Posts Tagged ‘European Court of Human Rights’

The Beeb’s Reply to Zelo Street Commenter’s FOIA Request for Information on the Selection of the Panel for Question Time

July 25, 2019

An anonymous commenter to Zelo Street posted this very interesting piece about the reply they got when they sent the BBC a request under the Freedom of Information Act for information on the way the BBC selects the guests for the panel on Question Time, its flagship current affairs programme. This has been the subject of controversy and serious criticism for its blatant right-wing bias. The members of the Panel are drawn almost exclusively from the Right, with the exception of a single individual to represent the Left. As for the host, there was always a right-wing bias under David Dimbleby, but this has increased and become even more pronounced and objectionable under Fiona Bruce. Many people have complained to the Beeb about its bias, and got the standard bland replies and brush-offs. This commenter, unfortunately, was treated no differently. Here’s their post.

The BBC?

A few weeks ago I sent a FOI request to said propaganda organisation. Here’s the reply I got:

“Thank you for your request to the BBC of 05 July 2019 seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’):

“Selection of panel members on TV Question Time. Can you kindly confirm which individuals (by name) and department(s) are responsible for selection of the above, plus all criteria used during selection.”

The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion. Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities1 . The limited application of the Act to public service broadcasters was to protect freedom of expression and the rights of the media under Article 10 European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). The BBC, as a media organisation, is under a duty to impart information and ideas on all matters of public interest and the importance of this function has been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights. Maintaining our editorial independence is a crucial factor in enabling the media to fulfil this function. However, the BBC makes a huge range of information available about our programmes and content on bbc.co.uk.”

The BBC is about as trustworthy as a barrel load of snails covered in excrement. London-based right wind propaganda clerks, nothing more.

The comment is posted at: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/boris-appoints-lawbreaker.html

To find it, scroll down past the article.

In short, the BBC responds to the request by saying that FOIA doesn’t cover them, and so they aren’t going to release it. I can appreciate why the Beeb and other public service broadcasters have been exempted from the legislation because of human rights issues. However, this means that the Beeb’s news editors remain unaccountable, and the Corporation is determined to protect those responsible for its grossly biased news and current affairs coverage, at least as regards Question Time.

In many ways, it really is a Tory propaganda machine, which corporately has the same sense of arrogant superiority that it’s overpaid chiefs have individually and personally.

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Boris Twists Facts on Europe and LGBT Rights to Promote Brexit

April 5, 2016

Tory Lies Drawing

It goes without saying that the mendacity of this government runs so deep, that every liberal claim they make should be taken with a whole mountain of salt. To get at the truth, all you have to do is listen to what Cameron or the other lying puppets of the corporate elite say, and turn it through 180 degrees. You will automatically be correct.

Cameron scraped in at the 2010 election, when he wasn’t voted into power, by pretending to be more left-wing and liberal than Tony Blair. Philip Blonde, his political mentor, filled his book, Red Tory, with pages about how the Conservatives had passed laws benefiting the working class in the 19th century (true), and said nice things admiring the great Russian Anarchist, Kropotkin. The book was also full of accurate criticisms of neo-liberal economics. Reading the book, you could fool yourself, if you didn’t know otherwise, into thinking that the Tories were then going to reposition themselves slightly to the left of Bliar. Well, the Speccie had taken an ant-War stance against the invasion of Iraq, so it could seem vaguely plausible. Cameron himself strode around claiming that he was going to ring fence NHS spending to save it from the austerity cuts that were coming to sort out the problems with the banks. Essential services were going to be preserved. He even claimed that his government would be the ‘greenest ever’, and stuck a windmill on his roof, to show he meant it.

Of course, he didn’t mean any of it. Not a single word. Once in he started cutting the NHS budget massively, and vastly expanded the creeping privatisation that was coming in under Bliar and New Labour. The Public-Private Finance Initiative, which Osbo said he would abolish, has also been kept, along with the wretched sanctions regime over at the DWP. And no, he definitely had no intention to abandon workfare, not while it was supplying so much cheap labour at starvation level to his corporate backers. As for Green policies, he’s doing his level best to introduce legislation to allow the fracking companies to trash the environment. Renewables are being cut, and nuclear power is suddenly the way forward again. Always assuming the Chinese don’t decide they’re not, after all, going to build the power station at Hinckley point.

And that windmill has definitely come off his roof.

Boris, a man even the Tories decry as an utter cad and a wrong’un, has shown his own duplicity by throwing his lot in with Brexit, to the dismay of Dave Cameron, and the high delight of everyone, who enjoys a good fight in the Tory ranks. And, still being a Tory, BoJo has decided that he’s going to try to promote Brexit by presenting it as a liberal movement, which will benefit oppressed minorities. The Open Democracy website has posted a story about how the notoriously heterosexual Mr Johnson, has appeared on a video with the LGBT Brexit group, Out and Proud. Johnson claims that staying in Europe is a major threat to the civil rights gay and trans people have won over the past few years. He claims that this is all due to the benign views of the Tory government. And of course, the European Union is poised to take them all away.

The truth, of course, is exactly the reverse. Cameron did finally grant gays the right to get married, though this was in the teeth of determined back-bench Tory opposition. It also built on previous Labour legislation, which sort of opened the door to it in the form of Civil Partnerships. The OpenDemocracy article begins:

In his recent video for the LGBT Brexit group, ‘Out and Proud’ Boris Johnson, with typical disregard for the facts, asserted that the U.K.’s progressive attitudes on LGBT rights were entirely the work of “us, the British people”. By implication, ‘Europe’ had contributed nothing. The reality is very different. Europe’s two main organisations, the Council of Europe and the EU together did much to create the momentum for change in the late 1990s and early 2000’s. This followed 17 years of Conservative government which, far from progressing LGBT rights, supported the introduction of a law that prohibited local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality.

The Council of Europe’s main contribution came through a series of rulings against the UK under the European Convention on Human Rights. These condemned discrimination in a number of areas, including the criminal law in Northern Ireland, the unequal age of consent, the ban on LGB employees in the armed forces, and the failure to provide adequate legal gender recognition procedures for trans people. They compelled the Blair government to initiate legislation, leading to extensive parliamentary debates over a number of years that in themselves did much to change public attitudes.

Yup, it was the Council of Europe and the EU that challenged the legal discrimination in British law. And Mike points out in his article on this issue that the Tories attempted to keep a lid on the teaching of progressive views on homosexuality in schools with the notorious Clause 28 introduced by Maggie Thatcher. That was the one that banned schools from promoting homosexuality as an equal lifestyle to schoolchildren.

The article goes on to discuss how Boris is warning about the terrible position of gay and trans folk in eastern Europe – in Poland, Hungary and other parts of eastern Europe. That’s true, and some of the most brutal persecution is in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. The article describes the armed attack by the police and local authorities on a gay rights march in Ukraine. However, it points out that Ukraine, and the other former eastern bloc nations have had to revise and tone down their hatred of homosexuals and the transgendered, if they wish to get into the EU, or establish good relations with it.

And on the subject of homophobic governments, Putin’s regime in Russia has come in for considerable criticism because of his attempts to clamp down on gays in his country. The last time I looked, however, Russia wasn’t part of the European Union. So whatever he’s doing to gay people there, he’s not doing it as an EU leader.

The OpenDemocracy article is at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/nigel-warner/boris-is-wrong-lgbt-people-should-oppose-brexit

Mike’s article is at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/04/05/boris-is-wrong-lgbt-people-should-oppose-brexit-opendemocracy/

And Mike’s article makes it very clear that if Britain leaves the EU, all the legislation that currently protects gay people is vulnerable. The Tories hate and despise the EU because of the Social Charter, which gives workers some minimum rights, as well as its human rights legislation, which they’d also like to get rid of. They’d much rather replace it with a British Bill of Rights, which would be much weaker.

So don’t be fooled. BoJo is lying yet again. He can’t help it: it’s in his nature and that of his party. If Britain does leave Europe, the position of gay people will be consequently weaker. And if the homophobic wing of the Tories gain ascendancy, any liberal legislation conceding equality to gay men and women is very vulnerable.

The Six Tories for Leaving Europe, Who’ll Make You Want to Stay In

February 21, 2016

Mike has posted up a picture on Vox Political of the grim Rogue’s Gallery of leading Tories supporting Britain leaving the EC. He refers to them as six good reasons not to vote for the Brexit. They include John Whittingdale, Theresa Villiers, Ian Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Michael Gove and Priti Patel. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/20/at-least-six-good-reasons-not-to-support-brexit/.

This is absolutely right, and current EU legislation at least helps keep some of their monstrous policies in check. For example, Priti ‘As a Picture’ Patel, was one of the authors of Britannia Unchained, a vile little screed which scorned British workers for being lazy, and told us all that we should work harder, for less, because that’s what people in the Third World were doing. Except that in this case, the reverse was true. The people of the Developing World were working harder, because we were. If we work fewer hours, for a bit more money, they might get a bit more too out of their employers. At the moment, British workers, as part of the EU, are guaranteed certain minimal rights under the Social Charter. Naturally, the Tories hate this with a passion. If we leave the EU, Patel and her fellow slave drivers will get their way and strip British workers of the rights and benefits we’ve built up over centuries.

Then there’s Chris Grayling. Grayling’s in charge of British justice, rapidly becoming British injustice. The Tories have set up a system of secret courts, in which you may not even know what the evidence against you or who your accuser is, if someone decides this contradicts the national interest. Grayling has cut legal aid, so that the poorest now find themselves unable to afford a solicitor. And he effectively wants to set up special prisons for political offenders, starting with Islamist terrorists.

The obstacles here are the European human rights legislation and the court of justice. The Tories have long resented these on the grounds that they protect terrorists from deportation. They don’t. They do, however, protect the human rights of EU citizens, and that’s what Grayling and the rest of the Tories want to strip from British citizens. And just remember – in the 1970s the Tories were planning internment camps for Labour MPs, the Socialist Workers, Communist Party, and leaders of youth, age and minority activist groups in the Shetland Isles. And with Grayling and Cameron planning a British gitmo for Islamists, it looks like radical Muslims aren’t going to be the only people rounded up as a threat to national security.

IDS – what can I say here? He himself is a walking indictment of the Tories. The minister for chequebook genocide has done his level best to kill, starve and impoverish the poor and disabled by cutting back on welfare support. And he’s been criticised repeatedly by international organisations. These have included the UN. Of course there’s a resentment there for the welfare provision in many EU countries, and the Social Charter. So long as we’re in the EU, there will be pressure for British workers to enjoy some of the same welfare benefits as in the other EU countries in western Europe. And this drives the Tories up the wall. They would like us to leave Europe, and become more like America, or at least the Republican version thereof, where there’s little or no welfare support.

So if you truly value the freedom, rights and welfare benefits British workers currently cling on to, vote for the ‘In’ campaign. Because if you vote with those six for leaving the EU, they will deprive you of all your rights. It’s their primary reason for wanting to leave Europe. Trade has little to do with it.

The Nixonian Politics of David Cameron

February 10, 2016

Shark Hunt Pic

As I mentioned a few blog posts ago, I’ve been reading through the works of the great Gonzo journalist and drug fiend, Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson was part of the Hippy scene in the 1960s, and knew Ken Kesey and Jefferson Airplane. He was politically liberal, and had a visceral hatred of the Republicans, including Ronald Reagan, George Dubya and, quintessentially, Richard M. Nixon. Thompson covered the Watergate trials and its aftermath, writing some truly blistering pieces on the man, who has become the epitome of American political corruption.

Now, it seems, history is repeating itself here in Britain, and we have another politico who shares many of Nixon’s worst characteristics – paranoia, a need to spy and control the lives and beliefs of ordinary citizens, and whose policies favour the rich at the expense of the poor.

I found these telling passages about Nixon, which so resonate with the current situation in Britain, in Thompson’s 1974 piece about Watergate, ‘Fear and Loathing in the Bunker’, reprinted in the collection, The Great Shark Hunt.

Thompson believed that Nixon’s corruption had done some good by shaking average Americans out of their political apathy, particularly regarding the massive rise in the unequal tax burden between rich and poor:

The Watergate spectacle was a shock, but the fact of a millionaire President paying less income tax than most construction workers while gasoline costs a dollar in Brooklyn and the threat of mass unemployment by spring tends to personalise Mr Nixon’s failure in a very visceral way.

Rises in petrol prices, mass unemployment and a leading politician, whose a millionaire, who pays less tax than blue collar workers. Well, that all sounds like Cameron. He is an old Etonian toff, and he has radically shifted the tax burden onto the working class.

And on the totalitarian character of Nixon’s administration:

George Orwell had a phrase for it. Neither he nor Aldous Huxley had much faith in the future of participatory democracy. Orwell even set a date: 1984 – and the most disturbing revelation that emerged from last year’s Watergate hearings was not so much the arrogance and criminality of Nixon’s henchmen, but the aggressively totalitarian character of his whole administration. It is ugly to know how close we came to meeting Orwell’s deadline.

Meanwhile in Cameron’s Britain, we’re still on the journey there. Cameron is the man, who introduced secret courts, and has massively extended the remit of the intelligence services and the secret state to spy on British citizens. He also wishes to get rid of the European human rights act, and replace it with a much weaker British bill of rights. And, of course, he and his fellow authoritarians, including Jack Straw, wish to water down massively the Freedom of Information Act, so that the public doesn’t get hold of any information that might embarrass him and the other poor dears in his wretched and corrupt administration.

Well, at least they impeached Nixon. For whatever reason, at least two members of the press kept up and did the job of bringing him down. Our modern media seem just about ready to roll over for him, including the BBC.

Nixon Cameron Pic

Vox Political: Eurostar Sold by Tories to Tory Donor

March 10, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has posted this piece, exposing the latest bit of corruption from the party nicknamed ‘The Selfservatives’, Eurostar sell-off: Isn’t this interesting? It reports that Eurostar has been sold off to Hermes LLP, one of whose shareholders, Michael Glendonbrook, has donated extremely lavishly to the Tory party. Glendonbrook also has shares in two other companies, whose boards are also adorned by David Gamble, Hermes’ chairman.

The stories over at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/04/eurostar-sell-off-isnt-this-interesting/.

This is yet more corruption from the party that seems to be vying with Bliar’s administration to be the most flagrant example of ‘crony capitalism’. It’s precisely the same kind of policies that made John Major’s administration notorious for ‘sleaze’ in the early and mid-1990s. Like Cameron, Major was keen to privatise state industries, which were then sold to companies with the same MPs and civil servants on their boards, who were in charge of the very same privatisation.

The French on the other side of La Manche, remarked that they had legislation in place to prevent such corrupt sales of public assets. Indeed, one French official remarked ‘You call it sleaze. We call it corruption’.

It also shows something about the Euro-scepticism in the Tories. It appears to be less resentment at the interference of a foreign, corrupt bureaucracy, as the Euro-sceptics angrily shout, and more bitterness at the fact that the fact that there is a large, supra-national legislature that actually occasionally does have morals higher than theirs, and dares to hold them to account. Hence the determination to jettison not just Europe, but the European Court of Human Rights and all the international laws protecting British citizens from persecution by their own government.

Police Black Sites in America, and the Death of Hilda Murrell

February 28, 2015

Police Black Site in Chicago

This is another video from The Young Turks. Secret CIA Black Sites in American Heartland for ‘Disappearing’ Citizens reports an article from the Guardian a few days ago revealing the existence of a ‘black site’ run by the local police in Homan Square in Chicago. It was a secret detention centre where suspects were taken. They were not allowed access to their lawyers, read their Miranda warning, or booked in, as required in normal police procedure at American police precincts. Those detained were also frequently beaten.

Normally, those arrested and taken to the site were only there for a few days, before being put back in normal police custody. Some, however, have died at the centre, such as a man, who was found unresponsive at an interrogation room, and later declared dead in hospital.

Cenk Uyghur, the Turks’ anchor, links this case to the use of CIA Black Sites used to disappear suspected terrorists throughout the world, including Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. He quotes Tracy Siska, an American civil rights activist and criminologist working in the Chicago justice department. Siska and Uyghur state very firmly that this is the result when the intelligence agencies are able to get away with illegal and unconstitutional actions. These procedures then get back into the American civil system, to corrupt and pervert normal law enforcement. One of those detained without access to a lawyer was a NATO protester.

Hilda Murrell

I’ve reblogged this because it raises important questions about what our security services over here have also been doing. Britain was very firmly complicit in the extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects, who were deported to nations, where they would be tortured to extract information from them. British citizens were also interned at Gitmo.
The death of the NATO protester after being abducted by the cops and illegally imprisoned in Homan Square also seems to me to be extremely and uncomfortably similar to the death in March 1984 of Hilda Murrell.

Murrell was an elderly lady living in Llanymynech, near Oswestry. She was an anti-nuclear campaigner with links to the protest groups END, ECOROPA and MCANW. Her nephew was Commander Robert Green, a naval intelligence officer. When Tam Dalyell raised questions over Murrell’s death, he was informed that Commander Green was the officer, who passed on the order to the Conqueror to sink the Belgrano during the Falklands War. He also passed the message from HMS Endurance to Northwood HQ informing them that the Argentinians were about to invade.

On Friday, 23rd March Murrell disappeared from her home. Her body was eventually found three miles away. The official police investigation concluded that she had been the victim of a burglary. Supposedly, she had caught the burglar in the act. He had killed her, and then taken her body to dump elsewhere. Others at the time were unconvinced. If she really had been killed by a burglar, why, for example, had he put the body in his car and then driven around town, where she was seen by no less than 69 people?

Her now empty house caught fire on the 26th January 1985. This was blamed on arson, but no-one was ever caught, nor was it attributed to Welsh Nationalists, who had begun burning down holiday homes owned by the English. Furthermore, during the investigation the police called in Home Office forensic scientists, which was highly unusual if it was an ordinary arson. Murrell was also a very close friend of Catriona Guthrie and her boyfriend, ‘LM’ or ‘Malcolm’. The three of them used to attend meetings of the Shrewsbury peace group together. Yet Guthrie and her boyfriend were never questioned by police.

Murrell’s death has been investigated and reported by several people and organisations, including Robert Green, Tam Dalyell, Graham Smith, John Osborne, Amanda Mitchison, Bob Parker, David Cole, Peter Acland, Nick Davies, Gary Murray, Lobster’s Robin Ramsay, John Stalker, Judith Cook, West Mercia Police, and the documentary series Crimewatch for the Beeb, and ITV’s World In Action.

Lobster magazine has published several articles on her death. One of these, ‘Hilda Murrell: A Death in the Private Sector’, was an anonymous piece written by a former director of the Institute of Professional Investigators. This described the links between MI5, the Institute, and Zeus Security, a private security firm run by Peter Hamilton, a former major in Army Intelligence. The author stated that MI5 contracted out the surveillance of suspect groups and individual to private security firms, such as Zeus Security. The author of the article stated that one of his informants was a former captain in British Military Intelligence. This informant, according to the article, gave its author detailed descriptions of unlawful killings carried out on the instructions of MI5. He also stated that some of these killings were carried out by ‘renegade SAS types’ just ‘for kicks’. In the opinion of the writer of the Lobster article, Murrell was murdered by a private operation, not an official espionage operation. He believed that Murrell had interrupted a break-in by one of the private security firms contracted by MI5. The gaol of the operation was simply to see if she had sensitive information about Sizewell. When she discovered them, they panicked, abducted and killed her. One of the private operatives used by MI5 through the IPI was Vic Norris, aka Adrian Hampson, who had several convictions for sex offences and violence.

Peter Smith, in another Lobster article, ‘The Murder of Hilda Murrell: Conspiracy Theories Old and New’, reports that Guthrie became a prison visitor after Murrell’s murder. She was told by a convict in Lincoln that he had been a member of the team that broke into Murrell’s house. Their leader reported to the Cabinet Office through an MI5 liaison officer, and they had been ordered to look for papers for Naval Intelligence. One of those suggested as possible members of the team was David Gricewith. Gricewith was an armed robber, and was probably responsible for the killing of Sgt John Speed in Leeds. He allegedly did undercover work, including acting as an agent provocateur, for the intelligences and was also, allegedly, involved in far right politics. Gricewith died after supposedly accidentally shooting himself during his arrest by the police for armed robbery.

The Tories and Lib Dems Attack on Human Rights

If the security agencies really were assassinating British citizens through the use of private security firms in the 1980s, then the threat to the human rights of British citizens is even greater now. The Tories and Lib Dems have passed legislation providing for the establishment of secret courts. These are intended to protect sensitive information and the identities of intelligence operatives in cases involving national security. As a result, the accused may not be present during the trial. They may not be informed of certain pieces of evidence, nor know the identities of their accusers. All of these violate the fundamental principles of British justice going all the way back to Magna Carta.

The law also provides for a system of virtual ‘internal exile’, in which a person suspected of terrorism offences may be removed from his home, family or friends, and relocated as much as 100 miles away, again without legal representation.

Finally, the Tories and UKIP have also made it very clear that they are opposed to the European Court of Human Rights. They have said that they wish to see European human rights legislation repealed in this country, and replaced by a British bill of rights. Several bloggers have pointed out how malign and pernicious this idea is. The Tories and Kippers have claimed that the European Human Rights legislation is the result of the EU. It isn’t, and the European Court of Human Rights is part of the Council of Europe, a separate international body. They also claim that such legislation allows terrorists to remain in Britain and resist the threat of deportation. It doesn’t.

The Tories and UKIP are lying.

Whatever the effect may be on terrorists, if the European Human Rights Act is repealed, the British bill of rights which will replace it will be much weaker. It will not protect British citizens from Kafkaesque secret trials, in which they will not even be told what offence they have committed. It would also make such ‘Black Sites’, like that run by the cops in Chicago, legal.

And then, rather than enjoying the freedom guaranteed by Magna Carta, will be under a system of ‘Nacht und Nebel’ such as that imposed by the Nazis. The phrase means ‘night and fog’, and refers to the extraordinary system of imprisonment in which opponents of the regime simply disappeared.

This is what the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers want for Britain. And they must be stopped. As we have seen, the Tories actively copy and take over American policies. If they get in, the Chicago Black Site will come over here. If it hasn’t already.

Sources

Anonymous, ‘Hilda Murrell: A Death in the Private Sector’, Lobster 16: 25-9.

Peter Smith, ‘The Murder of Hilda Murrell: Conspiracy Theories New and Old’, Lobster 28: 28-30.

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
http://www.malcsbooks.com/resources/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.

Private Eye on the Right-Wing Press’ Attacks on the European Court of Human Rights after the SAS Shooting of the IRA in Gibraltar

August 13, 2013

Looking for more information yesterday on Private Eye’s account of how Thames Television lost its broadcasting license due to Thatcher’s anger at its documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’, I came across a piece in its ‘Hackwatch’ column reporting the attacks by the Right-wing press on the European Court of Human Rights for their judgement on the actions of the SAS. It ran:

Hackwatch: Rock Bottom Revisited

In February 1989 the Eye published Rock Bottom, a pamphlet about the SAS shooting the previous March of three IRA bombers in Gibraltar. Its main conclusions were:

1. That the terrorists’ plan to set off a bomb in Gibraltar on 8 March had been well known to intelligence officers in Britain and in Spain, who closely followed the three from Malaga to Gibraltar and never once lost sight of them.

2. The Det Chief Inspector Joseph Ullger, head of Gibraltar special branch, had admitted at the inquest that the terrorists had been allowed on to the Rock without hindrance, though the authorities knew what they looked like, what passport aliases they were travelling under and what car they were driving.

3. That the failure to stop and arrest the terrorists before they got to Gibraltar was crucial to the entire operation. Either the authorities knew there was a bomb in the car and that the terrorists could detonate it, in which case they were putting a substantial section of the Gibraltar population at risk; or they thought or knew there was no bomb in the car (as there wasn’t) in which case there was no danger of a bomb being detonated.

4. That the only realistic conclusion from these facts was that the terrorists had been deliberately allowed into Gibraltar so they could be killed by the SAS – and that this was unacceptable lynch law.

5. That the lynching had been covered up by the British government, especially at the Gibraltar inquest.

6. That the government was supported to the full in its cover-up by its agents in the press, notably the Sun and the Sunday Times, which waged an hysterical campaign against one of the few attempts in the British media properly to report what went on Gibraltar: Thames TV’s Death on the Rock.

The majority verdict of the European court of human rights goes along with points one, two and three. The court refused to accept point four, the ‘execution plot’ theory, but could provide no other reason the terrorists were not arrested at the border.

One reason for the court’s failure to explain such an inexplicable lapse by the authorities was lack of information. Pre-planning by British intelligence about what it would do to the terrorists once they arrived at Gibraltar was specifically barred from the inquest by a flow of our old friends, “public interest immunity certificates” (gagging orders). The judges did not demand a lifting of the gagging orders, even if they were empowered to do so. Accordingly, without the necessary intelligence information, they were reluctant to jump to the “trap” conclusion reached by the Eye.

The European court of human rights was set up after the war, among others by Winston Churchill, as a “bulwark against fascism”. A majority verdict finding the British government guilty of breaching article two – the right to life – might be expected to be greeted in Britain by a moment of humility, even apology. Instead the air has been thick with the delicious noise of law ‘n’ order fanatics denouncing the due process of law and order.

The Sun launched into a vitriolic attack on the court (urging its readers to ring in and abuse any court official they could find who spoke English, which some of them did in racist language embarrassing even to the Sun editors).

The judges who voted with the majority were denounced one by one. In Lithuania, for instance, the Sun shrieked on 28 September, “three people had been sentenced to death for murder” (no doubt the Sun forgot its many angry campaigns for the return of capital punishment in Britain). Greece was savaged for imprisoning Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Luxembourg “five prisoners were held in solitary confinement over the legally allowed limit” and in Spain “prisoners were beaten with truncheons”. Civil liberties campaigners in Britain can look forward to future Sun campaigns against the imprisonment without trial of hundreds of people seeking asylum to Britain or the new “head-opener” truncheons so eagerly wielded by the British police.

Why had the judges done such a terrible thing? Alan Clark in the Mail opined: “We have never been forgiven for leaving the ERM.” But Peter Hitchens, political correspondent of the Daily Express, had discovered the real reason. “Could it be,” he asked, “partly because these judges are infected by the sort of ‘correctness’ which has spread into the governing class from the campus revolutionaries of the sixties”? (including even perhaps the vigorously correct York organiser for the International Socialists in the mid-1970s -a certain P. Hitchens).

But no one could touch the master. Andrew Neill filled his column in the Daily Mail (26 Sept) with a hymn of hate against the judges, and followed this up with an almost identical piece in the Sunday Times (29 Sept). Once again Neill singled out the Thames programme Death on the Rock for special abuse, especially for its use of witnesses. Among matters not mentioned in either article were

1. The huge sums in libel damages paid out by the Sunday Times for the hysterical abuse of honest witnesses to the programme. (Neill faces yet another action from Carmen Proetta for shooting his mouth off recently in the Irish media).

2. The payment by the Sunday Times of £2,000 to a convicted drugs smuggler for “information” to smear one of the Gibraltar witnesses. (The information never materialised and the prisoner hopped it with his loot to the Cost del Sol).

3. The denunciation of Neill and his Insight editor by at least three Sunday Times journalists who complained that their reports and assessments on the ground were twisted to feed the paper’s vendetta against Thames TV.

4. The fact that the award-winning Death on the Rock was subjected to one of the most thorough independent investigations in the history of the British media – and commended and cleared of all the serious charges. The investigation was headed by Lord Windlesham, a former Tory minister’.’

Private Eye, 6 October 1995, p. 11.

The shooting of the IRA terrorists by the SAS was therefore the action of a death squad, rather than soldiers governed by the rule of law. The government covered this up using gagging orders, and when the European court of human rights nevertheless ruled against it, the Right-wing press subjected the court to a campaign of denunciation and abuse. The worst of these propaganda pieces was written by Andrew Neill, now appearing as the fair and balanced host of the BBC’s Daily Politics.