Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike"

posted by k

There's a grudging tone to most reports of Ken Loach's victory at Cannes. Some, of course, are entirely hostile. That's predictable, given the subject of his latest film, which I haven't seen.

The criticism of Ken Loach takes a variety of approaches.

Ken Loach is cranky, it's implied, because he could make Hollywood-style movies - even work in Hollywood - but doesn't. Instead he insists on dealing with subjects that interest him instead of producing the kinds of movies that big studios approve and that are shown in multiplexes. He cares about strange things like "authenticity" and "truth".

We're told that his films are "worthy" and "well-intentioned" but "too political". The personal bits are fine, it's implied, but he will include political debates.

And finally we're told that Ken Loach is impossibly left-wing. He criticises the British Empire, the war in Iraq. He talks about class. He describes himself as a socialist. This apparently makes him eccentric; he has views that the majority of the people in this country don't share.

To deal with the last point first: even the government has views that the majority of people in this country don;t share. There are lots of views out there and the more thoughtful debate on politics, the better. We need a range of critical accounts of history and contemporary political actions. What happened in the British Empire still affects us so let's understand what happened and how different people saw it. There isn't just one point of view. We need to talk about class too. Quite apart from Marxist analyses, ideas about class still affect the way people deal with one another. There's as much prejudice about class as about race, gender and sexuality - but class-prejudice is rarely questioned. So let's get talking. We need consider a range of political positions - it's unlikely any one person or group holds the key to truth. Let's listen to a range of views and try to work things out together.

It may come as a surprise to some film critics, but politics does interest quite a number of people. As I recall, quite a few turned out in 2003 to march against the Iraq war. 1 million? 2 million? - I've never seen London so packed. Most marchers didn't finish the route because of the numbers ahead. They cared about how they were governed. They wanted a say - a voice in the debate.

Ken Loach films aren't like Hollywood. They're not glossy or starry. They tell stories in a way that Hollywood doesn't. Ken Loach films sell out at independent cinemas. People are turned away. Meanwhile multiplexes show Hollywood films that don't come off to audiences in double - sometimes single - figures.
A half-hour appearance by Ken Loach at a nearby arts centre packed the building.

Ken Loach films aren't cold or dry. I've seen people moved to tears at the end. His films reach places Hollywood doesn't - and make us think too.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Ken Loach's.new film, was to be screened in only 30 cinemas in Britain. It's won the Palme d'Or. England ought to be celebrating (after all, we probably won't win the World Cup).

I may not agree with everything implied in The Wind that Shakes the Barley. I may question its views of both past andpresent. It's not a problem. I've got a brain; why should I park it at the cinema door? I can disagree.

So where and when will I get to see this film?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"Theirs not to reason why"

posted by k

"In human rights legislation, we require individual soldiers to exercise their own judgment as a duty. Mention has been made of Nuremberg, but this was an issue before then, and it goes well beyond Nuremberg. There is a duty placed on each of us, as individuals in a democratic society — but in particular on soldiers and members of the military — to exercise judgment about whether what we do is right and lawful. I reiterate the point that, whatever debates take place in this or any other Parliament, they do not override that individual duty."

Those were the words of John McDonnell, MP, in the House of Commons last night. It's an important reminder, since Flight-Lieutenant Kendall-Smith is currently in gaol for refusing to serve in what he regards as an illegal war.

John McDonnell was making the final speech in support of an amendment to the Armed Forces Bill. The Bill, when it is signed into law, allows a sentence of life imprisonment for soldiers who desert the army or refuse to serve in an army of occupation abroad. There is a right of conscientious objection for serving soldiers but, as the case of Kendall-Smith shows, it can be hard for serving soldiers who object to the legality or morality of particular wars or particular kinds of conduct to obtain release from the army.

The Bill that has just been passed by Lords and Commons (there is still, I think, a space for the Lords to consider amendments passed in the Commons - but nothing else) declares that desertion should carry the same maximum sentence as rape and a higher maximum sentence than burglary.

Many people accept that soldiers should give up their rights to conscience when they join the army. "Theirs not to reason why,/Theirs but to do or die," Tennyson wrote in "The Charge of the Light Brigade." There's a tendency to treat soldiers as people who have sold themselves into slavery for a fixed period - people who have given up their brains and feelings and souls in order to kill and be killed.

But soldiers have always had consciences and sometimes they have framed arguments for freedom which still resonate. The Levellers set out their case in "The Agreement of the People". They spoke passionately for liberty and democratic reform in the Putney Debates of 1647. They came from the army. Colonel Thomas Rainsborough set out the principle that "
every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent be put himself under that government." The Levellers called for freedom of conscience and opposed conscription.

The Levellers' movement came to a violent end when troops began to march towards London. 340 soldiers were imprisoned in Burford church in Oxfordshire. Three of their leaders were taken out, set against the church wall and shot, on Cromwell's orders. You can see the bullet-holes. The Levellers' words and arguments are still remembered.

Individual soldiers are required to exercise judgement and act according to conscience. Soldiers can be terrifyingly violent. But they can also generate democratic ideas which startle and frighten those in power.

Some soldiers may decide they wish to leave the army. Like many Americans at the time of the Vietnam War, they may desert. Soldiers can become conscientious objectors, though it's not easy. Organisations like At Ease can advise them.

Because of the Armed Forces Bill, soon to become an Act, soldiers who refuse to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan can expect to be silenced by imprisonment, possibly for life.

19 Members of Parliament voted for the amendment which would have restricted the sentence for desertion to two years imprisonment.
442 Members of Parliament voted against the amendment and for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The 442 Members - and those who abstained - should be ashamed of themselves. I shall not name them.

Instead I name and celebrate the 19 Members who voted against a sentence of life imprisonment for soldiers who desert or refuse to serve in an army of occupation abroad. They were:

John Austin, Michael Clapham, Katy Clark, Harry Cohen, Jeremy Corbyn, Bill Etherington, Paul Flynn, Neil Gerrard, Ian Gibson, Kelvin Hopkins, Stewart Hosie, Lynne Jones, Elfyn Llwyd, Angus MacNeil, John McDonnell, Alan Simpson, Dennis Skinner, Rudi Vis, Robert N. Wareing, Pete Wishart

Sunday, May 21, 2006

"we love our House of Peers"

posted by k

The existence of a House of Lords is indefensible. It's a relic of feudalism, an abuse of patronage, a means by which the government reinforces itself by recruiting the generous and like-minded.

Now Tony Blair plans to curtail the Lords' powers to delay and revise Bills. It's not a role they should fulfil but they have become, absurdly, the last hope of democracy and, on occasion, our defence against state power.

It's not always so. Last week Lord Peyton urged the removal of Brian Haw from Parliament Square, on the grounds that his protest is "messy". Aesthetic preference, he argued, is worth more than freedom. In the long term the Lords must be abolished or reformed into a democratic institution; some of these unelected people are rather stupid.

However, on occasion, the Lords do ask the right questions. They may look at the likely effect of Bills before them. Some even think. Too many MPs troop ignorantly into lobbies at the call of the pager, like sheep trying to ensure the farmer who reared them for slaughter will take home the trophy from the sheepdog trials.

We can't reform the Lords without looking at our elected representatives in the Commons. We are ruled by a party elected by less than 37% of the voters - about 22% of the electorate. Few Members of Parliament attend debates in the House of Commons - perhaps to avoid being swayed by arguments or evidence. As far as intelligent votes on laws are concerned, we might as well vote for a bar of chocolate or a speak-your-weight machine. Come to think of it, the first might offer constituents more comfort and the second more honesty.

If our unrepresentative MPs read the votes they enacted, that would be a start. But would they understand them? MPs are well trained in public speaking and being interviewed. They know which colours complement their features and take advice on appropriate hairstyles. Does anyone, I wonder, train our law-makers in framing or reading a Bill in Parliament - or how to understand it in relation to laws and treaties of the past.

It's not easy - as word got out about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, all sorts of individuals - some with no training - worked for hours and days trying to understand exactly what the Bill said and what effect it would have on past legislation.

Some members of the House of Lords have time and the right kind of expertise. Lords don't have to be marketed like an exciting new brand of floral shampoo to attract the right market sector when launched on the electorate. Lords can choose which interests to defend although, given their background, they're more likely to support wealth and hereditary privilege than to care for the destitute.

Tony Blair's purpose in rushing through Lords' reform is evident. Given his record and the time he's had already, he's not driven by a desire for democracy. He just wants to push his plans into law more easily, and with far less public attention.

Last week was the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. Next week, it's the Armed Forces Bill (which got through the Lords too easily - before reaching MPs). There may be numerous other Bills and Statutory Instruments which no-one has scrutinised - and there will be more on the way. Government lies about the way the Human Rights Act works indicates some rapid amendment to sweep away more of our rights and liberties.
The speed with which Bills are devised and hustled through parliament allows little pause for reflection.

Many of us now log on to the Parliament website to see what Bills are on their way. We're trying to understand them. We need a proper system of scrutiny. MPs should read Bills attentively before voting for them.

In the meantime, let's hang on to the House of Lords. They're a poor substitute for a free commonwealth, and a better system is needed. But until we can devise one, they may be the best hope we have.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

State Intervention or a Road to Nowhere - The Third Sector

"In a letter to Ms Armstrong setting out her key priorities, the prime minister said that he wanted to see a "step change" in the involvement of the so-called "third sector" within a year." BBC Report.

For several years, I have been making comment, unpopular to some, on the kidnap of community voluntary effort to government policy ends.
An expansion of the "voluntary" sector remains, in that context, dangerous.

It gives (apparent) authority to unelected people.
It provides a vehicle for entryism for special-interest groups (e.g. evangelicals).
It reinforces the power of unconstrained prejudice.
It diminishes genuine community initiative and defuses community protest (where that remains legal).
It softens the boundaries between participants and "authorities".
It helps shift responsibility for the condition of the poor and "socially excluded" to the poor themselves while expecting an unrealistic level of participation from those same people.
It diverts attention from other economic, educational and social policy failures.
It creates a self-sustaining system of "output" spin where the (employed) co-ordinators, administrators, outreach workers safeguard their jobs and the projects through exaggerated reports of the benefits of their project. (The output spin also feeds a false impression of policy success to central government politicians).
It distorts the application of charitable funding, shifting it towards a government policy agenda.
And it provides a another self-sustaining angle: if you don't participate, you are failing in your civic duty and must therefore be classed as socially excluded which will then merit intervention.

Since, from my own local observation, the active people involved are of low calibre, of limited vision and are largely motivated by some form of grandiosity or self-interest, I took a view that to participate was a waste of my time, unless I made it a clear and very time-consuming part of a step back into active politics. It's too late for that now. I also took the view that to participate further would be to endorse that dangerous system.

Excuse a little repetition of points already made.

Yes, yes, I know some good work gets through...


Monday, May 15, 2006

British parliament still under threat - today

posted by k

I have no time for carefully edited prose.

Please - as a matter of urgency - follow the link to the Save Parliament website

The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which reaches the House of Commons for its third reading today, has been amended to come extent, in response to public pressure. The law can probably not be used to amend some constitutional questions, for instance. However, the scope of "regulatory finctions" is pretty wide.

The Bill still allows ministers to introduce laws without debate in parliament. Although the government claims the Bill is all about business, this is mentioned in the Bill itself, opening the way to considerable abuse.

Recommendations from the Law Commision can be ignored.

Read regular updates here .

Or watch the debates on the parliament website .

Transcripts of debates will appear on the following day at the website theyworkforyou.com/ .

Sunday, May 14, 2006


posted by G

On Monday 22 May, the Armed Forces Bill will be considered in full for the last time in Parliament. It has already been through the Lords.

All that the Lords will be able to do after 22 May is approve (or reject) Amendments made by the Commons.

The Bill extends the penalty for refusal to serve in "an occupied country" (interesting way of describing the supposedly independent Afghanistan and Iraq) from 2 years to LIFE !

The Bill will extend Military Justice to include any civilian they choose to accuse of trying to inform military personnel of their personal rights, responsibilities and duties under both British and International Law. Particularly, of course, the duty to disobey an illegal order and the right to draw this to theattention of ones Commanding Office.And the right to become a Conscientious Objector.

The Bill places the total control of the Armed Forces under the Government rather than sharing it with the Queen. This echoes Hitlers personal takeover of the German Armed Forces in 1934.

The Bill will also finally abolish the Annual renewal of the Armed Forces (and their financing) by Parliament which was one of the key provisions of the Constitutional Settlement of 1689.

It returns the control of the Armed Forces to the situation in the time of King James II & VII which was one of the factors that led to the Revolution that overthrew him in the first place because he used the Forces to help his French ally against the wishes of Parliament. The same now threatens if the Forces are used to help America against the wishes of Parliament.

The Government will be able to do what it likes with the Armed Forces without needing Parliaments approval either for the policy or for the money.

It is the final act in establishing a Military Dictatorship for use whenever desired.

If the Prime Minister can ignore Parliament for Military activity and ignore the Courts for civilian control (as he now proposes) he will have no need of those original Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill powers (to legislate without Parliament) that he's just been forced to withdraw!

I'm astounded that nobody in either the Lords or the Commons has even noticed!

I think the sudden hoo-ha that's been stirred up about the Human Rights Act is to distract everyone's attention for just one more week .....

If nothing is done to stop it, dictatorship starts on 22 May.

"Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after"

posted by k

It seems that Tony Blair wants the power to over-ride court judgements "in the interests of public safety".

This has been mentioned on the BBC and quoted in newspapers. All refer to a letter the Prime Minister wrote to John Reid, which has been obtained by The Observer. So far as I can see, The Observer doesn't quote the letter and it isn't yet on the web. (That may just be an internet hiccup.)

The court system doesn't offer perfect justice. Perfect justice isn't possible. Courts interpret and act on the laws passed by parliament, which have been examined by committees and approved by votes in parliament.

Bypassing and over-ruling courts also means bypassing parliament.

A government which bypasses parliament and has power to over-ride the courts is called a dictatorship.

A leader who claims he embodies the popular will and speaks for the people may be a liar - or he may be mad and dangerous.

Blair claims this special role. He is a danger to democracy and to this country. It is time for him to go.

Friday, May 12, 2006

the 1940's were so quaint, darling...

Lest we forget. There are parallels with today in the methodologies and ideas behind the horrors of the Third Reich. It appears there are no similar parallels in the application of law.
The challenge is not so much to haul Bush, Blair and cohorts before an International Tribunal or before an International Court. The International will is not evident, is overwhelmed by the US/UK axis of threat, intimidation, lies and propaganda.
The challenge is to understand how it is that this has been done, why there is insufficient collective outrage, how we can expose that and how we can integrate and extend resistance to the erosion of the principles which underpin our very being.


"...the very essence of the Charter is that individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual State".
Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of German Major War Criminals: The Law of the Charter

Report to the President by Mr. Justice Jackson, October 7, 1946
"We negotiated and concluded an Agreement with the four dominant powers of the earth, signed at London on August 8, 1945, which for the first time made explicit and unambiguous what was theretofore, as the Tribunal has declared, implicit in International Law, namely, that to prepare, incite, or wage a -war of aggression, or to conspire with others to do so, is a crime against international society, and that to persecute, oppress, or do violence to individuals or minorities on political, racial, or religious grounds in connection with such a war, or to exterminate, enslave, or deport civilian populations, is an international crime, and that for the commission of such crimes individuals are responsible. This agreement also won the adherence of nineteen additional nations and represents the combined judgments of the overwhelming majority of civilized people. It is a basic charter in the International Law of the future."
"A judgment such as has been rendered shifts the power of the precedent to the support of these rules of law. No one can hereafter deny or fail to know that the principles on which the Nazi leaders are adjudged to forfeit their lives constitute law and law with a sanction."
"They resorted to legal devices such as "protective custody," which Goering frankly said meant the arrest of people not because they had committed any crime but because of acts it was suspected they might commit if left at liberty. They destroyed all judicial remedies for the citizen and all protections against terrorism. (Not current usage of the this word - Ed) The record discloses the early symptoms of dictatorship and shows that it is only in its incipient stages that it can be brought under control. And the testimony records the German example that the destruction of opposition produces eventual deterioration in the government that does it. By progressive intolerance a dictatorship by its very nature becomes so arbitrary that it cannot tolerate opposition, even when it consists merely of the correction of misinformation or the communication to its highest officers of unwelcome intelligence. It was really the recoil of the Nazi blows at liberty that destroyed the Nazi regime. They struck down freedom of speech and press and other freedoms which pass as ordinary civil rights with us, so thoroughly that not even its highest officers dared to warn the people or the Fuehrer that they were taking the road to destruction. The Nurnberg trial has put that handwriting on the wall for the oppressor as well as the oppressed to read."
Report to the President by Mr. Justice Jackson, October 7, 1946

Article 6 - Nuremberg Charter:
"The following acts, or any of them, are crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal for which, there shall be individual responsibility:
(a) CRIMES AGAINST PEACE: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;
(b) WAR CRIMES: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity;
(c) CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.(1)
Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan."
Article 6 - Nuremberg Charter

Article 7. - Nuremberg Charter
"The official position of defendants, whether as Heads of State or responsible officials in Government Departments, shall not be considered as freeing them from responsibility or mitigating punishment"
Article 7. - Nuremberg Charter

Article 8. - Nuremberg Charter
"The fact that the Defendant acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility, but may be considered in mitigation of punishment if the Tribunal determines that justice so requires."
Article 8. - Nuremberg Charter


All sources from archives at
The Judgement at:

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"a quiet, pilfering, unprotected race"

posted by k

John Clare had mixed views of gypsies. He assumed they pilfered in addition to poaching. But Clare lived in an increasingly regulated and controlled world. The shared countryside and common grazing land was fenced from the poor for the gain of the rich. And Clare valued the gypsies' liberty which quietly ignored the powerful and rich. His sympathy and admiration for the travelling life challenged conventional prejudice against the unhoused.

It was more than a week ago that the gypsies (or tinkers, or travellers - I didn't think to ask) settled on the fields round the corner. The arrival of their heavy caravans, their dogs and the horses caused anxiety and I'm ashamed to say some children kicked footbals at the gypsies' vehicles. But the newcomers were clean, polite and - embarrassingly - stayed away from us, as if unwilling to offend or provoke a disturbance. I heard no reports of criminal activity or bad or worrying behaviour.

Five days later, they went, perhaps making their slow way to the horse fair at Appleby.

I missed them; they had been quiet neighbours and the prejudice and anxiety they caused seemed without foundation. Those I spoke to were wary, perhaps, but glad of a friendly word and happy to chat.

All seemed to have gone well enough. Children and grown-ups may have feared the barking dogs but they enjoyed the sight of horses grazing. Prejudices were slowly eroded.

Then the MP's message arrived: he assumed the travellers were dirty, criminal, offensive; he wrote of "all the abuse from travellers that you'd expect" and hoped for prosecution. It was shocking because the MP has an anti-racist reputation, of someone working to promote harmony.

I took issue with the MP's. He backtracked. They couldn't have been real travellers, he said, and what he had published was not inflammatory.

The MP's message will be read by more than saw the gypsies - more than read this blog.

It's easy to augment prejudice and fuel fear. The MP has just done this. I'm pre-judging New Labour MPs. I fear the hate by which they prolong their political lives.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Praise the Lord

I have for some time regarded David Miliband as a principal master of the dark arts behind New Labour's domestic policies – in particular, the trick of purporting to involve “communities” by encouraging and developing the power of “Community Groups”. I have been reminded of this by the appointment of his little brother Ed Miliband (no previous Government office, first elected to Parliament 2005) as Minister for the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office. So Ed is working for Hilary Armstrong (Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster and the Cabinet Minister for Social Exclusion).

Just to sum up, in this field, we now have:

Ruth Kelly, Department for Communities and Local Government (and Cabinet Mjnister for Women) who, remember, has a remit of community cohesion and equality, as well as responsibility for housing, urban regeneration and renewal, planning and local government with further responsibility policy for race, faith, gender and sexual orientation.

Hilary Armstrong, Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster and the Cabinet Minister for Social Exclusion She has the brief to tackle social exclusion (essential liaison with the HOme Office). Hilary Armstrong (from Sunderland, MP for North West Durham) will take responsibility for the “third sector” and has clearly got a brief to co-ordinate different parts of Whitehall in that field - whether that has authority over, or relieves responsibilities from, other Ministries is less than clear.

Ed Miliband (no previous government office, first elected 2005, MP for Doncaster North) is Minister for the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office. When elected he resigned from his job at the Treasury where he was chairman of the Treasury's Council of Economic Adviser.. He is working for Hilary Armstrong (Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster and the Cabinet Minister for Social Exclusion). He is David Milband's younger brother. Let us not forget that David Miliband has been Minister of State for Communities and Local Government before his shift in the reshuffle to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. MP for. South Shields

John Reid, a safe pair of hands now at the Home Office (or is that Department now?). Peeved that he didn't get the Foreign Office.

Alan Johnson MP for (Kingston upon Hull West & Hessle) at Education (I would see that very much as the role of compliant caretaker).
Reid (definitely) and Johnson (reportedly) are both one-time members of the Communist Party.

We have the core team for the transformation of the political culture of the U.K. Kelly, Armstrong, both Milibands (Rural affairs are also involved with the third sector), and Timms. The Blair cohorts outvote the Brown cohorts but there is common ground between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. All these closely associated with the Cabinet Office, all closely associated with the Prime Minister, and all of relatively strong religious views.

Through understanding more of the mindset of these people – which has nothing to do with any form of Conference policy – we might gain for more insight into the nature of the thinking behind the internal future of this country.

In the realms of Religion:
David and Ed Miliband are Jewish - the offspring of an originally Belgian father and a mother from a Polish background. Able people.
Ruth Kelly is Catholic and known as a member of Opus Dei.
John Reid is lapsed Catholic of mixed-denomination parentage. Probably not influenced by the power of religious institutional thought.
Hilary Armstrong is a former vice-president of Christian Socialist Movement
Stephen Timms, First Secretary to the Treasury, is an active Christian Socialist.
Sensitive stuff. This is not so much concern that people practice their faith. Where .matters of state and of the people are concerned, the ethical boundaries for decision need to be quite clear.

In the realms of Geography: Anthony Blair (Sedgefield), David Miliband (South Shields), and Hilary Armstrong (North West Durham) represent constituencies close to being contiguous with each other. Johnson (Kingston-upon-Hull) and Ed Miliband (Doncaster North) when not burdened with Ministerial duties, will have travelled on the same train (excluding Blair) between London, leaving or getting on at Doncaster where others will have continued on to Durham or Newcastle.

The main movers and shakers are increasingly of a religious orthodoxy (but don't forget the Blair's ego-massaging New-age tendencies). The presence of two known activists from the Christian Socialist movement (mainly evangelicals), one further almost-certain Evangelical (Blears), quite apart from Blair's own peculiar brand of hybrid Catholicism, should not be under-rated in a secular society. Outcomes are unlikely to be liberal (but will be Good For You).
Did you know Condoleeza Rice is also (whether or not practising) RC? And Margaret Becket?

The domestic agenda will develop the absolutist tendency.
Foreign Policy will support warfare.

The hypocrisy of the so-called Christians in the Cabinet when it comes to annihilating people in distant antions is unconscionable. Might some of these sympathise with the primitivist view that we are all living in the end-days (and if they go on like this....)? Perhaps some believe in the inevitability and necessity of a Greater Israel before the good Lord COMES AGAIN to redeem us and send all of those sinners (i.e. people who don't agree with or behave like us) to perdition. And that they are his agents in that. The death of millions or tens of millions is, then, merely Biblical.

No. That can't have any substance. Paranoid.


"Insh'allah" - Osama

"immeasurable grief"

posted by k

Brian Haw

He's an eccentric, of course.

He must be absolutely mad to stay there, day after day, opposite the Houses of Parliament and all those police with their heavy weapons.

What on earth does he think he'll achieve by it? He may be embarrassing to the government - he may even cause them the occasional twinge of shame - but they're hardly going to say, "Good heavens, he's got a point. Yes, we were wrong. Too many have died. Think of all the dead babies. We're ever so sorry. Let's pull the troops out now, say sorry and try to make amends."

Our current leaders aren't going to make public statements of contrition. They'll go on justifying themselves and looking for new lands to bomb and pillage.

Who takes any notice of Brian Haw?

He's scruffy, too - is this how we wish tourists to see our "green and pleasant land"?

Well, yes, actually. There's something about free speech that's still worth defending. And I've a feeling that Brian Haw, scruffy as he is, speaks for more people in this country than the sharp-suited man in Downing Street - or his chosen successor.

Let's go back to that "green and pleasant land" which Brian Haw is culttering up with his posters and unruly opinions. That's a quotation from William Blake and thinking about Blake might help us see the question in a different light. William Blake was an eccentric and oddity, out of step with his times and opposed to overbearing state power. He lived in a country whose government tried to stifle free speech. He warned his friend Tom Paine to flee from England when the government wanted to ban his book and throw him into jail. Blake himself was tried for treason (and acquitted) for saying that all soldiers were slaves.

These days you can still be imprisoned for advising soldiers to leave the army. The government wants to imprison soldiers for life if they refuse to occupy another country or fight in an unjust war. Perhaps we could be put on trial for repeating Blake's words.

You can see a number of Blake's paintings across the river from Brian Haw in the Tate Britain Gallery. His poems are studied in schools and universities.

I think William Blake and Brian Haw would have understood one another pretty well.

Monday, May 08, 2006

You just don't get it do you, Doc

If I were a Labour MP wavering on whether or not to sign the letter requiring TB to set a date for his departure that is said to be doing the rounds, the intervention that would have induced me to unscrew my Montblanc is the new Home Secretary's remarks on the Politics Show that
"The whole thing has been generated by people who want to push Mr Blair out. They want to stop the reform programme and go back to Old Labour."
If only. I'm a Liberal Democrat faute de mieux. In my time I have been a member of all three political parties, as one of my oldest friends closely associated with this blog who has always been a Liberal or Liberal Democrat never ceases to remind me. Yet my views and instincts haven't really changed at all. Though I was born and still live in the North, and have only paid business rates to the London Borough of Camden, ich bin ein Hampsteader through and through.

Now what does this New Labour Project which the good doctor wants to save mean to Hampstead man. In a word "yuck".

The project means war. We've had far more warns under TB than even Lady Thatcher. Not just Iraq but Afghanistan, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and - who knows - before long nuclear bunker busters in Iran. These wars are not fought for national survival nor even national interest. If they further anybody's national interest it is that of the fading imperial power. They are all unnecessary and, in most cases, unwinnable.

The project means deindustrialization. The decline in manufacturing that Thatcher started has continued apace. But what is worrying is that we are losing our capacity to invent. We lie sixth in the number of European patent applications behind not just the USA, Japan, Germany and France but even the Netherlands which one third of our population for goodness sake. And we are closing down chemistry departments faster than Beeching closed down branch lines. It is true that we have the illusion of well being but it is all froth based on soaring property prices and artificially low interest rates. Give an oil price spike, a war with Iran or a pandemic and we shall soon see the fragility of the economic base.

The project means authoritarianism: identity cards, 28 days (90 if the government had its way) imprisonment without charge, DNA data banks of >5% of the population (particularly Cheshire children), gun toting coppers, the highest prison population in Europe after Turkey, ever shrinking legal aid (gone altogether for most civil disputes).

The project means privilege. PFI contracts with returns to the investors beyond the dreams of Croesus, a handful of GPs earning hundreds of thousands of pounds while most health workers are underpaid and under-resourced with a similar story in education.

The project is personalized by the Deputy Prime Minister - no ministerial responsibility but all the perks. As one of his political rivals put it - two pads, two jags and no job.

I could go on. I have deliberately avoided Cherie Booth's hairdressing, Tessa Jowell's business transactions, peerages, loans etc because these relate to personalities rather than policies. But they are inevitably linked in the public mind to the new Labour project. And they are corrosive. Any ambitious Labour MP who wants a job after 2009 will ditch that project together with its principal protagonist. Quickly.

Posted by J

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Get your tickets for the mud-wrestling ....

The Cabinet reshuffle lays bare a consolidaton of vehicles which elevate the influence of the small mind.
I haven't fully thought this through. Excuse the lapses, my own prejudices and my recurring instinct to take half-a dozen people from local Community "Networks", tie them to Walton's Spire at the edge of the moorland and leave the crows and feral ferrets to do their work. Community art installation, mateys.

The Ruth Kelly brief for a Department of Communities, Local Government, and so-on sits uneasily alongside Hilary Armstrong's brief for social exclusion and the Third Sector. This Third Sector comprises voluntary and community sector organisations, charities and social enterprises. "A new office for the sector in the Cabinet Office will bring greater coherence to the Government's approach to the sector." Indeed. Let me observe that parts of the Third Sector, using the natural goodwill of people who wish to work for their community in a voluntary capacity, provides vehicles for those whose comprehension of ethics, humanity and rights might be called into question. I refer to those self-elevating bullies or dimwits-with-chutzpah who seek to dominate and get their way over the rather more well-intentioned and naive who make efforts to help the local and wider community.

It is years since I first commented on the government kidnap of the community and charitable sectors. Yes, yes, I know good work is being done. Those who know me personally know I largely abandoned the wider sector several years ago and might be open to the accusation of wearing the entire output of Phillips Lane Chippy on my shoulders.

To recap, Ruth Kelly's Department for Communities and Local Government has a remit of community cohesion and equality, as well as responsibility for housing, urban regeneration and renewal, planning and local government with further responsibility policy for race, faith, gender and sexual orientation. Hilary Armstrong is Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster and the Cabinet Minister for Social Exclusion, based in the Cabinet Office. This will be to co-ordinate an agenda to tackle social exclusion. Hilary Armstrong will take responsibility for the “third sector”, supported by a Parliamentary Secretary, drawing together the different parts of Whitehall that currently deal with voluntary and community sector organisations and social enterprises. The office for the sector is in the Cabinet Office.

There is the potential for conflict in policy between Armstrong and Kelly. Either they must be bedmates in policy matters or there will be a battle-royal.How on earth can you separate Social Exclusion and the Third Sector from Communities and Local Government? I'd really like to know.

It is NOT possible to separate the impact of policies for the Turd Sector and those of regeneration, renewal and local government. They are inextricably intermeshed. Remember that, since the reorganisation of Local Government, we have multi-borough Local Strategic Partnerships (LSP's). These include unelected representatives from the "Communities" drawn from the various "Community Networks" which purport to bring together the interests of - again unelected - "Community Groups". I could - and probably will (Not again - Ed) expand on that element of perversion of voluntary efforts. There is a great distinction between an old way of having less formal community groups lobby and work practically with established institutions of local government and commerce to actually giving groups the illusion of power in a wider field. "We are listening to the Community". Again, within the mess, some good work gets done.

LSP's also include representatives from Industry and Commerce, and, come to think of it, Local Councils. The views and policy input from such groups are wide open to entryism - particularly by faith-groups - and wide-open to narrow-minded or ego-centric opinion. Bring back the stocks. Hurrah for the Ducking-stool. Imprison the children. God is the with me every day.

The impact of the Third Sector is over-rated - an output box will be ticked each time anyone rings up or visits about anything...and the cost-effectiveness of the new self-serving Third Sector of employment (people who manage the Third Sector and continue the spin to justify its existence and understandably safeguard their jobs) is somewhat absent. All this fed largely by various forms of Grant funding - whether through government (including EU) related sources or from major Charitable Foundations which have, in effect, been forced to alter their policies and funding priorities with the disproportionate demand on their funds which has arisen from the government-influenced Turd Sector. A true heap of shit. An illusion of extending local democracy under the tight scrutiny of central authority.

Let us then not forget the other element of the Third Sector and Social Policing. The Treasury. The Third Sector involves an expanding number of community-related charities and charitable companies. The functions of the Charity Commission are being rolled up into the broad responsibilities of the Inland Revenue (who now incorporate HM Customs) and Charity Law is undergoing major reform alongside that. So Brown (and young Mister Timms, Chief Secretary to the Treasury – seen as a fast track to cabinet Office) will have some impact on the direction of Kelly and Armstrong's Departments.

It is at the local level that the effective ruthlessness of new forms of "soft"-fascism and social policing will be most visible. This illustrates the importance of that thinking within the government. It is insidious, it is erosive, and it gives power to bigotry, to the small-mind, rather than to reason and imagination. And it further diminishes the authority of elective local government and increases that of the employed bureaucracy (we're not supposed to criticise government servants).

I'll be selling tickets (along with Gordon Brown) for the first of many mud-wrestling bouts between Ms Kelly and Ms Armstrong. Bet Ms Kelly wins - Catholic Girls always were vicious on the Hockey-field. Or perhaps Young Mister Timms will join in.

Meanwhile, will someone kindly lock-up all the local kids, exorcise every rented home, drown the thick young mothers up the street, burn the heroin dealer at the stake and puncture the ear-drums of all those young chaps driving around with 300 watt bass speakers? And lend me a flame-thrower in case none of that gets done? Sorry - I haven't got a pyrotechnics licence and entirely omitted the risk-assessment. Mind you, I now have a Level 3 NVQ in cynicism.


Friday, May 05, 2006

The road to hell is paved...

"The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding." (Albert Camus)

To move towards an understanding of the root of matters.

Political tyranny requires a personal sense of rectitude which refuses the critic. “There is no alternative.” The tyrant will claim a monopoly of understanding. The tyranny will promise the redemption of the people – from fear, from poverty of the mind or of the body, from another form of slavery (it can be argued that the Ideology of the Market has developed the most sophisticated form of enslavement in the recorded history of the world). It is typical for the tyrant to begin with a rationalisation of good intentions and, if brought to book, end with the plea of those same good intentions: “But you don't understand.” The Trains ran on time. The Jewish problem would have been solved if you had only let me finish the job.

Let me then seek to conflate that premise of personal rectitude with a further premise: that the desire for power is rooted in jealousy which is in turn rooted in fear. The fear that, since you cannot control the world, it will be taken away from you. You cannot possess it. In the denial of recognition of that fear, of that jealousy of a world which takes attention away from you and requires that you give attention to others, the efforts to control the world are reinforced. For an individual in a position of great authority and responsibility, such emotional immaturity, such isolation from others, is dangerous. It is close to the outlook of the psychopath.

To clarify, let's first distinguish such a conception of power from the acceptance of an offered responsibility which has access to the means to facilitate that authority. That acceptance brings with it a requirement of probity, for the separation of responsibility from self-interest. That combination of responsibility and authority might be perceived, construed or described as power and will be taken as such by those who aspire to power and by those who seek to influence that. The ethical requirements of responsibility are but rarely realised. The distinction between conceptions of power and those of responsibility with authority is a key signifier of an attitude of mind, of the approach to the use – or misuse – of authority.

That the exercise of authority requires safeguards to prevent abuse within the personal arrogance and self-glorifying associations of the “powerful” has, through some millennia of philosophy and practice, led to various checks and balances to scrutinise and limit the actions of those entrusted with authority in order to enshrine the protection of individual rights and liberties. "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" (Originally a reference to guards in the harem). In the UK we have had a judiciary which has, at least on the face of matters, evolved to resist political and ministerial interference. In the UK we have had a Parliamentary and Party Political system which, again on the face of matters, has limited the whims of monarchs, provided some public scrutiny of the actions of governments and which, from time to time, has obliged them to change policy. Neither the Judicial nor the Parliamentary system is ideal. Each involves compromise and creates injustice. In the judicial system, the correction of or defence against injustice is fully accessible only to the rich. Just as, at one time, was Parliament. Hence the battle for universal suffrage and the argument for reform the House of Lords with its legacy of hereditary peerages (or more recent bunce-peerages).

Why introduce these themes? Why such basics? Well, I think that the preoccupation with the surface symptoms of the time, the events of the moment, risks our own capitulation in the business of forgetting We need to be alert to how we are ourselves influenced by the “Spirit of the Age”. How we can learn to recognise and therefore resist the abuse of the political system and how we can learn to recognise and resist the erosion of our being, the accumulated influence of propaganda on our minds.

Long enough. I will move on with a later post.


"passionate intensity"

posted by k

The local election results are coming in as I write this. Gains for the fascist British National Party were predicatble, after recent news stories, but we have to face the knowledge that in some areas the majority of voters (I think in some seats it was an overall majority) entered a polling station and put their crosses beside the name of a BNP candidate.

We could blame others. Government statements and policies have created and encouraged a climate of fear and hatred. But if
we permitted the government to assume power, those statements and policies are our responsibility too. It's harder - but not impossible - to challenge media attitudes. The media need us as purchasers so that they can sell space to advertisers. A boycott of papers which cynically promote hatred is possible.

The defence of freedom of speech has a corresponding duty - I have to exercise free speech to challenge views which I regard as damaging and dangerous.

Challenging views which lead people to vote BNP is not easy. I don't know if new BNP voters feel helpless and powerless in the present political structure. I can see why a sense of helplessness might lead to the kind of bad behaviour which attracts attention. Whether or not that is the case, there's an urgent need to involve many more people - from all society - in real political debate rather than focus group soundings.

When people listen to one another they develop and grow - they learn to understand the needs of others while working through their own political stance and potential for action. The big anti-war march in London gave me hope, not because it could have stopped the war, but because people from a range of backgrounds and with different views talked and listened to one another. People came from the isolation of a group of like-minded people and started to develop and express new ideas. This isn't an easy or quick process - we all need time to reflect and think.

In the meantime, I don't know what to do. I shall do my best to listen and respond thoughtfully to a range of views. I shall do my best to see everyone as my equal. There's a lot to be said - still - for the old French slogan of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

Note: Please post suggestions for a non-sexist alternative to fraternity. I like its suggestion that we are all members of the same family - and that we have the same position in that family - but we are definitely not all male!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"there's no place for us"

posted by k

I've been reading a Canadian blog by a friend who writes on all sorts of subjects, including epee and manga. I'd like to recommend one of her recent posts, although its focus is on events and attitudes on the other side of the Atlantic.

Screw Bronze!: Equal Humanity for Gays/Lesbians? Part I

The important points she makes about discrimination and the need for the legal protection of minorities led me back to John Stuart Mill's important essay On Liberty. Mill points out that democracies must be something other than a means by which a majority oppresses a minority with which it doesn't agree.

So how do we ensure the protection of minority groups? (Sometimes we have to protect majority groups too.)

There are two different ways we respond to the state - as individuals and through our membership of particular groups.

Some governments - like Thatcher's - try to ignore group identity and treat everyone as individuals, diffusing a source of power and ngelecting the various societies in which we live. Famously, she said "There is no such thing as society." Her government chose groups - from trades unions to gay campaigners - for public demonisation. (For anti-union propganda, look at her election broadcasts, while Section 28, which targeted gay campaigners, still has a malign effect on schools.) The individual was apparently cherished, but chiefly as consumer.

Other governments - like Blair's - prefer to privilege groups and channel their power into the support of government. Disparate groups are given roles on committees and even employed to exercise state functions. Voluntary organisations start to become servants of the state, until their anti-state campaigning is elided with their new state role and consequently muted. Meanwhile church education is hugely expanded - secularists and multi-faith groups lack the power of big church groups and their interests can be disregarded. The individual who doesn't belong to favoured groups has less power as a result and, as group dissidence is absorbed, individual opposition is further marginalised.

Most people see themselves both as individuals and as members of a range of groups - the latter through a mixture of chance and choice (gender, race, sexuality etc are given while religion and social attitudes are more open to choice). We need to be able to debate questions of government both as individuals and as members of groups. Individuals and groups need to play a part in government or oppose it.

But how is this relationship - and all the competing interests and ideas it exposes - to be seen in an ideal state? And how are individuals and minorities to be protected against waves of hatred and prejudice from the majority? - for these do happen from time to time.

Monday, May 01, 2006


posted by R
(This was initially posted as a comment to the previous post. It didn't register and in any case I thought it should be a separate post so have added it as one. - k)

There is a name for Blair's principles; it is underused, but I didn't invent it, and it is very precisely what's wrong. Robespierrism: there are three important elements. Firstly, "I am the voice of the people." Second, "everyone accused is guilty." Thirdly "No Limits." Robesperre himself explicitly enunciated all these concepts in his lifetime, and Blair's government has expressed the some thoughts in slightly different words frequently.

Blair himself is obviously impatient of all the institutions and movements that attempt to express any opposition to his boundless power or open-ended personal portfolio. They are, to him, all "vested interests" and "out of touch." The actual people are wasting their time telling him what we really want, because he knows better. Blunkett, when Home Secretary, put it expressly: "The ordinary people haven't got these professional bodies and organised groups to speak up for them, there's only me to speak up for the ordinary people." Of course Thatcher and Howard said much the same from time to time. (Remember Howard announcing how he'd decided on an exercise of his judicial function by crowing how he was following a cut-out petition in The Sun.)

Blair only two weeks ago was boasting how he was going to "hound, hassle and harry" suspects out of Britain. That's SUSPECTS! Also see the Lord Chancellor's paper Doing Law Differently of April. It proposes massive powers for the police to impose restrictions, exclusions, financial and punitive sanctions, compulsory treatments and curfews on people not even charged, let alone convicted, of any offence. ("Hey, don't worry, we're decent blokes. And it isn't a breach of human rights because none of this counts as a criminal record.") And the Home Office is introducing legislation to allow police to seize bank accounts, houses and cars from - guess who? - supects! The justification is always that the human rights of The Ordinary People (a.k.a. The Silent Majority and Hardworkingfamilies) are more important than the rights of anyone accused
Robespierre seems not to have operated from any formal office, not even the Committee of Public Safety particularly. He was on ALL the committees. No Limits. Joined-up government with a capital G.

Note: 'Doing Law Differently' can be found in a pdf file at:
(no quick link because some computers take against pdf files)

"Most sweet voices"

posted by k

Whenever people lose trust in government, two solutions are advanced:

The government (that is, all the people rather than some of them) should fund political parties, and
Voting should be made compulsory.

Both arguments are superficially attractive.

At the moment, parties are over-dependent on rich individuals and companies. This has results that are even worse than cash for peerages (buying a seat in parliament - not just buying a fancy title). Funding (to win elections) takes a high priority so that parties are encouraged to manufacture or endorse policies that are attractive to the rich and to big companies. Parties' main concern becomes the perpetuation of their own power.

This wouldn't change if we were all compelled to fund all parties. Big media approval would still be paramount; there would be no parallel compulsion on parties to listen to members of the public. But we would all work and pay taxes to fund party organisations. Our taxes would pay for conference platforms, make-up for leaders on TV, suits and hairdressers - not just leaflets and broadcasts.

For some people, funding political parties might be offensive. Certain religious groups do not vote because of their convictions. What would we do about fascist parties? Should people of Asian origin, for instance, be compelled to fund the BNP through their taxes?

And how about compelling people to vote?

While I expect I shall always attend the polling station (I might one day choose to spoil my ballot paper, but I'll be there) my libertarian instincts are against compulsion. Obviously, I would like wider participation in democracy.

Who will be compelled to vote - the homeless, the seriously ill, the prisoners? Those who need most help from the state will probably remain on the fringes of democracy. But these people might have much to contribute in debate, if we could learn how to listen. Those outside the electorate - long-term residents, illegal workers, fugitives from torture and repression - may be taxed for party organisations, but how will their insights be heard?

If nothing else changed, compulsory voting would probably give even more weight to conclusions of focus groups. Marketing politcal packages would have even more in common with selling evenings out or holidays. People might find they had even less influence.

Politics and political discussion need to involve many people. We need to move beyond what one individual can imagine. Our debates needsto be creative so that we can move beyond what is currently imaginable. And we need to outline the limits of the ballot and the party system.