Sunday, 30 January 2011
Monday, 24 January 2011
The reality that needs to be dealt with is that in an atomised society based on car use, supermarkets are going to get the bulk of trade. Take Tamworth in England. The small centre of this old market town consists of shoe shops, travel agents, down marker supermarkets, the Co-Op, personnel agencies etc.
Just outside near the by-pass that runs through the expanded town and links the legoland estates with one another are ASDA Walmart, Sainsbury's, Burger King, McDonalds Drive Thru, Matalan and all those warehouse style retain chains precision placed for the car owner as in the USA.
The old shops have died out. Truckle's Cheese Shop has gone. a notice saying 'Use or Lose' was up there in the 1990s. The sign and shop are gone. The old pubs with their historical names have gone. The poor frequent noisy chain retail pubs such as the Wetherspoon's pubs with their pubby affectation have replaced many of them.
These bleak warehouses of booze with their feeble attempt to recreate what pubs once were are pub re-enactment chains. Replete with sepia photos of local history and glossy magazines telling the punters why there beer is cheap and what offers are on in future mediocre substitutes for the old pubs.
Friday nights are noisy and full of violence waiting to break out and frequented by roving police vans waiting for trouble and omnipresent CCTV cameras. The reality of what was once a lovely market town is now a floodlight wasteland and one that has got worse as the out of town retail park has gutted the centre.
The fact is that a large number of people use supermarkets because they are convenient and often cheaper than small shops. The design of whole towns since the 1980s and the Great Car economy has encouraged these patterns of consumption.
Small shops are there for those who live within walking distance. The car has killed that off and contributed to a society with growing problems with boredom and obesity. In London, ironically, such small shops can continue as those who live there find the car more difficult and time consuming due to the traffic.
Hence it is easier to get back after work and go to the local grocer, usually run by immigrants or the families of immigrants who are willing to work hard to make money by servicing local needs. Even then supermarkets open up "Local" branches will self service machines.
Perhaps people favour the alienation of modern life. The fact it is possible to get Tesco to come to the door to drop off food. To order most things online and never have to bother with social interaction other than via the Internet. After all, the important human requirements can be ministered to through it.
The old small shop was not just a place where things were bought but at the heart of a community, a people where people met and talked. All of that has gone. Modern consumerists want freedom, autonomy, control and choice. A cold, impersonal world. Yet one freer to spend less time thinking about anthing other than the consumer goods "I" want.
Yet it is most likely this is what people want. accepting this is hard but the Internet will replace what were considered normal human interactions. Even "love" is now part of the supermarket economy through Dating Sites where autonomous consumers precision select partners from the list of personality profiles.
Britain is one colossal supermarket and those who do not like it need to get in step with the reality that they have willingly colluded in. And accept responsibility for the torpor that ensues, one enlivened only by football kitsch, the craving for violence and sensation.
Yet the over dependence on the car is one that means all Western nations depend on oil supplied from places like Iraq as a necessity, despite the hypocrisy over criticising Blair for trying to secure the long term viability of this model of consumerism.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
Friday, 21 January 2011
The decline of the left. socialism, conservatism and, increasingly, of political liberalism means that we have left as an ideology is consumerism. History has reached a dead end of banality and narcissistic consumption where values are redundant. Only a form of Lifestyle Anarchism seemed to underpin the students demos, the myth of counterculture.
As J G Ballard wrote,
"People resent the fact that the most moral decision in their lives is choosing what colour the next car will be....All we've got left is our own psychopathology. It's the only freedom we have – that's a dangerous state of affairs."The sheer meaninglessness of a society based on the hallucinatory substitute for reality that the vast masses of consumers were prepared to buy into defined the New Labour period of PM's Blair and Brown until the great economic crash of 2008.
Now that the illusions have crashed with the finance system and housing boom, the result is going to be a rejection in certain quarters of the boredom that comes from reducing nearly every aspect of everyday life to nothing more than a series of money transactions.
Ballard believed that this would increasingly be more likely 'only be relieved by some sort of violent act; by taking your mail-order Kalashnikov into the nearest supermarket and letting rip."
On the fringes of a deracinated society there are those who harbour a deep frustration that the cloistered 'Metropolitan elites', all on first name terms in the "Westminster Village" just play at politics to give the illusion of brand distinction
That along with greater numbers of semi-educated people who cannot get the status from the jobs they believe their degrees entitle them too are likely in future to reject 'the system' and turn to ideologies that offer a total explanation for the way the world is.
In recent years, universities were becoming recruitment grounds for jihadist-salafi organisations and there is the potential for massive and gratuitous acts of psychopathological violence, just anything that will force the masses to question the 'inauthentic' nature of their existence.
At the G20 demonstrations some of the banners read 'Consumers Suck' : if they fail to respond, it is quite possible that extreme radicals might take to selecting less obviously 'political' targets such as shopping malls, multiplex cinemas, airports and theme parks.
The victims of terror were aiding global capitalism by consuming: their deaths will be a small price to pay if it helps to destroy the fake consumer confidence that keeps the system going and directly causes Third World immiseration and global warming.
Ballard's Millennium People starts off with a bomb explosion at Heathrow that turns out to be the work of a demented paediatrician, Dr Richard Gould who later tell the main character David Markham that the sheer meaninglessness of such an outrage was mostly designed to force people to ask 'why' and create meaning again.
The novel, though, tended to just laugh at the middle class protesters 'the Kropotkins with Pink Gin' and that the "the middle-classes are the new proletariat", and that's the main weakness of the book. Ballard did not know the radicals: just the Guardian reading middle classes.
Millennium People could have included the deracinated Islamists and Class War nihilists, as well as the anti-road protesters and the increasingly psychopathological journalist hacks such as Seumas Milne who rationalise in metaphysical terms every terror threat or terrorist action to push a revolutionary agenda of the hard left and Islamists.
The growth of Islamism in the West and the connections with the New Great Game and energy geopolitics still awaits its novelist.
Nevertheless, a lot of the street carnival protesters are those, as in Ballard's Chelsea Marina who desire to escape the "self-imposed burdens" of civic responsibility and consumer culture by having choreographed street protests and violence as a way of
By only focusing on the trashing of the Royal Bank of Scotland, people are missing the point about the degree to which much of the 'global justice movement' has been hijacked by fanatics craving destruction and to rationalise their resentment as being the "losers" in their own society.
The good anger of wanting to right wrongs and injustice always seems to be eclipsed by the organisational dominance of those motivated by hatred dressed up in humanitarian concern: a look at the G20 Meltdown groups shows the usual 'hard left' sects such as the SWP with a craving for revolutionary destruction more than having any real constructive alternative.
Just as the 1968 insurrections fomented a climate of opinion in which the Angry Brigades and the Baader Meinhof were created, so too will the growing radicalism given impetus by the crash of 2008 potentially lead to the spawning of radical psychopathological terror groups: only
Unlike the 1970s, a decade of terrorism, however, there are in the second decade of the twenty-first century the added ethnic and sectarian tensions bred by wars in 'the Muslim World' and the growth of Islamism. Apocalyptic politics based on an interpretation of Islam is spreading into the cities of Europe.
As Ballard claimed,
"There are shifts in the unseen tectonic plates that make up our national consciousness. I've tried to nail down a certain kind of nihilism that people may embrace, and which politicians may embrace, which is much more terrifying; all tapping into this vast, untouched resource as big as the Arabian oilfields called psychopathology."That hunger for apocalyptic violence is a recurrent feature of history and the more people's lives are confined to a mind numbing routine of frenetic work and regulated consumer fun, the more people will turn to violence and nastiness, where whole sections of society feel cut of, separated and full of hatred towards a decadent society
Not least when the cosmetic 'niceness' of Britain as portrayed as a fair and decent society is believed to conceal the global iniquities and inequalities that make meaningless consumer decadence possible and that are screened from perception by the mainstream media that fails to question Western projects to invade Afghanistan or Iraq.
Thursday, 20 January 2011
The poor state of history teaching in British schools has been a major concern of Michael Gove. The kind of complaint that the replacing of the teaching of battles and dates must consist only by simply getting pupils to think about how in must have felt to be an impoverished labourer displaced by eighteenth century enclosure acts.
With the coming of a "multicultural society", the old narrative certainties about Britain's world historical role, its Empire and Industry, its unique "island story" became seen as antiquated and failing to to take account of the real history of oppression and killing upon which imperial domination was founded.
In 2009, Michael Gove as then Shadow Education Secretary stated that it was time to get back to patriotic, inclusive, and integralist narratives, not least in the wake of terror attacks in 2005, the rise of Islamism and a number of sympathisers ( and leftist non-Muslims ) who clearly detested everything Britain was supposed to have stood for,
Simon Jenkins wrote today in The Guardian this, a rebuttal of the call to make history conform to some simplistic national pageant of seamless Good,
"There is no better way of building a modern, inclusive, patriotism than by teaching all British citizens to take pride in this country’s historic achievements," he said."Which is why the next Conservative Government will ensure the curriculum teaches the proper narrative of British History - so that every Briton can take pride in this nation."
He won applause from the conference for attacking the body responsible for writing the curriculum - the QDCA - and its budget of £100 million a year.
"After hiring an army of consultants, squadrons of advisers and regiments of bureaucrats they still wrote a syllabus for the Second World War without any place for Winston Churchill. Never in the field of public expenditure has so much been spent by so many to distort World War Two."
Time and again the message echoes down what Gove quaintly calls "our island story". The British army fights best when Britain is threatened, and fights worst when ordered overseas on vanity ventures by politicians desperate to cover themselves in glory.
Given the frequency with which today's pro-war party refers to Hitler and appeasement, it would be useful if the nation stopped for a weekend and received a crash course in distinguishing the "necessary wars" of Elizabeth I, Pitt, Lloyd George and Churchill from the "wars of choice" of Edward III, Walpole, Palmerston and Blair.
David Cameron and his foreign secretary, William Hague, see no difference. That is why they are stuck in the deserts of Afghanistan, their ears blocked to history.
Interestingly, Gove's prescription omits the history of the British Empire, the most important reason why British civilisation and culture influenced the world.
History teaching needs to emphasise teaching on the British Empire far more, not least as Afghanistan can be seen as a war more in common with nineteenth century struggles over geopolitical hegemony in Asia between Russia and Britain and the Silk routes ( now the control of oil and gas pipelines ).
The people who make up Britain - Celts, Anglo-Saxons.
The Roman Invasion
Liberty and the Magna Carta and Simon de Montfort
War of the Roses
English Civil War
Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights of 1688
Union of Parliaments in 1707
The Growth of Liberty in the early 18th century
Beginnings of industrial revolution
The Struggle for the Vote in the 19th century, including Great Reform Act, Chartists
Queen Victoria and Great Victorian scientists such as Darwin and Faraday
Growth of the mass media and the mass franchise in the Edwardian Age
Great Depression of the 1930s
World War Two, including Churchill's role
New Elizabethan Age,
SSWindrush and the New Britain
Modern history to the present
There is need to take history in schools beyond the celebratory banality of "our island story" as well as leaving the history of the British Empire to those who only seen it as "rapacious" and evil, as if empire were not, for good or ill, a recurrent feature of history.
History needs to be taught as something vital that can equip citizens to try to understand the world they live in beyond mere propaganda and reciting dates, as that is no more meaningful that rote learning football statistics and which team won the league in 1970.
The importance of teaching the history of the British Empire is that it made the world as it is today and often the decline of empires leads to even worse conflicts and ethnic hatreds, a lesson that would at least help young people to understand complexity.
This is not happening. Students concentrate too much on World War Two which means that every world event is looked at through this lens, as if the war in Iraq was "Fascism" or that the "resistance" is either nationalist, a bit like the French resistance ( which it was not ) or else "Islamofascist".
Ironically, public discussion about wars and conflicts tend to portray every one of them in binary terms. Gove would know as a member of the Henry Jackson Society, a fanatic neoconservative think tank that sees Anglo-US history as one inevitable and inexorable unfolding of liberty against existential enemies.
Alternatively, those disliking wars such as Iraq see them as 'racist imperialism' more akin to fascism as they have read their Pilger and would like to think the invasion of Iraq reflects the stalling of democracy in Britain as opposed to one of its consequences as it was about satisfying the oil needs of a consumer society.
The focus of history should downgrade World War Two somewhat which has become a kind of foundation myth for Britain as a power essentially bent on saving the world from "new Hitlers" and seen as being the "People's War". And everything since as a betrayal or enhancement.
Those who see post 1945 in social terms see the continued pretensions of Britain as a world power as a betrayal of the investment in peaceful alternatives to a world of war whilst others have seen Britain is a permanent state of decline and a betrayal of "our finest hour".
It is about time this narrative was changed and history taught differently, that there are not binary oppositions of Good vs Evil in the world and that power, greed, hypocrisy and stupidity are universal and apply as much to Britain as it does to other parts of the world and that Britain is important but not that much.
History lessons, instead of getting people to rote learn facts or else to be taught to daydream about how it must have felt to be like a fourteenth century peasant or industrial worker, should be posed with the kind of moral questions that are simple but induce thought and the average person often thinks about.
For example, are all wars about control of strategic resources and if so, then if the empire or power that controls them is a better alternative than the others contending for them, does that give any legitimacy to "liberal empires" ? Is "humanitarian intervention" ever justified ?
There are a number of British foreign policies that have been based on that since the end of the Cold War. From Kosovo to Iraq and they have a history going back into the nineteenth century when imperial rule was used to end inhuman practices. Did that outweigh the negative side ?
These are questions that need to be posed, not least in a Britain heading towards ethnic and religious sectarian divisions and polarisation between "Us" and "Them", as though only total cultural self repudiation or idiotic celebratory nationalism were the two options.
The worst thing is a refusal to look at history beyond fitting the facts to the prescriptions of ideological creeds. To refuse to even mention the centrality of the TAPI pipeline and the New Great Game for control of Asia as the reason why British troops are in Helmland.
It's guff to suggest Britain is only in Afghanistan for women's lib or selfless democracy promotion. To follow Gove's "neoconservative "prescriptions will lead young people to think the idea of 'Britain's seamless record of noble good intentions' is a load of codswallop and propaganda with legitimate reasons.
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Yet should not be forgotten, however, that George Galloway's Respect Party did win a seat in East London in the elections of 2005 as a coalition between SWP Trotskists and Islamists, one that broke up in 2007.
Recently, I was watching speeches being made at the meeting of a new group termed 'The Equality Movement’, a group including Jody MacIntyre, the disabled activist who was dragged out of his wheelchair by the police during the student demonstrations in December 2010.
An interesting series of speakers from the militant Marxist-Leninist Left as well as Islamists turned up , all united by their shared loathing of the USA and Israel and the Little Satanic minion that is Britain, to talk on the subject of "What is Imperialism ?".
Introduced by a rapper called "Logic", the 5 principles of the Equality Movement were drawn up in big block capital letters,
1. WE BELIEVE IN THE EQUALITY OF ALL PEOPLE; IRRESPECTIVE OF RACE, RELIGION, GENDER OR PHYSICAL ABILITY.
2. WE BELIEVE IN AN EQUAL EDUCATION FOR ALL PEOPLE, REGARDLESS OF FINANCIAL WEALTH OR FAMILY BACKGROUND.
3. WE OPPOSE THE IDEOLOGY OF CAPITALISM, WHICH STEALS FROM THE POOR AND GIVES TO THE RICH, THEREBY NEGATING ANY POSSIBILITY OF EQUALITY IN OUR SOCIETY.
4. WE OPPOSE THE IDEOLOGY OF IMPERIALISM IN ALL CONTEXTS*, AND SUPPORT THE RIGHT OF OPPRESSED PEOPLES TO STRUGGLE AGAINST IT.
5. WE BELIEVE THAT THE CURRENT BRITISH GOVERNMENT DOES NOT REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF THE PEOPLE, AND THAT THE ACHIEVEMENT OF SUCH A GOVERNMENT IS IMPOSSIBLE UNDER THE CURRENT, UNDEMOCRATIC POLITICAL SYSTEM IN THIS COUNTRY.
* INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE ISRAELI COLONISATION OF PALESTINE, AND THE BRITISH AND UNITED STATES LED OCCUPATIONS OF AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ
The aim seems to be to intensify discontent through a propaganda that stimulates outrage, over diverse issues from the conflict between Palestine and Israel to student anger over tuition fees and 'inequality, all rolled into one anti-capitalist and anti-imperial cause.
Yet curiously the anti-imperialists are not always that anti-imperialist if the power bloc of their fantasies is held to be ranged against the USA.
Take the first speaker Seumas Milne. Milne remains in many respects an ardent admirer of the USSR which up until 1991 was the largest and last European Empire. Like Ken Livingstone, he now sees China's superpower as a positive check on US power in a multipolar world.
Another speaker was Tariq Ali, a Trotskyist who supports anti-imperialist Islamists but has forgotten his hero Trotsky's contempt for Islamist movements after Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 when opined that "the putrescent tissue of Islam will vanish at the first puff".
Sharing a platform with them was Dr. Hanan Chehata is a leading contributor to MEMO of which Dr Daud Abdullah is also a leading contributor, the man who claimed in the Istanbul Declaration of 2009 that any perceived collaboration with Zionists should be resisted with violence.
"The obligation of the Islamic Nation to regard everyone standing with the Zionist entity, whether countries, institutions or individuals, as providing a substantial contribution to the crimes and brutality of this entity; the position towards him is the same as towards this usurping entity"The wording is important as it points towards Islamism of the kind that Hamas represents as part of a global movement that can take out those it defines as "standing" with the "Zionist entity" through violence.
That clearly goes further than with Israel as a nation state: it is a jihad that can transcend boundaries, one that ties in with the attempts by other British based militant Islamists to create global politico-religious movements against Western nations from within.
For those who resent and detest the West in its entirety, and not specific foreign and domestic policies, the Israel-Palestine conflict is but one that can exploited to ratchet up hatred and help to create an Islamic hyper identity.
The Istanbul Declaration was signed by those considered "respectable" tribunes of Islamism in Britain including Mohammed Sawalha, an organiser of Islam Expo, the huge annual gathering of Muslims in east London.
It was signed also by Sheikh Rashid al-Ghannoushi of the Tunisian an-Nahdhah party whose daughter Soumaya Ghannoushi writes for The Guardian and claims mendaciously that the party is liberal and democratic.
Essentially, such activists want to use propaganda to create resistance to "imperialism" from within Britain by using the veiled threat of violence to persuade the British government that it needs to listen to such "community leaders" or else face violence from those resisting imperialism both at home and abroad.
That is welcomed by those radicals who think Islamism is usefully anti-imperialist to regenerate their hard left political agenda. As Lizzie Cocker stated,
“Unprecedented numbers of largely Arab and Muslim youth flooded into the streets...and were met by brutal suppression by the state. The government tried to portray these people as thugs and louts, just as they had criminalised the people of Gaza. Just as Israel’s leaders thought they could bomb the people of Gaza into submission, the British government believed they could bully and intimidate an increasingly angry Muslim youth into submission, at a time when our imperialist wars are escalating and spreading into other countries.”Clearly Cocker is trying to maintain that British police policing demonstrations are paralleled by the IDF in order to ramp up hatred in a way that could breed violence and terrorism. For if the British state is considered equally as repressive towards Muslims as Israel, then perhaps the only way to redress that is violence, even terrorism.
Which, as in Palestine, would mean suicide bombing. It would never be justified, of course, but merely a response to intolerable oppression caused by the British state. This is playing politics in a way that could prove lethal on the streets of Britain as well as rationalising such violence with pseudo-moral zeal.
The concept of a seamless ideology of rapacious imperialism from Gaza to London being imposed is potentially inflammatory and psychopathological. Yoking together student demos with Hamas as "resistance" is both silly and sinister. But, even if silly, it needs to be challenged instead of written off merely as cranky left wing sectarian politics.
For increasingly, as university entrance has grown exponentially, without there being an improvement in quality, then there will be increasing number of semi educated people who hold to these paranoid and shrill and intolerant world views.
Partly this is to give excitement to mundane lives in a stultifyingly boring consumer society in the manner satirised by J G Ballard in his novels. But it also reveals what Ballard called new emerging psychopathologies whereby global struggles are sought to give purpose and identity in a Britain increasingly bereft of it.
Indeed, the issue of Israel and Palestine is not connected to the student demonstrations unless the aim of Leninist vanguard elites is to build up a revolutionary momentum by exploiting ethnic and religious tensions within "the Muslim Community" and others deemed to be "alienated".
The irony is that certain Islamist movements do not much care for atheist Leninists or SWP hacktivists and others on the fringe left wanting to hijack just any sign of discontent to "build the party" or diminish Western power.
Which is what Islamist movements want and to that extent the secular atheist revolutionaries such as Milne and Ali et al act as "useful idiots" in performing that role as Islamists in practice detest them in the Middle East but need prominent names such as Milne, a big figure at the Guardian, to push the anti-imperialist line for them.
Though Islamists despise Marxism, whilst appropriating certain concepts and propaganda tropes from Third World anti-colonial movements that claimed to be based on Marxism-Leninism during the Cold War, they have something in common: the hunger for apocalyptic politics, messianism and hatred for "so-called" Western civilisation.
With the end of the Cold War , those such as Milne had to cast around for another power bloc capable of thwarting the USA, seen as negative embodiment of the Wild West in all its decadent extremity, no matter whether these power's own stance on freedom and human rights has been even worse than the USA ( as was the Soviet Union's )
Milne and those such as George Galloway have found these in Islamist movements which, because against Israel and the USA, are then considered to be united in some global way when they reflect very different regional power struggles.
Ironically, anti-imperialist war activists often accept the neoconservative world view that Islamist movements in the Middle East and secular revolutionary organisations are fighting one common cause.
As with Michael Gove in Celsius 7/7 who absurdly characterised Islamist movements within Britain and the Middle East as "one seamless totalitarian threat", radicals see it as one seamless global justice movement with various tendencies and soft peddle the ideological connections between terrorism and Islamism.
Both positions are absurd and merely serve power political agendas. George Galloway sees Islamist movements as a heroic internationalist cause in so far as they serve Iranian national interests in the Middle East.
Galloway, of course, works for Iran's Press TV . Hence Iranian regional imperialism is not considered in accordance with the Orwellian principle of doublethink. For Iran effectively has an interest in keeping the Israel-Palestine conflict going, one reason Hizbollah has acted as a proxy force in Iranian realpolitik in the Middle East.
Nor is China's Imperialism which, despite Milne wafting it aside in his Equality Movement speech as tedious anf hypothetical at this moment, is real enough in Africa for those living there, in places such as Zimbabwe, where China is backing the dictator in order to get access to natural resources.
The difference between the USA and China is that China does not operate according to double standards. It merely offers technology and economic aid to kleptocrats and dictators without the hypocritical concern for human rights.
This is a fact the anti-war or anti-imperialist ideologues never consider: the pathological struggle over access to the resources that fuel economic growth and wealth is not only pursued by the USA but by a number of powers.
The Iraq War was about Western democracy as well as oil in so far as democratic nations must please their citizens and that can be best done through high octane consumerism that people expect as a right.
Imperialism in the case of Iraq was not about profit beyond that which can be made from exchange: the explanation Milne gives for the drive behind imperialism in the Middle East. In fact, it was about geopolitical advantage, control of oil against the growing influence of China, and fears about diminishing global reserves of oil.
The mantra about Iraq being a war for profiting oil corporations is convenient for those living in the West who want to blame governments for securing the oil supplies that underpin their lifestyles.
Yet the question is how many consumers would willingly give up their current level of car use, EasyJet flights and supermarket choices in order to preserve oil and gas and thereby contribute towards the lessening of conflicts over it.
Presumably some of those consumers would have included those who bussed their way down to the anti-war protests in London in March 2003.
That would also include those students protesting against tuition fees, which was also a protest in reality against the increased meaninglessness of education. To pay in full for an education that will not lead to job security or status and, at best, work in a corporation.
The Iraq War for oil was at bottom a resource war to maintain Western living standards for the majority of the people. It was not some rapacious imperialist war disconnected from the citizens of the West simply to benefit an evil elite.
Militant Islamists know that which is why they seek to exploit this contradiction and seldom condemn terrorism without attaching conditions to it, For as horrible as it is, it might be the last tactic left to accelerate tensions within Europe sufficient for radical change to come.
Thursday, 13 January 2011
Monday, 10 January 2011
More than 28,000 prisoners are to win the right to vote, new figures showed yesterday, as David Cameron faces a growing revolt from the Tory right against the lifting of the 140-year-old ban on inmates voting in British elections.
Crispin Blunt, the justice minister, announced that 28,770 prisoners serving sentences of up to four years will be given the right to vote. The figures include 5,991 prisoners convicted of violent offences and 1,753 inmates convicted of sexual offences.
The government revealed the change last year in response to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg six years ago that a blanket voting ban on convicted prisoners in British jails was unlawful.
Immediately as Cameron decided this, the issue became one of national sovereignty and why the European Court should enforce what Norman Tebbit today called, in the Guardian of all places, an affront to democracy and "judicial imperialism" by the EU.
But the other issue is even if the ECHR has decreed against banning prisoners voting, that still does not necessarily make it right and that people in Britain should simply accept it and not challenge the nature of the ruling.
The question of votes for convicted criminals in British jails has never been put to the British people. There was originally no need for legislation: as prisoners were not normally resident at a home address when the electoral lists were made up, they were not eligible to vote, nor could they have got to the polls and they did not qualify for postal votes.
Tebbit simply juxtaposes national sovereignty and the wishes of the British people against the EU. But Dianne Abbot then piped in with this,
The logic of Norman Tebbit's argument is that governement could take away the vote of anyone the ruling party happened not to like.
Criminals have human rights too, and logically that involves the right to vote. There is a debate to be had about how exactly that right is extended. For instance, if every prisoner on the Isle of Wight was enabled to vote in that single constituency, it would have a distorting effect on the franchise. But the principle seems straightforward enough.
Furthermore it is precisely the Norman Tebbit style narrative, which implies that all prisoners are subhuman, which makes it so hard to argue for genuine prison reform and effort around mental health issues (a substantial proportion of prisoners have mental health problems which go untreated) which might give us a chance of genuinely rehabilitating the people who pass through our prison system.
Tebbit nowhere implies that. Criminals have the right not to be beaten or tortured as well as the right to appeal. They already have such rights and nobody in their right mind would think of depriving them of these rights. But obviously criminals do not have the right to live with a family, to be at liberty and so on.
Why Abbot should think that criminals having rights means they "logically"should have the right to vote does not at all follow. Lunatics cannot vote. Nor can children, despite politicians using arguments that could just as well appeal to them such is their level of condescension and puerile public relations speak and soundbites.
Prisoners should not be able to vote for as long as they are in prison because they are criminals. By committing crime they have broken the rule of law upon which society depends for security and liberty and should have no say in how it is governed until released.
Rights are not abstract things to be laid down by decree but they are exercised within a social setting and found through reference to case law and precedents decided upon by judges.For society to operate, rights must come with with the responsibility to honour the rights of others.
This a criminal necessarily forfeits on being found guilty of committing a crime as he breaks the social contract either by disregarding the rights of other individuals or by attacking the social compact agreed by consent through the rule of law, decided upon by courts and Parliament.
By committing a crime, the right to vote MP's into Parliament that makes those laws is suspended until the prisoner comes out of prison and is no longer serving a criminal sentence. This is also connected to the idea the idea of punishment, of losing something that was once had as the consequence of doing something harmful and bad to others.
The reason is partly an ideology in which liberals feel squeamish about the notion of punishment at all, as if this were itself barbaric . The aim of punishment should be atonement, the working through from guilt to a new life by being made to understand the bad and harm they have caused.
That means not inflicting pain on the convict which is mere vengeance and retribution . But it means taking away certain rights, such as the right to vote, that others who play by the rule of law and do not commit crime should have by right. This is in accordance with natural rules of fairness.
The notion of rehabilitation divorced from punishment, that criminals have simply broken 'social norms' and need to be made to function normally again by being given the necessary skills to cope with society is part of a crude utilitarian creed in which questions of good or evil are extruded completely.
This inability to accept the notion of wrong doing or evil is one reason why crime levels are high.
If committing crime merely means a person goes to a different place where they are restricted in order to protect the public, without there being a substantial deprivation of the rights inside that others enjoy outside beyond liberty, then the sense that person is being punished for doing wrong is taken away. It makes prison a security detainment centre.
Abbott also claims,
...it is precisely the Norman Tebbit style narrative, which implies that all prisoners are subhuman, which makes it so hard to argue for genuine prison reform and effort around mental health issues (a substantial proportion of prisoners have mental health problems which go untreated) which might give us a chance of genuinely rehabilitating the people who pass through our prison system.The question of which human rights prisoners i.e convicted criminals have, is avoided by Abbot, as the intent is to score cheap political points as opposed to engaging at any intelligent way with arguments over which rights can be legitimately abrogated on having been found guilty of committing a crime
Tebbit nowhere states that prisoners can be bullied or attacked at will ( though they are by other prisoners ).
As is evident from here concerns for the disproportionate result of a prisoner vote on the Isle of Wight, Abbot thinks that prisoners have the human right to vote only in so far as they do not affect the outcome of voting. Perhaps voting does not really matter that much anyway if it cannot yield the correct results so there is no real point in depriving criminals of the vote
If criminals on the Isle of Wight have as much of a human right to vote than those outside prison it is irrelevant whether that would "distort" voting patters. Why "distort" ? After all, by her logic prisoners are no different from those who do not break the law in all respects with regards human rights and are just living in another place...............................
Denis Joe offers a good assessment.
It would be more purposeful to look at the this question in the wider context of how society has changed, especially under the NuLabour government.
Today’s Britain resembles, more, an open prison than an actual free society. The constant surveillance of the population, compounded by petty local laws, that dictate where and when we can drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes walk our dogs, etc. The constant demand that we should justify ourselves whether having to show ID at the supermarket when buying alcohol or having to have CRB checks before we can even be considered for a (paid or voluntary) job.
The constant hectoring from TV celebs, Charities and Government departments on what we should eat or how we should bring up our children. All this has contributed toward a society that is unfree.
So, in effect, the blurring between society and an institution like prisons, is understandable.
But that is not to excuse it.
The other side of the coins illustrates the contempt that the establishment holds its citizen in. The need to justify ourselves means that we are all criminals until some (unaccountable) agency says otherwise. The idea that prisoner should vote diminishes the importance of the act of voting. It seems to suggest that voting is simply a mechanical process and not the illustration of a free and open society.
Prisoners have broken the rules of society, and therefore their rights are taken away from them for a period of time. That not only means the right of free movement (even though that cannot be said to exist within society) but also other rights, such as the right to vote. Once a person is released and is back into society then those rights are restored.
To allow prisoners the right to vote makes a mockery of democracy. the fact that this ‘right’ exists in other European countries, does not make it correct.
Sunday, 9 January 2011
Kurzweil tells us in Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever, we can prepare for immortality through a programme of vitamin supplementation, diet, exercise and preventive medical care, which will enhance longevity until it becomes possible for us to leave the flesh behind. For all its hi-tech novelty this is as incredible as the idea that dead scientists are at work to save the living, or a cryogenically preserved Lenin waiting to return to life and revolutionise the world.
The fantasies that possessed the psychical researchers and the god-builders still have us in their grip today. Freezing our bodies or uploading our minds into a supercomputer will not deliver us from ourselves. Wars and revolutions will disturb our frozen remains, while death will stalk us in cyberspace – also a realm of mortal conflict. Science enlarges what humans can do. It cannot reprieve them from being what they are.
The rest can be read here.
Saturday, 1 January 2011
"Bidisha is a regular contributor to Newsnight Review, Front Row and Saturday Review as well as guest presenting for The World Service books show, The Word, and various other TV and radio assignments. She is also a regular contributor to the Guardian and the Observer. Her third book, the travel memoir Venetian Masters is published by Summersdale"
Viewspapers with commentary by those who espouse self opinionated lifestyle radicalism is annoying. One of the worst offenders is the boring and arrogant "Bidisha".
Why the hell this total nonentity is elevated to comment on art or "life" is curious. Supposedly a novelist, she cannot write well but in articles for the Guardian "Bidisha" has been given a column entitled a Thought for the Day.
Today she looked at a US survey in Utah couples who abstain from sex before marriage rate their marriages as more rewarding than those who don't. She opines,
What if, on the wedding night, the other party turns out to be selfish, clueless, oafish and lazy? What if they've learned everything from porn? Porn is not sex but in fact a very elaborate and ritualised form of avant garde performance art.Yeah, like, what if ? The immediate reaction by any sane person is no "porn is not what she says it is". Porn is simulated sex or actual sex designed to market it to people who want to fantasise. Some porn can be radical avant garde. Some is just the kind of writing and pictures in Paul Desmond publications.
Subjecting media tattle about "optimum marriages" to criticism to make sarcastic comments is more media tattle and does not rise above the presumed stupidity of the subject matter which is being criticised. Attacking the idea of fantasy about a future perfect sex life, "Bidisha" groans,
Anyway, all this talk about optimal wedlock baffles me. I'd rather eat broken glass. Indeed that's probably how I'll spend my middle years: munching fistfuls of shattered windscreen in blissful solitude...Well, don't talk about it then. As for the broken glass idea.....
Meanwhile ordinary people struggle on with the process of trying to find work. "Bidisha" probably gets paid for this. Which is why bloggers get annoyed when they stumble across this and rant at it. One reason to just ignore this kind of drivel. Many people are bitter in our society. Bitterness is one of its main qualities. They know they could be like Bidisha. Like any pop star or "celeb". After all, she's useless.
What is important is that this chicken brained bint really is an Establishment media figure whom the BBC wastes money on promoting this self promoting and boring person no less than The Guardian. She's promoted by the British Council. Yet she has no talent and no discernible concern with other humans.Nothing of interest to say about Britain or the world. Nothing. She just represents it.