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MPs should be punished for spreading disinformation, think tank says, after “crackpot conspiracy theory” prompted government to slash active travel funding in “dangerous dereliction of responsibility”

The Demos report also found that a “democratic chasm” and lack of information has pushed people towards toxic social media debate on issues such as low traffic neighbourhoods

Politicians should be punished for spreading and amplifying disinformation about active travel schemes, the think tank Demos has recommended, as part of a report exploring the implementation of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) across the UK in recent years and the “explosion” of conspiracy theories – particularly surrounding 15-minute cities – that accompanied this policy.

According to the cross-party think thank, the Conservative government’s move last year to disown its previous active travel policies – as part of prime minister Rishi Sunak’s so-called ‘plan for drivers’ – and “actively attack” councils introducing such measures represented a “dangerous dereliction of its responsibility”, leaving a “wide open goal” for the conspiratorial narratives that subsequently flourished.

> “Crackpot conspiracy theory” led to government slashing active travel funding

In January, it emerged that a “crackpot conspiracy theory” that misrepresents the urban planning concept of the 15-minute city led to the government slashing funding for active travel and pledging to review measures aimed at curbing the use of private motor vehicles.

Documents obtained by the Transport Action Network (TAN), as part of its legal challenge to the swingeing active travel cuts imposed by Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt last year, revealed that conspiracy theories were at least partly responsible for the change in tack by the government, which saw Sunak pledge to review low traffic neighbourhoods and the rollout of 20mph speed limits, among other things.

In September, transport secretary Mark Harper repeated and endorsed a well-known and completely false conspiracy theory surrounding 15-minute cities, telling a Conservative Party Conference fringe meeting that the “Labour-backed” urban planning policy meant that “local councils can decide how often you go to the shops” and would “remove your freedom to get from A to B how you want”.

> Why is the 15-minute city attracting so many conspiracy theories?

And a new report by cross-party think thank Demos, in collaboration with the Public Interest News Foundation, has recommended that the Committee for Standards in Public Life and the Labour Party’s new independent Ethics and Integrity Commission should incorporate into their ongoing reviews the “way in which politicians behave in relation to disinformation narratives online” such as those repeated by the likes of Harper recently.

Demos’ report, titled ‘Driving Disinformation: Democratic deficits, disinformation and low traffic neighbourhoods – a portrait of policy failure’, concluded that the commissions should “specifically recommend how politicians educate themselves on such narratives and evaluate the extent to which such narratives weaken relationships with democratic institutions and the rule of law, before amplifying them via online platforms for their own political gain”.

Any politician guilty of such behaviour, Demos argues, should be punished, creating a “greater incentive to thoroughly investigate certain narratives before promoting them at scale”.

The report was based on a combination of digital media analysis of over 570,000 social media posts and face-to-face engagement with 47 residents and 24 interviews with local journalists, community leaders, activists, and politicians in three areas were LTNs were introduced: Oxford, Enfield, and Rochdale.

Anti-LTN vandal sets bollard alight (credit - Oxford Liveable Streets)

> “Going back is not realistic”: Councillor stresses “need to change” as Oxford LTNs made permanent – but angry residents say “we can’t get on bikes”

The report found that levels of LTN-related disinformation online “exploded” between 2022 and 2023. Between 2020 and 2022, social media posts on the schemes were evenly split between positive and negative, a trend that skewed dramatically in 2023, when 79 per cent of the most engaged-with posts were strongly anti-LTN.

Demos also concluded that disinformation has been allowed to flourish in the “democratic chasm” that exists and is widening, they say, at local level between councils and communities.

This is due, Demos says, to the failure of local authorities to provide their residents with sufficient information on active travel measures, as well as the demise of local newspapers and other media capable of facilitating reasonable debate on the matter, creating a vacuum which has pushed people towards social media and its increasingly toxic, polarising landscape.

Railton LTN (picture credit TfL)

> Government tried to bury report which found that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are effective and popular

On a national level, meanwhile, Demos concluded that the implementation of LTNs across the UK since 2020 was “beset by ambiguity at the top of government that trickled down through the local rollout resulting in significant variation, confusion, and disruption to its impact”.

The report continued: “The government’s move in late 2023 to explicitly disown the policy it had funded and then actively attack councils for how they implemented it represents a dangerous dereliction of its responsibility.

“The impact of this decision, together with the language used by politicians, left the information environment a wide open goal for the conspiratorial narratives that flourished.”

Anti-LTN protest Dulwich (image credit: Railton LTN/Twitter)

> How to save a low-traffic neighbourhood: Overcoming hecklers, "dodgy" data, and political intrigue as councillors prevent early scrapping of active streets trial

“An instruction to act ‘swiftly’, combined with historic funding constraints, led to serious shortcomings in the way the councils engaged citizens in LTN implementation,” Hannah Perry, Demos’ lead researcher on social media, said after the report’s publication.

“However, instead of working to bring a sense of calm, the government performed a screeching U-turn, in both policy and rhetoric, and ultimately fed the public backlash. Our analysis shows how this pivot coincided with the spike in LTN-related disinformation.

“It is absolutely essential that lessons are learned and that we radically transform how democracy takes place locally. There is a worsening democratic chasm between councils and communities. We are calling for a new layer of participation so that our local politicians can foster constructive relationships with citizens, working in partnership with them, not against them.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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29 comments

Avatar
Owd Big 'Ead | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

MP's punished.
How about rremoving the whip.
That might make them consider their actions.

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marmotte27 replied to Owd Big 'Ead | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

On the contrary maybe one should actually bring out the whip?

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hawkinspeter replied to marmotte27 | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

marmotte27 wrote:

On the contrary maybe one should actually bring out the whip?

Some of them would probably enjoy that though

Avatar
brooksby replied to hawkinspeter | 3 weeks ago
1 like

hawkinspeter wrote:

marmotte27 wrote:

On the contrary maybe one should actually bring out the whip?

Some of them would probably enjoy that though

Only if they were also allowed to wear a Chelsea football strip, IIRC 

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john_smith | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

The same goes for the press, at least in the case of publications with a large circulation and when the misinformation is likely to be damaging to society.

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Stephankernow | 3 weeks ago
0 likes

What is disinformation? Remember the astro-zenica covid jab and people objected and we're called for spreading disinformation!
Well they were proved correct a very good report by the British heart foundation and now astro-zenica have destroyed all their billions of vaccine for safety reasons.

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brooksby replied to Stephankernow | 3 weeks ago
7 likes

Stephankernow wrote:

… and now astro-zenica have destroyed all their billions of vaccine for safety reasons.

I'm pretty sure that's not what happened.

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Patrick9-32 replied to brooksby | 3 weeks ago
5 likes

brooksby wrote:

I'm pretty sure that's not what happened.

Don't let the truth get in the way of a good froth now!

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john_smith replied to brooksby | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

You're right. It had nothing to do with safety. It was simply that the batteries in the mind-control chips had all gone flat.

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Rendel Harris replied to Stephankernow | 3 weeks ago
8 likes

Stephankernow wrote:

What is disinformation? Remember the astro-zenica covid jab and people objected and we're called for spreading disinformation! Well they were proved correct a very good report by the British heart foundation and now astro-zenica have destroyed all their billions of vaccine for safety reasons.

I don't know about the astro-zenica jab, I do know that AstraZeneca have stopped selling their jab because it was produced as an immediate response to the threat of Covid 19 (saving an estimated 6.5 million lives) but subsquent drug development means that other vaccines deal more effectively with the current Covid mutations. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-68977026

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Muddy Ford replied to Stephankernow | 3 weeks ago
6 likes

Stephankernow wrote:

What is disinformation? Remember the astro-zenica covid jab and people objected and we're called for spreading disinformation! Well they were proved correct a very good report by the British heart foundation and now astro-zenica have destroyed all their billions of vaccine for safety reasons.

How you made it to adulthood without a terminal accident is a mystery, given how thick you must be.  

From BHF site "The AstraZeneca vaccine played an important role in the UK's life-saving vaccine programme during the early stages of the pandemic, but evidence shows that mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are more effective at boosting protection from Covid-19" 

 

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hawkinspeter replied to Muddy Ford | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

Muddy Ford wrote:

Stephankernow wrote:

Utter bollocks

How you made it to adulthood without a terminal accident is a mystery, given how thick you must be.  

From BHF site "The AstraZeneca vaccine played an important role in the UK's life-saving vaccine programme during the early stages of the pandemic, but evidence shows that mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are more effective at boosting protection from Covid-19" 

I guess we're just not that lucky

 

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Hirsute | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

Satire is so hard all news thump could come up with was to assume all tweets will be community noted.

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Patrick9-32 | 3 weeks ago
8 likes

If politicians were punished for spreading misinformation they would have to actually tell the truth.... there is no way any of them will vote for such measures...

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eburtthebike | 3 weeks ago
10 likes

Crackpot conspiracy theories?  Government policies surely?  It would be hard to plumb the depths of how utterly incompetent this government is, so far below anything ever seen in this country.

The only good thing Rishi ever did was to call the election soon so that we have to suffer them less, not that I have much hope of labour, other than that they couldn't possibly be any less competent.

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brooksby replied to eburtthebike | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

eburtthebike wrote:

The only good thing Rishi ever did was to call the election soon so that we have to suffer them less, not that I have much hope of labour, other than that they couldn't possibly be any less competent.

Starmer wrote:

Challenge accepted!

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cmedred | 3 weeks ago
10 likes

But it wasn't a "conspiracy theory" that LTN's would “remove your freedom to get from A to B how you want" if you were among the majority grounded in the motonormativity belief that "your" = "driver.'' It was a fact and a damn good one. Who wants motor vehicles screaming by their front door at speed? The problem was with cowardly politicians unwilling to tell the rat runners driving the argument that basic, human safety trumps anyone's desire for convenience. And there weren't many politicians willing to do that in the brave new world where the machines have gained the power to dictate the debate. All those drivers who whine about LTNs are little more than ignorant slobs captive to the machines that are killing them. Physiologically and psychologically, they'd enjoy healthier lives if they climbed out of the machines to do more walking or cycling, but they can't because the machines own them. They really need rehab and support groups. 

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marmotte27 replied to cmedred | 3 weeks ago
2 likes

The part about cars wasn't the conspiracy theory...

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wycombewheeler replied to cmedred | 3 weeks ago
11 likes

cmedred wrote:

But it wasn't a "conspiracy theory" that LTN's would “remove your freedom to get from A to B how you want" if you were among the majority grounded in the motonormativity belief that "your" = "driver.'' It was a fact and a damn good one. Who wants motor vehicles screaming by their front door at speed? The problem was with cowardly politicians unwilling to tell the rat runners driving the argument that basic, human safety trumps anyone's desire for convenience. And there weren't many politicians willing to do that in the brave new world where the machines have gained the power to dictate the debate. All those drivers who whine about LTNs are little more than ignorant slobs captive to the machines that are killing them. Physiologically and psychologically, they'd enjoy healthier lives if they climbed out of the machines to do more walking or cycling, but they can't because the machines own them. They really need rehab and support groups. 

no one was stopped from driving to any destination they wanted as many times as they wanted, they just couldn't do so by passing through certain residential streets, just like I am at liberty to walk from town A to town B, on the roads, or across fields/woods, but I am not at liberty to walk along the railway. This is not an infringement of my rights, but a very sensible safety rule.

Avatar
Stephankernow replied to wycombewheeler | 3 weeks ago
1 like
wycombewheeler wrote:

cmedred wrote:

But it wasn't a "conspiracy theory" that LTN's would “remove your freedom to get from A to B how you want" if you were among the majority grounded in the motonormativity belief that "your" = "driver.'' It was a fact and a damn good one. Who wants motor vehicles screaming by their front door at speed? The problem was with cowardly politicians unwilling to tell the rat runners driving the argument that basic, human safety trumps anyone's desire for convenience. And there weren't many politicians willing to do that in the brave new world where the machines have gained the power to dictate the debate. All those drivers who whine about LTNs are little more than ignorant slobs captive to the machines that are killing them. Physiologically and psychologically, they'd enjoy healthier lives if they climbed out of the machines to do more walking or cycling, but they can't because the machines own them. They really need rehab and support groups. 

no one was stopped from driving to any destination they wanted as many times as they wanted, they just couldn't do so by passing through certain residential streets, just like I am at liberty to walk from town A to town B, on the roads, or across fields/woods, but I am not at liberty to walk along the railway. This is not an infringement of my rights, but a very sensible safety rule.

In your opinion

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chrisonabike replied to Stephankernow | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

A point you can easily hammer home - just post a journey that's now impossible. From A to B, just can't be done because LTN *. Make it easy by limiting yourself to car journeys!

There must be hundreds now, surely?

Not gonna count "but they pedestrianised the high street, you used to be able to drive down there!" of course; it would take a hardy conspiracy fancier indeed to choose that hill for battle.

* Not like "the traffic was impossible, it took at least another 5 minutes", actually impossible.

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kingleo | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

The truth always wins - eventually. We are slow at changing important things for the benefit of the majority for a long time, but we gradualy move in the right direction.

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marmotte27 replied to kingleo | 3 weeks ago
4 likes

Still I don't want to go through the same hell that was the first half of the 20th century to eventually get to it.

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marmotte27 | 3 weeks ago
14 likes

This 15-minute-city-conspiracy-theory is so mind-crushingly bonkers it beggars belief. Anyone who touches it, and be it with a barge pole, is so totally disqualified he or she should be kicked out straight away.

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chrisonabike replied to marmotte27 | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

TBH I'm a bit disappointed by this one.  "They" could have at least come up with something more inventive, like the plot of "They Live!"

Sad to see our wannabe political demagogues and meme engineers being completely outclassed by the foreign competition (The Donald and Mad Vlad).  Bring back Boatsie Liz Truss!

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Stephankernow replied to marmotte27 | 3 weeks ago
1 like
marmotte27 wrote:

This 15-minute-city-conspiracy-theory is so mind-crushingly bonkers it beggars belief. Anyone who touches it, and be it with a barge pole, is so totally disqualified he or she should be kicked out straight away.

Really the Green party support that very idea!

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Owd Big 'Ead replied to Stephankernow | 3 weeks ago
5 likes

Er....
No they don't.
You're probably on the wrong site if you expect the rest of us to believe your delusions.

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marmotte27 replied to Stephankernow | 3 weeks ago
3 likes

I do think you got the wrong end of the stick there...

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