Whenever I go to meetings by Labour members below the age of about 30, I inevitably regret it afterwards. Youthful Labour members can most often be divided into two categories: the hacks and the naive. I don’t mean for this to seem a self-serving distinction, casting myself as a bearing of special knowledge; to a certain eye, I’m sure I can seem like quite a hack at times.
The list of committees I have sat on is long; two university students’ unions, an Oxford college, John4Leader campaign in Oxford, various bodies to do with CLPs – not to mention I’m the chair of the committee in charge of electing Canterbury’s Labour PPC. The very fact that I can fluidly talk about PPCs, CLPs, PPSs and other initialisms marks me out as a hack in the eyes of many people I went to uni with.
Yet I would like to believe there is some distance between me and the people I might denounce for hackery at these Labour meetings. I think one of the problems in picking out the hacks from the naive from the genuine is that all the qualities that go into each one exist on a continuum, rather than being discrete selections from a pool. So if what follows reads in any sense confused, that is why.
Hacks will socialise to get ahead. They will attend events thrown by YL or LS not to get to know how the organisations work but to develop personal relationships with the people higher up the ladder; this is as much true for groups such as Compass and the Fabians. Evidence of this networking often manifests itself in photographs posted online, with the hack standing beside either other hacks or people of importance.
Hacks will smoothe themselves out politically. Certainly some hacks are New Labour true believers, but there’s a vast selection of them I’ve always wondered about. When confronted in debate, they’ve got little to offer. Their websites mirror this with one or two line posts rather than any considered stream of argument. Rather than say something controversial, they’ll hail every government announcement.
Related to this, hacks are bandwagon-jumpers. They will follow the herd towards whatever think-tank or policy shop the Party seems to lean towards. Rather than develop cogent, explicitly ideological analysis, they’ll move according to the ‘feel’ of Party meetings and the attitudes of those they network with. It’s unavoidable really, since they have no roots tying them to their class – or aren’t working class anyway.
Still related, hacks will talk of almost any issue in vast, optimistic and idealistic generalities. Phrases like ‘a new generation of politicians’ are often to be heard, along with euphoric promotion of New Media as the answer to all our problems and the uncritical showcasing of individuals, often mark out the hacks from the rest of us. In some respects, therefore, aren’t hacks just bad politicians?
More insidiously, are they not people who disagree with me?
Overwhelmingly they are people who disagree with me – but I’ve come up against plenty of people who disagree with me and aren’t hacks, so I don’t think that is the key feature. Leaving aside the true believers, who throw themselves into networking and espousing the party line with an undisguised zeal, the defining feature in my view is that hacks seem like they are striking a pose, rather than genuinely searching for answers.
Within Compass, the Fabians, Progress and probably lurking in the LRC too, there are those who will seem to be flying the red flag when reading between the lines will give the lie to their words. This is one of the reasons Compass, over and above the more right-wing sections of the Party, attracts my ire. One can’t shoot a duck for quacking – but for play-acting with the vestments of radical politics? Happily.
It makes me almost as mad as Sinn Fein putting up pictures of James Connolly, Che Guevara and other left-wing figures, as though their politics meant they had any claim to the mantle of these people. This is the same thing that makes me hopping mad when the Right announce some grand policy of pro-capitalist retrenchment, but couch it in the language of rights and freedoms and hope and so forth.
It makes a mockery of a world where meaning should be definite.
Holding positions on a committee doesn’t make someone a hack – but to place all committees in the same bracket would be silly. My principles would prevent me from taking a seat on a body running Compass or the Fabians (for example) because their activism is virtually apolitical. Common to their rhetoric are phrases like ‘social justice’ which essentially mean nothing. When Hazel Blears can sit down and spout the same nonsense, we need a better critique than Compass or the Fabians can offer.
I have a major problem with activism designed to attack the Tories when right now, the Tories aren’t the problem. Labour has a large majority in Parliament and could sweep away the House of Lords and engage in all sorts of other vast programmes – but won’t. In fact the Labour leadership are more likely to use the Tory opposition to pass their anti-working class measures than to use their own Party for a panoramic vision of social democracy.
The only real committee role I actively pursue at the moment is the Left New Media Forum. Its goal is to strengthen the link between anti-capitalist activists, both online and on the ground, with the people who are being hit worst by capitalism. I’m happy to take an active role there because it is a cause I believe in – it’s not the ‘in’ thing and it only attracts a rag-tag of activists.
Compare this to the Labour List Rolls-Royce of internet campaigns. Activist rag-tag versus all-star cast. Democratic decisions versus a pre-ordained leadership. Reliance upon small donations, funding applications and whatever income our activism can bring versus very sophisticated financing (including the retention of Schillings, from what I gather). Praxis dictates the former over the latter every time – and I can’t help but feel anyone involved in the Labour List has either self-promotion on their mind or has the wrong politics.
So far as the true-believers of New Labour are concerned, the wrong politics are of no interest to me. Ducks and quacking. When it comes to those people who dress themselves up as genuinely Left-wing, yes, I’m angry. For me, it’s just one more instance of giving the lie to their professions of faith in activism and opposing the anti-democratic party bureaucracy. And yes, Tom Miller, I’m afraid that means you, every bit as much as it means Ken Livingstone.
One wonders what exactly the Labour leadership expected when they announced plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport, smack bang in the middle of the constituency of Britain’s most left-wing MP. Not only this, but then they announce that there is to be no parliamentary vote to approve the third runway. I imagine if there had been a vote, the Whips would have sat down and cried, so really the attitude of the government is cowardice.
Today, in response to the announcement, John McDonnell, whose Hayes and Harlington constituency is vigorously opposed to the building of a third runway, was suspended from the Commons for contempt. Upon Geoff Hoon giving him a ridiculously empty and insulting answer to his valid concerns, John proceeded from the backbenches to the floor of the Commons and lifted the mace, in protest at the undermining of parliamentary oversight.
Thereafter, he was named by the deputy Speaker of the House, resulting in a five day suspension. I’m frankly 100% behind him – and it’s not often I say that about a parliamentarian. I first met John McDonnell in Oxford in 2006, when he was running for Labour leader – and since then, he and the LRC have been consistently out in front of every other section of the Party on climate change, on worker’s rights and on uniting the anti-capitalist Left.
Long may he remain in parliament, to continue his work. John’s own explanation of his protest can be seen here.
Right, my down-time is over and I have at least half a dozen articles at least to write, so I shall get cracking. The LNMF group had a small meeting on Tuesday, 13th January, to discuss our targets for a formal launch in two weeks. These include a formal statement of purpose, notification of our G20 plans, getting the website designed (since it won’t be a blog-format), up and running and creating some structures to govern the endeavour.
I think our most immediate concern is to get more people involved with our efforts – and people from a broader spectrum of the anti-capitalist Left. For example, although in the first meeting we had Morning Star chaps show up, this has not been replicated in the other two meetings. In the meeting, however, I put forth my plan for organisation again and it seemed consensus was with me – so it shall be circulated via the email group.
Our next meeting would normally have been in two weeks’ time, but since that is the date for which the launch is scheduled on, there will be no meeting and we will continue to be in contact via email. At the meeting, various individuals were chosen to begin compiling lists of potential contributors to the website. One particularly good idea (so I thought) was to have a Tony Benn and Neil Chomsky debate on the credit crunch. Another was to have an informal chat with Graham Turner of LEAP, on camera.
Hopefully in a fortnight, we’ll have the basis for a continuing schedule of events – filmed interviews, debates etc, leading up to the G20. In between now and the G20 there are various things of interest to the Labour movement happening – the launch of the LRC Trade Union Co-ordinating Group for example. There are also some fascinating ideas about a People’s Charter, basically recycling many demands on the government.
Several attendees mooted the potential for a series of meetings up and down the country, using this Charter as the basis for a public meeting that would allow activists to speak to workers and workers to speak back. These things are not to be organised by the Left New Media Forum, they may be organised by the LRC – but I spoke strongly in favour of the LNMF being present to record each meeting, and especially to pull aside some of the prominent, non-activist contributors to each one, in order to interview them.
I like this idea because it means that the same tired voices (those of the sects, of Labour etc) aren’t being recycled time and again; instead there’s a greater chance of a local perspective on what is going on, and it will demonstrate clearly that class consciousness (either the reality of it or the need for it) is not merely the preserve of the intelligentsia. It remains to be seen, of course, whether this ambitious activist programme comes to anything – but I am hopeful.
There is a danger, in all of this, that the LNMF will be seen as an endeavour solely by the Labour Representation Committee. Though I’m a member of the LRC, I’m against any of these things being a go-it-alone affair. I fully intend to approach a number of Socialist Party-aligned, and even Socialist Workers’ Party-aligned blogs to see if they’ll help out with the launch, and if they will contribute to the counter-G20 site when it becomes operational.
On that subject, the internal democracy of the LNMF is also at the forefront of my mind. The Yahoo email group we’re using is too small to carry real weight in the blogging community, so getting more members is important – and this needs to be done fast. The reason being, we need to elect a Content team, to commission pieces and to supervise submissions for quality control. We don’t want the site to become merely another piece of the commentariat – the purpose is to connect online activists with the reality of capitalism on the ground.
Frankly, I’m very optimistic about our chances.
There won’t be any major articles today, and probably none til Thursday. I’m up in London this evening for the third installment of the Left New Media Forum, the website of which shall hopefully soon be operational. There’s also a bit of a Compass gig that I might catch the first hour or so of.
Over the next week, however, I have some good articles to roll out. There’ll be a discussion of what goes on tonight, at LNMF. I’ll finally get a chance to reply to some of those who took me up on my criticism of Cruddas. There will be an addition to my series of articles on Gramsci, taking up with Socialism and Culture and a few other early articles.
I’ll also have a review and some selections from Craig Murray’s new book, Catholic Orangemen of Togo and other Conflicts I have known. I’m also looking forward to Paul publishing his argument that Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe aren’t entirely a waste of time to read, and I may carry a short rebuttal, or may not. The jury is out.
When I first read Sunny’s declaration against whatabouttery, I wasn’t convinced. Some of what he says, about the painting of ‘baddies’ and ‘goodies’ by the blogosphere made sense, but crucially it ignores that one side is creating far greater atrocities than the other. There might be an argument against measuring moral responsibility by body count on the basis of historical context, but there too, matters swing against the Israelis. Whether or not one believes Israel has a right to exist, in Gaza they are invaders.
I have been reading Harry’s Place today, which seems to be frequently ‘Recommended’ over at B4L, first for an article praising a leader of Die Linke for speaking out against pro-Palestinian protesters, and second for querying whether or not those of us who are anti-Zionist have the right to criticize the actions of Israel, without equally or more strongly criticizing the words of Al-Qaradawi who has apparently called for a second holocaust against the Jews.
Read the second article again, if you can believe your eyes. Is it possible for the words of one Muslim cleric (however important or irrelevant) to be equally or more reprehensible than the death of several hundred Palestinians, many of whom were not guilty of attacking Israel or supporting Hamas? I know it is traditional for HP to be provocative around the time of any Israeli conflict, but even I had trouble understanding how anyone can seriously pit those two occurrences against each other.
According to Sunny’s declaration, Harry’s Place are guilty of whatabouttery.
However, I have my own point of view on the subject, especially when considering the first linked-to article at Harry’s Place. Klaus Lederer, who, according to the Jerusalem Post, slammed pro-Palestinian protesters for providing an opportunity for anti-semitic sentiment to emerge, is a fool. That’s hardly the fault of the protesters, the vast majority of whom aren’t anti-semitic. They’re just not in favour of the wholesale oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli armed forces.
Pro-IDF sides may argue that oppression isn’t what goes on – and however mistaken I think that point of view, they are entitled to think I in turn am mistaken. They are not entitled to lump me and others like me in with whatever baying minority shout anti-semitic or Islamist slogans.
Isn’t this another descent into whatabouttery however? Our judgment even of secondary issues, such as this chap Lederer, rely upon our fundamental interpretations of the scenes in Gaza, Israel, southern Lebanon etc. This is why I can’t get on board with Sunny’s declaration; we need the space to criticize authors such as those at Harry’s Place not merely for being assholes about the death of several hundred people, but also because their viewpoint is wrong, it is biased and in order to say so, we have to show how.
This still involves whatabouttery, by Sunny’s definition, however less objectionable it may be to what sites such as Harry’s Place have posted.
The smugness pours through Iain Dale’s article at the Graun‘s Comment is Free site, as Dale tries to assess how much of a competitor Derek Draper’s Labour List is likely to be to sites such as Conservative Home. Liberal Conspiracy is too serious, according to Dale, so there is room open on the Left for a big blog, but the smugness threatens to choke off whatever point Dale was making when he says, “It would be good…to have some real competition for a change.”
In the words of my forefathers, what an arrogant little shoite Iain Dale is. What I’d like to know is this: by what standard can Conservative Home or the Spectator Coffee House be judged as more successful than any individual or collective Left effort? More visits? By that definition, the websites of the mainstream meedja have us all beaten – but the very reason we bloggers write in the first place is that we don’t want to read inane drivel. Quality matters – not just popular appeal.
On that scale, Mr Dale has some catching up to do – as does Conservative Home. The CH site has a lot of details about Tory election efforts and carries the same sort of banner headline attacks on Labour as does the Mail or the Torygraph. This basically reduces it to a more effective, more eye-pleasing version of Labour MembersNet, added to which are some features of Bloggers4Labour. Conservative Home is a hub with a few pretty pictures nothing more – and like B4L, it is a hub where most of the content is pointless.
I mean, does anybody remember the ConHome calls for everybody earning over £150,000 to go on strike, when the government created the new tax band? Can you get more detached from a cogent political analysis? Iain Dale’s own efforts I’ve had a go at on a number of occasions, but truthfully he’s just another part of the commentariat – there’s no attempt to move the discussion on, just an occupation of the same tired, partisan positions with some propaganda occasionally thrown in.
The Left may not challenge ConHome, Iain Dale or even the higher ranked Labour hubs – but on the other hand, a number of sites deserve mention. Top of the list is of course Liberal Conspiracy (where, yes, I have a column now and again). Serious it may be, and indeed it may be a milder form of the political circle-jerk which Draper’s new site is sure to be, but it has had a powerful campaigning role in the past – and is likely to play such a role in the future.
For other sites, where else would we get news of on-the-ground happenings amongst the non-Labour Left if not from Socialist Unity or Splintered Sunrise? Then there are sites unparalleled amongst the ‘popular’ Conservative sites such as A Very Public Sociologist, with its earnest investigations into social, economic and political theory? I’d like to believe that my own site features in that category. Then there are about a dozen well-written, concise blogs by Labour councillors who don’t occupy reknown sites.
Empirical knowledge, theoretical discussion and attempts to understand rather than merely propagandize or add opinion…where does one get these things in the ‘successful’ Conservative blogosphere? There are some honest, well-written Tory blogs out there, but they don’t hold the same Alexa rank as Dale or ConHome. So once again I must ask, what definition of successful is Dale using to assert that ConHome etc would like a challenge, as though there was nothing out there at present?
The challenge is there. The problem is that most thinking Tories (I know that sounds like a contradiction) don’t pick up the challenge – and the Tories that do pick up the challenge are the trolls, as evidenced by the participations on Liberal Conspiracy by some of the popular wing of the Tory blogosphere. So, Mr. Dale and those who think like that, off you wander back to your popular sites and continue to enjoy your smug, populist endeavours. The rest of us are actually trying to do something worthwhile.
As for Derek Draper’s Labour List, it is, as Iain Dale says, a who’s who of New Labour – and the token lefty thing is precisely that: token. With apologies to Ken Livingstone and Tom Miller, any number of the actions of the former and the words of the later move them closer towards the centre than towards an independent and coherent Left alternative. I imagine that in the crunch, both they and their respective groupings – Progressive London and Compass – will toe a New Labour line.
That almost guarantees a limited appeal to the real activists of the grassroots, though it may hover up the rather loopy internet warriors of Labour MembersNet. It is welcome to such people. This is the same Derek Draper who once famously stated, “There are 17 people who count in this government. And to say I am intimate with every one of them is the understatement of the century.” Yeah, an effort by someone like that isn’t going to be a New Labour incest fest at all. Right?
For those of you who weren’t on the march yesterday, I thought that it was a lot better than the march against the invasion of Lebanon back in 2006. There were still plenty of people with their narrow-minded religious chants, but not enough this time to make me actually leave the march. I don’t really have much to say about it; I still don’t think it’s going to achieve it’s purpose but nevertheless, it’s important for us all to show up.
As for the speakers…well, not much to be said. The whole “thank you, for the children” opening made me want to pull my hat down over my face. Galloway was a pillock. There were some worrying things said about turning the Israeli embassy into a Palestinian one. And once again, like the other marches, no one offered a way forward for the marchers. Another march perhaps, comrades? Storm parliament? The prospects for these things don’t seem great.
Yet it was important for people to be there on the march, and to hear the potential alternatives being argued for on stalls. There didn’t seem, to my mind, a speaker on the platform who was ready to clearly discuss the political situation facing the anti-war movement in Britain today. There was no attempt in all that I heard to seriously discuss what we need to do, to stop British arms exports to Israel, or of anything more than a bland assertion that capitalism is to blame.
That there was a lot of anger on the march yesterday has become almost a cliché. I have been watching videos of the events in Greece over the last few months and the anger yesterday was comparable. The actions of the police, justified or unjustified, probably didn’t help things either. But there is nowhere for that anger to go. It flares up, then there will be a ceasefire and things will die down again.
All the sects express the hope that they’ll recruit from these flare ups in resentment, and that’s a positive thing – but it doesn’t bring us any closer to actually having an effect on events. We marched in 2003, and war still happened. We marched in 2006 and Israel still led ground forces into Lebanon. Here we are, marching in 2009 and we have failed to realise that Israel budgets for us – its government knows that there will be a great international outcry and demonstrations around the world.
So it does what it has to, very quickly, and then signs a ceasefire on favourable terms. To the Israeli and the British governments, popular demonstrations are just something to be factored into the cost of doing business. How long can we continue to allow that?
The concept of hegemony is repeatedly brought up by the post-Marxist Left as justification for their political programme. Whether it is Tom Miller citing Antonio Gramsci as one of his inspirations or men like Laclau, Mouffe or the critical theorists, hegemony appears often as a replacement for the bedrock of Marxist theory on which it was originally based.
It is my contention that groups such as Compass are the modern successors to the Eurocommunists and philosophers such as Nicos Poulantzas. Their analysis, wittingly or unwittingly, has succumbed to the post-modernist attempt to undermine Marxism, and shares with that post-modernism the tendency to pick upon the most deterministic, least flexible and least realistic mode of Marxism available.
I want to see how much truth there is in their assessment (.doc) of key thinkers such as Gramsci. To do this, I will investigate the collection, Pre-Prison Writings, edited by Richard Bellamy. I shall then proceed to the Prison Notebooks. Terms such as ‘hegemony’, ‘sub-altern’ or ‘historical bloc’ need to be deconstructed to examine precisely what Gramsci was referring to when he used them.
There is also the need to examine, as with the Compass piece linked to above, whether or not these terms have maintained in common usage the meaning that Gramsci gave them. Finally, there will be a need, having resolved the differences between Gramsci and those who view themselves as his inheritors, to study how accurate I think Gramsci was in his analysis of the Italian state, the ruling class and how it maintained control.
At an early stage in my research, it seems that there are certainly grounds for doubting the most clichéd statements about Gramsci. For example, the editor of the Pre-Prison Writings discusses how the relative autonomy of economic and political struggle is a ‘characteristic Gramscian theme’ (p. x). However Bellamy himself seems to undermine this notion of economic and political struggle having a degree of autonomy.
He discusses how the leaders of the CGL preferred economic as opposed to political agitation and improvements (p. xli), something not uncommon even today. During the General Strike of 1926, this was a correlative of those who were afraid that the strike would become a revolution. Economic struggle produced political demands, and opposition to those political demands had both economic and political ramifications.
Similarly, Bellamy admits that Gramsci’s Study of the Italian Situation conceived of two Fascist factions with primarily economic motivations (p. xxv). Gramsci’s thinking on the Italian state was underpinned by an economic determinant; the existence of ‘a broad band of intermediate classes’ (p. 298) kept the Italian state weak and hindered the exercise of political hegemony over the working class.
Clearly, in many respects, Gramsci was a traditional Marxist. Just how far that proves to be the case shall be examined in subsequent articles.
Reading over Bob from Brockley’s attitude to the Weblog 2008 awards, I noted the reason he refused to vote for Neil Clark. Apparently this is because Clark relativized and minimised the Holocaust by comparing it to the actions of Israel in Gaza. Up until now, I haven’t weighed in on the Israel/Hamas thing but I shall try to do so now, linking it to the comments of ex-Brockley Bob.
I would love to live in a world where military engagement would solve any issue. If we could stop terrorism – whether of Hamas, of Hizbollah or of Al-Qaeda – by simply killing all of them, killing them all would have my support. It’s not that simple, of course, because terrorism is a social phenomenon. One man prepared to blow himself up is a signifier of many more who are angry but impotent in the face of the object of their rage.
On the other hand, however, I see nothing to be gained from opening a dialogue either with the anti-semitic fundamentalists of Hamas or with their corrupt predecessors, Fatah. These ‘leaders’ of Palestine, so declared through formal elections, have not and cannot secure for the Palestinians a lasting and just peace – and we should not be bolstering such organisations by giving them credibility.
In respect to giving these organisations credibility, Israel can begin by blaming itself. It directly aided Hamas in its early days, to attempt to use their Islamist politics as a counterbalance to the strongly secular left-nationalist Palestinian Liberation Organisation.
Nor should we be engaging with the ‘leaders’ of Israel, who have once again deployed overwhelming military might to counter rocket attacks which have been ongoing since the 1960′s. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. The cynical may suspect that this operation is a ploy to unite the Israeli electorate behind the government in the run up to an election – but even if it is not, it is no more justified than the UK-US invasion of Iraq.
As socialists, our primary responsibilities are two-fold. Firstly to protest the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe occasioned every time the IDF is brought into the game. Secondly, to engage with and help organise the many Palestinians and Israelis who oppose the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government and are prepared to critique the nature of each in relation to a genuine social struggle on behalf of the working classes of each nation.
In the case of Iraq, there are Iraqi trade unions springing up and we should be attempting to orientate their members towards a critique of the role the new Iraqi state and its Islamist mercenaries are going to play in the new Iraqi economy. In Israel and Palestine we have the same duty towards those who recognize the role of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government in their exploitation.
While we try to build such a movement from afar, demonstrating solidarity in financial terms and sending organisers and activists out to help in the task of organisation, at home we have a duty to interfere with our government and its perpetuation of the problem. Britain exported a massive amount of arms to Israel during 2008, which we should be opposing.
This should show the ceasefire calls of American and Western European governments for what they are; hypocrisy of the highest order. Hands-Off campaigns are a long-standing feature of the British Left, dating back to the Hands Off Russia campaign following British intervention in the Russian civil war. One doesn’t have to agree with either set of combatants to be opposed to the arming of one side.
It is important to recognize that the actions of Israel in Lebanon were appalling. They seriously damaged the civil infrastructure of the region and caused a refugee crisis. Events in Gaza are unfolding in a similar manner; another humanitarian crisis is under way. For all that, do we have the right to think of Israel, with its fifty-year history of land-grabs, colonialism and ethnic cleansing, in the same terms as Nazi Germany?
Well the Israelis may have interned many Palestinians but they haven’t created an industrial mechanism for their eradication from the planet. They may have driven the Palestinians from their homes and walled them up, but they aren’t sustained by a narrative that directly blames all Israeli ills on the Palestinians. Indeed, there is an Israeli Left which distinguishes between Palestinians and Hamas.
There are extremist elements in Israel who want the Palestinians to be exterminated, such as Rabbi Yousef Falay; these are the proper equivalents to those who supported the concentration camps. Instead of comparing the Israeli coalition government to the Nazis, or their actions in Gaza to the concentration camps (deplorable though they may be), perhaps there is a more fitting use for the alarm bells marked ‘Nazi’.
As anti-Muslim sentiment grows in America and around the Western world, and as the media narrative drowns out the historical context of a Palestine which once had an anti-Islamist leadership (however corrupt, or whatever quibbles we might have had with it), there is a danger that ever more extreme voices might prevail in Israel. Indeed our inaction in protests here in the UK, and in organising wider resistance both to Israel and to the Palestinian Authority, will ensure an extremist triumph.
Somewhere down the line, as rocket attacks persist, more walls are built, perhaps Southern Lebanon will be re-occupied and Israel will seize more land to colonize, to secure her territory still further. The cycle of violence will build on itself and strangle hopes of a socialist alternative for a generation – and it is in that vacuum that the Israeli equivalent of Nazis and death camps might spring up.
When we attend the march against the invasion of Gaza tomorrow, that should be one reason why we do so.
Compared to the crisis unfolding in Gaza, new UK laws demanding that ISPs maintain a record of all emails sent and received via that ISP (internet service provider) may seem a small thing. When I read about them for the first time, at the behest of a comrade asking what we could do about them, my first response was, “Why do we care?”
After all, the data being maintained is simply a record of who you sent an email to or received an email from. It isn’t a record of what was said, and that, to me, is the important part. However, I mulled over the matter for a while and I think I have been turned around on the issue. These new email laws are potentially disastrous.
Watching who someone exchanges emails with may be a legitimate means of discovering the contacts of various suspected terrorists. On the other hand, it also opens those of a certain political persuasion to potential arrest and questioning for no other reason than they happen to be on a certain email list, or have a contact in common with a terrorist.
I find a measure like this to be akin to watching what sort of books people take out of the library. Academics who research the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism have enough trouble as it is with police, as the case of Hicham Yezza demonstrates. On the part of academics, or even those who are interested, people at the centre of Islamic fundamentalism are obvious points of contact with the movement.
This measure threatens to further corrode the ability of any given person to safely investigate controversial phenomena without the need to explain themselves to police. Not only that, but the move to document every email promises to be the first of a series of much wider measures described by the BBC article quoted above.
The Interception Modernisation Programme promises the ability to gather ‘details on every text sent, e-mail sent, phone call made and website visited.’ How far from that point to monitoring the content of each of these things?
Scandals such as the resignation of Andy Coulson and the imprisonment of Clive Goodman demonstrate the lengths to which the media is prepared to go in search of a story. There are other examples where serving police officers are subborned by cash payments to deliver up details to the media. We have to wake up to the reality that whatever information we gather for the prevention of terrorism, that’s not going to be its only use.
This is why the clichéd term ‘civil liberties’ has value; in this context, civil liberties is the right not to be splashed over the front page of the tabloids simply because the government preferred blanket measures of ICT intelligence gathering. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the address of a celebrity, a politician doing his secretary or the school grades of the Prime Minister’s son. These things are private.
They will not be private if we move towards the model surveillance society which the new email laws are a window to.