Comment | Why I started ‘cc all your e-mails to Theresa May’ day
Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Monday, April 30, 2012 16:18 - 7 Comments
By Eric Finch
The British Home Secretary, Theresa May
“If we know a thing to be wrong, and we have the means to prevent it, we have a duty to try and prevent it and damn the consequences”, said Lord Milner in 1916, and his words remain as true now as they were then. And yet, somehow, it is difficult to escape the feeling that apathy, disenchantment with our near identical political parties, and a general lack of hope among the electorate have conspired to drain resistance from us all.
The last decade or so has seen some of the most repressive legislation ever passed by a democracy, and it is a malaise which seems to affect not just us here in the UK, but most of the western world. The knee jerk reaction to the events of 9/11 and 7/7 have left the ‘free world’ in danger of becoming a police state, and yet the flood of legislation continues in the governments plans for the next couple of years, as highlighted in the House of Commons briefing paper on this years Queen’s Speech. The proposals include secret trials, interception of communications, enhanced terrorism and investigation measures: only the blind could fail to notice the irony of this happening in the west just as the near east continues the process begun by the Arab Spring.
Of course, the government will argue that it requires this legislation to protect public safety. Perhaps with an eye to Cicero, it seems determined to follow the principle of ‘let public safety be the supreme law’: given the absurdity of health and safety legislation, it is a logical conclusion.
And perhaps, had it not been for Walter Wolfgang, I may not have noticed. Wolfgang, in case you had forgotten, was the pensioner who was held under the Terrorism Act for daring to heckle then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw at the Labour Party conference in 2005 over the Iraq war.
Have there been other abuses? Almost certainly, but I can’t tell you what they are, because I don’t know. And nor does anybody else outside of government. And here lies the crux of the problem: the effects of the anti-terror legislation are hidden behind a veil of secrecy, while the legislation itself has been so expanded as to catch almost any act within it.
Consider this. The Terrorism Act 2000 states the following quite clearly:
(1) In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where-
(a) the action falls within subsection (2),
(b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government [or an international governmental organisation] or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
(c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [, racial or ideological cause.
(2) Action falls within this subsection if it-
(d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
(e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.
Now, I can’t say that I’d ever considered myself to be a terrorist before. I’m nobody special, just a middle-aged bloke bloke from Dartford. And yet, under a strict reading of the Act, National ‘cc all your e-mails to Theresa May’ Day has miraculously become, not an act of political protest or defiance, but a terrorist act: it seeks to influence the government for the purpose of advancing a political cause (our freedoms and civil liberties), and is designed to seriously interfere with an electronic system.
Will I be arrested? Who can tell: and in any case, that is not the point. It is not the act of arrest that is the problem, nor the threat, but the possibility.
In fairness, it is difficult – although not impossible – to imagine that the government would take action over an e-mail protest. But who knows what government we will have in 10 years time? Who knows what challenges they will face, and more importantly, what lengths they will go to? We are putting in place the structure of a police state, and all we lack are politicians with the will to use it. The Civil Contingencies Act, the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act, the Terrorism Acts: these should send a chill through all of us.
And yet, where is the political opposition? Where is the accountability? Where is the scrutiny? At the very time that we need a free press, the Leveson Inquiry is demonstrating that we don’t have one, or rather we have a press which is so closely intertwined with the parties of government that they have come perilously close to merging and becoming a single political entity. Cash for access, the expenses scandal: are there no depths to which our governing political class will not stoop? The old distinctions between right and left have disappeared, and we are left with a situation where, whoever we vote for, the government wins. Even on the right, there is agreement: Nadine Dorres MP hit the nail on the head when she spoke of the Prime Minister and Chancellor as ‘arrogant posh boys’, while Nigel Farage MEP said we have a ‘government run by college kids with no life experience’. I would quote somebody from the left, but they are conspicuous by their silence, perhaps as the instigators of the current trend to totalitarian legislation.
While we still live in a democracy, we all enjoy certain rights. But many in our society seem to have forgotten that the corollary to that is we all have certain duties as well, and chief amongst those is the duty to take part, to care, to protect the very freedoms we enjoy. We live in an age of bland, identikit politicians who lack not only a political vision, but any form of political ideal beyond the acquisition of power. We live under this dismal coalition government because despite the previous government being one of the most unpopular in living memory, neither of the alternatives could inspire the electorate sufficiently to take a majority: and this is largely because the alternatives were more of the same, but with a different rosette.
They say we get the type of government we deserve, and there may be some truth in this. Anodyne news reporting focusing on feelings, emotions and interpretation is just propaganda by another name: it was Joseph Goebbels who said that ‘the media is the organ on which the government plays its music’, and who can doubt that with Leveson underway? Where is the satire, the biting wit, the opposition – genuine opposition, not opposition for opposition’s sake – which will hold this government, indeed this parliament, to account? Where is the positive vision, the inspiration, the leadership? Are we really so beholden to the media maintained status quo that individuality, wit, flair and intelligence are being stamped out of politics to be replaced by the bland, the anodyne and the dull?
Life does not have to be like this. We can make a stand, and we should do so. We should resist. Subvert. Campaign. Protest. If our democracy is to mean anything, if our freedoms and civil liberties – for which earlier generations paid a heavy price – are to be maintained, then now is the time to stand up and defend them.
We don’t have to man the barricades to do this: for now, just cc’ing all your e-mails to Theresa May will do. If she wants the legislation to read all of our e-mails, lets save her the trouble and send them to her directly, and see how keen on the idea she is on Tuesday 1st May.
If this legislation passes, then read it in conjunction with what is meant by terrorism as defined in the quote from the Terrorism Act above. Sections 1(b) and 1(c) essentially create a new type of ‘thoughtcrime’ which criminalizes opposition to the government: they are not about maintaining a free society, but protecting the political parties who define a free society. Even if this government and the last had demonstrated their integrity, honesty and openness, this is a chilling attack upon the rights of citizens to oppose and hold to account the elected: it effectively makes campaigns such as this subject to government approval. Do we want to live in a modern day Soviet Russia?
Naturally, the government will argue that, by taking such powers, it is protecting our freedoms in the ‘war against terror’. As I understand it, the ‘war against terror’ is designed to protect our freedoms from those who oppose them, primarily ‘Al Qaeda’, which may or may not exist as the government portrays it. It is not the first time this country has made a collective stand against something which threatens our freedoms, but the governments approach is novel, to say the least. In order to protect those freedoms, it is steadily eroding them: this would have been akin to fighting communism in the Cold War by becoming a Soviet Republic, or fighting Fascism by becoming fascist.
So please, I implore you. Stand up and be counted: let us make tomorrow, Tuesday 1st May, “cc all your e-mails to Theresa May” Day’. The next time the government says it is guarding your freedoms, ask only this of any who will listen: “who guards the guards themselves”?
Here are the emails, get ‘CCing: