Posts Tagged ‘Habeas Corpus’

Johnson’s Yellowhammer Coup – Prepared by New Labour?

September 22, 2019

This fortnight’s Private Eye, for 20th September – 3rd October 2019, carries an article on page 12 confirming that Project Yellowhammer includes plans to draft military personnel into the ranks of local government officials in the event of chaos following a No Deal Brexit. The article also claims that this is based on legislation, which includes the suspension of civil liberties,  passed 15 years ago by New Labour. The article, titled ‘Not-So-Secret Army’ runs

The last Eye reported on Operation Yellowhammer’s contingency plans for the army to take over local government in the event of a “no deal” Brexit. In response to the article, various navy and air force officers have come forward to confirm that they too have received instructions to take over key civilian posts in local government under the Yellowhammer plans.

Furthermore, they take issue with ministers’ pretence that the leaked August document was already “out of date” and had since been updated. “Many of these documents haven’t been updated since May, or even March,” one officer says, “because we kept being told that it looked bad to be seen to be making preparations for ‘No deal’ when the government wasn’t really expecting ‘No deal’; and so we were told to stop making preparations.

The placements are being made under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which provides for emergency transfers of power between public servants. While there has been feverish speculation among Leavers and Remainers as to what would happen if the act were ever invoked, it ignores the fact that Yellowhammer already involves triggering the act.

As was pointed out by peers and constitutional experts at the time of its passing, the legislation is severely flawed. Once triggered, it allows the government to bypass parliament and over-ride existing legislation by having “a senior Minister of the Crown” issue “temporary emergency regulations”, valid for 30-day renewable stretches. It even enables habeas corpus to be over-ridden – as well as the Bill of Rights, the succession ot the monarchy, the five-year time limit on parliaments and the checks on a prime minister’s power to appoint an unlimited number of peers. Back in 2004, these were all specific areas where Tory and Lib Dem peers tried to insert some safeguards, but without success.

Fifteen years on, Labour politicians may now be kicking themselves for having passed this legislation, which would give Boris Johnson and his inner circle such far-reaching powers after any “no deal” Brexit.

In my last piece about the Project Yellowhammer plans, I compared it to the way the Nazis seized power in Weimar Germany using legislation that provided for dictatorial rule during a state of emergency. Cooperation between the four parties that had provided democratic government during the Weimar Republic – the Social Democrats, the Catholic Centre Party and the two Liberal parties – had broken down. The Reichstag was at an impasse and the President, Hindenberg, was ruling by decree. He invited the Nazis into power to break the deadlock. They used the Reichstag fire to declare a state of emergency, and immediately seized power. In the following weeks the other parties and the trade unions were banned, Hitler declared Fuhrer, and the anti-Semitic legislation put in place. Jews, gypsies and political prisoners were rounded up and sent to the concentration camps. This further information on the legislation underpinning Yellowhammer makes the similarities even closer. Frighteningly closer.

However, if the article is trying to discredit the Labour, it doesn’t quite manage it. The Civil Contingencies Act was passed by Blair, Brown and New Labour. Who were very definitely authoritarian, as shown by Blair’s determination to silence and expel any opposition within the party. And which is shown today by the Blairites’ determination to do the same to Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters, using fake accusations of anti-Semitism. Blair was a Thatcherite, and his policies reflected the demands of the right-wing political and industrial elite. He ignored the party’s base in favour of political donors, who were allowed to shape government policy and even staff government departments. He obeyed the City’s demands for light financial regulation, listened to the same right-wing think tanks and private healthcare companies that influenced Peter Lilley and John MajorAnd he was also guided by the right-wing, Tory press, particularly Murdoch’s vile rags. New Labour under Blair was another Tory party.

Blair was also anti-democratic in that he tried to pass legislation establishing secret courts, in which the normal laws of evidence did not apply if the government decided that it was for reasons of national security. The press and public were to be excluded from these trials. Defendants and their counsel need not be told, contrary to natural justice, who their accuser was or what the evidence against them was.

But Blair was not alone in trying to pass this. When they got in, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition actually did it.

And the coalition also removed the right of habeas corpus

So much for the Tories’ and Lib Dems’ concern to preserve  constitutional government and Britons’ historic civil liberties.

Since then, however, the leadership of the Labour party has changed. And Jeremy Corbyn has a very strong record of voting against the government, including Blair’s. If anyone can be trusted to block the operation of this pernicious legislation, it’s him. Despite the fact that Eye has been as bug-eyed as the rest of the press in trying to smear him as an evil Communist/ Trotskyite/ Stalinist, who will stamp his iron heel on this country’s free people. Particularly the Jews.

The truth is undoubtedly the opposite. Against this government and this plan, the only people who are going to stand up to preserve democracy is a Corbyn-led Labour party. It certainly will not be the Tories under Generalissimo Boris and their collaborators, Swinson’s Lib Dems. 

 

Arbitrary Detention in Fascist Italy and the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition’s Secret Courts

March 17, 2019

Fascism was, from its very origins in 1919 an aggressive, violent movement that sought to destroy and suppress its opponents. But the creation of the Fascist police state was only really created in November 1926 with the passage of the legge di pubblica sicurezza, or Public Safety Law. This was introduced by the former Nationalist politician Alfredo Rocco, who declared

The function of public security is no longer to be considered as something exceptional, in conflict with the dogma of individual liberty as the foundation and aim of society. It is, on the contrary, to be judged as one of the primary functions of the activity of the state…. It is therefore an activity whose exercise cannot be obstructed by absurd preconceptions.

This allowed the Fascist parties to arrest and send into internal exile and confinement people who were only suspected of subversion without legal representation or redress. And it followed legislation originally passed by the liberal Italian state, which Mussolini and his thugs had overthrown.

I found this description of the law, its effects and its liberal origins in Adrian Lyttelton’s The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929 (London: George Weidenfeld and Nicolson Lt: 2nd Edition 1987). pp. 298-9. After the above quotation from Rocco, Lyttelton writes

With this flat repudiation of all doctrines of natural law or individual rights went the abolition of all distinctions between the State as a permanent entity and the Government of the moment. The safety of Fascism and the safety of the State were treated as identical.

In accordance with these premises, all vestiges of the responsibility of the executive for its actions were annulled. The citizen was left without redress; the police were no longer required to produce reasons to justify the imposition of restrictions on liberty. The police authority, for example, enjoyed absolute discretion in granting authorization to form associations or to exercise certain professions: ‘consequently the citizen has no right to obtain authorization, or – having obtained it – to keep it.

The institution of confino made possible the internal exile and confinement to an enforced domicile, for a period of up to five years, of those suspected of the intention of engaging in subversive activity. The procedures governing the operation of the confino were especially arbitrary. the decision to commit suspects to the confino was taken by a provincial committee presided over by the Prefect; the only appeal was to a committee headed by the Under-Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior. The accused could be arrested at once, before their appeal was heard, and they were not allowed either to employ a lawyer or to summon witnesses in their defence. The jurisdiction of the magistracy was entirely excluded. Moreover these unpredictable and arbitrary procedures gave an opportunity for the party to interfere. It was usually the party which denounced suspects, and on occasion local leaders, like Carlo Scorza in Lucca, used the mechanism of confino to deal with their personal enemies. it is true that regular imprisonment could not be inflicted by administrative order, as in some totalitarian regimes. The Special Tribunal set up to judge ‘crimes against the State’, which had the power to inflict the death penalty, preserved legal forms, even if the composition of the court made these a very slight safeguard.

Unfortunately the creation of the Police state in Italy was much assisted by the inadequacy of the guarantees for liberty provided under the parliamentary system. The Fascist regime was able to build upon established institutions and precedents. Confino itself was an inheritance from the Liberal State: though domicilio coatto, as it was then known, was originally intended for use against the Mafia, the camorra and brigandage, governments soon gave way to the temptation to use the weapon against political suspects. However under Giolitti the application of domicilio coatto had been confined to professional criminals. In other respects, too, the procedures of the Liberal state had left much room for arbitrary police action. The sweeping emergency measures of January 1925 were legitimized by the vague and undefined powers given to the Prefects under article 3 of the existing communal and provincial law. The power of fermo, or preventative arrest, had always been much abused, and the attempt of the 1912 penal code to introduce the rule of habeas corpus had not been a success; the police and other officials were in practice almost entirely immune from prosecution for excess or abuse of their powers. Even the sanctions of public opinion and parliamentary discussion, though effective in securing new political liberties after 1900, were usually powerless to check the more humdrum abuse of official authority. Nor can the trouble be traced exclusively to official attitudes, the truth is that to a vast number of the Italian people, especially in the backward rural areas, the informal exercise of power to keep the peace, based on tradition or practical intuition, appeared more comprehensible than the workings of the law, which were slow, cumbersome, and bore little relation to real needs.

This is very much, however, the kind of situation that may arise through the legislation the Tory -Lib Dem coalition signed in, which introduces secret courts. Similar legislation was also introduced, or mooted, by that famous Labour moderate and Centrist politician, Tony Blair. Under this legislation in the interests of national security you may be arrested without know the charges against you, and tried in a court from which the press and public have been excluded. You may not know who the witnesses are, and evidence may be withheld from you and your lawyers. It’s the kind of kangaroo court like the perverted judicial systems of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. And very similar to the quasi-judicial proceedings the Labour party has been using to throw out those accused of anti-Semitism. That passage describing the operation of a similar judicial system in Fascist Italy shows the immense dangers in giving such vast, arbitrary power to the police and the State.

We haven’t got to that stage quite yet, but the Fascist system’s precedents in the domicilio coatto of the liberal Italian state and its acceptance by a large section of the Italian public also shows how such repressive measures can be easily introduced to a public, which has been prepared for it by a relatively free state. Just as the introduction of the secret court legislation and the hysteria whipped up by the press about the threat of terrorism could easily prepare the British public for something much closer to the police states of Fascist Italy, Nazi German and Stalinist communism later.

By introducing and supporting secret courts, Blair, the Tories and the Lib Dems have shown that they are enemies of democracy. They have to be thoroughly rejected. If we want a genuinely free and democratic Britain, the only choice is to vote for a socialist Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn. 

Vox Political on the Difference Between May and Corbyn over Apartheid

May 7, 2017

Mike has also put up a post asking Tory voters where Theresa May was during the 1980s, when Jeremy Corbyn was actively protesting against apartheid. He has a picture of the leader of the Labour party from back then, showing him being marched off by the rozzers. He has a placard around his neck urging people to join a picket against it.

Mike goes on to point out that May was nowhere to be seen. She was busy earning great wads of cash for herself at the Bank of England.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/07/tory-voters-where-was-theresa-may-when-jeremy-corbyn-was-protesting-against-apartheid/

This doesn’t surprise me. Many people at the time were entirely uninterested in the issue, and there was a sizable section of the Tory party that actively supported it and the South African government. When David Cameron was PM and making noises of support for Nelson Mandela, Mike put up an article reminding everyone how ‘Dodgy Dave’ was a member of the Tory party’s youth branch at the time when many of its members did openly support apartheid South Africa, and were only too keen to have Mandela jailed, along with everyone else in the ANC.

Now we are expected to believe that May and her party are convinced anti-racists, who can be trusted as guardians of our civil liberties post-Brexit. Because they want to remove all that nasty foreign legislation guaranteeing our civil rights put out by the EU, and replace it with a thoroughly British Bill of Rights. Despite the fact that the EU legislation was formulated with considerable input from British lawyers.

This goes beyond just May’s disinterest in the issue of apartheid. It affects basic British freedoms. The Conservatives and their Lib Dem enablers have passed legislation providing for secret courts, and repealing Habeas Corpus. Under these courts, if it is deemed necessary for reasons of national security, the defendant may be tried in secret, using witnesses, whose identity he is not given, and where the evidence against him may be withheld from his lawyers. As Mike and so many other left-wing bloggers, including myself, have said before, this is precisely the grotesque travesty of justice Kafka describes in his book, The Trial and The Castle, and which became a horrifying reality in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

And in South Africa under apartheid, the system of repression was so great that people risked arrest simply for talking about Nelson Mandela. I can remember listening to a programme on Radio 4 in which the speaker, a Black South African, described how he first came to hear about the country’s national hero. It was in school, and by a teacher, who risked her job and liberty. He described how she moved around the room, carefully closing the curtains, saying, ‘His name is Mandela’.

Is this the kind of state terror we can expect from May’s party following Brexit? Our genuine constitutional protections for the ancient liberties of freedom of speech, conscience and assembly stripped away and replaced with a constitutional fig leaf to disguise the real absence of any freedom in this country? And all done by a party who were not only indifferent to monstrous injustice perpetrated by right-wing regimes around the world, from South Africa to the death squads of Chile, and who, if they read Kafka, thought it all sounded like a good idea?

‘Lib Dems Offer Strong Opposition to Tories’ – Who’s Farron Trying to Kid?

April 18, 2017

May’s just called a snap election for June, hoping that she’ll get a 2/3 majority in parliament. She claims it’s about Brexit, and that she needs to challenge the Scots Nationalists and the House of Lords, some of whom – naughty boys and girls – are undermining her, and she wants a united front in dealing with Europe. I’m sceptical about this claim. I think it’s also, as Ian Duncan Smith, the former minister for disabled death, has admitted, about beating the Labour party when they’re weak. The BBC pollsters have put Corbyn 20 to 21 points behind May.

There are good reasons for doubting these figures. Guy Debord’s Cat has written a long article, pointing out that polls are done by newspapers and Conservative interest groups, in order to manufacture public support for the Tories. They aren’t about presenting an objective gauge of how the public feels about politics, as a form of ‘manufacturing consent’, in Chomsky’s words. See https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/how-polling-works/ Even so, I am terribly afraid that the British public will be taken in by the media and Tory spin, and vote for May.

And the lying has already started. Ignoring the lies coming from the Tories, every word of which is sheer is a carefully crafted falsehood, Tim Farron has started lying on behalf of the Lib Dems. He was in Cornwall campaigning. Speaking from Truro, he made the claim that, unlike Labour, the Lib Dems would offer ‘strong opposition’ to the Tories.

Eh? Who’s he trying to kid.

Remember the 2010 election? The first thing Nick Clegg, the leader of the Lib Dems at the time, did was arrange to go into a coalition with the Conservatives. He claimed that he had negotiated with Labour, but that they had refused to remove Gordon Brown as their leader. This was, apparently, one of his conditions to entering government with them. Not having got what he wanted, he then switched to the Tories.

Except it was lies. Clegg had already made his decision to go with them anyway.

Just like Clegg also lied about opposing tuition fees for students. Soon as he got into power with the Tories, he was in favour of raising them. Far more so than Cameron, who was prepared to compromise with him on this. But Clegg was determined to raise them, and so student debt was increased to an even more crippling amount.

The Lib Dems were also more than willing to continue the Tories’ and New Labour’s privatisation of the NHS.

They were also eager to join the Tories in getting rid of Habeas Corpus and setting up secret courts, so you can be tried in secret, using evidence withheld from your lawyer, for reasons of ‘national security’. Just like Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

And there was a whole branch of Farron’s party – the ‘Orange Book’ Liberals, all slavering enthusiasts for massive privatisation, the destruction of the welfare state and workers’ rights. One of the noxious pratts promoting this bilge was the Lib Dem MP for Taunton Dean, who came from a very privileged background, having grown up in Kenya and other exotic locales.

It might be that Farron has been a new broom, sweeping all this away. But I doubt it. The Lib-Dems claimed to have opposed the Tories before. They also claimed to be a moderating force against Tory excesses when they were in power with them. That was not true. And I doubt it is now.

Barack Obama and the Corporatist Democrats Attack Free Speech

December 5, 2016

It’s very clear that in the next few years under Trump, the treasured freedoms enshrined in the US Constitution and the civil rights women and people of colour have fought so hard for are going to come under sustained attack. In many ways, Trump will just be continuing the rise of an exclusive nationalism and an all-pervasive surveillance state that began under George Dubya as he launched his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unfortunately, it seems that the corporatist wing of the Democrat party, led by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, also wants to close down Americans’ freedom of speech and information by singling out dissenting journalists, news organisations and demanding a greater role for the state in telling you what information you should believe on the Web.

There were a couple of very important articles about threat to freedom of thought in last weekend’s Counterpunch. This followed an article on Thanksgiving by Craig Timberg in the Washington Post that claimed, on the authority of a group of media researchers, Propornot, that there were about 200 or so journalists, magazines, websites and organisations disseminating fake news intended to serve the Russians’ nefarious interests. Renee Parsons in her article discusses how the 200 websites identified by Timberg as outlets for Russian propaganda don’t actually show any evidence that they are acting on false information provided by Russian state media outlets like RT or Sputnik. And a careful reading of Timberg’s article also shows that, actually, RT and Sputnik haven’t invented any stories either. What they have done instead is identify items that the rest of the media ignored or paid little attention to, and made them more prominent. Or, to put it another way, they scooped the rest of the media.

As for Propornot itself, the organisation’s website states that it is “Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service, Since 2016!” And the only person identified with it is the satirist and comedian Samantha Bee, who is the anchor on the news comedy show Full Frontal. Propornot are frightening, as they call on Barack Obama and Congress to investigate how the Russians manipulated information sources to upset the American political process. Which shows that it’s a body of Clintonian Democrats desperately trying to find suitable media scapegoats with the new, anti-Russian McCarthyism for her defeat by Donald Trump.

The site is even more malign, in that it appeals to the American public to identify not only those individuals and organisers echoing Russian propaganda, but also ‘sympathisers’. She states

If there is any doubt whether the Timberg article and Propornot itself is a partisan effort, the YYY implication is that anyone “echoing a Russian propaganda line” such as those who speak “how wonderful, powerful, innocent and righteous Russia and Russia’s friends are: Putin, Donald Trump, al-Bashar Assad, Syria, Iran, China, radical political parties” will be considered tools of Russia as compared with those who speak “how terrible, weak, aggressive, and corrupt the opponents of Russia are: the US, Obama, HRC, the EU, Angela Merkel, NATO, Ukraine, Jewish people, US allies, MSM and Democrats” will be considered enemies of the State. Anyone with such information is encouraged to ‘come tell us at Propornot about it.”

This came nearly two months after Obama made a speech to a political organisation about the internet, in which he made it clear that he wanted to set up some kind of official body to manage what they trust on the Web. She states

During a visit to the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh on October 13th, the President, known for his smooth, glib reassurances so successful at placating the public, suggested that “we are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to” and that “democracy requires citizens to be able to sift through lies and distortions” and further that “those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world.” The President continued that “there has to be some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests.”

The President’s statement does not adequately capture what democracy requires of its citizens and reads more like what George Orwell epitomized as ‘political speech’ deliberately meant to confuse and demean citizen awareness. What Obama failed to acknowledge is that every American has a right, an obligation as an engaged citizen to determine for themselves what is a lie, distortion or truth; that ‘fake news’ is in the eye of the beholder and what a citizen believes and what they do not believe is their business and requires no justification to the government or anyone else. Most importantly, it was the President’s obligation to say that with a tremendous divergence of opinion on the www, some of it wacky, some of it conspiratorial, some of it incredibly incisive and intelligent and important – all of it is protected by the First Amendment.

To briefly parse the President’s words, most of which are painfully obvious,

suggestions of a “curating function” as in some official government entity assigned for the purpose of “protecting” (“ added) the public interest and “some sort of way…sort through information that passes some truthiness test” are presented in the President’s usual folksy, innocuous dialectic used to serve the public pablum while a further shredding of their Constitutional rights slips by under their nose.

She states that this is a further attack on American’s Constitutional freedoms by Obama. Despite his election promises, Obama has not ended surveillance without warrant, restored habeas corpus and the prohibition against detention without trial, torture, and excessive secrecy of government branches. Moreover, the Constitution also explicitly forbids presidents from starting wars without the approval of Congress. This has also been violated by successive administrations, and Obama hasn’t restored this Constitutional provision either.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/obama-and-propornot/

Further information on Timberg and his witch-hunt is provided in the same issue by Pam and Russ Martens. They discuss the possible reasons for this article, including that discussed by Parsons, and first put forward by Max Blumenthal of AlterNet, that it’s the Democrats trying to blame the Russians for Killary losing the election. Other theories are that the mainstream media is also trying to ensure its survival in the age of the internet and alternative media by smearing its new media competitors. Glen Ford, the editor of the Black Agenda Report, one of the organisations smeared as a Russian propaganda outlet, has suggested that the corporatist Democrats are very close to Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, and that had Hillary won the election, she would also have launched a similar attack on alternative news sources on the Net. The Martens also state that during his career, Timberg was the National Security deputy editor for the Washington Post, before taking up his current position as the paper’s technology editor. He has also made speeches about the facial recognition technology used for law enforcement, and interviewed the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, on the information revealed on the NSA’s programme of mass surveillance. This latter interview was done at the Cato Institute, a right-wing think tank, that was secretly part-owned for several decades by the Koch brothers.

The Martens themselves believe that this latest McCarthyite smear is an attack on the news organisations that ran stories from the WikiLeaks materials exposing the massive corporate corruption in the Democrat party. Both the Washington Post and New York Times did report that information from WikiLeaks revealed that a Citigroup executive, had made the decisions on who Obama should hire as key personnel during his first term. Citigroup was one of the massive banks that had to be bailed out during the 2008 crash. And both the Washington Post and New York Times editorial boards supported Killary’s presidential campaign.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/timbergs-tale-washington-post-reporter-spreads-blacklist-of-independent-journalist-sites/

Fortunately, Timberg’s article has met with widespread derision and ridicule, with many of the commenters on the online version of the article criticising it as a piece of shoddy, McCarthyite journalism. Regardless of the precise motives for the attack – and the various theories put forward above aren’t mutually exclusive – it’s clear that the Clintonite wing of the Democrats are just as keen as the Republicans to subvert the Constitution for their own backers in big business and the surveillance state. Obama and Clinton have shown that they are determined to maintain the infringements on the Constitution introduced by George Dubya, and, indeed, expand them to smear their own enemies.

And unfortunately, this mindset appears to be spreading to the Blairites over here. Mike last week reported that Tom Watson had made a rant, attacking websites producing false information. By which he meant the pro-Corbyn site, The Canary. Tony Blair modelled New Labour on Bill Clinton’s New Democrats. Watson’s comments seem to show that the Blairites in the Labour party also want to crack down on British websites that don’t follow the required New Labour line. Just as Blair himself used to organise ‘negative briefings’ against ministers, who were deemed ‘off-message’.

If America and Britain are to have healthy, functioning democracies, where the people genuinely have power and not a narrow clique of politicos acting for the benefit of the corporate elite, it will mean purging the Democrats in the US of the Clintonites, and the Blairites in the Labour party over here, as well as defeating the Republicans and Conservatives.

Vox Political on Thicky Nikki’s Plan to Stop People Protesting Against School Sell-Offs

March 19, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also posted up a piece commenting on a report on the Politics.co.uk blog that the education minister, ‘Thicky’ Nikki Morgan, is introducing more legal reforms to make it difficult for parents and other interested local people to prevent their schools being taken over and transformed into academies.

I’m not surprised she’s done this. The Tories’ education reforms have never been about raising standards or empowering people, no matter how much hot air Thatcher spouted about it when she was trying to smash the control of Local Education Authorities in the 1980s. It’s always been about giving private education companies the right to make a good profit from them, regardless of quality. I can still remember how Thicky Nikki refused to answer Charlie Stayt’s questions on Breakfast TV when she was talking about Cameron’s renewed campaign to push more schools into becoming academies. Stayt asked her how many academies had had to be taken back into state management. The answer, if I recall correctly, was 25. Morgan didn’t answer, but just continued to bluster about how unfair it was that parents and pupils should continue to suffer from poor standards when their school was being blocked from becoming an academy. To his credit, Stayt carried on asking the question, and after she still didn’t answer, said, ‘You know how many.’ She does. That’s why she didn’t answer the question. And so do we.

And it’s exactly the same over in America. The equivalent of the academy system over there are the Charter schools. The Republicans hate the public school system with a passion, ostensibly because of its secularism. No religious worship or teaching is allowed in school, though I believe that the constitution also forbids the opposite: you can’t indoctrinate children with atheism either. But that’s not the whole reason they hate the public (state) school system. They hate it because it’s provided by the state, and not run for profit by a private corporation. I posted up a little while ago a video I found on Youtube reporting on how local authorities and private corporations in many American states had succeeded in privatising the local public schools in direct contravention of the wishes of the parents and community. There had been demonstrations against them by parents, teachers, and respected members of the community, including clergy. All to no avail. It’s happening in America, and Thicky Nikki wants more of it to happen over here.

Paradoxically, in this the Conservatives are far more right wing that D’Annunzio’s proto-Fascists at Fiume. Article 8 of the statelet’s constitution guaranteed citizens the right to state education, as well as range of welfare benefits, leisure activities and legal protections. It stated:

The Constitution guarantees to all citizens of both sexes: primary instruction in well-lighted and healthy schools; physical training in open-air gymnasiums, well-equipped; paid work with a fair minimum living wage; assistance in sickness, infirmity, and involuntary unemployment; old age pensions; the enjoyment of property legitimately obtained; inviolability of the home; ‘habeas corpus’; compensation for injuries in case of judicial errors or abuse of privacy.

I don’t know how seriously D’Annunzio’s government took all this. After all, the previous article, 7, began with a liberal statement promising freedom of conscience and association:

Fundamental liberties, freedom of thought and of the Press, the right to hold meetings and to form associations are guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution.

As this was the first to be violated when Mussolini took power, and D’Annunzio himself ended up keeping silent after Musso gave him a pension and various other privileges, I doubt that personal freedom rated very highly in his estimation either. Much of this was in any case inherited from the liberal Italian state Mussolini despised, and from Socialist doctrines of the regime’s enemies. Italy had been providing state education to its children from the early 19th century onwards, long before Britain did so, although few working class children were able to take it up due to poverty and the constraints of work. But it’s certainly an indictment of this government, that those liberties which even D’Annunzio’s storm-troopers had to recognise, are discarded by them.

Pitt’s Speech Demanding the Suspension of Habeas Corpus During the French Revolution

March 2, 2016

Also going through the book, Your MP, by the pseudonymous ‘Gracchus’, I found Pitt’s speech of the 16th May 1794, asking parliament to pass a bill suspending Habeas Corpus in order to allow the government to round up subversives during the French Revolutionary War.

Now I’ve written a number of pieces on this blog about the origins of democracy in certain strands of theology that stressed the need for representative assemblies and which permitted Christians to overthrow a tyrant. One of the criticisms of this type of history, however, is that it misrepresents how difficult and arduous the process by which democracy emerged in the West actually was. Instead of a being a smooth development in which democracy finally flowered from long, historic constitutional roots, at each stage of the process valuable constitutional freedoms had to be fought for, and were only painfully won. And historians have pointed out that for much of its history, Britain was an authoritarian state, which was all too ready to dispense with its citizens’ ancient freedoms when it suited the governing classes. The classic example of this was the 18th century, when fear of the Revolution across le Manche spreading over here moved the British government to suspend Habeas Corpus and pass range of legislation severely limiting free speech and banning a variety of ‘seditious combinations’, including the nascent trade unions.

Here’s Pitt’s speech:

The monstrous modern doctrine of the Rights of Man … threatens to overturn the government, law, property, security, religion, order and everything valuable in this country, as it has already overturned and destroyed everything in France, and endangered every nation in Europe …

That great moving principle of Jacobinism, the love of plunder, devastation and robbery, which now bears the usurped name of liberty … the arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich, and crush all; the dark designs of a few, making use of the name of the people to govern all; a plan founded in the arrogance of wretches, the outcasts of society …

With some qualifications because of its florid 18th century, this has a peculiar contemporary ring about it. The attack on the ‘Rights of Man’ for example. If you replace that with the European convention on Human Rights, which is based on the French Revolutionary tradition of les droits du l’homme, (excuse my French), then the sense is more or less the same. As is the rant about the ‘arrogant claims of the same class of men as those who lord it now in France, to trample upon the rich.’ With a few alterations, you could put this in the pages of the Daily Mail today and no-one would notice. Really. A few years ago the Mail took it into its tiny collective skull to publish a rant against the French education system. It particularly attacked the elite state schools, which educated the French technocratic and governmental elite. They were nasty, horrendous, undemocratic, and excluded the French hoi polloi. Which is probably true, I dare say. It then started to compare them negatively with the British public schools, which were supposed to be better, and the mark of a freer society. Some of us would argue that it actually shows the alternative.

In fact before the introduction of democracy over here in the form of the acts finally extending the franchise to women and the rest of the working class, the doctrine of universal human rights really wasn’t widely adopted over here. The ruling classes thought it was too abstract, and too French. Instead, they linked political rights to property qualifications and the ability to pay certain levels of tax and rates. And you can see that today. It’s carefully hidden, but there is definitely an attitude that if you’re rich, you should have more rights than the rest of us. Willie Whitelaw in the 1980s said that business owners ought to have two votes, as they were responsible not just for themselves, but for their employees. One of the High Tories about twenty years ago wrote a book arguing that we should ditch all the horrendous reforms of the 1960s, and get back to a more stable age before gender equality, the legalisation of homosexuality, when there was better respect for property. He wanted the property qualification restored for jury service, so that people with a responsible attitude to the protection of property would fill the court rooms, passing guilty sentences on those caught infringing the country’s property rights.

So it really doesn’t come as a surprise, given the long history of suspicion by the ruling classes against any doctrine of equality and universal rights, that Theresa May now wants to extend the powers of the surveillance state. Or even that in the last parliament the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers passed legislation providing for secret courts and massively extending the length of time a suspect could be held for trial during their investigation.

Britain considers itself one of, if not the great founding nation of political liberty. Pitt’s speech, and the ominous rise of the surveillance state under Major, Bliar and Cameron, makes you wonder how true this really is.

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Workfare and Anti-Slavery Legislation

August 23, 2015

Left-wing bloggers against workfare, like Johnny Void, have repeatedly pointed out that workfare constitutes a form of slavery. Under the government’s welfare to work reforms, benefit claimants can be forced to work for companies for no pay, if they wish to receive their benefits. This applies even if the claimant has been sanctioned, so that they receive no benefit payments whatsoever, and are forced to use their savings or go to a food bank. Even if this does not constitute slavery, it certainly constitutes forced labour, which is almost the same and just as offensive under international law.

Yesterday I put the oath medieval slaves took in seventh century France, when poverty forced them to give up their freedom and become a lord’s slave. I pointed out how close this was to current workfare and in particular the use of workfare labour when the claimant has been sanctioned.

Sasson commented on the piece that it was ironic that the Tories were boasting about the efforts they were making to combat modern slavery, while bringing it back with their wretched welfare reforms. That’s exactly right, and I doubt if the point’s been lost on other left-wing commenters and bloggers either.

Mike over at Benefitbloodbath and other bloggers have pointed out that slavery is illegal under article 4 of the UN code of Human Rights. It is also illegal under British national and imperial law.

Slavery was formally abolished in the British Empire with the passage of Edward Stanley’s slavery abolition bill at midnight on the 31st July 1833. It received royal assent nearly a month later on the 28th August. Under its provisions, all slaves were automatically freed from the 1st August of that year. Even before this government decided to ban slavery formally, it had legally ceased to exist in the British Empire under the terms of Act 3 & 4 Will. IV c.73.

It could be argued that rather than being the property of private individuals, like the slaves freed under the above Slavery Abolition Act, those placed on workfare are most similar to the slaves owned by the British crown. These were slaves owned by the British state, some of whom it appears were apprenticed or indentured to private masters. Crown slaves in the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Mauritius and Trinidad were given their freedom under the orders of British government c. 1831. See the House of Commons Papers 1831: Slave Emancipation: Crown Slaves.

Liberated Africans, which was the term used by the British government to describe the slaves liberated from slave ships captured by the Royal Navy, were also freed by the British government. They were placed under the custody of the Crown, and apprenticed to individual private masters, who were supposed to teach them how they could support themselves as self-reliant, independent citizens. When they were given their freedom, the British government order a general muster of the Black and coloured population in the West Indies. Those, who had served their apprenticeships were to be given a certificate declaring them to be free. Those still serving their apprenticeships were to have them cancelled. They were then allowed to remain in the colony with the same rights as the rest of the free Black population. See the government paper House of Commons Papers 1831: Africans Captured: Apprenticed Africans.

Slavery was also declared to be non-existent under British law over fifty years earlier, with the Mansfield judgement on the Somerset case in 1772. James Somerset was a slave belonging to James Steuart. Steuart wished to take him from Britain to America to sell him. Somerset refused to go, and ran away. He was aided by British abolitionist campaigners, who pleaded habeas corpus in his defence, so that he could remain in the country during the trial. Habeas Corpus is, of course, one of the provisions in that document, Magna Carta, which David Cameron confessed to not knowing what it was on Letterman. The case was brought by the British anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson, who used it as a test case to see if slavery existed under British law. Lord Mansfield, reviewing the law, declared that it didn’t.

This meant that slavery was unenforceable in Britain. The owners of slaves, who ran away, could not use the law to reclaim their property.

Mansfield also made some stinging criticisms of slavery itself. In his ruling, he declared

‘The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from the memory. It is so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law.’

Which pretty much applies to workfare, as it has been introduced by law. It is so odious that, as Johnny Void has reported, the government has refused to disclose the identities of the companies, that have signed up for it for fear that public pressure will force the same companies to abandon it once their support is known. This is tacit admission that Mansfield is right, even today.

Furthermore, the enslaved themselves were aware of Mansfield’s judgement in America and the Caribbean, and made use of it to demand their freedom. In the early 19th century several slaves came forward to claim their freedom after returning to the Caribbean from England, or British territory, considering that they had effectively been given their freedom through residence there. They were Grace James, ‘Robert’, and ‘Rachael’ and ‘John Smith’. Grace James had been taken to England in 1822 by her mistress, Ann Allan. She returned to Antigua with her mistress the following year, 1823. Two years later she presented herself to the Collector of Customs, claiming that she had been illegally held in slavery and demanding her freedom under the terms of the 1824 Consolidation of Slavery Act. Robert had also been taken to England in 1815 by his master, William Burnthorne. They returned to Antigua in 1818. Like Grace James, Robert claimed his freedom through his residence in England, whose law did not recognise slavery.

Rachael and John Smith had come to Antigua from Barbados. They had gone with their master, Major Watts, to Gibraltar, a British territory, before returning to Barbados in 1819. Their claim to freedom is slightly different to the others, as they alleged that they had been given certificates of freedom in Gibraltar, but had given this to a resident of the island to register after they returned, when they were seized by Watts’ mother under power of attorney. The Antiguan solicitor-general, Musgrave, concurred with the slaves, declaring that they were now free and citing the precedents under English medieval law. See the government pamphlet Slaves in the Colonies: A Copy of Any Information.

It seems to me that these cases show how dubious workfare is legally, especially when it is applied to benefit claimants, who have been sanctioned. I think the Mansfield judgement, and the cases of Grace James, Robert, Rachael and John Smith could be cited to show that in such a case, even if workfare did not constitute slavery per se, it should be unenforceable.