Category Archives: Civil liberties

The Obama Doctrine: A Signpost to Disaster

President Obama is an eloquent exponent of the American Dream and gave we European’s a version of this on his visit to Europe last week. Dreams are important to us all but they rarely survive long in the harsh glare of light and to seek to fulfill them can lead to disaster. In the current version the extension of universal rights to democracy, representative government , equality, and the rule of law should become a foreign  policy objective for the West. Its immediate focus is on extending democracy to Africa and the Middle East. In the pursuit of this objective all means, economic, financial and the use of force as a last resort are in order. It has become unanswerable in this docrine that democracy is best not only for human happiness but for the trade and economic development on which the economic stability of Western countries is so dependant.

The Obama doctrine finds an enthusiastic audience in Britain and the European Union. Scarce resources are being provided for the funding of aid and active assistance in nation building and the UN itself is enthusiastic about nation building wherever its sway can be achieved. No one is more enthusiastic than David Cameron and, judging from his recent public appearances and pronouncements,   Ed Milliband.

I hear raised voices at this point. What is wrong about that then? Hold on, my revolutionary friends, say I. Rember the Mensheviks. Do you have a monopoly of vision and prophecy? Can you at this moment of history tell us what will be the outcome of the Arab Spring? Do you expect reason to prevail in Israeli- Palestinian relations? Can you predict the political develpment of Iran?  What will be the nature of successor regimes in the Arab world? Is there more to this world than is dreamt of in your philosophy? Much derided as it is it is now, there is logic in the foreign policy objective of seeking stability in the world and not adding to political turbulence. Perhaps we should be a friend in need to emerging nations and not a friend in your face.

Can I point out to you dear British reader that you live in a country constantly at war in ‘far-away countries’ for the ideals that we share with President Obama. More so than any European country we have been alongside our American friends in worthy (but impractible?) causes around the world. Let’s have more of that then, I hear you say. We Brits have an appetite for it. Does not the call to arms and economic and financial sanctions on  recalcitrant states weary you a little? Are we to have a further two decades of armed struggle with all the division among ourselves this brings?

Well, yes, if need be may be your reply BUT I doubt it. I suggest to you that it is wholly absurd to commit ourselves to the Obama docrine at a time of great austerity, economic stagnation and public expenditure cuts, not least to the armed forces; that to be ‘playing soldiers in Libya’ and perhaps elsewhere is an unsupportable nonsense. For the cost of an intervention in Libya, soon to run beyond a billion pounds and ever upwards we could, for example, ensure the financial viability of care services fior the elderly, boost low cost housing or extend aid to the unemployed. No one would receive a tin medal for it but it could do good. The best way to build respect in the world is to earn it ourselves for our love and attention to our nearest and dearest.


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Met Failure: No Whistles

The Met  has pointed out that it had too few policemen to keep order on Saturday in London. Of course, we know there has been forced reductions in police numbers so we can be sympathetic. After the main demonstration ended there were only 4,500 policeman to deal with 500 violent demonstrators, a ratio of nine policemen to 500 thugs and hooligans; far too few to deal with them properly.

Was this a failure of the Big Society? In an earlier blog I pointed out that as the Big Society was to take over policing, so to speak a call should be made for volunteers. This call was handicapped, so to speak, by a national shortage shortage of police whistles. I was not heeded for there are still too few. The main demostration was self-policed by volunteers. All was quiet and peaceful. Did anyone think well there is an opportunity for us? Let us recruit them on our side. Where was the organiser of the Big Society? Nowhere to be seen. Where was the pre-thought? Did his staff set out to recruit enpough volunteers to help the police? I have pointed out in a blog that you cannot expect volunteers to confront thugs. However,  a moments thought would establish how useful they could have been. The anarchists and thugs were well organised and effective. Their tactics were to make quick raids on the target shops, banks and offices before the police could get there. Their  sphere of operation was narrow and confined to the heart of London. Supposing in each of these streets which were attacked volunteers had been placed with whistles and mobile phones. As these thugs approached, and before the thugs could do anything, they would blow their whistles in the good old way of yesteryear. The police would head for the affected streets with great speed on their bicycles and the thugs could be arrested before they could inflict any damage.

So what do we have here. It is a Big Society failure. No one in the office, no recruitment of volunteers, no Met. Plan to instruct volunteers on their duties, and above all – no whistles. I pointed out earlier that  orders should be placed with British manufacturers for suitable supplies of police whistles. I suggested that they would be needed. They were needed on Saturday. Someone should take the rap for this. I know export orders for several dodgy states in the Middle East are remunerative for whistle manufacturers (and God only knows they are needed there) but they were needed in London on Saturday and so far as I can ascertain not a single whistle had been issued and noe were blown.

It is painful to witness mindless destruction. I am vehemently opposed to it. It is said by the Met that we should not be too critical. Criminal charges would be brought against these criminals and  CTV cameras would be scoured for the identification of culprits. What a sham. Do they not know that the Coalition has forced local authorities to remove these cameras. An invasion of our liberties, they said. They will have to do better. Do they not know that for the lack of a whistle the battle could be lost lost, for the loss of the battle the Big Society lost, for the loss of the Big Society the  governance of London would be decimated. Hold on was our Dave really working for the overthrow of Boris Johnson? Now it begins to make sense.

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Do It Yourself Policing: 2

I am horrified to learn that my satire on policing has attracted support within the Coalition. Reports suggest that the Government is thinking of just such a scheme as I outlined earlier this month with Voluntary Special Policeman being rewarded with a 50 percent rebate on their Council Tax. This confirms for me that there is no member of the Government with a sense of humour! Let us assume for a moment that the proposal is under serious consideration. What must be properly considered?

I have suggested that there are three important aspects  of any National Scheme to get right.

1. Safety. We cannot play fast and loose with the safety of volunteers some who are old and infirm, and after all they who have the most time on their hands must be protected. Do we expect them to arrest burglars or break up teenage riots and group binge drinking on the village green? Of course not. I suggested arm badges, distinctive hats and whistles. Yes, police whistles to summon help and to scare miscreants. But it is well known that there is a national shortage of police whistles and large scale production in China has to be negotiated to make this possible?

2. Disabled people. I have it on good authority is that there is a scheme to get the disabled off their benefit by offering them a financial incentive to become a Special Volunteer Policeman. I pointed out that you cannot expect a woman in a wheel chair to tackle a rioting crowd without help. If this inducement is to work then it is necessary to ensure that each wheelchair volunteer is accomapnied on patrol by at least one able bodied person. We hear nothing about this problem.

3. Shifts There will be considerable difficulties in arranging shifts. It is important that this new species of Constable should be representative of the country as a whole if the scheme is to work. Many northern elderly ladies will be reluctant to go out on patrol when East Enders and Coronation Street are being shown. Younger people will insist on the continuance of  watching educational programmes: X Factor and Big Brother. And what about football fans otherwise engaged with Football on three to four days of the week. Young men would not exchange these programmes even for the enjoyment of a good punch up!

There are no signs that the Coalition has considered these important issue. There are many more but regrettably I do not have the space and time to bring them to your attention. Anyway in the Big Society you are expected to think of them yourself.

I say to the Coalition that good ideas are not like butterflies in summer. You can no doubt come up with ideas but do you have the abilty to think them through as acts of social engineering? I think  not. If I am to continue with my pioneering contribution I need to think that they will be taken seriously. If not, move over and let someone else try!

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Who do you think you are?

The Pope’s historic visit to Britain is evangelical. He wishes to persuade us, we British citizens, that Roman Catholicism and other Christian religious persuasions should be given a greater voice – should be more persuasive -in British Society. Cardinal Casper, in his ill-chosen comments, has given the game away. He said  of Britain that ”you think at times that you have landed in a Third World country’ and that we British have strayed into false ways that ‘a new and aggressive atheism pervaded Britain and that Christians were at a disadvantage in this country.’ I think he means that Roman Catholics lack the influence that its historical religious role entitles it to perform. 

It is true that Britain is a multi cultural society and no bunch of religious and political nuts can change it. It is true that also the Britain has a secular society and that as such it denies (in practice if not in form) any special or privileged position in it for organised religions. But just as true our  society recognises the right of religious and other societies  to practice and proslytise their  views. I believe it to be true, although I accept that their is evidence to the contrary,  that  British society is deeply humanist and respecting of the equal rights of all citizens and to everyday dealings; that  it respects human dignity and diversity.These trends to an egalitarian humanist society are irreversible, thank God for that.

We, the citizens of this unsatisfactory country called Britain, have no wish to accept the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope will enjoy partly at the expense of you, the taxpayer, a State visit. It reminds us that the Pope is the Head of a tinpot autocratic state. This Papal State is a reactionary  force in the world which works against the enlargement of human rights. This hegonomy operates as an unpleasant male influence on all issues of human sexuality. The Papal attitudes to contraception, abortion and  population control  are illiberal and immoral; and its recent and continuing criminal shielding of child-abusing priests is entirely repugnant and disgusting. The Roman Catholic Church puts its own interests before those of its victims.

The Popes visit coincides with the emergence of scientific proofs of the improbabily of the creation of a God given universe. It follows from this that the belief that the Roman Catholic Church inherits God’s purpose for we humans is preposterous. This Pope,  as some but not all of his predecessors, has good human qualities. They need not be denied. But he presides over a Church deep in the mire of a criminal conspiracy to hide from the police the involvement of numerous priests in the abuse of young children. By your deeds will you be judged. Go back home, dear Pope, and sort it out in cooperation with police and prosecuting authorites around the world, stop your socially harmful medling, cease your all male theocracy. When you have done all these things you might be more welcome in civilised societies.

What is the answer we British secular humanists should give to the Pope’s pleadings that we should give more influence to his Church. I do no wish to be rude but I suggest the answer should be, ‘Not on your nellie.’

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All Things are Equal But…

It has become a feature of Lib Dem and Conservative blogs to produce policy lists   which they claim prove that the Coalition  is a radical and reforming government. These individual claims are dodgy in themselves but the rest of us might conclude that they amount to little in total compared to the damage about to be inflicted on people up and down the country. To paraphase George Orwell, all things are equal but some things are more equal than others.The Coalition programme is an agreement that the Tories can do what they wish on the economy in return for minor concessions to the Lib Dem’s  on policy intiatives that are dear to them. It is not a zero sum game.

It is worth repeating that the Lib Dems opposed the Tory programme of public expenditure cuts and tax increases in the General Election. Can they be forgiven for an act of betrayal  of  their supporters and to the country as a whole ? Are the concessions they wrung from the eager Tories hungry for office a price worth paying? There are two considerations. First, what is the price? It is entirely resonable to conclude it is going to be extremely high: lost economic output, hundreds of thousands , perhaps millions,  of unemployed, falling real incomes, and numerous personal and family tragedies. Despite their  last minute conversion to Tory economics,  any Lib Dem worth his salt must be heavy-hearted at the consequences of Lib Dem betrayal . The claim that cuts on the scale of those proposed are inevitable now carries no conviction, they have become faint as more and more people come to realise that the cuts  are not required and, indeed, will be  positively harmful to the economy. And secondly, what do they gain? It is a pathetic and deceptive list. There are tax  changes to help the poor that are swallowed up by unemployment and higher prices; civil liberty gains, that make our roads more dangerous our borders more porous, increases the terrorist threat and reduces the ability of the police to catch guilty offenders by use of the DNA database;  opposition to nuclear power generation that threatens our ability to have sufficient power in years to come, and defence cuts which reduce the ability of our armed forces to protect us. The list is seemingly endless. In themselves these changes are paltry. The majority of us  recognise that the fruitless  years of derided Lib Dem policy formulation has  been rewarded by public office. It would be laughable if it were not so damaging to us all.

It is  time to call a halt. If we are well led, if we are brave  and defiant the tide can be turned in the autumn. It is  time for men of goodwill to come together to turn back the tide. Unfortunately, in Parliament that will be the responsibilty of the Lib Dem MPs whose supine behaviour got us to this point in the first place. They don’t have to do this to us all. They can decline to join in. It may be the only way  they can save their seats is by backtracking. If you cannot do it for us, do it for youself.

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Fine Words Butter No Parsnips

Nick Clegg is speaking today.  I began to listen and stopped. More of these inananities will drive me over the edge – about time! – I heard that. We live in an Orwellian age of news-speak. Fine words indeed: but do they have meaning. Here are some words: social justice, fairness, progressive, liberty, green, sustainability. Let’s test them by tryng out there opposites. Anyone out there, and raise your hand,  who thinks the opposite? Who is in favour of injustice, unfairness, reaction, pollution, and unsustainable economic development. No takers? Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no need for me to add anything. We are all on the side of the angels. Thank you for coming.

I confess to you that I am heartily tired of this nonsense-speak. Let’s return to basics. Politics is about policy not protestation; actions speak louder that words, the road to Damacus is paved with good intentions (you see that even I know how to take refuge in a cliche); it takes time to judge whether a policy improves a problem or worsens an outcome; and, for the philosophers among you, not every problem has a solution.’ (Discuss in a coherent passage of not fewer than 500 words, thank you). And to summarise ‘fine words butter no parsnips’.

Let’s take two  big calls. First, is it likely that a slow growing economy with persistently high unemployment, a reduction in the quality of public services  and an attack on welfare benefits will result in more or less social justice? Might it be true that universal benefits  alone can ensure that those who are entitled to expect help receive it? Undermining universal benefits might result in  some claimants  receiving benefits they do not need or are not entitled to be given but to close loopholes at the expense of depriving the deserving would not add to the net sum of social justice, would it?

Secondly, take this statement from Cleggie. The Coalition has ‘restored British civil liberties.’ It is a Liberal delusion that liberty is an absolute. Of course it is not. What does he mean? He means of course,  the abolition of speed cameras, reducing the size of the DNA database, smaller and less effective external defence, ineffective border policing, fewer policemen on the beat, more criminals on the street. Freedom .yes. Let’s check. You are a guy who favours a large measure of personal freedom in your life. Good on you. Are you for or against the following: more fatalities and serious accidents on our roads; lower detection rates for serious crimes, rising crime , inability to defend our country against all the threats to our way of life, and a higher probability of serious terrorist acts in Britain. No, of course you are not. Are you then grateful to the Coalition for bringing  this state of afairs closer to our everyday lives? Speak up at the back. No evidence of this outcome, I exagerate, time alone will tell. Very good, sir. You make my point. Let us judge policy by its outcomes not by its claims. It may take time to know an outcome.  However, should  we not put up the red markers. Watch this space and all that..

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Too Important for Politicians

Clemenceau, a French Prime Minister, is credited with the remark that war was too important a matter to be left to Generals. It invites comparisons. Is Parliamentary reform rightly a matter for politicians or should we the people have the upper hand in all this? And at this moment should we place our trust in Nick Clegg, the self-appointed Reform Czar, or  take matters into our own hands.

How have we done it, this reform business,  in the past? Isn’t it true that Magna Carta which started all this in our time, in 1215, was the result of a group of Barons determined not to pay for King John’s foreign wars by the surrender of their rights and property? Did King John take any notice? Yes, he moderated his ways, which is all that could be expected, and we the people, established the principles of of ‘public’ consultation and justice under the rule of law.

The seventeenth century, that established for ever the principle of the sovereignty of Parliament, experienced a bloody civil war and the beheading of a King; and the Bill of Rights in 1689 was the result of an invitation to a European monarch, William III, to protect us against the ambitions of an English one,  to re-write the script for the understanding between monarch and people,  and to limit  the powers of Parliament. And  it was also an assurance for us that we would be protected against foreign powers. The 1832 Reform Act was the  outcome of mass protests and demonstrations by the Chartists; and the enlargement of the franchise was  achieved with the sacrifices of the many, the imprisonment and forced feeding of suffragettes and the untangling of woment chained to railings.

 So what now is the driving force of our modern day reform demands? Well now, as it was then, it is  the self interest of ‘politicians’  and those of us on the inside. It worries me that in one amorphous ragbag initiative called the Constitutional Bill all the various matters said to concern electors are lumped together in an all or nothing endeavour to appease an angry electorate   and protect  political prime movers from the wrath of the electorate: the reform of the House of Lords; a change in the composition of the Commons, involving the pressurising of the Boundaries Commission;  electoral reform; fixed term Parliaments; and a brake on Parliament’s power to get rid of a Government and summon up a new General Election. And it is all to be done in less than two years. Any one of these measures would justify a separate Bill – there is no demand for quick fixes. What is needed is a Constitutional progamme over five years not two and  involving the public in mature discussion.

Even if it were not true, and it is, such an unseemly scramble gives the impression of two political parties, the Coalition partners, seeking to cement their hold on power against  what is feared to be a vengeful electorate. Hold on boys, it might be said, we the electorate, are sovereign. It is our rights you are tampering with, and you are not going to diminish them. We shall  get rid of you if we choose. Blood and grief mark the passage to our rights and we are not going to concede them  to you willingly. 

As a reformer and revisionist, I  recognise the need for reform. However, I am prepared to wait a little in order to obtain an all-party, non-partisan approach – assuming that such an approach is possible. There is a need now to oppose this partisan reform bill, to see off the Coalition, and then to start again. Let’s get it right!

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Fair Speech for All

It always comes as a surprise when other people disagree with you, don’t you think? After all, can you be that serious? I say this now because some people have told me that I am contradictory and make cases for and against with equal clarity and enthusiasm. It is no good saying to them that truth is a matter of perception. They know right from wrong. Smart arse! What I need to write at the beginning of this blog is that you must, please, accept any comments of mine as a contribution to general merriment. I am committed to fun. In this I am very modern for having fun has become the chief preoccupation of millions of people around the world. Why should I swim against the tide, so to speak? In this piece I wish to talk about liberty of expression. I think you will agree that this is a serious subject. My friend – and I have some – are concerned that you will take my thoughts amiss. Remember this is fun. I do not know where you are reading this but I suggest that you lock the door, refuse entrance, and don’t laugh aloud or persuade others to read what I have to say. Sitting comfortably? Then we can begin. There is a campaign a -foot for fair speech which affects us all. Did you know that millions of viewers pay a licence fee for BBC services and hardly access them? Many people get their entertainment and news from the internet. Is that fair? Should they be paying large sums for services they hardly use? The BBC is a bloated organisation. Do you realise that they large salaries to executives and popular entertainers? Some of these salaries are greater than my own – or you I daresay. Is this right? We are acting against the bankers so why not the BBC. There is the issue of news. Is it right to pay for some of these  services. How many of you are watching at 2 am in the morning. Some fly people will say a lot of us at the moment because we are unemployed and can’t sleep for the worry of it. But you know this is not an adequate answer. You could just as well watch Sky News. If so why pay the BBC for a superfluous service. You get my point, don’t you. Well what we are going to do is to cut the liecence fee and require the BBC to but out of some services and to encourage them we are going to reduce the licence fee. Yes you fun lovers out there, we agree with you. Pay less for what you want. Are we speaking your language? Now some of you may mutter that it is payment time for Mr Murdoch. It is unworthy of you. Politics is an expensive activity if someone offers you their support for nothing, wouldn’t you wish to repay them? You know that’s fair.

Now the troublesome bit. Current affairs. We welcome free debate but is it fair at the moment? Our Coalition is barely created and we are subject to unfair criticism. It hurts after all these years of isolation, for quite naturally we wish to make our mark. We are committed to a fairer society. Is this amount of vituperation really fair, Often the BBC ignores our advice as to which Opposition Spokesmen is acceptable to the Government and sometimes they are very rude to us. Can we be expected to suffer this behaviour? We would rather they chose a Green Party spokesman / woman rather than some of the riff raff they bring along. All this type of unthinking opposition has to be dealt with if we are to make our mark. If we paid less for our licence and BBC salaries were reduced we would save money for the taxpayer and eliminate some programmes at a stroke. Do you get our drift? Fair comment, yes, ubnbridled licence, now. (aside, remind me of Mr Murdoch’s telephone number, please).

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Let’s Have a Dangerous Society

We Lib Dems have always placed a great importance on civil liberties and it is impossible to deny that they have been eroded under the previous Labour administration. We  are happy that our Conservative  partners share our concerns. This is what we are in the process of doing: getting rid of speed cameras, removing CCTV cameras, reducing the DNA database, getting prisoners released early from prison and limiting the numbers sent there, reducing the number of Magistrates Courts so slowing the judicial process, reviewing the ant-terrorist measures to make it more difficult to retain suspected terrorists while reducing the size of the police force to limit their presence on English streets, and cutting our defence forces and their capacity to oppose terrorism abroad.  I think you will agree that this is a major expansion of civil liberties. Of course  I understand that liberty is not an absolute. Naturally we accept that there are other imperatives: in particular the over-riding need to secure and protect citizens and Britain’s overseas interest. I admit that crime will rise, accidents on our roads will increase and  thousands of our people will die and suffer serious accidents. I accept also that there is evidence that DNA evidence enables the police to solve many serious crimes and that CCTV cameras are useful in bringing people to justice and act as a deterrent to crime We may have to suffer more terrorist attacks and this will be a pity for innocent people will suffer as a consequence. I know these things for I am not a fool. But is this not a small price to pay for restoring the balance away from the surveillance society to the ‘ no business of the Government’ model?’  Or in other words building the BIG Society ( I thought I should squeeze it in somewhere). When it is asked how our participation in the Coalition has benefitted the British people we shall be able to to reply that we suceeded in enlarging the civil liberties. of all Englismen. The price we pay for it may be derided as blood on the street and ruined lives. We can admit it. Why not? But we can hold our heads high. We, almost on our own, with a little help from our friend Dave,   in building a freer society. Go out and proclaim it to the world.  Lets have a dangerous society if it is the price of holding our heads high. After all even criminals have votes when they are free and if we gave them votes when imprisoned they might vote for our free society. We can but hope. We need all the votes we can garner out there. Is there any one still listening?.

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