Last week, our newly re-elected Prime Minister, David Cameron, said something quite remarkable in a speech outlining his new government's legislative plans for the next five years. Remarkable not because it's unexpected that a newly formed Conservative government with a working majority would bang the law and order drum, but because of what it implies:
"For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'."
Think about it for a moment. This is the leader of a nominally democratic country saying that merely obeying the law is not sufficient: and simultaneously moving to scrap the Human Rights Act (a legislative train-wreck if ever I saw one) and to bring in laws imposing prior restraint on freedom of political speech (yes, requiring islamists to show the Police everything they say on Facebook before they say it is censorship of political speech, even if you don't like what they're saying).
We've been here before, of course.
Back in 2005, during one of the regular law'n'order circlejerks to which we have grown inured—this one triggered by the terrorist suicide bombings of 7/7 in London—the Labour Party brought in a spectacularly ill-conceived over-reaction in the shape of the Terrorism Act 2006. Among other things, they attempted to give the police the power to detain and question suspects without charge for up to 90 days (in the House of Commons this caused a rebellion, and it was eventually cut to 28 days—still far too long for arrest and interrogation without criminal charges), but moreover, created (Tony Blair's words): "an offence of condoning or glorifying terrorism. The sort of remarks made in recent days should be covered by such laws."
Get that: glorifying terrorism was to become an offense.
We all know of those vile Da'esh beheading videos, which is probably the sort of thing the Home Office had in mind. But the law was drafted so vaguely and broadly that a bunch of unintended consequences emerged. For example, what is "glorification" and what is "terrorism"? Lest we forget, Nelson Mandela was identified as a terrorist. So was that other Nobel Peace Prize winner, Menachem Begin. The current Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, with whom Tony Blair was doubtless on a first name basis, spent many years in British prisons for murders he allegedly committed while leading a terrorist organization. Is it "glorifying terrorism" to express happiness at the success of the ANC in forcing the overtly racist system of Apartheid South Africa to the negotiating table?
The law was drafted in such a way that works of fiction fell within its scope. So a group of bolshy, lefty, civil-rights-focussed literary academics with an interest in the SF field got together and published a slim anthology, the title of which was intended to provoke the Director of Public Prosecutions into either shitting or getting off the pot.
I'm afraid you can't buy a copy of the Glorifying Terrorism SF anthology (it's out of print, and not going to be reprinted or published as an ebook any time soon, because of the ongoing VATMESS headache). But ... the majestic organs of the state took one look at it and said "na na I can't hear you, not going there, you can't make me, I'd look like a tool". A few years later the "Glorifying Terrorism" charge was quietly written out of the statute books. And I'd like to think we had something to do with it.
Which brings me to the topic of the very short short story below, which now exists in a kind of counterfactual limbo, an alternate history where the financial crash of 2007/08 never happened, Tony Blair kept on getting worse, the "Glorifying Terrorism" offense stayed on the books, and UKIP never happened. Instead, the BNP—the knuckle-dragging neo-fascists who UKIP have largely supplanted— somehow parlayed an unspecified terorism-related crisis into a rise to government, and then the inevitable reductio ad absurdum ensued:
(See if you can figure out who I cribbed the declaration from?)
MINUTES OF THE LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE, 2016
PREAMBLE TO THE MINUTES OF THE LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE, 2016
Greetings from the National Executive.
Before reading any further, please refer to the Security Note and ensure that your receipt and use of this document is in compliance with Party security policies. If you have any doubts at all, burn this document immediately.
This is an official Labour Party Document. Possession of all such documents is a specific offense under (2)(2)(f) of the Terrorism Act (2006). Amendments passed by the current government using the powers granted in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) have raised the minimum penalty for possession to 10 years imprisonment. In addition, persons suspected of membership of or sympathy for the Labour Party are liable for arrest and sentencing as subversives under the Defence of the Realm Act (2014).
You must destroy this document immediately, for your own safety, if:
You have any cause to suspect that a neighbour or member of your household may be an informer,
You have come into possession of this document via a suspect source, or if your copy of this document exhibits signs of having been printed on any type of computer printer or photocopier, or if you received this document in a public place that might be overseen by cameras, or if it may have been transmitted via electronic means.
The Party would be grateful if you can reproduce and distribute this document to sympathizers and members. Use only a typewriter, embossing print set, mimeograph, or photographic film to distribute this document. Paper should be purchased anonymously and microwaved for at least 30 seconds prior to use to destroy RFID tags. Do not, under any circumstances, enter or copy the text in a computer, word processor, photocopier, scanner, mobile phone, or digital camera. This is for your personal safety.
MINUTES OF THE LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE, 2016
1. Apologies for absence were made on behalf of the following:
Deputy Leader, Hillary Benn (executed by junta)
Government, Douglas Alexander (executed by junta)
Government, Kate Hoey (detained, Dartmoor concentration camp)
EPLP Leader, Mohammed Sarwar (executed by junta)
Young Labour, Judy Mallaber (detained, Dartmoor concentration camp: show trial announced by junta)
2. Motions from the national executive:
1) In the light of the government's use of its powers of extradition under the US/UK Extradition Treaty (2005), and their demonstrated willingness to lie to the rest of the world about their treatment of extradited dissidents, it is no longer safe to maintain a public list of shadow ministers and party officers. With the exception of the offices of Party Spokesperson and designated Party Security Spokesperson, it is moved that:
Open election of members of the National Executive shall be suspended,
Publication of the names and identities of members of the National Executive shall be suspended,
The National Executive will continue to function on a provisional basis making ad-hoc appointments by internal majority vote to replace members as they retire, are forced into exile, or are murdered by the junta;
From now until the end of the State of Emergency and the removal of the current government, at which time an extraordinary Party Conference shall be held to publicly elect a peacetime National Executive.
2) In view of the current government's:
suspension of the Human Rights Act (1998), Race Relations Act (2000), and other Acts,
abrogation of the Treaty of Europe and secession from the European Union,
amendment via administrative order of other Acts of Parliament (including the reintroduction of capital punishment),
effective criminalization of political opposition by proscribing opposition parties as "organisations that promote terrorism" under the terms of the Terrorism Act (2000),
establishment of concentration camps and deportation facilities for ethnic minorities, political dissidents, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens, and others,
deployment of riot police and informal militias against peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins, with concomitant loss of life,
and their effective termination of the democratic processes by which the United Kingdom has historically been governed,
We find, with reluctance, that no avenue of peaceful dissent remains open to us. We are therefore faced with a choice between accepting defeat, and continuing the struggle for freedom and democracy by other means.
We shall not submit to the dictatorship of the current government, and we have no choice but to hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom. The government has interpreted the peacefulness of the movement as weakness; our non-violent policies have been taken as a green light for government violence. Refusal to resort to force has been interpreted by the government as an invitation to use armed force against the people without any fear of reprisals. It is therefore moved that:
A National Resistance Movement is created. The Movement will seek to achieve liberation without bloodshed or violence if possible. We hope—even at this late moment—that the government will come to its senses and permit a free and fair general election to be held in which parties representing all ideologies will be permitted to stand for election. But we will defend our supporters and the oppressed against military rule, racist tyranny, and totalitarianism, and we will not flinch from using any tool in pursuit of this goal.
The Movement will work to achieve the political goals of the Labour Party during the state of emergency, and will cooperate willingly with other organizations upon the basis of shared goals.
The Movement will actively attack the instruments of state terror and coercion, including functionaries of the government who enforce unjust and oppressive laws against the people.
At the cessation of the struggle, a National Peace and Reconciliation Commission shall be established and an amnesty granted to members of the Movement for actions taken in the pursuit of legitimate orders.
In these actions, we are working in the best interests of all the people of this country - of every ethnicity, gender, and class - whose future happiness and well-being cannot be attained without the overthrow of the Fascist government, the abolition of white supremacy and the winning of liberty, democracy and full national rights and equality for all the people of this country.
(Carried 25/0, 3 abstentions)
3) All Party members who are physically and mentally fit to withstand the rigours of the struggle are encouraged to organize themselves in cells of 3-6 individuals, to establish lines of communication (subject to the Party security policies), and to place themselves at the disposal of the National Resistance Movement. Party members who are unable to serve may still provide aid, shelter, and funds for those who fight in our defence.
3. Motions from the floor
The party recognizes that that our own legislative program of the late 1990s and early 2000s established the framework for repression which is now being used to ruthlessly suppress dissent. We recognize that our neglect of the machinery of public choice in favour of the pursuit of corporatist collaborations permitted the decay of local and parliamentary democracy that allowed the British National Party to seize power with the support of no more than 22% of the electorate. We are therefore compelled to admit our responsibility. We created this situation; we must therefore repair it.
Never again shall the Labour Party place national security ahead of individual freedoms and human rights in its legislative program. It is therefore moved that the following quotation from Benjamin Franklin be inserted between Clause Three and the current Clause Four of the Party Constitution:
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."