No sooner than the new Tory government came to power with 24% of the electorate voting for them, they almost immediately signalled their intention to curtail civil liberties and construct new enemies to convince people of the need to sign away their hard fought freedoms. Within hours of the election results, the Tories and their allies in the right-wing press began recycling more language from the 1980s. Dark mutterings of ‘extreme left-wingers’ emanated from the lips of government ministers, and papers like the Daily Mail have warned of “left-wing thuggery” this summer. The government is trying to rush through new anti-terrorism laws (as if there aren’t enough of these already), new anti-union legislation, the abolition of the Human Rights Act and the failed ‘snooper’s charter’ in its first 100 days.
Extremism: a label devised to silence opposition and curb dissent
Today, Cameron announced his “anti-extremism bill“, which seems to me to be indiscriminate and designed to curtail civil liberties under the rubric of national security. But what is an “extremist”? The bill ostensibly targets what are broadly described as “Islamists” but could also cover anyone or any group that, in the government’s eyes, is an ‘extremist’. This could include the Scottish National Party, protesters and even civil liberties advocacy groups like Liberty.
A revitalized police state
The so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’ or the Communications Data Bill, to give it its full name, has been revived after it was blocked by the Lib Dems. For a party that claims to “love” freedom and liberty, the Tories always reveal their true colours by proposing authoritarian measures that limit the freedoms of ordinary citizens. Carly Nyst, legal director for Privacy International told The Guardian,
“Theresa May’s comments confirm that widespread public concern about the threats posed to online privacy and expression by internet monitoring powers has been completely ignored by the new government.
“Communications data legislation has been repeatedly criticised by experts and politicians from all reaches of the political spectrum, and has been beaten back by the public and civil society time and time again.
“Reviving it as a policy priority is a clear sign both of an insatiable appetite for spying powers, and intentions to continue to sacrifice the civil liberties of Britons everywhere on the altar of national security.
In coalition, the Tories wanted to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with an ersatz version of their own. Now free of the beastly Lib Dems, they have resurrected the policy. However, the government could run into trouble if it attempts to scrap the HRA because it violates the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The SNP is also planning to challenge any attempt to abolish the HRA in the Scottish Parliament.
The task of repealing the HRA was given to the new Justice Minister, Michael Gove, a man with a limited intellectual capacity, but whose appetite for destruction knows no bounds. No one, not even Tory ministers, know what this British Bill of Rights will look like, but if Gove is steering it through then it’s bound to look like a dog’s breakfast.
Removing the right to strike
The Tories have always been implacably opposed to worker’s rights since the days of the Combination Acts. In the last Parliament they even tried to claim they were the ‘worker’s party’. Very funny. Sajid Javid appeared on Channel 4 News last night to promote the new anti-union bill. He claimed that other countries have similar laws, but he wouldn’t say which countries. The Cat suspects he’s talking about places like Equatorial Guinea (and possibly Pinochet’s Chile), where strikes are illegal and workers are beaten up and imprisoned. The government wants to impose a 50% turnout on strike ballots of those eligible to vote for a strike to be ‘legal’. Yet the Tories only won 24% of the vote themselves and that’s hardly a mandate in anyone’s vocabulary. Furthermore, Police and Crime Commissioners won elections on turnouts of around 16% and the new leader of Oxford City Council is in office on the back of an 8% turnout.
The rationale for this new legislation is to outlaw strikes or create conditions that make it difficult for trade unions to take industrial action. The Tories are especially keen to ban strikes on the London Underground, which it claims, somewhat melodramatically, is an ‘essential service’. I have never seen a tube train ferry injured and ill people to hospital, nor have I witnessed tube trains rushing to put out a house fire. The Tube is not an essential service, no matter how many times the Tories or their friends in the press repeat that ridiculous claim. The Tube is a form of public transport. Nothing more, nothing less.
Constructing ‘enemies within’
The Tories cannot exist without enemies and if they don’t exist, then they will construct them from opposition groups and oppressed minorities. Those of you who remember the Thatcher years will know that trade unionists, the especially the miners, the Labour Party (under Michael Foot) and CND were seen as the ‘enemy within’. This label was extended to cover LGBT people, ethnic minorities and left-wing local authorities. During the coalition years, the enemies were, in no particular order, public sector workers, the disabled and benefits claimants. It seems to me that anyone who opposes the Tory government’s anti-human and anti-democratic legislation will be regarded as a “left-wing extremist” even though the group or persons in question may not necessarily be left-wing at all.
Reliving the Thatcher Years
This government, rather than living in the present, only seems capable of living in the past. The Cat has a theory: the majority of these Tories weren’t old enough when Thatcher destroyed communities, smashed the unions and sold off our housing stock. They now want to relive the years they missed out on. We can see this in the Free Enterprise Group (FEG), whose members include 100% Evil, Dominic Raabid, Chris Skidmark, Liz (You Can’t) Truss (It) and Kwasi Kwarteng. Their book Britannia Unchained, claimed that British workers were inherently lazy. Nothing was said about the incompetence of British management.
Most of the Tories are incapable of living or dealing with the present. They have no new ideas and continually have to recycle old ones. Hence the rush to smash the unions, which are already being subjected to the most draconian anti-union legislation in Europe that was enacted during the Thatcher years. Alexei Sayle once described the current Tories as “a really bad Thatcherite tribute band”. He’s not wrong.
The Cat wonders how long it will be till we hear the same lines uttered by Thatcher 30 years ago about “permissiveness” and “lifestyle choices”?
Left-baiting/red-baiting and other bullshit
The Tory-dominated media outlets have, without exception, begun to produce a new series of left-baiting articles. This happened after the 2010 election too. This article by Bryony Gordon in the Daily Telegraph has the title “Stop your whingeing: why the left are such sore losers” and comes with the subtitle:
Labour voters should be ashamed of all the boohooing – and I speak as one
However, if you have a look at her Wikipedia entry, Gordon’s spent most of her working life writing for right-wing newspapers. Furthermore, the words “Labour” and “left-wing” are not contiguous. Gordon may have voted for Labour once in her life but that doesn’t make her “left-wing”, it makes her a hack.
The not-so-subtle discourse being conveyed by Gordon is “The Tories won. You should just let them fuck you over. It’s for your own good “. But this kind of discourse is what one would expect from an authoritarian regime, not defenders of ‘freedom’, surely?
Of course, proportional representation would still have given us a Tory government – just one in coalition with Ukip. Is that what the people marching on Westminster want?
And do they not remember the referendum for an alternative vote system four years ago, the one that the British public rejected out of hand? Have they forgotten the Labour victory of 2005, when the party only got 36 per cent of the vote? Where were the angry placards then? Where were the marches and protests and furious online campaigns for electoral reform? I’m guessing they were all buried under a massive pile of self-righteousness.
The alternative vote (AV) system was not proportional and many people could see that. Thus it was rejected. But Gordon doesn’t bother to mention this. AV was nothing but a sop; it was not a step on the road to PR, it was a cynical effort to kick the matter into touch. I have had arguments over this issue with people, who delude themselves with the notion that AV would have meant real PR somewhere down the line. How long down the line is anyone’s guess. I would say that if AV had prevailed, real PR would have been off the table forever. It is therefore right and proper that people should protest for a fair electoral system.
Over at the Daily Mail, self-styled historian Dominic Sandbrook repeats the old Thatcherite line about “hectoring left-wing politicians are telling people how to run their lives”. Yet, today, Cameron claimed that “Britain is too tolerant and should interfere in people’s lives more” (my bold). This actually contradicts the Tories’ and Sandbrook’s claims that it is only the Left that tells people “how to run their lives”. Hypocrisy much, Dominic? Cameron was speaking in defence of his ‘anti-extremism’ measures, which means the very right-wing government would stick its nose into everything.
There is a real democratic deficit in this country and it’s being made worse by a brutal Tory regime. They now want to redraw the electoral boundaries without proportional representation. This amounts to little more than blatant gerrymandering, since the boundaries would be drawn to suit the Tories, meaning that they would remain in power forever.
The next five years are going to be turbulent. We must be prepared to use what means we can to fight back. If that means civil disobedience, then so be it.
See you at the barricades!
REVIEW OF REQUEST UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000
Cabinet Office Internal Review Reference: IR 321173
(Original Case Reference: Fol 321173)
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