Tuesday 6 December 2022

Strikers, Not Senators

Quite by chance yesterday, Facebook brought up a post of mine from 2013 that referred to "the cost of living crisis". That has since started to exist officially, because it has started to hit people beyond the tens of millions who were just expected to be poor and to shut up about it. For them, it has been going on for a very long time. It has not been caused by anything to do with Covid-19. It has not been caused by anything to do with Ukraine. And it has not been caused by anything to do with Brexit. Our communities did not exactly become wealthier or more powerful between 1973 and 2016, deep into our cost of living crisis. That was why we voted Leave, and that in turn was why Leave won. Margaret Thatcher's Single Market holds no attraction for us.

That is the long, long background to the strikes. Under a competent Government, there would be no suggestion of a de facto General Strike at Christmas. These claims would be settled tonight, as every one of them could be, in most cases by the Government directly. The rail operators are contractors of a State that owns Network Rail outright. If anything is so important that a strike in it could cause the chaos of, say, the dispute at the Royal Mail, then it does not belong in the private sector, to be bought up by transnational corporations, or by foreign states, or by the new superclass of global centibillionaires. There was plenty of money for PPE scammers, far in excess of what it would take to resolve all of this. By what authority was Baroness Mone able to bully a Secretary of State? There is more going on here.

Privatisation's weakening of national and parliamentary sovereignty is also its weakening of the Union, yet in the midst of a winter of economic misery, the Government that had already failed to ban section 31 evictions could announce the abandonment of mandatory housebuilding targets, safe in the knowledge that all that the Official Opposition could find to discuss was an Assembly of the Nations and Regions, not to be confused with the Council of the UK. You might have thought that both of those were already called the House of Commons, but apparently you would have been mistaken. Moving Civil Service jobs out of London would save money only if it were the pretext to pay civil servants less for the same jobs. Welcome to the Labour Party.

Resist at all costs the proposal to empower Nicola Sturgeon to contract international treaties. Gordon Brown must be going senile. This is devolution as we have known it for a quarter of a century, extending and formalising the power of the people who already had it, such as the Scottish academic and professional nomenklatura, which was once Nationalist through the Labour Party in the hope of securing from Westminster even more money and power than it already had, but which is now rather less Nationalist through the SNP, forever promising an impossible referendum, and thus running no risk of losing the money and power that it has cajoled out of successive British Governments in the name of  enriching and empowering "Scotland".

In a very similar spirit has devolution benefited the crachach, and the Ulster Protestant hard men, and the IRA. To these are to be added the county set Tories, and the persons and entourages of right-wing Labour councillors. I say again that devolution merely extends and formalises the power of the people who already have it. And Brown, backed by Keir Starmer, proposes that those be given the power to confect a new second chamber, which would contain no shortage of Michelle Mones, with disputes between the two Houses to be resolved by a Supreme Court that would thus be made Supreme even over Parliament itself.

This is a regression to Victorian and Edwardian Liberalism. As it would be, since it is Liberal to see constitutional change as an end in itself, or even as a first order priority, and that is the double basis on which Labour intends to contest the next General Election. Before 1997, Labour Governments made very few changes to the Constitution, and even then only in furtherance of their bread and butter aims. The Blair and Brown Governments made a lot, but again only ever to ulterior purpose, successfully or otherwise. For good or ill, they did a lot of other things, too. Brown's record on child poverty is genuinely praiseworthy, and his response to the 2008 banking crisis did not attract from the public the ridicule that it did from David Cameron and George Osborne. There was no recession on the day of the 2010 General Election, which did not deliver a Conservative overall majority.

Peter Mandelson is murmuring about the abolition of the House of Lords, but that would make him neither any poorer nor any less influential. Not least alongside the rumoured return of David Miliband, and the forced toning down of what was in any case only ever rhetoric about private schools, this is a factional thing, like Tom Harris's dismissal of the whole business as irrelevant to daily life. It is, of course, like the words or deeds of anyone with nothing better to do with an egg than to throw it at the King, or with nothing better to do with soup than to throw it at the protective screen in front of a painting. But the Blairites are fundamentally on board with arrangements that would have made the Attlee Government's life extremely difficult, preventing any nationalisation of industry and forcing something such as Wes Streeting would favour rather than the National Health Service, and which would render impossible anything like a Corbyn Government. The Blairites have done this before.

What is so wonderful about the Human Rights Act, or about the European Convention on Human Rights? They have not prevented the enactment of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Act, the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act, the Nationality and Borders Act, the Elections Act, or the staggering Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, nor will they keep the even more stunning Public Order Bill off the Statute Book, or the Online Safety Bill. They are not preventing the Government from imposing identity cards in order to vote. They would not prevent a Labour Government from imposing identity cards across the board. 

They do not preclude the Home Secretary from stripping people of their British citizenship, now without even having to tell the people affected. They have presented no obstacle to vaccine passports. They are doing nothing for Julian Assange, who ought not to be extradited at all, but most certainly not until Anne Sacoolas had been sent back here. Every bad thing that Priti Patel and Suella Braverman have already done, they have done while the Human Rights Act has been in force.

I myself was convicted after the judge had specifically directed the jury to "disregard" the concept of conviction beyond reasonable doubt. Like Claudia Webbe MP, I was then convicted of, and unlike her I was imprisoned for, the offence of harassment, to which there is no defence, since it consists in having made the complainant feel harassed. What matters is that the complainant is sufficiently well-connected that the Crown Prosecution Service will take up the complaint. In Webbe's case, she was convicted of this by a salaried employee, sitting alone, of the same State that had brought the prosecution. None of this is any sort of breach of the Human Rights Act, any more than is the Trade Union Act 2016, splendid though it is to see the uselessness of that in its own terms against the righteous rage of the workers.

Nothing that was beloved of David Maxwell Fyfe, never mind largely written by him, ever did have anything to do with the Left. Not the EU into which he so castigated Anthony Eden for not having taken Britain at the start. And not the ECHR, either. There was a reason why its incorporation into British domestic law was never attempted by any Labour Government until Blair's. It duly proved useless as civil liberties were shredded; it was the dear old House of Commons that stopped the detention of people for 90 days without charge. And it duly proved useless as the poor, the sick and the disabled were persecuted on a scale and with a venom that had not been seen since before the War, if ever. That persecution continued into and as the age of austerity. Against austerity, even as Red Cross food parcels have been distributed to our starving compatriots, human rights legislation has been of only the most occasional use, if any. That has always been the intention. 

In May 1948, the pompously self-styled Congress of Europe assembled in the Hall of Knights, in The Hague. Addressing that assembly, Winston Churchill called it "the Voice of Europe". But in fact it was mostly made up of politicians who had recently been defeated at the polls, of the representatives of Royal and Noble Houses that had fairly recently been dispossessed at least in political terms, of the likes of Churchill who fell into both categories, and of people whose lives' work was trying to delude themselves that so did they.

In the name of the order that had held sway for a century between the defeat of Napoleon and the First World War, their aim was very explicitly to check the Social Democracy that was sweeping Western Europe at the time. The material that they produced had that intention, and it has had that effect. Lo and behold, Blair had it written into British domestic law. And lo and behold, the body that he created for its enforcement, when it has not been sacking its black and disabled staff first, and when it has not been failing to find anything wrong with the Government's handling of the Windrush scandal, played a key role in bringing down Jeremy Corbyn. Not that Corbyn helped himself by backing down when he ought to have been fighting back. But "Equality and Human Rights"? What equality, exactly? Which human's rights?

We are heading for a hung Parliament. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. There does, however, need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not.


  1. You're the only man who understands.

    1. No, I am just the only one who says it. I know that there are lot of us about, because they tell me.