There is very little to argue with in the introductory remarks by Gordon Brown reproduced below. If only he were inclined to put any of it into practice!
Just shout: "Homosexuals are an abomination to God" in the hearing of a British policeman or try to defend yourself against intruders in your own home and see how long your liberties last! Brown's idea of liberty is the same as Stalin's: The liberty to be a Leftist
I want to talk today about liberty - what it means for Britain, for our British identity and in particular what it means in the 21st century for the relationship between the private individual and the public realm.
I want to explore how together we can write a new chapter in our country's story of liberty - and do so in a world where, as in each generation, traditional questions about the freedoms and responsibilities of the individual re-emerge but also where new issues of terrorism and security, the internet and modern technology are opening new frontiers in both our lives and our liberties.
Addressing these issues is a challenge for all who believe in liberty, regardless of political party. Men and women are Conservative or Labour, Liberal Democrat or of some other party - or of no political allegiance. But we are first of all citizens of our country with a shared history and a common destiny.
And I believe that together we can chart a better way forward. In particular, I believe that by applying our enduring ideals to new challenges we can start immediately to make changes in our constitution and laws to safeguard and extend the liberties of our citizens:
* respecting and extending freedom of assembly, new rights for the public expression of dissent;
* respecting freedom to organise and petition, new freedoms that guarantee the independence of non-governmental organisations;
* respecting freedoms for our press, the removal of barriers to investigative journalism;
* respecting the public right to know, new rights to access public information where previously it has been withheld;
* respecting privacy in the home, new rights against arbitrary intrusion;
* in a world of new technology, new rights to protect your private information;
* and respecting the need for freedom from arbitrary treatment, new provision for independent judicial scrutiny and open parliamentary oversight.
Renewing for our time our commitment to freedom and contributing to a new British constitutional settlement for our generation.
And my starting point is that from the time of Magna Carta, to the civil wars and revolutions of the 17th century, through to the liberalism of Victorian Britain and the widening and deepening of democracy and fundamental rights throughout the last century, there has been a British tradition of liberty - what one writer has called our 'gift to the world'.
Of course liberty - with roots that go back to antiquity - is not and cannot be solely a British idea. In one sense, liberty is rooted in the human spirit and does not have a nationality. But first with the Magna Carta and then through Milton and Locke to more recent writers as diverse as Orwell and Churchill, philosophers and politicians have extolled the virtues of a Britain that, in the words of the American revolutionary Patrick Henry, 'made liberty the foundation of everything', and 'became a great, mighty and splendid nation...because liberty is its direct end and foundation'.
At that time few doubted that modern ideas of liberty originated from our country. Britain 'hath been the temple as it were of liberty' said Bolingbroke as early as 1730 'whilst her sacred fires have been extinguished in so many countries, here they have been religiously kept alive'. 'The civil wars of Rome ended in slavery and those of the English in liberty' Voltaire wrote. 'The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to regulate the power of kings by resisting them...The English are jealous not only of their own liberty but even of that of other nations'.
So powerful did this British idea of liberty become that the American War of Independence was fought on both sides 'in the name of British liberty' and the first great student of American democracy de Tocqueville acknowledge its roots across the Atlantic: 'I enjoyed, too, in England', he said, 'what I have long been deprived of - a union between the religious and the political world, between public and private virtue, between Christianity and liberty'.
A century and more later, facing fascism on the right and Stalinism on the left, Orwell wrote that 'the totalitarian idea that there is no such thing as law - there is only power - has never taken root in England [where] such concepts as justice, liberty and objective truth are still believed in'.
And while we should not overstate it, the anthems that today celebrate our country have at their heart a call to liberty. In 1902 A.C Benson wrote 'Land of Hope and Glory' to define Britain as 'the mother of the free' and two centuries before Rule Britannia, written in England by a Scot, resounded with the resolve 'Britons never never shall be slaves'.
Of course the cause has been hard fought -- won and lost and won again. But if you draw a line through all the peaks and valleys, the direction over time is upward.
A passion for liberty has determined the decisive political debates of our history, inspired many of our defining political moments, and those debates, conducted in the crucible of great events, have, in my view, forged over time a distinctly British interpretation of liberty -- one that asserts the importance of freedom from prejudice, of rights to privacy, and of limits to the scope of arbitrary state power, but one that also rejects the selfishness of extreme libertarianism and demands that the realm of individual freedom encompasses not just some but all of us.
The reality behind Brown's fine words
We live in an era of Doublespeak. In Britain, `freedom' is proclaimed from the rooftops, while our real freedoms to protest, speak openly and choose how we wish to live our lives are going up in smoke. Everywhere you look, the f-word is celebrated: on bogroll packaging, in air freshener ads, in speeches by politicians who manage to dress up their assaults on freedom as new freedoms. Freedom is paid lip service while simultaneously being stabbed in the back - a mixed metaphor, I know, but then this is a mixed-up state of affairs.
Now, a fightback against our illiberal rulers has been launched from a most curious corner. Brick Lane, a long road in the East End of London, is the heart of the capital's Bangladeshi community. On a balmy afternoon, waiters in crisp white shirts and black waistcoats stand outside the lane's myriad curry shops, trying to coax passers-by to pop in for a cheap and cheerful spicy late lunch. Tempting, but I head towards the Old Truman Brewery, a former beer-making factory turned `creative industries' Mecca. It's an 11-acre site that houses more than 200 small, creative businesses. Fashion designers, artists and djs rub shoulders with architects, photographers and illustrators. The courtyard is packed with Nathan Barley lookalikes: young (well, youngish) men and women wearing casualwear and black-rimmed spectacles and tucking into exotic-looking sandwiches and cups of steaming coffee.
Tucked away on the first floor of the old brewery is S2S Productions, the makers of one of this year's most talked-about British movies: Taking Liberties. The two-hour campaigning documentary on how Blair's government signed away our civil liberties - from the right to protest to freedom of speech to the principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty - was a surprise hit last month, both critically and in terms of box-office stubs. There's also a book of the same name and the film will come out on DVD later this year (complete with two hours of extra, New Labour-baiting material). The film's director, Chris Atkins, is sitting at his desk. `Hold on a minute', he says. `I'm just sending an email to some bastard who's threatening to sue me.' I notice that, taped to his wall, there is a rifle and a pair of handcuffs, which makes me think for a minute that he is really serious about taking down our killjoy government. Alas - and please pay attention, any police officers who happen to be reading this - they're only toys. (That's right, American readers, we Brits do not have the right to bear real arms. How would we ever manage to overthrow a tyrannical regime without guns, I hear you ask? Good question. Sometimes I lay awake at night wondering the very same.)
`The loss of liberty under New Labour has been unprecedented in modern times', says Atkins, over a bowl of chips and a glass of orange juice and lemonade in a gastro-pub back in the Nathan Barley courtyard. `Labour flushed down the toilet freedoms that have existed for a very long time', he says (making me think of that `Freedom' toilet paper again).
Both the film and the book versions of Taking Liberties trace the reams of illiberal laws that were enacted by the Blair regime. You think you have free speech and the right to protest? Not any more you don't, thanks to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act that passed through parliament in April 2005 and which criminalised protest without permission. The Act made the square kilometre around Parliament Square in London a `designated area' (`more like a f*cking "exclusion zone"', says Atkins) in which authorisation for any kind of protest must be sought six days in advance.
The exclusion zone, designed to protect the Houses of Parliament from the sight and sound of uppity protesters, spreads from Westminster to Lambeth, and covers the whole of Whitehall (which is peppered with government buildings), County Hall and much of the south bank of the Thames. Anyone who conducts an unauthorised protest inside the exclusion zone risks being imprisoned for up to 51 weeks. That's nearly a year. For protesting. As Atkins says, the authorities have `excluded political protest from the most political bit of London'. The fencing off of the political centre from last-minute, quickfire, angry demonstrations represents a serious denigration of our right to assemble and speak freely.
You think you could never be detained without trial? Think again. The Prevention of Terrorism Act was updated at the end of 2005 to allow suspects to be held without charge or trial for 28 days. Yesterday our new PM Gordon Brown put to parliament the case for extending the detention-without-trial option to 56 days. (This should have been taken as hard evidence that Brown is as allergic to liberty as his predecessor was. Instead, much of the media, where for some mysterious reason there has been an outbreak of Brown-nosing, congratulated the PM for rejecting `the melodramatic rhetoric of the last prime minister' in favour of articulating `the delicate balance between security and liberty' (1). So apparently it's okay to bin our liberties, so long as you do it in measured tones rather than with fiery bombast.) As Atkins points out, Habeas Corpus, the idea that `all detention is unlawful unless it has been approved by a court', has existed since the Magna Carta of 1215. `And then Blair comes along and scribbles it out', he says. The late comedian Tony Hancock put it well: `Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?' (2)
Atkins' book and film also attack the government's constant monitoring of the population, through CCTV cameras, numerous databases and soon (perhaps) ID cards. The book has a cutting chapter on how the Blairites' `Respect Agenda' has been used to force through new rules and regulations governing our behaviour. Consider Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), which can be used to punish and correct behaviour that is not even illegal but which someone somewhere finds annoying. Describing ASBOs as a product of New Labour's politics of `Go And Stand In The Naughty Corner', Atkins writes in the book version of Taking Liberties: `Even though New Labour has been responsible for thousands of new criminal offences, you still have to be found guilty of one of these to go to prison. ASBOs neatly get around this little niggle, by having tailor-made restrictions for each individual person.. If you are doing something that isn't against the law, but someone else doesn't like, they can go to a magistrates' court and get one of these orders that bans you acting in that way. If you break the ASBO, you go to jail.' (3)
In very plain English: you can now be imprisoned for doing something that is not against the law. This can include wearing a hooded sweatshirt in a shopping mall or making a lot of noise while you wash your dishes or gathering on street corners in groups of two or more or.hold on, this list could go on forever. To save time, yours and mine, let me state the bald truth: the ASBOs set-up means you can effectively and potentially be imprisoned for just about anything. Where's Magna Carta when we need her most?
Atkins is clearly passionate about civil liberties. He talks animatedly, in between wolfing down mouthfuls of a steak-and-salad sandwich, about how important the rights to protest and free speech are. It makes a refreshing change from listening to those sometimes dull civil libertarians who clog up the airwaves and who can't seem to get through a single sentence without bigging up Brussels as the true defender of our rights. (This is the same Brussels that scolds entire nations for voting the `wrong way' in EU referendums.) And yet. there's something peculiar about Atkins' defence of liberty, which I couldn't put my finger on at first. Then, as he tried to convince me that most Sun and Daily Mail readers do not appreciate how British and traditional liberty is, or that their hero - Winston Churchill - was apparently a great defender of liberty, it suddenly strikes me: the Taking Liberties project is actually conservative rather than radical. It uses the `politics of fear' as much as the Blairities did, and it seems to view freedom as a tradition that we must respect rather than as a thing that we do in our daily lives.
One of the most striking things about the film version of Taking Liberties is what it leaves out. It's good on the degradation of our formal rights, but it has little to say about the creeping erosion of our informal freedoms. It's good on the way in which the relationship between the state and the individual was redefined by the Blairites (with the state coming out very much on top), but it is silent on the Blairites' interference in our relationships with each other. For instance, it says nothing about the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, a shockingly Stalinist piece of legislation which will codify the requirement for every adult who works with children to undergo a criminal records check. Built on a deep suspicion of the adult population, enforced vetting will require that 9.5million adults - from youth workers to lollipop ladies, football coaches to priests - submit themselves to the watchful eye of the suspicious state. This can only poison intergenerational trust and undermine free and easy relations between men, women and children.
Nor does Taking Liberties address New Labour's smoking bans, which take away our choice even in that traditional getaway from stuffiness, the public house. Or its ban on junk-food advertising, which usurps parental decision-making on the basis that Government Knows Best what children should eat. Or its use of the health agenda to enforce a New Conformism amongst the public, where we're advised what to eat, how much exercise to take, what to wear while having sex (condoms, please), and how to raise our children as healthy and respectful citizens in the mould of our Dear Leaders (first Blair, now Brown).
Taking Liberties seems able to conceive of freedom only in the public sphere of courts and demonstrations; it has a blind spot about freedom and choice in the private sphere. Yet libertarians, alongside defending public space from the encroachments of heavyhanded legislation, must also defend private spaces as areas where we should be free to kick back, relax, experiment and make and break our own rules. A man needs an unfettered private space in which to mould relationships and develop his personality, as well as deserving respect, equality and freedom of speech when he enters the public sphere.
At times, Taking Liberties uses a very Blairite brand of fearmongering in an attempt to wake the apparently fickle public to the dangers of New Labour's illiberalism. The film hints that we could slide back to Nazism if we don't resist New Labour's illiberal agenda, while the book berates its readers by asking if they will simply `chuckle at the jokes, feel sorry for the people whose lives have been ruined, and then go back to watching "Celebrity Face Swap"' (4). Both the film and the book seem to be saying: `Don't you know there is a long tradition of freedom in Britain? Aren't you going to help defend this tradition?' The redefinition of freedom as a stuffy tradition risks devaluing liberty, while also placing people in a subordinate relation to their own freedom. Apparently our role is merely to respect the freedoms that have been graciously handed down to us by heroes of the past (Winston Churchill!), rather than to live and breathe our freedoms every day, to act them out, to call for their expansion and improvement. People should not be seen as the passive and grateful recipients of rights from on high; they should be seen as freedom personified, as freedom itself.
Atkins says we need a `written bill of rights' in order to protect freedom from power-hungry politicians. It comes across like a demand to elevate freedom above the messy business of life, love and politics. In the past, constitutions and bills of rights tended to be written in revolutionary moments by the representatives of mass movements, and thus they expressed a genuine desire on the part of large swathes of people to live differently and more freely. By contrast, a bill of rights that was based on a fear of out-of-control politicians and a suspicion of the celebrity-obsessed public would run the risk of turning freedom into stone, ossifying it, making it a museum piece that can be admired by lawyers and professional civil libertarians but which remains beyond the reach of the smoking, drinking, junk food-eating man in the street.
Atkins has done a good job of exposing to public ridicule New Labour's assault on formal rights (and I can't help noting the irony that his civil libertarian cell emerged from the heart of the `creative industries' that were so flattered by the Blairites). But we have much further to go if we are to turn freedom from rhetoric into a reality.
Tories warn of a 'lost generation'
Britain is in danger of creating a "lost generation" of wayward teenagers responsible for soaring levels of gun crime and drug and alcohol abuse, a Tory-backed group claims today. In a stark warning about the extent of the "broken society", it says a toxic combination of family breakdown and school failure is creating a violent and anti-social youth culture. The Commission for Social Justice will today launch an inquiry into the epidemic of gang and youth crime that threatens to turn inner cities into no-go areas.
It will study New York's success in reducing crime and the impact of a zero tolerance approach to law enforcement. The commission, chaired by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, released shocking statistics:
every year an estimated 70,000 school-aged offenders enter the youth justice system; 18- to 20-year-olds constitute 42 per cent of all first-time offenders; three quarters of male offenders between 18 and 21 re-offend within two years; the most likely person to have a knife is a boy of 14-19; four out of 10 muggings are committed by under-16s; the total of young offenders in custody has been above 2,500 every month since April 2000 and 1,504 of those in custody now are 16 or younger.
Mr Duncan Smith will today say that the challenge of youth crime, unemployment and educational failure is one of the most important facing Britain - but is not being met by Gordon Brown's Government. He told The Daily Telegraph: "The murder of little Rhys Jones in Liverpool and the murders of 20 teenagers in London this year by the gun or the knife is a wake-up call for politicians of all parties. "Family breakdown and school failure are important long-term factors in the growth of a violent and anti-social youth culture. We need to tackle these problems, even if it may take a generation before we can see the benefits."
The commission will liaise with the senior police officers who advised Rudolph Giuliani, the architect of the zero tolerance policy when he was mayor of New York, and will produce recommendations to restore a sense of order and safety to the streets. It will also launch a strong attack on City institutions for not investing more of their profits in the inner-cities.
After being forced out as Tory leader in 2003, Mr Duncan Smith has rebuilt his reputation with his ground-breaking research into the causes of social breakdown. He has become an influential figure close to David Cameron and is touring the country to study social problems with members of the shadow cabinet. His announcement today will form part of a wider Tory attack on Labour's failure to tackle crime.
Mr Cameron will today set out plans to toughen rape laws following research showing poor conviction rates in comparison with other European countries and falling prison sentences for rapists.
Mr Duncan Smith, will use a speech at the launch of the 10 million pound Salmon Centre, an east London youth club, to challenge Mr Brown to address the family breakdown, school failure in inner cities and drug and alcohol abuse that is fuelling a new breed of out-of-control adolescents.
There have been more than 30 criminal justice Bills since 1997. Over 3,000 new criminal offences were created - one for every day Labour has been in office. However the Tories claim there has been no real attempt to reverse the social breakdown at the root of the crime problem. Mr Duncan Smith said: "Our police and communities need solutions to gang crime and we need a quicker, simpler and far more effective system of youth justice.
"A renewed effort must be made to tackle drug abuse and under-age drinking, a major cause of violent and anti-social behaviour. "But we need carrots as well as sticks. Our provision for young people in the form of places to meet and worthwhile activities is woefully inadequate.
"I also believe that big business and the City of London, whose bosses enjoy lavish salaries and bonuses, could be making a far bigger contribution. In London and other big cities we have wealth and poverty living side by side. "Why don't our big City companies make their own efforts to tackle the poverty on their doorstep? Why don't they start putting money into youth clubs and fund voluntary groups working with disaffected youth? These are questions I want our review to address."
Public confidence in the criminal justice system has fallen, with up to 17 per cent of people reporting "high levels" of anxiety about violence and anti-social behaviour.
Yesterday, it was announced that the disgraced former Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken, who was jailed for perjury, will head a review of prison reform under the auspices of Mr Duncan Smith. The decision to appoint him was taken by Mr Duncan Smith, rather than the party leadership and does not signal a return to the party fold.
To Understand the Left, Read this Issue of Rolling Stone
By Dennis Prager
The current issue of Rolling Stone magazine, its special 40th anniversary issue, reveals almost all one needs to know about the current state of the cultural left. The issue features interviews with people Rolling Stone considers to be America's leading cultural and political figures -- such as Al Gore, Jon Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, Cornel West, Paul Krugman, Kanye West, Bill Maher and George Clooney, among many others. It brings me no pleasure to say that, with few exceptions, the interviews reveal a superficiality and contempt for cultural norms (as evidenced by the ubiquity of curse words) that should scare anyone who believes that these people have influence on American life.
First, the constant use of expletives. As I wrote in my June 5, 2007, column, "'Buck Fush' and the Left," "Higher civilization has always regarded the use of expletives in public (outside of, let us say, theatrical performances) as a form of assault on civilization . . . ." That is why the amount of public cursing on the left and the way curse words are accepted as part of public and formal discourse may be as significant to understanding the left as anything the left says. It is the left's way of showing rejection of the values of the middle class and of America's Judeo-Christian civilization. Typical examples:
Chris Rock " . . . Bush f--ked up." "That's a major f--kup." "I say some harsh s--t."In response to this, I will receive e-mails cursing me and noting that Vice President Dick Cheney once whispered a curse at Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy -- on the floor of the Senate, no less. These e-mailers -- and, to be honest, some religious conservatives as well -- do not see any difference between cursing in public and using an expletive in a whisper. Many people have lost the ability to judge actions in context or to acknowledge gradations of sin. Is whispering the f-word when one assumes that no one else hears you say it really no different from using that word in a published interview or on a television show? But even if no foul language were used by so many of those interviewed in Rolling Stone, the absence of serious thought would be enough to fear leftist influence on the country. Some examples:
Novelist William Gibson: "The s--t you've been doing for the past 400 years . . . ."
George Clooney: " . . . my sister and I were quizzed on s--t." "Now you're going to hear about all this s--t." "What the f--k's wrong with you?" China "doesn't give a s--t . . ." "I don't give a s--t." "This war is bulls--t."
Billie Joe Armstrong: "What the f--k are you doing?" " . . . when you say 'F--k George Bush' in a packed arena in Texas, that's an accomplishment." "I don't have a f--king clue what they're talking about." " . . . all the f--ked up problems we have." " . . . this girl was f--ked up." "Why did I worry so much about this s--t?"
Jon Stewart: "We have a s--tload of guns." " . . . that f--ked up everything." "We f--king declared war on 'em." " . . . the whole f--king thing's ours." "Two vandals . . . can f--k up your way of life." "I'll take those odds every f--king day."
Eddie Vedder: "Why the f--k is he doing that?"
Sam Harris: " . . . any religious bulls--t."
Meryl Streep: "Oh, f--k, why me?"
Tom Hanks: "People have stopped giving a s--t . . . ." "Where the f--k have you people been?"
Jane Goodall: "We seem to have lost the wisdom of the indigenous people, which dictated that in any major decision, the first consideration was, 'How will this decision we make today affect our people in the future?'"The romanticizing of "indigenous peoples" is a popular leftist myth, believed not because it is true -- "indigenous people" were just as cruel and raped the land just as much as later groups -- but because it is a way of attacking the Western societies and cultures that replaced "indigenous peoples."
Bill Maher: " . . . [in 2003], it was a relatively small number of young Muslim men. Now, thanks to this clash of civilizations we've created, the threat could come from anywhere."According to Bill Maher and many others on the left, we Americans created this clash of civilizations. Presumably, prior to 2003 the Islamic world was morally similar to Western civilization. This, too, is a dogma of the left: Before our invasion of Iraq, the Muslim world was populated by peaceful young men; violent Islamists were made by America, not by any aspects of Islamic culture and values. Maher should tell that to the Armenians, to the blacks of the Sudan, to the Israelis, to the Algerians who have lost tens of thousands to Islamic terror, and to the others murdered and maimed by young Muslim men prior to America deposing Saddam Hussein. As noted by a Labor member of the British Parliament in the Guardian this past Sunday:
"Ten years ago, in November 1997, 50 Swiss tourists rose early to visit the Valley of the Kings across the Nile from Luxor in Egypt. Suddenly from the hills came a group of Islamists. They shot, disembowelled and decapitated the tourists."While the American president was Bill Clinton, not George W. Bush. Bill Maher on Republican opposition to radical changes and expenditures to fight carbon emissions:
"I don't understand what any person doesn't get about 'You're going to die too!' I mean, do they have their own air? I could understand that, because they're selfish pr--ks by nature: 'I've got my own air. What do I give a s--t?'"Another central leftist dogma: Conservatives aren't merely wrong, they're "selfish pr--ks by nature." That's why, as regards manmade global warming leading to catastrophe on Earth, the left doesn't address the challenges posed by many dissenting scientists. The left merely dismisses them as either paid by industry (the Newsweek cover story explanation for all dissent on this issue) or as human beings so selfish by nature that they even deny their own impending deaths.
Princeton Professor Cornel West: " . . . a morally insensitive period from Reagan to the second Bush, when it was fashionable to be indifferent to the suffering of the most vulnerable."Again, the vileness of conservatives.
Cornel West: "Black folk in America have never been optimistic about the future -- what have we had to be optimistic about?"No matter how improved the lot of the vast majority of black Americans, leftists like Cornel West continue to argue that there is no reason for a black American to be optimistic. These were entirely typical ideas in the Rolling Stone special edition. Along with the cursing, the picture they paint of the left is not a pretty one.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.