General Election 2015: Dear UK, We’re F***ed

“Five more years of pure evil.”

Dear UK,

We’re fucked. Sorry to be explicit. I usually try not to be but there will be some expletives in this post because there really is no nicer way of putting this. We have just voted some of the most evil people currently residing in this country back in to be our government. No, I am not kidding. And I am not alone in this opinion. The above quote is from Ken Livingston. Other people have compared David Cameron to the Sherriff of Nottingham and even Prince Joffrey from Game of Thrones. In case you don’t know who Joffrey is, you can have a look at some of his worst moments here (contains spoilers).

Granted, Cameron probably isn’t quite that evil, although I recently heard journalist Matthew D’Ancona say that we will see the real David Cameron now. That is the untampered-by-the-Lib-Dems Cameron. For better or worse. I am guessing worse.

As the International Business Times states,

Prime Minister David Cameron is now at liberty to embark on a programme of welfare cuts with fears for the most vulnerable in society.

And while Joffrey is fictional, Cameron’s policies will have a very real and detrimental impact on British society in the years to come, regardless of how much he and his minions harp on about how they want their party to be seen as “the real party of working people” (but not those who need to rely on benefits), and “of compassion” (but not for those unfairly affected by bonkers policies like the Bedroom Tax).

Below are some examples of policies that have been announced so far. This is a long read, I know. However, for those of you with the limited attention span of the average internet user (and I am as guilty of that as the next person), I have provided sub-headers to make it easier to identify those policy areas that interest you most. And if none of this interests you at all, then seriously? Screw you and go live in a bin.

Bye-bye Human Rights Act

Let us begin with Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who, according to the Guardian has in the past “voiced his support for capital punishment” (more precisely hanging – yes, that’s right, hanging!) He has now been given the go-ahead to scrap the Human Rights Act and potentially withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), replacing it with a British Bill of Rights. No, this isn’t a good thing.

A withdrawal from the ECHR…would plunge the UK into a constitutional crisis. It would be resisted by the Scottish government and would place the UK government in breach of the Northern Ireland Good Friday agreement of 1998.

Constitutional crisis – huh? Basically, scrapping the HRA would create a number of problems because of existing agreements with Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. And that’s just the British Isles. It would also cause some trouble with the UN. That’s the more abstract political implications in a nutshell.

How does scrapping the HRA affect us? Well, here is what the Human Rights Act does: it enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic law. That means that the rights granted under the ECHR, like right to life, right to the respect of private life, no punishment without law, right to be free of torture, free speech etc. are binding in the UK (which, by the way, has no written constitution) and citizens who feel that these rights are somehow being violated can take their complaints to court. Why is this important? Because is protects citizens from their government and other public institutions and the potentially horrible things they could do to them. Like take away their privacy or liberty without a trial, torture them, curb their right to free expression etc. You may argue that the UK is far from being the kind of state where these things are a real threat.

The new anti-terrorism legislation is extreme

Well, really? Because David Cameron has just proposed new anti-terrorism legislation that was previously vetoed by the Lib Dems – and for good reason:

The measures would give the police powers to apply to the high court for an order to limit the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual. The definition of harmful is to include a risk of public disorder, a risk of harassment, alarm or distress or creating a “threat to the functioning of democracy”. The aim is to catch…those who spread or incite hatred on the grounds of gender, race or religion.

Well that’s… broad. Students protesting tuition fees in 2010 caused public disorder. People protesting austerity outside Downing Street only last week caused a bit of public disorder. If the definition of “harmful” includes the mere risk of public disorder, then what is to stop police keeping people from protesting at all? Similarly a “risk of harassment, alarm or distress” might sound obvious but surely, some people (in government for example) felt harassed, alarmed or distressed by the student protests in 2010. Yet does that mean students (or other people) shouldn’t have the right to protest government policies they disagree with?

Make no mistake: this law could not be used exclusively to target extremists trying to radicalise young people to join the jihad. Broad as it is, chances are it can be used against anyone the police could probably see as extremists. In the past, this has included people like Martin Luther King (granted, that was the US but you get the point), members of the Green Party (in the UK) and the SNP. Here is what else: the accusation of threatening the functioning of democracy was levelled against David Miranda who was detained at Heathrow Airport for nine hours in 2013 for being the spouse of journalist Glenn Greenwald (the guy who reported on the Snowden-revelations). Granted, there is the obstacle of the high court but the potential for abuse is there.

And the words with which David Cameron announced this legislation should really frighten the shit out of us:

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.

Well, I have news for you, Dave, that’s how it’s supposed to be. This isn’t Minority Report.

No. Punishment. Without. Law. – Oh right, that’s a provision under the HRA – smell the rat?

Granted, Cameron also said this:

As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values. Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality. We must say to our citizens: this is what defines us as a society.

But here’s what I am worried about: what happens to all of those not considered to be part of that one (island) nation that the Tories seem so keen on creating?

Getting rid of the HRA means stripping people of protection

Because get this: What the Tories are proposing is to scrap something that enshrines the European Convention in British Law to replace it with something that does exactly the same thing. According to the Tories, their British Bill of Rights would be modelled on the European Convention of Human Rights which, by the way, Britain helped write, and from which the Tories are now threatening to withdraw. But notice that small, alarming detail? Suddenly that meaningful word “human” has disappeared and been replaced with the word “British”. What does that mean? Only British people have rights? British rights to British people?

You see, at the moment,

the Human Rights Act may be used by every person resident in England or Wales regardless of whether or not they are a British citizen or a foreign national, a child or an adult, a prisoner or a member of the public.

Perhaps that’s what its misinformed opponents take issue with: all those foreigners, prisoners and other criminals getting the better of British courts and the British people. A British Bill of Rights sounds so much more exclusive, doesn’t it? Now, I am not saying that the new Bill will necessarily disadvantage non-Brits or that the Tories have threatened something like that. But the whole rather pointless exercise does make you wonder, doesn’t it? Especially since its supporters include a guy who thinks it may be a good idea for a 21st century democracy to hang people and, well, the Daily Mail.

Let me be clear: the HRA does not undermine the authority of British courts. It does not allow terrorists and other baddies to get away with all sorts of evil stuff:

the HRA only obliges our courts to “take into account” judgments of the European court; they are not bound by them… it is not the HRA that obliges the UK to respond to the judgments of the European court. It is Article 46(1) of the ECHR itself…Repealing the HRA would have no effect whatsoever on the UK’s obligations under Article 46. The only way for the Tories to achieve what they want is for the UK to pull out of the ECHR and, as a consequence, out of the Council of Europe. That would leave the UK outside the family of nations upholding universal human rights and would hugely diminish our reputation abroad.

However, if foreign policy doesn’t interest you, bear in mind that the HRA works for us too. It allows us to

defend [our] rights in the UK courts and [ensures] that public organisations (including the Government, the Police and local councils) must treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity and respect

The HRA

protects all of us – young and old, rich and poor. Hopefully you will never need to rely on it, but every year hundreds of people do.

Importantly, as Keir Starmer points out (and I really suggest you read his op-ed in full)

the HRA has heralded a new approach to the protection of the most vulnerable in our society, including child victims of trafficking, women subject to domestic and sexual violence, those with disabilities and victims of crime. After many years of struggling to be heard, these individuals now have not only a voice, but a right to be protected. The Tory plans to repeal the HRA…will silence the vulnerable and leave great swaths of executive action unchecked and unaccountable.

Former Justice Secretary Ken Clarke knew that scrapping the HRA would be a dangerous and nonsensical road to go down. He lost his job in the last parliament reshuffle. This should have been a warning to us all. As should the fact that if the Tories scrap the HRA this would “would bleakly leave us standing alone with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

(By the way, you can sign a petition to stop this nonsense here.)

Hello, Snoopers Charter! (No, it’s not going to make us safer.)

Yes, I know that the whole surveillance and privacy debate really doesn’t interest many of us that much. No matter that our security services have been found to act unlawfully for the past seven years. No matter that we are one of the most surveilled nations in the world and will be even more so once the Tories have finally introduced their previously rejected Snoopers Charter. Teresa May, Home Secretary, had been confirmed in office less than a day when she promised to re-introduce the bill, which will essentially strip us of our right to privacy and introduce mass surveillance and retention of communications metadata for 12 months. Basically, it will place us all under general suspicion. So much for the “innocent until proven guilty” principle. (Here is another fun fact: the Tories have just announced that they plan to “amend Freedom of Information legislation to strengthen the ability of the government to veto the publication of documents”. Less privacy for us, more secrecy for them. Things are being so obviously pitched against us as citizens and in favour of the government it’s bordering on the ridiculous.)

To explain why this is bad, let’s be more graphic: the authorities the Snoopers Charter grants to the spooks are so broad that we might as well be standing in Piccadilly Circus, stark naked, shouting our most private conversations at each other. At the same time, we will have a harder time holding our government to account (that is to check if they are really acting in our best interest and if not, confront them about it) because the information we may need to do so won’t be as easily accessible.

Okay, they won’t really make us strip in Piccadilly Circus so perhaps you’ll argue that you don’t care that the spooks are reading your emails because you have nothing to hide and you have perfect faith in the benevolence of our government. That’s bollocks and I’ll tell you why.

You may be okay with the spooks reading the content of your emails because you don’t care if people know what’s in there. You may even be okay with them seeing the naked pictures you send to your partner from your phone (or the ones that you never send but store on your phone). Fair enough, that’s up to you. But imagine this: you have just been diagnosed with an illness. Chlamydia, for example. Or, much worse, cancer. Perhaps you are clinically depressed and have thoughts of suicide. Surely, those are things so personal that you would not want anyone to know unless you told them yourself? Well, here is the thing about metadata: it tells the spooks exactly that you called a suicide helpline on Sunday night at 10pm for fifteen minutes whilst standing on Tower Bridge.

And because they surveil search engines, they would know that you googled Chlamydia and then called a doctor or that you looked for information on chemotherapy and cancer survival rates after seeing your doctor. They may not know the content of your call, or your talk with your doctor, but I’d say anyone could probably make pretty accurate deductions about why you called or what you spoke about? And because they store the data, they cannot only connect the dots that are your search history and your call metadata and your location data. They could do it months later.

Yes, I know, phone companies and providers are already doing storing data but there is fundamental difference between a contract you enter willingly (even though you haven’t read the T&C) and one that you had no real chance of refusing or even discussing before it was made into a law.

And even if that doesn’t spook you (no pun intended): You want to be safe, yes? From terrorists and so on? And the government are saying that introducing the Snoopers Charter will make us safer, right? Wrong. Storing large quantities of data for 12 months is not going to make anyone any safer. Recent evidence: Charlie Hebdo. Mass data retention exists in France. The brothers who committed the attacks that cost 17 people their lives were on the security services’ radar. Did that prevent the attacks? Nope. So then, how effective is mass surveillance as means of preventing terrorist attacks? When trying to find the needles that are terrorists, piling more hay on the proverbial haystack isn’t going to help. So no, these plans aren’t going to make you safe, they are doing to make you vulnerable. Because a lot of money and manpower will be wasted on them that could be used more effectively for targeted surveillance.

Here is another example for why mass surveillance is a bad idea from the more distant past. I am going to use it because in Britain everyone’s obsessed with the Nazis anyway. The Netherlands used to register people on the basis of their faith. Which made things a lot easier for the Nazis after 1939.

Feel free to argue that this won’t affect you because you have nothing to hide and anyway, the government and the spooks all act within the law and in our best interest. But do bear in mind that

1.) they haven’t always acted lawfully or appropriately in the past

2.) what they are planning probably won’t make you any safer and

3.) that as soon as you become part of a minority that the government somehow thinks is a threat to national security or democracy (and political dissidents could be, under new anti-terrorism legislation), these powers could actually become pretty threatening pretty quickly.

But then, lots of us feel perfectly secure in the knowledge that we will never be part of such a minority, right? Just like we won’t be much affected by anything else that the Tories are planning?

12bn worth of welfare cuts, more zero-hours contracts – I warn you not to be ordinary, young, or poor

Wrong again. We will all be affected in some way or other – and if only by the slow but steady dismantling of the NHS. As a result, we are all, collectively, fucked. Obviously, some of us more so than others. Like the people who will be hit by the 12bn worth of cuts to the welfare budget which Ian Duncan Smith has been brought back to oversee or a potential rise of the Bedroom Tax. People affected by the cuts, according to experts, are going to be “either the poorest in society or the “hard-working people” courted by the Conservatives”.

Says John Hills, director of the centre for analysis of social exclusion at the London School of Economics:

[what the Tories are proposing] would mean hitting lone parents and disabled people and create pressure on food banks and hardship on a scale that would be hard to imagine.

The fact that the Tories, while shouting about many of their other policies, are actually keeping mum about the details of the cuts should tell us something. They won’t be pretty and they won’t be popular. They will lead to the number of people having to rely on food banks to double, according to the Independent, citing a study from Oxford University. What is more:

proposals… leaked to the BBC, suggest the party is looking at reducing benefits paid outside London, taxing disability allowances and scrapping money paid to all carers except those on the lowest incomes,

never minding the fact that

[t]he majority of referrals to food banks (44 per cent) are [already] caused by delays or changes to benefit payments including sanctions, which are often unfair.

So, there will be more cuts to an already inadequate system. Here is what this is: inhumane. And frankly, I don’t quite understand what must have happened to our basic sense of human empathy for us not to be up in arms about that. As Lee Williams writes,

To penalise people who are already living on the breadline by further cutting their money is inhumane no matter what the reason. If a prison decided to implement a policy of punishing its inmates by cutting their food supply, it would be universally condemned as a human rights abuse. But this government is doing essentially the same thing to its own citizens. It is the sole source of money to people on benefits just as the prison is the sole source of food to its inmates. Cutting their access to this essential supply is cruel and inhumane.

More on the proposed cuts can be found here and here. I cannot be the only one who is scared or enraged or utterly dismayed by this.

We should have known…

One of the things that dismays me most is that it’s not like we didn’t know this could happen. It’s not like these plans weren’t around before the election. They’re in the Tory manifesto. Some of them were blocked by the Lib Dems in the previous government (yes, that’s right, the Lib Dems aren’t all bad). You didn’t even need the manifestos (I sure as hell haven’t read all of them) to get an idea of what the Tories are up to. Looking at the papers every once in a while would have been warning enough.

I know, I know the news is vile, lots of it is bad these days, looking at it is depressing. Well, reality check: that’s what the world is like. I am sorry. But you know what? By locking ourselves inside our ivory towers and refusing to confront the shit that’s happening in the world even a little, we’re contributing to making this world – and now the UK – a worse, colder, less caring place.

Neil Kinnock, competing for Labour in 1983 said these words:

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn you not to be young, I warn you not to fall ill, I warn you not to get old.”

Fast-forward 32 years and welcome, to David Cameron’s 21st century Britain.

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One thought on “General Election 2015: Dear UK, We’re F***ed

  1. Pingback: “The bare beginning of reform”: two years on, Snowden’s work “has only begun” | Notes from Self

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