Thursday, November 29, 2012

Time to apply the Stalin Test once more?

So very shortly some Judge, who obviously is more clever than all of us because he's a Judge, will publish his report into the press and media.

You'll remember that this Inquiry came about because some journalists at some papers allegedly cracked the voice mail messages of people in order to get stories.

You'll also remember that those journalists are now before the courts because in allegedly doing what is alleged they potentially broke already existing criminal laws. 

However, as this is Britain, and we rather like spending masses of public money on tea and biscuit chats with judges and lawyers, we decided to have an inquiry because "something must be done" in relation to these newspapers even though we're clearly already doing something about it in the criminal courts.

Of course we mustn't prejudge the Judge, but that hasn't stopped people doing so. On the one hand you have the newspapers and media promoting the notion that free speech and a free press is about to come to an end if we have some sort of formal press regulation in statute.

On the other hand you have those, such as witness to the inquiry and lawyer/blogger, David Allen-Green, arguing, and I paraphrase here, that the newspaper are alarmist fucking morons who don't understand the law and the difference between "statutory" and "state control" where the former probably isn't that bad anyway.

Personally, I have a different view in the middle of these two polar opposites. 

You see, David Allen-Green is right when he mocks the newspapers for arguing that free speech is coming to end. He's also right to point out that "statutory" is not the same thing as "state control". However, where he's errr'd, in my view, is his blind faith in the 'law' and its principles. Its not his fault of course, he's a lawyer after all, but that faith and consequential use of semantic definitional wordplay has, I think, blinded him to the question of "potentiality".

Yes its true that newspapers will not stop publishing post-Leveson. Yes its true that free speech is not over if the press finds itself formally regulated above and beyond the laws they, and all us, are already subject too e.g the Computer Misuse Act, the Official Secrets Act, and contempt of court. However, as with any legal changes that infringe on an element of freedom, we must view it in the while context of that which already exists and its potential as a tool in the future.

Its not the first time I've said what I'm about say, and I doubt it will be the last, but when it comes to statutory regulation of the press we really have to filter it through the Stalin Test. We must ask ourselves, would Stalin have liked what we're proposing? At this point I must stress that if the answer is yes it does not follow that the proposal is 'Stalinist', far from it in fact.

The purpose of the question is to ask ourselves what the potential future enabling power of our actions might be.

In fact, we don't have to use Stalin. We could as easily use someone closer to home, our own authoritarian and totalitarian dictator, Oliver Cromwell and his puritanical zeal. Would he like the idea of statutory regulation of the press?

You see, if the Judge decides to propose press regulation, and if the Government decides to enforce said proposal, then whilst we're more likely to see a flying pig than see freedom of speech disappear, what we will have is another building block in place that a potential future loony dictator could use to achieve that very thing.

Like so many small and tiny infringements of liberty that we have seen in the past 20 years it will be just another that has the potential to go horrendously wrong.

I'm not trying to be alarmist here. I'm not saying that we are sleepwalking into totalitarianism. All I am saying is that we are blindly building many small and seemingly unconnected parts that, when brought together, could quite easily be the enabling tools of a totalitarian state should someone come along that machinates their way into power to use them as such.

We've heard a lot from people in favour of such statutory regulations on the press. They tell us that it is an absolute necessity to do this. I would remind them, and I've said this before too, of the warning of Pitt the Younger, that "necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."

Right now we live in a democratic country. We vote, and we can, at least every few years, remove the Government and put in a new one. As you mull over whether you agree with the statutory regulation of the press remember this, it might not always be that way, and if it isn't do you think such regulation will be a friend or enemy of any future tyrant?

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

@NadineDorriesMP is out of there... some after-thoughts

So Nadine Dorries is finally out the jungle and more than likely right now relaxing in warm dry bed somewhere having eaten a luxurious meal on the ITV account.

The furore has not of course died down, especially for the outraged plebs (tm A. Mitchell) who range from the always angry Daily Mail readers, to Guardian loving lefties, to her own personal Internet Hate Club (membership of which requires one to consider anything the woman does or utters to be wrong simply because it was said or done by her and boy oh boy we will retweet it across our little echo chamber until the cows come home).

So now, as the dust still flies and is yet to settle let's take a little look at some of that outrage.

Before we begin kids let's first lay some cards on the table. I know Nadine. I have her mobile number. She lives near me. I even had dinner at her house once in the kitchen - this was the house that had an aerial shot printed in the Telegraph and looked like a mansion, although in reality it was actually a small end of terrace but we shan't let reality get in the way of a good story.

Given all of this you may choose to read this thinking any one of the following:
  1. As Nadine is a 'mate' everything that follows should be dismissed out of hand. Dizzy's circumstances of association mean that his argument is wrong, period.
  2. This is all spin on behalf of Nadine and probably orchestrated by her.
  3. This is just a blog post that is Dizzy's personal opinions on some of the things thaat have been written and said.
Good? Understood? Excellent! So, there are quite a few absurdities that exist around this little tale in my view, so here are the ones I can think of right now:

1: Nadine 'abandoned' her constituents - Really? Seriously? If you believe this then you have, iny view, a very odd idea on what abandonment amounts too. For a start an MP has staff and you'd have to be a raving moron to not realise that it is the staff that do all the hard work.

Whether that is research in the Parliamentary office, or casework in the constituency office, there is far more than just the MP. How do think Ministers cope with ministerial work and their constituency? I realise it sounds very outrageous when wrapped in phrases like abandonment but such terms negate the reality of what MPs actually do and how a constituency works.

Do we see reams of column inches when MPs go on free foreign visits in Parliamentary time because their members of All-Parliamentary groups interested in chocolate, beer or cheese? Of course we don't. Perhaps we should but then most people don't hear about these groups or read the Register of Interests or Hansard, so they don't know.

2: Ah yes... But Nadine's constituency office sucks when she's here so her lack of presence makes it worse! - Let me get this straight. She sucks and her office sucks but you want the level of suckage to be less but still sucky? OK.. whatever floats your boat I guess.

3: Nadine should be recalled sign our petition! - there is no recall law so good luck with that, and even there was your petition is signed by people who are not even her constituents. What's more the fact it has less than 1000 signatures is, ironically enough, evidence of just how little people care for politics something that Nadine (believe her or not) said was her motivation for going on the show in the first place.

4: Nadine has held Parliament in contempt by buggering off to the jungle! - Isn't it funny how those MPs who rarely show up but don't get coverage are not vilified in the same terms? I'm not saying that two wrongs make a right rather I'm observing the inconsistency with which such charges are levelled.

Of course there is something more going on here, and that's the rather lofty ivory tower view of Parliament and MPs. The implication that to go on a popular TV show is somehow base and demeaning to the position of MP in society. Its little more than that inverted snobbery on the part of her detractors outside Parliament and ridiculous self-important arrogance on the part of those inside.

Its kind of funny in a way that the very people outraged by the so-called demeaning populist nature of the show have not realised that by doing so they're insulting millions of people watching and also the people who have gone on it. After all, if it's demeaning in somewhere for an MP that the implication is that MPs are somehow more important than the rest of us, that they should be held up on a pedestal, something which is patently bollocks.

The manner in which such attacks have come from all sides of the political spectrum through commentary actually tells you more about the intellectual snobbery of the people saying it than it does about the target of such attacks. From the Right the charges come from arrogant stuck-up numpties who think that culture that is not "high" is worthless. From the Left the charges come from people who make claims to love the working classes, the so-called 99%, whilst simultaneously implying that those very people are fools for watching such palpable crap.

The reality of this latest reality show tale seems to have a few obvious conclusions to me.

Firstly, that the outrage of Nadine's appearance of the show is held within the echo chamber of those who have some inkling of an interest in politics already and they make up a small minority; second, that there is a general misunderstanding of what actual practical day-today political work consists of for an MP; and thirdly that there is a rather odd view amongst the aforementioned politically-interested seem to have a view that politicians are more important than ordinary people and ergo should not attempt to engage in acts that might attempt to engage ordinary people if those acts are deemed by the same high-minded people to be populist and low.

* Please note that comments may take some time to be published because I'm busy elsewhere. No one is being censored, and if you leave a comment saying "why has my comment not been published  Scared?" I will publish it and mock you for being a conspiracy theory loving loony.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

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