I am sure I can’t be the only one thinking this but there seems to be little said about it online. Jeremy Corbyn needs to pledge massive support for Britain’s intelligence agencies. There are constant accusations being laid against him that he is not taking Britain’s security seriously. The controversy behind his decision not to back trident has been overblown. We do not need trident and will never use trident but that is not to say that we don’t need protection.
We are fortunate to live on an archipelago/island in Britain which gives us a moderate amount of safety against many attacks from other nations but being known as the little satan due to our special relationship with the US is evidence that there are people out there who do not particularly care for us. There are essentially two ways of ensuring our safety. One is the gung ho approach that is currently being taken by stronger military powers and the other is to know enough that we can stop trouble before it starts.
In a modern liberal society there is a certain amount of distaste felt about the idea of killing people who upset us. Even in World War I there were conscientious objectors, a trend that has increased throughout the twentieth century and will probably continue to increase as long as our own people are not trodden down completely by those who are in power. For this reason it makes sense that we should be taking the second option of combatting opposition with intelligence. The hallmark of modern society is the way in which we apply our intelligence. In something as sensitive as national security it makes sense that we should apply intelligence to an even higher degree.
In addition to this rather obvious reasoning is the continued speculation that the internal intelligence services are observing the rise of the current labour leader with some trepidation. A pledge to support the intelligence services to a far higher degree than the current government would do a lot to ensure backing from within their hidden ranks.
Trident may work as a deterrent, but it might as well be a series of giant cardboard cutouts for all the likelihood of it ever being deployed, even by a gung ho prime minister. It is an expensive bluff. The intelligence services are no bluff. They are actually doing their work, unseen, in the background. There is a lot of worry about exactly what that work is but investment is not going to make that worse. Investment will enable them to use greater precision and discernment. It will increase our security and ensure that they can direct their efforts where they are really needed.
The money that is spent on Trident, if spent on MI6/GCHQ/MI5 would continue to act as a deterrent. Any foreign power that is not afraid of that much investment in intelligence needs to invest in a little more intelligence themselves. Additionally this deterrent will be operating not only as a deterrent, it will actually be doing its job as well.
Cardinal Richilieu was infamous for his network of information gatherers. That is what is needed by Corbyn. Given the number of objections by the more powerful sectors in society he needs as much help as he can get to defend against them. The dual benefit of actually supplementing Britain’s defence in a meaningful and cost effective manner is simply a bonus to the benefit that such an approach could give him. It is all very well having a great defensive power but it would be far better to have the knowledge that would enable us not to need it.
Jeremy Corbyn seems to have done something that nobody has managed for many decades. He is making politics seem interesting. Last year when we had Russell Brand telling us not to bother voting because it was a waste of time and our voices made little impact on the actions of the political clone army that run things, a lot of people listened. Or at least they felt their own suspicions were being backed up by a nominal comedian/celebrity. Throughout my whole life politics has been dull; when it threatens to get interesting there is a political reaction that injects so much new dullness that I couldn’t describe it to you without you leaving this page to go and do something more interesting instead. Fortunately I wouldn’t tell you anyway as when it happened I think I might have fallen asleep or urgently gone to watch some paint drying.
Of course they say that the darkness is at its thickest just before dawn; of course this is complete rubbish, it is actually darkest in the middle of the night, but the analogy may apply in politics. Just about when politics was at its indisputably highest levels of dullness, corruption, disenfranchisement, and many other negative things Jeremy Corbyn just seems to have popped up out of nowhere. At one point there was a labour leadership contest full of contenders and then suddenly the selfsame leadership contest also had Jeremy Corbyn, who nobody seemed to have invited and he was busy doing things that nobody liked who was in the party. If it was an ordinary party like those you go to on Saturday night then Corbyn would essentially have turned up at about 10:30 with a couple of six packs and a crate of wine; he would have taken Justin Bieber off the stereo and tossed the CD out of the window before putting on a mix he made himself of Led Zeppelin, The Blue Oyster Cult, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, and other similarly non Bieber fare. Unfortunately it would appear he turned up to a party being held by a pair of accountants to celebrate their new conservatory designs, and they are planning to get up early in the morning.
Jeremy Corbyn is the most popular choice with voting labour members because he is undoubtedly the only hope that labour has for being taken seriously as a party for the people in the future, and the only chance that labour has of offering a viable alternative who would be worth voting into parliament. He is also the most popular choice with the tories because he will obviously prevent labour being taken seriously in any way whatsoever and will destroy any chance they have of ever being a viable alternative to the conservative party and getting into power. He is also the least favoured choice of the labour voter on account of these same reasons, but he is also the least favoured choice of the typical tory on account of he may actually make the world a nice place to live for people who don’t have so much money that they could upgrade a slurry pit into a nice place to live if they really wanted to.
Of course it is difficult to see the future so anyone who is working towards a definite strategy only really has about a 50% chance of being successful. Condorcet used to reckon that a large enough group of people were capable of making decisions between them that would usually be correct. Condorcet didn’t have access to the knowledge of modern psychology that points out that most people will follow the opinions of any idiot who speaks loudly and confidently enough. It is therefore difficult to accurately choose which outcome will occur if Corbyn gets in. Personally I cling to the beautiful irony of all the tories trying to influence things to help him get in only to discover that the result is a Labour government that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Miliband came closer than many people think during the last election. It has been expertly hushed up that his government actually got more votes that Blair did last time he was voted into power. It seems that all the achievements of labour have been kept quiet recently. I can only imagine that David Cameron’s background in marketing has allowed him to keep all the good ad men to himself.
I don’t feel that this is my argument to take part in. Many of my friends will no doubt be horrified by this. Most people I know are very vocal in their support for Corbyn. I could easily be swayed towards him, in fact I think I have already been swayed towards him. Previously I would have said that the strategic vote was more important for gaining power than the idealistic vote but when I think of how many people feel disenfranchised by modern politics it is probable that strategy and idealism are walking hand in hand at the moment. I feel for the old conservative labour view that all these new labour members are really being quite unfair in coming into their club and noisily messing things up; I kind of think it is not my place to do so, but to all those who are currently shaking things up for the future of the labour party I salute you and wish you well. I hope the choices you make work out for all of us.
I heard Noam Chomsky make a comparison between football and politics the other day. He said that while few people understood what was going on in politics the ability ordinary people had to talk about football in depth showed that people weren’t avoiding politics because they didn’t have the ability to understand. Noam pointed out that the intricacies that could develop in the relation of all the players in all the teams over the course of a year created a network of data that left him completely lost, yet ordinary blokes down the pub knew it all inside out.
The reason that all this brain power is directed into things like sport is that in sport there is so much flexibility of outcome. An individual may not be able to affect anything personally but it somehow feels like the world in which it takes place does not reject the input of the individual. Ordinary people may not be directors, coaches, or players, but they can still be part of the debate. They may change nothing as individuals but collectively it certainly appears that the debate can have an effect on the overall game. The difference in politics is that it feels so futile. The individual has no effect, but the individual often doesn’t even have the illusion of an effect. Even those within the system don’t appear to have an effect. Britain’s party leaders seem to regularly talk about making changes but in reality they can’t even change the ‘Punch and Judy’ format of the way in which people address each other in the house of commons. If leaders are unable to simply change the rules around how people speak to each other to something more respectful then how on Earth are they going to be able to make any substantive changes.
Politics are currently working on the wrong model. In football the way things work is fairly obvious. Teams fight it out until only the best one is left and they win the cup, or generally actions along those lines. Each time a team goes to play football it is doing its job. The competing is the job and each team gets rewarded for doing things their way to the best of their ability.
In politics the different teams involved do not do their jobs until after they have won the competition. Up until that point they essentially pretend to do their job and then if everyone thinks that their ‘fantasy football’ style politics would be effective then maybe they will get voted in and be able to do it for real. There is no way to objectively test if their methods work though. In football the way to objectively test if a team’s methods work is to see if they won the game. It is obvious. In politics there is no objectivity like this. The team who is trying to win has to try to work out what sort of things the public would like and then pretend that is what they would do. The result means that they, lie about their principles; they mimic the group who has already won because their tactics must have worked, even though they are meant to be opposed, i.e. opposite.
Our political parties cannot be chosen for objective reasons. They can only be chosen because of personal biases or because the current party in power has screwed things up so badly that we have no other choice beside trying to walk across the channel. My Grandmother refused to vote liberal because she said they couldn’t be trusted, although if they had ever been given the chance to learn from that mistake it could only have been when she was a very small child. Certainly I don’t think Lloyd George would have been likely to make the same mistakes again in the 1980s, having long since shuffled off the mortal coil. There was no objective reason to think that they would be remotely similar to the last liberal government.
This is my complaint. No wonder sports are easier to relate to than politics. Most of politics is just one small group of people, fewer than a thousand in a country of sixty million, doing their own thing, more or less unswayed by those who want change. Luckily I have a solution.
As I have pointed out, every week when football teams compete they do so by doing their job. The solution for political parties wholly failing to achieve anything comparable in their own operation is for political parties to start competing before they get into power. Local MPs should be solving their constituent’s problems in their capacity as MP whether they succeed in gaining a parliamentary seat or not. If a candidate fails and wishes to step down then they should be immediately replaced by someone prepared to do their job immediately. A replacement shouldn’t be chosen only for the purpose of running for election. A candidate should be chosen immediately to try and solve local issues and rally people together even if their is no hope of them gaining power for another five years.
The political parties should be operating at a national scale to make large changes to the way things are done. They should consider themselves to be like large multipurpose charities. There should be no focus on one particular field, they should be charities that deal with the day to day running of the country. They should be able to prove their worth as potential leaders to run our country by their ability to raise money and then use that money to improve the lives of the people rather than saving it for advertising and canvassing. If we could see parties achieve success when they are not in power then we are far more likely to put them in power where they get the opportunity to make even bigger changes. We should not have to vote for people based on assurances which will probably never attain fruition.
After yesterday’s election there are a lot of disappointed people. On account of the failings in our first past the post system the number of people who are disappointed are considerably more than half of those who voted. Fortunately there are a great many people who are pleased with the result. Unfortunately a large number of those are only pleased because they got the party their father taught them to vote for or their newspaper told them to vote for. In the long run it is probable that many people who currently feel pleased will be badly affected by the outcome of the election. Fortunately the lack of understanding of politics and economics that led to their choice will further shield them from knowledge that they have merely been pawns at the hands of the true beneficiaries.
However, having spoken to a small number of people I have come to the conclusion that anyone who is interested enough to be reading this, i.e. anyone who pays the slightest attention to politics, anyone who voted yesterday, is going to be supported far better by the change in government than they currently feel. The reason I say this is that having spoken to people who didn’t vote because they weren’t interested or didn’t have the time I was horrified at the irony that they were also the people who I would have considered to be most likely to be badly affected by the proposals of the new government.
Of course politics is about looking after society as a whole, not simply looking out for one’s own self, no matter how much the government seem to be giving the opposite impression. We should not breathe a sigh of relief that of all the people who live in the country we are probably going to fall into the group which will not be so badly affected by the next five years of governance. However, if one considers the natural bell curve on which all phenomena seem so easily to fall it is probable that in most natural systems one would expect a few to do extremely well out of any system, a few to do extremely badly out of any system and everyone else to fall somewhere in the middle. The zenith of the curve will vary in thickness and may float towards the left or the right but if you are on the side of benefitting well then you will know it well. If you are on the side of being taken advantage of by the world around you then you will not be reading this, you will not have any idea it is happening, you will not even know that you could have done anything different to change it.
The rest of us who float in the middle will be experiencing varying levels of fortune from our situation but we all have one thing in common. Our actions are worth worrying about to those who seek power. As voters, or even as people who simply think about speak about politics we are the one’s who can make or break careers. It may not feel like it because individually we are as powerful as a single ant in a colony, but as a group we are a force that needs to be appeased. Those who did not vote because they did not know who to vote for, or because they did not have the time, or did not care wield less political power than a single ant, even when grouped together as a cross section of society. Those in power do not care how they feel about the results of policy because those in power know that they will never be part of the defining force that takes the effort to change things.
A lot of the rest of us feel like history has taken a turn against us today, but we only think this because we have the intellect to think about the way things are going, and the understanding to be able to hope for better; we also have the wit to look after ourselves if the situation turns against us. Those who do not possess these qualities, who do not have the wit to look after their political interests, who do not have the sensitivity or understanding to fear the future that now looms are the only ones who need really fear the future.
Just like we may be inclined to leave the hallway light on because we consider that tiny trickle of electricity to be negligible in its effect on climate change, the non voters consider their vote to be of no consequence. They feel that they can’t change things so they don’t try. All politicians seem equally corrupt to those who do not follow politics, even though the chances of complete equality of corruption would be more unlikely than the natural occurrence of perfect spheres. I do not wish to make arguments as to why a single vote is important; that has been done many times before. Instead I propose a different manner in which votes might be envisaged in order to motivate those who do not make the effort.
Russell Brand has done a great deal to lead to further disenfranchisement of vulnerable groups by urging people to avoid voting. The result will have been many people simply not registering or not turning up to a polling station. Better advice might have been to turn up but only offer spoilt ballots. That much would be counted, and large numbers would be every bit as influential as a vote for a losing candidate. The only votes that actually do anything under our current electoral system are those which actually push a candidate above his competition. All the others simply offer an indication of how the rest of the public are thinking and feeling. In that respect a spoilt ballot speaks volumes. In many instances it speaks more loudly than any other losing vote. If I could go back and take yesterday’s vote again I might be tempted to write a treatise on electoral reform rather than putting an x beside my preferred candidate.
At present the number of votes for all the separate candidates are counted and considered, as are those spoilt ballots. What are not read out are the number of people in that constituency who could not be bothered, or did not understand the system. As none of those votes had any influence to prevent the winning candidate taking their place in parliament they may as well have been considered to be votes for the winning candidate. After all if you know beyond any shadow of a doubt that your choice would get voted in whether you turned up or not then there is an argument that you might be able to spend your time more effectively, but only if it was a 100% certainty. My proposal is that once the winning candidate has been chosen then every abstention by inaction should be considered to be a vote for that winning candidate.
Such votes might not be considered to add to the members majority but they should be used to be illustrative on charts of how much influence was wasted. Those who felt it wasn’t important enough to take the effort should not be allowed the easy path of losing their right to complain during the next 5 years, they should have it imposed that their choice not to vote was a positive vote for the actual result. In essence every non vote would be considered to be a default vote for whoever won in that constituency.
If charts were presented that contained the number of votes a party received, the number of seats they achieved and also the number of default votes that led to their election then it could lead to a new understanding of our duties in elections. I would not insist that all voters must accept one of the candidates on offer, but I would insist that those who do not wish to choose any of the candidates should at least try to make the effort to turn up and put something into the box to at least prove that their reason for choosing none of the above is not because they were too busy sitting in the pub or pursuing equivalent avenues of amusement.
The dogmatic adherence to the principle of free speech is in practice, taken to a point of absurdity. It is free speech that allows me to tell you that the great and famous philosopher and writer Voltaire was recorded to have said, ‘I disapprove of what you say but I would defend to my death your right to say it. In reality I doubt Voltaire would defend my right to tell you this as it is misinformation. The quote is actually one from The Friends of Voltaire written in 1906 by Evelyn Beatrice Hall. The context was not that Voltaire ever said it but that he held it as a state of mind at one particular time. Evelyn later identified her inspiration for saying this as being the phrase, ‘Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.’ Whether this itself is fully accurate can also be questioned though the most legitimate sources I have uncovered include the Bibliotheque municipale de Lyon, which in turn quotes pages from the University of York. The phrase Voltaire offered which became her inspiration certainly does exist and it does not seem to suggest that he has any belief in the war of who has the loudest voice that is currently being conducted in his name.
Whilst Voltaire certainly did defend the right to expression of ideas it is unlikely that he would advocate the kind of dogmatism that has developed around this principle in the modern day. As a man of thought, he would have wished that people put thought into every principle by which they live their lives. Dogmatism is the very thing that took the beautiful sentiments offered by the world’s religions and subverted them in favour of enacting their most egregious and disruptive principles. If Voltaire were here today and he were to say, “Monsieur l’abbe, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write” as he did in 1770 on the 6th of February in a letter to Monsieur Le Riche, I think had Monsieur le Riche written back saying, “You’re an idiot, IDIOT IDIOT IDIOT. Voltaire is a divvy spanner. Spacko Pillock.” Voltaire might have thought twice about his previously expressed sentiment.
Most people will agree when pressed that free speech must have limits. In the States where free speech is most stringently protected by the First Amendment to the constitution a legal precedent was famously set by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the case of Schenk v the United States, that consideration should be given to the use of the words and whether they were designed to bring about evils against which the government had a right to act. Holmes complained at later times that this principle was abused to convict people for speech that should have been protected, which shows that it is a minefield picking through legal principles and precedents. This instance concerned the limit of the principle where a possibility of criminal conviction was possible. It might be questioned whether a positivist legal principle stands against absolute morality but an example offered by Holmes being that a person should not be protected for shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre shows that where very direct negative reactions may be caused speech can cross a line into becoming a form of weaponry or disruption.
A similar example might be the use of free speech to shout abuse in the ears of a child until their hearing is damaged. Anyone who would consider this acceptable would find objection from almost everyone. If someone tried doing this in a supermarket I would hope that they very quickly found democratic opinion was against them. A line will be perceived, by anyone who does not blindly hold dogmatically to the principle without thought, that there must be a point at which speech stops being protectable and starts to become problematic. Unfortunately the line is by its nature very broad. Opinions will be divided in many cases. Slipknot played 24 hours per day at full volume to break down the will of prisoners would probably be considered as something which could not be protected. Sadly at one point at least, the objectors did not include the people charged with keeping the prisoners. Leaving a 12 hour youtube video playing in the bedroom repeatedly chanting ‘badger badger badger badger mushroom mushroom’ before popping out to visit friends is far less offensive but your wife will no doubt consider it to be a serious abuse of free speech soon after you have left the house.
There are limits. What those limits are may need to be looked at individually and based upon the merits of each separate instance but those limits do exist and they can not simply be defended against by offering a mis-attributed quote purported to have been said by Voltaire. Even if Voltaire had said it, it would still not be absolute. It would need to be considered according to the context. In some quarters there is a tendency to abuse free speech in orgion expressivism that could almost be considered a weapon because it demoralises and terrorises the opponents of the speaker. If there is an area where it can be most greatly defended it is in calm and measured political debate. The instances in which the dogmatic protection of free speech should not be considered acceptable must obviously include obfuscatory marketing ploys designed to trick money out of people who are struggling to get by, surely it includes uses of speech that make people fear for their safety, libel and slander are already covered by law, as is conspiracy or the promotion of terrorism.
There are of course instances in which the law does make a stand but it should not be considered by civilians that where the law doesn’t intervene free speech is therefore sacrosanct. The lesser cousin to crime is the tort. Torts are offenses against people and property that the law does not consider to offend against the public as a whole but the individuals involved; libel and slander are two examples of this area. They have already been covered by the law but law moves at a glacial pace and simply because someone’s speech has not yet been covered does not mean that it falls under the dogmatic umbrella of free speech. There are moral standards that must be evaluated and re-evaluated constantly. Even if Voltaire was the dogmatic defender of our rights to offend and upset each other that people seem to think he was, he had no experience of Twitter, blogging, or the internet. As an intelligent and thoughtful philosopher he would certainly have re-evaluated such principles in the modern era. Considering the mis-attribution of the quote it is apparent that we should not need to wait for permission before exercising our own critical abilities.
I am guessing anyone who has found their way to this page has seen Question time this week in which Shadow Cabinet Minister, Angela Eagle MP, was accused of political point scoring in demanding the resignation of Lord Freud for stating that those who were not ‘worth’ the minimum wage due to disability should be permitted to accept a lower hourly wage.
Lord Freud has been quoted out of context in many places. In reality the question seems to have been posed by a father who was concerned about the future employment prospects of his disabled daughter. Without this context the appearance is that Lord Freud is a heartless Conservative ogre with little respect for human rights. I kind of get the impression that a similar description would suit most MPs so I am not going to dwell on it. I have certainly met many MPs who have impressed me with their humanity but it seems that once they are given positions of power in the executive they have to make choices between their principles and practicality. For a prime example of this I would consider the pleas to end ‘Punch and Judy Politics’ before the election by
Mr Punch David Cameron. Another example would be the pro-Europe attitudes of many MPs until UKIP started doing well, whereupon their principles were pushed to the back of the shelf.
Certainly one aspect of the Punch and Judy system of politics is that one must always try to stick the dagger in when the time seems appropriate. Those who succeed in achieving positions of power seem to have got there partially due to this particular skill. Naturally Angela Eagle would say that Lord Freud should resign; it is probably the opinion of most people in the shadow cabinet that the entire Tory government should resign, so that can’t really be held against her. Of course she did seem somewhat surprised that her failed attempt on the point scoring goal seems to have been met with complete hostility by so many people that even those who agreed with her (all across the nation) quietly started examining a bit of fluff they hadn’t realised was stuck on their sleeve whilst feigning a moment’s deafness.
Since then there appear to have been a constant barrage of penalty shootouts against Angela Eagle for having used the opportunity to try and make Lord Freud look bad. Aside from the fact that Lord Freud was doing perfectly well with making himself look bad already it is the Punch and Judy nature of her response that lost her the opportunity to make an extremely valid point. In fact she did make the exact point she wished to make but it was completely missed on two occasions because the audience was too intent on scoring points against her for her attempt to score points. The newspapers have now gotten hold of the political football and are hurriedly scoring political points all over the place. Angela Eagle only tried to score one point and now there are balls flying all over the place.
The one thing she repeated which should have been heard was that it should not be an issue of money. It was put to her that Lord Freud’s intent was fully reasonable and everyone knew what he had meant, as though what he had meant was eminently sensible. Angela Eagle suggested that it was a weakness of the Conservatives that they always brought things down to the issue of money. The point she wanted to make, at which she should have stopped, is that there could be other ways of doing things. Employers could be shown how their businesses could benefit from the diversity offered by disabled employees. There could be ways to balance the work done so that those whose abilities didn’t cover all tasks could take up the slack in areas where they might excel, whilst more able bodied workers could cover for them in other areas. The efforts of disabled workers could be coordinated to make them more effective. Fittingly this task could be done by someone who had knowledge of what it is like to be disabled, this would enable many disabled people to be employed in this capacity as well.
Some of those were my own ideas rather than ones put forward by Angela Eagle. The point I wish to make is that she was right to the extent that all issues cannot be solved by simply throwing money at them. Whilst one way to get employers to take on disabled employees would be to subsidise wages this is not an ideal solution in our current economic climate. When all that is on George Osborne’s mind is austerity and saving money the first option in any situation should not be to pay out money to deal with every issue on the agenda. Subsidising the wages of the disabled is akin to paying employers to make the disabled go away. Whilst it is the disabled who should be getting paid for the work they are doing, it is the employers who are being paid to hide them from public view. The system would be ripe for abuse. At present there are a huge number of people with disabilities in employment and the reason for this is that it has been discovered that many people on the autistic spectrum are actually far better than mentally typical people in many technology jobs. By subsidising the wages of the disabled, government would only be encouraging employers to continue seeking out the best candidates for positions at a fraction of the cost. Large companies would become expert in sourcing the best candidates for the lowest prices. Also how would government accomplish the task of grading each individual to judge how great a subsidy they should receive? Throwing money at situations leaves them ripe for abuse by those who are most adept at abusing situations for monetary gain.
The most ironic thing is that it was a Labour politician who was complaining about the idea of government paying out more money versus a Conservative politician that was suggesting there might be a way of dealing with the issue by the government paying more money. It is my belief that most of our problems can be solved through methods other than spending cash. We have all heard stories where the official line in some organisation has been that things must be done in a certain way that costs hundreds of pounds while the people involved have been saying something like, “If you just gave me the £2.50 for the bus fare I would do it myself.” Again and again we hear tales of ridiculous amount of money being wasted not because the system allows it but because the system demands it. During the MP’s expenses scandal there were tales that the clerks involved in controlling the expenses were the ones making the suggestions of how best to take the most money.
There are many times in our daily lives when we can see the absurdity of pricing and costs with the implications that they will eventually have on our environment. I could waffle on for ages about ways in which money could be better used. I don’t think that Angela Eagle’s point was too difficult to understand; it was just too easy to miss, especially in the noise of the furor over her ‘point scoring’. Behind the call for Lord Freud’s dismissal she did make a very good point, one I think could be listened too and adopted by Conservatives, Labour, Libdems, Greens, whoever. Our first approach to solving any political problem should never be to simply throw money at it. We are all short of money, government included, but one thing that we all have in excess is common sense, but most of us rarely exercise it.
I have been forced to comment on a great hooha spreading across the internet at present that seems to be getting a lot of people unnecessarily upset. Anyone who has read my blogs in the past will know that I do not approve of corporations and they might therefore be surprised to hear I am not against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. I have always been a bit paranoid about the powers over my head ever since the days they were all poised to destroy us with nuclear missiles at any second so I am slightly surprised at my acceptance of the TTIP myself. There are a number of commentators who are riling up the internet as though they were poking a wasps nest with a stick. Of course the internet is quick to anger and there are millions of people who now oppose the TTIP.
I can’t help thinking that such an opposition is a sign of what I shall call farageing. It seems strange to me that people who consider UKIP to be a group of morons have no problem with applying UKIP logic to the idea of an agreement with the States. I can see where they are coming from to an extent. I have no uncertainty that there will be a lot of negative effects from such a partnership. However I am also sure there will be a great many positive effects from the partnership. Such is the nature of change and if we were not able to put up with it then we would all be living in small villages of mud huts eking out a poor existence from what we could forage and farm in the small patches of land around us, with any excess being taken by marauders. Whilst I might like to try such a way of life for a holiday I don’t think I would like to live there. Change will always bring bad things but at the same time it tends to bring more good, that is why the majority of us would not trade our current homes for one a thousand years ago.
When England joined Europe in the early 1970s we felt a great deal of change. Within a few short years there were an overwhelming number of new goods in the shops at ever reducing prices. Admittedly if you want to buy a decent bit of Deutsch Wurst then you still have to pay a massive amount more than you would in Berlin but at least you have the option. To compare what we can now buy in the stores compared to the early 70s you would be forgiven for thinking that the wartime rationing was still in operation at that time. The breaking down of the barriers in Europe and the loss of customs tariffs on European goods allows us to live the colourful lives we have now rather than the grey lives we had then. It also allows the producers of this country to sell with greater ease in Europe and when the pound becomes weak it means that there are far more customers helping to boost it up again. Back then it was the way in which food improved that I was most impressed by. Nowadays the thing that most people are having trouble buying and the thing that most people are coveting is electronics. Our free trade agreement with Europe does not help too much there because in Europe it is England where the prices of Electronics seem to be most affordable on average. If we had a trade agreement with America then we would suddenly gain the benefit of the fact that America has very low prices on Electronics compared to most other places in the world.
Aside from all the other benefits that might come from a trade agreement we would quickly find our capability to push our country technologically would become far more affordable. Computers, tablets and phones would be cheaper and all the benefits of them would become more attainable. Education would become cheaper for those who use such technologies to push themselves harder. That education would be more useful with an extra market that wishes to trade with us without barriers. This is only one aspect that would be helped by the agreement. Those in favour would touch upon others. Throughout the whole of Europe it is probably England that is positioned most favourably to benefit from this agreement. We share a very similar language to the Americans. They even name it English as it is so similar. For us the agreement will be far easier to slip into than for the Germans or Greeks.
The one failing of the agreement that is being pointed out by the naysayers and is drawing all the negativity is the rights it gives to corporations to use arbitration to challenge governments that adversely affect their business interests. Ironically the people who seem most alarmed by this are the same people who usually wish they could challenge the same governments themselves for all manner of idiocy. They seek to challenge the governments for the idiocy of allowing corporations to challenge the governments. It is true that we consider ourselves to be living in a democracy and we wish our desires to be adhered to. With this in mind we vote for politicians to represent our wishes. Once politicians are in power they can pretty much do what they want for the next 4 – 5 years. What they do is usually appeal to the readers of the most popular newspapers because whatever rubbish is published in them will determine whether they get to keep their job at the end of the period. Corporations are not one of my favourite forms of institution but at least they do listen to the actual democratic majority. There are so many twists in the way that politics works that almost everyone must now be familiar with Winston Churchill having said democracy is the worst form of government. The fact that he then said, ‘except for all those other forms’ meant that he still favoured democracy but simply felt its execution needed work. The beauty of a corporation is that it will listen to the will of the customer. One thing that many corporations have in common is that when they were not attentive enough and flexible enough to do what the customer wanted they went bust. The thing that all the other corporations have in common is that they were attentive enough to do what the customer wanted and they thrived.
In general the TTIP is unlikely to cause a great deal of arbitration to be focussed against our governments. It is a measure that is put in place in such agreements to protect companies in the worst possible circumstances where governments are using unethical levels of protectionism for their own industries. This does not mean arbitration will be absent. There will undoubtedly be some egregious use of the measures and no doubt we will all tut and blame the TTIP. This will not change the fact that we will gain massive benefits from the TTIP. It will also not change the fact that we are entering a new era of democracy. We are being given a far more direct form of democracy than we had before because if we disagree with the way the corporations abuse such measures we have the ability to stop shopping with those corporations. We have the ability to tell our friends to stop shopping with them. With the internet what it is we have the ability to tell the world to stop shopping with them. If the TTIP affects the web to such a degree that we cannot, and if this is something we dislike then we have the ability to set up meshnets, we have the ability to use usenet. We still have a right to free speech, we have the right to say something about these corporations and they will quickly learn that the TTIP does not give them carte blanche to abuse their positions.
There will be change. I have already said this. But we live in a changing world. Think of it not as change but as adaptation. This will be a time of great empowerment for average people, if we want it to be. Moving the emphasis of control away from government towards corporation really moves the emphasis of control into the hands of the people, and that is where it should be.
Further information can be found at the following URLs and at any to which they link.
You will also find amongst them links to petitions of opposition if you so choose but you will need to find them yourselves.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. I have stolen the beginning of a tale of two cities from Dickens because it is more appropriate now than ever. I shall also be stealing the concern that Dickens had for social reform. We often look back on the Victorian era as being a dark and oppressive time. This is partly due to looking at it through the work of writers like Dickens. Ironically it is also partially due to the spotlight on the failings of society provided by his work that led to this era being massively progressive. There was a massive amount of change during the 19th century as prisons were reformed, working conditions were reformed and the law in general began to recognise a respect for human life.
It is a constant theme throughout history that change will always upset the people it affects. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen even more change than the 19th due to the explosion of modern manufacturing techniques. In many ways now is indeed the best of times, but as my opening line suggests it is also the worst of times in many ways. We are technologically more advanced than at any other time in history but this has been at a cost.
The business techniques that have allowed us to have such massive growth are focussed on growth. The corporations grew up as a solution to how such large scale projects as national railways could be completed when they were so far beyond the financial strength of the average business person. Within the legislation that supports the setting up of corporations is a statutory mandate to seek profit and the benefit of the shareholders. Despite recent attempts to mitigate this primary directive through concern for broader societal impacts, the dependence that corporations have had on legislative backing to aid their main aim has led to anything other than legal rules being ignored where this aim is not supported. As a result it has been recognised for some time that humanity is beginning to learn the Gordon Gekko mantra, “Greed is good.”
Although there is much to be said on the failing of ethics in modern business, this is not my intention with this post. I think that by now the vast majority of intelligent people are well aware of the ethical tightrope walking that is practised by company boards. Even those who are not intelligent or are not regular readers of the daily news must recognise the precarious positions they are being placed in by the way in which these large companies are affecting their lives. Jobs are disappearing, wages are dropping, land is being eaten up, towns are dying. Even those who might be lucky enough to live in wild countryside paradises may have been able to see that there are fewer insects than there once were, and fewer birds. Even stranded in the middle of the Pacific ocean it is hard to miss the effects of a failing business model when you are surrounded by a floating pack of discarded rubbish the size of a country.
My intention is to talk about a solution to all these problems. One thing is certain, our politicians have failed us. With each successive government we see them ever more bowing to the wishes of the corporations. Every government is so afraid that trade will leave their shores and instead give their wealth to international neighbours that they will allow the companies to get away with almost anything. In addition to this a disaffected and disillusioned public is given little choice in the politicians who may next be given control. Largely homogenous groups of MPs parade through parliament trying to make things better rapidly enough to prove they are the ones for the job before the next election date. Unfortunately they have little power over companies big enough to buy their own countries so the focus of the legislative posturing is the behaviour of the people. Even more unfortunately the behaviour of the people is a result of the interaction the people have with the companies. In essence, the companies are creating changes that are producing negative effects amongst the populace. The governments are treating the symptoms, not the causes, and the result is the deterioration of life for individuals.
We may be gaining massive benefits from the progress of technological development but at the same time we are losing freedoms that have been enshrined in British law since the Magna Carta; that go back almost as far as time immemorial. Politicians even wish to knock back positive gains in human rights that have only been gained in the last 50 years. If changes are holding back the agenda of profit then they are changes that are slated for reversal.
The majority of people feel helpless against the behemoth that is politics, law and business. This is with good reason; the last millennium has been a lesson in the futility of standing up against them. There have been gains in the past. The revolutions of England, France and America wrought massive change. There are even some who speak of revolution now. Such a course of action is unlikely in the conventional sense. Despite the hardships we have to face we are supplied with the things we need to keep us docile. Television, the drug of the nation keeps many people far too busy to protest. Where this is not effective we are beginning to see growing legalisation of marijuana across the United States. I wonder if it can be just coincidence that this sedating substance, so very much favoured by many protestors I have met, is being made available to them at just such a time as it seems vigilance and energy are more important than ever. Social engineering is often looked upon as a technique of conmen and hackers but it is also the tool of governments and corporations to keep populations on side and to make their own brands appear to be of value.
Despite the failing of democracy and the futility of revolt there is a way that is open to us to effect change. The arrival of computers and the internet mean that direct action of the sort advocated by green peace or more darkly, anonymous, are not necessary. All the actions that are carried out by the companies are in a manner of speaking truly democratic. The big corporations are only there because we, the people, have allowed them to be. It is us who have provided them with their wealth. It is us who have observed their business models and decided that purchasing their products is something that we wish to do. It is us who have said that the way in which they conduct business is acceptable. It is us who can stop paying them if we decide that the way in which they conduct business is not acceptable.
In our traditional conception of democracy we might have made our vote for a better world by voting for certain politicians but the politicians themselves feel powerless to change the world when they have to bow to corporate demands. That traditional conception was developed in a world before the internet and before instant communications. We could not have known the details about what we were voting for. We simply voted for someone we trusted to get the job done and then hoped that they had the inside knowledge to get the job done. The internet now allows us to uncover the information for ourselves. The only way that we can really change things for the better with greatest rapidity is to start doing this and to start voting with our money.
There was recently a worldwide protest against capitalism that swept across the globe through many capital cities. The most that a lot of people heard about this was a paragraph on the BBC news website. When it comes to the drama of public protest there is a tendency by the media to ignore it these days. There is so much protest that there is lower news value in publicising anything that isn’t truly spectacular. There may also be other reasons behind the scenes why it might suit news corporations to keep the protests quiet. Protestors are portrayed as trouble makers, hippies, punks, anarchists, anonymous. All the negative buzzwords are used to show protestors up as being something other than normal people. Normal people therefore wish to distance themselves from these groups. This does not mean that normal people do not share the same concerns. The way in which the normal people can make their wishes known is to reward the companies when they get it right. Shop politically.
I do not like the idea of boycotts. They are a lot of effort for a start and can endanger the welfare of all those who rely on that particular company’s trade. I do think that it is possible to make a change for the better in the world just by making slightly different choices when in the supermarket. This is largely achieved already as people avoid the GM crops and buy more of the organic or whatever their concern is at the time. The problem is the lack of transparency around the activities of the companies. It is a shame that the newspapers are so wrapped up with other important issues like Chantelle’s latest diet because it is here where reportage is of greatest importance. Companies would soon change their behaviour if they found that it was ceasing to be profitable. They are like the genie in the bottle; they will give us what we wish but we must be careful what we wish for.
With that said, I am now going to go and find out whose products I should be buying and whose I shouldn’t if I am to bring my kids up in a world where they have a chance of a healthy and happy life.
I usually try to keep things fairly light hearted on the mindsplurge but every now and then I find something a little bit more serious that I do not think has been adequately dealt with in the press. Such a story is that which follows regarding the offence of ‘scandalising a judge’.
A very recent case that was brought against Peter Hain MP by the Attorney General of Ireland John Larkin regarded criticisms that Peter Hain had made in his autobiography about Lord Justice Paul Girvan’s handling of the judicial review of Hain’s decision to appoint a police widow, Bertha McDougall as interim victims’ commissioner for Northern Ireland during Hain’s time as Secretary of State. There was criticism in the press of the decision to bring the case against Mr Hain. The Guardian has in a blog said that the public should have the right to criticise the judges to ensure that justice was always done. An old Latin saying goes “Quis cusodiet ipsos custodes?” – Who keeps the keepers. It has been adapted more recently by the English writer of graphic novels, Alan Moore, who wrote the book ‘The Watchmen’ (since made into the film of the same name) as, “who watches the watchmen?” I do agree with this to an extent but I kind of think that the Guardian has missed the point. In their handling of the story I felt the Guardian had taken a viewpoint that was sympathetic of Mr Hain and seemed to give the impression that the offence of scandalising a judge was archaic and should no longer be prosecuted.
I was a little bit disappointed by the coverage that the case got in the national press considering that it dealt with such an important issue. Aside from the Guardian’s ostensibly biased report and a couple of very matter-of-fact reports that were delivered by the BBC, Sky, and the Independent there was little mention to be found of the story in the national press as far as searching Google revealed. Many small local papers had carried the story but it was as though no one really cared despite the importance of the case.
Admittedly Mr Hain’s book: ‘Outside in’ is hardly going to rock the world by criticising one judge but the fact that it set up a precedent whereby it would be open season for contempt of legal decisions made in the courts was extremely worrying. I do not think that Mr Hain has really done anything wrong; he made some comments about Lord Justice Paul Girvan’s decision that could have been slightly better worded but was quite gracious about his intentions when he clarified exactly what he had meant. Of course once he had clarified the point he had wished to make the case was dropped. A.G. John Larkin had no wish to prosecute and bore no ill will to Mr Hain but it is important to ensure that the court system is not criticised in such a way as to create scandal and to undermine the work that they are doing.
Mr Hain’s publisher proclaimed that the decision to drop the case was a triumph for freedom of expression but really freedom of expression was never under any threat. The public’s right to criticise the judiciary was never in any danger. There is simply a right way to go about it and a wrong way. As soon as Mr Hain explained how his criticism was intended A.G. John Larkin backed off. It has to be remembered that everybody is allowed to have an opinion. That is a quality of our life in a liberal democracy. The position of Mr Larkin and Mr Girvan was merely that it was unacceptable to categorically state that Mr Girvan’s decision was wrong. To do so would have been the voice of a senior political figure undermining the judiciary. That would have been utterly unacceptable. As soon as Mr Hain coached it in different terms to clarify that he had: “never qualified his (Lord Justice Paul Girvan’s) standing and motivation as a judge before that case nor have I done since. My words were never intended to, not do I believe that they did, in any way undermine the administration of justice in Northern Ireland or the independence of the Northern Ireland judiciary…” then the case was dropped.
The A.G. Mr Larkin said, “If the matter had been qualified or explained in the way it now has and only now has, these proceedings would not have been taken.”
There is no victory for freedom of speech here so the triumphant smugness of biteback publishing is wholly inappropriate. I am offended that so many politicians should have leapt to the defence of Mr Hain. Really he should have known better than to publish his criticism using the words that he did. As a politician his craft is rhetoric and he should have been able to avoid this before it had even happened if he had been more careful with the way in which he expressed himself.
I do hope that this case does not lead to new legislation proclaiming this offence to be obsolete. There is no reason to lose the offence of scandalising a judge. It would serve no purpose to repeal such a law. As has been seen in this case it has not infringed on Mr Hain’s freedom of speech, it has merely encouraged him to choose his language a little more carefully. The purpose it serves in protecting the judiciary from aggressive criticism is a purpose that is of the utmost importance to law and order. In this modern age when people are worried about hoodies, drug addicts and crooks the last thing we need is to undermine the operation of the judiciary just so that politicians can be lazy with their use of the language.