I’m sure I’m not the only Labour voter who was absolutely dismayed by the party’s attitude towards civil liberties during its 13 years in government. I wouldn’t for even one second try to defend New Labour’s record on civil liberties. I only need say it was woeful.
But how did this happen? Labour should be the party which stands up for the rights of ordinary people against the might of the rich and the powerful. The party which protects the defenceless and the vulnerable from injustice, persecution and repression. The party which represents the little people against the interests of a ruling elite.
In short, the left should be the natural guardians of civil liberties – not the right.
The Tories will never take the side of the weak and the vulnerable against the strong and the powerful. For one thing, they’re funded by and represent the interests of the strong and the powerful – a privileged elite who have strong incentives to keep a population battered by cuts, recession and financial hardship on a short leash while it continues to mass wealth and privilege to an unbelievable degree.
So when did the Tories become, in the public perception at least, a party which protects civil liberties?
Was it about the same time they started to hug hoodies?
Expecting the Tories to be the guardians of our civil liberties is like putting foxes in charge of a chicken coop.
Of course this ridiculous state of affairs is entirely Labour’s fault. It was New Labour’s obsession with trying to look tough on crime and strong on terrorism during its time in power which allowed the Tories to take on the mantle as saviours of our civil liberties. The result? A Labour government which tried to introduce ID cards, CCTV, CRB checks, DNA databases, detention without trial, trial without jury, extraordinary rendition etc etc. Most of these things were at best an irrelevance and at worst a serious invasion of our privacy and civil liberties.
There was just one lone exception to New Labour’s shameful record on protection of civil liberties. The Human Rights Act 1998.
Which, of course, the Tories now want to abolish.
Back to form?
We should, however, not be surprised. The Tories have no history of protecting civil liberties. In fact, the systematic erosion of our civil liberties did not begin in recent times with New Labour. Attacks on our civil liberties were drastically ratcheted up by New Labour, it’s true but it actually started in earnest under the Thatcher and Major Conservative governments.
There are plenty of examples of the erosion of civil liberties the last time the Tories were in power. Here are just a few of them;
- The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 – which extended detention period from 24 hours to 4 days.
- The 1994 Criminal Justice Bill, which criminalised several previously civil offences.
- The Interception of Communications Act 1985 – which allowed phone tapping
- The Public Order Act 1986 – which limited public processions and demonstrations by requiring 6 days advance notice to be given to the police.
- The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989
- The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, codified the many restrictions and formalities placed on trade union activity and the right to strike.
- The Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Police Act 1997
- The Thatcher government’s efforts to silence the author of ‘spycatcher’ (6).
- The Thatcher government’s attempts to criminalise ‘promotion’ of homosexuality with section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (8).
- The Thatcher government’s shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland (7) and its attempts to cover it up.
- The Thatcher government’s use of the police and army to attack union members involved in industrial action.
More of the same?
The attack on our civil liberties is set to continue under the present Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition government.
The recent riots have forced the Tories, along with their allies the Liberal Democrats, to reveal their true colours when it comes to civil liberties.
In a recent House of Commons debate on the riots, the Tory mask finally started to slip.
Peter Tapsell, Tory MP for Louth and Horncastle asked why the police were dispersing rioters rather than detaining them and inquired whether Wembley Stadium could be used for impounding rioters.
Andrea Leadsom, Tory MP for Northamptonshire South, pointed out how in Uganda police recently covered protesters with pink dye and asked if the British police would consider spraying indelible chemicals at rioters so they can identify them and pick them up the following day.
Nadine Dorries, Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, said: “If these riots had broken out in any city or town in Australia or America, the police would have had at their instant disposal water cannon, plastic bullets and tear gas.”
David Cameron, the Prime Minister responded with this: “The police should look at all available technologies and keep abreast of all potential developments… to make sure they arrest as many people as possible.”
ALL available technologies.
No mention of civil liberties from the government there.
So for the Tories it’s back to form as the hang-em-and-flog-em party we all know so well.
To further illustrate this point, the coalition government, which includes the Liberal Democrats, is now openly considering the following policies;
State control of social media – ministers are considering giving police or ministers the powers to shut down social media such as BlackBerry Messenger, Twitter and Facebook.
Deploying the army against civilians – contingency plans are being drawn up to deploy troops at times of public disorder.
Imposing curfews – the government is actively considering authorising the police to create “dispersal zones” where anyone found out on the streets would be arrested.
Punishing the innocent relatives of convicted rioters –
- Enforced homelessness – councils and housing associations will be able to evict tenants and their families who break the law or commit antisocial behaviour anywhere and at any time.
- Enforced destitution – government ministers are looking at stripping rioters and their families of benefits.
But what about the Liberal Democrats? Well, being an active part of this government rather puts a dampener on their long-time claim to be a party with the protection of civil liberties as a core policy commitment.
The return of a big brother society under the coalition?
The present coalition government is actively transferring police powers to private security firms, which have no democratic control or public accountability. They are also allowing private credit rating agencies like Experian to act as bounty hunters and to mine private data on a regular basis in order to chase benefit fraudsters. This means private companies are allowed to see personal data kept by government agencies of ordinary, innocent citizens like you and me, on the off-chance they will catch people committing benefit fraud. The long-held principle that we’re innocent until proven guilty seems to have gone out the window in the name of private profit.
The Summary Care Record, known as the SCR, a huge NHS database of all our medical records, was suspended by Labour before the last election on the grounds it was unnecessarily intrusive, as well as enormously expensive. However, despite promises from both parties to abandon the project before the election, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have decided to go ahead with the project and put all of our private and personal medical records on-line (4).
And buried deep inside the coalition government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review is this gem: “We will introduce a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework.”
This will allow security services and the police to record and store every email, phone call and website visit made by any UK citizen. Every phone company and internet service provider will be compelled to store details for at least a year so state agencies can access them at will.
Another promise by both governing parties, to end control orders, has also been broken. A new system of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures will in all probability actually increase the use of electronic tagging and overnight residence requirements, and will increase restrictions on who people can meet and where they can go, including foreign travel bans. Who is placed under a control order will also be decided by the Home Secretary – which means these restrictions can be placed on innocent people outside the normal justice system of investigation, arrest, charge and conviction.
These measures amount to the setting up of a surveillance state by the governing coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
So much for all their pre-election talk of protecting civil liberties.
Are our civil liberties really under attack?
The erosion of civil liberties during the last few decades can be illustrated in many ways.
Here is just one, which shows how long an innocent UK citizen can be legally held in a prison cell without charge, process or even explanation;
In July 2010, the 28 day pre-charge detention limit was renewed by the coalition government (3).
The Tory Party – guardians of our civil liberties?
- former Home Secretary and Tory leader Michael Howard, arguing for the introduction of ID cards.
I think it would be dangerous (for a Home Secretary to be homosexual). It would mean that somebody who has a clear minority interest at heart is legislating also for the 97, 98 per cent who are not of that persuasion.
– Norman Tebbit.
Those queers who legalise filth in homosexuality have a lot to answer for and I hope they are proud of what they have done… As a cure I would put 90% of them in the ruddy gas chamber.
- Bill Brownhill, Conservative Leader of South Staffordshire Council
‘I’ve got my rights’ is the verbal equivalent of two-fingers to authority. There is now a palpable sense of outrage that ‘so-called’ human rights have tipped the balance of justice in favour of the criminal and the wrong-doer – rather than the victim and the law abider.
- former Conservative Home Secretary and Tory leader Michael Howard.
The homeless? Aren’t they the people you step over when you are coming out of the opera?
- Sir George Young
Nelson Mandela should be shot
- Teddy Taylor MP
The only solution is to kill 600 people in one night. Let the UN and Bill Clinton and everyone else make a scene – and it is over for 20 years.
- Alan Clark MP, on how to deal with the IRA
I’m also very much aware that it is you who brought democracy to Chile…
- Margaret Thatcher, speaking to brutal Chilean dictator Pinochet
I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.
- Winston Churchill, war office departmental minutes
- Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980s – its chairman was John Bercow, now Speaker of the House of Commons
We always have to be aware of the enemy within………
- Margaret Thatcher on the miners’ strike, July 1984
The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded classes, coupled with a steady restriction among all the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a race danger.
If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour
- 1964 slogan of Tory candidate Peter Griffiths
LABOUR – the party of civil liberties
- Labour should abandon extra-judicial control orders.
- Labour should drastically reform The Extradition Act to stop the situation where a British person can be extradited to another country for actions that are not criminal in the UK and ensure that no person is sent abroad to face trial in another country without first having their case heard in a British court.
- Labour should repeal the 28-day pre-charge detention limit and bring it down to 2 days in line with countries such as the US, New Zealand and Germany.
- Labour should repeal the 2000 Terrorism Act which brands peaceful organisations as terrorist.
- Labour should reform the Public Order Act 1986, which clearly criminalises peaceful protest.
- Labour should pledge to safeguard citizens’ right to privacy by abolishing large databases such as the Summary Care Record and the National DNA database and monitor the spreading use of CCTV and ANPR.
- Labour should pledge it will not reintroduce compulsory id cards.
- Labour should make it illegal for government agencies to allow private companies to use its data.
- Labour should pledge to keep social media and mass communications out of state or police control.
- Labour should pledge to never use the army against civilans in any circumstances.
- Labour should pledge to disallow the imposition of curfews by the police – except in times of extreme national emergency.
- Labour should pledge to keep politics out of policing by abolishing The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, passed by Parliament in September 2011, which will abolish police authorities and replace them with directly elected politicians who would oversee local police forces and hire and fire Chief Constables.
Let’s look at the facts;
Britain’s railway system is one of the most expensive in the European Union.
Britain’s railways cost 11 billion a year to run, 5 billion of which is paid for by the taxpayer.
Britain’s privatized railways system now costs the UK taxpayer more than when it was state-owned.
There has been a five-fold rise in government subsidy since privatisation of the railways.
Britain’s rail system is the most inefficient in Europe.
According to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), Britain’s rail system is up to 40% less efficient than European rivals including Germany, Ireland and Belgium.
Britain’s railways are less safe than their European counterparts.
According to the International Union of Railways, Britain has 0.36 deaths per billion kilometres compared with Italy’s 0.10, France’s 0.27 and Germany’s 0.31.
Britain’s rail ticket prices are the highest in the European Union.
According to the commuter watchdog, Passenger Focus, Britain’s rail passengers are paying 50% more than rail users on the continent.
And now the coalition government has announced plans to allow rail fares to go up by as much as 8% in England- with some rail companies setting even higher rates.
Now look at this fact;
A survey in 2009 found that as many as 70% of the British public would support re-nationalisation of the railways. A mere 23% supported privatisation.
So what should Labour’s policy on railways be?
This isn’t rocket science. The answer is clear.
Labour should pledge to bring back British Rail and completely re-nationalize the railways.
I’m tempted to finish my argument here. But let’s take a moment to look at the whole disgraceful history of the privatisation of Britain’s railways.
This is from an article in The Economist in 1999 –
The directors of the main private train operators have made spectacular profits since privatisation. But despite this, they let the service deteriorate and invested too little in the rail network. This finally resulted in accidents such as the 2002 Potters Bar disaster which claimed seven lives and injured 76. The 3 million pound fine for the disaster imposed on the private firm Railtrack PLC and the private contractor Jarvis PLC was finally paid by the taxpayer as both firms had been wound up, meaning the directors were no longer liable.
When Railtrack PLC was finally wound up in 2002, the company was renamed Network Rail, which is technically a private business. In many ways this is the worst of all worlds, a private company, backed by the taxpayer with not even any shareholders to answer to.
The executives in charge of Network Rail have taken advantage of this comfortable situation, and have been paying themselves bonuses and perks which have shocked even the present government.
When Network Rail decided to award its chief executive Iain Coucher a £1m payoff, the present Tory transport Secretary Philip Hammond said this;
This payoff will stick in the gullet of every farepayer and taxpayer who think they pay too much to use our railway …… most people will feel it doesn’t sit well given the difficult times most families are facing.
You’ve got to be doing something wrong if you’ve managed to receive a ticking off on executive pay from a Tory minister.
The truth is that rail privatisation has been a total disaster.
If British Rail had the same amount of government subsidy our railways have now, we would have one of the best rail systems in the world, with a single company owning the trains, the track, the system maintenance and the ticketing making it cheaper to operate resulting in efficient services and affordable fares
Labour should pledge to take all public transport, rail, trams and buses back into full public ownership.
Labour must oppose the Tory-led Government’s policy of shifting the cost of running the railways on to passengers.
Labour should also pledge to oppose the European Union Commission’s proposals to reduce rail subsidies.
Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, Maria Eagle recently said this about the plans;
Over the next three years, commuters will see fares rise by as much as a third and many will end up paying a fifth of their salary just to get to work, more than they spend on their mortgage or rent.
‘Now, this barmy EU plan risks pricing people off the railways altogether, adding to the congestion on Britain’s roads.
Labour should pledge to make public transport once again a service for the public, not just the few who can afford it.
Labour should pledge to stop the fat-cat carve up of our public transport system.
The country would be better off for it, passengers would be better off for it and taxpayers would be better off for it.
And who knows? A policy like this could even win them the next election.
The global financial crisis was caused by banks and financial institutions taking disproportionate risks, fueled by blatant greed and excessive reward combined with an almost complete lack of government regulation over them.
It was not caused by governments spending too much on health, education or public services.
It was not caused by governments spending too much on family credits or sickness benefits.
It was not caused by single mothers, bad parenting or the unemployed.
In my personal opinion, one of The Left’s biggest failures was allowing the whole debate over the on-going slow-motion collapse of the global economy to be hijacked by discussions over government spending.
So the truth needs to be repeated at every opportunity:
The global financial crisis was caused by banks and financial institutions taking disproportionate risks, fueled by blatant greed and excessive reward combined with an almost complete lack of government regulation over them.
But don’t just take my word for it.
The official US government Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report on the causes of the financial meltdown crisis concluded;
So why are top Labour politicians seemingly so reluctant to place the blame where it clearly lies? Is it because they would have to admit their own culpability in maintaining a lack of regulation over city practices which occurred to a great extent on their own watch?
If so, then they should remember, there is nothing wrong with admitting mistakes.
There is, however, a lot wrong in refusing to learn from them.
Perversely, even the right-wing in the UK seem more willing to place the blame where it lies.
The Daily Mail, not exactly a bastion of left-wing opinion, has this to say about the failure to regulate City practices and its links to the recent riots;
The bankers have the same contempt for the law-abiding public as those looters and the same sense of entitlement to wealth as the teenagers who smash shop windows to steal flat-screen televisions.
The bankers’ refusal to rein in their greed is fuelling the politics of envy in Britain — and envy is a toxic and corrosive creator of social unrest.
The banks have had plenty of time to change their ways voluntarily, but have contemptibly refused to do so. Mr Cameron must now force their hand.
If he continues to allow the banks to disregard basic rules of integrity and fair play, he ignores another source of simmering injustice.
Enough is Enough.
The financial sector has already cost UK taxpayers £68bn in bail-out and other support costs (3). Banks have pushed for, and got, spectacular reductions in regulations, but they have only used deregulation to gamble on high-risk futures markets. And when it all went wrong, it was the tax payers who had to bail them out. To make matters worse, they’ve shown no remorse, and there is nothing to suggest that lessons have been learnt to prevent this happening again in the future.
Last year, average City workers’ bonuses were £6.7bn (2).
To put that into perspective, the spending review cuts announced by Tory Chancellor George Osborne included a cut in the higher education budget from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion.
If the City were willing to cut its bonuses (not its salaries) by 50% for just one year, it would cover the cuts to the higher education budget.
But we’re all in this together remember……
Here is an extract from a leading London estate agent’s portfolio, entitled ‘City Bonus Postcodes’:
No.8: Docklands and Canary Wharf, E14
Famous for its modern penthouses boasting all mod cons and a dream commute to work, Docklands and Canary Wharf are an investment hotspot for City bankers.
We recently sold two penthouses to City buyers for £1.5 and £1.3m – they were guys with family homes in the country and in leafy south London suburbs.
At the moment buy-to-let is strong – it’s really staged a come-back and enquiries from investors are up 11% year-on-year. Investors with bonus money go for the prime developments around Canary Wharf – newer buildings like Pan Peninsula, Discovery Docks, and Landmark. Prices would range from £350,000 for a one-bed to £500,000+ for a two-bed.
You could be forgiven for thinking this was written at the height of a financial boom, for example in 1984 or 2006.
But you’d be wrong.
So what happened to the recession?
What happened to the crash?
What happened to all the promises of sensitivity from the City and the promise by the government to rein in its excesses?
What happened to the public anger?
A Monumental Reward for Failure
Although Barclays pre-tax profits dropped 9% in the first quarter of 2011, it still plans to pay its chief executive, Bob Diamond, £1.35 million a year, along with a bonus of £6.5 million for 2010, a future conditional share award of £6.75 million and £13.8 million in other shares (4).
The year after it reported a net loss, Lloyds decided to award its chief executive, Antonio Horta-Osorio’s a new pay deal worth £13.4 million.
Taxpayer-owned Royal Bank of Scotland made a loss of more than £1bn last year.
However, it awarded its chief executive Stephen Hester a £7.7m pay package, which the bank’s chairman described as being at “the lower end” of pay deals.
Assuming a teacher or nurse earns around £25K p.a., Bob Diamond’s bonus alone is the equivalent to the salary of over 200 of them (5).
How can we avoid another financial meltdown caused by the banking sector?
The answer is Regulation Regulation and Regulation.
Regulation of Practices, Pay and Structure.
REGULATION & REFORM OF
1) Strict capital and liquidity controls must be created and enforced. Rules are also desirable which encourage executives to take a long-term view of the profitability and viability of the financial institutions that they manage.
2) Outlaw FRACTIONAL RESERVE BANKING and replace it with full reserve banking. Simply put, fractional reserve banking is the common practice whereby a bank can lend you a mortgage of 150,000 pounds, say, without actually having the money available.
3) Limited liability for executives should be reviewed. Tax avoidance schemes should be criminalised with executives held personally responsible and corporate immunity abolished in cases of tax avoidance. There should also be an independent oversight body for the banking sector with a disciplinary code which includes removal of the right to practise for gross incompetence on the part of executives.
4) Financial derivatives should be strongly regulated. Credit Default Swaps in particular, which actually encourage defaulting on investments (and which were the main cause of the collapse of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG), should be made illegal.
5) There needs to be higher corporation rates of tax for organisations involved in high risk investment practices.
REGULATION & REFORM OF
1) City bonuses should be paid into a trustfund. The money must remain in the fund for a minimum of 5 years. If the company is still in profit, the fund must be distributed to ALL company employees. This will stop executives (and indeed all employees) from benefiting from dangerous risk-taking practices.
2) Individual bonuses from high-risk financial activities should be taxed at a rate of 90%.
3) Executive pay and bonuses in large financial companies (more than 500 employees) should be no more than 15 times the lowest paid company employee. This should be legislated and controlled by a National Pay Commission.
4) At the moment, executive remuneration is under the control of remuneration committees comprised of a small group of unelected ‘independent directors’. This is fat-cat speak for ‘friends’. Seats on remuneration committees for employee representatives from each main pay grade within the organisation must be mandatory. Executive pay should also be regulated by a National Pay Commission which will ensure executive pay reflects corporate performance and is aligned with pay packages in other sectors (3).
REGULATION & REFORM OF
1) Retail and Commercial banking must be separated from Investment banking – with an updatedUKversion of the 1933 US Glass-Steagall Act.
There is a side of banking which is really just a big pyramid selling scheme and doesn’t really benefit anyone. It is not sensible to allow large banks to combine high-street operations with risky investment banking or funding strategies, and then provide state underwriting.
If banks are too big to fail, then they are too big.
The Banking Act of 1933, known as the Glass-Steagall Act, was American legislation which introduced post-depression banking reforms, designed to control speculation and curb the banking excesses that contributed to the Wall Street crash.
It was repealed in 1999 under pressure from Wall Street bankers, who argued they needed more freedom to face foreign competition, especially fromLondon.
The proof is there for all to see. Six decades of relative banking stability under a Glass-Steagall regime, as against a decade of greed and catastrophic collapse since the Act’s repeal.
2) Regulatory boards, such as the FSA or the BoE must be independent of the financial sector they are supposed to be regulating. They should also be made accountable to parliament, not just to government ministers.
3) The government should be prepared to take a majority control in major banks and large financial institutions if they endanger the wider financial system.
In such circumstances, creditors could be reimbursed by the Government if necessary but shareholders (and executives) should not be reimbursed for their losses.
4) The UK’s reliance on the financial sector should be reduced, with more investments (and subsidies if necessary) made in the industrial, manufacturing and service sectors. Our economy has been allowed to become so unbalanced it has put our economy in danger: the size of our banking sector in relation to GDP is five times that in the US. Legal limits should be placed on the size of high-risk taking financial institutions in particular.
5) The government should do what it can to encourage everyone, from businesses to individuals, to put their money in cooperative banks. This should include tax breaks for institutions and individuals who used a cooperative bank.
Labour should be the natural party to lead these reforms.
The Tories will never bring about the reforms to the City which are so badly needed.
The City accounts for over 50% of the Tory party’s funding (6);
The top ten City donors together provide 13% of all Tory funding (7);
In short, the City is the Tory Party’s best friend.
Labour should admit its love affair with the neo-liberal fashion for deregulation of the financial sector was a catastrophic mistake during its time in power.
Labour should stop trying to be the investment bankers’ best friend and become once again the people’s best friend.
(1) www.primelocation.com -
(2) Independent Commission on Banking Report: http://bankingcommission.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Issues-Paper-24-September-2010.pdf
(3) – Michael Meacher MP – Banks Public Enemy Nr 1 * : http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2010/10/banks-public-enemy-no.1-get-off-scot-free/
(4) 2010 Barclays Remuneration report http://www.barclaysannualreport.com/ar2010/index.asp?pageid=56
(5) Robert Peston – Barclays_Executives_Enriched http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/robertpeston/2011/03/barclays_executives_enriched_s.html
(6) The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – http://thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/02/08/the-data-the-growth-of-city-donations-to-the-conservative-party/
(7) The Bureau of Investigative Journalism –
* A special thanks to Michael Meacher MP for the inspiration which led to this article.