Posts Tagged ‘Edmund Burke’

Now Brent Wants to Change Name of Place Called after Gladstone

April 19, 2022

This story has been exercising GB News and History Debunked’s Simon Webb. According to the Torygraph, the leader of Brent council, Mohammed Butt, wishes to rename Gladstone Park in his borough. Apparently the sprogs in the local schools were given a talk on racial inequality and the murder of George Floyd by a ‘racial expert’, before being asked for their views on the park’s name and what they thought should replace it. Suggestions included ‘Rainbow Park’, ‘Diversity Park’, ‘BAME Park’ – which is clearly racist as it very definitely excludes Whites – and ‘Diane Abbott Park’. The move follows similar attempts to rename places named after Gladstone and remove monuments commemorating him elsewhere in Britain, ‘cos his father, Ewart Gladstone, was connected to the slave trade. It’s also part of a general move by Sadiq Khan to rename places in London so that they reflect the capital’s multicultural population.

GB News’ Mercy Muroki, who’s black, was not impressed. She objected to children being used to support what was clearly a decision made by Butt and his cronies. She took as an example of the way young children think her own seven year old. She stated that the child was bright and imaginative, but that you wouldn’t ask him questions like that because he wouldn’t know anything about it, nor who Gladstone was. As for Diane Abbott, she stated that she had many excellent qualities. She had risen from her working class origins to become Britain’s first Black woman MP. Quite. Abbott’s certainly not thick, despite what the Tories say about her, although some of her comments on race certainly have me grinding my teeth. She’s a good role model for Black women and girls looking for a career in politics. But she isn’t in the same league as someone who was four times British Prime Minister.

And this is one of the problems. It’s been claimed by the right that the ‘woke’ left have no awareness nor interest in anything but very recent history. This would seem to bear that out. I dare say that to many modern Brits Gladstone is just a name with no relevance to the present day. But this is a mistake. Gladstone, and his opposite number in the Tories, Disraeli, are two of the 19th century political titans that have shaped modern Britain and the British empire. And Gladstone was hardly any kind of Fascist monster. Rather, it’s been said that he became ‘the voice of the Nonconformist conscience’. I firmly believe that if he had succeeded in granting Ireland home rule, the modern history of Ireland would have been far less bloody.

And there are other events and figures from further back in our history that also deserve to be remembered, but may also be lost if the attitude persists that the only people worth remembering are those of the near present. Magna Carta is celebrated as the first check on royal power and the beginning of English liberty. An Anglo-Norman phrase from about the time declared that the country was ‘the commune of England, where each man had his view’. But there’s also the British Civil War, which commenced a long process of political speculation as writers and politicians attempted to formulate ideas about the ideal state, correct forms of government, the rights of the individual and political and religious tolerance. Carl Benjamin of the Lotus Eaters harks back to John Locke, who laid the foundations for liberal, democratic government, but there were many others. Socialists and the Labour party have looked to the Levellers and Diggers, and their plans for an expansion of the franchise, the creation of state education, hospitals and almshouses for the elderly and in the case of the Diggers the establishment of a Christian communist utopia. The Glorious Revolution finally established the supremacy of parliament over the crown, and the Bill of Rights that followed is another key document in the development of British political liberty. Then in the 18th century there’s Edmund Burke and his classic foundational text of modern Conservatism, Reflections on the Revolution in France and Thomas Paine’s defence of the American and French Revolutions, Common Sense and The Rights of Man. And this is before you get to the bitter political struggles and leading politicians of the 19th century. Now no-one is suggesting that these figures and events should somehow be erased from commemoration or official British history. The commemoration of the Glorious Revolution and the accession of William of Orange to the throne was played down, however, particularly in Northern Ireland in the 1980s because of fears that it would spark further sectarian violence. But I am afraid that the mentality that demands that Gladstone be cancelled because of his personal family history may expand to demand the removal of other important British political figures, merely because someone feels they don’t properly represent the values of modern Britain.

I am also afraid Khan’s decision to have places renamed according to the area’s modern ethnic composition will also prove divisive. There’s been a movement of Whites away from inner city areas, which have become increasingly dominated by Blacks and Asians, dubbed ‘White flight’. Many of these area’s Black and Asian inhabitants are genuinely upset by this. A BBC documentary discussing this a few years ago in the case of the dwindling White population of the East End featured an imam, who said he regretted that his son would never meet a White person from the area. Part of the reason for this exodus is that many Whites no longer feel a proper part of those areas. They feel outsiders, and so move away to areas with a higher proportion of Whites. Predictably, those Whites who’ve said that they feel like foreigners in these areas because of their colour have been attacked as racist, but they’re simply expressing the same kind of sentiments many Blacks have when moving into a majority White area.

A few years ago there was a similar bit of controversy when the Heil ran a story about the Bangladeshi part of the Smoke renaming itself ‘Banglatown’ and having the street names written in both the Latin and Indian scripts. I think part of the idea was to raise the area’s profile by making it into a piece of local colour that would make it stand out. ‘Banglatown’ was a nickname given to the area by the storm troopers of the NF/ BNP, and its adoption as an official name may have been an attempt to reclaim it as source of pride by the Bangladeshi community, in the same way that some Blacks have tried reclaiming the ‘N’ word and some gays ‘Fag’. This move predated Khan’s tenure of the elected mayoralty by some years. However, it cause outrage because it was felt, understandably, that Bangladeshi identity was being privileged and British culture erased. And this latest move by Khan and Butt may be set to be similarly controversial and divisive.

Not to mention that it’s a gift to the Tories, who are trying to make the most of the culture war because of the increasingly grotty state of Britain after over a decade of Tory misrule makes it difficult for them to claim that Brits are materially better off.

Rightwingers Outraged at Acquittal of the Four Who Toppled Colston’s Statue

January 7, 2022

As a Bristolian with long personal roots in the city, I feel I’ve got to tackle this. The four people responsible for pulling the down the statue of the 18th century slave trader and philanthropist in a massive Black Lives Matter protest last year were on trial for it this week. They were charged with criminal damage, and yesterday were found ‘not guilty’ by the jury. And the right has been predictably incensed. The story’s on the front page of the Daily Mail, which reports that the jury may have been placed under pressure to acquit by the defence, which urged them ‘not to be on the wrong side of history’. The prosecution is therefore planning to appeal the decision. Nigel Farage has released a video on YouTube about it. Mixed-race Tory commenter Calvin Robinson has appeared on GB News talking about it. And inevitably the Lotus Eaters have also released a video about it, with Callum and one of Sargon’s other mates expressing their poor opinion of the whole thing. The message from the right has been the same: this decision imperils every statue in Britain, because it legitimises attacks on them through an appeal to the emotions of the attacker regardless of the letter of the law. Calvin Robinson in his interview on GB News agreed with the two journalists, one Black, one White, that you had to be very careful about limiting people’s freedom of expression. However the decision to acquit was, he explained, based on a legal loophole in the criminal damage law. This permits such damage, if the property damaged or destroyed itself serves to promote a crime. The argument made by the accused in a feature about them in the Groan was that the statue constituted a hate crime against Black Bristolians. The right-wing critics of the decision have therefore argued that this makes every statue unsafe, as an emotional reason could be found for any attack on them. The person, who vandalised Churchill’s statue last year could get off because, despite defeating Fascism, Churchill was a racist and imperialist. They have also made the point that the decision also means that Conservatives also have a right to tear down Marx’s bust in London, as he was also racist and anti-Semitic, quite apart from the millions murdered under Communism. Darren Grimes, the repulsive spawn of the Guido Fawkes site, said that he could also therefore tear down the statue of Friedrich Engels in Manchester.

Jury Freedom and the Historic Acquittal of Guilty Murderers

Yesterday Simon Webb of History Debunked also joined the debate, comparing the decision to the jury’s acquittal of the attackers of three policemen during a riot in 1820s London. The cops had been stabbed, and one killed, but the jury acquitted their attackers because the cops had attacked in a particularly aggressive and provocative manner. Webb stated that back in the 17th and 18th centuries judges could and did send juries back to reconsider their verdict, and even imprison them if they didn’t give the right verdict as directed. It was, of course, a great improvement to allow the juries the freedom to judge themselves rather than according to the opinion of the beak. But this did raise problems in cases like this. Indeed. Juries won the right to judge freely according to their own judgement following arguments for such free trials by the Levellers and particularly when William Penn, a Quaker and the founder of Pennsylvania, was put on trial for preaching his radical views in Bristol. The jury repeatedly refused the judge’s order to find guilty, and were even imprisoned. They eventually won out, and the trial helped established true British justice.

Allegations of Bias against Witness David Olasuga

One of the other objections to the trial was that one of the witnesses was the historian, David Olasuga. whom the Lotus Eaters describe as a Black activist and who admitted that, had he been able, he would have joined the mob in toppling the status. There is indeed a problem with Olasuga as some of his historical interpretations are questionable. For example, he and Reni Edo-Lodge turned up in video by the Beeb laying a plaque in Liverpool to a victim of racist lynching. Except that Wootton, the lynched man, had been part of a gang of West Indians, who had launched an attack on a group of Swedes and Russians. When a cop intervened, the West Indians repeated stabbed and tried to slash his throat. They retreated to a house where someone, probably Wootton, shot three policemen, before he was chased down to the docks trying to escape. He was hardly an innocent victim. Olasuga has been one of the Black historians claiming that historically, Britain had a much larger Black community than it probably did. He claims that there were Blacks in Roman Britain. History Debunked has shown that this largely comes from one of the legions at Hadrian’s Wall coming from the Roman province of Mauretania. This has been confused with the present day country in West Africa. However, the Roman province of Mauretania was further north in Morocco. I think there are perfectly reasonable questions of bias in Olasuga’s testimony.

Political Bias in Prosecution of Vandals

And then have come the various commenters sneering and deriding Bristol. I’ve seen the usual rants about how it’s a ‘Communist’ or ‘left-wing’ shithole; it’s a lefty university town, and as terrible as Liverpool or London. Rather more interesting was one comment from a working class Bristolian, who had been having a meal at a cafe in the city, whose customers were largely Black West Indians. These people had all been solidly against the decision. I can well believe it. I don’t think the Black community Bristol or elsewhere in our great nation is a monolithic bloc. Just like other racial groups, like Whites, Asians or Jews aren’t either. As for the four defendants, they were White middle class liberal kids, who most likely didn’t come from Bristol. There was also speculation about what would happen if someone vandalised a statue to a Black personality, like Nelson Mandela. Would this be treated the same way? Not if the example of the vandalism done to a mural of Marcus Rashford was an example. Although the messages sprayed on it weren’t racist, it was nevertheless treated as a racist hate crime. Actually, you don’t have to look that far for a similar example. After Colston’s statue was torn down, a bust in one of Bristol’s parks of a Black writer and dramatist was vandalised and the cops were after those responsible.

Some Black Bristolians Genuinely Upset at Statue

As for the feelings of fear or outrage that the defendants claimed justified the attack, the Black interviewer on GB News and Robinson both questioned whether Black people are so emotional fragile that they would be upset simply walking past Colston’s statue. Some may well not be, but others definitely were. Asher Craig, Bristol’s deputy elected mayor, head of equalities and city councillor for St. George’s, was on Radio 4 last year giving her opinion about the statue and Bristol’s historic connection to the slave trade. The programme also talked to others about it, including one ordinary Black woman. She said that she felt physically sick having to walk past it on the way to work every morning. I understand and sympathise. I think her example was far better and more persuasive than the various political activists angrily demanding that it should be torn down. It was the voice of an ordinary, working-class woman, about how the statue affected her.

Arguments for the Preservation of the Statue

It also has to be stated that Black Lives Matter’s attack was deliberately against the wishes of Bristolians themselves. There had been several polls in the past about whether the statue should be taken down or not. The majority of people voted against it. Paul Stephenson, one of the organisers of the Bristol bus boycott in the 1960s against the bus company’s refusal to employ Blacks, gave his opinion on the issue in an interview with Philippa Gregory in the 1990s. Gregory had just had her novel, A Respectable Trade, about the Bristol slave trade adapted for television and there was an exhibition about the city and slavery then at the City Museum and Art Gallery. It has since been moved and is now on display, sans title, at the city’s excellent M Shed Museum. Stephenson has something of a mixed reputation. To some he’s a respected civil rights activists, while others regard him more a deliberate troublemaker. He declared to Gregory that Colston was a bloody mass murderer responsible for a ‘Holocaust in Africa’. This follows the statement of W.E.B. DuBois, the pioneering American Black rights activist, that slavery and the slave trade were a Black Holocaust. It sounds like hyperbole, a deliberately emotional exaggeration, but I believe it’s based on the accounts of 19th century anti-slavery activists about the fierce tribal violence generated by the slave trade, and the devastation of whole regions as a result. But Stephenson also said that he didn’t think the statue should be torn down. He believed it should remain standing with an additional note to remind people of his crimes. A similar argument was made by the Lotus Eaters, who felt that statues should be left standing, even though they may be to terrible people, because they’re history. And we need to learn from history if we are to move on.

It’s a perfectly good argument, and one advanced in the ’90s by radical anarchist band The Levellers. They took their name from the radical, proto-democrat, proto-socialist sect during the British Civil War. They also believed in ‘Godly reformation’ and so, along with the other merchandising at their concerts were copies of the Bible and Christopher Hill’s Marxist study of the British Civil War, The World Turned Upside Down. I particularly remember one of their songs that had the lines ‘I believe in justice, I believe in vengeance, I believe in getting the bastard’. But they also released a song protesting about the decision by Manchester’s Labour council to rename the town’s historic Free Trade Hall. They objected to it because it was the destruction of history and an attempt to rewrite the past. It’s strange and rather disconcerting that they should have the same view on this issue from a libertarian left perspective, as the Tories.

Lastly, it needs to be remembered that Colston was not honoured for enslaving Blacks. The statue was put up long after that was over. Rather it was because he was a great philanthropist, who gave much of his fortune away in charity. There were schools named after him and funded by his largesse. My old school used to celebrate Colston Day in his honour, when the children were given a few days off. A few were specially honoured and went to a special service at Redcliffe Church, where they were given a Colston bun.

Bristol Great City

Now for a few remarks on the decision and the views of the various right-winger, who have sounded off about it. Firstly, Bristol isn’t a shithole. It’s a large, great city with a proud history of trade, exploration, industry and invention with excellent museums and theatres. The Bristol Old Vic and its theatre school have a particularly excellent reputation and have produced some of the country’s great thesps. It has it’s problems. I believe that the Bristol’s Black community is one of the three largest in the country, along with Birmingham and London. It has its problems with marginalisation, lack of educational achievement, unemployment, drugs and violent crime, though this is by no means confined simply to Blacks. But it’s not particularly left-wing. Some areas, like Stokes Croft, have a reputation for radical politics. I’ve heard local people refer to it as ‘the people’s republic of Stokes Croft’. Other areas are Conservative, and all the shades of political opinion in between.

Academic Freedom and Marxist Indoctrination at Universities

As for the universities, the comment blaming them for the decision comes from the standard right-wing attitude that the unis are full of Marxists indoctrinating students. In fact, universities, courses and individual lecturers vary immensely. Some universities had a reputation, even in my day, for being hotbeds of left-wing activism, others were more Conservative. It also varies with the course you’re on. There hasn’t, traditionally, been much opportunity for far left-wing indoctrination in maths, science, medicine and engineering courses because of the nature of those subjects. Although it’s creeping in now in the form of ethnomathematics and the demands that the achievements of Black scientists and mathematicians should be particularly taught, it’s mostly been confined to the humanities. There have always been Marxist historians. These include the very well respected Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Saunders, and there is a specific Marxist view of history. You are taught about this on the historiography courses in history at University, along with other forms of history, such as women’s history, social history, what Butterfield called the ‘Whig view of history’ and more conservative and Conservative views. I’ve been taught by lecturers with feminist or left-wing views. I’ve also been taught by people with far more traditional views. I also know lecturer who determined to keep their political views out of the classroom. University is supposed to be a place of free speech and debate, and it’s important that this is maintained. Students should be encouraged to read sources and the historical literature critically, and make up their own views. This means an engagement with Marxism as well as other ideologies. I think Bristol university has particularly come under fire because it’s rather more conservative and traditional compared to the newer universities. It received funding from the Colston charities when it was established early in the last century. Hence I believe the granting of a chair in the history of slavery to a Black woman. It also has relatively few Black students, which contrasts with the population of the city as a whole. This is partly because it has very high standards, and as a rule Blacks generally have poorer grades than other racial groups. It is also no doubt because when I was young, going away was seen as part of university education and so you were discouraged from applying to the local university. Hence the university is now trying to give greater opportunities to study to more Blacks and ethnic minorities.

Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory and the Marxist Attack on Western Culture

Now I largely agree that the acquittal of the four defendants has set a dangerous precedent because it allows people to attack public monuments they dislike or which are controversial. James Lindsay, one of the group with Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose that has attacked postmodernist Critical Theory, has argued that ideologies like Queer Theory and Critical Race Theory are deliberate attacks on traditional western culture and Enlightenment values. They are aimed at destroying the past to create a Marxist future, just as Chairman Mao did during the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. One of the ancient monuments the Red cadres smashed as part of the campaign against the ‘Four Olds’ was the tomb of Confucius! This sounds like an idea straight out of loony right-wing paranoids and conspiracists like Alex Jones and the John Birch Society, until he backs it up by reading chapter and verse from the founders of such postmodernist Marxism, like Marcuse, Horkheimer and others. And yes, I can quite believe that vandalism to a monument to a Black politico or celebrity, like Nelson Mandela, would be treated far differently and as a terrible hate crime than the attack on Colston.

But regardless of the defence’s plea to the jury to ‘be on the right side of history’, I think there would always have been pressure on the jury to acquit. Colston was a slave trader and had been controversial for decades. They naturally wouldn’t have wanted to acquit people who attacked a monument on that score, rather than the philanthropy the statue commemorated. And the defendants make a good point when they say that ‘he no longer speaks for Bristol’. There were others in the city who opposed the slave trade. As well as the slavers and the West Indian planters, Bristol also had a large abolitionist movement. If you go a little way from the centre of Bristol into Redcliffe, you’ll find the Georgian church where Jeremiah Clarkson, one of the leading 18th century abolitionists, collected the testimony of Bristol’s slavers as part of his evidence against the trade.

Other Statues Not Vandalised

As for other statues, none of those in the surrounding area were touched. Not the statue to Edmund Burke, the politician and founder of modern Conservatism through his book, Reflections on the Revolution in France. The Lotus Eaters are offering it, or reading through it, as their ‘book of the month’. I wonder if they’ll mention that Burke’s statue was signally left untouched by the rioters. As was the statue of a monk in Lewin’s Mead, which had before the Reformation been a monastic complex. They also failed to destroy the statue of Neptune and a sailor on the docks. Queen Victoria was left untouched on nearby College Green. They also didn’t destroy the statue of John Cabot outside the Council House, sorry, ‘City Hall’ and the Central Library. This was despite various ‘spokesmen’ for the Black community claiming that the City’s celebration of his discovery of Newfoundland and America, following Columbus, was a celebration of slavery. There may well be similar defences used on similar attacks on other statues, but I think such attacks will be far more difficult to defend. Churchill was indeed a racist and an imperialist, as well as personally responsible for sending troops to gun down striking miners in Wales. But to the vast majority of severely normal Brits he was also the man, who helped save Europe and the world from Nazism and the Axis. And that would also count powerfully in the case against anyone who vandalised his monument.

Historians also Successfully Defend Controversial Statues

As for testimony from historians, this can work against the iconoclasts. The BLM fanatics trying to get the statue of Cecil Rhodes torn down at Oxford university claimed that he was somehow ‘South Africa’s Adolf Hitler’. Now Rhodes was a grotty character and an imperialist, but this goes too far. Rhodes’ biographer tackled this claim on social media, at which the BLM protesters making it went quiet. They couldn’t refute it, and so went silent.

I therefore do not feel that other statues are necessarily in a greater danger than previously because of the acquittal.

Then there’s the question of any possible statue to replace it. There are rumours that it could be a Black person. Well, if there is, it should be of a Black person, who actually had contact and lived in the city. One of Bristol’s sporting heroes way back was a Black boxer. One of my aunts was friends with his daughter. I’d say this gentleman would be a good candidate for such a statue, because as a sports hero he united everyone from left and right, as well as being a citizen of Bristol.

Nigel Farage has suggested a memorial to the British navy. Absolutely. The British West India squadron did excellent work patrolling the seas for slavers. And they were by no means all racist. Captain Denman, giving evidence on a massacre of 300 unsold slaves by one of the West African slaving states to parliament, made the point that ‘it is remarkable given the advances they have made in the arts of civilisation’. He clearly believe European civilisation was superior, but had been particularly shocked because the African peoples responsible for the massacre were also comparatively civilised. Africans serving or aiding the British navy were also given the compensation payments awarded to British tars when they suffered injury and loss of limbs.

We also patrolled the waters between east Africa and India to stop western and Arab slavers, and one antipodean historian has written that in the Pacific, the royal navy was the chief protector of its indigenous peoples against enslavement.

It also needs to be remembered that one of the reasons for the British invasion of Africa was to stamp out slavery and the slave trade. I’ve no doubt that the main, if not the real reasons were simple hunger for territory and resources, and to stop those areas falling into the hands of our European imperial rivals – France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. But some of the officer involved took their duty extremely serious, such as Samuel Baker and Gordon of Khartoum. The Mahdi, against whom Gordon fought, and his followers were slavers outraged at the British government’s ban on it and the enslavement of Black Sudanese. There are therefore excellent reasons for putting up a memorial to the British navy and armed forces.

And I would also support a statue to Jeremiah Clarkson for his work in the city bringing the horrors of the trade to light.

In the meantime, despite the right-wing outrage at this act of vandalism, I think we should view the attack on Colston’s statue as a special case.

Claims of a general threat to British history because of it may well be exaggerated.

Bozo Waffles About Peppa Pig While Looking For His Speech to the CBI

November 22, 2021

More evidence that sections of the Tory party are turning against our noxious, buffoonish excuse of a PM. I caught on the internet news feed today a headline quote Dominic Cummings as saying that Starmer’s a dud, and Boris won’t be around much longer. The Scum has put up a video of Johnson making car noises, raving about Peppa Pig and looking for his speech. And mad right-wing internet radio host Alex Belfield has put up this video of the overprivileged, overpaid and overpromoted mendacious clown waffling on about Peppa Pig while riffling through the papers for his speech. His title is ‘Speech: Boris Loves Peppa Pig Best Idea in Decades (Cuckoo/Lost Marbles)’.

Boris got where he is partly through a carefully crafted image as a lovable clown. It didn’t matter what stunt he pulled, how stupid he looked, he seemed to take it all with good humour at his own expense. And all the time the loyal Tory press were trying to present him as the greatest Tory politician since Edmund Burke, Robert Peel, Churchill and Thatcher. Now it seems their patience is really wearing thin, and like the rest of us they’re sick of his idleness and gross ineptitude. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be sick of his viciousness towards the poor, the sick, the unemployed and disabled, his determination to sell off the NHS and his continued support for the decaying wreck of Thatcherite zombie economics. Attitudes which Johnson and the Tories also share with Rachel Reeves and Keir Starmer.

There’s only one solution: end Thatcherism. Get the Tories out of government, and Starmer out of the Labour Party.

Tory Flag-Waving Now Reaching Reaganite Proportions

April 6, 2021

Patriotism, someone once said, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. And the Tories have done their best to show how true this is, especially last week when it seemed that they wasted no opportunity to wave the flag. This also led them to generate more synthetic outrage towards the BBC. Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty raised Tory ire when Stayt joked about the relatively small size of the union flag on display during an interview with Matt Hancock or one of the other Tory ministers. This led to howls from the Tory press that the Beeb was sneering at the flag. They weren’t. They were laughing about the Tory’s sheer opportunistic use of it.

It’s no accident that they’ve started waving the flag in the weeks running up to the local elections. Their performance on health, the economy, Brexit and just about everything else has been dire. They’re still trying to privatise the health service by stealth, they insulted the nurses with a 2 per cent pay rise, which is in real terms a cut in their salaries, wages are still frozen, more people are being forced into real, grinding poverty, the queues at the food banks are as long as ever, or longer. The Brexit that Boris has been so desperate to ‘get done’ is spelling disaster for Britain’s manufacturing industry, and businesses dealing with the continent and ordinary Brits wishing to travel abroad are now faced with mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy. Bureaucracy which the Brexiteers blithely assured us wouldn’t happen. Hopefully this year will see us coming out of lockdown and the Coronavirus crisis. We’ve a far higher rate of peeps receiving the vaccine than the EU, but that shouldn’t distract attention from the colossal way the Tories have mismanaged the Covid crisis as a whole. As Mike’s pointed out in one of his articles, Tory bungling and corruption – they gave vital medical contracts to companies owned and run by their friends and supporters, rather than to firms that could actually deliver – that over 100,000 people have died of the disease. One of the good peeps on Twitter has shown how this compares to the numbers killed in some of the genocides and ethnic massacres that have plagued recent decades. And the report, which was supposed to show that Britain isn’t institutionally racist, has been torn to shreds with some of the academics cited claiming they were not properly consulted and seeking to distance themselves from it. And then there are the mass demonstrations up and down the land against their attempts to outlaw any demonstration or protest they don’t like under the guise that it would be a nuisance.

And so, with all this discontent, they’ve fallen back to Thatcher’s tactics of waving the flag at every opportunity. One of the hacks at the Absurder in the 1980s said that Britain had three parties – the patriotic party, who were the Tories, the loony party, which was Labour, and the sensible party, which was the SDP/Liberals. Which showed you the paper’s liberal bias even then. The SDP, Liberals and their successors, the Lib Dems. have sold out utterly, while after four decades of Thatcherism Michael Foot’s Labour party looks far less than loony. But the hack was right about the Tories and patriotism. Thatcher waved the flag as frantically as she could and constantly invoked the spirit of Winston Churchill and World War II. One particularly memorable example of this was the Tory 1987 election broadcast, which featured Spitfires zipping about the sky while an overexcited voice told the world ‘Man was born free’ and concluded ‘It’s great to be great again’.

Here’s another feature of Fascism that’s been adopted by the Tories to add to those on Mike’s checklist. Fascism is an ideology of national rebirth and revival. Thatcher was claiming she was making us great again, just as Donald Trump claimed he was doing for America. Just as Oswald Mosley called one of his wretched books The Greater Britain. And unfortunately, as Zelo Street has also pointed out, Fascists like the Nazis have also used people’s natural loyalty to their flag as a means of generating support for their repulsive regimes. British Fascism was no different. Mosley also made great use of the flag at his rallies, and this tactic was taken over by his successors in the National Front and BNP. This has been an embarrassment to ordinary, non-racist Brits, who simply like the flag. One of my friends at school was a mod. At the time, the union flag and British bulldog formed a large part of mod imagery without meaning that the person was a racist or White supremacist. During one of the art lessons my friend started painting a picture with those two elements – the union flag and bulldog. The teacher came over and politely asked him not to do so, as he was afraid people would like at it and come to the wrong conclusion. This was just after the 1981/2 race riots, so you can understand why. But it is frustrating and infuriating that ordinary expressions of reasonable patriotism or simple pop culture iconography have become suspect due to their appropriation by the Far Right.

But the real excesses of flag-waving were to be seen over the other side of the Pond in Reagan’s America. Reagan was wrecking his country with privatisation and an assault on what the country had in the way of a welfare state, while murdering the people of countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua by supporting Fascist dictators and their death squads. But, like Thatcher, he did everything he could to use the symbols of American nationhood. Like the Stars and Stripes. A Republican party political broadcast in 1984 or thereabouts showed the American flag being raised no less than 37 times. This was so bizarrely excessive that one of the Beeb’s foreign correspondents commented on it. As far as I am aware, no-one took him to task for sneering at it.

This flag-waving is part of the Tories attempts to present themselves as the preservers of British national identity, tradition and pride against the assaults of the left, particularly Black Lives Matter and their attacks on statues. I’m not impressed with the attacks on some of the monuments, like that of Winston Churchill, even though he was a racist. But in Bristol the only statue attacked was that of the slavery and philanthropist Edward Colston. None of the other statues in and around Bristol’s town centre of Edmund Burke, Queen Victoria, Neptune and the sailors who made my city a great port, were touched. And then there was the protest last week against the new school uniform policy at Pimlico Academy in London. This ruled out the wearing of large afro hair styles. So the students started protesting it was racist. The headmaster also raised the union flag, which led the statement from one of the students, Amna Mukhtar, that it weirdly felt like they were being colonised. And then some idiot burnt the flag in protest. The headmaster has now rescinded the school’s uniform code and taken the flag down. Now I gather that one of the Tories is now calling for every school to fly the union flag.

It all reminds me of the comments the late, great comedian Bill Hicks made when Reagan and his supporters were flying the flag and their outrage when a young member of the Communist party burned it. After making jokes about the Reaganite rage and hysteria, Hicks said that he didn’t want anyone to burn the flag, but burning wouldn’t take away freedom, because it’s freedom. Including the freedom to burn the flag.

Quite. And the Tories are wrecking our country and taking away our freedoms while cynically waving the flag.

So when they start spouting about it, use your scepticism and think of Hick’s comment instead. And vote for someone else.

Would Disraeli Have Supported the Tory’s Lawbreaking Bill?

September 15, 2020

I found this brilliant quote by Disraeli in Peter Vansittart, Voices 1870-1914 (London: Jonathan Cape 1984):

In a progressive country change is constant, and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws, and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines. (P. 12)

The classic definition of Conservatism, as expressed in its foundational text, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, is that change should be carried out very much in deference, to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of a people. The traditionalist right objects to socialism because they see it as a violation of principle in favour of ‘deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines,’ just as they objected to the French Revolution, which was also based on abstract principles against national tradition.

But this also raises the question of whether the great 19th century Conservative statesman and novelist would ever have voted with the 344-odd Tories, who trooped through the lobbies to support Boris’ Internal Markets Bill. Because this bill itself breaks the law for the sake of an abstract principle – hostility to the EU – which will wreck Britain’s reputation and her dealings not just with the European Union. And Brexit itself is threatening to break up the three hundred year old union of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and to return the latter to sectarian violence and murder. Three former Prime Ministers, including John Major, David Cameron – the ultimate cause of this mess – and Gordon Brown, and the former leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, have all stood up to condemn it.

Would Disraeli have voted for Boris bill? Moot. But if you go by the above statement, it’s highly doubtful. But then, Disraeli undoubtedly had more brains than Boris and his cabinet put together.

Black Artist Wants Her Statues Put Up on Colston’s Plinth

June 21, 2020

Since the statue of the slaver Edward Colston in Bristol was pulled down from its plinth and thrown into the docks, there’s been a debate over what should replace him. Mike posted up a few Tweets from people giving their suggestions in his post about the statue’s forcible removal. One of these suggested that as the Ladies’ Abolitionist Society in Sheffield was the first to demand the emancipation of the slaves, a statue should be put up to them. I disagree, because although there should be a monument to them, it should be a matter for Sheffield to commemorate its great citizens, rather than Bristol. It’s for this same reason I got annoyed with a piece on Channel 4 News yesterday in which a Black sculptress spoke about how she would like her statues put up on Colston’s plinth.

She had created a series of sculptures of male and female slaves with the title We Have Made the World Richer. These depicted various figures from the history of slavery and the enslavement of Africans. The first two were of a man and woman, who had been newly enslaved. They had a slogan stating that they had been torn from their homes. Then there was a couple of plantation slaves, with the slogan ‘We Are Brave’. And there were more. I think there were something like six or eight statues in total. The statues had previously been exhibited in parliament, but had garnered little comment from the MP. Krishnan Guru-Murthy, interviewing her, asked her why this was. She felt it was because it was too raw and powerful for them. She described the fall of Colston’s statue as ‘cathartic’, and felt that the empty plinth should be taken up with one of hers. When Guru-Murthy asked her if Bristol knew she was coming, she laughed and said that she hoped they did now.

It would be entirely right for the plinth in Bristol to be occupied by a slave, representing one of Colston’s victims. But the statue and/or its artist should ideally be people, who actually had connections to the city. I wonder if there’s a local Black artist from somewhere like St. Paul’s or Stokes Croft that could create one. From the way the woman spoke, it was clear that she wasn’t a Bristolian and had absolutely no connection with it or its people. I wonder if she even knew where the city was or even that there was such a place before the events a week or so ago. It looked to me to be rather opportunistic. She was an outsider looking for a space for her art, and thought she’d found it in Bristol. There are also problems with the size of the plinth itself. It is only big enough to hold a statue of one person, not the many she created. Presumably one of the statues would have to be on the plinth itself while the others were arranged around it.

The vast majority of slaves traded by Bristol were taken to the West Indies, but there were some and free Blacks in the city. One of the villages just outside Bristol has the grave of Scipio, the enslaved servant of one of the local aristocracy. One of the bridges over Bristol’s docks, which is cantilevered with two, gigantic, trumpet-shaped horns, is called ‘Pero’s Bridge’ after another local slave. There is also a slave walk around the docks, and memorial plaque on one of the former warehouses by Bristol’s M Shed to the countless victims of Bristol’s trade in slaves. And the subjects of two existing sculptures in the city, John Wesley and Edmund Burke, were also opponents of the slavery and the slave trade. Burke, the city’s MP, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France became a foundational text for modern Conservatism, condemned slavery in an 18th century parliamentary debate. I believe Wesley also attacked in a sermon he gave at the Methodist New Room, now John Wesley’s Chapel in Broadmead in Bristol. I think that after 1745 Methodists were forbidden to own slaves.

I also wonder if figures from national history might make more suitable subjects for sculptures. Like Mary Prince, a West Indian slave from Bermuda, who was able to gain her freedom when her masters took her to London. The Mansfield judgement had officially ruled that slavery did not exist under English law, and so slaves brought to Britain were, in law, free. Prince got her freedom simply by walking away. She joined the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, and her account of her life as a slave, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, was published in London in 1831. Another British slave, who gave his voice to the abolitionist campaign was Louis Asa-Asa. Asa-Asa had been enslaved by the French, but gained his freedom when a ship carrying him put in at Cornwall. He was the author of a pamphlet, How Cruelly We Are Used, which was also published in 1831. I also suspect that there are other people in Bristol’s history, whether slaves or White abolitionists, who deserve to be commemorated but at the moment nobody knows about.

Without going into the murderous fear of outsiders of the League of Gentlemen’s Edward and Tubbs and their slogan ‘a local shop, for local people’, the vacant plinth should be occupied by a figure from Bristol’s history. Even if it is only someone, who simply visited the city as part of an abolitionist speaking tour. Many of Britain’s towns and cities had abolitionist societies, like those of Sheffield, and I’d be very surprised if Bristol didn’t have one. Even if the city did officially celebrate the failure of abolitionist bills before the eventual emancipation of 1837.

 

Sargon of Akkad and Nazis Join UKIP and Break It

December 8, 2018

Okay, let’s have some fun at the expense of the Kippers and the extreme right-wingers Gerard Batten has brought into the party. Right-wingers like Count Dankula, Tommy Robinson and Sargon of Akkad.

Sargon, Dankula, Tommy Robinson and UKIP

Count Dankula is the idiot, who taught his girlfriend’s dog to do the Nazi salute when he said ‘Sieg Heil!’ and ‘Gas the Jews’. He put it on YouTube, and then, unsurprisingly, got prosecuted for hate speech. I don’t think he’s actually a Nazi, just a prat, who thinks really tasteless, offensive ‘jokes’ are hilarious. Tommy Robinson is the founder of the EDL, and has been briefly involved with that other Islamophobic organization, PEGIDA UK. He used to belong to the BNP and has a string of criminal convictions behind him. These included a number for contempt of court after he was caught giving his very biased very of the proceedings outside the court building during the trial of groups of Pakistani men accused of being rape gangs. Technically, Robinson isn’t a formal member of the party. It’s constitution bars anyone, who has been a member of the racist right from joining it, which rules him out. But he has become a special advisor on Islam and prison reform to Batten.

Sargon of Akkad, whose real name is Carl Benjamin, is another YouTube personality and ‘Sceptic’. I think he used to be one of the atheist ranters on YouTube at the time when the New Atheism was on the rise with the publication of Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. Then a number of them, Sargon included, appear to have become tired of arguing for atheism and naturalism, and started talking about politics. This was from an extreme right-wing perspective, attacking feminism, Social Justice Warriors, anti-racism, immigration and socialism. Many of them appear to be Libertarians, or see themselves as ‘Classical Liberals’. This means their liberals only in the early 19th century sense of standing for absolute free trade and the total removal of the welfare state. Sargon’s one of these, although bizarrely he also describes himself as ‘centre left’. Which only makes sense to some of the equally bizarre individuals out there, who rant about how Barack Obama was a Communist.

The presence of these three characters at a recent UKIP conference was discussed in an article by the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organization Hope Not Hate as proof that under Batten UKIP had very definitely moved to the Far Right. And Nigel Farage was apparently so concerned with this move a few days ago that he very publicly resigned from the party. And this naturally upset many long-time Kippers. One of them was a YouTube vlogger, whose channel is called People’s Populist Press. He posted this video four days ago on his channel bitterly attacking Sargon and the others he describes as ‘YouTube Nazi punks’ for ruining the party.

Kipper Official Tries to Dissuade Sargon from Joining

It seems, however, that some members of UKIP didn’t want Sargon to join. Not because they objected to his opinions, but because they were afraid that he and his followers wouldn’t take the party seriously. The Ralph Retort YouTube channel played a recording of a conversation between Sargon, his mate Vee, and an anonymous UKIP official arguing about whether or not Sargon should be allowed to join the party. I’m not putting this up, because I’m unsure of the Ralph Retort channel’s political orientation. Sargon’s not only upset left-wing YouTube controversialists like Kevin Logan, but also members of the extreme right, including the Nazi fanboys of Richard Spencer. The argument was also played by Oof Curator on his channel, about whom I have the same caveats.

From the conversation, it appears that the Kippers didn’t really want Benjamin in the party, because they wanted committed activists. Benjamin had said that he wanted to join the party simply to show his support and not to take a more active role. They were also concerned that his followers also weren’t taking politics seriously. The Kipper believed that most of Sargon’s followers on YouTube were people in the teens and early twenties. Sargon told him that the average age of his audience is 34. The Kipper accepted this, but stuck to his point that Benjamin’s followers don’t take it seriously. This included an incident when some of Sargon’s followers got drunk in a pub and started shouting ‘Free Kekistan’ at passing cars. Kekistan and Pepe the Frog are memes taken over by the Alt Right. They were originally the creation of a Latin American cartoonist, with absolutely no racist element. But they’ve been appropriated by the Nazi right, to the dismay of the cartoon’s creator, who now wants nothing to do with it. The Kipper contrasted the flippancy of Sargon’s followers with those of Tommy Robinson, who he believed would take UKIP seriously.

UKIP Factions

The argument also gave an insight into the deep divisions and delicate internal politics in UKIP. The Kipper official stated that UKIP’s made up of three different political groupings. There are Christian Social Conservatives. These are political Conservatives with traditional views on social morality, emphasizing the traditional family and condemning promiscuity and particularly homosexuality and gay rights. Then there are the Libertarians, who also free market Tories, but with liberal attitudes towards drug taking and sexuality, although some of these have moved away and become more traditional in the moral attitudes. And then there are the Social Democrats. This means Old Labour, standing for the nationalization of utilities but rejecting immigration, feminism, and gay rights. There are clearly strong divisions between the three groups, and the Kipper did not want this delicate balance disrupted by the mass influx of new members with very strong factional views. This was one of the Kipper’s concerns when Sargon tried to argue that he’d be an asset to the Kippers as when he, Dankula and another YouTuber joined, the party’s organization rose by 10,000. The Kipper responded to that by stating that raises the question of ‘brigading’, presumably meaning attempts to take over the party through the mass influx of supporters.

Sargon and Philosophical First Principles

The argument was also interesting for what it showed about the real depth of Sargon’s own political knowledge: actually quite shallow. Sargon’s despised by his opponents on both the Left and the Right for his intellectual arrogance. He’s been ridiculed for commonly responding to any of his opponent’s points by saying ‘That’s preposterous!’ and asking them if they’ve read John Locke or Immanuel Kant. The Kipper was impressed by Sargon’s support of property rights and popular sovereignty, which he had in common with the rest of the party, but was concerned about how Sargon derived his views of them. He asked him about first principles. Sargon replied that he got them from John Locke and the 18th century Swiss political theorist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, although the latter was ‘too continental’ for him. The Kipper responded by asking about the specific derivation of his support for natural rights, as argued by Locke. Sargon responded by saying that they’d been put there by the Creator. The Kipper then replied ‘Ah! You’re a theist!’ To which Sargon replied that he wasn’t, because ‘We don’t know who the Creator is.’ This is the line taken by the Intelligent Design crowd, who argue that evolution isn’t the product of Neo-Darwinian random mutation and natural selection, but the result of planned, intelligent intervention by a Creator. Sargon’s response is strange coming from an atheist, as for many Sceptics, Intelligent Design is simply another form of Creationism. ‘Creationism in a cheap tuxedo’, as one critic called it.

Sargon objected to the question about how he derived his support for natural rights on the ground that it didn’t matter. And I think he’s got a point. I’ve no doubt that the majority of people in the mass political parties probably don’t have a very deep understanding of the fundamental basis of the ideologies they hold. I doubt very many ordinary members of the Tory party, for example, have read Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France or the works of the 20th century Tory ideologue, Trevor Oakeshott. It’s probably particularly true of the Tories, as Roger Scruton, the Tory philosopher, said in his book on Conservatism in the 1980s that Tory ideology was largely silent, consisting of the unspoken emphasis on traditional views and attitudes. But clearly, the people at the top levels and some of the real activists in the political parties, including UKIP, do have a very profound understanding of the philosophical basis of their party and its views. And Sargon didn’t.

In fact, Sargon’s ignorance has become increasingly clear in recent months. There’s a notorious clip of him shouting down his opponent, Richard Carrier, in a debate on ‘SJWs’ or something like that at an atheist convention in America, Mythcon. Sargon is shown screaming at Carrier ‘No! No! Shut up! Just f***ing shut up!’ That went viral around the Net.

Racism and Views on Child Abuse

He’s also got some other, deeply offensive views. Sargon considers himself a civic, rather than ethno-nationalist. Which means he stands for his country’s independence but does not believe, contra the BNP, that only members of a specific ethnic group can really be its citizens. He appears to hold a very low view of Blacks, however. There’s a clip of him telling his extreme right-wing opponents to ‘Stop behaving like a bunch of N****rs!’ Quite.

There’s another clip of Sargon going around the Net of him apparently supporting paedophile. He was talking another YouTuber, who believed that underage sex was fine, and that the age of consent should be lowered to 12 or 14. When asked about the morality of adults having sex with underage children, Sargon responded ‘It depends on the child’. Which has naturally upset and outraged very many people.

Conclusions: Robinson and Sargon Will Damage and Radicalise UKIP

There are therefore a number of very good reasons why decent, anti-racist members of UKIP wouldn’t want him in their party. Sargon’s own popularity also appears to be declining, so that it’s now a very good question of how many people he will bring with him into UKIP. Furthermore, a number of people are going to leave with the departure of Farage, though he isn’t the non-racist figure he claims to be. The association of Tommy Robinson with Batten is going to drive people away, so that the party will become even more right-wing and much nastier.

The conversation between the Kipper and Sargon also shows that the party is in a very delicate position at the moment, with a very precarious balance of power between the various factions. As the Kipper official himself said, the only thing they have uniting them is Brexit. If that balance is upset, or the unifying factor of Brexit removed, the whole thing could well collapse in a mass of splits and infighting, like the various overtly Fascist groups have imploded over the years. It also shows that while some people on the extreme right have probably a far too high opinion of themselves and their intelligence, others, like the Kipper official, are genuinely bright and very well read and informed. Even in a party like UKIP, those people shouldn’t be underestimated.

Radical Balladry and Prose for Proles: Tom Paine on the Evils of Aristocratic Rule

May 20, 2014

Common Sense Cover

One of the pieces collected by Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove in their anthology of democratic, republican, Socialist and radical texts, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport, is an excerpt from Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. Paine was a committed democrat and revolutionary. He was born in Thetford, and made his living from making ladies’ stays, before emigrating to Pennsylvania in 1774. IN 1776 he published Common Sense, attacking British rule in America and demanding a revolutionary, republican government. He became a firm supporter of the French Revolution when it broke out, writing the Rights of Man in 1791 to answer the criticisms of the Revolution made by Edmund Burke in his Reflections of the Revolution in France. He was arrested and imprisoned as a suspected counter-revolutionary for arguing against the execution of the king. He was eventually released, and moved back to Britain.

Rickman, Paine’s friend, described him in 1819 was

In dress and person very cleanly. He wore his hair cued with side curls and powder like a French gentleman of the old school. His eye was full brilliant and piercing and carried in it the muse of fire.

The Rights of Man is the first complete statement of republican political ideas. In the passage included by Firth and Arnove, Paine argues against aristocratic rule and a House of Lords:

Title are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. The thing is perfectly harmless in itself, but it marks a sort of foppery in the human character which degrades it…

Hitherto we have considered aristocracy chiefly in one point of view. We have now to consider it in another. But whether we view it before or behind, or sideways, or anyway else, domestically or publicly, it is still a monster.

In France, aristocracy had one feature less in its countenance than what it has in some other countries. It did not compose a body of hereditary legislators. it was not ‘a corporation of aristocracy’, for such I have heard M. de la Fayette describe an English house of peers. Let us then examine the grounds upon which the French constitution has resolved against having such a house in France.

Because, in the first place, as is already mentioned, aristocracy is kept up by family tyranny and injustice.

2nd, Because there is an unnatural unfitness in an aristocracy to be legislators for a nation. Their ideas of distributive justice are corrupted at the very source. The begin life trampling on all their younger brothers and sisters, and relations of every kind, and are taught and educated to do so. With what ideas of justice or honor can that man enter a house of legislation, who absorbs in his own person the inheritance of a whole family of children, or metes out some pitiful portion with the insolence of a gift?

3rd, Because the idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges, or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; and as ridiculous as an hereditary poet-laureate.

4th, Because a body of men, holding themselves accountable to nobody, o8ught not to be trusted by anybody.

5th, Because it is continuing the uncivilized principle of governments founded in conquest, and the base idea of man having property in man, and governing him by personal right.

6th, Because aristocracy has a tendency to degenerate the human species.

(Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2012) 108-9.)

More than 200,000 copies of the Rights of Man were sold in England, and Paine denounced by the authorities. The book was banned and its printer arrested. Nevertheless, the book continued to circulate underground, especially in Ireland and Scotland. It even inspired a hornpipe tune, a Scots version of which was included by Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band, in his collection of folk melodies, English, Welsh, Scottish & Irish Fiddle Tunes (New York: Oak Publications 1976). Here it is:

Tom Paine Hornpipe

Paine’s arguments are clear very relevant today, when reform of the House of Lords is very much on the political agenda following Tony Blair, and with a cabinet of Tory and Tory Democrat aristos, like David Cameron, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, and Iain Duncan Smith, who have no knowledge of and absolutely no sympathy for ordinary people. They seem to see us very much as their ancestors did: as proles, peasants and ‘rude mechanicals’, to be exploited, whilst government should be very firmly held in the hands of an aristocratic elite.

An edition of Paine’s Common Sense, edited and with an introduction by Isaac Kramnick, was published by Penguin Books in 1976.

Working Class Experience and the Tories’ Hatred of International Human Rights Legislation

May 19, 2014

Democrat Dissection pic

William(?) Dent, ‘A Right Honble Democrat Dissected’, 1793. In Roy Porter, Bodies Politic: Death, Disease and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2001) 243. The caption for this reads: The various portions of his anatomy display every form of hypocrisy and immorality, personal and political.

The Tories Attack on Human Rights Legislation

Last week I reblogged Mike’s piece, ‘The Tory Euro Threat Exposed’, which demolished some of the claims the Tories were making about the EU, including their promise to hold a referendum on Europe. One of the criticisms Mike made was against the Tories’ plans to withdraw Britain from the European Court of Human Rights. Mike pointed out that the Court is actually nothing to do with the EU, and if Britain withdrew, it would mean the Tories could pass highly illiberal legislation ignoring and undermining the human rights of British citizens. He specifically mentioned workfare, the right to a fair trial and the current laws protecting the disabled as areas that would be under threat. It is not just European human rights legislation and international justice that the Tories are opposed to. They also plan to repeal Labour’s human rights legislation at home.

The Memoir of Robert Blincoe and 19th Century Working Class Political Oppression

Jess, one of the commenters on mine and Mike’s blog, suggested that the part of the problem was that most people now don’t recall a time when there was no absolutely no respect for human rights in Britain, and people were genuinely oppressed and jailed for their political beliefs. As a corrective, she posted a link to The Memoir of Robert Blincoe, a 19th century working-class activist, who was jailed for setting up a trade union. She wrote

Part of the ‘problem’ convincing people of the validity of human rights legislation is they have no concept, or memory, of what things were like before such things began to be regulated. Or the fight it took to force such legislation through Parliament.

This small book, ‘Memoir of Robert Blincoe’, now online, courtesy of Malcolm Powell’s Northern Grove Publishing Project

Click to access A%20MEMOIR%20OF%20ROBERT%20BLINCOE.pdf

“The Memoir….” was first published by Richard Carlile in his journal ‘The Lion’ in 1828. It was republished as a pamphlet the same year, and then re-serialised in ‘The Poor Man’s Advocate’ later the same year.

The pioneer Trades Unionist, John Doherty republished it in 1832, with the co-operation of Blincoe and additional text. Caliban reprinted Doherty’s text in 1977. For some reason it was not mentioned in Burnett, Mayall and Vincent (Eds) Bibliograpy (of) The Autobiography of The Working Class.

19th Century Oppression, thatcher’s Assault on the Unions, British Forced Labour Camps and the New Surveillance State

She has a point. For most people, this was so long ago that it’s no longer relevant – just another fact of history, along with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Great Reform Act and the Workhouse. It’s an example how things were grim back in the 19th century, but it doesn’t really have any direct significance today. In fact, it’s extremely relevant as the Tories are doing their best to strangle the Trade Unions with legislation following their decimation with the Miners’ Strike under Thatcher. The Coalition has also passed legislation providing for the establishment of secret courts, and Britain is being transformed into a surveillance society through the massive tapping of phones and other electronic communication by GCHQ. And I reblogged a piece from one of the other bloggers – I think it was Unemployed in Tyne and Weare – about the existence of forced labour camps for the unemployed here in Britain during the recession of the 1920s. I doubt anyone outside a few small circles of labour historians have heard of that, particularly as the authorities destroyed much of the documentation. Nevertheless, it’s a sobering reminder that Britain is not unique, and that the methods associated with Nazism and Stalinism certainly existed over here.

Britain as Uniquely Democratic, Above Foreign Interference

Another part of the problem lies in British exceptionalism. There is the view that somehow Britain is uniquely democratic, with a mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. This conception of one’s country and its history is strongest in America, and forms a very powerful element of the ideology of the Republican party and the Neo-Cons. America has repeatedly refused to allow international courts jurisdiction in America and condemned criticism of American society and institutions by the UN, on the grounds that these organisations and the countries they represent are much less democratic than the US. To allow them jurisdiction in America, or over Americans, is seen as an attack on the fundamental institutions of American freedom. Thus, while America has demanded that foreign heads of states responsible for atrocities, such as the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, should be tried at the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, it has strenuously resisted calls for the prosecution of American commanders accused of similar crimes.

Britain Not Democratic for Most of its History

This sense of a unique, democratic destiny and a moral superiority to other nations also permeates the British Right. Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP for Dorset, who wishes to privatise the NHS, has written a book, on how the English-speaking peoples invented democracy. It’s a highly debatable view. Most historians, I suspect, take the view instead that it was the Americans and French, rather than exclusively the English-speaking peoples, who invented democracy. Britain invented representative, elected government, but until quite late in the 19th century the franchise was restricted to a narrow class of propertied men. Women in Britain finally got the right to vote in 1918, but didn’t actually get to vote until 1928. Part of the Fascist revolt in Britain in the 1930s was by Right-wing, die-hard Tories alarmed at all of the proles finally getting the vote, and the growing power of Socialism and the trade unions. Technically, Britain is still not a democracy. The architects of the British constitution in the 17th and 18th centuries viewed it as mixed constitution, containing monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, with each component and social class acting as a check on the others. The House of Commons was the democratic element. And the 17th and 18th century views of its democratic nature often seem at odds with the modern idea that everyone should have the inalienable right to vote. It seems to me that these centuries’ very restricted view of democracy ultimately derived from Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle considers a number of constitutions and forms of government and state, including democracy. His idea of democracy, however, is very definitely not ours. He considers it to be a state governed by leisured, landed gentlemen, who are supposed to remain aloof and separate from the lower orders – the artisans, labourers, tradesmen and merchants, who actually run the economy. In his ideal democracy, there were to be two different fora – one for the gentlemen of the political class, the other for the rude mechanicals and tradesmen of the hoi polloi.

How seriously the British ruling class took democracy and constitutional freedom can be seen in the very rapid way they removed and abolished most of it to stop the proles rising up during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Burke is hailed as the founder of modern Conservatism for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he argued for cautious, gradual change firmly grounded and respecting national tradition, as opposed to the violence and bloodshed which occurred over the other side of the Channel, when the French tried rebuilding their nation from scratch. At the time, however, Burke was seen as half-mad and extremely eccentric for his views.

Imperial Government and Lack of Democracy in Colonies

The lack of democracy became acute in the case of the countries the British conquered as they established the British Empire. The peoples of Africa, the Middle East and Asia were largely governed indirectly through their indigenous authorities. However, ultimate authority lay with the British governors and the colonial administration. It was not until the 1920s, for example, that an indigenous chief was given a place on the colonial council in the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Some governors did actively try to involve the peoples, over whom they ruled, in the business of government, like Hennessy in Hong Kong. For the vast majority of colonial peoples, however, the reality was the absence of self-government and democracy.

British Imperial Aggression and Oppression of Subject Peoples

And for many of the peoples of the British Empire, imperial rule meant a long history of horrific oppression. The sugar plantations of the West Indies have been described as ‘concentration camps for Blacks’, which have left a continuing legacy of bitterness and resentment amongst some West Indians. The sense of moral outrage, as well as the horrific nature of imperial rule for Black West Indians and the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples in books on West Indian history written by West Indians can come as a real shock to Brits, who have grown up with the Whig interpretation of history. Other chapters in British imperial history also come across as actually quite sordid, like the annexation of the Transvaal, despite the fact that the Afrikaaner voortrekkers who colonised it did so to get away from British rule. The Opium War is another notorious example, the colonisation of Australia was accompanied by the truly horrific genocide of the Aboriginal peoples, and the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, which saw much of the continent conquered by the French and British, was largely motivated by the desire to grab Africa and its resources before the Germans did.

Whig Interpretation of History: Britain Advancing Freedom against Foreign Tyranny

All this gives the lie to the Whig interpretation of history. This was the name the historian Butterfield gave to the reassuring, patriotic view of British history being one natural progression upwards to democracy and the Empire. There’s still an element of it around today. The view of the Empire as promoted by patriotic text books like Our Empire Story, was of Britain establishing freedom and justice against foreign tyrants and despots, civilising the backward nations of Africa and Asia. Similar views can be found in Niall Ferguson, who in his books states that Europe and America managed to overtake other global cultures because of their innately democratic character and respect for property. Ferguson presented this idea in a television series, which was critiqued by Private Eye’s ‘Square Eyes’.

Another, very strong element in this patriotic view of British history is the struggle Between Britain and foreign tyrants, starting with the French in the Hundred Years War, through the Spanish Armada, and then the Napoleonic War and Hitler, and finally as part of the Western free world standing against Communism. In fact, many of the regimes supported by Britain and the Americans weren’t very free at all. Salvador Allende of Chile, although a Marxist, was democratically elected. He was over thrown in the coup that elevated General Pinochet to power, sponsored by the CIA. Similar coups were launched against the democratic, non-Marxist Socialist regime of Benz in Guatemala. And it hasn’t stopped with the election of Barak Obama. Seumas Milne in one of his pieces for the Guardian, collected in The Revenge of History, reports a Right-wing coup against the democratically elected government in Honduras, again sponsored by America. at the same time Britain and America supported various Middle Eastern despots and tyrants, including the theocratic, absolute monarchies of the Gulf States, against Communism. If you are a member of these nations, in South and Central America and the Middle East, you could be forgiven for believing that the last thing the West stands for is democracy, or that it’s a hypocritical pose. Democracy and freedom is all right for Britain, America and their allies, but definitely not something to be given to the rest of the world. And certainly not if they don’t vote the way we want them.

Origin of Link between Britain and Democracy in Churchill’s Propaganda against Axis

In fact, it’s only been since the Second World War that the English-speaking world has attempted to make itself synonymous with ‘democracy’. While Britain previously considered itself to be a pillar of freedom, this was certainly not synonymous, and in some cases directly opposed to democracy. Some 18th and 19th century cartoons on the radical ferment about the time of the French Revolution and its supporters in Britain are explicitly anti-democratic. Martini Pugh in his book on British Fascism between the Wars notes that large sections of the colonial bureaucracy, including the India Office, were firmly against the introduction of democracy in England. According to an article on the origins of the English-Speaking Union in the Financial Times I read years ago, this situation only changed with the Second World War, when Churchill was faced with the problem of winning the propaganda battle against Nazi Germany. So he attempted win allies, and hearts and minds, by explicitly linking British culture to the idea of democracy. This may not have been a hugely radical step, as Hitler already equated Britain with democracy. Nevertheless, it completed the process by which the country’s view of its constitution, from being narrowly oligarchical, was transformed into a democracy, though one which retained the monarchy and the House of Lords.

House of Lords as Seat of British Prime Ministers, Not Commons

And it wasn’t that long ago that effective power lay with the upper house, rather than the Commons. During the 19th and early 20th centuries a succession of prime ministers were drawn from the House of Lords. It was only after Lloyd George’s constitutional reforms that the head of government came from the Lower House, rather than the chamber of the aristocracy.

Most of this is either unknown, or is just accepted by most people in Britain today. The British’ idea of themselves as uniquely democratic is largely accepted unquestioningly, to the point where just raising the issue of how recent and artificial it is, especially with regard to Britain’s colonies and the Empire’s subaltern peoples, is still extremely radical. And the Conservatives and their fellows on the Right, like UKIP, play on this assumption of democratic superiority. Europe, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, isn’t as democratic us, and has absolutely no right telling us what to do.

Need to Challenge Image of Britain as Uniquely Democratic, to Stop Tories Undermining It

And so the British image of themselves as innately, quintessentially democratic and freedom-loving, is turned around by the Right to attack foreign human rights legislation, courts and institutions, that help to protect British freedoms at home. This needs to be tackled, and the anti-democratic nature of much of British history and political culture needs to be raised and properly appreciated in order to stop further erosion of our human rights as British citizens, by a thoroughly reactionary Conservative administration determined to throw us back to the aristocratic rule of the 19th century, when democracy was itself was highly suspect and even subversive because of its origins in the French Revolution.

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.