Policy Making through a Public Prism


Policy Making through a Public Prism 

By Tony Stoller

In this lecture, Tony Stoller, Chair of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, considers the relationship between popular discourse and policy-making. Drawing upon recent examples from a wide range of sectors, including adult social care, welfare reform, housing and broadcasting, he assesses the impact of giving undue priority to managing public debate over the task of designing and delivering effective policies.


We no longer inhabit the age of mere ‘Government by spin’. What we have now is a completely new paradigm for public policy-making, dominated and managed by what we can call the ‘new elite’. It is a coalition of politicians, policy wonks, commentators, journalists and media owners, who both shape and comment upon policy. They are the masters now, and they jointly take part in a symbiotic dance, which the public is encouraged to believe they are part of, but from which they are in reality consciously excluded. 

For the moment, let us just say that we can now identify the closest of inter-relationships between many media owners and commentators on the one hand, and elected politicians, policymakers and some senior officials on the other, going beyond anything which had been normal practice in the past. Within this ‘new elite’, think tanks have taken over much of the policy-proposing role of the professional civil service, as the latter’s numbers are reduced. That potentially widens the circle of policy-making, and is proving valuable in the devolved administrations in that way, but it also means that a century and a half of civil service expertise is being sidelined. Add to that the extraordinary revolving doors between posts in Government, think-tanks, special advisers, media and regulation, and you have a new paradigm run by a ‘new elite’.

The changed relationship between those whose job it is to make policy, and those whose nominal role is to report on and criticise it, is undermining our ability as a nation to formulate, properly debate, and then implement public policy. 

The language of ‘benefits’ and the ‘welfare state’ have become ‘dog-whistle’ words of implicit abuse. Politicians assert that housing benefit is designed for “those who lie in bed with the curtains drawn”. Those on benefits are ‘scroungers’, ‘benefits cheats’, and the like. The picture we have of those who are poor is that provided by television programmes like Shameless, reinforced by the patronising toleration of stereotypes by members of audiences in television programmes from Question Time to The Jeremy Kyle show.

The media presentation of ‘facts’ which are nothing of the sort exacerbates the problem. For instance, we all read about, and eventually subliminally come to believe in, the supposed massive problem of teenage girls who get pregnant in order to get themselves local authority housing.

The concern is also over the partial use of statistics, promoted as part of this managed discourse rather than as grist for genuine debate.

What actions can we undertake to manage the new policy-making paradigm for the common good?

First, we must return to policy-making properly based upon valid data; insist that that data is effectively open source, available un-packaged by opinion to those who wish to participate in the debate; and ensure that we are informed by those voices that are usually unheard. 

The second task for all of us is to prevent the Leveson report, and the action which should follow from it, being undermined by the very processes which it has exposed.  

Third, we need to be alert to the growing trend to let go the impartiality requirements on broadcasters. 

And last, we need to help the public as a whole to understand social media, to appreciate its strengths and weaknesses; to know what represents a genuine view ‘trending’, and what has been artificially set up to appear as such; to realise that there are those around who regularly offer to sell us another hundred or thousand followers. The social media could be about a genuine upwelling of public opinion, but they are open to manipulation as never before. 

Gresham College Lectures 

The transcript and downloadable versions of all of the lectures are available from the Gresham College website:

Straight-Talking Labour


That’s what we need, Ed

“Labour should say what they mean, and mean what they say. ” These are words of Tony Benn. A return to honesty in politics was something promised at the last election, that among pledges lacking in substance. The politician and party which can inspire a nation, engender trust and respect and make a difference to the lives of millions is what Britain is crying out for. Aneurin Bevan had those qualities, and did so.

From “In Place of Fear” , Ch.2, Aneurin Bevan (1)

“As we fumble with outworn categories our political vitality is sucked away and we stumble from one situation to another, without chart, without compass, and with the steering wheel lashed to a course we are no longer following. This is the real point of danger for a political party and for the leaders and thinkers who inspire it. For if they are out of touch with reality, the masses are not. Indeed, they are reality. For them their daily work is an escapable imperative. While those who are supposed to be doing the theorising for them are adrift like passengers in an escaped balloon, the workers are tied to reality by the nature of their work. In the absence of clear theoretical guidance, they make empirical adaptions and formulate practical categories. So far as these are incomplete, and therefore unsatisfactory, the first result is a distrust for those who have demonstrably failed them.”

Michael Foot was a man of integrity honesty and direction, a true advocate for socialism, and said in 1956, “Socialism without public ownership is nothing but a fantastic apology”.

To watch Tony Benn speaking on “The issue is Thatcher “in the eighties, leaves a hunger for more of the same.


Since 1997, Labour have lost 5 million voters. One reason that the Labour Party was so frightened by Thatcherism, it bought into the media’s idea that the party needed to change its socialist principles.

Eventually it changed so much it had metamorphosed into something Thatcher herself would have welcomed, so it was no longer the party for the working class, and so many walked away, disillusioned.


Working class voters were lured by Thatcher’s lies and did not recognise the damaging intent of monetarism and neoliberalism. Council home sales, and shares in British Telecom were presented as wealth redistribution, veiling the reality as the bankers and corporations rubbed their hands together in self satisfaction . Now the Coalition wants to put people in hock for their education, by tripling Tuition Fees, and even are suggesting selling off workers’ rights for shares. (9)

It is a myth that the escalating capitalist bubble can serve everyone.

These are policies intended to anaesthetize, the new religion – people controllers. The voters do not need any more pills to pop to change their lives; they need policies and representatives brave enough to put their heads above the parapet and tell the truth, to expose the myths and scaremongering.

Privatization of utilities and transport is now being extended to our NHS and education system by the most right wing government in living memory. Tory pre-election promises that the NHS was safe in their hands were bare faced lies, with plans for privatisation already in place. (21) Myths of more parental choice in schools, exploiting the desire of every parent to want the best for their child were a cover for the demolition of our education system. (23) Yet, the continued privilege of class and the arrogance of politicians who are employed to serve the people, is painfully clear, as Osborne’s train-trip, and Mitchell’s Pleb-gate demonstrated. Mitchell’s replacement, the chief whip, Sir George Young once infamously said, ” “the homeless are what you step over when you come out of the opera.”


Others, disenfranchised and lacking trust in politicians of any colour stay at home, many of the apathetic generation having never voted at all.

Cynicism and apathy is unsurprising against a backdrop of media corruption and lies. The Hillsborough disaster, (10) the scandal of child abuse surrounded Jimmy Savile (11) at the BBC, in Broadmoor and hospitals, phone hacking at the News of the World, and police malpractice during the Miners Strike (12) have all been topics of media cover-ups.

Equally there is now abundant evidence of MOD and MI5/6 involvement in UK acts of torture and rendition which the UK authorities have gone to enormous lengths to deny and conceal, and which the so-called Justice and Security Bill now before Parliament is designed to prevent in future ever being revealed. Michael Meacher (8)

This is the same media that slated Michael Foot and demonized Tony Benn, attacked the unions and the Labour Party at every opportunity, effectively making an impotent opposition to neoliberalism, a chameleon Labour Party too frightened to speak out.

Of all the lies, none is bigger than the suggestion that the national debt is the highest ever.

Deliberate confusion is created regarding the difference between national debt and deficit. Lies about privatization of the services such as NHS, education and even the police. Lies that cuts are necessary, that we are all in it together, while the rich accrue obscene wealth while trampling on the death and decay they have created. Democracy around the world is held in hostage. US lobbyists are even infiltrating the elections of police commissioners (Telegraph report) (7) , and many MPs hold contacts with financiers (Britain Under Siege, Think Left) (16) . Power snatched from the people, held by the very rich echoes the Middle Ages, a neofeudalism (18) . The corporations control think-tanks (26) which decide policy, and hide their identities. Was this the intention of those who fought for the vote, for workers’ rights, and for equality?

Hidden behind the headlines, the Coalition government rules by stealth, themselves subservient (6) to a Plutonomy (18) which is both unsustainable, and unnecessary.

Yet, the opposition still quakes in fear of speaking the truths, fear of past memories. This is the opportunity for the Labour movement to rise again. A strong, straight-talking Labour Party will be welcomed back with a land-slide, and in power must redress the balance-of power.

The electorate is crying out for a Labour Party to stop hiding in fear behind the establishment. Those voters have an intellect underestimated by politicians . they know the policies that we need. Unlike Cameron and Osborne, the people are living it.

People are looking for some straight-talking, honesty and integrity. Courageous politicians like Aneurin Bevan who presented policies to an eager electorate and changed the lives of millions.

In the words of Tony Benn,(28) Labour should say what they mean and mean what they say. This is the way we need Labour to speak – why don’t they?



Confident, courageous and compassionate, Labour must seek to pursue the policies which will change our world.

We call upon Labour to:

  1. BE TRUTHFUL ABOUT THE STRUCTURAL DEFICIT AND NATONAL DEBT. a) Structural deficit & Libor (15) . b) The Fundamental deceit of ‘”There’s no money left.” (27)
  2. CONFRONT THE PARASITIC BANKING COMMUNITY Monetise or rip up the £375bn debt they’ve bought back by QE and reduce the national debt of the UK with the stroke of a key. a) Simon says: QE is the biggest confidence trick of all time (14) , b) What is George Osborne playing at? (30) c) The IMF and Taking the Red Pill, Think Left (13)
  4. REGAIN SOVEREIGN CONTROL OVER MONEY SUPPLY How debt leads to financial servitude (6)
  6. WORK FOR FULL EMPLOYMENT for those that can work, maintaining a safety net for those who cannot.
  11. NATIONALISE UTILITIES, (including ENERGY (19) and WATER. (20) )
  19. REBUILD OUR COMMUNITIES, libraries, youth services, sports facilities, high streets and local co-ops.

Reference and Further Reading:

1. Aneurin Bevan, In place of Fear

2. Aneurin Bevan: In Place of Fear: A Free Health Service 1952: (Socialist health Association)

3. Richard Murphy: Tax Research UK Has the public’s tipping point on tax arrived?

4. Richard Murphy: Building the Tax Justice Consensus

5. Richard Murphy, The Courageous State

6. Ian Fraser : On Michael Hudson: How finance leads to Debt Servitude

7. The Secret US Lobbyists behind Police and Crime Commisioner Election, Daily Telegraph

8. Police, MI5, and the growth of the coverup, Michael Meacher

9. Guardian: George Osborne , Workers can swap rights for Company Shares

10. Daily Mirror: Hillsborough cover-up too big for IPCC to handle on its own

11. Panorama airs programme on Newsnights’s Savile investigation

12. Guardian: Hillsborough Investigation should be extended to Orgreave says NUM leader,

From Think Left:

13. The IMF and Taking the Red Pill, Think Left

14. Simon says: QE is the biggest confidence trick of all time, Think Left

15. Structural Deficit and Libor, Think Left

16. Britain under Siege, Think Left

17. Lobbyists are destroying the democratic process, Think Left

18. Capitalism, NeoLiberalism, Plutonomy, and Neo -Feudalism Think Left

19. Nationalise Energy, Think Left

20, . Nationalise Utilities, Think Left

21. Who said, “the NHS will be shown no Mercy”, Think Left

22. For Richer, For Poorer, In Sickness and in Health, Think Left

23. Academisation and the Demolition of our Education System Think Left

24. A Bold Approach to Childcare, Think Left

25. A National Caring Service, Think Left

26. The Lost Democracy and the role of Think Tanks, Think Left

27 The fundamental deceit of There’s no money left, think Left

28. Thoughts inspired by Tony Ben, Think Left

29 Is Labour going to become Real Labour?, Think Left

30 What is George Osborne playing at?

31 Nationalise Railways, Think Left

Tom Cruise – shut up woman and stop arguing with your husband!


Scientology’s in the news again, of course, because of the split between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

Many tolerant people in modern societies are quite rightly reluctant to criticise other people’s religious beliefs, not least because of the very important issue of people’s right to freedom of religious expression.

So I’m not going to comment on the religion’s core beliefs – no matter how unbelievably crazy (in the case of Scientology) those core beliefs might be – and besides, I try to stick to politics here.

However, when a religion wanders into the sphere of politics, then all gloves are off.

Equality. Racism. Greed. 

They’re political issues, right?

So let’s look at Scientology from a purely political point of view, shall we?


You don’t have to be much of a feminist to have a strong opinion about this comment by L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, on how men should treat women when they’re pregnant:

Advise her to keep her mouth shut when she gets into morning sickness, and when she’s on the toilet, and to stop arguing with her husband, and just give her a general idea of what will happen if she doesn’t.


And you don’t have to know anything about the theology of Scientology to know where you stand on L Ron Hubbard’s open admiration for South African apartheid townships, do you:

Having viewed slum clearance projects in most major cities of the world may I state that you have conceived and created in the Johannesburg townships what is probably the most impressive and adequate resettlement activity in existence.

Or indeed what he thought about black people in general, in this advice in a letter to his wife:

You shouldn’t be scrubbing the floor on your hands and knees. Get yourself a n****r; that’s what they’re born for.


In 1991, a young 24-year-old killed himself clutching his last $171 in cash – all that was left after he’d turned all he had over to the Church of Scientology.

The head of Scientology, David Miscavige, whose wife Shelly by the way has been ‘missing’ since 2007, lives in luxury houses, flies around in private jets and has 5 personal chefs at his beck and call (which reminds me, the musician Beck is also a Scientologist).

Here’s another quote from L Ron Hubbard himself, this time on the subject of money:

Make money. Make more money. Make others produce so as to make money . . . However you get them in or why, just do it.

Not big fans of socialism then, Scientologists, I would imagine.

Alright. So by now we should have a pretty clear picture of where we stand politically when it comes to Scientology.

And it doesn’t look like there’s any need at all to get into deep theological discussions about the rights and wrongs of this particular ‘religion’.

Because it’s clear Scientology is just another excuse for a bunch of chauvinistic, greedy, racist, fabulously wealthy crooks to rip off as many poorer people as they possibly can.

And that’s politics – not religion.


For more information on what Scientology really stands for, have a look here:


Scientology is infamous for trying to silence its critics, so I’ll be checking for any suspicious vans with blacked out windows parked outside my home for the next few days.

For legal reasons I have to put this:

Dianetics and Scientology are trademarks of the Religious Technology Centre. This article is not connected with that organisation in any way.

This article was originally posted on Pride’s Purge.

Who pulls the Strings at the BBC?


The BBC should be an important voice, not least because we, the people own it- and its users, ( so that’s us again) – fund it. We would hope to be able to trust it to provide quality educational material and to keep us informed about what is happening in the world, and honest and accurate reporting.

Today, rather than report on Ed Miliband’s letter to the House of Lords about the Health Bill, the BBC bombards us with articles about the Falklands, Syria and disgruntled Christians.

So what is happening at the BBC? We are kept well informed about the goings-on in the Falkland Islands. Is that a co-incidence in that as I remember it was the flag-waving and cheering of the departing ships, which led to a recovery for Margaret Thatcher in 1982 when the public-service cuts were hitting hard?

The BBC inform us of the coming-and-goings of managers of football clubs, and then about complaints from Christians about being marginalised. I am unsure as to why the BBC should be a voice for religious groups – isn’t that what churches are for?

While all this is going on, the most unpopular policies in recent years go unreported by the BBC, and by much of the Press.


The Health Service Reform Bill amounts to privatisation of the National Health Service as the most unpopular policy in sixty years. It is the duty of the BBC to keep us informed, and News is being stifled. Why are the BBC failing to do so?

Neither of the Coalition parties have an overall majority, and, despite campaigning to protect the NHS, the Tory-led Coalition are railroading through privatisation of the health service at great cost to the British people, in terms of health, loss of assets and skills. Both Coalition parties must be held responsible for the destruction of the NHS.

While the Independent reports the cost of 600 million pounds, as a result of the redundancies from NHS cuts, the BBC do not. While the Guardian and the Scottish Herald briefly reported of The Spartacus Report and Disability Living Allowance and Welfare “Reform”, the BBC did not. While Sky News reports that Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party, has written to the House of Lords asking it to drop the Health Bill, the BBC do not. It is the responsibility of the BBC to report and represent the Leader of the Opposition, the Government ensures its activities are reported as they wish them to be.


We are kept informed by the BBC of developments in Libya, in Iran and now in Syria, with the purpose of preparation for war. On Think Left CJ Stone writes of Manufacturing Consent for the Invasion of Iran. The media consensus is to ensure that the US and its allies can depend of governments of the world to open up markets to foreign investment – in other words to multinationals and through the global market ensure that the very rich remain rich and powerful, no matter how much poverty and starvation there is, or no matter what permanent damage to the planet results. Dr Tristan Learoyd’s (Think Left) article on the aftermath of the war in Libya questions whether the Libyan people face really freedoms or that of another tyrant, global unbridled capitalism.

The BBC are consistently failing to report accurately, if at all. They are failing to inform and to educate. Lies and propaganda cloak the facts.

The lack of BBC’s challenging reporting questioning the government’s viewpoint can be shown in their reporting of George Osborne’s agreement with the Swiss banks. The type of language used and the tone of delivery invited certainty in the desirability of this decision. The only caveat referred to was that because the agreement did not come into force until 2013, there was still plenty of time for the secret bank holdings to be moved to somewhere where no tax would be liable!

There was absolutely no recognition, acknowledgement or questioning of the Coalition government’s thinking or motivation in making this settlement. Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK makes clear why the ramifications of this deal should have been discussed:

To say that this is a quite extraordinary act by the UK government massively understates the irresponsibility of what they have agreed.

The UK is apparently going to accept settlement for past tax at around 30% of the assets held in a Swiss account. That might be reasonable if the funds placed in Switzerland had been taxed in the UK before being deposited in Switzerland and it was only the income on those funds that had been evaded since then. But what we know for sure is that most money held in Switzerland got their illicitly – it was not taxed before its arrival in the Alps. It’s tax evaded money.

As a result we would now expect 40% tax (at least) on the capital in all these accounts in Switzerland as a matter of course plus a 100% penalty that might reasonably be charged in a case of deliberate tax evasion (meaning in total 80% of the capital balance should be paid to settle the tax originally evaded) and then there is of course interest due on the late payment plus tax due on the income earned since. Nothing less than 100% is due on these balances – wiping them out of course – and anything else is a scandalous underpayment.

But George Osborne is not going to demand that sum. He’s instead going to accept a tiny part of what is owing. Richard Murphy(Tax Research UK)

In spite of these charges, there was no counterbalance on the BBC, to George Osborne’s extraordinary claim to be ‘cracking down on tax cheats’. But then again there all too rarely seems to be any serious attempt to question government explanation.

The importance of the Swiss settlement is that it is a significant part of a larger process, the ‘shadow economy’ of tax havens which has been so meticulously exposed by Nick Shaxton in his book “Treasure islands: Tax havens and the men who stole the world.’ However, as Nick Shaxton himself described with surprise, in May 2011, ‘the BBC, the heart of British media, doesn’t seem interested.’

‘The argument at the heart of Treasure Islands is about as big as it gets. This really is the hitherto untold story of globalisation. This really is the dark heart of the global economy.’

‘With trillions of dollars – literally trillions – being cycled through this libertarian, anti-democratic system, stripping away taxation, financial regulation, criminal laws, and so on, bending and distorting markets and global capital flows in powerful ways that no economist could ever explain using current models. With Britain, as I mentioned, slap bang in the middle of it all.’

‘Nobody has said, … that there isn’t a gigantic global network of British tax havens quietly hoovering up trillions and funnelling them to the City of London. Nobody has said the City Corporation isn’t this utterly bizarre, ancient and massively powerful organisation at the heart of Britain and the British establishment. Nobody has accused me of making gross factual mistakes, distorting the historical or statistical record, or anything like that. The FT, for instance calls it “meticulously researched.’

‘…. the BBC is shirking on its responsibility to inform and to educate.’


John Christensen was so disturbed by his interview with Evan Davis on the Today program that he wrote an open letter asking why

The frustration of Shaxton and Christensen with the BBC is increasingly being voiced on comment threads. For example:

“Richard, might I ask an unrelated question?

What do you think of the BBC’s current financial coverage? Do you think it is extensive, honesty, penetrating? Is it reflective of the real turmoil and double-dealing taking place in the City of London, or is it supine and obfuscatory? I was stunned to find that the BBC had dedicated part of its website to asking which ‘cuts’ people felt the government should make; and this in spite of the fact that the banks had been handed trillions of pounds of taxpayers money? No mention was made of the fact that the private debt of the the banking sector was transferred to the public’s balance sheet – nor was there any mention that this private debt crisis, because it was shirted onto the public balance sheet, helped to trigger a fiscal and thence sovereign debt crisis! Do you think we are seeing honest reporting of events? If not, how do you think we can go about solving this problem?



‘The price of freedom is eternal vigilance’ which means democracy requires us having access to information which we’re not getting from the BBC.

Inventing Reality : Michael Parenti

“Even if the [media] does not mold our every opinion, it does mold our opinion visibility; it can frame the perceptual limits around which our opinions take shape. Here may lie the most important effect of the news media: they set the agenda for the rest of us, choosing what to emphasize and what to ignore or suppress, in effect, organizing much of our political world for us. The media may not always be able to tell us what to think, but they are strikingly successful in telling us what to think about … the media teach us tunnel vision conditioning us to perceive the problems of society as isolated particulars, thereby stunting our critical vision. Larger casualties are reduced to immediately distinct events, while the linkages of wealth, power and policy go unreported or are buried under a congestion of surface impressions and personalities.

In sum, the media set the limits on public discourse.

They may not always mold opinion, but they do not always have to. It is enough that they create opinion visibility, giving legitimacy to certain views and illegitimacy to others … This power to determine the issue agenda, the information flow, and the parameters of political debate so that it extends from ultra-right to no further than moderate center is, if not total, still totally awesome.”

And so, eventually we know and believe only that which we are permitted to, because that is what suits the powers that be. In generations to come, history can be rewritten if it is allowed to be. Eventually we become nothing but zombies walking around with a false reality.



CJ Stone: Manufacturing Consent for the Invasion of Iran

Dr. Tristan Learoyd : Libya Into Economic Tyranny

Dr. Sue Davies: Spartacus Report shows overwhelming opposition to Coalition’s Welfare “Reforms”

Garry Kitchin Keep Social Media on the Street

Dr. Sue Davies Inadequacies of the BBC’s coverage of the EU’s financial crisis

Pam Field The Truth? Censored! Understanding our World