Corruption in Government
ABOVE: The Taxpayers' Alliance discusses The Independent newspaper report
The Independent and Observer newspapers have published damning reports of Department for Transport's role in financing a supposedly arm's length independent campaign group. See here:
The reports include relevations that the DfT has paid nearly £61,000 to supposedly 'independent' public relations company Westbourne Communications, which held itself out to be representing pro HS2 grassroots individuals and businesses: http://changeopinion.com/project/highspeedrail
A report by Spin Watch in March 2013 reveals that between 2011 and 2012 Westbourne did their level best to change the HS2 narrative from:
'shaving minutes off journey times to Birmingham and in the process cutting through vast swathes of countryside' to:
'pitting wealthy people in the Chilterns worried about their hunting rights, against working class people in the north'.
The strategy was to misrepresent opposition as 'posh people standing in the way of working class people getting jobs' Westbourne admitted. They went on to explain how they enlisted support for HS2 with a bus tour of large northern cities, working with celebrities, local radio and high status northern politicians with the aim of winning over local people.
'SHITTING THEM UP'
It gets much worse, however, than mere corruption - i.e. an opaque payment by government to a supposedly independent lobby group.
The Spin Watch report has exposed some appalling facts: Westbourne Communications has admitted between 2011 and 2012 setting out to actively intimidate local opposition to HS2 with the intention of - in the words of its founder James Bethell - 'shitting them up'.
According to Spin Watch 'Westbourne purposefully set
up a 'mini army' to fight HS2 opposition on 'every street corner'.
The lobbying campaign is exposed by Spin Watch as an example of 'astroturfing' - where a campaign group pretends to be a grassroots group of concerned businesses and residents whereas it is in fact run by paid lobbyists. I.e. the pro Hs2 campaign was set up to give the impression that it is a grassroots campaign when it is in fact run by paid lobbyists.
Astroturfing is the same technique as used by the pro tobacco lobby group in the 1990s – specifically by National Smokers’ Alliance lobbyist Bruston Mastelle with funding from Philip Morris.
The Independent newspaper reports that, introduced by James Bethell at a dinner last November, the transport minister Simon Burns said that Westbourne's efforts were 'highly regarded and greatly appreciated'. James Bethell was a Tory candidate in Tooting in 2005 although he stressed that his company was a broad political church. A DfT spokesman said: 'The recent announcement of proposals for the second phase of HS2 required additional effort which HS2 Ltd specified and obtained appropriately in the market. Westbourne's role has been to fulfil that contract.'
Given that Westbourne and specifically James Bethell was rewarded with a DfT contract after Westbourne's 'shit them up' campaign the obvious question is did Ministers either approve beforehand or at the very least approve after the event of such tactics. The answer to the second question is clearly yes since Westbourne were given a DfT contract.
It is hard to believe therefore that the negative campaign which Westbourne ran from early 2011 against HS2 opposition and which is exposed in the Spinwatch report was not discussed with Ministers and approved of tacitly at the very least when the DfT has approved a £61,000 contract clearly based on Westbourne's performance in its 'shit them up' campaign.
CONFLICT OF INTERESTS
The question should now be asked whether there is an organisational conflict of interests because Westbourne were representing at the same time Sydney and London Properties Limited, who own Euston station and the surrounding area, see: http://www.eustonvision.com and pro HS2 lobby groups campaigning for HS2 to run from and terminate at Euston.
Of course to keep both clients happy Westbourne would promote a project that sets out to redevelop Euston speicifcally to incorporate 10 HS2 platforms, meaning large scale destruction in Camden, a promotion which it would otherwise have not done - as HS2 is not in fact mentioned in the Euston Vision document produced by Sydney and London Properties Limited in 2008.
A similar shocking relevation from an FOI response is that during the same period Centro - the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive and therefore a local government body - paid £59,000 to supposedly independent pro HS2 Lobby Group 'Go HS2'.