27 Nov 2015

George Osborne's Use of Non-linear Warfare

A pattern has emerged in how the Chancellor announces policy. First he seeds the media with stories of massive changes, usually cuts in spending. An uproar erupts in the media. Then key policies he announces on the day are different from those he first talked about. As this video outlines, the way politics is being run these days draws on ideas from the conceptual art world in order to confuse the electorate into inactivity.

Adam Curtis on Charlie Brooker's 2014 Wipe.

What George Osborne seems to be doing is drawing on a concept, outlined in the video, invented by one of Vladimir Putin's advisors, and known as non-linear war. By feeding contradictory information to the media Osborne not only keeps his opposition off guard but be confuses analysts. So for example in the recent budget statement he forced through massive cuts in government spending on local services and welfare, but the media were focussed on small increases in spending for the NHS and Police where cuts had been flagged.

This can work partly because of a pattern in how the media reports politics. Firstly the government put out a press release about a forthcoming announcement, often with the full text of what will be said. This is duly reported in the form "the Chancellor will say...". Then they report on the day  "Today, the Chancellor said..." . And finally the next day they report it in retrospect usually with some commentary.

This works fine if the three instances are all saying the same thing. But Osborne plays the system by shifting his position.
  • Tomorrow I will make swinging cuts so the government can live within its means.
  • Today I am making some cuts though less than announced and some increases
  • Yesterday I increased government spending based on projected revenue increases. 
In point of fact the Autumn Statement contained some of the largest cuts in government spending in history. Local governments will be slashing budgets for libraries and other local services. We've already seen David Cameron lobbying his local Council against cutting services despite shrinking budgets. The basic amenities will begin to collapse over the next few years.

If we are to live within our means, as Mr Osborne argues that we should, then the time to announce spending increases would be after government revenues had actually gone up, not on the basis of predictions that are wrong more often than not. However, he is able to leverage these predictions to produce wildly conflicting statements and thus wrong foot any critics of the government. Now he can meet accusations of the negative impact of cuts by saying "what cuts?". In any case the idea that the national economy is like a household budget is another piece of misinformation.

Another feature of the government's use of non-linear warfare is their repeated misuse of statistics, which I have logged here: Conservatives caught making up statistics. Flooding the media with misinformation helps to maintain confusion - the focus goes to the accuracy of the figures rather than the policies. That is if the media bother to follow up on the misinformation at all. A lot of the time the UK media simply reproduce government press releases with no effort to check facts. 

Throughout the last government we saw the Tories repeating the statement that Labour grossly overspent and caused the financial crisis - this meme is repeated endlessly in the comments sections of the UK's online newspapers. On the left-wing papers there is a constant stream of right-wing trolls repeating this and other government propaganda. What we get from the Tories is lies and more lies.

In fact the Labour government did what George Osborne did this week - they spent projected rises in income, based on projections and 20 years of almost uninterrupted GDP growth because of the massive boost to GDP from deregulating the finance industry. Unfortunately, not only did that income not materialise, but the world's banking system started to collapse and required propping up. It was the latter than accounted for the bulk of increased government spending right at the end of Labour's time in office. But Labour themselves were totally ineffective at communicating this and remain so. It boggles the mind that Labour have simply conceded the field when it comes to economy and allow the Tories to make all the plays. It seems like even Labour belief the Tory propaganda about the economy!

The end result of all this conflicting information is that we are confused about the facts, bewildered by the stories in the media, and unable to make good decisions about what the government is doing. The information we get is deliberately confusing because that leaves George Osborne in power as we are unable to be decisive. This is the man who desires to be Prime Minister after David Cameron, who has already admitted that he will not contest the next election. 

The government is at war with the electorate - a non-linear war that leaves them free to arrange the country to suit them and their cronies. Middle-England is convinced that this is the best of all possible worlds even though they are losing all their local services in the process. Poor England know it is not good because they seem to be paying for the bulk of the cuts. And all the while the 1% are getting wealthier. CEO salaries continue to buck the trend and rise. Those local council cuts will almost certainly not affect executive salaries. It's a kind of class war, but not coming from the proletariat, but from the plutocrats aided and organised by middle-managers.

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Keep is seemly & on-topic. Thanks.