Saturday 1 February 2014

Cutting "Red Tape" or the creation of a dystopian nightmare?

Despite having been largely unaffected by several of the most malicious and overtly totalitarian pieces of legislation passed by this abomination of a Coalition government, as a Blogger I have spoken out as best I can, in the limited time I have available, about as many of these issues as possible.

I have tried to raise awareness of seriously bad things like secret courts, the "gagging law", retroactive legislation, Stalinist "Workfare" schemes, David Cameron's Chinese style Internet Firewall, the Five Eyes surveillance mass scandal and the like.

I've also tried to keep track of David Cameron's lies (an impossibly large task), George Osborne's blatant economic illiteracy, Michael Gove's ideological vandalism of the education system and Iain Duncan Smith's ignorant contempt for most of humanity. I've worked to expose the ridiculous lies and distortions that underpin so much of modern political and economic discourse and to demonstrate the absurd contortions of the very meaning of words by Tory government ministers.

I believe that people should know what is going on, and that I have some kind of obligation as a writer to ensure as many people as possible are given the wider perspective that is obtained through greater knowledge. I don't try to pretend that I'm imparting any kind of "special" or "secret" information, I just try to present relevant information (with supporting evidence) and analyse it from my own perspective*. If you have any kind of inquiring mind, I encourage you to try to corroborate the things I've written about in order to get a wider understanding of the issues you consider important amongst all those I have raised.

Even though you may not agree with what I say, I'm reasonably sure that you would support my right to speak what is on my mind, in line with Evelyn Beatrice Hall's summation of Voltaire's beliefs on freedom of thought and expression: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".

What I am going to write about now is a draconian proposal which is due through parliament on Monday the 3rd of February 2014, which looks set to revoke the long established convention that the press must be free to protect their sources. Not only are the Tories planning on revoking this vital component of investigative journalism, they also want to be able to confiscate a journalist's work in secret legalistic proceedings.


The Tories want the state to be able to force journalists to give up their sources and to confiscate their materials behind a veil of state secrecy. Essentially, they are demonstrating their totalitarian belief that the state knows best, and that the public has absolutely no right to know how the state is using its powers to silence dissenting voices. That in their view, the privacy of the state trumps the privacy of the press, or the privacy of the individual.

These draconian plans looks like extremely bad news for the tattered, corporatised oligopoly that masquerades as the so-called "free press", but it also looks like it could have a devastating impact on Bloggers too. You don't have to have the greatest understanding of how function creep works in order to understand why independent bloggers like me might feel intimidated by an establishment system that can use secretive legalistic proceedings to confiscate computers, notebooks, recordings, correspondances etc at will, and to force us to betray the people who have contacted us with information.

The idea that the Tories wouldn't use such draconian powers to interfere with the freedom of the press is laughably naive. One only needs to think of David Cameron's decision to send his goons around to the Guardian in July 2013 in order to demand that they hand over or destroy their data relating to the Edward Snowden leaks to understand that the Tories have no compunction about trampling over the freedom of the press.**

It is absolutely beyond doubt that Cameron and the Tories have an attitude towards press freedom that would be more suitable to places like North Korea or Saudi Arabia, than the liberal western democracy that the UK is supposed to be.

Red Tape

One of the most remarkable things about this so-called
"Deregulation Bill" is that these draconian revocations of press freedom are buried deep within it next to revocations of ancient laws outlawing the shaking of carpets and the regulation of pigsties - as if the freedom of the press is some quaint outmoded convention that needs to be scrapped in the name of efficiency, rather than a fundamental component of an open and accountable democracy.

The Deregulation Bill contains such a diverse range of amendments across so many disperate government departments that it would be impossible to submit it to proper legislative scrutiny even under normal circumstances, let as it is rushed being rushed through parliament at breakneck pace, as it is.

Aside from their attempt to revoke the freedom of the press as if it is a quaint outmoded regulatory burden, there are other horrors buried deep within this legislation, such as the proposal that in future ministers should be able to revoke laws whenever they like using statutory instruments, without any kind of democratic vote on the issue. When Labour tried to do a similar thing in 2006, it was dubbed "The Abolition of Parliament bill".
The Tories that devised this scheme to impose draconian new powers and the ability to revoke whichever laws they like without the scrutiny of parliamentary debate, under the guise of a "red tape" cutting exercise 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, which is undeniably exactly how our archaic and unrepresentative parliamentary system operates.

The press reaction

The reaction of the mainstream corporate press and especially the right-wing press (the Murdoch Empire, The Express, The Daily Mail and the Telegraph which between them account for around 75% of all newspaper sales) to this Tory grab for draconian new state powers will be very interesting to note. They've kept countless hugely important issues that dramatically affect the freedoms of others relegated to obscurity in their papers and on their websites, so how will they react when sweeping revocations of their own rights are put before parliament? One would expect them to make a lot of noise about it, driven by their own self-interest.

Rational self-interest (which is fundamental to right-wing neoclassical economic pseudo-economic ideology that the right-wing press ceaselessly promotes as unquestionable orthodoxy) says that the corporate press should react very strongly against these proposals. What makes it even more likely to cause a furious reaction is the provocative way it is being presented as an exercise in cleaning up stupid, unnecessary, burdensome, useless, restrictive "red tape". How will the right-wing gutter press take the use of their own rallying cries against "red tape" being used to tear up thier rights to protect their sources and not have their stories spiked through the intervention of secret legalistic tribunals? Surely they would be furious at Cameron (and their old "friend" Ken Clarke) for such a seemingly deliberate ironic twist far more befitting of Philip K. Dick's dystopian imaginings than George Orwell's sincere warnings of the threat of totalitarianism.

The seemingly deliberate provocative hostility of the Tories towards the press is comparable to other deliberately inflammatory gestures, such as the agenda to deploy water cannons against hypothetical "anti-austerity protests" we are told to expect in the summer of 2014.

The really interesting story might be if the right-wing press chooses to ignore the story by  relegating it to the obscurest coverage possible, or not mentioning it at all. Such a lack of action against an attack on their own interests would illustrate that they must surely be complicit in a wider agenda. What that agenda might be, I can only speculate, because their reaction (or lack of it) is yet to happen. One plausible scenario is that they fully understand that these are measures designed to be used against independent bloggers and the New Media and not the mainstream orthodox neoliberal press.

Will the corporate press will rail against revocations of their freedoms as vehemently as they have propagandised in favour of draconian measures for other people (austerity, workfare, water cannons and Theresa May's unbelievably callous immigration reforms that end up tearing British families apart or driving them into political exile abroad)? Or will they actually even propagandise in favour of this attack on press freedom dressed up as a simple exercise in getting rid of burdensome "red tape"?

Cognitive Dissonance

These new Tory powers to use secretive legalistic proceedings in order to trash the freedom of the press and undermine democracy rely upon the cognitive dissonance inducing combination of vastly increased secretive state powers and unimaginably massive (and expensive) state surveillance of the public. They state conducts itself behind an ever growing veil of secrecy, whilst simultaneously operating a surveillance system designed to fundamentally destroy the right to privacy of the general public.

It is not even remotely possible to understand how anybody could suport such an underhand effort to fundamentally weaken the freedom of the press. The only possible explanations are complicity (the individual thinks they have something to gain through the destruction of press freedom and democratic accountability), near complete ignorance of the issues or an incredibly tribalist worldview in which right-wing governments must be supported, no matter what they do. I find it impossible to empathise with any of these stances because sociopathic greed, contemptible ignorance and unthinking political partisanship are symptoms of grotesque intellectual laziness.

Opening the door to dictatorship

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 control the press and 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.

Imagine that a dangerously amoral self-serving sociopath like Franco, Meza, Pinochet, Videla or Menem rises from within right-wing politics (as desperate economic circumstances drive people to support even more radical politicians). By completely wrecking the freedom of the press beforehand, Cameron and the Tories have made the establishment of a grotesque right-wing dictatorship that much easier and more likely.

How about if you are a political tribalist that is so fundamentally averse to left-wing politics that you're not even bothered by the possibility of an extreme right psyschopath (like Franco or Pinochet) rising to inherit these powers of intrusion, intimidation and secrecy? Maybe you could consider the potential scenario that some deranged "leftie" (akin perhaps to Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pol) arises on the political scene and obtains Cameron's secretive powers over what can be written about, or even just known and to rewrite our laws as exactly he pleases without parliamentary scrutiny?


It is clear that some are still holding onto hope that the Labour party will take a stronger stance against this Tory contempt for freedom and begin campaigning against the blatant totalitarianism of the Coalition government. The narrative that "the Liberal Democrats are part of the most blatantly illiberal government the UK has suffered since our forefathers defeated Naziism" would surely be a big vote winner.

The problem of course is that New Labour had an appalling attitude to freedom and justice during their 13 years in power. Who could forget their efforts to enforce their own draconian curtailments of our freedom and privacy. Has anyone that cares forgotten that their schemes to introduce imprisonment without trial, the national identity database, vicious attacks on legal aid, the revocation of the ancient right to trial by jury their so-called appallingly unjust Digital Economy Bill. Another factor to consider is that much of the mass surveillance infrastructure that Cameron is trying to protect was initiated under the New Labour watch too.

Th big problem for Labour is that in order to come out strongly against the totalitarianism of the Coalition, they would have to admit their own illiberal mistakes of the past and apologise for them. In my view, such an apology would be great for their approval ratings because the public are sick to death of politicians like Iain Duncan Smith, that will never admit their mistakes, even if they caught bang-to-rights time, after time, after time, after time, after time, after time, after time, after time.

Politicians are notoriously averse to admitting their mistakes because they are zealots that contest that they alone have the "correct answers" and the confused conviction that to change one's political stance is to somehow admit weakness.

In my view a mistake admitted and apologised for is a demonstration of strength. A demonstration of the ability to recognise one's own failings, apologise and strive to do better in the future.

I suppose a change of direction from Labour is most dependent upon the tiny minority of decent MPs within the Labour party that have not been replaced by self-serving, orthodox neoliberal Blairite careerist shills. If MPs like Dennis Skinner, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Grahame Morris (and perhaps even Dianne Abbott) are incapable of winning the argument for liberty over totalitarianism, Labour seem set to offer nothing but a continuation of illiberal state authoritarianism if they get back into power.


This attempt to rush through draconian curtailments of press freedom under the guise of anti red tape legislation is hardly an isolated example of illiberalism from the Coalition government. In March 2013 they introduced Secret Courts in which defendants can be found guilty in a courtroom they are not allowed to enter, on charges they are not allowed to see, with evidence they are not allowed to see. In just the last month, they have demonstrated their totalitarian tendencies with their efforts to deploy water cannons on our streets to deter political protests and with their Gagging Law designed to exclude the non-profit sector from political discourse. Now they are attempting to award themselves new secretive powers to critically undermine the freedom of the press.

It seems quite obvious that David Cameron and the Tories are ensuring that the UK leads the charge towards crony capitalist totalitarianism and we should all be very alarmed about it indeed. The sad thing is that so few of us know about it, including those Coalition MPs that look set to do as the party whips say and vote in favour of it without having even bothered to understand what they are voting to enable.


If independent bloggers like me begin disappearing off the network, if our Facebook pages, our Twitter accounts or our websites suddenly disappear, then perhaps you'd be right to suspect that such events are possibly related to these secretive and repressive new rules.


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* For the benefit of those that would like to know more about my political leanings I have tried to crudely simplify my perspective into a reasonably short article, which you can read here.
** To put this assault on the freedom of the press into context, the UK is far more willing to attack the free press than the US. In fact, the reason the Guardian complied so willingly with David Cameron's draconian demands is that they knew they had copies of the data safe in the United States.

More articles from
The Tory "Gagging Law" is passed

The "Protection of Corporate Lobbying and Silencing of Legitimate Debate" bill
A rogues gallery of dodgy Tory party donors
David Cameron's austerity to infinity speech

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