Posts Tagged ‘Liberty’

Vox Political: Liberty Attacks Government Plan to Place Fees on FOIA Requests

January 26, 2016

Mike has also posted up this article on the campaign group, Liberty’s attack on the government’s plan to charge for requests for information made under the Freedom of Information Act, http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/26/freedom-of-information-imposing-fees-on-requests-would-be-blunt-instrument-campaigners-say/. The Tories have complained that the requests are an unnecessary and expensive burden on government. A spokesman for Liberty has rebutted this, stating that the actual cost of providing the information is small, and collecting information is what government does anyway.

Well said, Sir!

The simple fact is that the Tories don’t like people criticising their iniquitous decisions, and doubly so if they’re well informed and have the official data to hand. And not the managed data they blithely dole out to their friends in the media to provide a specious justification for their policies. Mike himself has had his requests for information repeatedly turned down and stonewalled by the government, supposedly because they are ‘vexatious’. As have many other disability bloggers and activists, and now even the Independent and Private Eye. And Johnny Void has received the same treatment in his efforts to get the names of companies exploiting workfare.

In the case of workfare, the government has said that they won’t release the information, as they’re afraid they’ll be a public backlash against those companies, and the wretched policy won’t work. And the same fears are doubtless underneath their general refusal to grant information. They have even stated that information released under the act should not be used by the press to generate stories, but only to understand how government decisions are made.

In other words, they’ve admitted that they want the public to remain ignorant, in case they’re able to challenge them, or uncover anything the government might find awkward or embarrassing. And it’s very good that Liberty are standing up to them and refuting these allegations.

Advertisements

Vox Political: Channel 4 Documentary and Churches’ Report against Mass Sanctions

March 2, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has a piece on a documentary tonight by Channel 4’s Despatches, Britain’s Benefit Crackdown. The documentary covers a recent report into the appalling consequences of the sanctions regime by a coalition of Baptist, Methodist, the United Reformed Church, and Welsh and Scottish churches, Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions. The churches condemn the sanctions regimes because of the hardship it inflicts on the poor, the sick and the disabled. They point out that the sanctions regime is worse than the criminal justice system and ordinary employers. The courts cannot order a convicted criminal to be denied food, and ordinary employers can’t stop peoples’ wages for petty infractions, like coming to work ten minutes late. But jobcentres not only can, but do.

And Mike is most infuriated by the harm this does to children. His piece is called Coalition government condemned over sanctions regime that tortures children. It begins with the horrifying statistic of the number of children, who have been the victims of sanctions.

Around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions between the beginning of April 2013 and the end of March 2014, according to a new report.

In the same period, nearly seven million weeks’ worth of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.

The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, will feature in this evening’s episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, entitled Britain’s Benefits Crackdown.

The report – Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions – is published today by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It contains new data on the severity and length of sanctions under ‘welfare reform’, and on how sanctions affect vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.

It features the stories of people like James [not his real name] who have had their benefits sanctioned: “During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to.

“By the fourth week, however, I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating, but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly,” he added.

The churches are also concerned with the degradation and humiliation inflicted by the sanctions regime, which they feel contravenes the proper respect and love due to all humans as created by the Lord.

“But sanctions don’t just have a financial impact. The people we’ve spoken to have told us of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system. As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity.”

Mike also points out that the deliberate infliction of hunger also contravenes the UN Convention on Human Rights, Article 3, as also contained in the Human Rights Act. The British civil liberties organisation, Liberty, also considers this to be the case. Mike provides the link.

He also quotes Dr Barry Morgan, the Archbishop of Wales, who is also concerned that the DWP guidelines knowingly discuss the use of hunger and deprivation on benefit claimants. The good churchman also makes the point that the amount of suffering the sanctions regime has inflicted in Wales may be much greater, but he doesn’t have the statistics on it. They haven’t been released, despite requests for them under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mike’s article concludes

It is clear that the DWP is in breach of the Human Rights Act and is subjecting benefit claimants to torture as punishment for late attendance at appointments.

This report by the churches is to be welcomed. Now, what can they do to punish the government for torturing its own citizens?

It’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/03/02/coalition-government-condemned-over-sanctions-regime-that-tortures-children/.

No doubt after the Despatches programme tonight, the Tories will start their using moaning about ‘left-wing liberal bias’. They’ll say the same thing about the churches’ report. Just as they did to the 50-page letter attacking benefits drafted by the Anglican bishops under Archbishop Welby. The Tories like to pretend that they are the protectors of Christianity against secularism and militant Islam. In fact, as their behaviour to the various churches shows, they have absolute contempt for them when their social attitudes and theology is not in absolute agreement with theirs. And that’s shown in the derisory treatment the Archbishop of Wales and his team have received from them in the government’s blatant withholding of information. Just as they also treated Mike and the other inquirers with contempt and disdain when they requested this information.

The sanctions regime is a criminal, humanitarian disaster. It should be scrapped, and those behind it humiliated and forced to leave office.

ATVOD Begins Internet Censorship

June 28, 2014

Amnesiaclinic, one of the commenters over on Vox Political, posted this video from Not UK Column News as a comment to Mike’s article on the conviction of Cameron’s aide for possessing paedophile material. The video is by the two or three leaders of UK Column, a website which includes videos, critically examining and reporting current events. It seems to be part of the British Constitution Group, an organisation which believes that the British constitution has been undermined and corrupted by the rich and powerful. I really don’t know who British Constitution Group are, nor what, if any, their political affiliation is. A casual glance at their website shows that they are concerned with the destruction of the NHS, and also with the apparent theft and kidnapping of children by NATO officials. If this is the case, then they’re really similar to organisations like Index on Censorship, which report suppressed or censored news.

The two male presenters in this video, with a female co-presenter looking on from the rear of the car, describe the way ATVOD, the statutory body regulating On-Demand Video, has decided that because they have videos which they consider to be ‘television-like’ on their Youtube Channel, Not UK Column News therefore constitutes an On-Demand Video service which needs to be regulated. They therefore hit them with the legal paperwork requiring them to register with them. Rather than submit to this attempt at censorship, UK Column News has simply taken down its videos from Youtube. They take the view that this is the beginning of the censorship of the Internet.

The two presenters state that ATVOD was initially set up in 2003 to stop TV companies putting on their websites material which was unsuitable for broadcast. This largely seems to have been pornography. The two UK Column presenters note that ATVOD’s material about itself discusses its work in closing down and protecting children from on-line porn. Peter Johnson, the head of ATVOD, was a former member of the British Board of Film Classification. The UK Column people state that the boundaries of the sexual content that is considered permissible in film has expanded, and so it seems that Johnson has simply jumped from regulating the pornographic to the political. The other head of ATVOD is Rachel Evans, a woman, who holds a long, long line of directorships. So long, in fact, that it takes about five minutes for one of the presenters to read them out. They remark on the fact that in her list of directorships and official positions, she does not mention that she was part of Liberty, a group that campaigned for paedophiles. They also remark that while ATVOD claims that the majority of the board adjudicating a case must be independent, in practice they are anything but. The so-called independent members have strong links to the broadcasting companies. Indeed, key BBC personnel had a role in formulating the body’s policies, and then, when it came to regulating the Beeb over a particular case, the Corporation was eventually acquitted. It’s clearly a case of conflict of interest, but not according to ATVOD, which insists that it is independent. The two state that Johnson himself admitted that ATVOD’s role is essentially to police the established broadcasters’ competitors. They see ATVOD as having moved far beyond its original remit to suppress any competition to the main television, no matter how small or trivial they are.

They also point out that by ATVOD’s own admission, the scope of the laws which regulate On-Demand Video providers are unclear, and ATVOD itself has no clear guidelines on this issue, as it states that these arise as each individual, different case is dealt with. They therefore see this as an admission that ATVOD are basically making them up as they go along. If this is all true, then ATVOD is something of a kangaroo court, whose lack of precise legal boundaries make it a threat to free speech and discussion in this country.

This is vitally important at this particular time. Last Sunday there was a demonstration by 50,000 people, including MPs and media ‘slebs, against government austerity. Despite the fact that it was held right outside Broadcasting House, it was not covered in anything except a derisory way by the media in this country. It was not mentioned in the papers, and only received the barest moments of coverage on the BBC’s rolling news channel and radio. This looks like a concerted attempt by the British media class to avoid covering anything that might send Cameron and his cronies into ‘a fearful bate’, as the great philosopher and educationalist Nigel Molesworth would sa. Even if it is only incompetence, an excuse I find much less than plausible, it still shows the vital necessity of alternative sources of news outside the official channels controlled by the Beeb and the empires of Murdoch, Dacre, Desmond and co. The grand hope of the Libertarian Net pioneers when it was set up was that the web would allow ordinary citizens to circumvent the restrictions of tyrannical and repressive governments. See the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, as an example of this. During the Arab Spring and the Green Revolution in Iran, dissidents used social media and the internet to get around official censorship. It’s why the Internet and the freedom of information it represents is feared by the Communist authorities in Beijing, who have erected the Great Firewall of China. The same attitude appears to be shared by the Internet regulators here in the UK. A number of left-wing websites have warned that the British authorities would try to clamp down on websites offering critical political material. Pride’s Purge was hit a while ago, when the Net authorities tried to restrict access because the site contained ‘adult content’. Well, it does in the sense that it deals with politics, which is a business for adults, rather than the kind of material sold on the tops shelves of newsagents or broadcast by Richard Desmond’s specialist TV station.

This is a warning: the authorities are trying to close down dissent, and the two from UK Column News are correct when they state that this is the thin end of the wedge. Here’s the video, and see if you agree with them.

On the Road to Serfdom with Von Hayek

August 8, 2013

The ideology of the modern Conservative Party is partly based on the Libertarian ideas of Von Hayek. Von Hayek was a refugee to America Austria after the Nazis’ Anschluss. In his books, such as The Road to Serfdom and the Constitution of Liberty Von Hayek defended ‘the freedom in economic affairs without which personal and economic freedom have never existed’. He was a bitter opponent of the extension of state interference in the economy. He argued that the extension of the welfare state would inevitably lead to the loss of freedom if it permitted no choice. The Road to Serfdom was published in 1944, and reinforced Churchill’s own doubts about post-War reconstruction. His ideas became the major force in Conservative ideology under Margaret Thatcher, who was introduced to them through her mentor, Sir Keith Joseph.

There was a piece on Thatcher’s adoption of Von Hayek about a decade ago in the Financial Times. The article repeated a story about Thatcher’s official promotion of it at a Conservative party meeting. She went to it with the book in her hand. She arrived just when a young man was on the floor making a speech supporting the middle of the road economic consensus. According to the article, it was Thatcher’s turn to speak after him. She slammed the book down on the table with the words ‘This is what we all believe in now’. Or words to that effect. The article then went on to discuss the various ways in which she actually misunderstood von Hayek, such as on the importance of central institutions, such as the monarchy and parliament in Britain. The article suggested that elements of von Hayek’s views could be adopted by a Labour government without crossing the floor.

Well, maybe, though with retrospect the article seems like a subtle piece of propaganda aimed at getting New Labour to continue von Hayek’s Liberalism but under a less extreme, slightly more socialistic guise after public discontent with the Tories increased.

Von Hayek’s influence also explains why Thatcher banged on so much about how the Tories’ represented ‘choice’, despite the contraction of individual liberty implied by her ‘strong state’ policy.

Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe reproduce an extract from von Hayek’s 1959 work, The Constitution of Liberty, in their collection of documents, From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty Years of Britain’s Welfare State 1948-98. This contains the following paragraph attacking the notion of the state provision of welfare:

‘In many fields persuasive arguments based on considerations of efficiency and economy can be advanced in favour of the state’s taking sole charge of a particular service; but when the state does so, the result is usually that those advantages soon appear illusory but that the character of the services becomes entirely different from that which they would have had if they had been provided by competing agencies. If, instead of administering limited resources put under its control for a specific service, government uses its coercive powers to ensure that men are given what some expert thinks they need; if people can thus no longer exercise any choice in some of the most import5ant matters of their lives, such as health, employment, housing and provision for old age, but must accept the decisions made for them by appointed authority on the basis of its evaluation of their need; if certain services become the exclusive domain of the state, and whole professions – be it medicine, education or insurance – come to exist only as unitary bureaucratic hierarchies, it will no longer be competitive experimentation but solely the decisions of authority that will determine what me shall get’.

Now this needs very careful critiquing. More specifically, how well has this argument stood up now that it has been and is continuing to be government policy?

Actually, not very well.

Von Hayek’s assumption, that economic freedom is the basis of personal and political freedom, is flawed. As critics of the Conservative party have pointed out, private property and ideologies of economic freedom existed long before most of the European population had personal or political freedom. It was the basis of late 18th and early 19th century laissez-faire economic liberalism at a time when only the aristocracy and the upper middle class in Britain, for example, had the vote.

It also does not take into account the importance of public opinion in formulating government policy. It assumes that decisions regarding health, social insurance and so on would be taken by a bureaucratic, technocratic elite deciding what it believes the public wants and needs on their behalf. Now this certainly was the case in the former Soviet Union. In England the early Fabians, including Beatrice and Sidney Webb, certainly had this authoritarian mindset and did believe that the new socialist society should be administered by an efficient bureaucracy. It does not, however, envisage the way the public actively tries to influence government policy through public meetings, bureaucratic forums in which the public can state their objections and demands, such as patients’ groups and similar organisations, or the fact that the public can and is frequently actively involved in welfare issues through the simple process of democratic debate. Von Hayek’s simplistic view of state power is only true of monolithic, single party autocracies such as Communism, Nazi Germany and the Fascist dictatorships. It does not consider the state as a means of empowering people and granting them a freedom, which they would otherwise be denied by their economic circumstances. John Steward Mill, in his class formulation of Liberalism in the 19th century, passionately defended personal liberty. However, he was also influenced by contemporary socialist experiments, such as the French Saint-Simonians. As a result, he believed that some freedoms could only be secured through the collective action of the state.

Now let’s examine the claims for freedom made on behalf of the private provision of welfare services. This seems to assume an ideal condition in which such private organisations are able to offer service comparable to those of the state. But as we’ve seen, in recent years the privatised industries such as the railways and privatised hospital administrations are now very heavily subsidised by the state to an extent which far exceeds the amounts they received when they were directly owned and operated by the state. In the case of the railways, the service they provide is actually poorer than in the last days of British Rail.

It also does not accept that private provision may result in a lack of choice. In America, for example, 1/7th of the population cannot afford medical insurance. These people have absolutely no choice regarding their health care. They are forced to use medicare. As for those, who have the benefit of private medical insurance, these are tied very much to the demands of their insurance company. The days when Americans were free to take or leave their doctor’s advice are very much a thing of the past. Not that you’d know that from the polemic coming out of the American Right.

It also does not foresee the way private companies may also close down or alter services without consulting their customers, purely for the benefit of their shareholders. An example of this was the way one of the American firms charged with running GPs’ surgeries in London closed three of them, leaving the patients with no doctor. It does not accept the fact that certain industries are natural monopolies, which can be both more efficiently and more democratically administered by the state in the public interest.

Furthermore, von Hayke ignores the possibility of the use of state coercion to enforce and support private industry at the expense of the liberty of the individual. The use of workfare to compel the unemployed to work in selected retail venues or other industries is a prime example of this.

Von Hayek also makes the statement ‘It would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that the greatest danger to liberty today comes from the men who are most needed and most powerful in modern government, namely, the efficient expert administrators exclusively concerned with what they regard as the public good’. There’s a bitter irony here. The administration of the modern state and party political machines is now highly technocratic and corporative, using experts drawn extensively from industry, to promote the interests of those industries against the public good.