Now More Than Ever 142


I have been a political activist my entire life, though not always necessarily in the party sense. I have been deeply interested in every Westminster election since 1974, campaigned hard in many of them and indeed stood for parliament myself twice, markedly unsuccessfully. But I do not think I have ever been so emotionally invested in any election so much as this one. I really care about this.

Why is that? It is not connected with Scottish Independence, because I am entirely confident we shall get that shortly, whatever happens on Thursday. No, it is more that I care deeply about what is happening in England and Wales. I was born there, and am after all half English.

But England is no longer the country I grew up in. It has become nasty and intolerant, turning its back on the world, of which the deeply harmful decision to leave the EU is but a symptom. Racism has become commonplace. It should not be forgotten that Enoch Powell was marginalised politically for his views on immigration, but he would be comfortably within the Tory mainstream today.

Britain has turned its back on the United Nations. Ministers claim openly that consent of the Security Council for military intervention is no longer needed, because Russia can veto – ignoring the scores of vetoes exercised by the UK and US, especially on behalf of Israel. The judgement of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is simply brushed aside as Britain did not like it, when historically we have pressed other countries to follow the rulings in hundreds of cases. It has also become a major aim of government to leave the jurisdiction of the excellent European Court of Justice, which Britain led the way in founding. Britain is effectively repudiating the very concept of international law.

Added to this extreme xenophobia and loss of identification with the whole world of mankind who are not “us”, we have the abandonment of empathy and social solidarity at home. Government spending plans will reduce state spending over the next three years to below 35% of GNP. Which would be the lowest in the EU, except we will no longer be in the EU. Yet as our NHS shivers as it is starved of cash, as schools tout for funds from parents, as the disabled and dying are denied benefits unless they haul themselves into work, the country still spends £220 billion on Trident missiles to stoke a collective militarist ego.

The massive cost of Trident is best illustrated by this figure. At constant 2016 values, the total net UK contribution to the EU budget over 44 years 1973-2017 was £157 billion. Compared to £225 billion to renew Trident. That is a measure of how irrational the UK has become.

Wealth inequality has grown to astounding levels. An entire generation of young people are going to spend their lives paying rent to make the landlord class still more wealthy. The generation which got their education for free – Thatcher’s children – have forced those coming after to pay, pulling up the ladder behind themselves.

Finally, we have massive state surveillance, and an extraordinarily biased state propaganda machine and mainstream media, not just during the election, but all day and every day. This morning, on BBC Radio 4 a dreadful person named Andrew O’Hagan was allowed a ten minute unquestioned diatribe on the need for government to employ “battalions of thousands of people” to scrutinise and censor the entire internet. Amber Rudd was saying something similar shortly afterwards. And as I pointed out, the essentials of the Tory manifesto are extraordinarily similar to the BNP manifesto of 2005.

So continued Tory rule represents a political direction which appals me. This government is far to the right of Thatcher. The battles of the 1980’s represented a fight for survival of industrial communities, but this has a still more desperate feel. It is a fight for the very concept of public sector provision.

In Scotland we have the SNP to defend the values of basic communal decency. Now in England we have Jeremy Corbyn, a man alongside whom I have spoken and who gives the first real chance in a generation to voters in England and Wales to reject neo-liberalism.

This is why this election matters more than any other. The ultra-wealthy elite had succeeded in diverting the popular discontent at the wealth gap and falling standards of living for many, into xenophobia. Immigrants have successfully been scapegoated. The establishment have kept people sufficiently ill-educated, and sufficiently misled by the mainstream media, for this ploy to work.

The great question is whether the anti-establishment mood in the country has been irretrievably captured by populist xenophobia masking the intentions of the neo-liberals, or whether a return to an older tradition of genuine social radicalism under Corbyn can halt this trend. So on both sides of the equation this election is pivotal. Britain will become a nasty, uncaring, closed country to an extent I would never have believed possible. Or it will adopt policies of communal solidarity and public provision which I had almost lost hope people would have a chance to vote for again.

This is not any election. This one matters more than ever. This time, we should all really care.

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142 thoughts on “Now More Than Ever

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  • John Spencer-Davis

    Now more than ever…seems it rich to die (John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”, 1819)

  • Martinned

    The judgement of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is simply brushed aside as Britain did not like it, when historically we have pressed other countries to follow the rulings in hundreds of cases.

    There is no such judgement or ruling. That’s exactly the point. Neither Britain nor any other country has ever consented to the (binding) jurisdiction of any such working group, and as a result the document produced by this group is an “opinion” only. Like other opinions, it only has impact to the extent that it is persuasive. The particular opinion on Assange, which is presumably the one you have in mind, has been deemed laughable by pretty much the entire international law community all over the world.

    • John Spencer-Davis

      The United Nations does not agree with you.

      “The Opinions of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention are legally-binding to the extent that they are based on binding international human rights law, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).” – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 06/02/2016.

      The High Commissioner is appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations with the approval of the General Assembly.

      http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17013

      • Martinned

        That’s some nicely formulated spin – kudos to whichever lawyer drafted that – but what this statement actually says is that the treaties that the working group is interpreting are legally binding. Which they are, of course.

        • John Spencer-Davis

          No, it doesn’t. It says what it means and means what it says. Why do you think the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights put that statement up in conjunction with the Assange opinion release? It was to counter the kind of apologetics that you are coming out with.

          • Martinned

            Yes, and what it says is that these opinions are binding if – and only if – they are based on (=correspond with, are consistent with) international human rights law. Unlike court judgements, which are legally binding regardless of whether they are right.

            Don’t take my word for it. This is probably the most highly regarded international law blog in the world: https://www.ejiltalk.org/julian-assange-and-the-un-working-group-on-arbitrary-detention/

            What all this means is that the Working Group cannot issue binding decisions (contrary to what Julian Assange’s legal team are arguing), hence their description as ‘opinions’. Nor can it provide authoritative interpretations of any human rights treaty (having not been granted that role by the parties to any such treaty). The most that can be said is that States are under a duty to take ‘due consideration’ to Working Group’s recommendations, which is a rather weak obligation.

          • Martinned

            For even more detail specifically on the status of the working group within the UN system, see here:
            https://ilg2.org/2016/02/14/the-assange-saga-who-does-the-working-group-on-arbitrary-detention-represent/

            The Working Group is no novice to attacks to its work. Its opinions are not binding in international law and the Working Group was forced, in 1997, to change its former terminology (decisions) to reflect this (UN Commission on Human Rights resolution 1997/50, 15 April 1997, para 7) under the criticism of Cuba and China, but also the American Association of Jurist (UN doc. E/CN.4/1994/NGO/18, para 15).

          • Martinned

            Probably the second most influential/highly regarded international law blog is opinio juris. Their post on the Assange opinion is a bit muddled, but the author clarifies in the comments:

            I do not think I have said anywhere that the WGAD decision is strictly binding under international law. In fact, I made it quite clear that in strict legal terms it is not binding. But there is a long way from arguing that the decision is binding to arguing that it is ridiculous, and that the WGAD as a whole is illegitimate. I have included links to a number of sources which took the view that the body is irrelevant and should merely be ignored.

            http://opiniojuris.org/2016/03/01/united-nations-working-group-on-arbitrary-detention-decision-on-assange-the-balanced-view/

          • John Spencer-Davis

            Yes, and the United Nations disagrees with that blog, because the United Nations in its representative says that the Opinions are legally-binding if they are based on binding international human rights law, which this Opinion is. It gives the law in its conclusions. To say otherwise would be to suggest that the Working Group didn’t base its Opinion on binding international human rights law, which is preposterous.

            Argue with the United Nations. Not with me. I don’t care what some blog says. I care what the United Nations says.

          • John Spencer-Davis

            Yes, you have linked to three blogs that disagree with the United Nations opinion.

            So what?

          • Martinned

            You’re right, my mistake. Britain is sick of experts. Why listen to an array of professors in international law when you can also believe whatever opinion best fits your priors?

          • John Spencer-Davis

            Yes, yes. Why bother with an official statement with the authority of the United Nations behind it, when it doesn’t fit your narrative and you can quote online bloggers instead?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    I certainlly support up-to-date tactical voting but much has happened since the 2015 General Election, so I would check how likely the Conservative vote is standing up in any constituency, how the opposition candidates are treating one another – e;g., are any chosen candidates stating that anything like the Tory being re-ekected? is better than those left out winning – how they were chosen now, what is really going on in traditional heavily Labour constituencies,, etc.

    Can’t believe that The Guardian would settle for such a superficial guide in such a critical election!

    • Michael McNulty

      I think it’s worth it this election voting for the treacherous Lib-Dems if it may keep a Tory out, because if the Tories win then another Lib-Dem seat won’t matter much, but if Labour wins then another Lib Dem seat won’t matter at all. It’s a gamble but I’d say it favours Labour in a less-to-lose/more-to-gain sort of way.

  • Aubrey

    Did you forget the history of Britain? When was Britain a tolerant country? Britain and xenophobia! Lets think again!

  • JgrahamF

    I’ve just spent a week in the centre of one of the largest Kashmiri, Mirpuri populated areas in England. I attended a very sad church ceremony in one of the more progressive and modern, multi cultural churches in the same area, which boasts Sunday congregations of over a thousand. The population were relaxed and appeared happy, probably the piety of Ramadan was the reason for that. The hotel I stayed in was occupied by people from all parts of the world and society. Indian film crew; business Brits; Japanese tour groups; family visitors, including me. There was no evidence of xenophobia from anywhere. I wouldn’t live in any other country.

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