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Sat 14 December 2019
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Peter Jukes dissects the populist, nationalist ideologue’s BBC performance and the Prime Minister’s failure to account for his relationship to him and his company Cambridge Analytica.


In a controversial interview with the BBC’s North America correspondent Jon Sopel, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Steve Bannon showed his mastery of propaganda and how he leaves traditional news services floundering in his wake. 

The interview was staged with a jeep parked in front of a small speculative section of Trump’s famous never-to-be-built Mexican border wall. 

As Hardeep Matharu has explained in these pages, Bannon was vice president of Cambridge Analytica which developed and tested the ‘build the wall’ meme on the US population using military grade ‘target audience acquisition’ technology. By creating a symbolic ‘wall in the mind’ even if the real thing was never built, Bannon and Cambridge Analytica helped to create a sense of nationalist exclusivity and nativist aversion to foreigners. The powerful message was then pumped through billions of Facebook pages, micro-targeted through hacked data of the online psychological make-up of nearly 100 million Facebook users. 

Boris Johnson is either devious and slippery, or incurious and easy to manipulate. Neither are good for the country.

Yet, though Cambridge Analytica was closed last year in a worldwide scandal described in the hit documentary The Great Hack, Jon Sopel failed to ask Steve Bannon about the company he co-founded with his billionaire hedge fund backer, Robert Mercer. 

Bannon, was, however asked but his relationship with the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Byline Times has been reporting on this for more than a year, ever since meetings between the then Foreign Secretary and Cambridge Analytica were reported. Asked in Parliament what these were about, Johnson said he had “no idea”.

Cambridge Analytica was invited by the Foreign Office for a three-day conference in early 2017 at its Wilton Park estate where they discussed the company’s role in the Trump campaign. Around this time, Johnson was reported to have struck up his friendship with Bannon, who was still at the White House as the President’s advisor.

For the last two years, there have been multiple reports of contact between Johnson and the former head of Breitbart News. In an out-take from the documentary The Brink, Bannon claims he helped Johnson script key speeches. Johnson dismissed this as “codswallop” (a phrase he’d used as Mayor of London when deriding early phone-hacking allegations in Murdoch’s newspapers). When quizzed by Jon Sopel about the contradiction, all Bannon could do was laugh ironically, and demure “we’ll go with whatever the prime minister says”. 

What Johnson has said since resigning as Foreign Minister last summer has been very Bannon-esque. He directly borrowed a phrase about the EU ‘deep state’ from Bannon and Breitbart. Johnson’s first column after coming out of purdah mocked Muslim women in niqab as “letter-boxes”. Islamophobic provocations are also very much Breitbart: he was caught in an email exchange asking his writer Milos Yiannopolous. Last year Bannon was caught on tape praising the convicted EDL founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon: “Tommy Robinson is the f*cking backbone of this country. You lose guys like Tommy Robinson, you’re not going to have a country.”

For all the contradictory noise from both camps, one thing is clear – Bannon’s ideas are influential to Boris Johnson, and the Prime Minister basks in the praise of Trump. But, what of the “weapons” Bannon once boasted he had at his disposal – Breitbart, his data targeting and electioneering machine? 


Cambridge Analytica, Johnson and the Barclay Brothers Connection

Hidden in new evidence from former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser to the UK Parliament was a hint that Boris Johnson may have heard about the company that claimed to have won the Trump vote and swung Britain behind Brexit the year before it happened.

Among the invitees to a briefing from Cambridge Analytica’s chief operating officer Julian Wheatland were then UKIP leader Nigel Farage and the Barclay brothers. 

The secretive twins, Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay who live in Sark and own the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator magazine, have employed Boris Johnson as their top columnist for years and have promoted his rise to the top tirelessly. Did they apprise their star writer about this new election machine and its weapons grade micro-targeting? 

Since Boris Johnson cannot remember a meeting with Cambridge Analytica the following year, we’re unlikely to get a useful answer from the Prime Minister. But prior knowledge may explain how his director at Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings (now returned to government as one of Johnson’s top aides) found the obscure Vancouver-based company AIQ, on which he spent 90% of Vote Leave’s advertising.

Cummings told journalist Carole Cadwalladr in 2017 that he found it “on the internet”, though no website for the company existed at the time. Later versions of the AIQ website describe it as ‘SCL Canada’. SCL is the holding company for Cambridge Analytica. 

Why does all this matter? It matters because the online campaign continues, and the Government has recently committed to spending up to £100 million in advertising to prepare the public for a hard ‘no deal’ Brexit.

On the BBC this morning, Bannon was openly welcoming a hard ‘no deal’ as if it was the precursor to some kind of glorious revolution. “Brexit and the Trump election are inextricably linked,” he told Jon Sopel. “You ain’t seen nothing yet… you’re about to go into the red zone…it’s going to be tough, choppy.. no deal hard out [Brexit] is the way to go.”

With the success of The Great Hack, the concern about psychological micro-targeting, dark ads and secret, nefarious election interference can only grow. As Britain hurtles towards another cliff edge, Boris Johnson’s deflections about Steve Bannon, Cambridge Analytica and their role in the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote prove him to be either devious and slippery, or incurious and easy to manipulate. Neither are good for the country.

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