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We Have Moved

I’ve only gone and got myself a proper website: oedipuslex.co.uk

 

Thanks

Labour, What Now?

I think it is pretty much agreed by everyone, with the possible exception of Gordon Brown, that Labour are going to be trounced at the next election. I have an image in my head of a sort of last-days-of-the-Reich scenario with Brown sitting in his bunker while ministers run in with reports of Tory tanks entering London, but I digress. The question that has been plaguing me for a while now is this: What now for your left wing voter?
 
Conventional wisdom and an interview with Nick Clegg in today’s Independent suggests that many will be driven into the arms of the Liberal Democrats. Some to the Greens. This is probably a fairly safe assumption for the coming European/Local elections and may be true for the next general election, when it eventually comes. But then what? There will be countless voters who have voted nothing but Labour for generations with a real dilemma on their hands.
 
In many ways I think Brown should call an election as soon as possible. He won’t of course but I think it would be beneficial to the Labour party as a whole. Get the pain over with quickly without fooling yourselves there is any way you can win and re-group. Comparisons can be drawn between the Labour Party and Newcastle United; use the time in the lower division to get rid of an iffy leader and get a load of over-paid talentless whelps off your books. Sadly I think many voters are scarred so badly by the New Labour experience that the party is destined to years in the wilderness. They should, however, use this time wisely. Re-engage with the core, grass root support. Remember its proud history and re-take the moral high ground. The UK is now one of the only democracies to have no party of the working man (the US is of course debatable) and Nouveau-Labour should rectify this, immediately.

#TheBNParetwats

Yes they really are. They may be twats but should they be banned twats? I’ve been having a discussion on Twitter, it’s not a new discussion, one I have heard many times before and seems to pop up just before every election: Should the BNP be banned?

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I, for my sins, cherish freedom of speech above most rights. I think it is the hallmark of our tolerant society that we are not afraid of criticism and are strong enough to endure the most ludicrous of ideas being circulated. Sadly people who share the views of the BNP are always going to lurk in our wings; they are the disenchanted, the disenfranchised and the down right stupid. Yet who are we to tell them how to think? If we accept that we can’t tell someone their thoughts are wrong, we accept that we cannot stop them banding together with like-minded people.

What concerns me is that the minute we ban them we are admitting they are a threat. We have had to use the force of the law to suppress them, drive them underground and make martyrs of them. In many ways I see the BNP as a necessary evil. They are a check and balance, a reflection from a circus mirror – the dark half of ying and yang. These are in many ways worrying times, comparisons can be drawn between now and the death throws of the Weimar Republic. The BNP should be a reminder to us all, more so to our politicians, of what lurks on the fringes.

So we ban them.  Who are ‘we’? Whose opinion is it that counts. Ban the BNP and what next? The Socialist Workers Party? The Communist Party? Maybe the Green Party? Under whose measure of acceptability do we operate?

Rather than ban them, look at the people who are being driven into their arms. What are their drivers? If it is pure racism, let them go, you can’t argue with lunatics. But if there is more, and I suspect there is, listen to them. As I said, we now have a class of the disenfranchised, people who have been forgotten and left out of the political process. These people need to be re-engaged.

Voltaire didn’t say: “I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it” but if he had have done he would have had a point.

I’ve come to the point where I’ve pretty much had it with anything that comes from Westminster. I really am of the opinion that we, the poor mismanaged people of this country, re-assert our popular power and demand to be governed in the way that we would like. The twin pillars of real power in this country, politics and business (both intertwined beyond recognition) have failed us. The  wholesale and systematic abuse of the expenses system by politicians, for me, puts the final nail in an excessively ornamented coffin for the political class.

We have been kept in check by a cocktail of debt and aspiration. Both are related and are products of each other but are effective in keeping us from rocking the boat because we are scared. We aspire to be better off, to move up the social ladder, to be influential & etc. Debt is a symptom of this. We aspire to things we can’t afford so get in debt, debt that we aspire to pay off. Because we are saddled with this debt all we look to is the next pay-day, the next bonus or promotion. This cycle has been propagated by business and the free market – it is a cycle that has failed us and a system that we are now bailing out. But for what? So it can begin again.

The politicians we elect to represent us have lied and failed, putting their own agenda and that of the businesses they will consult for (Blair, JP Morgan etc etc) first. We contract with them to govern us as we want to be govern, we give them the mandate. But the contract has been broken. 1998 saw the introduction of the Human Rights Act. 2001 saw the beginning of a concerted effort to derogate those rights in a Schmittian state of exception. So we can vote them out and everything will be better, right? Wrong. Following the Belmarsh case the Tories openly condemned the courts with accusations of judicial activism, as did Herr Blair. Gordon Brown promised a written (his choice of words) constitution but now won’t even hold an election until he is obliged to (constitutionally).

Benjamin Franklin argued that the social contract/constitution should be renewed every generation. Is now not the time to do this? But how? We can’t vote them out. By them I mean the career politicians, those who are indistinguishable but for their tie colour. We have no real democracy. The Diceyan concept of Parliamentary sovereignty is now defunct. Parliament is self serving, its mandate is hollow and built on lies. It is time to put something above the cretins that milk their expenses, a code of conduct that is binding on everything they do – a codified constitution. By demanding that we change the method and form of our government we create the ‘event’ that the foundation of most constitutions spring from. In the way that Americans look to their founding fathers for inspiration, we should look to the Levellers, not the Glorious Revolution or Cromwell. We must change Hart’s rule of recognition to something we recognise and we re-write the contract. As I have said, we can’t vote them out. Turkeys won’t vote for Christmas (hackneyed, I know). I’m not advocating an uprising, more mass demonstrations, less velvet more cashmere or tweed.

I’ll be the one waving my umbrella at Parliament.

It is with great interest to me personally to find out about the proposed merger of Middle and Inner Temple libraries. It was only last week that I was looking into which inn to join. My motivation to do it early was the use of the inn libraries as I continue my studies, well that and the fact I will have to go in front of various committees to explain my dubious past. As luck would have it I was looking to join Inner Temple, I’d heard particularly good things about their library. Now I am not so sure and will be looking at Lincoln and Gray’s inn instead.

Like many students studying law in London I find that there is often a run on books if there is a deadline on a particular subject. The fact I could go into a specialist library, with a good selection of books and knowledgeable librarians holds great appeal to me and, I imagine, many in my situation. And it is that many where the trouble for me lies. By effectively halving the amount of inns of court libraries those making these proposals are doubling the amount of people, practitioner and student, perusing the shelves. They are also halving the amount of highly trained personnel available to answer queries from people like me who frequently get lost among the shelves of books and if they are looking to cram two libraries into one, I imagine those shelves would be fairly cosy.

And there is another point. Both libraries hold collections of unspeakable value to the English legal community. What is to be done with them? Will they be crammed into the one building? Or will they be held in storage and have to be requested, thus adding delays to the accessibility of texts? How will this work if you have a particularly tight deadline and are due in court?

What about the distinct personalities of the two libraries? It was only last week when I was listening to two barrister friends arguing about whose inn library was the better. This made me think of the merging of British army infantry regiments and the detrimental effect it has had on morale. The bar is a profession with an uncertain future at the moment. Cuts to the legal aid budget and the introduction of solicitors with higher rights, coupled with the astronomical price of education have dented the morale of those thinking of entering the wacky world of advocacy. Will these proposals do anything to encourage us that we have a future? Probably not. My most learned friends Charon QC and Geeklawyer have blogged on this already and it would be worthwhile for my four readers to check out their opinions. I however will be looking elsewhere for an inn.

I am a hard working chap; I read a lot of blawgs, news websites and I am a healthy frequenter of Twitter. I also read case law, text books and journal articles. True, I am not paid to do this but I make a fair bit of money for my company and feel they should indulge me. It appears, however, that they don’t see things like this. Very far fucking from it. Huge profit margins aside, they have decided that I am the ideal man to manage a project in an area I am led to believe is called East London. For those of you who aren’t in the know, I will save you a trip to Google maps and point out that this is just east of The City. I’d previously considered anything the other side of Bishopsgate as some sort of post-apocolyptic hinterland – I actually wasn’t too far off the mark.

It appears the natives of the area are made up entirely of builders, perhaps it is some sort of post-soviet commune? It also appears that they don’t have kitchens and use places called ‘the caff’ as their only source of food. Being stuck in the place for several days I was forced to visit ‘the caff’. Luckily for me I had my boss with me, someone who shall henceforth be known as CWB (cockney wide boy). CWB decided on entering the ‘caff’ that he should do the talking, it was probably a fair assessment as the place had ground to a halt upon our entry. CWB was wearing a chalk stripe suit and doing his best impression of one of those nasty Essex boy futures traders. I’m glad that even the very poor could see this was sartorial bad form, he was wearing a belt FFS! I, on the other hand was resplendent in brown Chelsea boots, moleskins, a pink sweater and battered Barbour.

at-the-caff

While I waited to be seated, CWB bowled straight to the counter and ordered ‘breakfast 1.’ I felt like going off-piste and ordering a la carte but thought it best to follow suit and go for the prix fixe. I actually wanted poached and not fried eggs but lost my nerve.

On sitting down I thought I would strike up a topical conversation with CWB so told him: ‘I’ll smell like Ian fucking Beale by the time I leave here’. It appears this wasn’t a good move. There was, once more, the sound of cutlery scraping to a halt on especially toughened plates. CWB gave me a look which said: ‘look at your Blackberry and don’t open your mouth again until we leave’. Our food arrived in record time and yes, everything was actually swimming in grease. CWB proceeded to cover everything in a red tomato sauce that looked neither sun dried nor organic. The meal itself was actually very good, it was very fatty but I imagine the locals need all the stodge they can get in order to insulate against the cruel estuary wind when roofing or sleeping rough, I tried to imagine I was soon heading for a day of carrying a hod up a ladder.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the thick tar like substance that resided in the mug placed in front of me. However, on glancing at the other table I quickly understood that you have to pour as much sugar as it takes to stand your spoon up straight. I thought this very cosmopolitan, a bit like Lebanese coffee.

My final faux pas of the meal was at the end; on attracting the attention of one of the waiting staff I asked for the bill, I thought it would do my career no harm if I bought the boss brekkie. It was during the resulting hilarity that CWB hussled me out and on to the mean, mean streets.

Overall I enjoyed my trip to the ‘caff’. Although I dropped the occasional cultural clanger I thought this to be expected when going ethnic, I had the same issue when trying to eat with my left hand in the middle east. Aesthetically the place was run down but I suspect this was on purpose, it must have cost them a fortune to get a designer to hit that soviet-sheet-steal-workers-canteen look. I wonder how long before we see these places popping up all over London?

Overall: 3/4. Meal £10 without wine or service.

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I was lucky enough to get one of the last tickets to the first Convention on Modern Liberties this weekend. I don’t intend this to be a full review of why the convention took place or a complete review of what was said, just my musings on what I saw. If you want a comprehensive breakdown on the day visit: http://www.modernliberty.net/. The day kicked off with an excellent opening address by Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty. She used a good metaphor to describe the state of affairs we are currently in and heading towards. I paraphrase:

If you add frogs to a pan of boiling water they will immediately jump out to save their skins. If you add them to a pan of tepid, room temperature water and gently heat it, they will bask and enjoy the warmth without knowing they are slowly boiling to death.

She then went on to outline the themes of the day, namely:

  • That the Magna Carta was a document very much of its day. There is nothing in there mentioning privacy.
  • That while many question the European Court of Human Rights and its judgments, in continental Europe they still have strong memory of the Nazis and the Stasi.
  • That people generally think Human Rights are for people like us and not dark skinned foreigners like Binyam Mohamed and that ID cards etc are being sold as a fight against terrorism.

She closed with the cute line: ‘No matter who you vote for the government always gets in!’

I was very much impressed with Helena Kennedy QC who took part in the first plenary along with Dominic Grieve, who I also thought was very good, Sir David Varney and Ken MacDonald QC. Helena raised some very pertinent points when she described the rush for security as a Dutch auction where everybody tries to be the toughest on security. She went on to point out that you cannot vacuum seal anti-terror laws. That once they are accepted they will seep into the general culture. Her insight into why our politicians are taking the road they have was also rather enlightening. She said that power turns the gentlest souls into Neros. Something that was buttressed by Ken MacDonald who as DPP spoke of the effect constant security briefings had on people.

There were eleven morning sessions and unfortunately you only got the chance to see one live. I naturally opted for ‘Judges and Politicians’, hosted by John Jackson of Mishcon de Reya. The usual arguments were put forward for a codified constitution by John Jackson and Juliet Gardiner (who I later sat next to). Keith Ewing, however (who I should hate due to the size of his textbook), argued strongly and convincingly for a stronger Parliament perhaps modelled on the Swedish model. He went on to add that the courts are not an effective vehicle to check Parliament and can only pick off cases that they were presented with. This was a theme reinforced by Lord Bingham. If you have the chance I strongly suggest you view his speech on the Modern Liberty website. David Davis, the closing speaker, stated that his was one of the best speeches he’d ever seen.

Lord Bingham’s first point was that liberty is a traditional British value that goes back through the ages. He argued that the 1947 Declaration of Human Rights was a direct response to WWII but that it did not foresee the use of databases and CCTV as 1984 had not yet been writtenHe then went on to argue that the British public did not cherish their liberty in the ways other countries do and that a programme of education is needed to rectify this. With regards to the constitution he echoed Lord Hailsham when he said that a party with a decent majority can do what it likes and that this is a defect in our constitution as Parliament should be the safeguard and bastion of our liberty, not an accomplice in its destruction. Interestingly, he was asked if he thought the new Supreme Court should be given wider responsibilities regarding constitutional interpretation. His response was that if the judiciary are to be the guardians of the constitution then this must be more firmly entrenched. He added that the public should realise that if this happens they may be giving away power that they might not get back. He went on to say that although the judges were not lobbying for more power, they were unlikely to turn it down.

The next talk I attended was titled: Liberty, Sovereignty and Republicanism: Can the Leveller tradition be revived in the 21st century. Quentin Skinner argued that our freedom is influenced without our rights being restricted, his point was that as the Levellers thought, under the constant fear of the arbitrary power you will self censor. In the modern day this arbitrary power is manifested by the Crown in Parliament. Geoffrey Robertson QC pointed out, like Lord Bingham, that this country has an amazing record of liberty dating back to the Civil War period. He mentioned the Ship Money case and the fact that the last torture warrant was issued in 1641 (but that it appears British MI5 agents were complicit in the torture of terror suspects) going on to state that the trial of Charles I was the first war crimes trial of a head of state. He compared this with our current monarchy whose powers break at least 4 articles of the ECHR. Melissa Lane stated that the Leveller movement was un-partisan and compared them to Obama’s post-partisan politics that we are seeing now. But, she argued, there must be core values which should not be discarded; British values of liberty are currently discarded through modern political pragmatism.

Next up was another key note address, this time by Philip Pullman. His strap line was one I saw instantly broadcast on Twitter and is worth mentioning:

‘We are better people than our government think we are’.

The last speaker of note was David Davis MPIt was a nice contrast to the opening by Shami Chakrabarti and perhaps a hat tip at the cross-partisan dimension the conference had. I thought he was excellent, but then he is paid to be. He quoted Jack Straw saying we are not living in a police state and neatly added:

 ‘We’re not living in a police state yet but by the time we know we are it will be too late’.

My reasons for attending were perhaps a little different than most. Firstly education but secondly one which I was dying to tell the first sandal wearing muesli muncher I spoke to ( I didn’t in the end); I have actually fought in the ‘War on Terror’ in Iraq. I have arrested and searched people under the Terrorism Act 2000 in Northern Ireland. I was an intelligence officer and part of a covert surveillance team – I’ve spied on you. However, I am reformed. I have decided that I would much prefer to run the risk of freedom than the assurance of oppression. And so I found myself at this conference. I have just made reference to the sandal wearers and I was expecting to see many Guardianistas and Champagne socialists, I wasn’t to be disappointed. But also in attendance were people from every political persuasion in a very broad church, I made sure I had a Telegraph under my arm as I marched in and drew no disapproving glances (knew I should have worn the Barbour too). We had come together not as a group of bleeding heart liberals but as a united mass of concerned citizens/subjects (there was much debate about which we were). I left the conference inspired. I am sure that the shadow cabinet is a government in waiting and I was left with the impression that the Tories present had understood the message loud and clear. As Dominic Grieve QC MP put it:

‘Yes we have done some silly things but when we do we ask ourselves what would your grandfather have thought of the?’

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Shami Chakrabarti. Last night I conducted a podcast with Charon QC, the eminent legal blogger (http://charonqc.wordpress.com/). I forgot her name then sounded a little dismissive when I was reminded of it, I can assure you this is not the case and I very much respect the vital work she carries out.

To close the piece I would like to quote Dr Evan Harris MP who made the following statement:

‘The litmus test is not the question of our rights but the rights of the difficult cases like the criminals, terrorists and failed asylum seekers’

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