British Bill of Rights or ECHR, Value & Protect Your Rights

On Monday evening I listened to a radio news report about the Washington gunman. During the piece two American women were interviewed during which they stated that they were in the city on a tour of national institutions including the Supreme Court. It was a powerful reminder of how many Americans value their rights under the constitution. Now, despite not being a fan of the US Constitution, I wondered just how many Britons people were aware of their rights and how much value they place on them. This is in the context of a disingenuous UK Government who eternally seem to promise a British Bill of Rights ‘by next Thursday’! The fact that the government itself places such a low priority the reformulation of our rights calls into doubt their motives in government.

It was in the summer of 2013 during the Abu Qatada saga that the government considered a plan to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). During that incident and through the subsequent discussion on repealing the implementation of the ECHR in the UK, the Human Rights Act (HRA), it was often forgotten that the rights it asserts protects all of us: black, white, gay, straight..etc. Take an example from my personal experience. The fact that I advocate abolition of the monarchy in writing is clearly protected by the HRA as established in the 2003 Judicial Review brought by Alana Rusbridger and the Guardian newspaper. Although I value my right to freedom of expression very highly, but it is still relevant to consider the problems with enshrining human rights in an International Convention backed by a Court.

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Bombay 1668; Autocratic Corporatism Then and Now

On March 27th 1668 an event took place which has an important lesson for us today with the possibility of a free Trade Agreement between the United States and the UK replicating parts of the stalled Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement making democratically elected Governments subject to Corporate interests. I have written a post about how TTIP would work in practice. Back in March 1668, the restored British monarch Charles II leased Bombay (now called Mumbai) to the East India Company (EIC) for £10 a year. Charles acquired the Bombay islands from the Portuguese as part of a dowry payment when he married Catherine of Braganza. This was all part of a strategy to give extensive autocratic powers to the EIC and over the next couple of years Charles issued five Charters allowing the company rights to autonomous territorial acquisitions; to mint money; to command fortresses and troops and form alliances; to make war and peace, and to exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the acquired areas. The Bombay islands was just one event in a series of significant events over the next 100 years which led to the EIC virtually monopolizing India (except for some minor areas of local control in the South) and becoming so powerful as to rival the British Government itself. This led to a series of Parliamentary Acts during the 1770s and 1780s which separated the commercial and administrative/political functions of the EIC and reasserted the supremacy of Parliament over the corporation. Apologists of the British Empire will point to the economic and administrative benefits of the EIC while avoiding the awkward facts of endemic corruption; massacres; looting of Indian treasures resulting in poverty; numerous famines including the Great Bengal of 1770; and exploitative systems of agriculture including the forced cultivation of opium in place of foodstuffs.

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Modern Citizenship Means Being Online


For much of our history property ownership was an essential prerequisite to exercise your full rights as a citizen, but now you need an internet connection! To be a citizen can mean a variety of things. At its most basic it is merely a synonym for being a national of a particular country, thus possessing a right of abode. As a consequence of mass migration the question of what it means to be a citizen in this sense is of burning importance at the current time. But the broader concept of a citizen is actually very old, dating back to the ancient Greeks and is closely related to the idea of freedom and political agency.

Later, being a citizen to the ancient Romans meant not being a slave and this idea carries potent implications to the present time. In Renaissance Europe the idea of a citizen was linked military service for your city or state, where you may be expected to serve part-time in a militia or reserve force. As today, much debate took place in seventeenth century England as to the definition of a citizen and whether everyone should enjoy the same rights. The highest level almost always involved the ownership of substantial property and conferred Parliamentary voting rights. At the bottom and often regarded as foregoing citizenship were the poor who received alms or worked for wages (much less common in pre-industrial societies) The emerging idea of a citizen being of independent means is an important one and is acutely relevant today. Crucially, very few definitions at that time included women, unless they were also property holders by widowhood or inheritance.

If citizen is a word plagued by ambiguity then the associated citizenship suffers similar problems. Again, it could mean simply the state of being a citizen, but that gets us little further forward. It is more useful to consider citizenship as a process; of how we take our part as an active member of society. On that basis, citizenship implies that we have various rights and responsibilities, some of which may be withdrawn permanently or temporarily. For example we may consider prisoners as being citizens, but of lesser kind without some rights, such as the ability to vote in elections (though this is being reviewed). In general, as societies developed, so the concept of the rights possessed by a citizen have similarly evolved. In modern western democratic states citizenship brings with it not only a right (or responsibility) to vote, but rights to welfare, education, health care, security etc. This means the necessity for the state to ensure that its people possess the knowledge, skills and means to take advantage of their rights and responsibilities. Moreover citizens must have the confidence to use the knowledge and skills effectively. The responsibilities of citizenship have also evolved, becoming ever more complex. If we take a wider view of citizenship as being actively involved in politics (in its broader sense, not just party based) the situation is similarly involved with a plethora of campaigns which may easily straddle international and even continental boundaries.

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Karl Marx: Earning a Living or Slaving Away?

Over the past two centuries one political philosopher has divided people more than any other: Karl Marx died today in 1883. You either love him or you hate him. But to simply reject or accept en bloc the ideas of this great man is to do him (and yourself) a disservice.  Although I am not a disciple of Marx, there are occasions where I find his ideas are right, or at least enlightening.  I’d like to take just one, wage slavery; as a Civic Republican anything which deals with slavery attracts my immediate attention!

Although Marx used it as a fundamental plank in his theory, the comparison between wage earners and slavery is an old one, being mentioned by the great Roman Republican theorist Cicero. In his De Officils he says:

…vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labor, not for artistic skill; for in their case the very wage they receive is a pledge of their slavery.

Cicero’s view that wage earners were dominated by their masters was also common in Seventeenth Century England where many radicals (including Levellers) regarded them as having foregone their freeborn status and thus to be disenfranchised. In their defence, this was long before the industrial revolution changed the sheer scale and nature of earning a wage.  Later, Tom Paine took a more collective approach to try and eliminate the problem of wage slavery by support through state funds.

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William Cobbett and the Remains of Thomas Paine

On March 9th 1763 the journalist and politician William Cobbett was born. To describe him as a political radical would be misleading, but for much of his life he took a fiercely anti-authoritarian stance. Serving as a soldier in the British Army his early views were formed as a reaction to the corruption he witnessed amongst the officers while the enlisted men endured harsh treatment. Fearing persecution for his outspoken views he fled to France in 1792, where he found the revolutionary environment to be antithetical to his conservative approach. He immediately left for the nascent United States where he wrote pamphlets and articles supporting the British position.

Returning to Britain in 1800 he was offered the editorship of a Government newspaper which he declined in favour of his own publication The Porcupine which carried the motto ‘Fear God, Honour the King’. His next project The Political Register was launched in 1802 and initially took an anti-radical stance before drifting into increasingly virulent attacks against the Government of William Pitt for financial mismanagement and cronyism. The Register started to gain traction with the working classes and he was imprisoned for libel and, fearing a further prosecution for seditious writing, he returned to the United States in 1817.  While in the United States, Cobbett hatched audacious plan to return the remains to Britain of the great republican, revolutionary pamphleteer and political philosopher Tomas Paine, who died in 1809. Alas the plan to give Paine a granf reburial on home soil not come to fruition and Paine’s remains were found with Cobbett’s effects after his death in 1835, whereupon they were sadly lost to us.

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In, out, shake it all about

By Alison Rowland

I am delighted to welcome guest blogger Alison Rowland to the Radical I-Pamphlet with a post containing her thoughts on the EU Referendum debate. Alison is a jewellery maker, advocate for social justice and an enthusiast for Labrador dogs and Ancient History. She can be found on twitter as @Rowland35Alison and on Facebook at BlueForestJewellery1

A referendum sounds like such a lovely fair and democratic thing, doesn’t it? Like something the British might have proudly created during that brave experimental time when we had de-capitated one King, and not yet replaced him with another equally as bad.  Sadly, history is an object lesson in not learning from our mistakes. Granted, we have evolved to a situation in which our monarch has relatively little political influence, despite retaining obscene levels of wealth and privilege. But we still regularly vote into power people whose background allows them to control and influence the media and effectively buy their power, and then let them use that power to pervert the notion of democracy.  And we are about to launch into a ‘debate’ which is already being defined around the notion of ‘sovereignty’ without any real hope that what that actually means will ever really be allowed to surface.


With all this jockeying about for power, its like they’re playing at kings

We have only managed two major referendums, the original EU one in 1975, and the Alternative Vote one in 2011. The first allegedly an exercise in gauging support for the EU which would never be legally or constitutionally binding; the second a bad tempered spat between the then coalition partners over an alternative many didn’t understand, with a disproportionate amount of debate focussing on whether voting Yes would lead to yet more dreadful coalition governments.

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The NHS Internal Market: A Flawed Ideology

In February 2016, NHS whistleblower Sarah Hayes revealed the chaotic state of the NHS 111 service in the South West of England. The story, picked up by the Daily Mail in a series of articles including this one , was associated with a scandal involving the death of baby William Mead in Cornwall. Hayes told of exhausted staff sleeping on the job and calls being handled by teenagers who had just finished their GCSEs with no medical training.  Understandably, defenders of the NHS were quick to criticise the newspaper’s angle of the story, claiming the unacceptable level of service to be a consequence of privatisation.  But the situation complicated by the fact that the NHS 111 service in the area in question was contracted by the local Care Commissioning Group  and being run by a public organisation, the South West Ambulance Foundation Trust (SWAFT). Rather than being a straightforward case of the dangers of external privatisation the story tells us something more general about the market model in large organisations, private as well as public.

Leaving aside the whole issue of external privatisation, we have lived with an internal NHS market in some form or another for 25 years. We have been told so often that the way to promote service innovation and drive down costs is via competition that many people accept it uncritically. But does it work?  It is interesting to start by looking at the private sector where, surprisingly, internal markets are not popular. This 2013 article by Steve Denning outlines the problems. Denning’s article is focussed on innovation rather than service provision but the principles are the same since the whole point about delivering more medical services for less cost relies on creating or adopting innovative ideas. Denning mentions the case of retailer Sears whose chairman Eddy Lampert is an enthusiastic proponent of internal business units for driving innovation. As Denning says,

An outspoken advocate of free-market economics and fan of the novelist Ayn Rand, [Lampert] created the [business unit] model because he expected the invisible hand of the market to drive better results. If the company’s leaders were told to act selfishly, he argued, they would run their divisions in a rational manner, boosting overall performance.

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