tag: Law

Jun 2009

The water through which we swim

Over in the UK, the leader of the far-right BNP, Nick Griffin, was elected to the European parliament. As was another member of his party. On a very low turn-out, over 800,000 British people decided a bunch of thinly-disguised racist thugs were the best people to represent their views. That’s almost a million self-declared cretins.

See, I just have to go with the “easily manipulated idiot” explanation. The idea that so many people could rationally decide to vote for the BNP, in full knowledge of what they truly represent? It’s just too damn depressing. Mind you, we don’t live in a world where the depressing has an inverse relationship with the true.

We are none of us entirely free of prejudice. A wise man once said that “racism is the water through which we all swim”. But the idea is to swim against the current, folks, not get swept along with it. We challenge our racism whenever it appears in us. And we do so not because we’re being oppressed by political correctness, but because ultimately racism lessens us as individuals, it attacks the foundations of the society we live in and it’s no less than a direct assault upon the human soul.

Yeah, you heard me. For whatever the soul may be, whatever you believe it to be, it must surely include the imperative to rise above those blind prejudices that damage us. It is, if it is nothing else, that which inspires us to compassion and empathy. Much of what happens in politics and business… in modern life itself… is a direct assault upon the Sacred. But when people like Nick Griffin are carrying out the assault in such an overt and brazen manner, then we are obliged to challenge it.

The prejudice that lurks within our collective psyche can leak out in any one of us when tempers run high or emotions take control. And we must always be on our guard against that. But to deliberately and with premeditation walk into a polling booth and give voice to it? There’s something wrong there. Those 800,000 voters need to wake up.

This isn’t about the BNP. I still think this will do them damage in the long term as I question their competence and their ability to handle the inevitable internal rifts this will create. It’s about the people who voted for them. Let others try to coax them with promises and warm platitudes. I’m telling them to fricking sort themselves out. To wake up. We live in a profane world. And they are making it that much worse.

A couple of discussions sprang up on the U-Know! message board regarding Griffin’s election. One concerned the recent protest at his public press conference. For those unaware, Griffin was shouted down by a crowd who also threw eggs (personally I was dismayed. None of the eggs appeared to hit him).

I was a little surprised, however, to find this question being asked…

Other than “it’s fun”, which I won’t comment on, what do these people throwing eggs hope to achieve?

Sure, the question is coming from the message-board’s resident Tory, but it represents a theme that I’ve found emerging both in the mainstream media and on blogs. The protest was counter-productive, they say. Or it was hypocritical… restricting the free speech of fascists is surely the tactic of fascism, they say. Let him have his say and he’ll dig his own grave, they say.

They say a lot of things. But they are generally talking shit.

See first thing to point out is that this isn’t really a Free Speech (capital letters) issue. The “right to free speech” is about the freedom to express your views — yes, even reprehensible ones — without fear of prosecution. What it isn’t about, is guaranteeing anyone the right to be the loudest speaker in a given public place. The BNP have the right to stand for election. They have the right to distribute leaflets, publish a web site, hold meetings and so forth.

But when they start to spout their vile garbage in public, then others have the right to express their disgust. To heckle. To shout them down if they see fit. As for what this achieves…? It is a stark message to those 800,000 voters — and to anyone tempted by the rhetoric of fascism — that these views are contemptible. As are those who espouse them. It is a demonstration that those who would give voice to racism will be challenged. A reminder that the rest of us won’t allow this prejudice to gain ground.

Griffin should not be arrested for stating his views. But each time he does so in public, he should be challenged. And each public utterance of racism should be drowned out by a thousand voices in opposition.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2009

Final (?) thoughts on the expenses scandal

Over in Britain, the MPs expenses palaver continues to shock and amuse in equal measure. Not because of the (relatively trivial) sums of money lost to the treasury, but because of what it says about those in power. It’s sneaking a peek behind the curtain, so to speak. And it has revealed some genuinely sordid and unsavoury behaviour. Better yet though, have been the confused attempts to mitigate it, to explain it away. They have revealed a group of people utterly disconnected from those they represent. So disconnected, in fact, that they don’t realise waving personal cheques around on national TV isn’t entirely appropriate right now.

Or take Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, who appears to defend the lax expenses rules (in an article in The Independent) by insisting that MPs don’t get paid enough. The public, it seems, do not believe MPs are worth paying what Dorries insists they’re worth. As a result, they naturally had to find some other way of getting the money that Dorries says they’re worth.

Except, as Tim Worstall points out, this isn’t an entirely sound defence, as it amounts to:

You wouldn’t give us more money so we took it without you knowing.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I was in industry, I never felt as though I were getting paid enough. And I mean that in all seriousness. This isn’t just a piece of rhetoric. I did not feel as though my actual value to the company (my contribution to the bottom line) was in any way proportionately reflected in my salary. As a result, I felt little guilt about using company resources (in the form of paper, printing and photocopying) to publish a few small-circulation zines.

Here’s the point though… if I’d been discovered, I would have — justifiably — been held to account. In truth the infraction was so small and my value to the business large enough that I could probably have retained my job if I’d been contrite enough and made amends and gave guarantees that it would never happen again, etc. etc. But there’s no way around the fact that I would have been in hot water. It’s not like I didn’t know the salary when I took the job.

Dorries then goes on to suggest that by shining a light on the expenses of MPs and telling the British public where their money is being spent, newspapers are guilty of a “McCarthyite witch hunt”. That MPs are being subjected to “a form of torture” which may even drive someone to suicide.

Interestingly, there may be something to her concern. Public humiliation is one of those strange pressure points that can trigger extreme behaviour in some people. And I suspect there might even be something to the idea that the kind of person who is most susceptible to public humiliation would be drawn towards a career in the public eye. That’s just idle speculation though, and there’s probably not much to be done about it. It’s certainly not a reason to overlook petty corruption in politics. Being neurotic sadly does not exonerate you from all wrongdoing.

I only wish it did.

Amongst the revelations during the McCarthyite witch hunt, is the eyebrowing-raising fact that even within the current climate of hostility towards the perceived privileges of power, David Cameron managed to forget how many houses he owns. It boggles the mind. Not just that he said (to paraphrase) “two… oh wait, I think it’s four”, but that once this scandal became a national obsession he didn’t spend ten minutes every morning in front of a mirror rehearsing his answer to “how many houses do you own?”

Is he just thick?

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2009

Oh. And another thing…

A couple of follow-ups regarding the farrago of sordid pilfering that is the British MP expenses scandal.

Firstly, it’s well worth pointing out that this kind of corruption isn’t unique to Britain. And you don’t need to look to West Africa or Southeast Asia for other examples. Here in Ireland, it’s not much more than a year since our Taoiseach (that’s Prime Minister to you, Johnny Foreigner) had to step down thanks to his own series of “accountancy mishaps”. Who could have imagined, when the Mahon Tribunal started to investigate petty corruption in local politics, that Bertie Ahern himself would come unstuck?

Secret bank accounts and 50 grand cash “donations” that end up as “loans” to Bertie’s mother-in-law. All presented against the backdrop of his strangely selective memory. And the strangely selective memory of everyone around him. He was absolutely certain he hadn’t accepted 50 thousand pounds sterling in cash from a group of businessmen in Manchester. Until it became clear that he had. Then, suddenly, he recalls the money — but it was a private loan between friends to help him out of a bit of a bad patch financially. If a friend of mine loaned me £50k, I like to think I’d have the good grace to remember it.

More than that, Bertie provided us with our very own “Hazel Blears and the 13 grand cheque” moment during his final days in power. At the very same time he was explaining to the nurses that their demands for a 10% pay increase were unrealistic, he was awarding himself a 14% increase. When a journalist wondered if it wouldn’t be a nice gesture of solidarity for him to forego his additional €38,000 (that’s a pay hike higher than the average national wage) he dismissed the idea as “tokenism”.

When the political classes can dash off cheques for £13k despite not really believing they owe the money in the first place, or can imply that 38 grand is a token sum of money, it might be a hint — and I’m just speculating here — but it might be hint that something is wrong. That far from the public becoming disengaged from politics, that politicians have become disengaged from the public.

Which, when you’re looking at the world from behind a moat, is always going to be a danger.

[Personal note: I paid significant amounts of tax into the British treasury during the 15 years I was based there. I’m not just some foreign agitator commenting from afar… I’m also wondering where Oliver Letwin gets off spending my money on his goddamn tennis court]

Rob makes a good counterpoint over at his place. Isn’t this all a bit of a distraction, he wonders in paraphrase, from the rather more important point that the gap between the richest and poorest in Britain has increased significantly of late? Even during the economic good times, “the real incomes of the poorest 10% of the population fell and those of the wealthiest 10% rose”. Isn’t “puppy-killer” Letwin’s two thousand quid tennis court repair, or Straw’s claim for unpaid taxes, kind of trivial next to that revelation? And shouldn’t we, the media and — gasp! — even the politicians be concentrating on that?

It’s a fair point well made. But I wonder if it really gets to the heart of the issue? Isn’t it just possible that a political class so willing to enrich themselves at the expense of the public might be part of that wider problem? David Cameron is leader of the opposition. He’s a very wealthy man from a very privileged background. His constituency is an hour from London by train… he lives just outside Oxford. So why does he even need “a second home” in London? One that he’s claimed over £80 thousand of public money to help pay for?

Yes, we know it’s “within the rules”. I’m not saying it’s not. But when you set your own rules of conduct, then pretty much everything you do is within the rules, right? Like a mafia boss insisting the murder he committed shouldn’t be punished because it was carried out according to the rules laid down by the Cosa Nostra code.

Cameron claims to believe that the public sector is wasteful. I can only assume he’s basing his opinion on a glance at his own finances. Within the rules or not, if the man had any sort of commitment to his own political beliefs — any kind of personal integrity — then he would have taken a look at that second-home allowance of his a long time ago. He’d have wondered if maybe the taxpayer wouldn’t be better served by him taking the train in from Oxford instead?

In some (rather more transparent) democracies, the state commissions a block of small but functional apartments for MPs to use while parliament is in session. The state maintains the place and the MPs live there rent-free. The politicians are allowed — of course — to buy their own place. Even start their own little property portfolio should they wish. But, like the rest of us, they have to dip into their own pocket for that.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2009

Tax evaders, benefit cheats, British MPs

And the question is: “Name three types of people who regularly steal public money?”

It’s been a quite extraordinary few weeks in British politics. A seemingly endless series of stories has emerged revealing how British MPs have been ruthlessly and systematically exploiting the expenses system in order to syphon public money into their own pockets. Some appear to have spent as much time fiddling their expenses as they have representing their constituents… buying and renovating properties with public money and then selling them on and pocketing the (tax-free) profit. A practice so common they had a name for it… “flipping” they called it.

Completing the phrase with “… the finger at the proles” would hardly be an unfair characterisation of what was going on.

Oliver Letwin: multi-millionaire, director of N.M. Rothschild & Sons, puppy-killer, conservative MP and one of the key architects of the tory plans to slash public service spending when they come into power. Claimed over £2,000 of public money to fix a leaky pipe under his tennis court. You’d really think one of the perks of being a millionaire merchant banker would be that you didn’t have to get your hands grubby nicking money from the till? Wouldn’t you? Still, I guess he can close a hospital ward once he gets into power… he’ll save a lot more than the two grand his tennis court works bill cost the taxpayer. In Letwin’s world, that’s value for money.

One can only assume that Rothschild don’t have quite so liberal an expenses system. Strange, huh? Or maybe they do, but his first instinct was to raid the national treasury rather than his corporation. Either way it’s revealing.

It must make all those firemen, nurses and teachers so angry… they have to pay for repairs to their tennis courts out of their own pockets. And heaven forbid the chandeliers need cleaning!

Jack Straw: textbook example of the corrupting effect of power, from dedicated socialist to viciously reactionary supporter of Blairism, new labour MP and current Minister for Justice. While we rightly hold Letwin in contempt for his sordid pilfering, we can at least assume that there really was a tennis court and a leaking pipe. Jack Straw, on the other hand, claimed £1,500 for Council Tax he never paid. Seriously folks, isn’t that just outright theft? Why are we pussy-footing around this? And how come MPs can claim their taxes back on expenses anyhow? Who decided on that rule? Oh yeah… that’s right…

It’s interesting how many MPs have paid back the dodgiest of their expenses since discovering this was all going to become public. All the while maintaining they’ve done nothing wrong in the first place and they don’t actually have to pay them back, but they will all the same and they would have paid them back even if they weren’t going to be made public, honest. When Jack Straw was home secretary back in 2000 he introduced a series of tough new measures to “crack down on benefit cheats”. I don’t hear him calling for the Serious Fraud Office to get involved in this little bit of nest-lining. When questioned about this fifteen hundred quid he apparently responded; “Accountancy does not appear to be my strongest suit.” I wonder how that defence would work for the average “benefit cheat”.

He once wanted to be Chancellor of the Exchequer you know?

Douglas Hogg: 3rd Viscount Hailsham, voted “Least Likely to Ever Be Known As A Man of The People” at Eton (a great honour for him), lives on a country estate in a castle* called Kettleburgh Hall, believes the public should cover the bills. And what bills they are!

It’s worth mentioning that Hogg denies ever having claimed over two grand to have the moat around Kettleburgh Hall cleaned. You read that right. All the same, it appears on an expense claim which was paid, and he quickly “paid it back” once he learned this would all become public knowledge. But he never claimed it, see?

No. Neither do I.

He also denies that the public is paying for at least one full-time member of staff at Kettleburgh Hall, or that the taxpayer is being generous enough to cover the cost of keeping his grand piano in tune. But they appear on his expenses claim… and he’s paid them back now. They live in a different world, don’t they?

Elliot Morley: First to be suspended. I say “first” with a certain note of hope and expectation. Ex-minister under Blair, strongly in favour of the Iraq War, nuclear stuff (submarines, power stations) and tougher ‘anti-terrorism’ measures. Nice to animals though. Mind you, his respect for living creatures doesn’t seem to stretch quite so far as those who pay his wages; British people.

Of the Jack Straw school of expense fiddling (claim for stuff you’ve never even paid for). But in Morley’s case, he was claiming mortgage payments on expenses for 18 months after the mortgage had ended. That’s £16,000 over a year and a half. You’d think he might have noticed something? I know they get paid alot, and clearly they find it difficult to keep track of all that money, but wouldn’t he have noticed an extra £900 per month just appearing in his account? No?

Well, “sloppy accounting”, says Morley. Shades of Jack Straw once again. It’s lucky these guys don’t have to deal with large sums of money as part of their job or anything. Anyway, Morley has apologised and he’s paid back the sixteen grand. Good to know he still had it lying around.

Andrew Mackay: First tory resignation of the scandal — will he be the last? Let’s hope not. Was a parliamentary aide to tory leader, David Cameron, now just a backbench MP. Still got access to those expenses forms, then. Turns out he was claiming for mortgage payments on two separate properties. Uh-huh, that’s right, the taxpayer was buying this guy two houses. Just to remind ourselves, he was taking home an MPs salary of £63,291. And that’s the minimum… I assume he got a bump for being Cameron’s aide, and whatever else he brings in on the side. But at a minimum he’s earning close to three times the national average wage.

Yet he’s still spending his time working out how to get the public to buy him two houses on expenses. Other than MPs, who else could be discovered surreptitiously funnelling their employers money into their own bank-accounts and not get fired? And not get arrested?

Mackay had to know that claiming a “second home allowance” on two homes not only managed to contravene the most lax set of expenses rules ever devised (impressive in a way), but was just wrong. From any moral or ethical standpoint you choose. How can he possibly remain an MP? Why the hell isn’t he being questioned by police?

Benefit cheats and embezzelers don’t generally get to escape criminal sanction by saying “sorry I’ll pay it back” when caught.

Shahid Malik: biggest claimant of all, junior justice minister, tax-dodger, landlord, safe to say not a traditional socialist. We could talk about the fact that this guy claimed more than any other MP in 2007 and racked up an astonishing £66,827 in “second home allowances” over three years (all the while renting out his “first home”). We could talk about the publicly-funded home-cinema system (apparently those stingy taxpayers would only cover half the £2,500 cost). But what caught my eye was the £65 he got the public to cough up for his court summons for non-payment of council tax.

Incredible when you think about it. Jack Straw, Minister for Justice, claiming back taxes he never paid. On expenses. Meanwhile a junior minister in his department is not only failing to pay his taxes but is getting the public to cough up for the penalties. Justice is blind. And a bad accountant to boot.

He’s agreed to pay back the £65 though. No word yet on the £1,250 for the home cinema system.

Hazel Blears: delusions of being Britain’s second female Prime Minister, objectively the most irritating woman on the planet (which makes her objectively the second most irritating person… Jay Leno just pipping her to first place), recently appeared to diss the Prime Minister by scornfully writing “YouTube if you want to. But it’s no substitute for knocking on doors or setting up a stall in the town centre”. Given that the British Prime Minister and Barack Obama are the only two politicians who’ve been in the media recently for their use of YouTube, Blears seems to be suggesting that the best use of the British PM and US president’s time is setting up a stalls in Scunthorpe or Bakersfield?

And maybe it is. Anything that reduces the number of times I see Gordon Brown’s face on my screen can’t be entirely bad, after all.

But for the first time in her entire political career — perhaps her entire life — Hazel has felt the prod of conscience. In a bewildering recent interview with George Monbiot, Blears came across as having absolutely no self-awareness whatsoever. None at all. It was a little unsettling.

And that utter lack of self-awareness was evident again when — upon hearing that her expenses might become public knowledge — she decided to wave around a personal cheque for the pesky £13,332 of capital gains tax she’d avoided by “flipping” her second home just before selling it for a healthy profit. Not that she’d done anything wrong, you understand? It was all legal and above board. But she’s paying back anyway. Now that we all know about it. And here’s the cheque to prove it.

As has been pointed out, that £13k represents “nearly three years of the state pension”. But Blears saw fit to wave it around on TV and discuss it as though it were something trivial.

That’s why I’ve taken this personal decision to send this cheque which is the amount that would have been paid had it been liable. Which it wasn’t. But so what?— Hazel “Loadsamoney” Blears

Salt of the earth, she ain’t. Thirteen grand? But so what, indeed.

David Cameron: Leader of the tory party, voted “Least Likely to be Held to Account for Minor Criminal Offences Because of How Upper Class He Is” at Eton. And again at Oxford. Deserves a slap, quite frankly.

The glorious leader of Her Majesty’s oppostion has claimed £82,450 over five years. On top of his salary. And on top of being really really rich already.

I realise this is naive of me, but wouldn’t you imagine that when very wealthy people enter public service they might consider using that wealth to minimise their cost to the taxpayer? It’d demonstrate… I don’t know… principles or something? I know, I know. Naive.

Still, he’s paying back £680 of the eighty-two thousand. Not that he’s done anything wrong. Not that he didn’t deserve every single penny of that £680. He bloody well did, you know! But he’s giving the British taxpayer a discount on his services.

Now that they’ve found out how much he’s charging.

* I’m not 100% sure of the technical definition but in my book, if it’s got a moat then it’s a castle.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Dec 2008

Where it's at

My hastily written post (Tories living in Stalinist Britain) about the arrest of British tory MP, Damian Green (or more accurately about the absurd statements made about his arrest by the tory party) got quoted all over the place. As a result my readership has more than doubled in the past couple of days. Not quite as dramatic as the infamous Joss Whedon link that saw thousands of people showing up, but a bit weird all the same. Of course, it’s pretty much guaranteed that none of the new folks will stick around to become regulars, but all the same, I bid you a hearty “Welcome!”

From what I can gather, I’ve mostly been cited or linked-to in a positive context (e.g. Bloggerheads, Chicken Yoghurt, Liberal Conspiracy, Shiraz Socialist, and more). Though there has been one clear denunciation, from a blogger called A Very British Dude (I know!), who accuses me of promoting a “pinko mythology”. As well as that, someone on the comment-thread on the Liberal Conspiracy post seems to imply that my position is based upon support for the British Labour Party.

Regular readers will — of course — realise just how absurd both accusations really are. However, many of my visitors right now won’t be regulars, so let me take this opportunity to dispel those misconceptions as well as provide a little bit of information about where I do stand (in the hope that it might, perhaps, provide some food for thought).

Firstly let’s point out that ‘pinko’ implies a kind of wishy-washy left-wing liberalism. According to Wikipedia (that font of all conjecture):

Pinko is a derogatory term for a person regarded as sympathetic to Communism, though not necessarily a Communist Party member. The term has its origins in the notion that pink is a lighter shade of red, the color associated with communism; thus pink could be thought of as a “lighter form of communism” promoted by mere supporters of socialism who weren’t, themselves, “card-carrying” communists.

I am not a communist. However, I am a collectivist. Albeit in a restricted sense. Certainly I am an opponent of capitalism and I believe that a free-market in non-renewable natural resources is both a symptom of, and a contributing factor in, a collective psychosis that dominates modern civilisation. If you insist upon viewing politics in terms of colours, then I guess I’d be dark green with enough red to create a kind of muddy brown hue, flecked with non-militaristic white.

The reason I balk at the “communist” label is because I strongly disagree with a whole host of traditionally communist positions which are common to both the Marxist-Leninist and Maoist flavours. Two points in particular make it utterly impossible for me to board the communist bus.

Firstly, there’s an emphasis on “work” — in the sense of economic activity — and “progress” within communism that I believe; (a) is almost identical to that found in capitalist ideology, and (b) leads inevitably to large-scale ecological destruction, which is little short of suicidal.

Secondly, communism — like capitalism — is an ideology which insists upon viewing the world primarily in economic terms.

I just can’t get behind that. I’m not disputing that the economic model of human activity has valid uses and is appropriate for many situations. However my own position is that the vast majority of people who subscribe to an economic and/or political philosophy are guilty of ignoring Alfred Korzybski’s famous golden rule: “The map is not the territory”.

I believe that our civilisation is facing an imminent crisis; one that we are ill-equipped to deal with. That crisis could be loosely described as “unsustainability”. In other words, we have developed systems of production and distribution upon which we have come to depend, but which cannot be sustained even in the short term because they rely upon the consumption of non-renewable natural resources at a rate that cannot be maintained for very much longer.

As a result, I do not believe that the economic model of human activity should be given anything like the prominence (indeed, the primacy) it has enjoyed during the last few centuries. Partly because economics is so riven by politics that it engenders a kind of tribalism in those who view the world in economic terms. A tribalism we can ill afford right now. And partly because economics is an extremely limited map; one that ends up actually contradicting reality when a certain narrow set of preconditions are not met. But because so many people fail to grasp Korzybski’s golden rule, those contradictions are simply ignored — occasionally even openly denied against all the evidence — by those who seek the comfort of a simple model of reality.

I’ve recently completed a Master’s thesis on Group Psychodynamics. I believe that a synthesis of psychodynamics and systems-theory will provide the best model with which to understand the issues surrounding sustainability. We should also be cautious, of course, about mistaking that map for the territory, but I believe that it will prove to be a far more useful one, all told, over the coming years and decades.

Leastways, it will do if anyone bothers to consult it.

Road to … where?

So broadly speaking, where would this map take us?

Firstly profit needs to be eliminated as the primary motive for the production and distribution of food, energy and all non-renewable resources. Concentrations of power and capital need to be curtailed in all but the most narrow of circumstances. Biodiversity should be preserved as a matter of extreme urgency and the conversion of currently ‘untouched’ land into agricultural or urban land should cease immediately.

Economic activity needs to be minimised. Not maximised as is the current trend. This is not a prescription for starvation. “Minimised” does not mean eliminated, and a policy of minimisation would involve differentiating between essential and non-essential activity; retaining the former in as efficient a manner as possible while eliminating the latter if it consumes any non-renewable natural resources.

Non-essential economic activity could continue so long as it is sustainable (under a strict definition of sustainability). In the words of Gregory Bateson:

[A sustainable civilisation] shall consume unreplaceable natural resources only as a means to facilitate necessary change (as a chrysalis in metamorphosis must live on its fat). For the rest, the metabolism of the civilisation must depend upon the energy income which Spaceship Earth derives from the sun.

It goes without saying that the replacement of our current unsustainable life-support systems (the production and distribution of food and other essentials) with sustainable substitutes will itself require a significant investment of those “unreplaceable natural resources”. This is unavoidable, though we should obviously strive to make the process as efficient as possible.

All of this needs to be done in an environment of rapidly decreasing consumption in those areas currently over-consuming and a planned, incremental increase of consumption (particularly food) in those areas currently experiencing shortages (this will hopefully prevent the movement of large populations which itself consumes resources in a number of direct and indirect ways).

A large number of powers currently enjoyed by central governments need to be delegated to local communities and the localisation of production and consumption should be encouraged where possible.

Conversely, some powers need to be denied to “the public” entirely. Whether or not a population votes to continue — for example — burning petrol in their private cars, is entirely irrelevant. Such activity is damaging to humanity and the planet as a whole, and those who decide to act in that way should be prevented. This is why democracy will have to be abandoned. Local communities should be organised along democratic lines, but their powers limited by a framework of rules defined by an understanding of sustainability.

Oh, there’s plenty more, but that should be enough to be getting on with. I trust, though, that I’ve provided enough information to demonstrate that I’m not a stooge of the British Labour Party trying to score partisan points against the tories in order to keep Gordon Brown in power…?

18 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Nov 2008

Tories living in Stalinist Britain

Damian Green is a tory MP in Britain. This means he’s almost certainly an enemy of social justice. In fact, his voting record places him firmly on the right of his already right-wing party. The best you can say about him is that he isn’t part of the tory religious tendency (on issues like abortion or embryology). Other than that though… he’s in favour of torturing dogs, does not support equal rights for homosexuals and counts Ian Paisley high among his political friends. Not a nice man.

So from a strictly personal point of view, the fact that he’s just been the subject of a little bit of police harrassment doesn’t upset me all that much. In fact, if people like Damian Green got harrassed a bit more by the police, then maybe they wouldn’t be so damn quick to champion the harrassment of others (his opposition to drug-law reform and stance on asylum seekers being just two examples of that championing).

So how did this harrassment manifest itself in Mr. Green’s case? Well it turns out he was suspected of releasing classified government documents into the public domain (“leaking” as it’s known). As a result he was arrested, questioned and then released without charge.

That the tory party is describing this as “Stalinesque” is the final proof (if proof be need be) that they’ve completely lost the plot. Certainly the tories aren’t above a wee bit of historical revisionism. We all know that. But are they really saying that one of the primary characteristics of Stalin’s regime was that political opponents were questioned for a few hours prior to being released? It’s 20 years since I read a biography of Stalin, but my memory isn’t that bad, surely!

Don’t get me wrong, clearly what’s happened here is a little heavy-handed and demonstrates the craven hypocrisy of the Brown administration. When it suits the Labour party they are more than willing to leak stuff to the media. In fact, they’ve got such a consistent track-record of leaking stuff that it hardly raises an eyebrow any more. It’s got to the point where the Labour government leaking information is almost considered “official channels”. That the police aren’t banging on the doors of cabinet ministers and hauling them off for questioning on a regular basis demonstrates that there’s a double-standard at work. And when a government starts to employ the police to enforce its double-standards then they really need to be replaced.

But the last people that should be replacing them are a bunch of dangerous fools who are willing to cry “Stalin” when one of their own gets questioned for a few hours and then released, but who stay silent at — and indeed support — the systematic harrassment of others.

I don’t recall the Tory outcry when police kicked down a door in Forest Gate and shot an unarmed suspect. I don’t recall the tories accusing the police of ‘Stalinesque’ tactics that day. In fact, just to demonstrate how divorced these fools are from reality, how utterly self-serving in their outlook, a Tory spokesman has described Green’s arrest as “unprecedented in its heavy-handedness”.

Unprecedented? Really? What complete tossers those tories truly are.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Nov 2008

A question

Would it be possible for a person, or group of people, to take legal action against their government for failure to protect them — and future generations — against a threat they acknowledge in their own publications is a serious one, but about which they are taking no practical action?

5 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Nov 2008

Coming soon: House for sale in Golders Green

As you may have read elsewhere (given how long I’ve been away from this place, chances are you’ve already read about most of the stuff I’ll be covering over the next couple of weeks), the complete membership list for the British National Party (BNP) has been leaked and published online (there’s some question about the legality of linking directly to the list, but I’m fairly certain I’m allowed to point out that it’s been published on Wikileaks, and is therefore one cat unlikely to be rebagged any time soon).

The list includes full names and addresses as well as telephone numbers, email addresses and — for many members — all manner of other additional information (age, profession, hobbies, etc.) as well as the occasional comment added, presumably, by the database administrator. My personal favourite of these comments is “No ‘promotional material’ requested. Concerned about his job”.

Oh dear.

Like most people who’ve seen the document, I immediately searched the text for various postcodes. With over 13,000 names on the list there’s a fair chance, after all, that I’ve had a BNP member or two as a neighbour in the past. In fact, during my time in England I had no less than nine addresses (as well as a brief period of no-fixed-abode) and it seems was never more than a mile away from a hardcore racist. Even when I lived in a small village in Hampshire.

Two geographical oddities stood out though. Firstly, I was bemused to notice that there are two members who live in Ireland. I presume they are ex-patriot Brits rather than Irish citizens who’ve decided to join the ultra-right British nationalists. Ex-pats, eh? There’s another word for them, isn’t there? Now, if I could only remember it… ah, that’s right: immigrants!

I don’t know; they come over here, steal our jobs……

I noticed the other geographical oddity when I checked to see if there were any BNP members in London NW11. I lived there for two years. Lovely place. Better known as Golders Green. And it turns out there is one. Only one, I grant you, but even so.

For those who aren’t aware, Golders Green is the heart of the London Jewish community. Something tells me there’ll be the tinkling of broken glass on Ravenscroft Avenue sometime soon.

Yeah it’s funny, but there’s more to it than that

I’m not going to deny the fact that I’m finding this whole debacle very amusing. When a far-right organisation with openly racist policies screws up in such a spectacular fashion it’s hard not to laugh. And it does appear to have been a case of shooting themselves in the foot. It was a disaffected member who published the list, not some shadowy left-wing conspiracy. However, neither can I deny that I’m somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing.

On a general note, it demonstrates the dangers of centralised databases. How long will we have to wait, I wonder, until the first disaffected employee of the UK’s National Identity Register skips town with a copy of the biometric details of everyone in the country? I don’t know how much that kind of data would be worth to, for example, a Moscow crime syndicate but I suspect it’d be enough to make it worthwhile for our hypothetical disgruntled IT contractor.

And before anyone says, “oh but that couldn’t happen ‘cos the Identity Register will be far more secure” let me point out that only a fricking idiot believes that they can create a 100% secure database. Especially one that has to be accessed by a whole range of different services on an almost continuous basis. In fact, for a bunch of reasons, I’d put money on the National Identity Register being fundamentally less secure than the British National Party membership database.

That, however, is far from the extent of my unease regarding the publication of this data.

Firstly, it’s a safe bet that some of the people on that list are not BNP supporting racists. I notice, for instance, that there are several “family memberships” that include the names of quite a few under-16s. I wouldn’t like to be held accountable today for the views I held when I was 14 (they weren’t racist views, incidentally, just silly and painfully misguided). Beyond that, we have no way of knowing that a given “family membership” wasn’t purchased by one overzealous family-member on behalf of their horrified kids.

On top of that, I’d like to relate a minor event from my own youth. I once decided — with a friend — to sign up for and “infiltrate with the aim of discrediting” the scientologists. Needless to say, it was a ridiculous idea (scientologists do such a good job at discrediting themselves it’s hard to know what we could have achieved even if we’d succeeded) and it never went very far. Nonetheless, it would not surprise me to discover that my name, along with an out-of-date address, can be found somewhere in the dianetics archives.

Of the 13,500 names on the BNP membership list, there’s probably no more than one or two silly leftist youngsters who thought they could do some damage by signing up and attacking the organisation from within. All the same, just by looking at a list of names and addresses it’s impossible to tell who that one or two might be. Please bear that in mind before passing judgment.

Another issue… this time from a Ken MacLeod novel rather than my own youth, but still very relevant. In one of his early books (might even be The Star Fraction, his glorious first novel) one of the characters regularly messes with the head of an old rival by signing him up to various organisations and mailing-lists that he finds objectionable. Again, maybe no one on the BNP list falls into that category, but it would be a mistake to automatically assume every single name on it belongs to a hardcore racist.

Clearly the vast majority do. But there will be the handful of fifth-columnists, investigative journalists, agents of political rivals and so forth.

On top of all that there’s also the (much more likely) possibility of mistaken identity. We’ve all heard the stories about the pediatrician whose house was attacked by braindead anti-paedophile vigilantes. Memo to braying mobs: make sure you have the right Mr. Jones in Lincoln won’t you? ‘Cos the other one is a retired solicitor who worked for the Refugee Council and he’s got a heart condition.

Bunch of tossers

All that said, there’s no doubt that the 13,500 names on the list almost certainly include 13,300 racist scumbags. And while I have no problem with anyone who seeks to ridicule them for those views, I’m very uncomfortable with the idea that it should go any further than “ridicule” (at least as long as they are merely “views” and not “activities”). Nonetheless, those who hold sensitive jobs (police and teachers primarily) should be investigated, and if they’re not part of the 200 decent people who I’ve generously assumed are on the list, then they should be fired. The British National Party is a legal political party and I hope it goes without saying that I’m not a fan of the concept “thoughtcrime”. If you want to hold those views, then you are entitled to do so and shouldn’t be punished for it.

However, if you self-define as a racist activist dedicated to driving immigrants out of a country, then you must accept that there are certain jobs that aren’t appropriate for you. “Police officer” is one of those jobs. Full stop. And I’d argue that “school teacher” falls into that category too.

When all’s said and done though, and despite the seriousness with which we should all take the far right, my primary reaction to all this is still one of mirth. It’s hard not to relish the spectacle of the BNP giving itself a good kicking. And to add an hilarious dash of irony to the proceedings, Justin at Chicken Yoghurt points out that

The crowning jewel of the story is that the BNP, who only this month called the Human Rights Act ‘surely one of the most pernicious pieces of legislation ever passed by the mother of Parliaments,’ and reiterated its promise to repeal it when the party – don’t laugh – becomes a ‘British Nationalist government’, have now asked the police to investigate breaches of the Human Rights Act.

It appears that the stalwart members of the Master Race are eager to wrap themselves in the European flag when it suits. As is their right of course. After all, they’re only human.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Oct 2008

Ireland to embark on €400 billion cocaine binge?

As you no doubt already know, dear reader, I’m not exactly a champion of free-market capitalism. My opposition is rooted in philosophical — and increasingly, psychodynamic — objections rather than traditional economic ones and my grasp of the more arcane aspects of economic theory is not very strong. Better than Sarah Palin‘s I’d wager, but not very strong all the same.

So I don’t claim to understand precisely how this credit crisis developed, nor how the various bail-out packages around the world hope to solve it (this is as good an explanation for the non-expert as I’ve found though).

I’m fairly certain, however, that the root cause of the whole thing can be traced to a willingness in people (both large institutions and a whole bunch of mortgage applicants… though mostly large institutions) to take out loans they couldn’t afford to cover. In other words, to sign contracts that obliged them to pay back money they simply did not have.

My question to you, should you happen to understand all of this, is how exactly is the decision by the Irish government to guarantee 6 banks to the tune of €400 billion any different? This represents 37 years worth of Irish tax receipts. It’s twice the GDP of the entire nation. Put simply, Ireland does not have this money.

I realise that the point of the guarantee is to shore up confidence in the banks and thus avoid having to bail them out in the first place; that the government is making this promise in the belief that they’ll never actually have to honour it. But the people who allowed this crisis to develop in the first place, and whose judgment should therefore be considered extremely suspect, are the very same ones now drawing up this plan.

So based on their track-record, there’s no reason to believe that this €400 billion guarantee won’t be called upon. And it won’t necessarily be because of a bank collapse. All it’ll take is just one greedy son of a bitch in one of these banks to find a way to make money off this guarantee (which will be law within a matter of hours); to find some legal loophole that allows them to syphon public money into their own pocket. Then, with a few coke-fuelled phonecalls every single banker in Ireland will be following suit.

This plan could bankrupt the country for generations to come. And yet it’s been hurriedly implemented by a government that frankly doesn’t have a clue what it’s doing, at the behest of the greedy fools who created the problem in the first place.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jul 2008


I noticed the “women bishops” thing hit the headlines this week. Thing is, I knew the anglican church were in for another round of this nonsense the very moment the women priests thing had been settled. It was inevitable. Frankly, though, I can’t think about this issue without the words of Bill Hicks echoing in my ears:

“Women priests? Great. Great. Now there’s priests of both sexes I don’t listen to…”

It’s all very silly. Y’know? Of course I acknowledge the right of women to confer upon themselves whatever strange archaic titles they want, whether that be ‘priest’ or ‘bishop’ or ‘grand high vizier’. Men should have no monopoly on superstitious weirdness. But given the general contempt with which I hold such titles, as well as the low opinion I have of the modern churches, it’s hardly a great leap forward for feminism in my view.

Like the “gays in the military” thing, an issue which Bill Hicks also neatly dissected with a single observation (“Anyone dumb enough to want to be in the military… … …”)

I actually find myself in the uncomfortable position of — ostensibly — opposing equality when it comes to the question of homosexual men or women being admitted to the army. Once again, like the women priests thing, I of course acknowledge that a person should never be discriminated against because of their sexuality. But at the same time I find nationalism an inherently problematic concept, and I am utterly — right to the core of my being — opposed to militarism.

So you see, I’d argue that almost anything that reduces the size of our armies is a good thing. So I say “let the army have their prejudices”. In fact, let’s encourage some more! Next up, ban redheads from the military. Then anyone with brown eyes should be dishonourably discharged. Right-handed people and anyone whose name contains the letter ‘S’.


Gays in the military? No!

(but no straights either)

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion