks ago he surfaced the fact that there is an identifiable Murdoch caucus in the Tory Party, around George Osborne and Michael Gove, opposed to a Telegraph one. It is common knowledge that David Cameron’s first priority as Tory leader was to short-circuit the party’s internal procedures in order to flush in a lot more new candidates, the so-called A-list. One wonders if the list was pre-approved. And there seems to be an identifiable historical break point – when Michael Howard ran for prime minister in 2005, he brought in a pretty ugly character to run a pretty ugly campaign, Lynton Crosby, but at least he appears to have picked him himself.

My final question, then – with the dilution of the Tory Party with new candidates, and the integration of Murdoch’s political officers into key nodes, does David Cameron actually exist politically? Is he, y’know, a thing? What fuckery is this?

The Government’s Central Office of Information, essentially its in-house advertising agency, spent £193 million on advertising in the financial year 2009-2010. The year before, it spent £211 million, making it the UK’s single biggest media buying desk.

Is it appropriate for the Government to be spending taxpayers’ money propping up the deeply discredited News of the World and its mates in Rebekah Brooks’ Augean stables? In the light of 10 Downing St’s creepily close relationship with News International – hiring workplace bully Andy Coulson as press spokesman, meeting Rebekah Brooks under MP-constituent privilege to avoid public scrutiny – doesn’t this spending constitute a worryingly inappropriate use of public resources?

I don’t think so. Perhaps you don’t either. Or perhaps you’re cool with it. Either way, perhaps the top management team at the COI should be aware of your opinion. Fortunately, the COI’s top management team is on their website! So I’ve loaded it into a Google spreadsheet for convenient reference.

Obviously, there’s the CEO, Mark Lund. But think like a civil servant. Who’s in control? Mark Cross is in charge of “communications planning for all campaigns” so it looks like he’s a key node. The org chart bears that out – might be nice to get Graham Hooper, director of client service and strategy, too.

Don’t be abusive. They are public servants after all. But do be firm.