Will Due Process Be The Final Casualty Of Westminster’s Sexgate?

Sir Michael Fallon - Secretary of Defence - resignation sexual harassment allegations

Facing up to historical injustice while protecting due process rights for today’s accused – the irreconcilable conflict at the heart of #BelieveTheVictim and Westminster’s escalating sexual harassment and assault scandal

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson was quite correct when she likened the torrent of sexual harassment and assault claim now roiling Westminster to a dam having suddenly burst. Just as the Harvey Weinstein scandal led to allegations against numerous other Hollywood A-listers and power players, so the cracks are now spreading across Westminster’s thin ice.

But unfortunately, the release of floodwaters caused by a burst dam has the power to sweep away everything in its path – both those shoddy buildings on weak foundations which deserved to be condemned, but also many structurally strong houses which were up to code, but which the tidal wave refused to spare.

The media (who really ought to be a bit more introspective about the tawdry behaviour and abuse within their own ranks, as is already being uncovered in America) love a simple narrative, and presently even the most serious allegations of rape and sexual abuse by prominent political officials are being reported in the same breath and often under the same headline as relatively minor infractions of the kind which astonishingly brought down former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, forcing his resignation yesterday.

Naturally, the social justice warriors of Westminster see mandatory re-education as the obvious solution, and now want elected MPs to go through the same condescending “consent workshops” that the NUS likes to inflict on freshmen students.

Charlotte England of Left Foot Forward writes:

Far from accusing all men of being rapists, consent training aims to clarify what consent means and tackle pervasive myths that contribute to rape culture, which is defined as an environment in which prevailing social attitudes normalise or trivialise sexual assault.

According to Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack there is little understanding in Westminster of the power dynamics at play between male MPs, senior political party figures and other staff like assistants and researchers. Teaching men what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour is therefore imperative.

No, it is not imperative. At this point, even the most sociopathic MP understands the dangerous ambiguity around consent, for reasons of self-preservation if nothing else. Those politicians who continue to step over the line in 2017 do so deliberately, either because they don’t care or simply have no impulse control. And all the consent training in the world won’t fix that. Meanwhile, perfectly decent and law-abiding people will feel ever-more surveilled and curtailed in their behaviour while too many of the real guilty parties continue just as before.

But then this is always the effect of corrosive identity politics – serious social problems and even crimes are too often drowned out because of the disproportionate reaction to lesser behaviour which does not even fall on the same spectrum. If you go to Defcon 1 over some clumsy and ill-advised flirtation at a Westminster Christmas party then you have nowhere left to go when serious allegations involving rape or abuse of power come into play. Each incident becomes just another indistinguishable piece in the “rape culture” jigsaw puzzle and it becomes that much harder to focus on the real victims and perpetrators.

The difficulty with the more minor allegations which are now emerging in Westminster politics and elsewhere is that the outrage at (and de facto punishment of) the alleged offender (public shaming, terminating of careers, ending of livelihoods) is more a reaction to the general trend or cumulative scandal than the individual sin.

If a town finds itself in the grip of a serious crime wave then public anger and demands for something to be done are quite understandable, but is it right for the same ire and punishment to come raining down on the one-time teenage petty shoplifter as befits the man who makes a career of kicking down front doors and making off with the family jewels? Surely not. But our justified anger at decades of genuine sexual harassment and abuses of power is threatening to bleed over into other realms – types of behaviour which range from inappropriate to pitiable – which could have grave implications for how we live and work together (and even court one another) in future.

Grazing a colleague’s knee while making an ambiguous comment over dinner isn’t great (and in fact becomes absolutely wrong when a professional power imbalance exists), but the reason that such low-level behaviour can now prompt the resignation of people such as former Michael Fallon is because of a wider, understandable revulsion at far more serious offences such as those allegedly committed by Harvey Weinstein and other prominent people. The delusional middle-aged, middle-ranking male politico who wrongly mistakes the professional attention of a female journalist for a romantic interest is to be slapped down and probably also pitied, absolutely. But do we really need to turn every such incident into the Dreyfus affair in terms of notoriety?

The pendulum has swung from legitimately bad people getting away with patterns of tawdry behaviour and abuse of power for decades while their victims suffered grievous harm toward fundamentally decent people now being at risk of having their lives destroyed over ambiguous, misinterpreted behaviour or even unfounded malicious allegations. If there was a middle ground anywhere here, it has certainly been skipped over in our reaction to this post-Weinstein torrent of accusations.

While we are right to be disgusted at the world of overt sexism, sexual harassment and abuse which is slowly, painfully being consigned to history, we also have a duty to consider what kind of world we want to create in its place. If we truly want to go down a road where every alleged victim is believed and punishment meted out without due process or any threshold for evidence then we will midwife a brave new world where any public career and reputation can be ruined by a single malicious or disputed allegation. This may soon prompt concerned individuals to hedge against the risk of being brought down by false charges, meaning that every single personal interaction must be witnessed, every woman or vulnerable man permanently chaperoned and everybody permanently surveilled for their own safety, perhaps in the same manner that many American police forces are now outfitting their officers with body cameras.

But this immediately raises privacy concerns. People were sufficiently unhappy at the potential privacy issues presented by Google glasses that this promising prototype product had to be discontinued before making it to mass market. But the kind of constant surveillance required to provide sufficient personal insurance against a formalised “believe the accuser” culture – where the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is abandoned – makes Google glasses seem tame by comparison.

If we are to avoid going down this extreme road then we at least need to set clearer rules about workplace interactions, so as to remove the ambiguities which lead to the “grey area” where many disputed events currently fall. We will need draconian rules prohibiting any romantic or sexual relations with coworkers that might seem more appropriate to the military than office-based professional work environments. There will need to be a blanket ban on any such relations, with the penalty for any transgression being instant termination regardless of whether or not the the encounter or relationship in question is consensual. Human Resources departments of firms large and small will need to staff up in order to carry out the inquisitorial new role assigned to them. If your parents met while working together, they must become the last generation which ever does so.

And if this seems excessive them we must step back from the brink and think again about whether casually discarding the time-honoured principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is a step that we are willing to take, particularly given the grave ramifications and precedent that doing so may set. Do these new rules apply only to accusations where there is a power imbalance (such as in the workplace) or will we apply them to purely social interactions between equals, too? How do we define “equals”? Will there be any statute of limitations on historic allegations? Will there be any evidentiary standard whatsoever? How will this new reality dovetail with existing laws governing libel and defamation, or to one’s ability to bring civil suit against an accuser for loss of future career earnings?

We must also ask ourselves how much collateral damage we are willing to accept in our effort to make right past wrongs. There are many valid and totally understandable reasons why a victim of abuse or harassment twenty years ago may have kept quiet to this day, but it is also plainly the case that any form of proof in terms of DNA, CCTV footage or retained correspondence is much less likely to exist, in which case it becomes one person’s word against another’s. We then have to decide to what extent we are willing to atone for historical societal sins by lowering the evidentiary standard and always believing the victim when every further move in that direction increases the likelihood of present-day injustices.

Do two wrongs make a right? Or is there a point where we will have to admit that justice for some historical alleged incidents will simply never be possible? We cannot escape this choice. We may wish that it did not exist, and we may pretend that some mythical alternative exists, a solution where proof for past allegations can always be found, victims always believed and offenders always correctly identified and punished. No such magic solution exists; it is a chimera.

At present we are in danger from swinging from one extreme to another, from victims being outrageously shamed and silenced to being unquestioningly believed without even cursory verification; from no consequences for serial perpetrators to draconian summary justice regardless of guilt. The danger is particularly acute as we suffer under a weak government with the weakest of leaders, a prime minister with non-existent decision-making abilities, who can’t afford any more missteps and is therefore prone to making up policy on the stop to appease whoever happens to be shouting the loudest.

#BelieveTheVictim? There is a valid debate to be had here, with serious arguments on both sides – the “always believe” side putting the emphasis on compensating for a history of past injustices and the “proof, please” side placing its emphasis on the importance of traditional due process. Ultimately, some kind of fudged compromise is all but guaranteed, pleasing nobody even as it acknowledges a messy reality.

Personally, while I lean more towards the “proof, please” side I acknowledge that simply telling accusers that nothing can be done to pursue their historic complaints without documentary evidence is often untenable, and that the rights and presumption of innocence which should always accompany a private citizen do not always fully carry over when the accused is in elected office or otherwise occupies a position of public trust.

But my goodness, we ought to stop and think a little more carefully before attempting a quick fix to a month’s worth of disturbing headlines by overturning centuries of precedent.


UPDATE – 3 November:

For what it’s worth, I think Ayesha Hazarika does a good job of explaining the kind of non-draconian, common sense solutions which we should be looking at here, for the Spectator:

But the silver bullet is behaviour. You can have all the Human Resources and complaints systems you like, but until MPs, and senior staffers, understand that their basic behaviour to junior women and men has got to change then I’m afraid the needle will not move. And it’s not actually that difficult. I would hope most people could work it out without the need for a cringey manual but here’s a few helpful tips. When you’re the boss, don’t fondle, grope, cup or lunge at anyone and as a general rule don’t harass people for sex via the oh so clever ruse of late night drinks to ‘help them with their career’. And give yourself a reality check: they’re not inviting it and they’re really not into you. At all. Especially if you’re a 58-year-old man who’s seen better days and they’re someone thirty years your junior who either works for you, needs a job or an interview. Ask yourself this critical question: are you abusing your position to get in someone’s pants? And if all that fails, ask yourself how you would feel if you get caught.

Politicians love lording it over the rest of society about how we behave and how we should conduct ourselves in the workplace. It’s time they cleaned up their act – and it’s really not that hard.

Absolutely. A cultural change which ends this “come out with me for late night drinks to discuss your career (wink, wink)” practice should be encouraged, because it is where professional power imbalances exist that the worst serial offenders always lurk.


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UK Supreme Court Strikes Down The SNP’s Unlawful Named Person Scheme

Nicola Sturgeon - SNP - Named Person Scheme - Supreme Court

The UK Supreme Court slaps down the SNP-led Scottish Government’s assault on privacy and individual liberty manifested in the evil Named Person scheme, citing the creeping threat of totalitarianism

Good news from the UK Supreme Court today, which has made an important decision in favour of civil liberties and privacy by ruling the SNP government’s insidious “Named Person” child-monitoring scheme unlawful, giving Holyrood no recourse to further appeal.

Specifically the Supreme Court struck down provisions which allowed the sharing of sensitive data about Scottish children between agencies, which the court held to be in breach of the right to privacy and a family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court further held that several of the provisions for data sharing in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 were beyond the legislative competence of the Scottish Government – in other words that Nicola Sturgeon’s nationalist government has been getting far too big for its boots, and should perhaps focus on trying to deliver better governance for Scotland instead of greedily seeking to acquire ever more power over its own citizens.

What is most encouraging about this ruling – besides Nicola Sturgeon being put firmly back in her box, of course – is the strong, uncompromising language used by the justices in their decision.

From the judgment:

Individual differences are the product of the interplay between the individual person and his upbringing and environment. Different upbringings produce different people. The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way.

The justices then go on to quote the late US supreme court justice James Clark McReynolds, who held in Pierce v Society of Sisters:

“The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

The child is not the mere creature of the state – a universal truth, but one seemingly forgotten by the Scottish National Party in their paranoid desire to centralise and monitor everything that takes place north of the border.

This is a remarkable tirade against totalitarianism and in favour of individual liberty, and can only be seen as a stunning repudiation of the SNP’s entire suffocating, infantilising attitude towards their own citizens. To warn about the slippery slope toward totalitarianism in such an clear way only serves to underscore just how illiberal – and vastly disconnected from the welfare of the child – the Named Person scheme really is.

What is even more remarkable is that such a start warning against totalitarian instincts came not from a mainstream elected politician, but from unelected judges. In its short history, the UK Supreme Court’s judgments have not exactly set the world on fire or shifted numerous copies of approving books in the way that one might pore over the dissents of Ruth Bader Ginsburg or the late Antonin Scalia. That mild-mannered UK supreme court justices are mentioning totalitarianism and quoting McReynolds at all is proof that we are in trouble.

In their reporting, the British press has been making much of the fact that the ruling later goes on to call the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 “unquestionably benign”. In their article, the BBC makes no mention of these pointed references to totalitarianism in the judgment, immediately revealing the corporation’s bias and reluctance to report properly on stories which are critical of the authoritarian leftist Scottish government.

But as it was with the shock Brexit vote in the EU referendum, once again the media’s barely concealed support for infantilising, authoritarian Big Government policies has been overridden. In this case, the supreme court has spoken (though how much better it would have been had the Supreme Court been able to strike down the Named Person Act with reference to a British Bill of Rights or constitution rather than the expansionist ECHR).

As this blog noted when the Named Person scheme was last being debated prior to the 2016 Holyrood elections:

Whether any given Scottish person wants their top layer of government to reside in Holyrood or Westminster, surely anybody should agree that the bottom layer of government should not intrude deep into the family unit in the way that the Named Person Scheme does.

[..] This is the SNP at work in government. A hectoring, overbearing movement which seeks to centralise everything they can touch, from the state monitoring of children to the police and fire services – with deadly consequences, in the latter cases.

Today, a blow has been struck against the insidious ratchet effect underway in Britain, leading inexorably to a larger and more interfering state. We should be grateful to the Supreme Court for their decision, and to The Christian Institute and other appellants for fighting the case.

But it should not fall to an unelected judiciary to make the bold and uncompromising case for individual liberty. Ruth Davidson did a magnificent job opposing the Named Person scheme on behalf of the Scottish Tories, but we need more politicians across the board who are willing to stand up for liberty and who possess the imagination to conceive of a world where government is not the answer to every single problem.

The Supreme Court did us proud today. It is about time for more of our elected politicians to do the same.


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Yes, Terrorism Is A Price Worth Paying For Liberty

Civil Liberties Government Surveillance Terrorism


When determining how society should deal with people who have committed the most heinous crimes, one does not turn to the victims or their surviving family members for advice. And if one were to be so rash as to base Britain’s penal system on the vengeful feelings of grieving parents, spouses and children, there would be gruesome public executions every day in every town up and down the length of Britain, from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

So while we may feel every sorrow in the world for those who have been the victim of dastardly terrorist attacks, why do we give such credence to terror victims when it comes to formulating our approach to national security and civil liberties? While human compassion dictates that we offer our utmost sympathy to those who have suffered, allowing ourselves to be manipulated into making sweeping and draconian decisions based on heart-wrenching personal testimony is no way to run a country – whether we are talking about the NHS or government snooping laws.

Those in the media who report on these subjects for a living should know this best of all. And yet large swathes of the British press have spent today tacitly attacking the campaigning groups who defend our civil liberties, simply because they refuse to display the grovelling, servile fearfulness that begs government to take as many of our freedoms as they want in return for the illusion of greater safety.

The Times print edition, in an article bearing the sub-headline “outcry over campaigners’ attack on state snooping”, reports:

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This Week’s Cowardly Assault On Liberty Comes To You Courtesy Of David Cameron

David Cameron Paris Attack Charlie Hebdo 3


It is nearly one week since murderous Islamic extremists launched their three-day campaign of terror across Paris, striking at one of the core pillars of western democratic society: a free press exercising their fundamental right to freedom of speech. But before the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the kosher market siege have even been laid to rest, David Cameron and his government have started planning their own assault on the rights of the individual and the foundations of a free society.

Of course, David Cameron’s assault is couched in the gentle, persuasive diplomatic language of the politician. There will be no masked men clad in black, no sudden hail of gunfire and no hostages taken – unless you count the right to live our lives free from intrusive snooping from a government that believes it can keep us completely safe, if only it knows enough about us all.

The Guardian provides a good summary of the enhanced laws and powers that David Cameron and the security services want to take for themselves:

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Does Privacy Exist? Yes, But Only For Our Leaders At Bilderberg 2014

Bilderberg 2014 Copenhagen 3


If 100 of the world’s top celebrities – from Angelina Jolie to Will Smith – suddenly dropped what they were doing and hunkered down together in a luxury hotel to debate the future of the entertainment industry in complete seclusion from the world, and then emerged three days later as though nothing happened, people would be rightly curious to know what they were up to.

Actually, curious is an understatement. There would be wall-to-wall media coverage, the TMZ drone would hover above the scene capturing aerial footage, pundits would offer endless speculation and real-time ‘analysis’ of what they thought might be taking place inside – in short, the world’s press would make a presidential election look like local newspaper reports about a lost kitten.

Isn’t it odd then, that when 100 of the most wealthy and influential people from outside of Hollywood – powerful establishment politicians, new rising stars, corporate CEOs, high-tech moguls and royalty – meet in secret every year to do the very same thing, nobody gives it a second thought?

The Bilderberg 2014 conference is now under way in Copenhagen, where a star-studded cast of characters from civilian, business and military-intelligence backgrounds are gathering to debate this year’s agenda of topics including sustainable economic recovery, the future of democracy, the Middle East, the Ukraine crisis and whether or not the basic concept of privacy still exists.

And no, you didn’t miss the hype. There has been scarcely any coverage of this year’s confab in the British or American press. Outfits such as the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph do not see fit to mention the meeting to their readers (in contrast to their coverage of the annual World Economic Forum meeting at Davos, Switzerland), and the BBC’s only acknowledgement of Bilderberg this year has been a Daily Politics segment which discussed conspiracy theories in general, and laughingly recalled the occasion last year when the show mocked and denigrated American radio host Alex Jones, one of the few activists to cover the 2013 Bilderberg meeting in Watford, England.

If Bilderberg was just another place for the wealthy and well-connected to hang out, there would be no issue – the world is awash with exclusive places and events for the elite to hobnob with each other. The same cast of characters also meet up at Davos for the World Economic Forum (the red carpet event of the year for people of lesser beauty and charisma), but if twelve months is simply too long to wait between encounters then nobody should begrudge them another opportunity to awkwardly flirt with one another while putting the world to rights.

The problem is not that successful and powerful people are meeting in secret in Copenhagen. The problem is the particularly volatile, toxic blend of people that assemble. Why are serving heads of government and state on the invite list to what is in part a giant, closed-door lobbying event? And how do attendees from the military and intelligence communities such as the secretary general of NATO, the head of MI6 and the former head of the NSA have common cause with corporate leaders including the Chairmen or CEOs of Shell, Barclays, BP, HSBC, Nokia, LinkedIn and Google?

And one more question – when the press are neither invited to the meeting nor briefed on its outcomes, why do the editors of media outlets including The Economist, The Financial Times, Le Monde and Italy’s RAI-TV sanction Bilderberg with their attendance?

In short, the answer is this: Bilderberg is the closest that western democratic societies come these days to openly, flat-out declaring that well-connected, wealthy people have an inherent right to rule and influence national and international policy, and to have their opinions taken more seriously than regular folk. From supposedly meritocratic “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere” New York through the Scandinavian poster-children of equality and back to post-Citizens United Washington DC it holds true; but most of the time we try to convince ourselves that it is otherwise, that our voices still count and that we are all equal before the law. For those who pay attention, the yearly Bilderberg conference serves to disenthrall us, briefly lifting the curtain on the truth.

That truth is the fact that money talks, and exorbitant wealth carries the loudest megaphone of all. It’s hardly a revelation, but the only time when the rest of us have it shoved in our faces quite so explicitly is at the yearly Bilderberg meeting – ironically the one time when almost none of us, led by the press, pay any attention.

Venue for the 2014 Bilderberg conference
Marriott Copenhagen – venue for the 2014 Bilderberg conference


On the agenda for Bilderberg 2014 is the subject of privacy – very topical given the ongoing fallout and scandal resulting from the Edward Snowden surveillance revelations and consequent exposure of the real extent of government surveillance in and by the United States, United Kingdom and other Five Eyes group countries.

Meeting with John Sawers, General Petraeus and others who are intimately involved in the conducting of government surveillance activities will be many high-profile people of vast wealth and influence. Many of these people are likely to hold quite forceful opinions on the issue of privacy, but they are more likely to be interested in protecting their own privacy from the journalists who would make their activities and indiscretions known to the public than altruistically pressuring governments to cease collecting everyone’s private data in their indiscriminate dragnet.

Given the rare opportunity to hold face-to-face meetings with the people who run the surveillance programmes and formulate the policies which underpin them, which aspects of the privacy question – and whose personal  interests, those of the elite or those of society as a whole – are the privileged attendees most likely to discuss?

Charlie Skelton at the Guardian, one of few mainstream journalists to cover Bilderberg every year, also picks up on the irony of an organisation as secretive as Bilderberg holding a discussion about the existence of privacy:

That’s an exquisite irony: the world’s most secretive conference discussing whether privacy exists. Certainly for some it does. It’s not just birthday bunting that’s gone up in Copenhagen: there’s also a double ring of three-metre (10ft) high security fencing … There’s something distinctly chilling about the existence of privacy being debated, in extreme privacy, by people such as the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, and the board member of Facebook Peter Thiel: exactly the people who know how radically transparent the general public has become.

Precisely. The average person might care about privacy issues because they don’t like being treated as automatic suspects in the intelligence services’ surveillance dragnet, or because they don’t want risk-averse insurance companies from searching out deeply private facts from our lives in order to increase their premiums. The privacy concerns of an oil company CEO or the queen of Spain (attendees all) are likely to be of a different order altogether, more focused on keeping potentially explosive or embarrassing information out of the public domain, and creating a legal framework that punishes those who reveal the truth while empowering those who seek to operate in the dark.

And you can bet that the Bilderberg attendees do want to affect change – they do not assemble for purely social reasons, but to leverage one another’s influence for their own ends – sometimes quite noble ends, but equally possibly very selfish ones. This leads to another sharp observation from Skelton:

The Bilderberg Group says the conference has no desired outcome. But for private equity giants, and the heads of banks, arms manufacturers and oil companies, there’s always a desired outcome. Try telling the shareholders of Shell that there’s “no desired outcome” of their chairman and chief executive spending three days in conference with politicians and policy makers.

If people want to shoot the breeze or have long, meandering yet inconclusive conversations about the state of the world, they go to Starbucks or sneak off to the pub with their friends. Influential and high net worth individuals – whose time is supposedly so valuable – don’t check out for three days and traverse continents unless there’s something significant in it for them, or the causes that they promote.

As Bilderberg 2013 drew to a close in the Hertfordshire countryside, Semi-Partisan Sam had this to say (among other things) about the motivations and biases of the people who get together once a year to decide what’s best for the rest of us:

The reason so many of the actions taken by [Bilderberg members] over the years have been so harmful to ‘normal people’ is because the membership is comprised entirely of the successful. None of the protesters were allowed to remonstrate with the Great Ones within. No refugees from the middle east Arab Spring. No malnourished people from Africa. No failed small business owners from the town of Watford itself, which has struggled in the recession.

If every year you and your chums reassemble at the next Bilderberg meeting and find yourselves even more spectacularly successful and wealthy than the last time you met, “more of the same” could start to seem like a pretty good prescription.

A year later, and this ‘confirmation bias’ explanation is starting to look rather too charitable toward the Bilderbergers. Since the Watford meeting we have learned of more government overreach in the realm of surveillance, more incursions on privacy, more intimidation of the media and the further undermining of national democracy from overturned limits on corporate political spending in the United States to the growing concentration of powers at super-national level in the European Union.

It really would be helpful if the organisers would consent to publishing minutes from their meetings, because at the moment it looks suspiciously as though the 2013 attendees listened to public opinion, then got together and resolved to do the polar opposite.

Perhaps the ultimate irony of Bilderberg 2014 is this: not one week ago, the voters of Europe delivered a stinging rebuke to the political establishment for their growing disconnect with the people and their tendency to talk amongst themselves and prescribe universal solutions from on high without a democratic mandate for their actions. And now today, at a Copenhagen hotel in the heart of Europe, they’re at it once again as though the European elections never happened.

Unfortunately for us, our political elites are seemingly the only ones still able to assert a right to privacy, conducting their business with Bilderberg behind closed doors. But it’s just as much our fault – by not paying any attention, we let them get away with it.