Posts Tagged ‘Protests’

Megaphone Urges People to Join Protests Against Sunak’s Anti-Strike Legislation

January 31, 2023

Rishi Sunak, our unelected Prime Minister, has pushed through parliament his wretched anti-strike legislation. Put working people are organising to push it back. I got this message from Megaphone, the internet campaigning branch of the TUC. There’s a wave of protests planned for tomorrow, and the Megaphone is naturally keen for people to get involved.

‘David,

Last night, the government rammed its shameful anti-strike bill through the House of Commons.

Instead of tackling the cost of living crisis, the Prime Minister is attacking key workers and clamping down on our most basic rights. 

The campaign to protect our right to strike does not end here. The Bill will now be debated in the House of Lords and there is still time to have these laws scrapped. But that will only happen if we take to the streets. 

On Wednesday February 1st (tomorrow!), working people are coming together at rallies and picket lines up and down the country to defend our right to strike. 


We now have more than 80 events registered on Megaphone, with more being added every hour.

With close to half a million workers on strike tomorrow, it’s the biggest day of industrial action in a decade.

Let’s march together to show our teachers, firefighters, civil servants, rail workers, NHS workers and countless others that we support their action to defend pay, jobs and services. Let’s send a clear message to the government that we will not be ignored. 

Defend the right to strike:

Find a Feb 1st action near me!

Enter your postcode to find your closest event. 

It’s so important that we can strike for fair pay, safe conditions and to protect each other. Without this, we have no right to choose.

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to hurt workers everywhere, we need to be able to stand together and choose to strike when we must.

Join an event near you on Wednesday, February 1st.

In Unity,

Anthony

Megaphone UK’

The protest in Bristol starts at 10.45 am and is at Defra Horizon House, BS1 5AH. I really don’t know where that is, and am unable to attend due to sickness. But I am full square behind the protesters in Bristol and elsewhere in the country.

Get Sunak and the Tories out!

Reform Party Promising to Protect British Freedoms against the Government, the EU and Unelected Organisations

January 20, 2023

Okay, I just found a brief video on YouTube, posted eight days ago, on Nick Buckley’s channel. Buckley’s a former police officer and campaigner against knife crime, who’s appeared a couple of times on the Lotus Eater’s channel. I wasn’t surprised then, when he posted this video interviewing Richard Tice about Reform’s ‘Eight Principles’. In the video, however, he only talks about four of them. These are largely about protecting British democratic rights against the threat of the state and unelected organisations and quangos. According to Tice, Brits are aware that they’re born free and have inalienable rights unlike in the EU. Thus, Brits are able to whatever they like unless prohibited, while in the EU they can only do whatever the EU tells them to.

The irony about this is that the idea that humans are born free comes from a continental philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau has been condemned as one of the founders of totalitarianism. One Conservative American group made Rousseau’s The Social Contract one of the most evil books of all time alongside Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin included him among his Six Enemies of Freedom and the Lotus Eaters have also put out videos attacking him. But Rousseau’s book begins with the words, ‘Man was born free yet everywhere he is chains.’ The idea that you should be free to do whatever you want unless the law says otherwise, I think comes from John Locke a century before, and is the foundation of modern liberal ideas of freedom. However, other European philosophers also had views similar to Locke’s, that the state should be limited to the role of a night watchman, in the sense say that it should protect its citizens’ lives and property, but otherwise not interfere. This is the view expressed by the German philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt in his Grenzen Der Wirksamkeit der Staat – ‘Limits of the Effectiveness of the State’. I don’t know what the underlying philosophy of government of the European Union is. I suspect there isn’t one beyond harmonising various trade and other regulations between member states and allowing for the movement of labour and capital. The original intention was to create a united trading bloc to preserve western European economic independence from America or communist eastern Europe. The Eurosceptic right has frequently ranted about the EU being some kind of totalitarian state with comparisons to Nazi Germany and communism, but I’ve seen no evidence to support it. And rather than limiting freedom, I think the EU believes it is actively creating and nurturing freedom in its member states. Such as when it condemns Poland and Hungary for their legislation banning homosexuality and gay rights.

Now let’s go through the principles as explained by Tice and Buckley in the video.

  1. The state is our servant not our master.

I don’t believe any believer in liberal democracy, whether of the left or right, would challenge this. The only people who would are either Fascists, following Mussolini’s pronouncements that the individual is nothing before the state, followers of Hegel’s dictum that ‘the state is the divine idea as it exists on Earth. We must therefore worship the state’ and supporters of Soviet Communism before Gorby’s brief reforms. However, in the context of Reform, a party of the right, it seems to me that this is yet another bland statement intended to justify further privatisation and the expansion of the power of private industry and the destruction of the welfare state against working people, the poor, the unemployed and disabled.

2. Lend us your power and we’ll give you back your freedom.

This could be said by just about any political party, even those which were real enemies of freedom. Hitler, in one of his rants at Nuremberg, declared ‘Everything I am, I am through you. Everything you are, you are through me’. The Nazi party anthem, the Horst Wessel song, also has lines about German freedom. Hitler also talked about preserving freedom through separating the different spheres of party and state and preserving private industry, though in practice under the Nazi regime the party and state apparatus were intermeshed and private industry ruthlessly subordinated to the state. Mussolini also made speeches about how the freedom of the individual wasn’t limited under fascism, except in certain ways, all of which was equally rubbish.

3. People are free.

This means, as he explains, that people naturally hold certain rights and liberties that should always be protected and defended. These include freedom of speech, religion and conscience. This does not mean that certain types of speech have no consequences. I interpret this as meaning that he feels that people can say what they want, but people are also free to express outrage and take action against others for offensive or dangerous speech that is not otherwise banned by law. Tice goes on to say that in practice, while people believe in this principle, they negotiate to give up a certain amount of this freedom with the state.

I think here he means particularly the legislation on hate speech, which in his view prevents proper criticism of certain protected groups in order to combat racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and so on. He has a point, as opponents of gay rights, who have made their opposition very clear in speeches, often quoting the Biblical prohibition against it, have been arrested. In Scotland Maria Miller, a gender critical woman, was arrested for hate speech simply for putting up stickers with the slogan ‘Scots Women Won’t Wheesht’, meaning that they wouldn’t be silent, in her campaign against the proposed gender recognition legislation north of the border. In my opinion, arresting someone for saying that goes beyond a concern about stirring up hatred against trans people into active attempts to police thoughts and opinions about trans rights.

But there are good reasons behind the legislation banning hate speech. In the case of racism, it’s to prevent Nazi groups stirring up hatred against vulnerable minorities like the Jews, people of colour and gays, all of whom have been or are targets of abuse and physical assault.

4. National Sovereignty

This means protecting British traditions, institutions and culture from enemies both external and internal. The external foes include the EU. The internal threats to British tradition and democracy are unelected pressure groups and organisations. These include big tech and companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook. This is a fair point. These organisations can and do censor material posted on their platforms. The right have been complaining about their posts disappearing or the algorithms governing their availability in searches being altered so that they become invisible, but the same censorship is also inflicted on the left. If Tice and his crew get the chance, I’ve no doubt they’ll demand greater freedom of speech for their supporters while maintaining or even strengthening the censorship against their opponents on the left.

Other threats, unsurprisingly, are the European Union, while among the unelected organisations wielding power he puts the environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and the gay rights organisation Stonewall. Tice states that a few years ago Greenpeace published their manifesto for Yorkshire, which was a diatribe against the car, and therefore, in his view, an attack on the automobile industry in west Yorkshire. One of the accusations the extreme right is throwing at environmental groups is that they wish to ban cars and private transport as part of their plan to establish Green Communism. He also includes Stonewall and the massive influence it wields, although no-one has elected it. There is a problem with Stonewall in that the advice it has been giving to companies, the government and the civil service has been wrong. They deliberately gave a wrongful interpretation of the legislation covering trans issues which was very much what they wanted it to say, not what the law actually did. As a result, a number of groups cut their connections to the organisation.

But unelected groups like Greenpeace, Stonewall and so on acquire their power through possessing, or being perceived to express, expertise and competence in particular issues. In the case of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, it’s the environment. Amnesty International is respected because of its thorough investigation and documentation of human rights abuses, even though governments may pay no attention to its findings. Stonewall is taken notice of because it speaks, or claims to speak, for Britain’s gays and articulates their concerns and recommendations to combat prejudice.

Even in the 19th century governments had to pay attention to popular protest organisations, such as the massive abolitionist campaign against slavery, the Anti-Corn Law League set up by Cobden and Bright to have the corn laws repealed so that the price of grain would fall and working people able to feed themselves. There was also the anti-war protests against the Crimean War led by John Bright and others. There are problems with unelected groups exercising power beyond their competence or suitability, but modern governments have always had to deal with organised groups. Tice’s singling out of the environmental groups and Stonewall seems to me to be as much to do with a hatred of their views – the Brexiteers are full-scale behind the right of private industry to trash this country’s green and pleasant land – than with their supposed power outside of the formal sphere of elections. I doubt that Reform would ever go as far if they were in power, but it reminds me more than a little bit of Mussolini’s statement that there should be ‘nothing outside the state, nothing against the state’, and similar bans on private quasi-political organisations in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

But what you’ll also notice is that these principles tell you absolutely nothing about how Reform as a party intends to act on them, except by reading the lines. What does Reform intend to do about the health service? Not said. I suspect, in fact, that as a party of the right they’ll want to privatise even more of it. What about the welfare state and the scandal of millions of people using food banks? No answers there, either. I suspect, however, that in practice you’d get more mantras of encouraging people to be independent, find work and so on, coupled with rants about welfare scroungers. What about industry? Again, the reality is almost certainly that they want more deregulation. Well, we’ve had four decades of Thatcherite privatisation and deregulation, and the result is the mass poverty and failing economy we’re now experiencing. Industry should be acting for the good of society and its employees and not just shareholders and senior management. This means limiting economic freedom, but as the Liberal journalist J.A. Hobson said, in order for the mass of people to be free you need to limit the freedom of the rich. Which is obviously toxic to the Conservatives and other parties of the right.

To sum up, what Reform seems to be doing with these principles is to try to position themselves as defenders of traditional British liberties against the threat of the evil EU and pesky Green and gay groups. But this hides an illiberal ideology that views such groups as somehow subversive, would probably remove the obstacles against real, dangerous expressions of racial and other prejudice, and which would promote the interests of private industry against ordinary Brits.

We can’t afford to be taken in by sweet words hiding their true intentions.

Message from Diane Abbott about Online Rally to Build Resistance against the Tories in February

January 20, 2023

We must do everything we can in support of the strikers – Diane Abbott

Be part of the fightback – Register here // Retweet me here // FB share here // Read article here.

HelloDavid

Whatever the Tories may tell us, the current strike wave that has been unleashed is as a direct result of government policies to benefit big business by impoverishing workers. Now, ministers are directly involved in attempting to defeat the strikes in numerous ways. As a result, these strikes are objectively highly political. The government has made them so, and is willing to use every type of divide-and-rule tactic and press vilification to defeat the strikers.

The unions taking action on pay, conditions and jobs are therefore effectively taking on the government head-on. There is no doubt the public is with the strikers. The strikers are the big battalions in the fight against this government, but everyone has a part to play. All of us must now do everything we can in terms of moral, political and financial support for the strikers because they really are fighting for us all, and I will be pleased to join with speakers from the PCS, CWU, FBU, GMB and NHS Workers Say No on the national day of action on February 1 at the Building the Fightback rally.

I hope to see you there,

Yours in solidarity,
Diane Abbott MP (via Arise.)

PS: Register for February 1 today here.

RALLY: Building the fightback in 2023.

Online rally, 6.30pm, Wednesday February 1. Join us on to hear about & build on a day of action across the country!
Register here // Invite & share here // Retweet here.

Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary // Diane Abbott MP // Dave Ward, CWU GS // Richard Burgon MP // Helen O’Connor, GMB Southern Region & Peoples Assembly // Liz Cabeza, Acorn (Haringey) // Nabeela Mowlana, Young Labour // Holly Turner, NHS Workers Say No // Matt Wrack, FBU GS & more.

Join leaders of key industrial disputes – and who are at the forefront of fighting proposed anti-union laws – at this vital event! Now is the time to build the growing fightback, co-ordinate the resistance & popularise policies that put people before profit. 

Hosted by Arise – a Festival of Left Ideas. All other pages listed on social media are kindly helping to promote the event. ‘

We Own It Appealing for People to Attend Planned Protest Against NHS Privatisation

January 20, 2023

I’ve also had this email from the pro-NHS, pro-nationalisation organisation, We Own It about a planned demonstration they’re holding against the privatisation of the NHS in February. They’re appealing for people to go to it. I can’t, due to expense and illness, but I’m putting it up here in case there are people interested in it, who may be able to attend.

‘Dear David,

BREAKING: private health companies donated £800,000 to the Conservative Party over the last decade. Now we know why the government is doing nothing about NHS privatisation!

A recent Oxford study linked NHS privatisation to the preventable deaths of 557 people.

It is time to make the government feel the power of organised people over organised money.

Can you sign up to become one of 557 people in Parliament Square from 2 – 4pm on Saturday, 25th February demanding an end to NHS privatisation?

So far, 541 people have signed up. We need 89 people to reach our final goal of 630 (that is, 557 people representing the victims of NHS privatisation, 43 people to help carry signs and banners and 30 stewards to help manage the event).

Sign up to become one of the remaining 89 people on Saturday 25th February in Parliament Square

You are involved in our NHS campaign because you believe that our NHS should work for people, not the greedy private companies that donate to the government.

Unite the Union, Just Treatment, Doctors for the NHS and Socialist Health Association fully agree with you. That is why they are now supporting our action.

It is time we make the government feel the power of organised people over organised money.

We want to bring together 557 people representing the 557 people whose deaths are linked to NHS privatisation to put on a powerful display that can get into the papers.

More press coverage means more pressure on the government. The more of us there are at the action, the more likely the action is to get press coverage.

We need 89 more people to reach our goal. Can you sign up now to join us?

Sign up to take action from 2 – 4pm on Saturday 25th Feb in Parliament Square

Because of the incredible efforts of our NHS nurses and ambulance workers who are fighting to save our NHS, the government is already feeling pressure.

With the recent study that links NHS privatisation to 557 preventable deaths, there is no better time than now to pile onto that pressure they are feeling.

The government already knows that over 75% of the public, according to our last poll, want to end NHS privatisation. But they don’t feel that people will fight to see that happen.

You can show them from 2 – 4pm on Saturday 25th February in Parliament Square that you will.

The more people join this action, the more powerful it will be. The more powerful it is, the more likely it is to receive coverage from the press.

This coverage will pile on the pressure on the government and start forcing them to take action.

I will stand up and fight to force an end to NHS privatisation

We need 557 people to represent the 557 people whose deaths are linked to NHS privatisation, according to a recent Oxford study.

But we need even more people to make sure the action is big and effective. So after signing up, please send the link to your friends and family, especially those who live in London and ask them to sign up too.

Thank you so much for always standing up against NHS privatisation.

Cat, Johnbosco, Matthew, Kate – the We Own It team

PS: 30 years ago today the British Coal and British Rail (Transfer Proposals) Act 1993 was passed, paving the way for privatisation of our railway. We’ve put together a list of 30 top failures of rail privatisation from the last 30 years. Take a read and share with friends and family.’

Guardian Article on Ethiopia Covering Up Its Slaving Past

January 18, 2023

Today’s Groaniad has published a fascinating article on Ethiopia’s refusal to acknowledge its history of slavery and slaving, ”If you had money, you had slaves’, how Ethiopia is in denial about the injustices of the past’, by Fred Harter. Here are a few extracts.

‘Histories of the country gloss over slavery and the subject rarely surfaces in public discourse. At the National Museum of Ethiopia in the capital, Addis Ababa, none of the exhibits deal with domestic slavery, while in Dalbo the chains once used to bind slaves have been melted down to make knives and farm implements. Little has been preserved.

“Slavery is a controversial issue,” says Nigussu Mekonnen, a guide at the museum. “There is limited evidence and information about it.”

“We tend to ignore certain kinds of history that would shape the negative image of the country,” says Kiya Gezahegne, an assistant professor in the social anthropology department at Addis Ababa University. Instead, official narratives focus on Ethiopia’s ancient Christian civilisation and its reputation as the only African country to have successfully resisted European colonisation.

“We are taught to be proud of our identity, and bringing in this narrative of slavery would be a challenge to that discourse,” says Kiya.

Yet slavery was once widespread in Ethiopia. Stretching back centuries, slaves served as soldiers, domestic servants and labourers, who were put to work at royal courts, in churches and fields.

Many were born into servitude. Others were captured in raids and during wars, or sold into slavery after they failed to pay debts. Much of the trade was domestic, although Ethiopian slaves were also sold across the Red Sea to Arabia and Turkey, where they were prized as concubines and servants.

Historical data on the slave trade is patchy. Ahmed Hassen, a professor of history at Addis Ababa University, says the number of enslaved people ebbed and flowed, especially during times of war, but estimates that up to one-third of Ethiopians were enslaved at different points in history.

In some districts, the proportion was likely even higher. The sociologist Remo Chiatti calculates that 50 to 80% of people were slaves in parts of Wolaita, a southern kingdom centred on Dalbo that was absorbed into the Ethiopian empire in the 1890s.

“Slavery was everywhere,” says Ahmed. “It was the backbone of labour; it was the source of everything. It was not only landlords and the court of the emperor keeping slaves, but also rich peasants. If you had money, you had them.”

Abolition came slowly, the result of “external and internal realities”, says Ahmed. The first big step came in 1923 when Haile Selassie signed an accord promising to end slavery to gain admittance to the League of Nations, although the practice was not stamped out entirely. In the 1930s, Benito Mussolini used the issue to justify his invasion of Ethiopia, which Italian fascist propaganda cast as a “civilising mission”.

In 1942, after Ethiopia’s liberation from Italian occupation, Haile Selassie issued the decree abolishing slavery. Even then, the practice lingered in some pockets and the influence of the former slave-owning aristocracy would not be smashed until 1974, when revolution swept to power the Provisional Military Administrative Council, also known as the Derg, a Marxist-Leninist military junta that introduced land reforms.

Today, the impact of slavery is keenly felt. After abolition, many slaves became part of the families of their former masters, but in some areas the descendants of enslaved people are seen as impure and are marginalised, barred from participating in ceremonies such as funerals or marrying into other clans. In Addis Ababa, it is common to hear light-skinned highlanders refer to darker-skinned people from southern Ethiopia as “bariya” (slave).

“Slavery in Ethiopia is not a historical phenomenon,” says an Ethiopian researcher, who did not want to be named. “Its legacy still affects people’s lives today.”

Little has been done to heal these rifts. In 2019, a year after Abiy Ahmed became prime minister on a tide of mass protests and promising reform, Ethiopia’s federal parliament set up a reconciliation commission to address past political repression and historical injustices, including the slave trade.

“It is one of the injustices that Ethiopian society inflicted on its members,” says Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, the head of Ethiopia’s Roman Catholic church, who participated in the commission. “We felt slavery should not be put under the table. It should be studied and addressed if there is to be real reconciliation.”

But the commission’s work was never published and it has now been subsumed into a broader national dialogue commission, which opposition parties claim is government-controlled. Critics of the government say political repression has crept back in after the outbreak of the war in Tigray in November 2020.

The polarised environment has made it harder to discuss issues such as slavery. A teacher in Addis Ababa, who did not want to be named, says he grew up with “zero knowledge” that slavery was once so widespread.“People are too preoccupied with ethnic-based politics,” he says. “If you talk about slavery, you are accused of trying to divide your group.”

He says: “I see a lot of posts online about George Floyd, talking about how racist America is, and of course that’s an issue. But we also need to talk about inequality here. There are still ethnic groups looking down on others.”

A new generation of historians are starting to piece together the history of Ethiopia’s slave trade, but discussions remain confined to academic journals and seminar rooms. Last year, there were no public events to commemorate the 80th anniversary of abolition, and most local oral histories are still hidden.’

This is interesting, as it shows that Ethiopia, like many of the other countries outside Europe that were involved in the slavery and the slavery, is also trying to tackle this aspect of their past. Historical slavery is an issue affecting many different countries and cultures, and certainly not a case of evil White Europeans and American enslaving noble Black Africans. Nevertheless, this is how it is viewed and presented by many activist groups.in Britain and America.

For further information, see https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/jan/18/ethiopia-slaves-in-denial-about-injustices-of-the-past

Open Britain on the Tory Attack on Democracy

January 17, 2023

I got this email from the pro-democracy organisation, Open Britain, on the Tories’ continued campaign against democracy in our fair country. It runs

Dear David,

Over the last four years, we have witnessed a rapid reduction in the fairness and inclusivity of UK politics. Rishi Sunak seems determined to continue Boris Johnson’s all-out assault on the rights, institutions, and norms designed to hold the government to account. Academics have a term for this process: “democratic backsliding”.

It’s worth reflecting on recent years through the lens of backsliding to understand where Johnson, Truss, and Sunak are taking us – and how low we’ve already sunk. Researchers at University College London have identified the following critical elements of backsliding:

  1. Breakdown in the norms and standards of political behaviour
  2. Disempowerment of the legislature, the courts, and independent regulators
  3. The reduction of civil liberties and press freedoms; and/or
  4. Harm to the integrity of the electoral system 

On the first element, it’d be nearly impossible to deny that norms and standards in UK politics have become warped beyond recognition, largely thanks to Boris Johnson.

The sheer quantity of Johnson’s absurd lies to the public. The blatant PPE contract corruption. The unlawful attempt to prorogue Parliament. The repeated partying throughout the pandemic. Truss’ appointment of Mark Fullbrook as chief of staff. Rishi Sunak’s refusal to sack Suella Braverman amid egregious security violations. Take your pick.

But norms have also been eroded at a deeper level. The government now appears comfortable with breaking international law whenever it suits their needs.

The Internal Markets Bill (2020), the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill (2022), the planned Bill of Rights Bill, and the plans to offshore asylum seekers to Rwanda all undermine the UK’s long-held reputation for upholding international agreements on human rights and trade agreements (many of which UK ministers and officials helped to draft). Our government is clearly quite comfortable ignoring its citizens and the international community. It’s safe to say that the first box on that list is checked.

On the second element, backsliding may not be as apparent, but close inspection reveals some seriously concerning changes here too.

The government has attracted robust criticism from the Hansard Society for rushing bills through Parliament and abusing the ‘statutory instruments’ mechanism to limit Parliament’s ability to scrutinise bills properly.

They have also drawn widespread criticism for taking steps that inevitably undermined the powers and independence of the Electoral Commission. Boris Johnson removed the Commission’s powers to prosecute and attempted to give a (then) Tory-dominated committee control over its operations, and a number of Conservative MPs even called for its abolition.

It’s not just the Electoral Commission either. Former Commissioner for Public Appointments Peter Riddell also accused the government of “packing” appointment panels to blatantly place political allies in the House of Lords.

On the third element, we’ve also seen that this government is willing to toss aside fundamental rights and freedoms when they become politically inconvenient. The Policing Act (2022) was a significant affront to our right to protest, including giving police the right to shut down “noisy” protests.

That is now followed by the Public Order Bill (2023), currently in the Lords, which seeks to expand these measures further, giving police the right to pre-emptively crackdown on protests before they happen and keep registers of known activists based on facial recognition data. If that’s not an infringement of civil liberties, then nothing is.

And let’s not forget Dominic Raab’s grubby plans to overturn the Human Rights Act. 

We’ve also recently seen the press and the labour movement under fire from the government. Several journalists were arrested while covering climate protests last November, despite showing valid press IDs. And the government’s plans to privatise Channel 4 last year – finally abandoned under public pressure this January – and their continued hostility towards the BBC betray an instinct for threatening vital public news services when they are perceived to be getting in the way.

The Sunak government’s latest priority is to crack down on the right to strike by introducing government-set minimum service standards, once again choosing authoritarian mandates over dialogue or compromise. It’s hard to deny backsliding is also occurring in this area.

On the final element, it has been clear for some time that the integrity of the voting system used for general elections is in jeopardy. The Elections Act (2022) now requires voters to show ID at polling stations, something that creates a barrier to legitimate electors being able to exercise their democratic right to vote. Worse, the government’s choice of valid ID seems to disadvantage people from demographics less likely to vote Conservative. That bill also mandated the use of FPTP for Mayoral and Police Commissioner elections, entrenching a broken system that does not accurately reflect the true will of the electorate. 

It’s clear that the UK is indeed in a phase of democratic backsliding. But that doesn’t mean we have to continue on this path. 

As we move forward in 2023, OB will continue to work, alone and with partners who share our ambitions and values, to ensure UK democracy is striding forwards, not sliding backwards.

The Open Britain team

P.S. We and a number of partners in the democracy sector are working to put pressure on Labour to commit to making the changes we need to renew our political system. You can help right now by signing our joint petition here to get Keir Starmer to support proportional representation.

Add to this the secret courts that Dodgy Dave Cameron pushed through, in which you can be tried in secret, without you or your defence knowing the identity of your accusers and evidence withheld from you if the authorities deem it necessary for reasons of national security, and we really are heading towards what some commenters call ‘a democratic deficit’.

I didn’t realise this, but the tribune was the Roman magistrate charged with defending the rights of the plebs and the army. Hence the phrase, ‘a tribune of the people’. The late 18th century French revolutionary communist, Gracchus Babeuf, also recommended a panel of officials charged with making sure local politicos performed their duties. If they didn’t, their constituents had the right of recall and out they would go. I like this idea, and the fact that the Romans knew that you needed officials to protect democratic rights and freedoms shows, in my opinion, just how wise they were. Not wise enough not to be ruled by a bunch of raving psychopaths, but you can’t expect too much from past ages.

Boris claims to be a great admirer of ancient Rome. It’s a pity the tribunes aren’t one of them. Instead from the Tories we get a lot of bluster about democracy and free speech right when they trying to undermine all of it.

Peter Hitchens on Tony Blair’s Stupidity

January 16, 2023

Yeah, I know this ad hominem, but it is funny. Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani interviewed Tory iconoclast Peter Hitchens the other day. The two don’t really have much in common, but Bastani justified the interview saying that if you want to be certain in your political views, you should test them by talking to people who hold the opposite. Hitchen’s is very much a man of the right, and some of his views are odd, if not barking. He believes, for example, that we shouldn’t have gone to war with Germany as it was not in our interests. Perhaps it wasn’t, but we had signed the defence pacts with France and Poland, And if we hadn’t gone to war, I think we would have still lost the empire sooner or later. Plus we would have been excluded from a continent under Nazi domination. And this is not to mention the carnage that would have been perpetrated by the Nazis, with the Jews and Gypsies becoming extinct in Europe, followed by the Czechs and the Slav populations enslaved as peasant farmers supplying produce to their German overlords.

On the other hand, Hitchens has said that he never supported Thatcher’s sale of the council houses or the privatisation of the prison system, because justice, as a principle, should be in the hands of the state. He also states in one of his books that he was shocked into an awareness of how fragile civilisation was after visiting one of the failed African countries as a journalist in the 1980s. The country had descended into vicious gang violence, but walking through its capital Hitchens saw everywhere grand architecture and all the signs of modern corporate development. I think this gives an insight into the basis of his own Tory views. I remember reading in the Spectator years ago that the right-wing philosopher Roger Scruton abandoned the left when he witnessed the rioting in Paris during the 1968 student and workers’ protests. He was alarmed by their ‘anti-civilisational rage’.

Back to the interview, Hitchens described Blair’s spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, as being frightening intelligent. He mentioned people, who really thought for the first few months of Blair’s regime that it was Campbell running the country. He joked that it was probably because of Campbell’s mighty intellect that he was kept away from voters, as he would probably frighten them all away.

But Blair, on the other hand, wasn’t terribly bright and Hitchens doubted that he could have run the country without Campbell. To illustrate his point, he told the story of how he briefly met Blair just before the 1997 election. Blair was in Oxford, travelling in his motorcade. Hitchens was following him by bike, but as the traffic was bad, he got to Blair’s destination before him. After Blair had arrived, he was immediately surrounded by a crowd taking pictures. Hitchens wanted to talk to Blair, and so, after the crowd had finished and dispersed, he walked up to the future Prime Minister. He decided to open the conversation by asking who the crowd were. Blair replied, ‘They’re Brazilians. I’m very popular down there.’

‘Oh, you should learn Portuguese then,’ replied Hitch.

‘What?’

It turned out that Blair thought they spoke Brazilian in Brazil. Hitchens concluded that what Blair really wanted to be was a pop star, and you didn’t need to ascribe any deep ideological motives to him.

There was, nevertheless, an ideological basis to his policies. He was a product of BAP, the British-American Project for the Successor Generation, which was set up by Reagan to influence the rising generation of British politicians from both the Conservatives and Labour. Blair had started out as a supporter of nuclear disarmament, but after going on a BAP-sponsored trip to America and hearing the views of various right-wing think tanks, he came back as an opponent. He was fervently Thatcherite, believing in the superiority of private industry and strongly influenced by the American political system. Private Eye ran several pieces about the American private healthcare and prison companies lining up to donate to New Labour in the hope of getting some of that nationalised action. He took over advisers and staff from private healthcare companies as well as other businesses, and pushed the privatisation of the NHS further than the Tories would have dared. As stupid as he may have been, he set the course for right-wing Labour, and Starmer shows every indication of returning to it.

Charles James Fox’s Solution to Social Unrest – Listen to the Protesters and Address Their Grievances

January 9, 2023

In his 1792 speech to the parliament in which he denounced the government’s closure of the various republican and democratic societies supporting the French Revolution and attempts to dictate British public opinion, Fox also stated what he would also do to solve the social unrest then breaking out. His recommendation was simple: actually listen to the protesters and do something to solve the issues against which they were protesting. Moreover, he stated that he believed strongly that every man should be able to approach parliament with their complaints. He said

‘But, it may be asked, what would I propose to do in times of agitation like the present? I will answer openly. If there is a tendency in the dissenters to discontent, because they conceive themselves to be unjustly suspected and cruelly calumniated, what would I do? – I would instantly repeal the Test and Corporation Acts, and take from them, by such a step, all cause of complaint. If there were any persons tinctured with a republican spirit, because they thought that the representative government was more perfect in republic, I would endeavour to amend the representation of the Commons, and to show that the House of Commons, though not chosen by all, should have no other interest than to prove itself the representative of all. If there were men dissatisfied in Scotland or Ireland or elsewhere, on account of disabilities and exemptions, of unjust prejudices, and of cruel restrictions, I would repeal the penal statutes, which are a disgrace to our law books. If there were other complaints of grievances, I would redress them where they were really proved; but above all I would constantly, cheerfully, patiently listen. I would make it known that if any man felt, or thought he felt, a grievance, he might come freely to the bar of this House, and bring his proofs: and it should be made manifest to all the world that where they did exist they would be redressed; where they did not, that it should be made evident. If I were to issue a proclamation, this should be my proclamation: ‘If any man has a grievance, let him bring it to the bar of the Commons’ House of Parliament with the firm persuasion of having it honestly investigated.’ These are the subsidies that I would grant to government.’

In Alan Bullock and Maurice Shock, The Liberal Tradition from Fox to Keynes, (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1956) 3.

Definitely a lesson for Rishi Sunak, who does not want to listen, let alone do anything to address the strikers’ complaints, except to make it difficult for them to strike.

Charles James Fox’s Denunciation of Government Attempts to Tell Brits What to Think

January 9, 2023

There are forces on both the left and right that are trying to limit and control free speech in this country. The Tories have always used the power of the right-wing press, of course, but this is coupled with laws designed to severely restrict strike and public demonstrations. This is coupled with the strong conservative bias of some internet platforms, which deliberately manipulate the algorithms governing what people searching the internet may see in order to bury left-wing blogs.

‘The great 18th century Whig politician, Charles James Fox, denounced the government’s attempts to close the various societies and clubs that supported the French Revolution and demanded constitutional change over this side of the channel, in a speech made before the house in 1792. This included the following stinging passage.

‘But what, Sir, are the doctrines that they desire to set up by this insinuation of gloom and dejection? That Englishmen are not to dare to have genuine feelings of their own; that they must not rejoice but by rule; that they must not think but by order; that no man shall dare to exercise his faculties in contemplating the objects that surround him, nor give way to the indulgence of his joy or grief in the emotions that they excite, but according to the instructions that they receive. That, in observing the events that happen to surrounding and neutral nations, he shall not dare to think whether they are favourable to the principles that contribute to the happiness of man, or the contrary; and that he must take, not merely his opinions but his sensations from his majesty’s ministers and their satellites for the time being! Sir, whenever the time shall come that the character and spirits of Englishmen are so subdued; when they shall consent to believe that everything which happens around is indifferent both to their understandings and their hearts; and when they shall be brought to rejoice and grieve just as it shall suit the taste, the caprice, or the ends of ministers, then I pronounce the constitution of this country to be extinct.’

In Alan Bullock and Maurice Shock, eds., The Liberal Tradition from Fox to Keynes (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1956) 1.

And I think Starmer could also learn a lesson from this about telling Brits what to think about events in foreign countries.

Is Keir Starmer Planning to Further Privatise the NHS If He Gets Into Government?

January 8, 2023

This deeply concerns me. A few days ago the mellifluous Irish left-wing vlogger, Maximilien Robespierre, posted a video asking if Keir Starmer was planning to push the privatisation of the NHS even further if or when he gets into 10 Downing Street. I didn’t see more than a few seconds of the video, but it seemed to be based on Starmer’s cagey response to how he would solve the country’s current crises. While Starmer has promised to repeal the anti-strike legislation, which would definitely be a great step if he actually does it, he answered that question by stating that Labour would not be spending its way out of these problems. This looks like an attempt to assure Tory voters that Labour is now fiscally responsible and no longer the high-spending party of traditional Tory caricature. But the current problems in the Health Service and other sectors are partly caused by decades of cuts and underinvestment. In the case of the NHS, the funding has also been gobbled up by increased administration expenses created by privatisation. So where is this extra investment, and improved services, supposed to come from? Blair tried to solve this by pushing the NHS’ privatisation further than Tories had dared. Not only were further NHS services outsourced to private healthcare providers, but he also created the Community Care Groups of doctors, who were responsible for commissioning medical services. These CCGs were granted the powers to buy in private medical services, and to raise additional income privately. Starmer is a Blairite, as shown by his vehement persecution of the Labour left and embrace of neoliberalism. One of the great commenters on this blog has suggested that he’s an admirer of the Swiss healthcare system. This is a mixture of state and private medical insurance, the degree depending on wealth. In the case of the very rich, it’s all, or nearly all, funded by private health insurance. In the case of the poor, it’s state-funded according to whether they can afford a level of private insurance. I have a feeling Nick Clegg of the Lib-Dems believed in the same kind of continental system. This obviously violates the fundamental principles on which Nye Bevin founded the NHS: that it should be universal and free at the point of delivery.

No-one wanted Blair to push through his NHS privatisations and there was electorally no need for it. By the time Blair was elected in 1997 the country was so thoroughly fed up of Tory misrule and their policies that Blair could have pursued a traditional Labour policy of renationalising it as well as funding it properly. But Blair was a Thatcherite and intensely concerned to get the Tory press and Tory voters onside, to the point that Rupert Murdoch has been described as an invisible presence at cabinet meetings. Blair’s pursuit of Tory policies left traditional Labour voters and members feeling betrayed and disenfranchised and the party lost both. They only continued winning elections because the Tories were worse.

I joined the Labour party a few years ago, inspired by Corbyn’s commitment to genuine Labour party policies and the protection and renationalisation of the NHS. I really don’t want to see it privatised by Starmer as Blair did.

If Starmer does push through further measures to privatise it, not only will he betray this country’s working people, making them poorer and with less available healthcare, then it will also have disastrous consequences for the direction of politics in this country. The recent surge of identity politics following the Black Lives Matter protests back in 2020 has also resulted in a backlash and the appearance of anti-woke parties further to the right, like Reform, led by Richard Tice, and Laurence Fox’s Reclaim. If working people become alienated from politics because whichever party you choose, economically they’re all the same, it leaves the way open for the far right. That was shown very clearly in Margaret Hodge’s neck of London, where Hodge did so little to tackle the rise of the BNP that the stormtroopers at one point had seven members on Tower Hamlets council. Their fuehrer, Derek Beacon, even sent her a garland after their squalid electoral victories. What has been shown to work against the fascist parties and unite working people of different ethnicities and religions is effective, traditional Labour welfare policies. These are desperately needed in themselves, but without them there’s the possibility that Britain may go the same way as the continent in the rise of extreme right-wing nationalist parties.

Renationalising the NHS and restoring the welfare state will not only massive improve the health, wellbeing and prosperity of the British working people, but will do much to stop the racial division and alienation fuelling the drift towards the parties of racial division, friction and resentment.