As seems normally to be the case, I’d lost my way with this blog, then lost interest in blogging, then went on holiday and that was it…
Except I’m home now and things are happening – films get watched, Dr Who mysteries inflame the nation, and the Metropolitan Police make their authoritarian excesses under New Labour look like kids’ stuff. It’s time to post what crosses my mind when it crosses my mind. Sometimes it’ll be potted reviews, sometimes trains of consciousness about certain issues, sometimes a quick hit, other times long form essays. If you like the sound of that read on…
It beggars belief but the Metropolitan Police’s Territorial Support Group (TSG) are acting the wounded party in the face of attacks on them for their ultra violent behaviour at the G20 protests in April:
“They want to be seen as the best and they want to be the best – and of course when anybody challenges them about it, they feel it very personally,” he [Head of the Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group, Commissioner Chris Allison] said.
They want to be seen as what they are… the overwhelming majority are highly professional cops who go out on the streets to protect communities.”
Pardon me for finding it absurd then that if they want to be seen to be ‘the best’ then they shouldn’t go around either wantonly beating unarmed, non-violent protesters or killing innocent passers-by. If the overwhelming majority of the TSG really are highly professional it seems rather odd that the reports of extreme violence from within their ranks should be coming out with such regularity, with so little then done to change the behaviour of the unit.
I often find myself joining progressive and conservative politicians on platforms to talk about the erosion of civil liberties and the growth in state power. To be honest, it would be hard pressed to slide a piece of paper between Tony Benn and David Davis on so many of these issues, or for that matter Sir Ken Macdonald and Dominic Grieve. This is because one of the great divides in our post-ideological politics is now about the power of the state. Do you trust the state and give it every sort of power at the expense of parliament and the people, or do you believe that increasing state powers are not just a menace to individual liberty but a cast-iron guarantee of bad government?
This in a nutshell is the raison-d’être for this website. I firmly believe that supporters of what used to be described as left and right-leaning parties are united in their rejection of overwhelming state power to intrude, oppress and criminalise. I think Tories and real Labour supporters see entirely eye to eye on the unjustness of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), which presupposes everyone is a paedophile when trying to get employed. I think they agree that the ID cards and identity regime which the Home Office wants to bring in is fundamentally dangerous, that the state shouldn’t have the power or the right to control and monitor literally every single private transaction in this country. I don’t think people who were once political enemies disagree at all that it’s fundamentally wrong for Peter Mandelson to empower any agency he likes with police powers in the name of protecting corporate ‘intellectual property’ rights, nor to kick people off the internet without any judicial involvement at all. Noone thinks stopping and searching someone for taking a photograph of a chip shop or a sunset is anything short of bonkers, and I’ve not heard anyone agree it right to extradite anyone to the United States (or anywhere for that matter) without evidence first being necessary, nor through legislation which parliament hasn’t even voted on.
The problem has been in recent years of what to do about it? As we’re in a post-partisan political world, where does your vote go? The Tories are themselves planning on curbing the right to protest and have nothing serious on the table in terms of repealing the legislation which has got us into such a fundamentally paranoid mess. But that’s not surprising -the current, neo-conservative/neo-liberal political consensus isn’t likely to result in the restoration of power to the individual – how could it? Both ideologies (essentially merged post-Bush/Blair) depend on the quashing of the power of the individual in favour of the interests of the state. It results in preemptive arrests at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, it gets non-violent protesters’ heads bashed in in Bishopsgate, it results in illegal strategic wars with the outrageous justification of “protecting ourselves”, and in the state ignoring the European Court of Human Rights in favour of a blanket support of retaining innocent people’s DNA on its national database, when it’s already been proven there’s no advantage in doing so. The binary choices we still have for the ballot boxes are entirely insufficient to alter this odious political consensus, and with more people facing preemptive criminalisation than at any previous point in modern history, the room for opponents of this consensus to maneuver is increasingly limited.
I don’t think all is lost however, and in time I hope this site helps to set about proving it. A minority is becoming ever more vocal about these abuses to our rights, despite the best efforts of our far-right, corporate-leaning press, be it the ‘I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist’ campaign, the NO2ID campaign, or the increasingly strident attacks from every angle against the ISA and Digital Economy Bill. When will it turn into a majority though? When will we start protesting en masse against the erosion of our rights and (still necessary) freedoms? Given the fear people have of our patchwork police state, and of human nature saying ‘it won’t happen to me (until it does)’, I don’t think we have immediate solutions on the table. I think we can however work across party lines, and regardless of who is in government, for constitutional reform by stealth, as both major parties start to realise there is electoral advantage in it, and then use it to constrain their behaviour. I accept that a written constitution failed to curb the excesses of the Bush Administration in America, but we have even fewer avenues of redress against the abuses of the state. The Supreme Court is there – ready and waiting – we’re just waiting for a constitution for it to get on with interpreting.
In the meantime it’s time to say ‘no’. Know your rights and use them when the state challenges them or abuses them; bring your stories here and expose this authoritarianism to an ever wider audience. But let’s also work together to aim for a proportional voting system and a written constitution as well. Of course they won’t be a panacea, but they could be one of the important missing links for those of us from all political backgrounds who oppose this corporate-driven authoritarianism which is making criminals of us all. Our informal checks and balances against government abuse have broken down in parliament – it’s time for a renewed constitutional arrangement to build broader constraints against abuses of power, and protections for the individual.
There will be a referendum after all, to replace Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, which allows a party to become the government, even though a majority of voters have voted for someone else:
Jack Straw, the justice secretary, will introduce the change in an amendment to the constitutional renewal bill. This will amount to paving legislation for a referendum on whether to introduce AV, to be held no later than October 2011.
Ministers, who agreed the move at a meeting of the cabinet’s democratic renewal committee (DRC) yesterday, believe that the prospect of a referendum will have three key benefits. It will:
• Allow Labour to depict itself at the general election as the party of reform in response to the parliamentary expenses scandal.
• Make David Cameron look like a defender of the status quo. The Tories, who are opposed to abolishing the first-past-the-post system, would have to introduce fresh legislation to block the referendum if they win the election.
• Increase the chances that the Liberal Democrats will support Labour – or at least not support the Tories – if no party wins an overall majority at the election, resulting in a hung parliament. The Lib Dems have traditionally regarded the introduction of PR as their key demand in any coalition negotiations. While AV does not technically count as PR, many Lib Dems regard AV as a step in the right direction.
I’m not happy with the idea of AV, when AV isn’t really any more proportional than first-past-the-post. And it does look like a sickeningly cynical manoever, although if they manage to keep the referendum in place if/when they lose the election, it will indeed be quite an impressive achievement. Someone at least has understood that they have to present themselves as a party prepared to embrace change, but if this is as far as they’re prepared to go down that road then even then it doesn’t even count as a half measure. Britain’s surveillance culture is now completely out of control – we’re well down the road of everyone having to be checked so that they’re not a paedophile, merely in order to get a job. We’re in a time when photographers snapping a sunset are being stopped by police for fear of being terrorists, and when a government with a track record of screwing up databases reserves the right to hold on to your DNA, even if you are innocent of a crime. If they’re unprepared to think about tackling these terrible civil liberties and human rights abuses and are using a referendum promise to distract our attention, and to outflank the Tories for future electoral gain, then they really aren’t interested in change at all. I agree with Stephen Tall, who says:
Labour has had 12 years in which to renew the democratic fabric of this country. They failed to do anything about it because, quite simply, they didn’t care enough about it. If they care now, it is only because it’s expedient to; and expediency is the worst possible motive for reform.
The government is pressing ahead with the piloting of the ID cards scheme in Manchester, despite Manchester’s complete and utter indifference:
96% of respondents in a recent Manchester Evening News online poll opposed the scheme. Fewer than 2,000 people in the north-west have “expressed interest” in the ID cards, and that number includes opponents like myself.
Despite lack of interest, the government is still pushing ahead with the scheme, spending £230,000 every day to bring it about. Its current claims are that it is a cheap, convenient way to prove your identity.
An ID card costs £30 initially, compared with £77.50 for your first adult passport – but for now you need a passport to apply for an ID card. Regardless, the ID card scheme costs every taxpayer about £300. It would save money if the government instead gave everyone a free adult passport when they turn 16. The passport cost has also increased from £42 in 2005, only £8 of which can be justified for meeting international standards for the insecure “e-Passports”.
I don’t need to carry about vast quantities of paperwork with me on a daily basis to prove my identity or address. I rarely need anything more than my bank card to talk to my bank. A card that lives in my wallet is something I’m more likely to lose – and risk the fine for not reporting a lost ID card..
Clearly, I don’t want an ID card and shouldn’t register. But why am I protesting against it? It’s a voluntary scheme, and people can take it or leave it, right?
Well yes. It depends though on whether or not you want ever to leave the country on holiday or on business again. It’ll depend on whether or not you want to end up at university. And with function creep already driving the Independent Safeguarding Authority’s Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS), that’ll only be the tip of the iceberg. Voluntary yes, but compulsory by stealth. It strikes me that Manchester though has already moved beyond those arguments – the city both doesn’t know the pilot is taking place and doesn’t see the need for it. And why should they? As Home Office minister Meg Hillier said to them:
“But another real benefit is that once you have registered no-one can steal your identity” and “the databases will be very secure – think Police National Computer. No-one will be able to download information and it will not be on PCs on people’s desks.”
Except haven’t I read they’ve already been cloned? And since when are government databases secure? People’s information won’t be safe on ID cards, and given that abundantly clearly innocent people are being accused of terrorism merely for taking pictures of sunsets or high streets, how can anyone have any faith in why the government needs this scheme to succeed? Of course the reason why they need it to succeed is quite sinister: they want to recast the entire nature of identity for the 21st century. ID cards are a vital component for how these people see people’s relationship with government in the future, and they will use any argument, threaten every punishment, conceal every truth in order to make it happen. It must be resisted at all costs, not just ignored. Hillier went on to say:
“The penalty charges are really an encouragement to keep info up to date – this only actually affects your address. The main beneficiary of up to date address is the card holder so we don’t envisage many people not complying.”
See? ‘We’ll punish you for your own good.’ It’s authoritarian and quite quite despicable.
Communities Secretary John Denham has argued that religious values are essential in building a progressive society:
“Anyone wanting to build a more progressive society would ignore the powerful role of faith at their peril,” he said.
“We should continually seek ways of encouraging and enhancing the contribution faith communities make on the central issues of our time.
“Faith is a strong and powerful source of honesty, solidarity, generosity – the very values which are essential to politics, to our economy and our society.”
The minister said that the Government needed to be educated by faith groups on “how to inform the rest of society about these issues”.
Last year, the Church of England was highly critical of Labour, with bishops questioning the morality of its policies and accusing it of giving preferential treatment to the Muslim community.
Mr Denham said it was wrong to give special status to minority faiths, such as Islam, and stressed that faiths should not be free from criticism.
“I don’t think you should have special treatment or special favours for any particular faith. I think the treatment, in terms of the ability to have robust debate or criticism of it, should be equal.”
He added that he was sympathetic with religious leaders, such as Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had complained of the rise of aggressive secularism in Britain.
“I don’t like the strand of secularism that says that faith is inherently a bad thing to have and should be kept out of public life,” Mr Denham said.
I don’t know who he thinks is making a claim that faith is inherently a bad thing to have. I don’t believe it is – the question is where religion belongs in civil society. And I would maintain until my dying breath that religion doesn’t belong in politics, that it’s toxic to the political process, that informing a process based on reason and evidence by one which is founded on belief and nothing else should be counter-intuitive. It’s monstrous to suggest that the only meaningful sources of honesty, solidarity and generosity are mainstream religions – it gives them social value disproportionate to their real worth.
The National Secular Society is quite right when it complains about unelected people influencing decision-making, but that’s not the heart of the problem here. This is a government which has throughout its life-span undermined the rule of law, attacked evidence-based policy making and made the most dangerous and reckless decisions based entirely on faith. It’s brought our political process to the brink of self-destruction, and aimed more people than ever at the political fringes. Maybe Denham should give that a little thought before he complains about secularism.
Of course, any move to ensure gay people are treated the same as everyone else is immediately labelled “political correctness” and smothered in exaggeration and distortion. The defenders of homophobia can no longer, in polite society, say they think gay people are disgusting and immoral. Too many people have grasped the simple, humane truth that every human society in history has had 3 to 5 per cent of people who were attracted to their own gender, and it does no harm to anyone. So the homophobes have resorted to other tactics. One that has been growing over the past year is to claim that gay people who are trying to stop bullying and intimidation are “the real bullies”, trying to “silence” poor embattled homophobes.
We’ve got it happening with Christianists through to newspaper columnists – attacking homophobia is being spun as ‘infringing the right to believe’ or ‘breaching freedom of speech’; we do after all live in the age where there are no more universally understood or accepted ‘truths’. Just this week the House of Lords scrapped an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill which would have criminalised incitement to homophobic hatred. The homophobes would have you believe it represented a victory for free speech:
it is defeat for what would have been an undemocratic and quite sinister attempt to prohibit the expression of opinions and feelings of which government disapproves (even though those opinions – disapproval of homosexual practices - constitute religious principles for many Muslims, Evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews). Lesson: freedom of speech must be indivisible – even if it is sometimes hurtful and offensive.
But just look at what the amendment actually said:
“For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.”
It’s pretty clear where the real bullying is here, and Ian Baynham knew it too, when he stood up for who he was against homophobic hatred. Hari suggests the ‘political correctness’ and religious fundamentalist lobbies legitimise hatred which leads to cases like Ian’s, like James Parkes’, like Michael Causer’s. I would tend to agree. The Christian Institute celebrated the amendment’s defeat however, saying it was a ‘victory for common sense’. Yet Hari points out:
[The] Stonewall study found that in schools with a consistent policy of punishing homophobic language, gay children were 60 per cent less likely to be attacked. That fall in violence could ripple out from the school gates – but today, only 6 per cent of schools adopt this policy. The Government should immediately make it mandatory.
They should indeed – incitement to homophobic hatred must be banned.
Following a damning series of articles in The Guardian, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (NETCU), and their sister organisation the National Domestic Extremist Team (NDET) are attempting to justify their existence by raiding and arresting four animal rights activists for conspiracy to commit criminal damage.
NETCU and NDET are run by Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Denis O’Connor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, will next month release the findings of his national review of policing of protests and has already signalled he anticipates wide scale change. His inspectors are considering a complete overhaul of the ACPO units, which they have been told lack statutory accountability.
Wearing balaclavas, police officers from four different forces carried out the raids yesterday, smashing through doors and spending over ten hours searching two houses. Witnesses to one of the raids described the police as “intimidating” and “threatening”.
Lynn Sawyer – a resident of one of the houses – who was not arrested stated “This was a massive fishing expedition to promote NETCU’s facade of effectiveness whilst attempting to stop protest through pure terrorisation.”
Apart from computers and mobile phones, the police were also interested in financial documents, evidence of travel and association in support of animal rights extremism. Evidence of such extremism included banners, leaflets and a poster from VIVA, a well respected vegetarian/vegan organisation.
Fitwatch activist Emily Apple stated that “This was an entirely disproportionate policing operation undertaken by an increasingly desperate unit. The threatening nature of these raids and using items such as NGO posters and leaflets as evidence of extremism demonstrate NDET’s dubious definition of domestic extremism and their willingness to intimidate protesters and criminalise dissent.”
Notes for Editors:
1. More information on The Guardian’s investigation – http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/25/police-surveillance-protest-domestic-extremism
2. A third ACPO unit dealing with domestic extremism, the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, is also being investigated.
3. The term “domestic extremism” does not have a legal definition and has been invented by these units.
4. VIVA are supported by a wide range of people including Joanna Lumley, Michael Mansfield QC and Sir Paul McCartney
Until the apologists for religion are comprehensively shown to be, at best, deluded idiots or at worst manipulative power-mongers, we will never be free from their influence. They must be shown to be emperors with no clothes. You can’t do that by trying to talk to them on their own terms (“let’s have a bit of respect around here – these are deeply held beliefs and any challenged to them is unacceptably offensive”).
The present challengers of theology – Dawkins, Hitchens, Grayling et al – have taken the gloves off. And rightly so, in my opinion. I consider H.L. Mencken had it right when he said: “Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.” And Thomas Paine said it even better: “The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.”
The only way this country is going to get on the right track once more is by changing the way we elect our MPs. First-past-the-post worked in an age where adversarial politics led to a certain degree of perceived stability, when class politics determined the electoral cycle and was the main determinant of how people voted. Those days are long gone, and we now live in a diverse country where the wishes of the majority are ignored in the quest for the floating voter in marginal seats. Apathy in ‘safe’ seats has become endemic, as the electorate realises there’s no point in voting, because their votes really don’t make a difference. We can change that by changing the system to reflect the wishes of the majority – oh you keep hearing the nonsensical attack stories, complaining the BNP would make it into Westminster, that we’d end up with coalition government. But look at Germany – absorbing an entire Communist east into a PR system in only a generation. Is Germany any less stable now than it was 20 years ago? They were run by monsters half a century ago – there isn’t even a hint of that now.
It’s great news that Vote for a Change’s Willie Sullivan has met with Gordon Brown and Jack Straw. Nothing may come from it right now, but the fact that the meeting has even taken place suggests the government is oh-so-slowly realising that the solution to the expenses scandal might very well rest with a referendum on the voting system. Brown may be finished come what may next summer, but he could well enable a system which could also make the Tories’ return far briefer than they would wish, at least governing alone; I think he knows this too. Will the timidest of Prime Ministers make a bold, last move? We can only hope. The future success of our democracy and our civil liberties could rest on it.
I’m not one of those people who felt Nick Griffin shouldn’t have been allowed on Question Time because his and the British National Party’s (BNP) views on race, religion, nationality and sexual orientation were perverse. They clearly are, but I acknowledge too that freedom of speech has to include those views you despise, as well as those you agree with – you can’t preemptively say even someone as hateful as Nick Griffin shouldn’t be allowed to speak. If he breaks laws then he has to pay a price, if he indulges in hate speech he needs to be prosecuted, if he says appalling things about the holocaust he needs to be condemned for it, but be stopped from speaking because he’s a homophobic racist? Absolutely not. So what was Question Time like after all the hype? In my view it was a mixed bag.
If Griffin wanted to continue his process of ‘cleaning up’ the BNP brand he did a pretty lousy job of it. He came across as blatantly homophobic (he wasn’t alone on the panel in that, you Tories), he was unapologetically anti-semitic and refused to be drawn into sensible discussion by Bonnie Greer about just what he meant by the ‘indigenous British people’. Anyone with any degree of common sense will have watched that and been thoroughly appalled when he tried to wriggle out of his penchant for holocaust denial, and when he tried to justify homophobia. He’s a disgusting man, with a disgusting message, but he will sadly have made significant political capital out of two aspects of the show. Firstly when Jack Straw was asked whether he thought New Labour’s authoritarian immigration policy had contributed to the rise of the BNP, Straw pointedly dodged the question. Typically lawyerly Straw simply answered another question, and it was tragically the key pitfall which lay in wait for him, and which he unceremoniously threw himself into. A government which demonises ‘failed’ asylum seekers, which makes legal aid next to impossible for people fleeing persecution, and expecting help under the Geneva Convention, and which locks up their children, is hardly in a position to preach tolerance to the BNP. Straw knew it, the panel knew it and a smirking Griffin knew it too; Blair and now Brown have given him part of a constituency previously unthinkable in modern times.
The other gain for Griffin was even more alarming. The entire show was debated on the BNP’s terms – their talking points were justified by concentrating only on them. Even Chris Huhne demeaned himself by trying to prove that, yes, the Lib Dems too could be tough on immigration. Every word uttered was a gain for the BNP; whilst it was a delight to see him hammered comprehensively (notably by David Dimbleby), the man who claimed to be a legitimate elected representative wasn’t ever called to express his position on education, the health service, energy policy or transport. By making the programme an attack on Griffin, however justifiably, the BBC played right into his hands, as did every guest on the panel other than Bonnie Greer.
The BBC has said it might invite him back onto the show – if it does I sincerely hope they hold a normal panel, and stop enabling him to play the martyr, particularly one who isn’t expected to live up to the standards expected of the office he now holds. We must remember Griffin’s rise is inextricably connected with the failure of the political system, which forces all three major parties to fight for marginal advantage over a tiny number of swing voters, and all are now entirely disinterested in concerns outside of that bubble. When they either bother to get round to addressing the issues affecting their former supporters, or are forced to by a more proportional voting system, Griffin and his scummy ilk will soon fall back into irrelevance. Until then, we have a problem on our hands, and need to start coming up with less sensationalistic ways of dealing with it.
Jan Moir’s homophobic Daily HateMail article is starting to bring up difficult questions:
The piece, by Jan Moir, has also prompted more than 1,000 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
A Met police spokesman said: “We have received a complaint from a member of the public.”
Moir defended her column saying suggestions of homophobia were “mischievous” and that the backlash was a “heavily orchestrated internet campaign”.
It’s awkward isn’t it? Was her invecive against Stephen Gately actually hate speech? I suspect it might have been, but is that the most important consideration? She clearly had an agenda in writing the article, as did the HateMail in publishing it, but does trying to prosecute her for it not make her a martyr and absolve the HateMail from being a regularly homophobic rag? Brendan O’Neill goes further:
The irony of the anti-Moir brigade is that it is witch-hunting Moir in the name of ‘tolerance’. She was intolerant, they say, and that is intolerable – therefore she can no longer be tolerated. The irony of expressing shrill intolerance of someone for being intolerant is lost on these illiberal liberals. In a sense, Moir hasn’t done anything particularly wrong; certainly she hasn’t done anything ‘evil’. Causing offence is a natural part of rowdy and testy public debate. No, the real problem arises when people politicise their feeling of having been offended, when they effectively argue that it is unacceptable for them to have felt offended and thus the offending party must be chastised. Offensiveness is a part of life; the politics of inoffensiveness is a threat to free speech and open debate.
Apparently attacking Jan Moir is a substitute for actually arguing why her attacks on Gately were wrong, why her ludicrous assertion that civil partnerships can be fatal was wrong, and justifying why her homophobic hate was wrong. O’Neill sounds very much like he’s advocating absolute freedom of speech, but maybe he’s not – maybe he’s just suggesting that the article didn’t cross the line between causing offense and inciting hatred. Maybe in that he has a point – Moir didn’t after all say that all gay people were evil, that Stephen got what was coming to him, or that gay equality should be rolled back; but hatred is rarely couched in such terms. It’s a seductive argument – liberal values should always have to be justified and rejustified – what I would ask though is why? Why should she be given a free pass to publish homophobic (which is clearly what it was) invective? Why should she not be held to account for it? Why should it have to be explained every time that homophobia is wrong and why it’s wrong?
I’ve seen similar commentary suggesting that being intolerant of her intolerance makes us worse than her. I don’t buy the argument for a second – I would on any occasion that she was threatened in any way or if violence were advocated, but I’ve not seen such comments. The vast majority of the attacks back on her represented common sense disgust at a homophobic attack on a man unable to defend his reputation, but I accept it did miss the greater point. Daily HateMail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre, the man ultimately responsible for authorising the article for publication, remains the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) editors’ code committee. He runs an overwhelmingly homophobic tabloid newspaper, yet is also responsible for the means of redress against journalistic homophobia – Jan Moir is actually just a bit player in this story.
There are obvious limitations to free speech – there always have been, but I’m not suggesting that her anti-gay speech be banned; her freedom of speech comes with responsibilities and consequences. In a society now largely gay tolerant (if not necessarily friendly), the right solution was to go to the sponsors underpinning the article’s publication and make the case to them that their active or tacit support of Moir’s article would have business consequences for them. They apparently agreed (how many large businesses want to appear homophobic these days?) and their departure caused an impact on Dacre’s business; he won’t be thrilled with that, or with her. The nature of social media means however that this highly effective online activism is unlikely to coalesce into a larger movement – that’s regrettable, because the means are now there to bypass outdated (and ineffective) structures like the PCC, and hold bigots to account (not to mention toxic waste dumpers). We do need to constantly talk about where the line needs to be drawn with freedom of speech – but I remain highly impressed at the stand the Twitterati (and others) took against naked anti-gay hatred last week.
Yes I know I took my own pictures of the Carter-Ruck flashmob last week, but this one has me in it. I’m in print! In the Guardian! Yay! Peter Preston also has some interesting points about the new alliances forged as a result of the second Carter-Ruck injunction on the Guardian:
as the Guardian‘s triumphant Alan Rusbridger noted, is that it wasn’t a win for press battalions or nippy legions of Twitterers alone. You needed the resources of a determined paper – and, in parallel, a dogged BBC – to pursue the toxic case of Africans falling violently ill in the Ivory Coast. And you needed an elliptical front page story in print about a gagged Commons question to set the blogosphere buzzing.
It’s a cute, quick conclusion, but he should bear in mind that there was no deliberate alliance, and after Carter-Ruck clearly got nervy about their misjudgment with it and varied the second injunction, it rapidly fell apart. Between Tuesday and Friday night’s reversal of the first super injunction, the blogosphere and Twitter in general had completely lost interest in Trafigura and Carter-Ruck. The issue for Twitter was the question of freedom of speech in parliament, nothing more – when that was restored it was job done, everyone then piled on Jan Moir for her homophobic bile, even though the Guardian was still operating under severe restrictions. The BBC also didn’t act uniformally with the Guardian and blogosphere – Newsnight and the Guardian may both have exposed Trafigura’s role in the toxic waste dumping in Ivory Coast, and both were facing legal action by Carter-Ruck as a result, but the BBC was almost entirely silent when the Guardian went on the offensive.
Don’t get me wrong I think some very interesting changes have happened as a result of Carter-Ruck’s historic misjudgment with the second super injunction, but the relationship between old and new media is unstable and the outcomes frequently overstated. The fight against hack Jan Moir’s homophobic attack on Stephen Gately may have generated an historic number of complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), but the Daily HateMail’s editor Paul Dacre remains chairman of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice – the very code his employee (and he by extension) broke. As long as that’s the case all the tweets in the world won’t really change anything, and indeed although Trafigura and Carter-Ruck are rapidly backtracking from their hardline behaviour, libel law is unchanged in the UK, other super injunctions remain in place and noone is holding Trafigura to account.