Let’s Be Honest: Margaret Thatcher was NOT the ‘Greatest British Prime Minister’

Monday 8th April saw media outlets across all continents of the world reporting on the breaking news that Margaret Thatcher had passed away; some making spectacular blunders amongst the mass media frenzy to report the news first:

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The BBC reported that Margaret Thatcher had ‘died following a strike‘… How ironic that would have been. (Source: Yahoo/Twitter)

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Taiwan’s CTi Cable showed footage of the Queen when covering Thatcher’s death (Source: Yahoo/Twitter)

The world has seen the media depict Lady Thatcher as the ‘Greatest Prime Minister’, with relatively few reports revealing the darker side of her time in power. Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, also stood by the traditional moral of de mortuis nil nisi bonum (“Of the dead say nothing but good”), while Tony Blair condemned the street parties celebrating the death of Baroness Thatcher, and the Labour mainstream has attempted to distance itself from hardliners’ celebrations.

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Several hundred people gathered in South London to celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s death (Source: The Guardian)

I, for one, most certainly did not rejoice at Margaret Thatcher’s passing, and I find such celebrations of her death utterly distasteful. Such celebrations bare an unappealing similarity with the media images of people dancing on the fallen statues of dictators, when Britain has no such dictatorial institutions and practices.

However, whist I do not rejoice at the demise of Thatcher, I also refuse to remain silent.

Although I had initially decided against writing this post, I ultimately decided it was time to post an honest perspective, after feeling nauseated by all the comments of those who are too afraid to be honest, and biased articles that serve no purpose other than pandering to the Right. Such re-writing of history misleads the younger generations into falsely believing Thatcher was a “strong leader”,  and a role model to follow.

Whilst one would normally be mindful of the grief of another’s family and friends, in the case of such a prominent and controversial political figure, I feel that the judgement about such an individual’s legacy should be an honest one, whether one agrees with her policies or not. Why must a person always be automatically be granted the “privilege” of every member of society suddenly respecting them, solely in virtue of their being dead?

As Glen Greenwald reported in the Guardian, “the demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous.” Greenwald pertinently states that:

“Those who admire the deceased public figure (and their politics) aren’t silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting the emotions generated by the person’s death to create hagiography… Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter that hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death. When a political leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise be permitted but not criticisms.”

The fact is, Margaret Thatcher was **not** the greatest ‘Prime Minister’ at all. She was uncompassionate, uncompromising, destructive, prejudiced, and manipulative. She pressed forward policies that were primarily only of benefit to herself and those in her elite group, whilst she punished the working-classes, disregarded their human rights, and disdainfully, and famously, branded them “The enemy within”.

Ironically, she was the daughter of a greengrocer. This was a woman who came from humble roots, and who climbed the social ranks after marrying a millionaire. It was her husband who subsequently financed her political career.

Whilst I am aware that my views will be criticised by Tory supporters, Thatcherites, and those influenced by the propagandistic right-wing media spin, Thatcherism was without a doubt a national disaster.

Many areas of Britain still remain trapped by Thatcherite policies to this day. Indeed, Thatcher’s former Chancellor Geoffrey Howe once stated: “Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible.” It is no coincidence that all three great economic crises since the Second World War have occurred since Thatcherism. Much of it has roots in the Thatcher’s free market experiment, which annihilated much of Britain’s industrial base in favour of a deregulated financial sector.

Many Thatcher supporters still claim her policies were “necessary”, and whilst I agree that coal mines would have eventually needed phasing out when other power sources became more common-place, it was not necessary to create such mass industrial closures, nor to push unemployment so high. It also was not necessary to raise interest rates so high, or to push up the value of the pound. Thatcher’s only purpose was monetarism: a superficial logic, adopted from American economist Milton Friedman, of keeping inflation low by restricting the money supply. Whilst it did not comply in the true sense of Friedman monetarism, Thatcher adopted a looser version of monetarism when the economy crashed in the early eighties, was radically successful at disregarding the unemployment it created.

Today, there is much anger about social security in Britain, which is focused on the idea that people are “scrounging” off state benefits, whilst the poor are demonised by society. The fact is, there is more unemployment in Britain today than there was 40 years ago – A consequence of Thatcherism devastating mining villages and industrial towns, thus stripping communities of millions of secure industrial jobs for skilled workers, from which Britain has never really recovered. Even when the British economy was supposedly booming, old industrial areas still had high levels of unemployment and economic inactivity.

Modern day “chav” culture has stemmed from Thatcherism. The working-class have now become today’s unemployed. With the loss of industries which provided employment, apprenticeships, and opportunities for young people, many living in working-class societies now feel they have nothing to work towards or look forward to. Many are unable to provide for their families. Many turn to drugs believing “Where there’s no hope; there’s dope”, as was suggested in this documentary on a once thriving small Welsh town that has since been crippled by Thatchersim, and the subsequent economic downturns.

It would seem no coincidence that Wales now has the highest suicide rate in the United Kingdom.

Much of modern day intolerance of working-class people has stemmed from the right-wing media spin on the Miners’ Strike and Riots that subsequently followed. Having grown up in a community devastated by Thatcherism and witnessed the destruction, I grew up hearing stories of police brutality during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985; stories that were never revealed by the media at the time. The nation were shown only the footage of the miners defending themselves from the police who had instigated the violence, leaving an entire nation believing the discriminatory view that the working-class are “thugs”. It lead society to believe that Thatcher’s policies were deserved and necessary.  It was, in fact, a conspiracy and an unprecedentedly savage smear campaign, and it is only in recent years that the truth has begun to emerge. Author Seumas Milne has revealed the astonishing lengths to which the government and its intelligence machine were prepared to go to destroy the power of Britain’s miners’ union. It has since been revealed that the government used bogus bank deposits, staged cash drops, and forged documents; whilst agents provocateurs, M15 and police Special Branch were set out to discredit trade unionist Athur Scargill, and other miners’ leaders. Planted tales of corruption were seized on by the media.

Although more evidence is emerging, it is now too little, too late. The damage has been done, and the working-class will never rid themselves of the images portrayed by the media and the Tory government. Even today, the supporters of Thatcherism still hail at the crippling of the trade unions that were shattered by Thatcher’s anti-union laws, crushing defeats of strikes, and mass unemployment. With no unions to stand their corner, workers’ have been left with poorer work conditions and living standards, and are often held to ransom at the mercy of their bosses.

An article in the notoriously right-wing newspaper, The Telegraph, crows that Thatcher ‘saved the economy’. The fact is, she did not, and Thatcher’s battle with the miners’ union was economically irrational. GDP growth did *not* increase by more that 2.2%, and as Andrew Gamble documented in ‘The Free Economy and the Strong State’ (second edition (1994), p192), her battle cost Britain £2.5-Billion. Furthermore, between 1980 and 1983 the capacity in British industry fell by 24 percent, leading to an unemployment figure topping 3 million (Christopher Johnson, The Economy Under Mrs Thatcher (1991), Appendix Table 1, Economic growth trends, 1950-89). Instead, as Andrew Gamble noted in his book The Free Economy and the Strong State (second edition (1994), p193.), Thatcher permanently shut down much of British manufacturing, turning instead to banks and the City.

We need only look at the banking crisis of 2008 to figure out how well that worked…!

Ian Gilmour (Dancing With Dogma (1992), p124), has revealed that the overall tax burden rose from 39 percent in 1979 to 43 percent in 1989. Gilmour also points out that Thatcher cut taxes for the wealthy (a policy we have seen repeated by David Cameron’s government), with a top rate of tax of 83% when Thatcher came to power, and only 40%, whilst the poorest were hit by VAT that was just 8% percent prior, and 15% after Thatcher gained power. Furthermore, the poorest fifth of the population accounted for around 10% of after-tax income in 1979. By 1989 their share had fallen to 7 percent, whilst the wealthiest fifth rose from 37 percent to 43 percent, thus making the wealthiest people richer, and the poorest people poorer.

The more one delves into the facts, the more evident it becomes that Thatcher was not only fighting the miners – she was, in fact, fighting an entire class of people; discriminating against the most vulnerable class, stripping them of their jobs and financial stability, and driving them into the ground, almost like a form of clandestine eugenics by the back-door.

Today, five million people have their names on social housing waiting lists, while billions of pounds of housing benefit line the pockets of private landlords, swindling people with rip-off rents. The vulnerable are often forced to live in slum housing such as sheds and garages. The scarcity of housing turns communities against each other and we are witnessing increasing racial tension as immigrants, or anyone deemed “less deserving” are scapegoated for receiving housing before a British-born national. The root of the problem lies with the Thatcherite policy which gave private landlords the right-to-buy council houses, whilst failing to replace the social housing that had been privately sold.

I have witnessed a number of people on social media turning a blind eye to the destruction I have mentioned, in an attempt to “respect the dead”; instead choosing to comment on Thatcher being the last Prime Minister to “stand for what she believed in” and that “she stood up for democracy”. It would appear that there is a major confusion, whereby many people are duped into believing that a single minded leader who is not de-railed by unpopularity, is more important than the catastrophic policies they advocate. As we have seen, standing up for what she believed in (see her famous “The Lady’s not for turning” speech), has lead Britain into a major economic crisis. Furthermore, Thatcher did not “stand up for democracy”. We need only look back to her act of racial discrimination in opposing sanctions against apartheid. She called Nelson Mandela a “terrorist”, whilst she supported the murderer and torturer Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and gave support to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

As Glenda Jackson, the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn stated in her refreshingly honest parliamentary speech,  Thatcher may be “the first Prime Minister of female gender…  But a woman? Not on my terms.”

Ms Jackson delivered her speech from an almost empty Labour bench, as dozens of Labour MPs  from the constituencies most adversely affected by Thatcherism, chose not to attend as a form of protest to Thatcher’s tribute.

Allister Heath wrote in The Telegraph: “Far more miners lost their jobs, and far more mines were shut, in the 1960s and 1970s than during Thatcher’s time in office. Britain is suffering from a bout of collective amnesia.” – No, Mr. Heath. Supporters of the Right are suffering from collective propagandistic brainwashing. Please get your facts in order, because your claim that more mines were shut in the 1960s and 1970s, is false. In fact, it is an outright lie.

Today, the current Tory coalition government has picked up from where Thatcher left off, privatising the NHS, whilst thrashing state welfare – literally laughing as they did so.

Thatcher may be dead, but the aftermath of her civilization eroding policies and destruction, continues to live on.

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Fascist Britain?

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An anti-immigration protest by the English Defence League (The Guardian)

The newspapers have readily reported that Britain’s economy has sunk into the longest depression for 100 years, claiming the slump is worse than the Great Depression. Regular publications are produced by NIESR which also suggest that Europe’s recovery is already behind where it was in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Indeed, NIESR’s latest quarterly forecast (published 5th February 2013), projects growth of 0.7 per cent per annum this year and 1.5 per cent in 2014.

Following the 2008 global financial crisis, British Labour MP, Ed Balls, stated in 2009 that he feared the economic crisis could spark a resurgence in the Far Right politics of the 1930s and the rise of fascism. His warning initially came after a trade union baron warned that Far Right parties were trying to misinterpret and hijack the slogan “British jobs for British workers” – A poorly worded phrase coined by Gordon Brown during his first speech as leader to the Labour Conference in 2007, intended to express Gordon Brown’s vision of getting British people lacking basic skills, or the long-term unemployed, back into the British employment market.

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The British Jobs phrase from Gordon Brown’s speech is regularly off-quoted by Nationalist movements.

Today, the row over foreign workers continues to gather momentum, with the implication that the in-coming Romanians and Bulgarians are ill-educated benefit tourists, and reports of the UK Government’s negative ad campaign in an attempt to deter Romanians and Bulgarians from moving to Britain.

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Tongue-in-cheek Anti-Britain ad campaigns published in The Guardian

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A witty ‘Why don`t you come over?’ ad campaign was designed by the online Romanian newspaper,Gandul , in response to numerous reports in the British media about the government initiative to launch a negative ad campaign discouraging Romanians and Bulgarians from coming to work in Britain.

We have also witnessed escalating Euroscepticism (discussed in my previous blog post); the rise of the UK Independence Party, and increasing British nationalism has seen the British National Party (BNP) celebrating their first ever secured European Parliament seats for leader Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons in 2009. This was the same year that saw the formation the extreme Far-Right group, North West Infidels, and an Islamophobic Far-Right street protest movement – the English Defence League, who exploit concerns about sex-grooming gangs to fuel its anti-Islam agenda and forge networks with far-right groups across Europe. Last year saw the perturbing revival of the National Front, whilst yet another Nationalist party, calling themselves The British Democratic Party, has recently arisen out of the rubble of the BNP. A further indication that we should not get too complacent is the result of a Searchlight poll, conducted last February, which revealed that a staggeringly high number of voters stated they would be prepared to vote for party of the Far-Right, if it renounced violence.

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Recent Daily Express headlines

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The question is whether Ed Balls was right in suggesting we may be heading towards a return to the fascist Far-Right politics that prospered in the Great Depression of the 1930s?

There are, admittedly, some parallels, and one thing history has revealed is that the Right thrives on economic crisis.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Britain saw the Labour Party almost wiped out, with Labour winning only 52 seats in the 1931 election, allowing the Conservatives to rule with a formidable majority. The situation was even bleaker in the rest of Europe as fascism annihilated democracy and the Left. Italy fell first, with Leftists languishing in Fascist jails from the 1920s. Germany’s labour movement was the strongest in the world, but Nazism shut it down virtually overnight and was upping the persecution of the Jews. A military uprising against Spain’s reformist government in 1936 plunged the country into a nightmare Civil War that ended in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Leftists and the victory of Far-Right dictator General Francisco Franco. The only glimmer of hope for the Left was France’s Popular Front, a coalition of Socialists, Communists and Radicals. Alas, it was an unwieldy government that lasted only two years, and the right were growing ever more aggressive and militant.

The majority of British people like to think that we are above that sort of thing, and like to believe fascism is more exclusive to “excitable foreigners”, who they seem to believe enjoy wearing uniforms. However, it is worth considering that parliamentary democracy was once believed to have been secure in most of the Western world in the 1920s, yet it collapsed quickly enough once the Slump came. Even emphatically anti-fascist Britain adopted its own version of a corporatist state, forming a national government in which almost all the parties were in power, and vastly extended state control with the Public Order Act which came into force 1st January 1937. Britain also saw Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts, supported by the likes of the Daily Mail, loudly agitating for a fascist government on the European model. If one was a true Democrat in 1937, there was most certainly a cause for concern, given the lack of hindsight and far right’s complacency of the atrocities occurring in Europe.

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A 1933 printed poster advertising four meetings of the British Union of Fascists (Library of Museum of London)

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The British Union of Fascists

Even during the other major economic crisis seen during the 1970s, when the ‘oil shock‘ of 1973 signalled the end of the ‘Golden Age of Capitalism’, both Left and Right abandoned the post-war consensus in favour of a renewed radicalism. Like with the period prior to the more recent 2010 election, it was unclear which side would win for a while, and indeed for long periods prior to the economic downturn, it appeared the Left was in the ascendancy. The historically unprecedented post-war boom came to an abrupt end, leading to a period of poor economic growth and rampant levels of inflation. Again, the economy had stagnated, but the New Right saw a surge in prosperity with politics beginning to swing to the Right across Europe, first with British Thatcherism. This was soon followed by American Reaganism. Thatcher was so successful in 1979 that even by the time she was succeeded by John Major, the traditional Left had been all but vanquished as a political force. This time round, there appears to be no real alternative for the Right to defeat, as the Left has never really recovered from being virtually smothered out of existence. It has been victim to the rise of the New Right, neo-liberal globalization, and the repeated defeats suffered by the trade union movement.

Above all, it can be argued that it was the aftermath of the collapse of Communism that has seen the subsidence of the Left. As US neo-conservative Midge Decter once stated: “It’s time to say: We’ve won. Goodbye.” From the British Labour Party to the African National Congress, Left-wing movements across the world have shifted their policies to the Right in an almost synchronised fashion, and although we now live in an age of revolt, there still remains no true Left to give it direction and purpose. Even in the “Left-wing” governed US, Obama may have been elected US President, but a newly resurgent Right lead by the Tea Party has seized the House of Representatives and is clearly setting the political agenda. As the Economist has boasted, the Left has been smashed across Europe, and indeed, the British National Party won its first seats in the European parliament not because its supporters are all racist, but because many voters feel insecure and let down by the main parties. The British National Party now use such views to their advantage to rally support, thus playing on the claim that their Far-Right party is “a socialist party… and probably the closest thing to old Labour”, at a time when there is no true Left to provide Britain with direction.

The recent rise of the UKIP could also be an issue for concern, particularly as recent ComRes polls have placed the UKIP in 3rd position, ahead of the Liberal Democrats.

Whilst a benign view of the UKIP by many might be that they are simply small-nation nationalists standing up against an oppressive suzerainty, and are not a fascist party; a darker perspective might be that some UKIP supporters have a more deep-seated antagonism to our current constitutional settlement, one they share with a quiescent sector of our society, that might develop into a poisonous xenophobia.

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A UKIP anti-immigration poster

Indeed, data from a study by Matthew Goodwin, Robert Ford, and David Cutts has revealed that intolerant views were somewhat more common among UKIP supporters than any of the three mainstream parties. However, while only a minority of UKIP supporters were found to be racist, the majority are not, and the UKIP were found to hold fewer intolerant views than the BNP. Yet, UKIP supporters were more likely to support a complete ban on immigration, to support government efforts to deport immigrants, in addition to being less tolerant of Muslims, and less tolerant of homosexuals. Recent statements by a UKIP candidate for parliament has described gay adoption as a form of child abuse, and the survey revealed 41% of UKIP supporters opposed civil partnerships, which is higher than all the mainstream parties and nearly twice the sample average. The study also found that all parties of the Far Right are also more likely to falsely attribute negative behaviour to immigrants as a group; holding them responsible for ‘most crime’ and agreeing with the view that they ‘jump the queue for council housing’; and UKIP supporters were more likely to agree that ‘Islam poses a serious danger to Western civilization’ and a report by Matthew Goodwin and Jocelyn Evans has revealed that 84% were bothered by the construction of a mosque in their neighbourhood. Furthermore, 4 in 10 UKIP supporters are unwilling to put up with its existence, or to offer legal recognition to a group with different views or behaviour from their own.

If we compare the 2012 London Manifestos:

UKIP on immigration:

  • Create more jobs for Londoners by saying ‘No’ to open-door immigration.
  • Priority for Londoners – whatever their ethnic origin – for jobs and housing, over migrants and asylum seekers.
  • Until the Government gets a grip on our borders, put a cap on the number of immigrants allowed to settle in London.

BNP on immigration:

  • London is already overcrowded. We will NOT give amnesty to illegal immigrants.
  • All the other political parties will let in more – we’ll shut the door!
  • While immigration policy is determined primarily by the EU (a key reason for our opposition to Britain’s membership) and central government, we will take all measures within the Mayor’s power to protect and advance the interests of indigenous Londoners and members of legally settled minorities who contribute to the common good.

Both parties use the same door open/shut metaphor in reference to to immigration, and both refer to prioritising Londoners. BNP emphasise that ethnic minorities, who are legally settled, will be included in their ‘shut the door’ policy, while the UKIP specifically refers to migrants and asylum seekers. Note that the UKIP do not refer to whether their policy includes migrants who are legal or not, nor the status of an asylum claim. Both state on their websites that they will deport all illegal immigrants.

In a 2010 document titled ‘Restoring Britishness‘, the UKIP refers to combating the Islamisation of Britain, which is also a key BNP concern:

‘Multiculturalism is another tenet of the politically correct class and has been just as toxic to Britain. In simplified form, it is broadly the belief that people from different ethno-religious and ethno-linguistic backgrounds can live together in the same society and that the state is legally obliged to respect all of their cultural mores. The notion that there is, or that there should be, a common unifying culture is denounced as ‘exclusionary’, and calls to integrate are typically met with accusations that the state is issuing ultimatums to ethnic and religious minorities. UkIP fundamentally disagrees.

Ukip will end multiculturalism and promote an all-embracing uniculturalism, one which demands integration, assimilation and a commitment to British values for all UK citizens.’

The UKIP clearly state their opposition of multiculturalism, and this would suggest they oppose ‘the belief that people from different ethno-religious and ethno-linguistic backgrounds can live together in the same society.’ There are constant references to a Marxist influence in British politics, particularly in using Ed and David Miliband’s “Trotskyite” father Ralph as an example.

The BNP have their roots in far more extreme origins through its founder, John Tyndall, and his involvement with the affirmably fascist National Socialist Movement and League of Empire Loyalists. Their members have been involved in far more extreme acts of outright violence such as the notorious nailbombs attacks by David Copeland.

Yet, both the UKIP and BNP advertise themselves specifically as “non-racist”. If both parties need to constantly refer to their lack of racism in their campaign material, perhaps they have something of a guilty conscience?

Should we be worried?

As I revealed in a previous post, it is clear that David Cameron is being swayed into a somewhat fascist direction by the increase in UKIP popularity, and the increase in Eurosceptism in Britain. In addition to David Cameron’s xenophobic speech, there is increasing pressure from Conservative backbenchers to find ways to deter Romanians and Bulgarians from moving to Britain.

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Look at the early signs: demands for protectionism; “British jobs for British workers”; blatant xenophobia; the scapegoating of capitalists; nationalisation; the surge in state spending; the contempt for parliamentarians. Is Britain really immune from fascism?

To get the issue into perspective, the BNP have been around for a long time, yet have never managed to make a serious breakthrough. Intolerant views towards immigrants and ethnic minorities is clearly an issue in Britain, but the UKIP votes are more likely to be protest votes during a time of increasing dissatisfaction with the coalition government. With such a loss of public confidence in parliament, growing nationalism and alarm at terrorism, this is a time when one might have expected votes to flow to the BNP. History has revealed that a loss of confidence in parliamentary institutions is characteristic of a time that fascists have come to power, and whilst the election of two BNP MEPs is a very depressing development, the BNP are not doing especially well. Whilst the UKIP are currently ahead of the Liberal Democrats in ComRes Polls, and came 2nd in the Eastleigh By-election, recent opinion polls place Labour in the lead.

We should also be concerned about what is occurring across Europe, where Right-wing populism is on the rise – The Eurozone crisis has seen emergence of the neo-nazi movement, Greece’s Golden Dawn; neo-fascists in France and Hungary making electoral gains; the continued success of anti-Muslim parties in Holland and Belgium; “nativist” movements such as Finland’s True Finns, not to mention the conspiracy theories cited by the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik.

Societies that preside over massive inequalities of wealth, but also promises its people democracy, equality and freedom, are breeding grounds for resentment. Wherever such resentments exist, the Far Right will try to exploit them to gain political support. Today the Far Right use Islamophobia and the hatred of migrants, because it already exists in our society, just as the Nazis played upon antisemitism, because it already existed in German society.

However, the fascism of the 1920s and 30s was a revolutionary movement asserting a violent imperialism and promising a new social order. By contrast, today’s Far-Right parties are solely based on fear of immigration, fear of aliens, fear of being Europeanised. They have no real political agenda, no vision of a new social order, nor can they legally campaign for the replacement of a democratic government by an authoritarian regime. The fear and hatred they incite, may lead to public furore, but I do not believe it will play a part in politics to the extent that we will see a Far-Right party elected into the British Government any time soon.

Nevertheless, we should still remain cautious. Presenting the Human Rights Convention to the Assembly in 1949, Schuman’s colleague, French lawyer, Pierre-Henri Teitgen, said:

An honest man does not become a gangster in 24 hours. Infection takes time. In thought and in conscience, he has to let himself be drawn into temptation. He gets used to the fault before he commits it. He descends the stairwell step by step. One day, he finds evil has beaten him and he has lost all scruples. Democracies do not become Nazi countries overnight. Evil progresses in an underhand way, with a minority operating to seize what amounts to the levers of power. One by one, freedoms are suppressed, in one sphere then another. Public opinion is smothered, the worldwide conscience is dulled and the national conscience asphyxiated. And then, when everything fits in place, the Führer is installed and this evolution continues right on to the deadly gas ovens of the crematorium.’

 

stop fascism

If you really do love Britain, stop the fascists, the racists, the xenophobes, and the homophobes, etc.

Anti-Fascism merchandise is available to buy here

Are today’s children “a Jack of all trades, master of none”?

The results of new research reported in the news headlines today, suggests children are now reading less than they did back in 2005.

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According to a study of 21,000 children and teenagers conducted by the National Literacy Trust, today’s generation of children read fewer novels, comics, magazines and websites. While many enjoyed reading, it is reported that 17% said they would be embarrassed if a friend saw them with a book.

The results of this research reminded me of two previous posts that I wrote for this blog, only a matter of days ago:

Hate peepz who typ lyk dis’?

Have English Standards Taken A Nosedive?

A Government review of British education, in addition to a more dedicated and specific parental encouragement, is long overdue it would seem. As the research has suggested, childrens’ lives have become more crowded with other activities, and it seems that parents are putting too much emphasis on a number of activities to try and make their children more “well-rounded”, instead of having their children focus on fewer, but more educationally beneficial, pursuits.

It would appear there is more truth in the old proverb  “Jack of all trades, master of none.”, than parents care to realize. Whilst “well-rounded” children are deemed highly desirable by schools when selecting new intake, and subsequently during the application process for university admissions, finding a healthy balance is also crucial.

Our personal data does not always need to be deleted by companies to comply with Data Protection Rules.

This week I am delighted to be a guest blogger for the Political Idealist website, which covers political, news and current affairs both in the U.K. and around the world. The Political Idealist is a website maintained by the talented Jack H. G. Darrant, who has keen interests in British democracy and environmentalism, regularly writes for The Independent newspaper, in addition to his weekly contributions in the ever popular ShoutOut blog. If you would like to know more, or enjoy this article, check-out the Political Idealist.

Many have questioned the safety of our personal data.  Now it appears that a loophole in the law could result in organisations holding personal data records, even when the information is no longer necessary for processing purposes.

Recent data protection guidance published by The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has revealed that organisations that are unable to justify the storage of personal data they had been previously processing, may not have to delete the information immediately, despite the fifth principle of the Data Protection Act 1998, which states that organisations are not permitted to store personal data processed beyond what is “necessary” for the “purpose” or “purposes” of that processing.

However, the ICO has stated in their new guidance, that recognised challenges can be faced by organisations during the process of deleting personal data. Thus, the ICO has stated that it would generally accept those “challenges”, provided that organisations put unjustifiably held information “beyond use”. The guidance states that:

“The ICO will be satisfied that information has been ‘put beyond use’, if not actually deleted, provided that the data controller holding it: is not able, or will not attempt, to use the personal data to inform any decision in respect of any individual or in a manner that affects the individual in any way; does not give any other organisation access to the personal data; surrounds the personal data with appropriate technical and organisational security; and commits to permanent deletion of the information if, or when, this becomes possible. We will not require data controllers to grant individuals subject access to the personal data provided that all four safeguards above are in place[…] Nor will we take any action over compliance with the fifth data protection principle. It is, however, important to note that where data put beyond use is still held it might need to be provided in response to a court order. Therefore data controllers should work towards technical solutions to prevent deletion problems recurring in the future”

The ICO  have also stated that organisational and technical safeguards will be necessary, yet  they have failed to provide any guidance as to the procedure of how organisations should implement the safeguards required, to ensure that organisations will not attempt to use personal data after it is no longer required. Furthermore, the ICO guidance stated that companies are allowed to retain personal data that is no longer justifiable in keeping, if they are unable to detach the information from other data contained in a legitimately stored “batch”, if the result of a “technical reason”. “In cases like this the organisation holding the information may be prohibited by law from using it in the same way that it might use live information,” the ICO said.

An example provided by the ICO is where: ” a court has ordered the deletion of information relating to a particular individual but this cannot be done without deleting information about other individuals held in the same batch.”

However, the ICO added that the permanent deletion of electronically stored information from the “ether” was not something that organisations would have to ensure. Thus, “the ICO will adopt a realistic approach in terms of recognising that deleting information from a system is not always a straightforward matter and that it is possible to put information ‘beyond use’, and for data protection compliance issues to be ‘suspended’ provided certain safeguards are in place“.

It would appear that the general view of acceptance by the ICO is that if personal data has been deleted with no intention to use or access this again, but still exists in the electronic ether, then data protection compliance is no longer applicable, because the data is no longer live. A potential problem could arise when the computers are later discarded, as there appears to be no guidance as to how to discard the equipment in a manner that would prevent access to the computer’s ether by a third party.

There are numerous methods in which third party sales companies and rogues can attain our information, ranging from companies selling our information onto third parties, unshreaded documents left lying around in an outside bin, the internet, public electoral roll records, or even the telephone directory. Perhaps this latest loophole discovery also answers the question as to where some international companies may be attaining our supposedly private information from.

This matter links in with the view of The Working Party, a committee made up of representatives from each of the EU national data protection authorities (DPAs), who have recommended that individuals should generally not be identifiable when their personal data is being processed. They recommend that organisations should be required to “anonymise or pseudonymise” personal data when processing the information if it is “feasible and proportionate”, as recommended as part of a published opinion on the European Commission’s proposed General Data Protection Regulation.

I am sure most of us will be in accord with The Working Party’s recommendation that:
 “The concept of pseudonymisation should be introduced more explicitly in the instrument (for example by including a definition on pseudonymised data, consistent with the definition of personal data), as it can help to achieve better data protection, for example, in the context of data protection by design and default.”

Perhaps “pseudonymised data”, if possible, is one way to prevent the possibility of potential abuse of data retrieval, should companies be negligent in their methods of discarding of any obsolete computer equipment during future system upgrades.

“Get outta m’ house!” New Law Criminalises Squatting

This week I am delighted to be a guest blogger for the Political Idealist website, which covers political, news and current affairs both in the U.K. and around the world. The Political Idealist is a website maintained by the talented Jack H. G. Darrant, who has keen interests in British democracy and environmentalism, regularly writes for The Independent newspaper, in addition to his weekly contributions in the ever popular ShoutOut blog. If you would like to know more, or enjoy this article, check out the Political Idealist.

September is now upon us, and at a time when an increasing number of people are falling into redundancies, unable to find employment, unable to pay their rent, and ending up without housing; the new squatting law comes into force as of today. This new piece of legislation now makes squatting a criminal offence in England and Wales. However, squatting in commercial premises will remain a civil matter.

The new offence, introduced by section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, will be punishable by a maximum prison term of up to six months, a maximum £5,000 fine, or both. Under this new law, the Police will now be able to assist landlords in evicting squatters from their property.

This change in the law has been described as ‘a tax subsidy’ for landlords, with the Chair of the Housing Law Practitioners Association, Giles Peaker, stating that:

‘ [Landlords] will no longer have to pay to get people evicted; it will be the police’s job to do it, paid for out of the public purse’.

Right-wing homeowners are delighted; whilst left-wingers such as lawyer and journalist, David Allen Green stated on Twitter:

“Bit by bit, the British state is shifting property rights from a civil law to a criminal law basis. Both misconceived and highly illiberal.”

A Law Society spokesperson said: ‘Residential occupiers are already adequately protected from trespass under the Criminal Law Act 1977, and for that reason we, along with the Metropolitan Police, the Magistrates’ Association and many others, did not see the need for the introduction of a new criminal offence for squatting.’

Campaigners have warned that criminalising squatting in residential buildings would lead to an increase in some of the most vulnerable homeless people sleeping rough. Furthermore, once a person is confined to a life on the street, it is very difficult to find a way out. Employment is unavailable to those without a fixed address, leaving a large number of people destined to life of homelessness for as long as they are unable to squat or have their name listed on a very long waiting list for council accommodation – provided they have a disability or dependents. As the homeless charity, Crisis, has stated, the new law will now criminalise vulnerable people who are just trying to find a place off the streets, leaving them in prison or facing a fine that they are unable to pay.

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Ultimately the Government needs to tackle the reasons as to why homeless people squat in the first place by helping, not punishing them. “It also misses the point,” Leslie Morphy, the chief executive of Crisis, said. “There was already legal provision that police and councils could, and should, have used to remove individuals in the rare instances of squatting in someone’s home.”

Justice Minister Crispin Blunt also added: “For too long, squatters have had the justice system on the run and have caused homeowners untold misery in eviction, repair and clean-up costs. Not any more. Hard-working homeowners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first – this new offence will ensure the police and other agencies can take quick and decisive action to deal with the misery of squatting.”

Certainly, one advantage to the new law is that having the police involved in removing squatters is surely more preferable to an unscrupulous landlord “sending the boys round”, which might also put innocent tenants at risk in a case where a home has been sublet without the landlord’s permission, unbeknown to the innocent subtenant.

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Whilst the right-wingers and homeowners may continue to cheer as they read these words, I raise the question as to whether the police will have the resources to enforce this new offence, given their previous unwillingness to act with the previous law outlined by section 7 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. Not to mention that the new law is poorly drafted. Unlike section 7 of the 1977 Act, which previously protected homeowners by making it a criminal offence for a squatter to remain in a property after being ordered to leave by the owner; the new law does not cover gardens. Therefore, a person squatting in someone’s garden shed will, technically speaking, not be covered by the new law. Thus, we might now discover some truth in the fairytale phrase “pixies at the bottom of garden”…

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On that note, I wish you all a nice weekend.

Do “Too Many Tweets Make A Tw*t”?

Public opinion of the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has just about reached an all-time low, but it appears that our dear Mr CamWrong may have been “right” about one thing …

Twitter.

During an interview on Absolute Radio, back in 2009, David Cameron was asked by presenter Christian O’Connell whether he used Twitter.

“Politicians do have to think about what we say,” Mr Cameron stated, seemingly without irony, before bestowing the following howler upon us: “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat.”

Despite the absurd irony of Mr Cameron’s ineptness, his statement is made all the more ironic by the fact the Conservative Party had a twitter account, and not to mention that Mr Cameron now also has a Twitter account for No. 10 Downing Street. Therefore, it would seem that one “twit” in particular, really can “make a tw*t”.

As a user of Twitter, my opinion about the site is somewhat mixed. I am often bemused by the sheer ludicrousness that some people manage to incorporate into just 140 characters. Because of the 140 character limit, one can often be subjected to a long list of multiple tweets from the same person(s); full of ridiculously abbreviated words, and depending on who one is following, may result in a trail of absolute nonsense trawling up the newsfeed.

Whilst I like to think I am a little more selective about who I follow, one does come across some real “gems” retweeted by others, sometimes retweeted purely for comedy value.

Just take a look at some of these examples:

Let us not forget the way Twitter was used to incite the London Riots, whilst bystanders tweeted their riot “observations”, or riot warnings to others. Quite often, it emerged that a ridiculous number of tweets provided nothing other than false information. Yet, the false information spread like wildfire, such as rumours about the streets of a West London borough apparently being set in flames, only for nervous residents to later discover that the worst event to have actually occurred in that particular area, was a brick thrown through a shop window! What a kick in the teeth to the people who genuinely were affected by the Riots, and who lost their homes in the fires in Croydon, Tottenham, Hackney, etc. However, it must also be pointed out that Twitter also played an important role in the post-riots clean-up, which gave the police a means of tracing those who incited and recruited other rioters.

One disturbing aspect of Twitter is that regulating the site is virtually impossible because of the massive volume of messages and tweets that are sent every second. On the subject of immediacy, as also mentioned by Mr. Cameron, it can only take so much as one misinformed tweet for a false rumour to become a worldwide trend in minutes, as we have seen in the past, ranging from the apparent “death” of a celebrity, down to their so-called sordid affairs. There is a great deal of misinformation and sometimes sheer nastiness. But none of this is a special feature of Twitter, as it is a feature of people generally. Furthermore, it is very difficult to pick up on humour and sarcasm via Twitter (and, indeed, other social media sites), leading to many misunderstandings and quarrels. One careless or false tweet has the potential of giving information capable of ruining lives and relationships. But, on a more positive note, celebrities and high-profile people have utilised  Twitter’s immediacy as a way of “setting the record straight” about a rumour,  and to engage with their fans, and even form more of a following.

I must confess that I do love Twitter as a means of keeping up-to-date with current affairs. Twitter is a fantastic forum for learning of any errors in news reporting and for academics to promote general public understanding of their research. It is also a wonderful forum for lawyers, politicians, and and journalists to share information such as links, viewpoints, and to receive instant feedback. It is now becoming common for interesting legal trials to be live-tweeted and debated by legal scholars, and for the mainstream media to subsequently try and catch-up! Whilst one may have to sift through some rather trivial tweets, there are so many high-profile academics who are happy to share a fresh insight and engage in very interesting topical debates. As a result of instant tweeting and academic blogging, newspaper reports are now becoming old news that contribute little additional value to what one has already learned “straight from the horses’ mouths” on Twitter.

Some university departments are also increasingly using Twitter as a teaching resource, and whilst it may seen that nothing of value could possibly be written in only 140 characters; for all the bizarre tweets full of abbreviations that I sometimes think only the person who tweeted it could possibly understand,  I have also very often been pleasantly surprised. The restriction in communicating with just 140 characters can be a very useful learning method: It teaches one how to be more succinct by forcing one to stick with the facts, and not swaying off topic, which would result in a long series of multiple tweets. That, after all, might lead to a mass exodus of followers, as they become increasingly more frustrated with having to sift through the vast number of irrelevant tweets on their news-feed.

Taking the latter into account, maybe too many tweets really do make a “twat”. However, too many tweets might actually rid you of some, too!

Cheerio, chaps!

Have Literacy Standards Taken A Nosedive?

Schools across Britain are reporting that students who sat GCSEs in English have been ‘harshly marked down’, as a result of this year’s GCSE A*-C results falling for the first time in the exam’s history. One headteacher has condemned the GCSE exam board as being ‘unfair’, and claims that her ‘pupils have had their life chances damaged’.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has always alleged that the value of GCSEs and A-levels has been corroded by the “dumbing down” of exams, and the over-generous awarding of grades.

The question is, have standards genuinely fallen, or were this year’s GCSE exams particularly harsh?

There has been much speculation in previous years about exam standards becoming progressively easier. It always seemed difficult to believe that Britain’s teenagers were getting increasingly more intelligent every single year, particularly as there have been conflicting reports suggesting that literacy standards have been falling in Britain since 2005.

Although it is considered “cool” for teenagers to type in “text talk”, what implications might this have upon literacy standards – if at all? Arguably, if one is not reading quality literature, or writing at a high standard on a regular basis, it is very easy to fall into a situation where spelling standards decline, and writing standards do not progress as quickly. I do not suppose the US English spelling, which is so commonplace on the internet, helps terribly much, either.

Furthermore, consider the poor quality of writing in the ‘Twilight’ series of books, which are ever so popular with today’s teenagers. When teenagers are familiarising themselves with the following examples of syntactical car-crashes, colloquialisms, and appalling overuse of adjectives, would it really surprise us if we discovered that English standards are falling?

“He leaned in slowly, the beeping noise accelerated wildly before his lips even touched me. But when they did, though with the most gentle of pressure, the beeping stopped altogether.”

“Time passes. Even when it seems impossible. Even when each tick of the second hand aches like the pulse of blood behind a bruise. It passes unevenly in strange lurches and dragging lulls, but pass it does. Even for me.”

“He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare.”

This bizarre adjective reduplication also takes the cake:

“He was both dazzling and dazzled.”

Perhaps incorporating the study of one of the ‘Twilight’ books into the National Curriculum would not be such a bad idea; not because the books are an example of quality writing, but because they are actually very good examples of a poor writing style that teenagers should be taught not to emulate in their own writing. As some of the more “eloquent” teenagers are already reading the books recreationally, why not use ‘Twilight’ as an opportunity to educate teenagers in what not to do, in a manner that will actually be enjoyable for most of them, and will thus be easier for them to relate with. Moreover, although somewhat off the topic of English studies, the ‘Twilight books might also be a useful learning text for PSE (Personal and Social Education) classes, as the ‘Twilight’ books also send out the wrong message about relationships. For example, the main character, Bella, abandons a number of things (school, her relationships with others) in order to allow her entire existence to be engrossed in her adoration for Edward, resulting in an underlying message that almost makes it seem “cool” for a girl to allow herself to be defined by a boy she obsesses over. Maybe it would be a good idea to let teenagers realise how destructive such a mindset could be.

Back to the topic of English, the following examples discovered on Twitter may just about sum up the general standard of some teenagers’ literacy:

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A tweet posted by @AngryBritain, which commented on the TV programme, ‘X-Factor, lead to the angry response of a teenager who, it would appear, was previously uninformed as to the definition of the word “snigger”. She was, therefore, under the false impression that the tweet read the word “nigger”, instead of ‘snigger’.

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Something tells me she may have been right about that…

I rest my case.