The politicians in this run-up to election year are getting desperate, with the fear factor – of immigrants, of terrorists and of the poor by the rich – taking centre-stage. And so we see an expansion of existing snooping powers, the poor further subsidising the wealthy, a proposed single party rule for England, and the tearing up of the Human Rights Convention: all now firmly on the Tory agenda.
Thus, the hounds have been set loose – and it’s not just blood that they sense…
Now if Wat Tyler, Jack Cade and John Ball (all leaders of the 14th Century ‘Peasants Revolt’ against the Poll Tax) were alive today, they would not be executed or hung, drawn and quartered for their ‘crimes’ of (largely peaceful) rebellion. No, Britain has moved on from that stage of barbarity. Instead, under new legislation announced by the Conservative Party at its recent conference to complement the existing total surveillance measures, as practiced by GCHQ in conjunction with NSA, these champions of British values would be subject to arrest, detention and their movements restricted for advocating radical change, even if that radical change does not involve violence. Similarly, if William Godwin, P B Shelley, William Morris, William Blake, Emily Pankhurst, Mary Wolstonecraft, the Levellers and the Diggers (and not forgetting Orwell himself) were also part of our contemporary political landscape, they too would be watched, their correspondence (electronic or otherwise) monitored and, subsequently, they would be subject to charges of incitement or sedition (the new legislation will allow for this, albeit under a new name).
This new legislation is a revival of an early draft – the Communications Data Bill – and is also but another example of how liberties are so easily eroded when fear – real or manufactured – pervades. In this regard it was interesting to learn how in a recent poll it was claimed that one in four Britons fear being the victim of terrorism. The absurdity and irrationality of this fear is partly explained by the spoon-fed diet of superficial news that rarely provides real insight into the conflicts around the world. And only the other day Keith Bristow, the director-general of the National Crime Agency (Britain’s FBI) made it clear that the British population no longer has a choice when it comes to snooping: it’s a done deal (indeed, the latest update is that Britain’s leading telecomms allow snooping on all phone calls on an automated basis). This is the kind of total surveillance arrangements the KGB would have envied.
Thus, it could be argued, however, that it is the Conservative Government – a radicalised enemy within – that should be the target of this snooping legislation, for, surely, via its ongoing policies in favour of the wealthy and big corporations it incites the populace as a whole to dissent if not outright rebellion. In this regard it was interesting to note that on the same day that the Conservative Government announced their intention to bring in this snooping legislation they also announced how ten million or so people receiving welfare support of one kind or another will have that support frozen even as inflation rises. Perversely, this saving in welfare payments will be used to fund the raising of the income threshold for those relatively wealthy in employment who pay the 40% tax rate. For those who either cannot find work the news that their pitiful income is to be reduced in value can only be interpreted as yet another example of incitement by an extremist Government intent of continuing their punishment of the poor for being poor.
At the same conference the Tories also announced they would pull Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights (this will affect England only as that Convention is enshrined in the constitutions of the different government bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Ironically it was a Conservative PM – Churchill – who instigated the Convention in the aftermath of WW2 as a bulwark against extremism, and a Conservative MP, David Maxwell-Fyffe, who drew up the legislation as additional protection for minorities. Thus today’s Tory Party is now more closely aligned with the more authoritarian governments of Eastern Europe, which would no doubt welcome the weakening of the Convention.
It’s worth commenting, too, on the Tory intention to limit decisions that affect England to just MPs representing English constituencies. The problem with this is that the Conservative Party has always had a majority of MPs in England (while Labour has always relied on a mix of MPs in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). Consequently if this plan goes ahead it will mean that England, in terms of its legislation, becomes, in affect, a one-party state.
A dictatorship by any other name?