Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Welcome to Stasi UK

  


British people generally like to think of the United Kingdom as a benign democratic country, and not some kind of increasingly warped authoritarian state.

Of course British democratic and judicial institutions inspired liberal democracies across the world, but times have moved on since the UK was a relative bastion for free-thought during the 19th Century.Times have also moved on since Britain was a safe haven from authoritarian regimes on the continent (Italy under Mussolini, Hitler's Third Reich, Spain under Franco, The Greek military dictatorship, the Soviet states ...) during the 20th Century.

Nowadays the UK is governed by one of the most right-wing authoritarian regimes in the world, one that is determined to erode the rights of citizens as much as possible and establish powerful state surveillance apparatus that would have made agents of the East German Stasi or the Russian KGB turn green with envy.


Progress so far

New Labour

Even before the Tories came to power in 2010 Tony Blair's New Labour government had changed tack dramatically. From a government that introduced liberal open-government reforms like the Freedom of Information Act and the Human Rights Act, they became one that was determined to erode long established rights and liberties by removing to right to trial by jury, attempting to introduce Guantanamo Bay style long-term detention without charge rules, and their complicity with US kidnap-torture flights (including allowing kidnap-torture flights to fly in and out of UK territories).

The Edward Snowden leaks revealed that mass Internet surveillance in the UK was well under way long before the Tories came to power in 2010.

Secret Courts


As detestable as the late New Labour regime became, their efforts to make the UK a more authoritarian state pale in comparison to what the Tories have been up to for the last six years, (in collusion with the so-called Liberal Democrats between 2010 and 2015).

One of the most shockingly illiberal pieces of legislation the Lib-Dems helped the Tories to pass through parliament was the 2013 Justice and Security Act, which legislated "secret courts" into existence. There was very little mainstream media coverage of this appalling piece of legislation, which introduced a quasi-judicial system where a person could have their fate decided in a courtroom they are not allowed to enter, on charges they are not allowed to know, based on evidence they are not allowed to see.

DRIPA


Another piece of appalling legislation introduced by the Tories (in collusion with the Liberal Democrats and a large number of New Labour MPs too) was DRIPA, which was introduced as "emergency legislation" to allow the secret services to carry on doing the mass trawling of private communications data they had been previously doing illegally for years, with no parliamentary approval or oversight whatever.

Had the Snowden leaks not come out it's inconceivable that such powers would ever have been legislated. The secret services would simply have been allowed to continue trawling private data and hacking whoever they liked with no parliamentary scrutiny whatever.

Grass up your neighbour

One of the most Stasi-like policies of all has been the introduction of "grass up your neighbour" hotlines at the DWP. The idea of encouraging the general public to report their neighbours for suspected benefit fraud is exactly the kind of system used by the East German secret services in order to turn citizens against each other and promote a culture of fear and suspicion.

Creating a network of citizen-spies is appalling enough as it is, but when we get to examining the outcomes of such a system the true horror of it becomes apparent. Of the 1 million+ cases investigated on the basis of tip-offs to "grass up your neighbour" hotlines, more than 85% of them were found to be false accusations, with no evidence of benefit fraud whatever.

The procedure for investigating benefit fraud means that DWP agents can stop all benefits payments, carry out intrusive investigations into people's private circumstances, and make them answer questions in stressful interviews (often under police caution). Well over 880,000 innocent people were subjected to this kind of treatment based on nothing more than being grassed up by nosy neighbours who had no actual evidence of wrongdoing whatever.

The danger of introducing such a "grass up your neighbour" system is that it can be used by bitter vindictive people to trash the lives of personal enemies, or people they just resent out of bitterness or jealously. There were plenty of foul-minded people in East Germany who would make false malicious reports to the Stasi in order to wreck other people's lives, and it's worth wondering how many of the 880,000+ false reports to the DWP were motivated more by vindictive personal animosity than any genuine suspicion of wrongdoing.

What is in the pipeline?


The Snoopers' Charter

The most obvious and immediate Tory policy designed to make the UK a significantly more authoritarian state is Theresa May's Snoopers' Charter, which was slammed by a cross party group of MPs, yet has been redrafted in order to give the police and intelligence services even more draconian powers than were in the previous draft!

The Snoopers' Charter will allow agents of the state to mass trawl the private communications data of millions of innocent people with complete impunity, and it will allow the police to pick through people's browser histories and even hack into their devices without even having to obtain a warrant by providing any kind of evidence of wrongdoing to a judge beforehand.

If the Snoopers' Charter is not defeated, it will mean that the UK will have legislated the most intrusive state surveillance powers in the western world. We will become a country where concepts like the right to privacy and the presumption of innocence will have been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Extremist counter-extremism measures



Theresa May is also pushing through more extremely authoritarian proposals to crack down on our rights and liberties under the guise of countering extremism. The proposed powers under Theresa May's "Extremism Orders" are mind-bogglingly authoritarian. Her proposals would allow the state to revoke people's freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and right to privacy even with no evidence whatever that they've actually committed a crime. A state that gives itself the power to ban people from expressing themselves without presenting a single shred of evidence that they have ever actually broken a law, would be a thoroughly authoritarian one that has actually legislated the Orwellian concept of thought crime into existence.

David Cameron summed up this terrifying Tory attitude that the state has the right to interfere in the lives of law abiding citizens with his post-election statement that "for too long we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law we will leave you alone". The only possible conclusion from a statement like this is that David Cameron wants the UK to be an actively intolerant society that persecutes people even if they have committed no crime whatever.

   
Scrapping human rights

There should be little mystery as to why the Tories are so desperately keen to scrap our human rights. All sorts of right-wing authoritarian Tory legislation over the last six years conflicts with the 18 rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

If the Tories were to withdraw from the ECHR, the UK would set an appalling precedent as the first western country ever to unilaterally withdraw from a human rights agreement. Such a withdrawal would clearly send a strong signal to appalling dictatorships across the world, that as far as the British government are concerned, human rights are purely optional.

Trashing labour rights

The latest Tory assault on working people is their Trade Union Bill which puts almost impossible turnout stipulations on trade union ballots, without allowing trade unions to modernise their voting procedures in order to actually increase turnouts and make themselves more democratic.

The UK already has some of the most severe anti-trade union laws in the developed world, and the Tories are determined to further crush the ability of working people to come together in solidarity to achieve better working conditions for themselves.

The 50% turnout rule looks as if it has been designed with the express intention of rendering trade union democracy completely unworkable. I mean what other reason would there be for introducing rules that transform an abstention into a stronger vote against strike action than an actual vote against strike action?

If the Tories introduced 50% turnout thresholds for political positions, they wouldn't be such appalling hypocrites, but they have no intention of doing that, because it would render every single Tory PCC, nearly all Tory politicians in local government, all Tory MEPs, several Tory MPs and the (especially hypocritical) Tory Mayor of London unemployed.

As is always the case with the Tories, it's one set of rules for entitlement class, and a completely different set of rules for the plebs.


Silencing critics

One of the hallmarks of repressive authoritarian regimes is that they will not tolerate criticism.

The Tories (with the assistance of the Illiberal Democrats) have already introduced a gagging law to prevent charities, community groups, religious organisations and trade unions from criticising government policy. Now they want to go one step further by banning any organisation that receives government funding (including university research departments) from lobbying the government or criticising government policy (whilst they allow multinational corporations and wealthy Tory party donors to continue influencing government policy to such an extent that they are even invited to draw up their own laws).

Conclusion

The United Kingdom is heading down an extremely dangerous path, yet so many people remain utterly complacent, and like every extremist authoritarian regime in history, there's also a crowd of idiots cheering the Tories every step of the way.

It's as if the British public are so apathetic and ignorant of human history that they can't even imagine that a brutal totalitarian government could ever arise in the UK.

Make no mistake about it. Theresa May is an extremely dangerous right-wing authoritarian. The fact that she's been allowed to cook up one dreadful piece of desperately inhumane and/or severely totalitarian legislation after another, whilst spitting poisonous anti-immigrant rhetoric, for six long years is utterly appalling.

If things continue the way they have been going, the UK will soon have the most authoritarian state surveillance laws in the developed world (with snooping powers that the East German Stasi could only ever have dreamed of), and the rights to free speech and privacy will have gone the same way as the right to a fair trial has already gone.

What we can do about it

Get involved with an organisation that works to protect rights and liberties in the UK and across the world: There are loads, here are just a few: Liberty, War on Want, Open Rights Group, Amnesty International, Privacy InternationalStatewatch, Article 19.

Write to your MP: It's easy to write to your MP or your other political representatives. As long as you include your full name and address, your MP has a statutory obligation to reply to you. It is helpful to ask a number of specific questions in your correspondence, otherwise they can easily fob you off with a copy n' paste boilerplate reply. Follow this link.


 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.






MORE ARTICLES FROM
 ANOTHER ANGRY VOICE 
         
The lamentable decline in the standard of public debate
           
David Cameron's Orwellian word games
                     
The hypocritical Tory plan to ruin trade union democracy
       

Dog whistles and dead cats
                             
How the mainstream media frame the political debate
                
Secret Courts and the very Illiberal Democrats
                      



Post a Comment