Our right to free public discourse must be defended
By Phil Hall
There are many reasons not to vote for Starmer’s New Labour, many reasons why people will be repulsed. We don’t like the policies of the people he has appointed. We disagree with the way he has treated popular leftists like Jeremy Corbyn and Rebecca Long-Bailey. But one more good reason to dislike Keir Starmer’s New, New Labour is that the signs are they are back at their dystopic old Big Brother tricks again.
Starmer’s attempts in opposition to get legislation through, criminalising people who argue against vaccinations, is the thin end of a large wedge. The move is deeply significant. How can you criminalise people who hold eccentric views? New, New Labour are striking while the iron is hot, in the middle of a pandemic, but the idea of criminalising eccentricity is a step too far. In fact, it’s madness. What’s next? People who believe in UFOs? Flat Earthers?
In a crab-like sideways movement, Starmer’s New, New Labour clearly plan to clamp down on freedom of speech on social media.
Social media has been an organising platform for the left and a place where views from the left and the right have been openly and clearly expressed in opposition to the standard neo-liberal line. Freedom of speech on social media must be defended – even if it means allowing the anti-vaccers to have their say.
In a crab-like sideways movement, Starmer’s New, New Labour clearly plan to clamp down on freedom of speech on social media. This is the strategy, it appears, that they intend to use to concentrate power in the centre-right, damping down criticism directed at them through exuberant campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. Starmer is a top lawyer, he probably has some excellent and workable ideas on how to clamp down on freedom of expression – perhaps using existing libel and copyright law, perhaps through new legislation.
Currently, the most obvious example of Starmer’s illiberal, censorious tendency is his attack on those people in his own party who defend Corbyn when Corbyn claims that the anti-Semitism crisis has been politically manipulated.
This tactic of Keir Starmer’s is a matryoshka doll, a gift that keeps on giving. Once you have stopped people from commenting on the political use of accusations of antisemitism you are then in a position to sanction the people who criticise the sanctioning of people who criticise the sanctioning of people who claim that the anti-Semitism crisis was politically manipulated – and so on and so on. This could continue until you have eliminated every socialist from the New, New Labour Party, leaving only a centre right rump behind.
Old, New Labour had an abysmal record on privacy. While it conducted neo-liberal economic policies, it also stationed CCTV cameras on every street corner and tried to introduce identity cards. Every terrorist incident was an excuse for a new slew of legislation giving the state powers to intrude and monitor.
One of the reasons the UK is such a safe funk hole for international dirty money is because it is a stable and safe society with a unique amount of social cohesion and orderliness and unlikely to be the scene of a revolution or civil war.
The establishment understands this, but its representative in Tony Blair, that horrible little showman from Fettes, decided that the best way to preserve social cohesion was by safeguarding Thatcher’s legacy, not by introducing real measures designed to create social justice; by investing in surveillance, introducing new laws and increasing measures of control rather than by taxing the rich and redistributing wealth.
One of the reasons the UK is such a secure funk hole for international dirty money is because it is a stable and safe society
Blair introduced 54% more laws every year of office than Thatcher and criminalised more and more social behaviour. We were closer and closer to being Singapore. An average of 2,685 new laws were introduced by Blair’s government every year. 98% of the laws were introduced without the approval of parliament, by statutory implement.
The whole approach of the Blair government was to choose inspection, regulation and control over wealth redistribution and social justice. In other words, inequality and the causes of crime and anti-social behaviour would remain, but the people responsible for these behaviors would be more heavily policed and monitored.
The whole approach of the Blair government was to choose inspection, regulation and control over wealth redistribution and social justice.
Jack Straw and his like were universally detested by the British public and one of the reasons a jovial and cavalier clown like Boris Johnson won votes was because he wasn’t as deeply sinister as a David Blunkett or a Jack Straw – or a Keir Starmer.
Labour’s Britain was turning into a futuristic dystopia. Remember, one idea mooted by new Labour was that they would put speakers at traffic stops and on lampposts so that the police could speak to people directly through a loudspeaker who they had seen on CCTV and suspected of committing a crime.
Blair, that horrible little showman from Fettes, decided that the best way to preserve social cohesion was by safeguarding Thatcher’s legacy, not by introducing real measures designed to create social justice
Another potential ‘hit’ was the idea of the Labour Home Secretary at the time to introduce optical scanners in school lunch lines to identify students who didn’t have to pay for their lunch and so avoid embarrassing them. This was a ploy to bring optical scanners into common use.
Remember how anti-terror legislation can so easily be misused. For example, it was used by local councils to track down people who put the wrong kind of rubbish in their bins – for privatised rubbish collection.
one of the reasons a jovial and cavalier clown like Boris Johnson won votes was because he wasn’t as deeply sinister as David Blunkett or Jack Straw – or a Keir Starmer.
The Angela Eagles and Jess Phillips of this world are criticised and attacked by the left, mainly for their right wing views. Centrists then claim the attacks are always deeply personal. Attacks on people who are right of centre, for example those against Angela Eagle, are magnified and exaggerated by the mainstream media, while attacks on leftists like Dianne Abbot are downplayed.
It is true that social media is a bit of a bear pit. More action needs to be taken against hate speech, but it is also a very precious forum for free speech and public discourse. Before social media there barely was any public discourse. Our right to free public discourse needs to be defended.
Before social media there barely was any public discourse.
This is a taste of things to come. People prefer bumbling clowns – or at least politicians who present themselves as bumbling clowns – to sinister lawyers like Keir Starmer intent on enacting legislation to shut the socialists up and let the rich carry on accumulating wealth at the expense of the rest of us.
Phil Hall is a university lecturer. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain and Mexico. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine.