Gone in a penstroke: If the Deregulation Bill becomes law, Acts of Parliament that protect your freedom could be removed from the statute book at a minister’s whim.
I have spent much of today putting old paperwork through the shredder in advance of tomorrow’s debate on the Deregulation Bill.
Why? Hidden among the plans to revoke ancient laws regulating pigsties is a clause that revokes the freedom of the press – in particular, the freedom of journalists to protect their sources.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats don’t want reporters to be able to protect political whistleblowers and the information they release from state harassment and confiscation.
Vox Political has long warned that the Coalition government was pushing us towards totalitarianism, and that is exactly what this apparently innocuous – but in fact deeply pernicious – piece of legislation proves.
We’ve had the gagging law, to silence organised dissent; we know that police chiefs want to use water cannons to stifle public protest; now we are faced with a cloak-and-dagger scheme to silence the press.
The removal of these privileges means the media will be unable to report anything that does not meet government approval – or face confiscation of equipment including computers, notebooks, recordings and correspondence that will lead to the identification of people who provide information that the government wants hushed up.
As a blogger who is also a qualified journalist, this directly affects me – and that is why I have been destroying paperwork. Tomorrow is only the Bill’s second reading – it must go through the committee stage, report stage and third reading before moving on to the House of Lords – but it is better to be well-prepared than to be caught napping.
Far more insidious than this, however, is the other part of this ‘red tape-cutting’ Bill that goes unmentioned. The really harmful part…
The part that says ministers should have the power to revoke any law they like, using statutory instruments (at the stroke of a pen) rather than taking the issue to a democratic vote in Parliament and, you know, actually telling anybody about it.
This means freedoms we have enjoyed for centuries- or just a few years – could be removed with no prior notice, under the pretext of getting rid of ‘red tape’.
We would certainly be living in a police state if this were allowed to happen.
So here’s the big question: Do you think your MP even knows about this?
I only know because I read it onAnother Angry Voice– from which site this article has swiped much of its information.
In his article, AAV creator Thomas G. Clark points out: “The Tories that devised this scheme… are clearly relying on the vast majority of Coalition MPs voting this through as the whips instruct them, without bothering to even read the documentation, understand the intricacies or even participate in the debate.
“If you chose to ignore the wealth of evidence and refuse to believe that David Cameron and the Tories would use these new powers to… stamp out dissent for their own sociopathic reasons, then at least consider the possibility that they are enabling the possibility of an unimaginably invasive totalitarian regime in the future. One where open justice is abolished, the population permanently monitored for signs of dissent, and dissenters are silenced in secretive Stalinist style legalistic proceedings.”
Obviously AAV and Vox Political will be right in the firing-line if this happens.
You need to contact your MP and ask what they’re going to do about this appalling assault on your freedom. Tell them about the clauses in the Deregulation Bill that have nothing to do with removing archaic regulations and everything to do with clamping down on your freedom and tell them in no uncertain terms that you won’t have it.
‘Papiere, bitte!’ An NHS nurse checks a patient’s claim to be British in the ‘fair’ NHS of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government.
Suppose Michael Schumacher had moved to Britain and had his accident here after new government plans for the NHS were put in place – would he have been refused treatment?
Admittedly, that is a bad example to use. Mr Schumacher is undoubtedly wealthy enough to buy any healthcare he needs, and we should not wish poor treatment on him in any case.
It does show up the poverty of the Conservative-led government’s moral attitude, though. The fact that he is German adds another dimension, in that his people may have a particular aversion to any situation in which their papers are demanded by officials before they are allowed to do anything.
The proposals demonstrate the depths to which the UK is falling under the current despotic, unelected right-wing administration and the petty would-be tyrant at its head. We are drifting ever-closer to totalitarianism and comparisons with 1930s and 40s Germany are becoming ever more accurate.
Ask yourself this: Before you leave your house, do you make sure you have papers on you that prove your nationality? If it isn’t a part of your daily routine, then under our government of new totalitarians, it will be.
Is this so far from the Germany of 70 years ago, where the phrase “Ausweis, bitte” was not only a part of daily life but a hallmark of the Nazi government?
Do we really want that here? Are we really saying we will allow an unelected regime to impose it on us?
Never mind the pretext that it will save money that would otherwise be spent on people who do not deserve the care and will not pay their debt – this is about our freedom.
Do you want to trade your freedom for a saving that isn’t even worth very much – around 1/240th of the yearly national deficit at the current level – and will not benefit you in any way at all?
The government says nobody will be denied medical care – but it also said it would not impose a top-down reorganisation of the NHS, and how long did that promise last? Andrew Lansley had been working on it for many years before that infamous campaign announcement was made, but was under orders not to speak about it until a Conservative-led government was firmly installed in office and nobody could do anything to stop it.
The government says the changes will ensure that the system is “fair” – but then, this government has a strange notion of fairness. According to David Cameron, it is fair to deny life-saving benefits to the disabled and long-term sick in the name of deficit reduction, while granting huge tax breaks to the spectacularly wealthy that ensure the deficit will not go down.
I don’t even know what my NHS number is – but soon I will have to, in order to satisfy Britain’s new immigration officials, otherwise known as doctors and nurses.
Perhaps the government is hoping to make a saving by scrapping the UK Border Agency that Theresa May has so hopelessly failed to reform into an effective force (but I doubt it). Perhaps she was wrong to criticise the previous Labour administration about it as harshly as she did.
Perhaps they will use the money they save to buy jackboots.
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It seems to me that this legislation is being made partly to deal with concerns about section five of the Public Order Act. This, as stated in Vox Political‘s article last year, states, “(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he: (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby” – but only applies if a person has been the victim.
It could not be used if an organisation had been subjected to abuse – as was claimed, in this case of the Department for Work and Pensions. Now, it seems, a law is coming into force that can.
This is entirely unwarranted. Abuses of the Public Order Act have clearly demonstrated that the law needs to be relaxed, rather than tightened. Your freedom is being taken away from you, including your right to free speech.
It’s no surprise that this is going on even after this blog, and Scriptonite, and others (I’m sure) have pointed out the problem. We are tiny islands on the media map; most people only ever visit the continents that are the TV news and newspapers, which are happy to pander to their prejudices.
The Public Order Act, as Rowan Atkinson stated in his (should be) legendary Reform Section 5 speech, has led to several alarming exercises of power, “like the man arrested in Oxford for calling a police horse ‘gay’.”
The new Bill introduces Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs) to replace ASBOs, which were also widely abused. Scriptonite quotes some of these abuses, including:
An 87 year old man was given an ASBO threatening a prison sentence if he was sarcastic to his neighbours.
“The ASBO has allowed the line between criminal behaviour and annoying behaviour to become hopelessly blurred – and the IPNAs will only serve to increase the problem,” says Scriptonite. “We have seen the abuses permitted under ASBO legislation, the test for which included wording to the effect that ASBOs could only be issued where an actual act of ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ had occurred. IPNAs have a much weaker test, applicable where on the ‘balance of probabilities’ a person has or might engage in behaviour ‘capable of causing annoyance’ to another person. How many times a day could this legislation apply to any of us? Eating with our mouths open, talking too loudly into our phones in a public space, walking too slowly or quickly or belching without saying ‘pardon me’. All of this may very well cause annoyance – but soon it might well also be illegal.”
More to the point: If you had a complaint against a government department – no matter whether it was justified – and you publicised it… wouldn’t that cause annoyance to them? Would it not cause them a nuisance?
And, considering the reaction to one woman’s complaint outlined in the VP article mentioned above, would this legislation not give ministers the power to lock you up for it?
This is not a law that should be passed. It is an attack on your freedom, and mine.It is a badge of repression, to be worn by our police as they continue their metamorphosis into symbols of the totalitarianism into which the UK is falling.
There is a petition against this. Please sign it before the law is passed and this document itself becomes a nuisance or annoyance.
I can find no better way to end this article than by paraphrasing what I said before: Police intimidation of those who speak out against injustice is not only an attack on free speech; it is an attack on the entire philosophy on which our society is based.
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Loss of freedom: Every day the Coalition government tries to take something away from you; at the moment, it’s your right to criticise.
Here’s a long-standing Conservative policy that has served that party very well over the years and continues to be alive today: Incrementalism.
This is the process of putting several changes into a single policy – or using one change as an excuse for another – so that, even if the main aim is defeated by public opinion or Parliament, others are achieved. Their plans progress by increments.
This week we are seeing it in several ways.
Did you think Chris Grayling’s announcement about Legal Aid was a victory for common sense and freedom? Think again.
He announced yesterday that plans to cut the Legal Aid bill by awarding contracts only to the lowest bidder have been dropped, after they attracted huge criticism.
The policy had been mocked because it meant smaller legal firms would be priced out of the market and replaced by legal outbranchings of large firms like Tesco or even Eddie Stobart. For these companies, there would be no financial incentive to fight any cases and they would most probably advise defendants to admit any crime, even if they were innocent. Meanwhile, habitual criminals, used to accepting the advice of their regular representative, would distrust that of the man from Eddie McTesco in his ‘My First Try At Law’ suit and would most likely deny everything. Result: The innocent go to jail and the guilty go free.
That was the headline issue; it has been defeated.
But Grayling still intends to cut Legal Aid fees by 17.5 per cent across the board. How many law firms will find they can’t operate on such lowered incomes?
The government’s war on immigrants will be stepped up with a residency test; only those who have lived in the UK for more than 12 months will be eligible for Legal Aid. Otherwise, for poorer immigrants, there will be no access to justice here.
Thousands of cases brought by people who have already been imprisoned will no longer be eligible for legal aid. Grayling says it won’t be available “because you don’t like your prison”. One supposes we are to hope this loss of one more right will not adversely affect people who are fighting wrongful imprisonment, or who have crimes committed against them while they are in prison, but we should all doubt that.
There is one block on Legal Aid that we may support, in fairness: An income restriction meaning that people with more than £3,000 left over every month after paying their “essential outgoings” will not be entitled to it. That’s a lot of money, and people earning this much should definitely be paying their own legal fees and not asking the taxpayer to do it for them.
According to the BBC report, Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said the dropping of ‘price competitive tendering’, as the plan to award contracts to the lowest bidder was known, was “a humiliating climbdown”.
It would have been better for him to take a leaf out of the charity Reprieve’s book. Its representatives said blocking Legal Aid to immigrants who have been here less than a year would deny justice to people wronged by the UK government, ranging from victims of torture and rendition to Gurkhas and Afghan interpreters denied the right to settle here. Legal director Kat Craig said the government wanted to “silence its critics in the courts”.
Another attempt to silence critics of the government is the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill, which is due to be discussed in Parliament next week.
The publicised aim of this legislation was to curb what comedy Prime Minister David Cameron himself has called “the next big scandal” – but none of the measures in the first part of the Bill would achieve this. A statutory register of all consultant lobbyists – those working for independent companies who represent the interests of others – as recommended by the Bill, would have prevented none of the lobbying scandals in which Cameron has found himself embroiled during his premiership.
Instead, it seems likely that this will make lobbying by smaller-scale individuals and organisations more difficult, while larger concerns, with in-house lobbyists, may continue to walk through the doors of Number 10, chequebook in hand, and buy any policy they deem beneficial to their business. If this Bill becomes law, they’ll be rubbing our faces in it.
The Bill was introduced on the very last day that Parliament sat before the summer recess – and ministers waited until the very last moment to bolt two new sections onto it. There had been no consultation on the content of these sections, and the timetable proposed for the Bill meant there could be only limited discussion of them.
These were the provisions for gagging political campaigners who do not belong to a political party, and for tying up trade unions in excessive and unneeded red tape. The only possible reason for the first of these is to stop anyone from publishing material that criticises the government in the run-up to the next election – a totalitarian move if every there was one.
And the restriction on trade unions, having their memberships audited independently, is totally unnecessary as the unions already adhere to very strict rules on membership. The real reason would appear to be a plan to make union membership a matter of public knowledge in order to allow businesses to ‘blacklist’ anyone in a union – stop them from getting jobs.
The Bill “will now undergo more detailed scrutiny from MPs”, the BBC website story states. This scrutiny will last a mere three days, next week. This is far too short a period, and rushed onto the Parliamentary schedule far too early, for MPs to subject it to proper scrutiny.
Some of the provisions will be altered, but the Tories are sure to get their way in others. The possibility that union members will be ‘blacklisted’ seems extremely likely, since this is something Coalition partners the Liberal Democrats are not keen to oppose.
And then there is Iain Duncan Smith, who came under fire from the National Audit Office yesterday, over his extremely expensive and utterly unworkable bid to remake social security in his own image – Universal Credit.
The report hammered the project for the poor leadership shown throughout – nobody knew what Universal Credit was supposed to do or how its aims were supposed to be achieved, the timescales imposed for it were unrealistic, the management structure imposed on it was unorthodox and (it turned out) unworkable, there were no adequate measures of progress, and nobody working on the project was able to explain the reasoning behind any of these decisions.
Smith himself, whose likely inadequacies as a bag-carrier in the Army have led to him being labelled ‘RTU’ (Returned To Unit, a sign of shame in the armed forces), was revealed to have lied to Parliament last year, when he claimed the process was running smoothly just weeks after having to order a rethink of the entire project.
The article in which that description was made also described ministerial attacks on civil servants as “the Conservatives’ latest wheeze”. Michael Gove has already hammered morale in his Education department by making huge staff cuts and then employing his ignorant mates to impose their stupid views on the professionals.
It also foreshadowed RTU’s outburst this week, quoting a Spectator article that said, “If Universal Credit is a flop, then it will prove our current Whitehall set-up is failing. But if it succeeds, it will be no thanks to the Civil Service either”.
So the scene is set for the government to attack the very people who try to enact its policies. This blog stands by its words in the previous article, when the plan was described this: “Blame the Civil Service for everything, cut it back, and leave the actual mechanics of government unusable by anybody who follows”.
Meanwhile, ministers such as Mr ‘Denial’ Smith have made the British government an international laughing-stock.
Sydney Finkelstein, Professor of Strategy and Leadership at the Tuck School of Business in Dartmouth, in the USA, tweeted the following yesterday: “Shocked to hear top guy not take full responsibility for bad execution. Never happens in America.
“140 character twitter not enough to convey amateurism of leader who can’t lead.”
He might not be able to lead, but – by devious means – he and his odious ilk are getting almost everything they want.
You can tell the priorities of any administration by its programme for government.
Look at the Coalition: Practically the first thing on its agenda is an attempt to ‘fix’ the next election by ensuring that anyone supporting opposing parties (or attacking the parties in power) is gagged.
The ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’, if passed, would end free speech in the United Kingdom and usher in an era of propaganda-led “do as we say, not as we do” totalitarianism.
It will not stop corporate control of the political agenda – the threat to consultant lobbyists means Big Money will take them in-house, where they won’t have to be registered, and then it will be business as usual. This government works hand-in-glove with big business; that’s one reason it has been so easy to compare the Coalition’s UK with Nazi Germany.
(I make no apologies to Michael Gove for repeating this terrible accusation. If he wants to come and thump me, let him. Then we’ll find out how well he can work from a hospital bed.)
It will, as Owen Jones put it in his Independent column, “stifle the voices of charities, campaigners, trade unions and even blogs [yes, Vox Political would be under threat, despite the fact that it has no budget]; … shut down rallies and demonstrations; … prevent groups such as Hope Not Hate from taking on the poison of organised racism.
“Trustees of charities will fear anything that invites criminal investigation, shutting down scrutiny of government or campaigns for changes in policy. It will entangle organisations in a bureaucratic nightmare, forcing them to account for all of their spending… The TUC suggests that it could make organising its 2014 annual congress a criminal offence, as well as prevent it from holding a national demonstration in election year.
“Political blogs… could be included too, since they are campaigning entities that attempt to impact the outcome of an election.”
He went on to quote the TUC’s assessment that this is “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech worthy of an authoritarian dictatorship”, which this writer has taken as implying that an “authoritarian dictatorship” is exactly what we have now.
The campaigning organisation 38Degrees is also threatened by this proposed legislation. The government would consider its loss to be an enormous victory, as it has been a thorn in the sides of Cameron and his cronies (both in government and big business) ever since the Coalition came into office by the back door in 2010.
An email to members states: “From May 2014, draconian new rules would prevent non-politicians from speaking up on the big issues of the day. A huge range of campaign groups and charities – everyone from The Royal British Legion, to Oxfam, to the RSPB – are warning about the threat this poses.
“It’s telling that so many groups who wouldn’t normally agree with each other have united to oppose the gagging law. Groups that speak out in favour of hunting, windfarms, HS2 or building more houses are joining together with groups who say exactly the opposite.
“That’s because there’s one thing we should all be able to agree on: in a healthy democracy, everyone should able to express their views. And everyone should be allowed to get organised to highlight what politicians are saying and doing on the issues that matter to them.”
The email contains a link to a form letter that you can send to your MP, to make sure your feelings are known before they go into the debate. Then they won’t have an excuse to support the government and, if they do, you’ll have a reason (probably another reason, in the case of Tory MPs) to vote them out, come May 2015.
Wise words: The ‘People’s Assembly’ hopes to stir people out of their apathy and encourage them to oppose the unelected and unmandated right-wing, ideologically-driven and austerity-led destruction of British society. Are you interested, or is it too much like hard work?
“The people are not ready to embrace Socialism and may never be ready.”
“What, a cobbled together bunch of leftie socialists?”
“It will take more than a few breakfast TV celebrity socialists turning up in community centres to shake people awake, and armchair socialism – like conservatism, capitalism, fascism, communism and any other political ism that involves a minority seeking to impose its will on the masses down at their local community hall – is the last thing that anyone needs.”
“It would just be a talking shop of unelected and ‘celebrity’ allegedly left-wingers, who like to hear the sound of their own voices. It does not have any democratic structure, and would just be a sort of an admiring glee club, that would allow its supporters to have the illusion that something is being done.”
“Even if you got five million people to march through London protesting over the austerity program, the Palace of Westminster wouldn’t hear it.”
These are just a few of the negative responses to a recent article by Owen Jones, on the forthcoming meeting of the ‘People’s Assembly’, organised by the new socialist organisation Left Unity. None of them are saying anything we haven’t heard before. It seems the constant refrain, to which the British people sing along, is “Don’t bother trying to change it; there’s nothing you can do”.
This is, of course, lazy nonsense. You hear it from people who genuinely can’t be bothered and, more perniciously, from supporters of the status quo (in this case, the Coalition or UKIP) who know that a discouraging word at the right moment can nip a potential rival organisation in the bud. It’s called conditioned helplessness, and I’ve discussed it before.
Remember, the ‘People’s Assembly’ has not had its first meeting yet. Already people are trying to tell us it is a failure, a “talking shop” for “armchair socialism” that would not be heard in the corridors of power.
I wish I could attend, but geographical issues and other responsibilities mean this is impossible (I live in Wales and have responsibilities as a carer).
One thing we should all remember is that this is a socialist movement, not the creation of a political party. We already have a democratic socialist political party, although our Labour members of Parliament seem to have forgotten that (here’s a clue, folks: Read the top line on the back of your membership cards). They appear to be taking the soft option and following the Coalition narrative. But that’s no reason to let them get on with it.
It seems to me that the ‘People’s Assembly’, like the Left Unity organisation that is staging the event, will work best putting pressure on systems that are already in place. Labour presents the best chance we have for ousting the Tories and their little yellow helpers, without putting something equally right-wing in their place. People of good faith just need to encourage the Party to do the right thing.
And that is: Ditch all the idiotic follow-my-Tory-leader austerity-driven policies announced in recent weeks. Austerity has failed as a way of balancing the books; it was never intended to do so in the first place. Ditch the divisive Tory-soundalike rhetoric that shows Labour also wants to blame the poor for problems that they never created. Clear private sector ‘advisors’ out of Labour Party meetings and thinktanks – corporate influence will only benefit corporations and their shareholders; they have the Conservatives for that.
Devise new policies for health, workplace safety and social security that will aim to prevent not only workplace-related sickness and disability, but also congenital conditions that blight lives. That will bring down the bills for health and social security far more than misplaced attempts to punish those whose ill-health is already an unjust punishment, as they have not committed any crime.
Reconsider policies relating to business. Labour has long since admitted that nationalisation of all industry does not work, and it doesn’t. But there are some services that should be run – as a business, perhaps, but under the authority of the state – in the national interest. These are the public utilities – water, electricity, gas. Possibly rail transport as well, because the current privatised situation is costing the taxpayer far more than when the service was nationalised.
Encourage self-employment where practical. People can only be assured of the ability to sustain themselves if they own the means of production. The best way to do that is to work for themselves. For businesses involving more than a single trader, encourage mutualism or co-operatives. This is the best way to ensure that all workers get the most benefit from the products of their labours. With employees encouraged to put more effort into their trade by the promise of getting more out of it, progress towards meeting and exceeding the Living Wage seems more likely.
And support new technologies, especially those that are environmentally-friendly. This is where many of the new jobs will be generated and the UK has delayed its support of these advances for far too long.
I don’t think these are impossible ambitions.
They can be achieved if the progressive members of British society get their act together and stand up for them. And let’s all admit it, they would be much healthier than the cuts that have spawned a continuing storm of protest ever since the Coalition first inflicted them upon us, just because most of us are poorer than they are.
People are realising that they can’t expect their political representatives to do the right thing without being told what it is. What’s holding them back is the concern that this is a minority view. That is why they may welcome an umbrella organisation like Left Unity and the ‘People’s Assembly’, to show them they’re not alone.
I would like to say that in Central Hall, Westminster, on Saturday but I can’t be there.
Would anybody like to say it for me – or something better?
Or shall we all just sit back in our armchairs and mutter, while the country goes to hell in a handbasket?
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