‘Pro-Brexit, anti-feminist, anti-environmental’ videos from Hackney charity WORLDwrite spark concern
- Credit: Polly Hancock
An “unapologetically radical” Hackney charity has been promoting anti-feminist, anti-environmental and pro-Brexit agendas among the young people it claims to be educating.
The Charity Commission has told the Gazette it is aware of "serious concerns" regarding WORLDwrite, which hosts a video on its web channel WORLDbytes in which the lead pundit encourages people to vote for Theresa May in the 2017 General Election as the "best way to ensure Brexit goes ahead".
It plans to assess compliance with its guidance which states charities can engage in campaigning and political activity - but this must be in furtherance of their charitable purposes.
The aim of WORLDwrite, which provides free film training to 16- to 25-year-olds, is to "advance the education of young people between the ages of 13 and 25 years, particularly by way of international exchanges and tours, in subjects such as history, geography, politics, international affairs, culture and languages, and in interpersonal relationships and practical life skills, so as to assist such young persons in growing to full maturity as individuals and as members of society".
WORLDwrite, which has its HQ in the council-owned former decontamination station lodge in Millfields Road, Lower Clapton, has been producing films apparently promoting Brexit.
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Its director, Ceri Dingle, denies WORLDwrite is right or left wing in its thinking, but told the Gazette the charity was "unapologetically radical" and had "encouraged" questioning of the European Union "way before the referendum and before anyone was discussing it - precisely because of its anti-immigrant fortress Europe policies and disastrous economic policies for our peers globally".
Ms Dingle was part of the Revolutionary Communist Party and wrote for its magazine Living Marxism before its successor LM Magazine went bankrupt in 2000, after it was sued successfully for libel by ITN.
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Key figures in the network - which some commentators have accused of being right-wing rather than left-wing as it claimed - went on to set up libertarian magazine Spiked and the think tank Institute of Ideas (IoI).
All videos made by WORLDwrite volunteers are available to view on its web channel WORLDbytes, and the Gazette - which has spent considerable time trawling through them - has found very few that do not feature a spokesperson from either the IoI or Spiked, and appear to act as a platform for the ideology promoted by both.
The IoI annual conference at the Barbican is promoted heavily by WORLDwrite, whose young cameramen and women cover every single debate - the majority of which are hosted by journalists from Spiked on topics such as anti-feminism.
Spiked, too, which a Guardian and Desmogged investigation revealed in December has received $300,000 donations from the Koch Foundation in three years through its US operation, is heavily promoted by WORLDwrite.
The right-wing libertarian US oil billionaires who have been at the heart of climate change denial in the United States and donate to organisations opposing established climate science and regulations to combat greenhouse gas emissions.
Stories typical of the Spiked agenda online this week include slating the upper limit of 0.5 on the Richter scale for fracking as "ludicrously low", arguing against new porn laws that are supposed to protect children, denying fake news is a threat to democracy, and questioning the science behind global warming, as well as slating Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg as "chilling".
Director Ceri Dingle holds shares in the magazine, but claims they are only worth £1.
Ms Dingle told the Gazette Spiked was a "terrific magazine" and said she tries to involve its writers with WORLDwrite discussions as much as possible "because they offer an alternative to mainstream and elite views and encourage young people to think".
She is also "proud" to be a media partner of the IoI: "The young people learn to operate as media professionals and listen to all manner of challenging ideas, which they find very educative and interesting," she said.
In 2016 WORLDwrite volunteers took part in, filmed and disseminated a video called "European Referendum: What Will Decide the Vote?"
It was presented by Claire Fox, the director of the IoI who is now a candidate for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, to "help young students decide how to vote in the referendum".
Both sides of the argument were presented, and Ms Fox urged the audience to get informed ahead of casting their vote.
However in a video posted on WORDbytes in 2017, "The General Election: Don't Shout At The Telly", Spiked editor Brendan O'Neill dominates the discussion with a dozen volunteers, arguing that the only way to secure Brexit - which by then had won the vote - in the general election would be to vote for Theresa May.
He voices a suspicion that "dark forces" are devoted to making sure Brexit doesn't happen, and tells the young recruits: "We have a chance to get what we want."
He adds: "I think you should still use your vote for the person who is most pro-Brexit, even if they haven't got a hope in hell of winning. It is worth using your vote to say: 'I love Brexit'. Even if you live in an area where, say, Harriet Harman is due to win, it still sends a really important message."
A couple of young people express concern in the hour-long show: "What happens when you vote for May because she is pro-leave but you don't agree with the Tory manifesto?" asked one, adding: "What happens if you don't have the EU as a body to hold the government to account, and all the power is with the Tories?"
Their questions remain unanswered, but Marisa Pereira, the WORLDwrite assistant director who picked up an award from the magazine Children and Young People Now on behalf of the charity last year, chips in: "What I find really interesting is [as] someone who probably wouldn't consider voting Tory in the past, I'm in the position where I have to make that consideration. Given the Tories are a pro-status quo party that defends the ruling elite, now they are in a position where they are actually leading Brexit, which is quite a radical anti-establishment revolt, so it's quite an interesting position."
In a statement to the Gazette, Ms Dingle denied the charity had urged young people to vote Conservative in 2017.
"We ran a programme I believe where a speaker said people should vote Conservative," she said. "Such is their prerogative. The majority of our young participants are old enough to think for themselves but not old enough to vote."
The Gazette understands WORLDwrite volunteers are aged 16 to 25.
In a video about Bethnal Green schoolgirl Shamima Begum - who was denied citizenship earlier this year after fleeing Isis having run away to join the terrorist organisation in 2015 - Mr O'Neill said: "With Tommy Robinson they are very happy to call him a fascist and a scumbag and someone who should have no presence in public life whatsoever," he says. "But then Shamima Begum, I would argue, has done something infinitely worse than anything Tommy Robinson has ever done."
He denies Ms Begum might have been brainwashed by Isis. The video has been viewed on YouTube more than 42,000 times.
A regular WORLDwrite slot "Books and Buns" has discussed the literature of Spiked journalists like Joanna Williams' Women vs Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars, Ella Whelan's What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism, and James Heartfield's The Equal Opportunities Revolution, which questions "fashionable discussions of the gender pay gap and diversity", and concludes racism and sexism are at an all-time low.
One panellist on an IoI debate last year, Let's Talk about Sex, baby, hosted by Spiked author Luke Gittos, Sunday Telegraph writer Zoe Stimpel expressed concerns about going into a new relationship after Me Too movement, against sexual harassment and sexual assault, and whether it had done "irrepairable damage".
Spiked and Telegraph writer Emily Hill said she loved the movement, but added: "During the presidential election in some senses Donald Trump was making more feminist arguments than Hilary Clinton was, because he was at least taking women seriously."
Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women.
WORLDwrite has also given a platform to an apparently anti-environmental agenda, with a video from 2009 covering a protest calling for a third runway to be built at Heathrow to ensure "faster, cheaper, better transport for all".
Ms Dingle denies the charity is either anti-feminist or anti-environmentalist, citing their latest video, Women: A Success Story, which "celebrates women as equals in the west today" through interviews more than 50 women- the majority of whom appear to have some connection with Spiked.
"On environmentalism, we have always since setting up been profoundly pro-human in our principles and ethics and sought to question the disgraceful misanthropy and anti-human ideas which see nature as more important and humanity as a toxic scourge," she added.
"From our work with young people in the Brazilian Amazon, to Ghana, Uganda and beyond we have always promoted a people-first agenda. It may not be trendy but we deem it essential [and] well evidenced and are very proud of it."
The charity has worked with young adults from Arsenal and charitable organisations like Headstart, the Jack Petchey Foundation and Inspire, and received funding from the Ayn Rand Foundation.
Children on the government's summer National Citizen Service programme have also been asked to fundraise for WORLDwrite.
A spokesperson for the Charity Commission said: "We are aware of serious concerns regarding WORLDwrite, and will be reviewing relevant information to assess compliance with our guidance on campaigning and political activity.
"Charities hold special status in society so it is vital that trustees are mindful of the need to protect and maintain their political independence in any work that they do."
This article originally stated Brendan O'Neill was standing up for fascist provocateur Tommy Robinson when this is not the case. He was simply drawing a comparison.