Zealous & Candid; The Powerful Poetry of Republican Chartist Gerald Massey

gerald_massey_1856
Gerald Massey Chartist poet

Kings are but giants because we kneel, one leap and up go we!

Percy Bysshe Shelley presents the British establishment with a conundrum. While acknowledging him as one of Britain’s greatest poets his reputation must be carefully marshalled to hide the devastating commentary he delivered on political and social conditions (as Graham Henderson points out here). For Shelley’s radical successors the situation is simpler – just pretend that they never existed.  Such a poet was Chartist Gerald Massey born 1828 in Hertfordshire.

‘A strong feeling against the British aristocracy….’

The titles of some of Massey’s poems such as The Red Republican (also the name of a publication) and The Last of the Queens and the Kings leave us in no doubt of his aims. Shelley had died in Italy in 1822 (at the tragically young age of 29), well before the rise of Chartist activity from the mid-1830s.  But being born almost 40 years later, much of Massey’s work is placed firmly in the cauldron of that political and social movement, with his early poems published from the mid-1840s onwards. The penalties for such activity could be severe, the Treason Felony Act being passed by Parliament in 1848 with the express purpose of increasing the chances of a guilty verdict being delivered against those tried for advocating the abolition of the monarchy.  A long prison term or transportation to Australia was a real possibility!

Massey came from impoverished beginnings and a scant education in a ‘penny-school’ meant that he was virtually an autodidact. He was to engage in a wide range of literary activities aside from poetry including journalism, theology, histotian and criticism. But just as with Shelley my aim is not to analyze his work as an academic exercise but to consider what insights his work holds for radicals and republicans today.  The great American poet  and essayist Walt Whitman was in no doubt about the aims of Massey’s poetry when in 1855 he observed:

I have looked over Gerald Massey’s Poems ― They seem to me zealous, candid, warlike, ― intended, as they surely are, to get up a strong feeling against the British aristocracy both in their social and governmental political capacity.

‘Put no faith in kings, nor merchant-princes trust’

In this short post it is not possible to do justice to the whole of Massey’s substantial output so I shall focus on just three of Massey’s poems Progress and TraditionThings Will Go Better Yet and Kings are but Giants Because we Kneel from which the following is the opening stanza:

Good People, put no faith in kings, nor merchant-princes trust,
Who grind your hearts in mammon’s press, your faces in the
    dust,
Trust to your own stout hearts to break the Tyrant’s dark, dark
    ban,
If yet one spark of freedom lives, let man be true to man,
We’ll never fight again, boys, with Yankee, Pole, and Russ,
We love the French as brothers, and Frenchmen too, love us!
But we’ll join to crush those fiends who kill all love and liberty,
Kings are but giants because we kneel, one leap and up go we.

We can learn much from this verse alone. The themes are similar to those which exercised Shelley, the people are good and monarchs are not worthy of trust. The term merchant-princes is telling and points to the autocratic nature of mid-Victorian trading companies with their lack of accountability and democratic control. This was the era when the activities of the British East India Company (EIC) were finally being acknowledged as a danger to even the British government (it was nationalised in 1858 and finally dissolved in 1874).  As I mentioned in this post the EIC was an effective forerunner and model for many of todays multinational Corporations who present such a danger to us. In the far less deferential 21st century, however, even the eager consumers of the products of corporations such as Microsoft and Apple would regard trusting those organisations as a little naive! Massey’s work is essentially internationalist in tone reflecting Tom Paine’s sentiment in his comment My country is the world which was to find expression in the realisation of the proto-socialist movements in the 1820s and 1830s that the problems faced by the people had a commonality throughout Europe.

Continue reading “Zealous & Candid; The Powerful Poetry of Republican Chartist Gerald Massey”

Fake News; Still Damaging Our Liberty After All These Years

fakenewsFake news is often presented to us as being a new development. but in fact the phenomenon has been around for a long time (so false information about fake news!). It is only the source and speed of media dissemination which has altered. So why is it a problem and why should we worry about it now?

A Very old Threat Wearing New Clothes

Looking back in history we can see many of the features of fake news familiar to us today. During the 17th Century printing technology had evolved to the point where news-sheets were published to bring information to an increasingly curious public.  During the English Civil Wars (ECW) of the 1640s fake news was a standard tool of highly partisan pamphlets with both Parliamentarian and Royalist armies employing officials to engage in what we would call today ‘spin doctoring’. Beyond the official sources any number of presses dodged legal restrictions to present the views of a myriad different groups. For example, The Moderate presented news and views from a Leveller perspective and frequently employed writers and editors from their ranks.  Beyond mere interpretation, some facts were simply made up and it was a regular occurrence for Charles Stuart to be pronounced dead by Parliament-biassed sheets. That is, of course, until January 30th 1649 when fake news became factual news! Some of the fake news was the result of poor communications and was published in good faith so should more properly be categorised as misinformation. Some, however, was deliberately fabricated as described in this this excellent article by Andrew Hopper of the University of Leicester.  As Hopper points out, this also included nationalist overtones with one 1643 pamphlet painting Prince Rupert of the Rhine, commander of the Royalist army, as a cruel German barbarian having committed any number of unspeakable atrocities.

The ECW was in reality no different from more recent wars where, as the saying goes, the first casualty is truth.  The fact that official Government sources disseminate fake news, not only during wartime, is generally accepted and it is the reason why a free press is regarded as a central requirement of an open society. But in 2017 fake news can arise out of any number of sources and, as this New York Times article illustrates, can have a complex history from generation to dissemination.

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British Republicanism Must Stop Defining Itself By What It Is Not

In an earlier post I pointed to the fact that in popular consciousness at least modern British Republicanism has a habit of defining itself in terms of not being Monarchism.  It was not always so, as in past centuries republicans tended to argue their anti-monarchy stance as a natural outcome of their positive beliefs in causes such as the Sovereignty of Parliament in the Seventeenth Century and Chartism or Socialism in the Nineteenth, to mention but two. A brief look at the Home Page of Republic campaign highlights the problem, with one of the main images actually displaying the Windsor clan in Parliament in all its finery (as of 3rd October)  – as if they needed publicity from Republicans!  Whilst fully supporting the drive to highlight the iniquities of our current archaic system there needs to be a positive message for success.

One thing I point out to non-Republicans is that I am an anti-monarchist because I am a Republican and not the other way around.  So what are the fundamental tenets of Republicanism which I advocate?  Here is the briefest of outlines for the main points:

  1. Popular Sovereignty. This means that we all have a stake in the laws and policies which our Government makes. I touched on this issue in a blog post dealing with the ‘taking back control’ rhetoric during the Brexit campaign.  Likewise the boundary changes supported by the Government serve to take even more power away from the ordinary voter.
  2. The Common Good,  A society is healthy when the institutions and economic system is arranged to promote the good of everyone in society. At present this is clearly not the case with a dysfunctional system being kept afloat with vast sums of created money which serves to only inflate asset prices for the wealthy.  There are alternative ways of rebalancing the economy away from elites such as democratising the control of capital.
  3. Liberty.  This is closely bound up with the first two points.  We can only be free when there is no possibility of being subject to the arbitrary will of another person or an organisation. Without the means of controlling our lawmakers we cannot be said to be truly free. Likewise an economic system which increasingly serves to trap people in zero-hours contracts and poverty wages with little means of escape, giving employers disproportionate powers.  This also results in millions of people being dependant on the state (thus sacrificing more freedom) to supplement their income. I consider it is the state’s responsibility to enhance the freedom of its citizens, not collude in its suppression!
  4. Civic Participation. It is the duty of the state to encourage as many of its participants as possible to take part in decision making.  But the way our system has evolved actively serves to prevent participation. There is a widespread feeling of being powerless in the face of major political power blocks and large corporations which is damaging our society.

This is clearly a broad brush assertion of principles and in some cases politically contentious in a party sense. But for me each of these four points stand in opposition to hereditary privilege.  To take an example from each. Popular Sovereignty. The residual power of monarchy such as Queens and Prince’s Consent (to prevent debate in the House of Commons) is simply unacceptable. The Common Good. The Windsors possess or otherwise control large assets with the power to seize the mineral wealth under people’s homes or come to advantageous tax arrangements with HMRC! Liberty. Though not used since 1707, Royal Assent to bills must go, as must immunity for the Head of State from legal action.  Civic Participation.  Monarchy actively promotes an outsider, voyeuristic attitude to public life rather than promoting and welcoming input from people.

It is true that many of these issues afflict other parts of our system and consequentially I am in favour of wholesale changes such as reform of the House of Lords, to name but one.  But ultimately it is my belief that mere anti-monarchism will not get the job done.  Republicans need to sell a vision of a society to our fellow citizens which makes abolition not merely desirable but natural and unavoidable!

As Charles Windsor Proves, Voltaire’s Idea of Enlightened Monarchy is Best Forgotten

voltaireIf you have read some of my previous posts you may be aware that I rarely write about foreign radical thinkers.  Even when I do they are mainly in the Anglophone tradition such as American Thomas Jefferson, the major exception being Niccolo Machiavelli.  There are two reasons for this bias. Firstly, other countries such as France with a less moribund and self-protective establishment than Britain tend to be more open about radical proponents of the past and are better known as a consequence. Secondly, possessing woefully poor foreign language skills I am dependent upon published translations of major works.  Where nuance and opinion are all important, the subtleties of language are vital and easily lost or distorted as they cross language barriers.

Voltaire: Some Good ideas, Some Not so Good

I am making an exception in this post to make a couple of observations about François-Marie Arouet, better known to us as Voltaire.  Even more unusual for me, Voltaire was essentially a constitutional monarchist who also toyed with absolutism! But it is rare to find a radical thinker with whom I am in complete agreement, partly because of drastic changes in society over the past century. For example, many 17th Century English Republicans such as Algernon Sidney actually argued for a form of aristocratic rule, tempered by democracy. On the other hand, Chartist Ernest Jones was a constitutional monarchist.  To dismiss every thinker who holds one or two contrary opinions would simply lead to an impoverished and shrivelled view of how society may be improved. In few other individuals, however, is the sense of contrariness in such sharp relief than in Voltaire.  But I want to see how one of his ideas stacks up to contemporary reality in the shape of the present heir to the United Kingdom throne, Charles Windsor.

A hazard when considering Voltaire’s work is the polemical and satirical style he adopted.  Voltaire actually lived in Britain between 1726 and 1729 and formed a favourable view of the British Constitutional Monarchy in comparison with France’s pre-revolutionary autocratic ancien régime. As I mentioned in this openDemocracy article, Voltaire  was a prominent figure during the Age of Enlightenment and a leading figure in the associated Republic of Letters network.

Continue reading “As Charles Windsor Proves, Voltaire’s Idea of Enlightened Monarchy is Best Forgotten”

‘Ye are many, they are few!’; More Inspiration From the Poet Shelley

shelley masqueThe anniversary of two events of primary importance in our radical history occur in August; the birth of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley on the 4th (in 1792) and the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, England on the 16th (in 1819).  Last week my thoughts Shelley’s great Poetical Essay on the State of Things was published on openDemocracy and it is a suitable moment to consider the relevance of another of his great works inspired by events in Manchester, the Masque of Anarchy (you can read it here).  Like the openDemocracy article, this post is neither intended as a literary study of Shelley’s work nor an account of the origins of Shelley’s radical opinions. There are many people far better qualified for this task and I can only draw your attention to two examples, Paul Foot’s excellent article from 2006 or the materials on this fascinating blogsite by Graham Henderson. In both my openDemocracy article and the present post I have two aims. Firstly to outline my claim to Shelley as part of the tradition with which I identify and secondly to assess the importance of Shelley’s work and the invaluable lessons it has for us now.

Although popular pressure had been building for reform since the start of the French Revolution in 1789, economic depression and high unemployment following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 intensified demands for change. In 1819 a crowd variously estimated at being between 60,000 and 100,000 had gathered in St Peters Field in Manchester to protest and demand greater representation in Parliament. The subsequent overreaction by Government militia forces in the shape of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry led to a cavalry charge with sabres drawn. The exact numbers were never established but about 12 to 15 people were killed immediately and possibly 600-700 were injured, many seriously. For more information on the complex serious of events, go to this British Library resource and this campaign for a memorial.

Shelley was in Italy when news reached him of the events in Manchester and he set down his reaction in the poem Masque of Anarchy (sometimes Mask of Anarchy) which contains the immortal lines contained in the title of my post. The work simmers over 93 stanzas with a barely controlled rage leading to a call to action and a belief that the approach of non-violent resistance (an approach followed by Gandhi two centuries later) would allow the oppressed of England to seize the moral high ground and achieve victory. Such was the power of the poem that it did not appear in public until 1832, the year of the Great Reform Act which extended the voting franchise.

Anarchy – Chaos and Confusion as a Method of Control

An excellent place to start thinking about the relevance of the poem is with the eponymous evil villain, Anarchy. He leads a band of three tyrants which are identified as contemporary politicians, Murder (Foreign Secretary, Viscount Castlereagh),  Fraud ( Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon) and Hypocrisy (Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth).  But Shelley widens the cast of villains in his description to include the Church, Monarchy and Judiciary.

Last came Anarchy : he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood ;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse.

And he wore a kingly crown ;
And in his grasp a sceptre shone ;
On his brow this mark I saw—
‘I AM GOD, AND KING, AND LAW!’

The promotion of anarchy with its attendant fear of chaos and disorder was one of the most serious accusations which could be levelled at authority. The avoidance of anarchy was also a concern of English radicals ever since the Civil War in the 1640s and Shelley was making the gravest personal attack  with his explicit individual accusations.  But Shelley’s attack is pertinent, the implicit threat of confusion and chaos to subdue a population for political ends is something which we experience today.   The feeling of powerlessness which can result from an apparently confusing and chaotic situation is something which the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis has termed ‘oh dearism’.  In our own time he has identified recent Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne as deliberately using such a tactic. Likewise the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been variously accused of being a threat to national security or a threat to the economy .

The 1819 Peterloo massacre occurred at a time of hightened external tension with fear that the French revolution would spread to Britain. The fear was not unfounded and various groups around the country emerged with such an intent, in many cases inspired by Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man which the Government had been trying to unsuccessfully suppress. The existence of an external threat combined with homegrown radicals was explicitly used as a reason for a policy of political repression and censorship. Likewise today an external threat, Islamic State combined with an entirely separate perceived internal threat (employee strike action) has been cited as justification for a whole range of measures including invasive communication monitoring (so called ‘Snoopers Charter’) without requisite democratic controls and a repressive Trade Union Bill seeking to shackle the ability of unions to garner support and carry out industrial action.

The Nature of Freedom

The nature of freedom is a problem which has bothered both libertarians and republicans for generations. In Masque of Anarchy where Shelley is enumerating the injustice suffered by the poor he clearly defines freedom in terms of the state of slavery, a core republican premise:

What is Freedom? Ye can tell
That which Slavery is too well,
For its very name has grown
To an echo of your own

The essence of freedom which has financial independence as a core component is clearly articulated over a number of stanzas, starting with:

‘’Tis to work and have such pay
As just keeps life from day to day
In your limbs, as in a cell
For the tyrants’ use to dwell,

‘So that ye for them are made
Loom, and plough, and sword, and spade,
With or without your own will bent
To their defence and nourishment.

In our own time freedom is frequently constrained by insufficient financial resources as a result of hardship caused by issues such as disability support cuts, chronic low wages and a zero-hours contract society. Shelley would have no problem with identifying Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, playing with multimillion pounds football clubs while his workforce toil in iniquitous conditions for a pittance; or Sir Philip Green impoverishing British Home Stores pensioners to pile up a vast fortune for his wife in Monaco. Disgustingly the only thing we need to update from Masque is the cast of villains, the substance  is unchanged!.

Non-Violent Resistance – A Way Forward

I pointed out that in the 1811 Poetical Essay, Shelley was searching for a peaceful way to elicit change in an oppressive hieracrchical society.  By 1819 Shelley has settled on his preferred solution of non-violent resistance.

Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war,

‘And let Panic, who outspeeds
The career of armèd steeds
Pass, a disregarded shade
Through your phalanx undismayed.

Nonviolent resistance is not an instant solution and takes years of persistent and widespread enactment to be successful. A partial victory was secured in the 1830s with the Great Reform Act (1832) and the Abolition of Slavery Act (1834). But history has proved that it is a viable strategy, the independence of India being an eloquent testament.

‘Taking Back Control’; Sounds Fine if You Like Illusions

Crowned_Portcullis_Med

On the face of it the Tesco Superstore in Consett, Co. Durham is not the most obvious place to gain insight into the EU referendum debate. On the other hand, it is as good a place as any (including Westminster and Whitehall), which gets to the heart of the problem. I popped into this particular store a couple of week ago while paying a visit to the area and while queuing to check out, overheard a young man operating an adjacent till enthusiastically explaining to his paying customers why he was voting to leave. It was, he confidently asserted, all about sovereignty, about taking back control. This set me thinking about the multi-facetted layer of the debate and the way in which ‘taking back control’ has eclipsed the Remain campaign’s point about protecting the rights of part-time and low-paid workers.

‘Taking Back Control’ – to Where?

The deliberate conflation of sovereignty with taking back control is only possible due to the depressing lack of understanding amongst many people of even the rudiments of the British constitution. The intention of the Leave campaign is to give the illusion that somehow we are all in control, an illusion of popular sovereignty fostered by the holding of the referendum itself (Ben Wellings and Emma Vines have pointed to this irony).  Theoretically, sovereignty the UK is exercised by Parliament with the role of the people limited to choosing their representatives to exercise this sovereignty.  Under normal circumstances the young man at the Tesco checkout would have very little power unless he got himself elected, or elevated to the peerage, and even then his power would be limited.  But even those who proclaim the supposed sovereignty of Parliament are being misleading and in fact the UK has a long history of internally sharing sovereignty.  As a prime example, the Scottish legal system operates on a completely different set of assumptions to the system in England and Wales. In modern terms the Parliaments and devolved assemblies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all share some of the Sovereignty of Parliament along with the English judiciary (through the system of common law). The official website provides more information on the number of ways in which it actually shares sovereignty with other sources of UK power. For a more complete account of the background to shared sovereignty, David Allen Green has written this excellent post.

So far I have considered  the UK in isolation. But we are signatory to approximately 700 or so international treaties, each of which involves a sharing of sovereignty to a greater or lesser degree.  Three of the most prominent agreements of course are the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) United Nations (UN) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  It could be argued that as the UK parliament could withdraw from any international treaty then it still exercises ultimate sovereignty.  But turning us into a kind of North Korea is not what the Leave campaign advocates. In fact it positively encourages us to be outward looking and even lauds the Commonwealth, which is in itself an expression of shared sovereignty! So the concept of sovereignty is a complex issue with many layers and a troubled history.  David Nowell Smith gives further details of just how slippery is the concept of sovereignty.

Who Would Exercise this ‘Control’?

While acknowledging just how complex the concept of sovereignty can be, it is possible to address some issues surrounding the wielding of power in the UK. Behind the deliberate conflating of sovereignty with ‘taking back control’ is the implicit assumption of an increase in individual liberty.  We have already noted that our checkout person will have almost no more effective power if we leave the EU than if we remain.  One example will suffice to illustrate this important point.  Many Leave campaigners talking about control are actually alluding to one aspect, immigration.  The argument is that withdrawing from the EU will necessarily drastically slow immigration leading to both higher wages and more resources for all of us in terms of public services.  But this is a deception. With sovereignty resting with Parliament and government being elected on a minority of the voters (the current one by only 37%, 24% if you include non-voters) there is no reason why a right wing government could not skew immigration to provide a constant flow of workers into just those industries to keep wages suppressed. Likewise there is no guarantee that more will be spent on public services, austerity may well continue and services privatised. Don’t forget, the Government has been stocking the Lords with wealthy businessmen interested in making as much money as possible.

Continue reading “‘Taking Back Control’; Sounds Fine if You Like Illusions”

Why UK Republicans should oppose a British Bill of Rights

The legality of calling for abolition of the monarchy is sometimes raised as a concern by fellow Republicans.  The source of the worry is an archaic piece of legislation, the 1848 Treason Felony Act which was rumoured to have been repealed in 2013, a fact later denied by the Government.  The period immediately preceding 1848 was marked by active campaigning by Chartists, many of whom were Republicans. Despite the fact that Chartist activity was in decline at that point the Government was still concerned that juries were reluctant to convict advocates of republicanism since the Treason Act itself carried a potential capital punishment.  Thus the Treason Felony Act was passed with a lesser penalty of life imprisonment aimed at increasing the conviction rate.

In 1891 the Treason Felony Act was partly repealed and it bacame legal to verbally advocate abolition.  This was for largely technical reasons involving problems associated with rules of evidence.  But what about written advocacy of abolition?  Although articles advocating republicanism appeared in print throughout the 20th Century, in 2003 the editor of The Guardian newspaper Alan Rusbridger instigated a legal challenge to the 1848 Act with the aim of clarifying whether his paper was within the law in advocating Republicanism.  The verdict can be viewed here but the Law Lords actually threw out the Guardian’s case saying that obviously The Guardian could run articles advocating abolition.  Like many countries in the West the UK operates a system of Common Law (judge made) which historically predates the system of Statute Law enacted by Parliament. This means that the precedent has been set that advocating abolition in writing will not end in a jail sentence. By the way, If you are in any doubt about Common Law, try finding Acts of Parliament dealing with the purchase and ownership of Property, which is almost wholly dependent on precedence.

The 2003 Law Lords made clear that their judgement was based in large part on the 1998 Human Rights Act (HRA). This is of interest to us as republicans since the Government has been threatening to replace the HRA with a British Bill of Rights (which is proving to be a millstone around their neck!).  This means there is a possibility of the 2003 judgement being rendered null and void. Repeal of the HRA would of course still leave recourse to the European Convention of Human Rights, provided that the Government does not take the monumentally stupid decision to withdraw from the treaty. Finally, it must be noted that there have been no prosecutions under the Treason Felony Act since 1883, over a century before the passing of he HRA.

Nevertheless, for republicans the 2003 judgement still means that the HRA is important as a front line of defence and its repeal must be viewed with suspicion.  As Tom Paine observed since the constitution determines how the political and legal system is organized any discussion of constitutional change should not be outlawed on principle!

A One-Sided Approach to Press Freedom is Threatening Our Liberty

In an  earlier post I mentioned that the theme of  Levellers Day 2016 was (Un) Civil Liberties.  This covered, amongst other subjects, the issue of press freedom, a difficult topic largely due to the inclusion of the word freedom!  The philosopher Isaiah Berlin identified over 200 ways in which the word ‘freedom’ has been used, leading him to conclude that it had become almost meaningless in practical terms, unless qualified in some way. Even in 1948 the United Nations must have realised the asymmetry of the clause in the Declaration of Human Rights which reads:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers. 

But what about the right of each of us to be exposed or made aware of such ideas? Here is the essence of the problem.

As with most issues involving freedom the first questions to arise include freedom from what or, alternatively, freedom to do what?  These issues lay at the core of attempts following the Leveson enquiry to regulate the press. A balance needed to be struck between protecting the freedom of the press from political interference against the freedom of the general public from unwarranted invasive press intrusion.  In a real sense the press brought the problem on themselves with outrageous phone hacking and payments to officials such as the police. So the insidious activity of phone hacking and backhanders to gain a commercial or competitive advantage was inextricably wrapped up with the laudable aim of furthering the public interest by revealing wrongdoing in Government.  As reported here, many newspapers including the Daily Mail were vocal in opposing the setting up of a ‘voluntary’ self regulating body (Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO) via a Royal Charter as it carried the implicit danger of interference from politicians.

But it is now important to ask what the press does with its ‘freedom’. Who is the beneficiary? This has been brought into sharp relief this month (May 2016) when the issue of alleged Conservative party fraud involving election funding has gone virtually unreported by many of those originally crying foul over the Press Charter including the aforementioned Daily Mail, but also Murdoch’s The Sun and The Times, the Daily Express and Metro amongst others  The situation is so ludicrous that ex-Conservative party Minister Michael Portillo claimed on television that he was completely unaware of the alleged fraud.  This is despite investigations by a number of police forces carrying the possibility of forced by-elections which may mean the loss of the Conservative Government Commons majority.  Clearly press freedom does not benefit Michael Portillo!

Continue reading “A One-Sided Approach to Press Freedom is Threatening Our Liberty”

Supporting David Cameron is Incompatible with Supporting Democratic Principles

Last month I blogged about the imprisonment and trial of four Levellers (for details of the Levellers see here) in March 1649 for publishing a pamphlet (England’s New Chains Discovered) which dared to criticize Oliver Cromwell and the military government. In effect this was the start of a determined programme of suppressing opposition and avoiding accountability which lay at the heart of the concerns articulated in the pamphlet. The warning which the event hold for us today was starkly illustrated a few weeks ago during Prime Ministers Questions in the House of Commons. This is supposedly a central event in British democracy where the Prime Minister is held accountable by our representatives. While all Prime Ministers in recent times have been known to dissemble, David Cameron has established a special notoriety for ignoring questions. In this instance he did it with a persistence, arrogance and contempt for the House of Commons which defied belief.

Continue reading “Supporting David Cameron is Incompatible with Supporting Democratic Principles”