Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Freedom of Speech in Great Britain

For years, there has been an increasing sense that British democracy has been progressively undermined by the three "main" political parties: the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, colluding to ensure that the electorate are never presented with any effective way to vote against an unpublished but not completely secret (not for want of trying), political agenda common to all three parties. On issues such as the European Union, all three parties present effectively the same policy, and use every trick known to man to deny a platform to any emerging political party which might even question this agenda. It cannot be called a consensus, because it is only the politicians who consent: on nearly every issue on which the three parties collude, they are seeking something which the electorate tends to oppose.

But this week, all of a sudden, on what may be the most important political issue in Britain since the Second World War, the three parties have not colluded in secret: they have done it openly, and in the presence of members of a totally unelected pressure group, representing mainly the very rich and very powerful, which was allowed to effectively dictate the substance of draconian restrictions on free speech and free expression in the United Kingdom, whilst delegating to the politicians concerned the task of dressing up that substance to look like virtue instead of evil. Each of us has a particular skill, and the pressure group "Hacked Off" knew exactly what the politicians at its beck and call were good at.

This link is to an article describing the measure, and to some extent the circumstances of its drafting.

As well as the direct attack on democracy inherent to the collusion between the three "main" parties, there's a corrosive threat to democracy on another front, because that collusion robs most members of Parliament of any real purpose other than to claim expenses, occasionally lobby for constituents or a paying client, and vote the way they are told, when they are told. Since the only way in which a backbench MP could express any creativity at all, was therefore in his expenses claims, there was a very major scandal about MP's expenses, which caused the press, completely justifiably on this occasion, to present British politicians in general as financially corrupt. Well they generally were: those were the facts, and exposing those facts are precisely what a free press is for, and also what makes a free press one of the most precious things in the world. However, the politicians, already corrupted by the long-standing collusion between the three "main" parties, seethed with resentment at being exposed and held to account, and have proved highly receptive to plots of revenge.

What most plots to impose repression have in common, is a carefully chosen "victim group" in whose name freedoms and their champions can be trampled. News International, a part of News Corporation alongside Fox News, NDS (see other posts below) and 21st Century Fox, supplied the plot with its victim group, when it became clear that News International journalists had broken existing laws by intercepting private communications, mainly by "phone hacking". The key words back there are "broken existing laws": crimes had been committed, the criminal and civil law already offered penalties and remedies, and where sufficient evidence exists, criminal charges have been brought and damages offered and in many cases already paid: A wrong was done, not by the free press as a whole, but by one part of it. Existing laws prohibited the conduct involved, and remedies are not only available, but have already been applied in many cases, with punishments awaiting the proper and necessary step of a fair criminal trial.

The law as it already stood, provided every single thing necessary to right the wrong and prevent a repetition. This is still in train as this is being written. Yet now, without waiting for any fair trails and verdicts from any jury, we are faced not only with a new law, but with a new law unprecedented in the restrictions it imposes, not just on a free press, but on personal expression such as internet blogging, too. The law is also unprecedented in that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, is actually making a virtue of it being packaged as a complicated perversion of a Royal Charter, hitherto (for a thousand years) used to confer essential rights, not deny them. 

It is a real world example of a classic joke from The Simpsons "The Reversal of Rights Act". Even in the fantasy world of The Simpsons, the Reversal of Rights Act turned out to be a hoax, but this in the real world and it is all too real.

Many American journalists and politicians are deeply shocked, not only by the proposed restrictions on free speech -and even more especially by the insistence of severe punitive measures against those who persist in trying to expose wrong-doing by the rich and powerful. The Russian government has already condemned the measures, though Medawar doesn't expect the Obama White House to follow the Kremlin's lead -unless the Congress propels him into doing so.

What will Britons do about it?
This measure is anti-democratic, and therefore inherently un-British. It will be resisted, persistently but almost certainly not violently -at leats not on the part of the opponents of oppression. Medawar cannot guarantee the behaviour of corrupt and bullying politicians and millionaires on the other side, and it would be wise to anticipate foul play, while hoping it doesn't happen. Those who resist will be punished, in all sorts of unlawful and unscrupulous ways, by those with power, who want to exercise that power, unchallenged. Resistance will continue, regardless, for as many years as it takes, until freedom of speech is restored.

How can citizens, journalists and politicians in other countries help?
Make no mistake, these restrictions on the free press are every bit as significant as the Apartheid Laws, and Medawar saw those in operation, on buses and Post Offices in Cape Town, for example. The world responded to those with economic sanctions, which probably hurt the victims of Apartheid more than anyone else. The world has learned from that, and opposes the current tyranny in Zimbabwe via a selective travel ban on Robert Gabriel Mugabe, his key ministers and most important supporters. This is the sort of thing which would help, and which would be justified, but it must be very precisely targeted on those who are key to the problem, not their opponents, nor their dupes, nor any innocent passer-by.

For example, although the Cabinet Office minister, Oliver Letwin, was a key instigator of the new and complicated mechanism for political control of the press, the Justice Minister and former Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke QC MP, was not. Indeed, Mr Clarke had previously introduced much-needed legislation to reform English libel laws, which President Obama had found so obnoxious that he passed a measure to protect US citizens from them. Shockingly, that Bill was hijacked and wrecked at the last minute by Lord Fowler (a former health secretary) and Lord Puttnam (a former film maker) amending it till it became a prototype for the repressive mechanism now agreed upon by the three "main" parties under the direct supervision of the pressure group "Hacked Off". So, Mr Letwin is a compelling candidate for a travel ban, but Mr Clarke has clearly done everything in his power to protect free speech, and was actually attempting to improve the situation.

The Prime Minister and the other two party leaders are directly responsible for the measures against free speech (and to corrupt and twist the meaning of Royal Charters), so they must be included in any travel ban.
This would not materially affect Britain's place in the world, or its cooperation with the US or any major power on any matter of substance, as long as the Defence Secretary, Chancellor, Home Secretary and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary were excluded. Everything that actually matters is negotiated with these office holders, with the Prime Minister appearing to take the credit once everything has been settled. A travel ban would deny him that credit, but would not materially affect Great Britain's ability to negotiate and cooperate with any foreign power.

The travel ban should include and be limited to, the following persons:

Directly responsible politicians:

David Cameron (Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader)
Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Party Leader)
Ed Milliband (Leader of the Opposition and Labour Party Leader)
Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrat MP and enthusiastic supporter of the restrictions and punitive measures)
Maria Miller (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, in theory the responsible minister, even if Mr Letwin actually did the deal.)
Harriet Harman (Mrs Miller's Shadow and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party)
Lord Falconer (Mr Clarke's predecessor and an active supporter of the measures)
Lord Fowler (Former Health Secretary who helped Lord Puttnam wreck the libel reform bill in pursuance of these measures)

Law Firms actively assisting the pressure group "Hacked Off" which stand to gain an enormous income from enforcing the press restrictions and which stood to lose an enormous income from Mr Clarke's reforms to the libel laws:

Mischon de Reya
Solomon Taylor & Shaw

All full partners of these firms should be included in the travel ban, but not ordinary employees or junior members.

Other key supporters of the measure and leaders of the pressure group "Hacked Off":

(Note, this does not include any of the victims of past journalistic misconduct who have lent their names to the campaign.)
Lord Puttnam (Former film-maker and peer, supports the measure and wrecked libel law reform)
Hugh Grant (An actor and figurehead of the pressure group)
Max Moseley (A motor sports promoter and son of the fascist leader, Oswald Moseley)
Ben Bradshaw MP (ringleading support)
Dr Evan Harris (former MP and founder of the pressure group)
Brian Cathcart (former journalist and supporter of the pressure group)

Common Purpose:
Behind the pressure group "Hacked Off" and the uncanny coordination of three political parties to its will, is a much more shadowy and publicity-shy organisation "Common Purpose".

See also Medawar's relevant post, below.

Although any nation which believes in, and wants to keep, a free press, freedom of expression and free speech, would be well advised not to let Common Purpose "graduates" across its borders, there are something like 30,000 of them, too many for Medawar to list here. However, this is a link to an .XLS database with some of the known names.

Great Britain effectively invented the freedom of the press with the Bill of Rights in 1689. If that freedom can be extinguished in Great Britain at all, let alone in this sordid and duplicitous manner, then it really isn't safe anywhere, not even in those countries which boast a "written constitution" because the Bill of Rights is precisely that, and this measure breaks it. It could happen to you, gentle reader, wherever you reside, next, and it quite possibly will, unless the mischief is stopped.