Game, set and Coalition match: tie up the House of Commons, ban extra-parliamentary action, drive us off the visible web
Wow! A pretty miserable panorama. Three stories I pick at random (not). First, from 2010, the tying up of the House of Commons:
MPs will not be able to throw out the government unless at least 55% of them vote to do so, under plans agreed by the Conservatives and Lib Dems.
The move is part of plans agreed by the two parties to introduce five-year fixed-term parliaments.
An expert reaction at the time ran as follows:
Constitutional expert Peter Hennessy, of Queen Mary University of London University, told BBC News: “The tradition is that one [vote] is enough and I wouldn’t tinker with that. I would leave that well alone. It looks as if you are priming the pitch, doctoring it a bit. Not good. It’s meant to be a different politics, new politics.”
Under the deal with the Conservatives, Lib Dem MPs would be expected to vote with the government.
Second, from Sunday, the proposed banning – and perhaps even criminalisation – of organised extra-parliamentary action:
How will this gag work? At present the law restricts the spending of non-party groups on election campaigning. But the proposed law goes from providing reasonable rules to keep big money out of politics into a chilling attack on free speech.
Even informal local groups will be caught up in the new rules. Concerned about fracking in your village? Worried about proposals to close a hospital or build a road? Be very careful, you only have a limited ration of dissent in each constituency, and if you get overdrawn or even lose some receipts then you could face a police investigation. Are you a community group that organises a series of hustings but chooses to exclude extremist party candidates? Sorry, you are now considered to be election campaigners.
The bill, then, redefines what counts as electioneering. At present only materials and activities obviously targeted at shifting votes are capped. But anything that might change the mind of a voter will count as election campaigning in future. If you are critical of a government policy in the year before an election, that will count as election campaigning. If you are active against racism then you could be campaigning against far-right parties. Staff time will be included, so the wages of anyone who works on writing a critique of a policy or sends it to the media will count.
Finally, from today, Groklaw describes how the site can no longer continue under the unceasing revelations of permanent government surveillance (the bold is mine):
I hope that makes it clear why I can’t continue. There is now no shield from forced exposure. Nothing in that parenthetical thought list is terrorism-related, but no one can feel protected enough from forced exposure any more to say anything the least bit like that to anyone in an email, particularly from the US out or to the US in, but really anywhere. You don’t expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend. And once you know they can, what is there to say? Constricted and distracted. That’s it exactly. That’s how I feel.
So. There we are. The foundation of Groklaw is over. I can’t do Groklaw without your input. I was never exaggerating about that when we won awards. It really was a collaborative effort, and there is now no private way, evidently, to collaborate.
I’m really sorry that it’s so. I loved doing Groklaw, and I believe we really made a significant contribution. But even that turns out to be less than we thought, or less than I hoped for, anyway. My hope was always to show you that there is beauty and safety in the rule of law, that civilization actually depends on it. How quaint.
Yes. This is indeed a police state. A state which forgets so many of the lessons of the Nuremberg Trials. A state which no longer believes in right and wrong but, instead, in legal and illegal. [...]
When a Home Office spokesperson says it’s the police who must decide, and not Parliament nor appropriate individuals with the corresponding obligation to oversee what the police are doing, we know what – inside the Home Office – people really think.
And what they think is we already live a de facto police state.
This is, as I say above, a profound betrayal of what once could have been a secularism of real and ennobling choice. But in the absence of that God who might look over and remind us of what we should do, we have this overriding anti-Nuremberg remittance to the concepts of legal and illegal above all.
We’ve forgotten entirely about those universal human rights. Right and wrong have been substituted everywhere with very poor hand-me-down cousins.
Universal doesn’t exist any more.
So what does this game, set and Coalition match really consist of? Well. As far as I can see, several stages spread out over time:
1) Ensure they have the House of Commons (ie ourselves) by the balls, by rewriting the rules in the strictest terms possible. 2) Ensure our resulting urge to extra-parliamentary action in the offline world can only be conducted in terms of parliamentary rules, now rewritten. 3) Ensure, through several means and tools (from virtual porn filters which knock out blogs like my own to libel actions that chill a wider population into a distracted self-censoring half-silence), that extra-parliamentary action in the online world is so controlled by government and state-security apparatuses as to make it virtually impossible to speak your mind without feeling you might, by association, incriminate your readers, commenters, friends and followers.
That’s it, isn’t it? The beginning of the end. You have no representation in Parliament worth talking about; your right to organise outside Parliament is to likely be criminalised; and, finally, even your late-night and oft-disparaged blogged meanderings must eventually be discouraged in one way or another.
For it’s quite clear, as I also suggested yesterday, that a democracy which spreads [auto mod] liberally around is anything but a liberal democracy.
We used to strive so hard to be the latter. These days, we do little more than suppurate as the former.
In so many ways and at so many levels, this is a direct and premeditated attack on 21st century participatory instincts and environments. An attack on the natural direction of history. An attack on everything our universally educated population was led to expect. And if this is to be game, set and Coalition match, by its very nature we can equally see it’s going to be anything but cricket.