The Child Sex Abuse Inquiry; Justice Must Be Seen To Be Done

It is possible that Prime Minister Theresa May is the luckiest British politician of our time.  She seems to have completely dodged any responsibility for the debacle surrounding the instigation of the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).  The fact that May has emerged politically unscathed with a reputation of businesslike competence is nothing short of remarkable, due in no small part to the Labour Party obsession with its leader rather than providing opposition. Needless to say. the people who have been forgotten appear to be the people in desperate need of closure, the abuse survivors.

A Weak Notion of Independence

As neither an abuse victim myself nor someone who has experience of supporting victims I am not qualified to begin to comment on the specifics this most sensitive of areas. But looking at the IICSA in an organisational context is a different matter and much is revealed about the attitude of the authorities, which casts doubt on a succesful outcome. I start by encouraging you to view the IICSA website. Looking at the About Us section we find the following statement:

Being independent means the Inquiry is not part of government and not run by a government department.

This seems a particularly weak interpretation of ‘independent’. It should go much further with a statement that it is neither subject to  government influence nor censorship.  The notion of independence is further weakened since much of the suspicion falls on establishment institutions which are outside the technical boundaries of Government such as the Police, Lords, the Church of England and the Judiciary. To this list can be added those members of the Royal Family aside from the Queen and Prince of Wales who are not part of the Government but most certainly part of the establishment.  I shall return to this issue later.

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The Queen; 50 Years of Trying to Subvert the Commonwealth!

Royalists were unable to contain themselves during the summer of 2013. Apart from the birth of George Windsor there was also this report in the Daily Mail.  According to the article the Queen was ‘discreetly’ campaigning to make the Head of the Commonwealth a hereditary position. Apparently this included getting David Cameron to speak to the other Commonwealth leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2013 (CHOGM13).  Now, it must be said that the Daily Mail has been known to get things wrong! There was certainly nothing in the final communique, but maybe that was because it was very discreet. But lets make the entirely reasonable assumption the story is correct. Such an assumption is supported by the royals own website which deliberately confuses matters by having a Role of the Monarchy on its Commonwealth page. The Queen may currently be Head of the Commonwealth as a person but that is not true of monarchy as an institution. The idea that anyone could be promoting the extension of hereditary privilege in the 21st Century is simply disgusting. Furthermore, the fact that a change in the constitution of an international organisation would be attempted ‘discreetly’ shows the complete lack of respect that the Windsor family has for Commonwealth citizens.

The Mail was indeed correct in stating that the words ‘does not pass automatically to her heir’ had been removed from the Governance section of the Commonwealth Secretariat. The site, however, still emphasises the fact that the Head is chosen collectively by the member states.  What gives the story credence is that the Queen had already attempted to make the Head of the Commonwealth a hereditary position.  When the Letters Patent were issued in 1958 to make Charles the Prince of Wales it was intended that he, along with his heirs and successors, shall be future Heads of the Commonwealth!

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The Royal Oath; An Invidious and Deceptive Anachronism

An oath is a formal declaration or promise to carry out an action or maintain a pledge. Many oaths call on God or a sacred object to act as a witness and most involve allegiance to a person or cause.  Oaths are made all over the place, many in a legal context. Such is the nature of the oaths which our MPs, military personnel (except the Royal Navy!), police officers and other public officials must make to the Queen. As the Republic group points out it is a complete affront to the spirit of democracy that our elected representatives have to swear allegiance to an unelected monarch. Here is the oath which our MPs must take.

I (MP name) swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.

There are some variations which can be taken, such as a non-religious equivalent, but the substance is the same in all cases. Note that until they take the oath they cannot represent you or I and do the job for which they were elected. As I have pointed out earlier, this has been, and still is, a problem for some Irish political parties.

There are two things to note about the oath.  Firstly is the assumption that the monarch embodies the state in person and thus represents us all in a kind of social contract.  The fact is that this is a constitutional figment which has been abused for centuries is beyond dispute (see here,paragraph 3).  The difference is that whereas in previous centuries this abuse has taken the form of political or military oppression, in modern times this privilege takes the form of protections for private interests, such as mineral rights.

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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!

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The City of London Corporation; The Solid Gold Woodlouse

Firstly, to put this post into some historical perspective. Of the many Clauses comprising the various versions of the 13th Century Magna Carta only a very few are still relevant, including Clause 9 which states:

The City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have.

Other cities are indeed mentioned (including the Cinque Ports) but these have long been absorbed into the mainstream of British politics and administration. Fast forward three centuries and in 1571 the City of London Corporation (CofL) created the Remembrancer post as a channel of communication between the Lord Mayor and the Crown (including Parliament). Now to 1647. The Lord Mayor and Common Council petition a recalcitrant Civil War Parliament to allow an expansion of its forces to oppose the New Model Army. Both the City and Parliament backed down when Oliver Cromwell threatened to destroy the city.

These episodes from history tell us much about the CofL. It is the woodlouse of British institutions – ancient, adaptable and a born survivor. It is these features which are the biggest obstacles in holding to account this blot on our democracy. The CofL itself points out that there is a considerable degree of misunderstanding regarding the City Remembrancer. For example, it is often stated that the Remembrancer sits in the House of Commons. He does not, as the CofL points out here; if he occupies any position it is in the Under Gallery overlooking the Chamber, but not part of it. It is not difficult to realise that a seat in the Chamber itself would be a waste of the Remembrancer’s time. He would not be allowed to take part in debates and I imagine pulling faces or looking disapprovingly at the Chief Secretary of the Treasury would not have a great effect. In fact, power is much more effectively exercised at the Reading and Committee stages of Parliamentary business. This sloppy thinking on the part of critics does nothing to help frame the urgently needed reforms.

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