The snappily-named ‘Transparency of Lobbying Bill Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’ gets its second reading in Parliament today. It is ironic that a piece of legislation ostensibly intended to clean up politics, will, in reality undermine basic liberties and – in particular – trade union freedom.
Above: this would be effectively outlawed in the 12 months before an election
KEITH EWING explains the issues:
The TUC has expressed serious concerns about the far – reaching consequences of the government’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, due for a second reading next week.
Such concern is hardly surprising, for this is a Bill that not only represents a threat to basic liberties generally, but to trade union freedom specifically. So much for the Illiberal Democrats, who promised that they would be the guardians of freedom when in government.
The Bill presents two major threats to trade unions. Here the concern is with the consequences for trade union electoral freedom, which is not intended to diminish the other threat which relates to even greater – and yet more intolerable – State supervision of trade union membership lists.
But so far as electoral freedom is concerned, the strategy is clear – previous Tory governments having stripped trade unions of their industrial freedoms, the Coalition is now set on stripping trade unions of their political freedoms as well, continuing in the illiberal vein that has already produced secret courts and the harassment of journalists.
The proposed new restrictions are designed to silence union election campaigning, though as the TUC has pointed out, they have much wider implications. It is a nasty and cynical attempt at self-preservation, the law being used purely as an instrument of partisan self-interest.
But although the impact on trade union political freedom is likely to be far-reaching and (as the TUC pointed out last week) wide – ranging, such concerns should not divert attention from the Bill’s central purpose, which is clearly and unequivocally to weaken trade union support for the Labour party at the election in 2015.
Trade unions take part in elections in a number of ways. First, they make substantial donations to the Labour party to help it with its election campaigns. But secondly, some trade unions – notably UNISON – may run their own national campaigns independently of the Labour party.
Other unions will provide grass – roots support to the Labour party at constituency level, helping with the national campaign and assisting Labour parliamentary candidates. Some unions will also make contributions to organisations campaigning against racism and the BNP.
Where trade unions engage in their own campaigns nationally or locally they are already subject to tight legal controls. As ‘third parties’ for the purposes of election law, these controls apply to ‘controlled expenditure’ – a term used to describe national election campaign costs, capped at just under £1 million for each union.
So far the law has not been a serious problem for trade union election activity. That, however, is about to change, with an extremely densely written and confusing Bill proposing to expand the definition of ‘controlled expenditure’, while also reducing the amount of money unions can lawfully spend. Read the rest of this entry »
Front Row had an interesting interview last night with Alex Gibney who has directed the film We Steal Secrets: the Story of Wikileaks which will be released in the UK soon.
The link is here 1:36 on. Transcription of most of it below.
Interviewer: The computer analyst Edward Snowden turned whistleblower is believed to be holed up in the transit holding area in Moscow airport evading espionage charges in the USA The unfolding story coincides with the release of the film We Steal Secrets, the new documentary from Oscar winning director Alex Gibney. His previous films include The Smartest Guys in the Room, which told the story of the collapse of the Enron corporation, Taxi to the Dark Side, which exposed torture by the US military and Silence in the House of God which about abuse within the Catholic Church. For his latest project Gibney set out to make a film which focussed not on the villains but someone he initially regarded as a hero, Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, the organisation which is currently aiding Edward Snowden. With Assange himself currently hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy, the film includes interviews with hackers, activists and even the former director of the CIA and National Security Agency, Michael Hayden. . . When I met director Alex Gibney I suggested that having made films about the abuses of power, he regarded Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as a kindred spirit when he set out to make the film.
Gibney: Yes, that’s very much the case. I think I was very impressed by the role that Julian’s organisation Wikileaks.- and it’s really Julian and a few other people. As somebody said in the film, I asked, is this Apple or IBM? They said no, it’s a tiny gas station with a few very bright attendants. That probably sums it up pretty well. But yeah, I was very sympathetic because what Julian was all about was exposing corruption, exposing official lies,.
Interviewer: Stamping on the bastards, he says, doesn’t he?
Gibney: Crushing bastards. . . and Julian makes a joke about it. Somebody says, “Is that all it is about for you, crushing bastards?” And he says, “”Well it depends on the bastards.” That’s funny, but if you think about it really, the verb “Crushing”, if you take it seriously, is not such a pretty verb. And that sounds more like a powerful nation state than an idealistic person trying to make a difference by speaking truth to power.
Interviewer: Because it feels like he’s an heroic figure for the first half hour or so. And then we hear this phrase, he wants to crush the bastards. he wants to crush the bastards, and it sends a warning signal out there. After that the narrative changes totally. What changed your perception of Julian Assange? Because in the end he is not a sympathetic character at all.
Gibney: I think in the end the mission of Wikileaks remains deeply sympathetic to me but he is a character I think who leaves his own mission behind, and that becomes deeply unsympathetic.. The aspect of the story that I didn’t really understand going in, in fact I assumed it was something different was the Swedish episode, the sex scandal that somehow between the Iraq war logs and the Afgham war logs suddenly Julian Assange is accused of rape in Sweden. and I thought from afar that this must be – the timing was too suspicious, it must be some kind of conspiracy. Well I dug deep into this and I’ve concluded that it was a personal matter. Why deal with a personal matter in this case then? The reason is that Julian Assange, very intentionally and very cleverly, tried to make a personal matter part of the transparency agenda, to sort of say “no no no this is not a personal matter,” and all the people at Wikileaks were saying “You’ve got to go and deal with this yourself. Deal with it as a personal matter and leave Wikileaks out of it.” He said, “Absolutely not. What we’re going to do, is part of Wikileaks.” That’s the moment where he lost me, and it seems to me that Julian’s great fatal flaw is his unwillingness to be held to account. I think in some fundamental way maybe none of us really like to be held to account but he has a paranoia about being held to account, and so the idea that he would even be slapped on the hand for failing to take an HIV test struck him as so abhorrent that he concocted this huge conspiracy which then embroiled all his followers in the idea that the government of Sweden had become opposed to the transparency agenda. That was a lie in my view and that turned me against what Julian Assange was doing.
There’s a great phrase in the film spoken by James Ball who worked for Wikileaks for a while and now works for the Guardian.
Interviewer: He looks about ten, actually, when he starts working for Julian Assange. He becomes the spokesman for Wikileaks.
Gibney; He becomes the spokesman. He’s on TV everywhere. It’s a great symbol for the organisation. Maybe a better symbol in a way than Assange because he looks so young and he looks so innocent. but there’s a phrase that he comes up with in the film – “Noble cause corruption”. It’s actually a phrase used by police departments who describe cops who plant joints on people , bad guys, who they can’t get any other way, the idea being that if you are a good guy, it’s okay for you to do bad things. .
Interviewer: To bend the truth.
Gibney: Well it’s a higher purpose to be served. And I think that was Julian’s view. So instead of speaking truth to power, Julian began to speak lies to power.
Interviewer: You make great play with this and the idea that as a young hacker he went under the pseudonym “Mendax”, part of a quote from Horace I think “splendide mendax” meaning “noble liar” and playing with that idea that it is okay to lie. So you’re saying that he is a liar?
Gibney: Yes. In a fundamental way I think Julian believes that it’s okay for him to lie so long as it is in the service of a higher truth and I think that’s a contradiction that is fundamentally untenable. .
Interviewer: You say you did your own investigations and you think there was absolutely no suggestion whatsoever to say that that was a set up as his supporters were suggesting that it was a honey trap.
Gibney: I can find no evidence that that episode in Sweden was any kind of honey trap.
Interviewer: So this is a film about the internet, it’s about governments, about power, corruption, lies and war but at the heart of the story are two characters, Julian Assange and the far more tragic figure of Private Bradley Manning who is still in prison after dumping the data and he is a very conflicted character and you reveal that he is deeply uncomfortable with his own sexuality, uncomfortable with his role within the army and appalled by some of the things that he has seen. Now of course you don’t get to interview him but we get a very intimate portrait of him through his email.
Gibney: On-line chats. On line chats with a man named Adrian Lamo, a Grade A hacker, who befriended Manning on line. And this is a really poignant episode because the other thing I thought this movie was about at the beginning was a leaking machine. This new device Wikileaks had, an electronic drop box that allows people to leak anonymously that neither the publisher nor the leaker know each other in any fundamental way and that they can therefore protect their anonymity. But Bradley Manning was in emotional distress. I think he leaked for political reasons akin to that of a whistle blower but he had a desperate need to tell somebody about what he had done. We never got to interview Bradley Manning but in a way I think for the film it is more interesting to see and reveal him through these chats. Why? Because increasingly that’s how we’re all communicating. Girls and boys hook up and break up y’know via chats. We communicate the most intimate information over the internet on Facebook even though we know that everyone is spying on us.
Interviewer: You set out to make a film about the system but in the end you ‘remaking a film about people who are struggling. There’s a sense of human frailty and desperation really at the heart of all of these characters, Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo who we see crying at the end. He’s very conflicted about how having in effect turned Bradley Manning in. And there’s a sense of desperation in the Julian Assange character even though he projects himself almost as a messianic character. He refused to talk to you, Assange. He was asking for a million dollars for an interview?
Gibney: He said that the market rate for an interview with him was over a million dollars, but there’s no doubt he was asking for money. I said, “I don’t pay for interviews.” I don’t., and he said, “Well, if you don’t pay for interviews, how about this then instead,” sort of like a scene out of Ed Wood. Why don’t you spy on all the other interview subjects and report back to me.” [Laughs] I found that actually a far more staggering suggestion from someone who is supposed to be so much about source protection that he wanted me to spy on the other people and give him intel So there’s Julian now acting not as a transparency activist but a spy and I was supposed to spy on behalf of Julian.
Interviewer: And the great irony is that you have a real spy there. You have the former director of the CIA, and NSA, Michael Hayden, who gives the title of the film, We Steal Secrets. He’s proud of this. He says, “That’s what we do. There are secrets out there, this is our job, we steal secrets”. I mean the irony is, he is the spy who is apparently being more upfront and honest than the man who is supposedly revealing the corruption and the lies.
Gibney: That is correct. And I titled the film We Steal Secrets because it sets this whole story in context. If governments are freely admitting, we steal secrets, and now you see it in the Snowden case, this is not so simple as to say, “Oh My God, Bradley Manning has leaked these secrets. Isn’t it terrible. He’s a traitor.” The key is to find the moral high ground and that’s not so easy to do.
Intelligent comment from behind enemy lines.
We occasionally publish worthwhile comment from unlikely sources. It should go without saying that this does not mean that we endorse the overall politics of the author, or indeed, everything in the article itself…
By Iain Martin (Daily Telegraph 24 May)
Above: can’t we go back to ‘Team GB’?
Tune into any BBC London programme at the moment and one word dominates. That word is community. Even on a normal day on the capital’s airwaves you will hear it a great deal, but in the aftermath of the Woolwich terror attack its use has gone into overdrive. On the BBC London news last night it – or the frequently used variant communities – was averaging 11 mentions per minute.
When did this word get such a grip that even passers-by vox-popped by a TV crew will deploy it a couple of times in a sentence when they are asked to asses the impact of a particular event? I wonder whether it really is widely used in everyday discourse or whether it is just what people feel they ought to say when tensions are high and a microphone is put under their nose. Having said that, yesterday I did overhear youngsters at a bus-stop discussing their horror at the Woolwich murder, and both used the word community, as in the perpetrators were a “disgrace to their community” (in the words of one). So perhaps it really has seeped into everyday speech through constant repetition in schools and on television.
The word took hold after the riots of the early 1980s, when there was a breakdown of trust, in certain inner cities, in the police and traditional institutions. After various inquiries, public policy was reconfigured to ensure that “communities” must be consulted on policing and much else besides. The traditional approach – in which people clustered together in a particular place voted for councillors and MPs who would then represent their interests – was out. With it went the widely held understanding that to live alongside each other none of us can get everything that we want.
From that point, other techniques were developed to make “excluded” people feel included. To facilitate this there suddenly emerged the “community leader”, someone unelected and usually possessing the gift of the gab. If they were smart they might get a well-paid gig with local government, or even national government, advising on “community relations”. Inevitably, under successive governments over three decades which all wanted to avoid tensions, this hardened into an orthodoxy, underwritten by third-rate academics in new disciplines. “Community” was the key word, used over and over again.
Of course, like many linguistic devices pushed by ultraliberals it actually has ended up with the opposite meaning from the one many people seem to intend when they use it. Rather than suggesting togetherness the term is actually highly divisive. Rather than emphasising common endeavour it sets one person’s alleged “community” against that of his neighbour.
I actively dislike the term and would refuse to be described as, say, a member of the claret-drinking community. Indeed, the traditional approach is still favoured by many, many millions of us in Britain of all creeds and colours. We think of life in terms of family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, perhaps religion, charity, hobbies such as sport or music and then the nation. Sometimes the various groups and circles involved are distinct and sometimes they overlap. We also accept common institutions as a bulwark of liberty, of course. And it is all wrapped up, ultimately, in that word that I used at the end of the list: the nation. How wonderful it was for a few weeks during the Olympics. The dreaded word “communities” disappeared. We heard instead of Team GB. Can’t we go back to that?
The success of UKIP in this week’s local elections, hailed by Nigel Farage and his cheer-leaders in the right-wing press as a “game changer” means the left can no longer afford to shrug the party off as “just a distraction.” UKIP won 147 seats (of which 139 were gains) and averaged 25% of the vote in the wards where it stood. On the basis of these results, the BBC projected national share of the vote put Labour in the lead with 29% of the vote, the Tories second on 25% and UKIP third with 23%. The Lib Dems would trail with just 14%. Of course, these results may not carry over to a general election, especially as the vote was only in England (plus Anglesey), and excluded the main urban areas. Nevertheless, UKIP is clearly now a serious force in mainstream British electoral politics.
So now seems a good time to consider what social forces UKIP represents, and especially its place on the populist far right of British politics. We republish below a remarkably prescient article from Searchlight magazine of June 2012, analysing the rise of UKIP and its links with the fascist and semi-fascist far right. The headline above this post is ours, not Searchlight‘s, by the way: their title for the article was UKIP at the Crossroads.
Above: Farage triumphant
UKIP at the crossrooads
By Adam Carter
Recent events have created a seemingly perfect storm for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the right-wing populist eurosceptic party that has supplanted the British National Party as the main electoral force to the right of the Conservative Party. The economic chaos in the Eurozone, pressures on public finances in the struggling UK economy, widespread disillusionment with the mainstream parties and growing criticism of the European Court of Human Rights for its handling of terror suspect Abu Qatada all suggest that the time might be ripe for UKIP to make the transition from single-issue pressure group to successful populist party. The fact that UKIP has recently been polling close to the Liberal Democrats with 8% in recent national opinion polls certainly suggests that it is in a stronger position than ever before to emulate other populist radical right parties in Europe.
There were however mixed fortunes for UKIP in the aftermath of the (2012) local elections. The eurosceptic party could draw some satisfaction from the results and the evident disquiet that its electoral prospects had provoked in the Conservative Party. But on the downside, it failed to gain representation on the London Assembly, largely as a result of a clerical error, and became enmeshed in more controversy about UKIP’s links with extremist groups and individuals. Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, UKIP’s Scottish leader and head of its policy unit, was criticised after he called for members of the extreme-right British Freedom Party (BFP), which has recently joined forces with the Islamophobic street thugs of the English Defence League, to “come back and join us”. Other accusations of extremism were levelled at UKIP candidates in Sheffield and Oxford. Read the rest of this entry »
Recalling the Commons and the Lords for “debates” on Thatcher yesterday was, of course, a grotesque act of political manipulation and well as an outrageous waste of money at this time of austerity. All 650 MPs were emailed with the message that they could claim up to £3,750 just for turning up. Peers could draw £300 for attendance. Then there are the tens of thousands for security and running costs as Parliament was not due back until Monday.
Former miner Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), one of many Labour MPs who stayed away, may well have been right to say simply ”I’ve got better things to do.”
But of those Labour MPs who did turn up, two were pretty good:
David Winnick (Walsall North)…
…and Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn):
Well done, you two: proper, serious and honest, reformists.
James Bloodworth (writing at Obliged to Offend in December 2011):
Instead of celebrating … the left should reflect on what a
pig’s ear it’s made of the past 30 years
Ever since Margaret Thatcher stopped appearing in public due to poor health, the
fit and proper reaction to her eventual exit from the earthly realm has been
discussed with increasing regularity by the left.
That rolling news will gloss over her legacy with the empty platitudes of the obsequious is entirely predictable. Nor will it surprise many to see the leading lights of the Labour
Party queuing up to shower the former Prime Minister with praise.
There are, however, plenty of us who haven’t forgotten the lives she destroyed, the
dictators she championed or the unmitigated social disaster set in motion by her
particular brand of finance capitalism. We do not feel the need to do what many
formerly of the left now do, and parrot the dictum that we are ‘all Thatcherites
now’ (just a hint, but when a person says neo-liberal capitalism is ‘inevitable’
what they really mean is that it is desirable). Many of us are not, and never
will be Thatcherites, and we will continue to feel no shame in believing that
there is more to life than the winner-takes-all capitalism she so
unapologetically championed during her lifetime.
There are of course also those, on the other side of the fence, who view Thatcher’s eventual demise as an opportunity to get one over on her family, her friends, and her supporters
in a way that was not possible in an era when her ideas triumphed so
emphatically. In this regard, Margaret Thatcher’s death is not only to be
greeted with sullen contempt, but is to be actively celebrated.
The idea of getting back at this almost mythical figure for the numerous defeats she
inflicted on the left is strong motivation for those planning to crack open the
Champers on learning of her passing. Considering that during her reign she
trounced us at every opportunity, revelled in her victories, and then did it
again, the desire to see the back of the woman is perhaps understandable, even
if the outright celebration of her passing is, to my mind at least, taking
things a bit far.
What we on the left would do well to remember, however,
is that the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher are not going to be dented, let alone
killed-off by the departure of their most famous living embodiment. ‘All the
forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come,’ Victor
Hugo once said, and if the left is to recover from the tremendous setbacks it
has suffered during the past 30 years, it is the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher
that must be replaced, not the worn-out figure of an elderly lady.
Rather than celebrating the death of a human being, even a not
particularly endearing one, the left should instead examine with
clear-sightedness where it has gone wrong, how it has behaved and how it can do
better – and boy, can it do better. Considering the complete failure to make any
political inroads since the 2008 banking crash, this should be clearer today
Time and energy spent celebrating the deaths of those who
popularise ideas we dislike is time that would be better spent popularising our
own ideas. With this in mind, morbid celebrations are better left to the
psychologically unhinged. The media already does an effective job in portraying
us as morally detached from the values of the average person; they certainly
don’t need us serving up ammunition on a plate for them.
Dave Osler got seven. I got nine. Test your knowledge in this jolly quiz:
“Fruit-cakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly.” I don’t often agree with David Cameron, but his 2006 description of Ukip pretty well hit the nail on the head. It’s a vile, reactionary outfit led by a posturing demagogue. Unfortunately, it’s presently on something of a roll, due to the unpopularity of the government, the continuing ineffectiveness of Labour and its crude appeal to the worst prejudices of its chosen constituency (the white lumpenproletariat and disaffected petty bourgeoise).
But if, as seems likely, Ukip does well in Rotherham today it will be for one reason above all others: the incredibly stupid, inept, arrogant and bureaucratic decision of Rotherham council’s Children’s Services to remove three children from their foster parents simply because of the couple’s membership of Ukip.
Ukip is a reactionary organisation, but it’s not the BNP or the EDL. It is possible to be a member of an organisation with racist policies without being personally racist. By all accounts the couple are decent, caring people and experienced foster parents. They have been approved as suitable people under the (rightly) rigorous tests imposed on everyone wishing to foster children. But Rotherham Children’s Services took the children away and more or less called the couple racists because of their membership of Ukip. What a coup for that loudmouthed opportunist Farage: it seemed to confirm everything he says about bureaucratic elites obsessed by ‘political correctness’ and petty regulations, and the fact that even he can’t blame Europe for this balls-up is neither here nor there as far as public perceptions go.
The dreadful, but all too predictable, combination of arrogance and incoherence demonstrated in radio interviews by Joyce Thacker, head of Rotherham’s Children and Young People’s Services, has only served to make matters worse.
There are three byelections taking place today (Croydon North and Middlesborough as well as Rotherham), and in all of them reactionary fringe parties led by demagogues seem poised to do well. Indeed, in Rotherham at least, Ukip and Galloway’s Respect have formed a de facto alliance against Labour.
Serious socialists in all three constituencies should vote Labour today (despite the presence of left wing candidates in Rotherham and Middlesborough) and by rights, Labour should romp home in all three. But there are worrying signs that the populist right in the form of Ukip – or even Respect - may spring some nasty surprises when the votes are counted.