It was inevitable that various conspiracy theories would emerge during the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s no surprise that many, if not the majority, of these conspiracy theories come from the far-right and Right libertarians. For self-styled libertarians like Spiked’s Brendan O’Neill, who also takes the Murdoch shilling, the crisis is really all about liberal-left spoilsports wanting to curtail his right to infect others in confined spaces.
The pandemic has provided O’Neill with the opportunity to attack his favourite targets: the Greens, left-wingers, anti-racists, socialists, you name them, O’Neill hates them. He’s like one of those pub bores you meet supping in the local Wetherspoons, talking about how the country is “going to hell in a handcart”.
The first paragraph of O’Neill’s article starts predictably, but messily.
People’s refusal to panic has been a great source of frustration for the establishment in recent years. ‘The planet is burning’, they lie, in relation to climate change, and yet we do not weep or wail or even pay very much attention. ‘I want you to panic’, instructs the newest mouthpiece of green apocalypticism, Greta Thunberg, and yet most of us refuse to do so. A No Deal Brexit would unleash economic mayhem, racist pogroms and even a pandemic of super-gonorrhoea, they squealed, incessantly, like millenarian preachers balking at the imminent arrival of the lightning bolt of final judgement, and yet we didn’t flinch. We went to work. We went home. We still supported Brexit.
How any of this is related to the pandemic is a mystery, but O’Neill persists:
Our skittish elites have been so baffled, infuriated in fact, by our calm response to their hysterical warnings that they have invented pathologies to explain our unacceptable behaviour. The therapeutic language of ‘denialism’ is used to explain the masses’ refusal to fret over climate change. Environmentalists write articles on ‘the psychology of climate-change denial’, on ‘the self-deception and mass denial’ coursing through this society that refuses to flatter or engage with the hysteria of the eco-elites. Likewise, the refusal of voters to succumb to the dire, hollow warnings of the ferociously anti-Brexit wing of the establishment was interpreted by self-styled experts as a psychological disorder. ‘[This is] people taking action for essentially psychological reasons, irrespective of the economic cost’, said one professor.
Ah, so this is about the mysterious ‘elites’? Find me an O’Neill article without the word ‘elite’ and I’ll show you a caring Conservative. O’Neill is in complete denial; his brain (if he has one) is in total lockdown. He refuses to accept the fact that Covid-19 is a communicable disease and is highly contagious. The fact that people of all ages have died is of no matter to him. For O’Neill, people ignoring medical advice and mingling in public spaces like parks and the beaches is seen as an act of defiance against the shadowy ‘elites’ who want to you to eat your vegetables.
Of course, the replies beneath Spiked’s article are just as barking, if not worse.
This one looks like a bot.
What analysis? What insight? There’s more. This one talks about “The Cabal”. Cue eerie theremin music.
You should see the rest of his timeline. It’s a catalogue of conspiracy theories and the usual mush about horrible Greens wanting to spoil his freedom. Here’s my reply to one of Matt’s tweets on his timeline. You’ll notice that he hangs on Donald Trump’s every word.
This is one is incomprehensible.
This one uses the opportunity to spout racist and xenophobic nonsense.
O’Neill and his followers are ignorant of science and disdainful of expert advice from clinical practitioners. They think their ignorance trumps years of study, and clinical work, and all that matters is their ‘freedom’. I don’t like wishing illness or death on anyone, but in the case of O’Neill and his deadbeat acolytes, I’m happy to make exceptions. Perhaps a dose of Covid-19 will teach all of them a valuable lesson. Then again, maybe it won’t.
There’s a massive threat to public health, much of it is caused by Covid-19, but some of it will be caused by ignoramuses and anti-intellectual schmucks like O’Neill taking to social media and telling people that there’s nothing to worry about.
The right-wing enfant terrible of the Internet, Guido Fawkes (real name Paul Staines), recently tweeted a slew of shameless apologies for Augusto Pinochet . It shouldn’t surprise anyone really, because Staines has form as long as your arm – so to speak, guvnor. Nowhere Towers has recently discovered that Staines was a member of the notorious Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) but the touchy Guido has taken offence to having his one-time membership of this rabid lunatic student fringe group exposed to the world (well, the Internet anyway).
The Guardian 31 May 1986: Tory student leader in ‘ racist ‘ party link / Paul Delarie-Staines of FCS attempts to form pact with British National Party in Hull >By David Rose >A leader of the Federation of Conservative Students wrote to an organiser of the British National Party proposing joint ‘direct action’ to disrupt the meetings of leftwing students. Secrecy, he emphasised, was essential: ‘The Reds would simply go wild if they got to hear of a BNP-FCS link. I would personally be in danger of being expelled from the Conservative Party.’ >The author of the letter is Mr Paul Delarie-Staines, the chairman of the federation’s 50-strong branch at the Humberside college of Higher Education. Mr Delarie-Staines, who is in his first year of a degree course in business information studies, wrote on May 22 to Mr Ian Walker, a BNP organiser in Hull. >He was, he said, against several of the aims of the BNP, which campaigns for the repatriation of black citizens.
The BNP eh? Go on,
Mr Delarie-Staines said he did not share the BNP view on immigration: as a member of the ‘libertarian’ faction of the FCS he advocated the free movement of labour, albeit with the caveat that ‘you come here to work – or starve. ‘He went on: ‘I share a lot of your objectives.‘ These included a return to leadership and statesmanship, the abolition of the welfare state, and ‘the elimination of Communism in Britain – the mass media, the trade unions, and the schoolroom. ‘Mr Delaire-Staines continued: ‘Nevertheless, even though we have our differences, I know a lot of BNP people at college do support the FCS (some are members of the FCS). I can certainly envisage some degree of cooperation.
Okay, let’s stop there. As you can see, Staines was quite happy to speak to the BNP and to enter into a pact with them. He talks here of “the elimination of Communism in Britain” as though the CPGB (Communist Party of Great Britain) was a major player in British politics. What Piss Staines failed to do was read his history: there have only ever been 2 Communist MPs elected to the House of Commons in its entire history. But Staines and his chums see anyone who isn’t ‘one of them’ as a “communist”. They’re binarists. This is how they think. No wonder the current government can barely tie its own shoelaces. The FCS supported the apartheid regime in South Africa and many of them wore “Hang Mandela” T-shirts. Some of them will deny that they’re racists but will praise those ‘free market’ types who held racist views. A month or so ago, former FCS member Harry Phibbs, tweeted his admiration for Gerald Nabarro, the flamboyant racist and supporter of Enoch Powell.
Staines denies that he’s a racist, yet his words tell us something different: his blog tends to sail rather close to the wind and he’s more than happy to invert racism and play the victim. In January of this year, Guido responded to a tweet that was made by Diane Abbot in which she said,
This was a red rag to a bull. Guido, like his fellow right-wing loons was apoplectic.
Diane Abbott is never far from controversy, especially online. Remember the time she tweeted Labour’s latest poll results during the two-minute Remembrance Day silence? Well there can no blaming a staffer for yesterday’s tweet, that has caused uproar across all parties. At a time when the media is having a long overdue conversation about racism, Abbott is refusing to see that there is anything wrong with slamming an entire group of people based on the colour of their skin. She is a Shadow Minister and represents a constituency that is 61% white…
Sections 17 to 29 of the Public Order Act 1986 are pretty clear on statements like this. They cover deliberately provoking hatred of a racial group, distributing racist material to the public, and perhaps most notably in this case, inciting inflammatory rumours about an ethnic group, for the purpose of spreading racial discontent. Or perhaps a “sorry” would be more appropriate…
The question is this: how was Abbott “provoking hatred” when the tactic used by the white colonizers was one of divide and conquer? It is the historical truth. Did black or Asian people participate in the kind of empire-building that made this country rich? No, their peoples were enslaved and their resources were plundered by laissez-faire capitalists who were supported by force of arms. Piss Staines and his chum, Harry Troll clearly haven’t read their history… either that or they have in their possession the Enid Blyton version of history, complete with golliwogs. Whatever the case, they tried to play the victim card and it failed. This is what racists always do when they’re confronted by the truth or cornered with facts about racism. The inverted logic here is one that is expressed daily by the legion of racist cranks who leave comments on Telegraph blogs: anti -racism = anti-white. Here is Cole going toe-to-toe with Lee Jasper.
Indeed, the sentiments expressed by Staines, Cole and the far-right tended to be the same: “Abbott incited racial hatred”. Don’t believe me? Then copy and paste this link into your browser. http://birminghamnationalist2.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/harry-cole-vs-samira-shackle-on-diane.html
It was a charge that they failed to make stick and this tells us something. Racism is always exercised on minority groups by the dominant cultural group, whether or not people like Staines tell you otherwise. The right cannot fathom the reason why racism works in this way in Britain and desperately seek to claim that there is such a thing as “anti-white racism” in Britain. The boards of the directors of Britain’s top companies are all white. The police force is mostly white and the government is completely white. Do I really need to paint a fresco?
Staines was once involved with David Hart, who funded the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and who was once involved in the Thatcherite Centre for Policy Studies (CPS). Hart also bankrolled Staines, helping to pay for his intake of ecstasy in the process. Hart also formed the Campaign for a Free Britain (CFB) in 1987 with Christopher Monckton (now of UKIP) . Staines used to work for both of them. The CFB was funded by Rupert Murdoch and would invite such speakers as the criminal Adolfo Calero of the Nicaraguan Contras. As you can see a picture is now beginning to develop.
Powerbase has an extract from the book Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House. This extract deals with Hart,
A “conspiratorial… somewhat bizarre figure”, Hart moved among the higher echelons of the security services, received substantial funding from Rupert Murdoch, and would go on to advise Michael Portillo, the darling of the Tory right in the nineties. Hart’s organisation, Committee for a Free Britain, published two periodicals, the Cold War bulletin World Briefing, which was overseen by former CIA spookHerb Mayer, and British Briefing, a “monthly intelligence analysis of the activities of the extreme left”. The latter’s major impetus was to smear Labour MPs and left-leaning lawyers and writers. It had previously been run by MI6 veteran Brian Crozier and Paul Staines now helped to produce it. The twenty-one year old was having the time of his life.
So the raison d’etre of Guido Fawkes is to smear those who get in the way of the free market project, the political gossip is merely a by-product.
A lot of my Thatcherite/Libertarian friends get very suspicious when I tell them about the love and peace aspects of taking Ecstasy. To them love and peace equals hippies equals leftist. The feeling of unity and shared enjoyment to them smacks of collectivism, not the rugged individualism that they favour. But the drug actually removes inhibitions, liberating your mind from petty concerns. You feel a sense of solidarity, but it is totally voluntary, there is no coercion. Libertarians are opposed to coercive collectivism, but if I as an individual choose to enjoy a collective experience because I want to, than that is up to me. I suspect that a lot of right-wingers, Conservative, Thatcherite or Libertarian, cling to their inhibitions and are actually afraid of letting go. Many Conservatives by their very nature fear the dynamic. They are wary of the unusual and prefer tradition, stability and the conventional. The idea of losing their inhibitions to the extent that they might say or do something embarrassing horrifies them.
Some people, particularly those of a Conservative inclination, have an irrational dislike of drugs, often based on what they believe or know about drug addicts. Somehow drug pushers are evil, akin to poisoners. A lot of drug pushers are unpleasant, but that is because it’s an illegal business, and criminals are often unpleasant, violent people. Some drug dealers I know are ruthless, dishonest, dangerous psychopaths, while others are honest, peace loving, fair minded people who just happen to be in a business of which the majority of people are said to disapprove. If alcohol or tobacco was made illegal a similar situation would arise with them. Most British Conservative groups are not at all sympathetic towards legalising drugs, the Committee for a Free Britain being the only one that has come down in favour of decriminalising drugs. This might have something to do with the fact that during my time at the Committee for a Free Britain we got through quite a lot of the stuff.
Staines’ connection with the CPS goes much deeper than his connection to Hart. He was also a childhood friend of Gideon Sherman, the son of the deeply racist Alfred Sherman, the former communist-turned born-again-conservative and a co-founder of the CPS and the Monday Club. The Shermans were also members of the Western Goals Institute, an anti-communist organization that supported the continuation of apartheid in South Africa. This UNHCR report described the WGI as “an impediment” to the elimination of racial discrimination in South Africa. The WGI invited speakers from the Conservative Party of South Africa to address conferences and meetings. In 1989, the WGI gave its support to France’s Front National and even hosted a dinner for Jean Marie Le Pen.
In 1986 he (Sherman) was sacked as a leader writer by Max Hastings, as one of his first acts as editor. In the following year Sherman alienated fellow Jews by arguing that young members of Hitler’s SS were as much victims of Hitler as the Jews. He also caused outrage by inviting the French National Front leader, Jean-Marie le Pen, to a Tory Conference fringe meeting. In 1992, when secret Soviet archives were opened, it emerged that in 1984 Sherman had given an interview to Pravda in which he was quoted as saying: “As for the lumpen, coloured people and the Irish, let’s face it, the only way to hold them in check is to have enough well armed and properly trained police.” During the furore that followed, Sherman merely complained that the quotation missed the word “proletariat” after “lumpen”, and denied using the phrase “well armed”.
A Jew said this? It’s hard to imagine how Sherman could get cosy with someone like Le Pen, who is a raving anti-Semite. But he did.
Now Piss Staines can try and claim that he didn’t know about Sherman’s racism or that the WGI wasn’t fundamentally racist but he’d be on very shaky ground.
Here’s Staines writing in Free Life in September 2000,
I never wore a “Hang Mandela” badge but I hung out with people who did. Why? What did we gain from doing so? Did we make ourselves more popular by calling for the death of a man who was fighting injustice by the only means available to him? Did this “shift the parameters of debate” in our direction?
However, Staines doesn’t go so far as to wonder whether the right-libertarian movement as a whole may have been hoodwinked by a regime which knew that hard-right racialist arguments would no longer win South Africa support, just like some left-wing groups were manipulated by the Soviets. In 1995, the former South African spy Craig Williamson was quoted as saying that
We couldn’t convince Americans that apartheid was right. The only chance of manipulating things to survive just a little bit longer was to paint the ANC as a product of the international department of the Soviet Communist Party. (4)
The apartheid regime developed various “front” organisations, which were supposedly independent but were the secret beneficiaries of government funds. One of these was the National Student Federation (NSF), which developed close links with Republican students in the USA. This is explored in a book by Russ Bellant, who notes the role of one now-notorious American figure:
We already know that Staines supported UNITA and he doesn’t seem to have been overly concerned with the nature of the groups he was connected to. After all, right libertarians will always make excuses for racism by reducing it to an atavistic, but ultimately bogus, argument about ‘economics’. Their heroes always include a fair number of racists.
There is obvious hypocrisy here – a self-confessed libertarian who criticises others for issuing legal notices to suppress information about their past, while doing it himself. But the story doesn’t stop here.
Paul Staines didn’t specify exactly what was untrue in the original article. Instead he offered to meet me and do an interview explaining his side of the story. I agreed on the condition I could re-publish the 1986 article and the 1990 David Rose letter. He agreed and we met on Tuesday morning.
Except – at the interview he said his lawyers had instructed him not to offer any explanation on the 1986 article. I said it was a big copout and his actions were hypocritical since he is usually the first to demand explanations of others. Either way his only response to questions about the article was a ‘no comment’. I wasn’t happy. He later sent an email saying that if I published the 1986 article or the 1990 letter then he would sue for defamation.
So what’s the problem and why is Staines so keen on suing people for libel for something that isn’t actually defamatory? Many of us are embarrassed about things we did when we were young but we wouldn’t go so far as to try and silence someone because they wanted to mention it. Staines, it would seem, has yet to grow up or develop an honest bone in his otherwise dishonest skeleton.
Ron Paul, the self-styled libertarian, has declared that we’re all Austrians now.
It was a particular strain of Austrian economics that helped to create the global economic situation we’re in today and yet, Paul wants more of the same. But his love of “Austrian Economics” goes far beyond the black and white world of so-called free-market economics.
The variety of Austrian economics that we are most concerned with here is not the Hayekian strain (he digs Hayek too) but the Misean strain as promoted by Lew Rockwell and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, the neo-Confederate think-tank that rationalizes the Civil War as merely an unnecessary “tariff war” and declares the Emancipation Proclamation and all the legislation that stems from it to be an abomination. Paul thinks slaveowners were cheated out of their right to own slaves by the cruel North. He also believes that the Civil Rights Act stripped away a person’s freedom to deny service to someone on the grounds of their skin colour. It’s all about “state’s rights”, see?
There’s a good story from Paul Rosenberg on the Al-Jazeera site here.
So when Paul talks about Austrian Economics, he does so safe in the knowledge that most Americans have no idea what he’s talking about. Many people find his brand of libertarianism attractive and can’t help but feel drawn to it. That’s understandable. It’s a little like finding yourself humming along to a catchy pop tune but don’t know the name of the song or the person who is singing it.
The right loves its gimmicks. First, the brains trust behind the disastrous Rally Against Debt paraded their “Debt Clock” around the streets of London. They were trying to tell us that “time was running out” and that the government had to “cut deeper and faster”. They thought that if they drove a massive clock on the back of an articulated lorry around Westminster’s streets on a Saturday afternoon, with the city full of people shopping on their credit cards, spending money they don’t have on things they d0n’t need… would somehow convince these people, some of them tourists, of the merit of their argument, they were sadly mistaken. They just looked like a bunch of rich Ayn Rand-reading nerds with too much time on their hands who could afford to hire a truck for a stunt. Whoopee-do.
In a classic example of monkey-see/monkey-do, Hammersmith & Fulham Council has come up with its own version of a gimmicky debt gauge. It’s called the “Debtometer” and the ‘device’, so our overlords tell us, is meant to measure the debt “going down”. Shepherds Bush blog has the story.
Millions of pounds are being freed up for vital frontline services as the council looks set to hit its target of halving its historic debt mountain by 2014.
Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council’s debt reduction strategy, which includes moves to sell under-used council buildings, is set to wipe another £12million off the town hall’s debt burden by April 2012.
The news comes as the council launches a new quarterly online ‘debtometer’ so that residents can keep a track of the progress made in reducing municipal debt.
These cute little gimmicks that are dreamt up by the right are distractions and nothing more. They are PR confidence tricks designed to divert attention away from the fact that they have no real ideas beyond cutting public services. Why? Because they tell us that don’t use them (so who empties their bins?) and they think that the rest of us are ‘addicted’ to the state. It’s the old new classical liberal idea of deserving and undeserving poor revivified under the neo-Hayekian aegis of ‘freedom’ and ’empowerment’.
But those who claim these stunts are more than the sum of their parts are deluding themselves. These are the people who come out with snappy lines like “the nation had maxed out its credit card” and “we need to live within our means”. In their arrogance, they have convinced themselves that no one understand economics like they do. They talk a good talk but like a cheap jumper, their argument soon unravels when it is scrutinized. They can only “speak in maths”, as the Radiohead song goes. Yet without people – a society – there is no economy. No people, no need for commodities.
But try and tell them that.
Not to be outdone by Gordon Brown’s “quantitative easing”, Hon Gid introduced his own idea of economic interventionism at the Conservative Party Conference. He called his concept gimmick, “credit easing”.
But credit is debt.
Ask anyone who has a credit card, a bank loan or a mortgage.
But people with credit cards don’t have access to the international bond markets. They can’t sell their junk in the same way as a nation-state. In fact, while this government talks about reducing debt, it raises money on the bond markets to continue its costly wars in Libya and Afghanistan. This is something that our slash and burn Tories won’t tell you about. Instead, they’ll tell you that cuts are “necessary” and will beg the question with a “But surely you realize how important it is for the government to reduce the nation’s debt”?
The Taxpayers Alliance loves to claim that its “our money” that’s being “burnt” but what they won’t tell you is that most of the nation’s wealth is concentrated in a small number of hands and those people (including the entire membership of TPA) are well insulated against economic hardship. If you put that point to them, they’ll start flailing about and will regurgitate the usual neo-Hayekian drivel about “responsibility”.
The cuts to public services, especially those to education, is a form of de-investment. That is to say, the Tory-led government is not investing in the economy – as it should at this time. Instead, it is sucking money out of the economy and diverting some of those funds to those pet projects that are run by its supporters – the free schools, for example. It has no interest in investing in people…unless they come from a privileged background. In which case, there is no need to invest in them because they will, by dint of their circumstances of birth, reproduce the same selfish, dimwitted values that were espoused by their parents.
Postby Agalloch » Thu May 12, 2011 9:29 am
I wanted to… but I really can’t afford it, sorry. Car is no problem, but I’d rather not drive to london, and Train means Hoter to be honest.
The commitment is underwhelming. Those who took part in the massive TUC March for the Alternative had coaches organised well in advance. These people appear to travel individually in their own cars.
Before I set off, I check the BBC News Channel. Matthew Sinclair from the Taxpayers Alliance is repeating the line about “saddling our kids with debt”. It’s intended to appeal to our parental instincts but if these people were really so concerned about our kids, they would do more to protect the environment and spend more time thinking about society and less about themselves.
The reports that I get before I arrive at Westminster tell me that the turnout is low. As I arrive at Old Palace Yard, I can easily see that there aren’t many people. They’re corralled behind a set of pedestrian barriers and there is only a handful of police. It’s an odd location for a rally and two things come to mind: first, no anti-cuts protest would be allowed this close to the Houses of Parliament and second, the RAD is only expecting small numbers. But the numbers tell us something: there is no appetite for cuts and those who advocate “faster, deeper” cuts are in a tiny minority. For all the libertarian rhetoric, these ‘protesters’ actually support the state in what’s it’s doing in terms of deficit reduction. Therefore this isn’t a protest, it’s a rally to urge the government to cut more.
There aren’t many counter-demonstrators here save for this pair of ‘anarchists’ corralled behind some barriers. The thought had crossed my mind that this could be a RAD stunt.
Self-described anarchists penned in for their 'own good'
Most of the placards are facing the towards the focal point, which is the statue of George V, where there is a speaker, whom I cannot see or hear, addressing the crowd. The sound is terrible and seasoned protesters understand how to use public address systems. The organizers have signally failed to grasp this important point. I decide to take a seat on some steps of an adjacent building. A pair of right libertarians sit next to me and have a smoke. I can tell they’re right libertarians: their shoes and their corduroy trousers betray them. On the far side of the rally I can see a placard that reads “Ban Union Pilgrims”. Don’t ask. It looks like some kind of in-joke. In fact, there is an absence of real humour to any of the placards.
I move away from the steps and make way into the corral and stand at the rear of the rally. A bloke in an Atlanta Braves baseball cap sees that I’m wearing a similar cap and says “Snap”! I say “Hey, the Atlanta Braves” and leave it at that. I don’t want to engage these people in conversation. I’m not in the mood for it. I catch a glimpse of James Delingpole through a small gap in the crowd. I think he’s just finished speaking. I see some more placards. “Ban Unions” says one. Another says “Cut Foreign Aid”. By far the weirdest is “Cut the Debt. Read Ayn Rand”. I don’t get it. Is it supposed to be a joke?
I walk around the right flank of the crowd and see BBC London’s Paraig O’Brien who’s looking for a place to shoot a report. He tells me that he’s going to be “moving back and forth long this pavement”. I tell him “Help yourself, mate”. Like I care what he does.
It’s about 1230 and the rally looks like it’s finished. These people have no staying power. Am I surprised? Quite frankly, no.
I circulate as best I can, looking for any familiar faces. I think I can see the blogger who calls himself “Old Holborn”. He’s wearing a Guy Fawkes costume. His beergut is struggling to escape through his obscenely tight top. Guy Fawkes, eh? How ironic. To my left, I can see that Nigel Farage is about to leave. He stops to chat to what looks like a UKIP supporter.
Farage talks to supporter
Before I can say anything to Farage he slides off in the direction of Parliament Square. I overhear a couple of people talk about picketing the Fabian Conference. Good luck. If you people can’t organize a rally, what makes you think you can picket a meeting?
It’s just after 1pm, I leave and make my way to Victoria Street to get a coffee and find somewhere to use the loo. As I’m walking away from the rally, I think of how haphazardly it was organized. The words “piss up” and “brewery” spring to mind and these people run the country? No wonder things are the way they are. They even forgot that today is the day of the FA Cup Final but something tells me that this isn’t a crowd that likes their football. The Guardian informs us that there were 350 at the rally. I have to say it didn’t look like that to me. It looked more like a mere 150. But even if there were 350 at the rally, it’s only a small fraction of people who support the cuts or want them to go deeper.
This was really a small gathering of like-minded souls that are united by a sense of imagined injustice. Above all, they hate public services or, for that matter, anything to do with communities. If they really want to live in a country without public services, they can always go and live in Somalia.
Classical liberalism in action – Victorian workhouses were prisons for the poor
Recently, I’ve noticed the numbers of right libertarians who have suddenly started claiming that they’re really “classical liberals”. Like cockroaches when they’re exposed to the light, vigorous scrutiny of their soi-disant libertarianism sends them scurrying into the gap between the skirting board and the floor of discourse. There, in the darkness, they feel safe. There they can claim that they are “classical liberals”. But their new-found old position relies entirely on the mass ignorance of the term “classical liberalism” and the historical materialism of the 19th century when classical liberalism (then called liberalism) was first applied as an economic doctrine.
These born-again classical liberals will apply the same narratives that exponents of neoliberalism will use as a defence of their doctrine: that wealth can only be created for all if the state is “smaller” and business is freed from “bureaucracy” and “red tape” and that wealth will consequently trickle down to those below. This, they argue, will bring forth ‘freedom’ but the freedom that they speak of only applies to a small section of the population: the factory owners and the rentier capitalists. Trickle down doesn’t work, yet these born again classical liberals will claim that it does – though none of them can point to examples of where trickle down has succeeded.
So what are the key defining features of classical liberalism and how does it differ, if at all, from right libertarianism?
Classical liberalism’s key features are
smaller state/limited government
Laissez faire capitalism/free markets
Freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly
Disregard for the poor and the needy
Laissez faire capitalism/free markets
Smaller state/limited or no government
Freedom of speech. religion, press and assembly
Disregard for the poor and needy
As you can see, there isn’t much difference between either of them and when right libertarians suddenly proclaim that they are “classical liberals”, they are dishonest in making this largely artificial distinction. The real reason for declaring themselves as classical liberals has more to do with romanticism, nostalgia and outright dishonesty than anything else. They want to go back to a time when people knew their place and stayed there. Social mobility did not exist; the working class stayed in their place. They were denied access to higher education and were tied to their places of work. Knowledge was reserved for the privileged and the powerful. In the eyes of the dominant political hegemony, knowledge in the hands of the subaltern classes was considered dangerous (think of William Tyndale’s struggle to publish the Bible in English). Because with knowledge and ideas came the possibility that authority could be questioned, which could lead, in turn, to civil disobedience and insurrection…even though this happened anyway and was met with considerable force.
The neoliberals and those right libertarians who subscribe to the small state notion are actually the descendants of classical liberals. They can no more return to the past, then I can become the King of Tonga. They have selectivized the past by appropriating certain memories of the classical liberal period, which always seem to orbit the sun-like narrative of the British Empire. When one puts the point to them that Adam Smith’s assertion that “free markets will lead to world peace” is fallacious proposition, they will respond by asking, “did free market states go to war against each other”? It’s a red herring. There were plenty of wars, many of them waged by free market states against other nations. Free trade relied on wars and the colonization of other countries. It also meant outdoing the competition from other free market nations. Presumably, for our apologists, the Opium Wars were not waged in the name of free trade but were waged to punish the Chinese for not accepting opium rather than silver as payment for silk? It’s a fatuous argument but it’s the sort of defence right libertarians would use. In the 19th century, the British Empire was the biggest drug pusher on the planet- there is no getting away from it. It was because of this idea of “free trade” that countries like China were forced to “open” their markets and thus open themselves to decades of foreign domination.
Classical liberals denied the right of workers to organize. It was only when the last of the Combination Acts was repealed that workers were able to organize in any meaningful way. Socially, classical liberals were very much against the idea of the relief of poverty and sought to contain it within the Poor Laws. The workhouse, which had been around since the 14th century, saw an expansion in the 19th century after the passing of the Poor Law of 1834. Today’s born again classical liberals have similar ideas with regards to the poor and the unemployed, for whom they have resurrected the artificial distinctions of “deserving” and “undeserving”. Any money spent on the relief of poverty was seen as another impediment to the freedoms of the rich and powerful. One ‘argument’ that I encountered was “The working class were richer (sic) in 1899 than they were in 1801”. But this is another red herring: the working class were never “rich” and lived in overcrowded rented accommodation. Few of them moved up the social ladder. Those that did became the petite bourgeoisie: the shopkeepers, market traders or were otherwise recruited as instruments of oppression, nor did they buy their own properties in leafy districts of the industrial cities nor did any of them become industrialists. There was a glass ceiling preventing those at the bottom from becoming say, MPs, because of the property qualification.
The right libertarian is a dishonest creature that substitutes myths and tropes for facts. They extrapolate their arguments from sets of numbers in the hope that no one will spot the flaws in their thesis – which always overlooks society in favour of cold economic statistics. This decontextualization of numbers from the societal whole is their only defence and it’s a weak one. But the worst offence is to claim that they are “classical liberals” when they are really right libertarians looking for a way to divert attention away from their very postmodern interpretations of selfishness and greed by hiding in the darkness of the past.
The use of the phrase “classical liberalism” by right libertarians is therefore an exercise in semantic subterfuge and should be laughed off as such.
UPDATE 11/5/11 @ 1213
I found this interesting blog written by an anarchist. Right libertarians don’t live in the real world.
Last week saw the announcement of the forthcoming Rally Against Debt (which should be called the Rally For Cuts). The event to be held on 14 May was announced in the wake of the massive TUC-organised rally in Hyde Park, which various Tory commentators like Dan Hannan and Hon Tobes used their blogs to attack it for having either no credible alternative or being responsible for a “tsunami of violence”. The Rally, it seems, is supposed to be a peaceful response to the anti-cuts protests. It is more than that, it is an attempt by certain right wing groups to claim the moral high ground. It will be portrayed by its defenders as a grassroots protest but it is anything but.
Imagine that you were reviewing all your household expenditure: your utility bills, your mortgage, your car, your mobile phone, your annual holiday. What would be the single biggest item? If you are in work, there is no doubt: it would be your consolidated tax bill. According to the ONS, the average household pays 33.5 per cent of its income to the state, not including the taxes which businesses are obliged to pass on to their customers and employees. The average figure, of course, takes account of pensioners, students, benefits claimants and the nearly 40 per cent of the population who pay no income tax. In a working household, the figure would be far higher.
The problem with this simplistic ‘analysis’ is that it is really a reductive narrative. Household finances cannot be compared with the nation’s finances. The phrase “comparing apples with oranges” springs to mind. Further down the blog, we find the first clue.
Few of us realise it, of course, because the costs are disguised and distributed. Income tax and national insurance are confiscated at source. VAT is built into the advertised price of what we buy. So, in effect, are duties on alcohol, petrol, tobacco and air travel. One of the reasons that council tax arouses so much controversy is that, for many people, it is the only time they feel they are making a direct payment to the state. For a fuller sense of quite how much most of us pay, watch this superb clip from the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
He is disingenuous when he talks about Council Tax. The real reason why people hate the tax has little to do with it feeling like “a direct payment to the state” and has more to do with its regressive nature; it is not a fair tax that takes into consideration a person’s ability to pay. Did you notice how he mentions the Taxpayers Alliance (TPA) here? I watched the clip and it tries to rationalize taxation with how you spend your time. Have a look at the photo on the blog. We’ll return to that in a moment.
It appears that there is considerable input from both the Tory front group, TPA and The Freedom Association (TFA). Last year, Hannan wrote this blog, in which he appeals for a “British Tea Party”. If you’ve ever seen him attack the NHS on Fox News or read The Plan, you will realize that Hannan wants to transform Britain into an American ‘Mini Me’ complete with elected police commissioners and presumably, elected dustmen. After doing a little Googling, I found this page on TFA’s website. Hannan, who is a leading member of TFA can be seen addressing a group of people. Remember that picture on his blog? That’s a picture for TFA’s “Taxed Enough Already” campaign. Here’s a snippet from the page,
The Tea Party Movement in the UK had a massively successful launch on Saturday 27 February 2010 with a talk by Daniel Hannan MEP at the Best Western Brighton Hotel. Over 300 people packed in to hear a brilliant speech by Daniel. We apologise to more than fifty others who had to be turned away for lack of space.
Protest marches are rarely a very effective way to change public opinion. Most look self-serving, some get hi-jacked by violent minorities. They act more as rallying points for the already convinced rather than ‘could be persuaded’.With tongue firmly in cheek to make a serious point then, opponents of ever larger government are organising a “civilised and well mannered” rally against “pointless government initiatives” on 14th May 2011.
It is unlikely the rally will attract the quarter million claimed by the TUC. Cuts make a small number of people very angry, debt reduction benefits everyone largely invisibly by reducing crowding out and other barriers to growth. The balance of emotion is in the other camp.
It should though attract a good crowd and is a thoroughly recommended day-out for fans of liberty and a smaller state. Liberal Vision will be there.
This is a distortion. I wonder what sort of incomes those thinking of joining this rally draw down? I’m willing to bet that none of them will be on £25,000 or less per annum.
My name is Harry Aldridge, I’m 23 years old, and I run a telecommunications company. I live in Slinfold and have lived in the Horsham area all my life.Politically I describe myself as a classical liberal and believe in government of the people, by the people, for the people. In the UK government is too big, too costly, too unaccountable, to remote, and too intrusive into the lives of its citizens. We need to decentralise power, first and foremost bringing power back from the European Union and then disperse it among communities and individuals.
Notice how he describes himself as a “classical liberal”. This is just a way of putting some distance between himself and neoliberalism – which is, for all intents and purposes, dishonest. Hayek was also a classical liberal whose vision became known as neoliberalism, which was itself a late 20th century variant of classical liberalism. The sudden revival of interest in classical liberalism is entirely a romantic one. The people who tell us that they are socio-economically inclined towards classical liberalism have a nostalgic view of the past that allows them to ignore the fact that, as an economic model, it was a failure. Exponents of free trade claimed that it would end wars. The opposite has happened. Classical liberalism also led to the colonization of foreign lands and subjugation of those peoples. It also legitimated Social Darwinism, which has been revived in the right’s current thinking towards such things as the welfare state, poverty, housing, education and other social issues.
So who is behind this rally? Well, it is a coalition of TFA, TPA, UKIP and some Tories. Whether or not it will attract huge numbers remains to be seen. I don’t think numbers will reach anything more than a few thousand. However, this new tendency to graft features of American political culture onto Britain is the beginning of a worrying trend. But it also shows us something else: there is an intellectual and philosophical vacuum at the heart of right-wing thinking.
Importing ideas from the US right will not fill that void.
UPDATE: 4/4/11 @ 1525
There appears to be something wrong with Harry Aldridge’s page. Too many biscuit crumbs in the UKIP server maybe?
UPDATE: 6/4/11 @2220
Pssssssst! They’ve changed the profile picture on their Facebook page. Don’t tell anyone!
The very right-wing (if I say “far right” they’ll only threaten me with a law suit. So much for free speech. Eh?) ‘youth’ group Conservative Future (Yorkshire and Humber chapter) is organizing a coach to go down to London. Here’s their Facebook page. Nowhere Towers thinks their name should be “Conservative – What Future”?
UPDATE 11/5/11 @1149
It seems the main instigator of the RAD is UKIP’s Annabelle Fuller, who was once a long-term mistress of leader, Nigel Farage. Fuller is also working as Farage’s assistant in Brussels. Fuller had left UKIP in 2008 after being she claims that she received “menacing phone calls” accusing her of being a “whore”. There’s an interesting thread about Fuller and her resignation from UKIP and her subsequent reinstatement on the Democracy Forum here.
I wonder if Farage will be joining his chums on Saturday?
If this is a rally against debt and credit is a form of debt, is this also a rally against credit?
I found this article in The Guardian from one of the UKUncut protesters who was arrested on Saturday. This article confirms my suspicions that this country is sliding towards a police state. This paragraph stands out,
A very senior officer in my station admitted to my parents that he regretted having to charge the protesters on the orders of Scotland Yard: he said they all seemed like “nice people”, and that he suspected the charges were politically motivated. These sentiments were echoed by other officers who kept distinguishing us from “proper criminals”. Another senior officer told me he suspected that it wasn’t so much a case of legality, but that UK Uncut had upset people who were that little bit too rich; that little bit too powerful. Some police officers, I’ve been told, even advised protesters about constructing a defence.
Yes, these are the same powerful people that not only own most of this country’s wealth, but are in a position to print lies about UKUncut and smear both the group and those people who support them.
Fortnum & Mason’s is not merely a posh supermarket, it is a symbol of the power and authority (not to mention their spending power) of the rich and the privileged.
Filippo Tomaso Marinetti, the libertarian who supported fascism
Interestingly enough, right wing libertarians claim to be in favour of freedom and liberty but aren’t prepared to extend this idea to anyone outside their select group of people – the wealthy.
We need to remind ourselves of the futurists, who also referred to themselves as “anarchists” and “libertarians”. They all supported Mussolini’s fascists. Therefore the gap between right libertarianism and fascism is quite a narrow one and remains so to this day.
The case of the Anti-Socialist Union in this country is strangely similar. Born out of the remnants of the Land and Property Defence League, the ASU represented the interests of the wealthy. The ASU were proponents of laissez-faire economics and, at one time, boasted a young Stanley Baldwin as a member. The ASU would become closely allied with various fascist movements in the 1920’s because of their shared opposition to communism.
Cut a right libertarian and you will find the blood of an authoritarian.
He who has the biggest wallet can afford free speech. Conversely, he who has the biggest wallet can silence those whose speech appears to cause them offence. The slight may be imagined. Indeed the slight may be exaggerated in order to hijack or control discourse. I expect some of the offended parties to talk about filing a lawsuit in the coming weeks.
Still, can you imagine BBC comedians making equivalent remarks about a Left-of-Centre campaigner: Helena Kennedy, say, or Shami Chakrabati? Silly question, really.
He doesn’t ask the important question: why? Instead he sounds like a 6 year old child who’s just been told that he can’t watch cartoons because he has to do his homework. Life’s so tough. The thing is, neither of the people he mentions are anywhere near as vile or racist as McWhirter whose TFA was more than happy to support apartheid-era South Africa as well as Rhodesia. In fact, Kennedy and Chakrabarti have done more for ordinary people in this country than the McWhirter brothers ever managed in a lifetime.
A fundamentally decent man, a man who had served his country in the war against Nazism and had been awarded the CBE, was traduced on air, linked to Mosley and compared to the BNP.
“Fundamentally decent”? Why? Because you say so? Don’t make me laugh.
His comment to one of his fans is quite amusing too,
The whole premise of the film is facile. The young David Baddiel goes to a talk at his public school (usual Leftie angst about public school, I was on a special scheme for the poor etc) expecting Norris to talk about the Guinness Book of Records. Instead Norris talks about politics and – angels and ministers of grace defend us – the man is RIGHT-WING.
Here is a dilemma for the teenage David. Someone he had admired turns out to disagree with him. But rather than consider why this admirable person might think differently, rather than allow the possibility that there might be two sides to an argument, he recoils in horror. Instead of thinking “If an impressive man like Norris is conservative, maybe there are some good conservatives”, he says “If an impressive man like Norris is a conservative, he can’t be as impressive as I had thought”.
As I’ve blogged before, what is striking about this attitude, which has become the default assumption among many on the Left, is not its narrow-mindedness or its stupidity, but it’s sheer narcissism. It redefines evil as “someone who disagrees WITH ME!”
So where did Baddiel describe anyone as “evil”? This trope that Hannan regurgitates is worth looking at closer. Here Hannan assumes that “many of the Left” think that anyone who has a different point of view is ‘evil’. It is so simplistic and barely takes a nano-second of thought. He has so far failed to provide any salient examples for his bizarre contention. We could read this comment in the same way as those comments and articles that are produced by the American right on the ‘left’: they are entirely constructed from tropes and myths. The left is “dangerous” or the left is “narrow-minded” (Dan evidently overlooks the narrow mindedness among his fellow Tories). The most popular trope is “liberal elites”, which always seems to trip off the tongue of an elitist. What Danny Boy seems to be missing is the fact that McWhirter’s appearance at Baddiel’s school confused him. McWhirter on Record Breakers was clearly a different person (almost avuncular) to the one that ran TFA. Of course, I knew the first time that I saw the McWhirter brothers there was something deeply disturbing about them. Patrick Moore too.
I’m not a fan of Baddiel. He was a part of that BritCom, BritPop, BritArt crap that was the zeitgeist of the mid-1990s. Strictly speaking, his remarks should be viewed within the context of the programme on which he appeared. Besides, Jeremy Clarkson gets away with a hell of a lot more.
If McWhirter had visited my school, I would have doubtless reached the same conclusion as Baddiel.
UPDATE: 6/3/11 @ 2342
Added additional paragraph about Baddiel and BritCom etc.
If I complained about every instance of BBC Leftism, I’d never blog anything else. Although the Beeb has tried to address the overt partisanship in its news department, many of its drama, comedy and consumer affairs programmes remain as jejune as ever. (All Rightists are evil, every Tory is one step away from Hitler, won’t it be hilarious when Thatcher dies etc.)
Hmmm, he clearly hasn’t paid much attention to the BBC’s news output since the Tory-led government took power. The BBC has practically bent over backwards to please the government. Its coverage of anything that occurs outside the faux left-right axis of Parliamentary politics has been woeful. That aside, Hannan’s take on both The Freedom Association and the McWhirter brothers is informed wholly by his membership of the organisation. You could say, that in a Bourdieusian sense at least, that he’s brought both his political and cultural capital to bear on this blog. Let’s read on,
Norris, whom I got to know as a teenager, was a kind, generous and modest man: a man of real and deep friendships, who had the gift of kindling enthusiasm in others.
Good for you. Presumably this happened while you were at Marlborough or did he pop out to Peru to hang out on your parent’s ranch? He continues,
This shouldn’t need saying, but since Mr Davies is throwing Mosleyite slanders around (they were, incidentally, blackshirts, not brownshirts), it’s worth recording that Norris played his part in the war against Hitler, serving in the Royal Navy. He was, above all, a lover of freedom: he could see that the corporatist Heath-Wilson state was deleterious to personal liberty as well as to economic prosperity. Nowadays, most of us can see that, but in the 1970s his was a brave and lonely voice.
What Dan overlooks from the lofty height of his ivory tower is that The Freedom Association is a very right-wing organisation that supported the apartheid regime in South Africa which it described as a “free country” that was part of the “free world” (sic). TFA also supported the English cricket tour of South Africa in the early 1980’s. TFA’s reason for doing this had nothing at all to do with freedom, it was an expression of solidarity with a vile right wing regime whose idea of freedom was relative to a person’s skin colour. It can therefore be argued that Hendrik Verwoed loved freedom too.
But during the Radio 5 interview is an appalling misrepresentation by Baddiel of The Freedom Association, which Norris established in 1975 with his twin brother Ross and Viscount De L’Isle. The Association is at the forefront of campaigning in defence of personal and political freedom.
The TFA do what? That’s funny, I thought they actively supported regimes that offered no personal or political freedoms – especially if you’re poor or working class. Countries like Pinochet’s Chile were considered worthy of their support. That’s not just glaringly obvious hypocrisy, it’s a perversion of the English language. TFA does not stand for freedom – at least not the kind of freedom that is accessible to all.
Indeed, the TFA make every effort to stifle people’s freedoms. During the Grunwick dispute, TFA was involved in John Gouriet’s strike-breaking efforts (Gouriet was a founding member of TFA). TFA are against people’s right to join a trade union, which means that they are against free association…unless you happen to be a member of TFA or any other right wing group of course.
TFA was involved in the March for Free Expression in 2006. The subject of their ire wasn’t the fact that someone had accused the McWhirter brothers of being fascist (their political views were quite clearly very close to fascism) but the fact that they wanted to “express solidarity with the right-wing Danish paper Jyllands-Posten” over its decision to print racist and anti-Muslim cartoons.
One of the official sponsors of the “March for Free Expression” was the Freedom Association, whose campaign director Mark Wallace was a platform speaker at the Trafalgar Square rally. This organisation gained notoriety in the 1970s for its energetic defence of the “freedom” of Grunwicks to oppress and exploit its employees without interference from the trade unions. Equally energetically, it has defended the right of racists to promote hostility towards minority ethnic communities.
While I am not a fan of David Baddiel, he does have a perfectly valid point about TFA and the McWhirter brothers. The only defence that Hannan can muster in support of McWhirter is,
…it’s worth recording that Norris played his part in the war against Hitler, serving in the Royal Navy.
Meanwhile on TFA’s website, they’re calling for Baddiel to be sued for slander. Seriously! I kid you not. So concerned are TFA with this notion of freedom of speech that they’re trying to silence someone from expressing their views. Over-sensitive to the point of the absurd and demonstrably against anything that doesn’t conform to their notion of freedom, TFA actively seeks to curb the freedoms of others. In their exhortation to their members they say,
TFA is built on core values of promoting individual freedoms and civil liberties for all, which is why we are so shocked that Baddiel chose to compare us to the British National Party (BNP). The views of the BNP are the ideological opposite to those of The Freedom Association.
TFA promotes ‘freedom’ – which is why it works to break strikes and smash unions. TFA are probably closer to the BNP than they realize (the BNP supported apartheid-era South Africa too). In fact, under the Nazis, trade unions were banned. That’s a historical fact that has passed Hannan by and he’s got a degree from Oxford in…wait for it…history. I suspect that the phrase “historical materialism” is one that never passes his lips.
While TFA claim to be advocates of freedom, the ultimate expression of their ideas would be an authoritarian state ruled by some caudillo who would look after the interests of capital, while suppressing dissent and enslaving those who literally cannot pay for their freedom.
This sudden jerky movement from TFA should only be seen one way: as an attempt to control discourse.