Tag Archives: human rights

Framing the uncertainties

I keep seeing people online complain of an absence of facts in the EU debate. This is inevitable because we’re making a choice about the future, and all we can have are best guesses. The best guess of the ‘remain’ campaign is that things will carry on as they are, and maybe even get better as we figure out better forms of co-operation with our neighbours. The ‘leave’ campaign has even less certainty about what to expect, because no country has tried this before.

In asking what we don’t know, it’s possible to learn a lot. We don’t know what will happen to the million-odd Britains living in the rest of Europe. It seems likely they’d have to come back or individually negotiate with the countries they’re in. Equally we don’t know what would happen to EU citizens living in the UK. That must be a terrible uncertainty for many people right now. The potential disruption to millions of lives, is colossal. Add the disruption to businesses losing employees, the massive extra work for the border agency processing everyone, and the sudden shift in demographic as we send back young working people and repatriate retired people. Are we ready for that?

Most (possibly all) of our trade agreements are held through our EU membership. If we leave, we leave those agreements and all of our export business will have to be re-negotiated. I’ve seen an estimate that this will take 2 years. That’s 2 years of business chaos, and uncertainty, and we know for a fact that stock markets and investors don’t like uncertainty so it’s pretty much bound to cost us in the short term. As a lone country that’s just lost all its trade agreements, would we have a strong position to negotiate new ones? I don’t think so. The leave campaign thinks we can get better deals, but I’ve yet to see any reasons for thinking this. We could get much worse deals.

We don’t know to what degree our leaving would destabilise Europe politically and economically. Whatever the impact, (and surely there will be some) we are going to feel the ripples, the small strip of water between us and them will not protect us. We’ve seen what happens when there’s an international financial crash – economics seems to involve a delicate house of cards made out of belief at the best of times. We play with that at our own risk. Europe doesn’t want to fall apart, so it is in the EUs interest to make sure no other country is moved to follow our lead and leave. They have every reason to try and cripple us if we go, to sure up their own edges. It would be the politically sensible thing to do.

We don’t know what will happen to everyone living in Gibraltar – currently under British ownership, but likely that won’t be feasible if we leave. That’s a whole other set of people waiting to see if we’ll plunge them into chaos.

We won’t protect our fishing by leaving, the EU will just make its fishing decisions without anyone in the mix to speak for our industry. In fact, they will carry on making all kinds of decisions that have an impact on us, and we will have no say. I think that makes us less powerful, not more powerful.

Now let’s consider the things we do know. If we want to stay in the Free Market, we’ll have to play by its rules, and that does mean freedom of movement, so one of the major things the ‘leave’ set want probably isn’t available unless we’re prepared to stop trading with the EU. That’s 44% of our export market. So we could end up in much the same position, only with less influence and more penalties. I can’t square this with any argument for greater autonomy, because I can’t see how we can achieve that without hiving off and hurting our economy. As an anti-capitalist, there are things in this that attract me, so anyone with right wing leanings should be hearing alarm bells!

We do know that if we leave, we’re looking at much more tax and duty on both imports and exports. So we won’t be competitive in Europe, and anything we’ve depended on importing may get more expensive. Our car industry would suffer especially. Our economy is pretty fragile right now, it wouldn’t take much to throw us into a depression.

We do know that if we leave sufficiently to close the borders, we Brits all lose our right to freedom of movement in Europe. That’s not a loss I’m keen on. The peace agreement in Northern Ireland is based on the EU. If we close our borders, we have to close the border between northern and southern Ireland. We don’t know how that might play out, but anyone over thirty probably remembers how well everything was going in Northern Ireland before the peace deal. More scope for chaos and misery.

A successful ‘leave’ with closed borders might allow our government to finally get shot of all the red tape and all those pesky human rights laws. They’ve been clear that it’s a reason to go. You know, things like your right to clean water and air, to a safe working environment, to a fair trial, the right not to be imprisoned for political reasons, the right not to be tortured. The right to move, and of course the right to family life which for people caught in the border closing could be torn apart. When the government talks about red tape hampering business, they mean laws that protect humans and the environment from exploitation and destruction.

So no, we don’t have a lot of facts, but I think we do have enough information to make some informed decisions about the future.


Belief, politics and seeds for action

I believe that human rights are the foundation of a civilized society. I will not co-operate with anything that undermines them. I believe that we only have one planet and that its preservation is essential. I will not co-operate with planet destruction or environmental degradation.

I will resist tyranny, oppression and environmental damage by whatever honourable means are available to me. I will speak out, use what economic power I have, and if needs be put my body in the way of threats to my society and my land.

I will do whatever I can to uplift, support and enable all others who are resisting. I will not blame anyone who is too frightened or under-informed to fight for life and liberty, but I will seek to educate and demonstrate through my own actions to the best of my ability.

I will use what resources I have to alleviate suffering where I can, to protect life, and to protect our precious eco-systems. I will work in all ways available to me to create a better, fairer, sustainable and kinder future.

I will challenge greed, oppression, short term thinking and eco-suicide by any honourable means available to me.

I recognise that I am one finite human being with limited resources of time, energy and money, and I will resist in ways I can sustain for the longer term and I will not resist by doing the things I am opposed to. I will act in line with my beliefs in all things. I will not allow fear, short termism or personal advantage to sway me from what is just, good and needed. I will seek the greater good in all things.

If you agree with any or all of this statement, you are welcome to reuse any part or the whole in any way you see fit.


Accountability and the zombie apocalypse

The hardest thing about speaking out is the fear of reprisal. When there is a significant power imbalance, this is a genuine source of anxiety. For the protestor who takes on the police, the person who goes whistleblowing about dangerous workplaces, the people who take on governments… you stand up to a system that might well give itself the power to stamp on you and pat itself on the back for doing so. Tyrants in the home will operate in much the same way.

This is one of the reasons why international human rights laws are so important, and why the Conservatives wanting to pull out of European agreements troubles me. I like to think that if I end up bleeding to death in the street, someone else will have the power to call my government out over what happened to me. We all need to be answerable to someone. We all need something that can challenge us, and the more power a person or group have, the more counterweight there needs to be.

In my soul I am an anarchist, wanting freedom from stifling legislation and a community that depends on honour and does the right things for the right reasons. Between the ears I am a pragmatist, all too aware that you only need a couple of really evil bastards to corrupt that kind of fluffy ideal. It’s no good saying we are answerable to our own consciences, because not everybody has one of those. It’s not enough to be answerable to the Gods, because frankly their track record on smiting people for acting out is not what it could be.

There is a flip side to accountability – namely that we have to enact it. There’s no point having a system if people will not, or dare not use it. Calling out is a part of the accountability process. Voicing dissent and manifesting protest is essential to make the system we have, work. And yet for the greater part we just shut up and put up. We accept infringements of our rights, we accept environmental degradation and species loss. How much of that is down to fear and how much is about apathy?

I do not want to shuffle slowly towards certain doom. I’ll go down fighting, not randomly falling apart as one more non entity in a zombie apocalypse. Every day though I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of causes that need supporting and wars that need waging. I am horrified by the numbers of vulnerable people continually being pushed to the edge. I am furious about the many abuses of power at all levels and that there are just not enough hours in the day to campaign on all of this. I want to be an army.

And at the same time, fighting a legacy of anxiety, fighting myself every bit as much as I fight those external battles. I have to keep reminding myself that I have rights, and that there are no systems in existence that are actually entitled to crush me for the sheer hell of it. But they do try and crush us all the same, and those day to day battles of survival are grinding lot of people down right now. I hear a lot, especially on facebook, about ‘you can’t get there from here’ philosophy and other people being forced into situations where the only options seem to be variations on a theme of lose. Keeping fighting in face of that is not easy, but fight we must because quite simply the alternative is to sink and go under, accepting being crushed.

I have fought battles I was told were unwinnable. I have fought them and won. They were costly, painful victories, but I do not regret them. When you are faced with living death, a fight that calls for your blood and pain, your tears and terror is a fight you might not even see the point in fighting. I am here to tell you to fight. Stand up, again, and again. Do not allow anyone to tell you that there is no hope and no way because this is usually A LIE and there are ALWAYS alternatives. Fight the impossible wars and believe they can be won. Fight your own despair. Come and tell me your tales from the trenches and I will tell you mine, and maybe we can all keep each other going.

The zombie apocalypse is here already, and you are fighting for your life.


Druidry the waterways and Justice

One of the things my Druidry drives me to do is challenge injustice when I encounter it. There’s not a vast amount I can do on this issue apart from speaking out, but, if you are not impressed by what I share below, then please reblog, or tweet the link or otherwise help to put the word out. I believe that governments should be bound by the rule of law, and should not be able to go beyond the laws that govern us all to serve their own ends.

We’re back to the outrageous behaviour of British Waterways again. Much of the content in today’s blog has been taken from other sources and is online other places. Thanks to a Freedom of Information request, we now know that  BW’s internal Licensing and Enforcement management reports between June 2011 and March 2012 show that BW has set a target for “all boats not moving at least 30km during their contract period to be within  enforcement process. The policy of taking enforcement action against “all boats not moving at least 30km during their contract period”  is at odds with the evidence given to the House of Commons Select Committee on the British Waterways Bill 1993-94.

The only time frames and distance requirements in the guidelines are as follows: You must move every 14 days unless you have a very good reason not to (like a broken leg, or a broken gear box). You should not return to the same spot in under a month unless you have changed direction – eg reached the end of a canal. Over the term of your licence, you have to move more than ten miles. The license lasts a year, but I’ve seen for myself that BW is harassing boaters about their movement over the winter months, not with regard to the 14 day requirement, but with regard to not having moved 30km in something a lot shorter than the period of their license.

Furthermore, the policy of taking enforcement action against “all boats not moving at least 30km during their contract period” has remained secret. It was not disclosed to the User Groups who met with British Waterways Legal Director Nigel Johnson and other officers including the Head of Enforcement Denise Yelland, the author of the Licensing and Enforcement management reports, on 23 June 2011 to discuss the revision of the Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers. The policy and the secrecy with which it is being pursued appears to reveal British Waterways’ objective of removing itinerant boat dwellers from its waterways.

Let’s pause and repeat that. A government body, soon to be a charity, looks like it has a policy to remove poor people from the canals. Since when was it the business of a charity to ‘cleanse’ a space of poor people who live there so that the rich folk have more room in which to play with their toys? There is every reason to think that British Waterways prefers not to mention it’s creative interpretation of the law to boaters, so as to hold a threat over the heads of itinerant boat dwellers with the intention of pressurising them to move off the waterways altogether, rather than giving them information that would enable them to know how to avoid enforcement action. My own experience is certainly consistent with this. Emails saying things like ‘I wish to comply, please tell me what to do’ were not even answered. Also, I have emails in which BW staff have told me that any person with a conneciton to an area – work, family, school doctors, that means the need to be in viable striking distance of somewhere, cannot be continuous cruisers. This isn’t in the guidlelines either, and would rule out pretty much everyone but the indepenedantly wealthy.

My source says… “In addition, British Waterways reported in its Boating Projects report for May 2011 that it has plans to introduce “longer term towpath [mooring] permits” in certain areas such as the Kennet and Avon canal which boaters without a home mooring must pay for to “allow” them to travel in a way that the rules already entitle them to do. To introduce such permits would be unlawful, but to introduce them without informing boaters of the policy of taking enforcement action against “all boats not moving at least 30km during their contract period” amounts to extortion in addition.” Which is interesting because such towpath moorings already exist on the Sharpness to Gloucester canal, I have no idea what the legal basis for them is. Morally I find them suspect because we are told that the point of a permanent mooring is to provide a safe place, off the towpath for your boat when not in use. Mooring permenantly on the towpath is magically safe if you pay to do it.

You can download all the Licensing and Enforcement reports and Boating Projects reports that were provided in response to this FOI here:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/boating_management_and_consultat#incoming-281372

The Minutes of Evidence of the Select Committees that drafted the 1995 British Waterways Act are available for the public to read and copy in the Parliamentary Archives, contact archives@parliament.uk.

Alternatively, you can email enquiries.hq@britishwaterways.co.uk and tell them what the likelihood is of you giving money to a charity that acts in this way. Feel free to write to your MP as well if you are in the UK. This is not just about the abuse of boater’s most fundamental human rights, it is about the principle that government bodies should not be able to act in this way. They should have to uphold the law. They should not be extorting money from people or using threats, they should not be causing homelessness. What would happen if other departments took the same attitude? If we let them get away with this unchecked, what comes next? Culling protected species for the benefit of rich people who like to shoot pheasants? Oh, they’re talking about doing that already…


Downtrodden: The new look for this season

He knows we are the scum of the earth. Every last one of us is committing benefit fraud, taking drugs and leeching off hard working tax payers like himself. Therefore, he is morally justified in doing whatever it takes to get rid of us. He knows that anything we say will be a lie. If we break down and weep, it is just an attempt to manipulate him. If we wind up homeless, that’s no more than we deserve. We should get proper jobs.

There are so many situations I could be describing here. The underlying theme is how we perceive people who appear to be living in poverty. It’s very easy to assume that people are only poor because they aren’t trying hard enough. Too lazy to work, selfish, sponging off the state. These are the people who wouldn’t work at school and have no qualifications, and are a waste of space. It doesn’t take much to get from here to the idea that maybe we should just line them all up and shoot them.

Oppression begins with dehumanisation. Once the intended victim is established, in the perpetrators mind, as being subhuman, it is much easier to proceed. Propaganda in war has often existed to explicitly demonise the enemy. Political rivals may do the same in poster campaigns. Nothing brings people together like having an opponent to fight. We’re standing up for the hard working people here, the good people, the people like you, and over there are the bad guys…. Go get em! It’s cynical, and manipulative, it keeps us fighting amongst ourselves and encourages us not to challenge the people who set the agenda.

Poor people are the easiest target. The odds are, they can’t afford to fight back. Threaten to make them homeless, to take away the money that buys food, or to undermine their human rights, and they can’t even afford to get the law involved. The harder it is to get legal funding for the poorest people, the more vulnerable they become.

I do not doubt that there are some people who are just not inclined to work, and who cheat the system. However, there are a lot of physically and mentally disabled people living in poverty. Victims of crime, people forced to run and leave everything they owned, single mums abandoned by feckless men, people shattered by bereavement, people who have been too sick to work and couldn’t pay the mortgage. There are so many people who come out of the armed forces and get into difficulty in civilian life. There are kids who grew up addicted to drugs, tobacco, alcohol, maybe from the womb – how much choice have they had, exactly? Poverty exists in cycles. It is still the case that your best guarantee of material success in life, is to start out with rich parents.

And what of the others? The people who work part time and care for someone else, unpaid and unsupported. The people who have such a strong calling that they work voluntarily and live in poverty because there is an injustice, a wrong in the world that they cannot ignore. How about the key workers who are not paid enough to be able to afford proper housing in our cities? Almost everyone making the leap to self employment, or seeking further qualification, will have to spend some time with very little income. It’s a gamble that may not pay off. And finally, there are people who chose to live in relative poverty because they reject the modern world and its priorities. But from the outside, to the prejudiced eye, we all look the same.

A bank balance is not the measure of someone’s humanity. There are many reasons why a person can find themselves in abject poverty, against their will. There are also a number of highly honourable choices that would require a person to accept living in poverty. While the wealthy elite have everyone else convinced that if poor isn’t criminal, it’s probably evidence of being criminal, we continue to equate material possessions with human worth.

I wonder what would happen if more people deliberately chose to live in relative poverty? The move towards greener living often means downsizing, owning less, re-using rather than replacing. You might stop buying all the new fashions and following every wasteful trend. Once people give up ostentatious consumption, the appearance of poverty isn’t far behind. Currently, our economy depends on reckless and unnecessary use of resources. If conspicuous rejection of affluence became the height of fashion, everything would change. It really is that ridiculous.


Living dangerously

I’m going to be talking broadly and generally today, but there are some very specific things underlying my thoughts. There are also legal implications to these issues, which is why I’m going to talk obliquely.

In the UK, it is understood that we are policed by consent. There are a lot of people, the police do not carry guns and so viable policing depends on public co-operation. When people riot, as they did last summer, that relationship has broken down, and it is very difficult to fix. We can only be policed by consent if we agree with the laws and the methods of the police. In a healthy, and functional State, the police themselves are governed by the rule of law and answerable to the politicians, who in turn are answerable to the electorate. Policing by consent works because there is a degree of scope for response when things go wrong. We have a police complaints commission. We take death in custody seriously. I have no doubt we could do better on that score, because there is always scope to do better in all things.

It’s not just the police who have the right to police us, though. To a certain extent we are also policed by the inland revenue, customs and excise, border control, the TV licensing people, the car tax people, we have council tax, VAT… all kinds of situations in which all kinds of people in official places are empowered to make us do certain things. The systems we have as a country require this, the raising of revenue for government depends upon it. Most of these structures are reasonably fair, reasonably transparent, and reasonably possible to work with. There are also systems in place for complaints, and a limit on exactly how much damage any one of these outfits can do to you if you fall foul of them. The vast majority of government run policing outfits do not have the power to entirely destroy your life, and this is as it should be.

I am very glad to say that there are laws in this country governing what any person or organisation with power, is able to do to an individual who does not have power. I think one of the most important things laws can do is give protection to the weak and vulnerable from those with the power and influence to just crush them on a whim. The measure of a country is its treatment of its poorest and most vulnerable people. We could do better. There is always scope to do better.

However, all of these checks and balances depend on a number of things. If an individual does not know their rights, and does not know the law, they cannot call on it anything like as effectively. If a person believes that the system is bound to be hostile to them, the odds are they won’t even take the risk of seeking justice. We are getting better, the ordeal of taking a man to court for rape is not as hideous as it was. It’s still pretty awful. We are not quite so institutionally prejudiced against people for reasons of race, affluence, gender, sexuality or religion. But it is also fair to say that we are not entirely free from prejudice either. There are biases and assumptions. That we can still even ask what a rape victim was wearing suggests we assume a person can bring rape upon themselves. We still blame the victims, we still look far too kindly on money, we still make it hard for poorer people to access justice. We also have a legal system so vast and convoluted that a normal person cannot hope to know all of the law. Not knowing the law as it pertains to you, is not a legal defence. This is a breeding ground for injustice. It disadvantages the less literate, the less mentally astute, the less educated and those who cannot afford to buy advice at every turn. We cannot uphold the law, unless we have a fighting chance of knowing and understanding the law.

And so it is that there are people, and organisations, who are successfully abusing power, using the language of law to threaten and intimidate, and manipulating a flawed, but well meaning system, in order to persecute people. But they’ve got lawyers, and I have not. They can afford to sue me into the ground if I speak out. They know where I live.

I believe that laws should protect the weak and vulnerable from those who are already too powerful. I believe in freedom of speech and I am utterly opposed to abuses of power. And I have absolutely no idea what could happen to me, here in England, were I to go public about what I think is happening. I could just sit on it, and hope that none of the bad stuff happens to me, and try to ignore the people I know who are suffering. But I won’t. I also know there’s at least one journalist subscribed to this blog. I’m open to suggestions.


Radical Ancestors

I’ve been reading about the history of radical faith and politics in the UK. It’s part of the research for the next book, which is not about the history of radical politics or this kind of religion, but that’s a whole other story. However, some things have struck me.

From the first radical noises in the 1200s, the first rebellions that I’ve read about, people have been protesting about the way in which money and power collect into the hands of the few who then control the law so that the money and power remain in their control. While we’ve come a fair way from feudal times (it’s your Count that votes!) I read this stuff and I realise we are having all the same arguments today. All the ‘takeover’ protests, all the troubles with bankers, and the way in which the very poor are being made, all over the world, to pay for the indulgencies and gambling of the very rich.

The history of radical politics fills me with despair, because it is so obvious that the same essential battle has been going on for centuries, and we still have power and wealth in the hands of the very few. Quality of life, life expectancy, and personal freedoms have all advanced on where they were for the early radicals, but compared to how things could be… we are living in the dark ages still. I also despair because of the ease with which the radicals of history sometimes turned tyrants themselves. The history of violence inherent in the history of protest is not anything to be proud of. Radical history has no shortage of figures who were in it for their own gain, recent history too. If we tear down the king in order to be king ourselves, we are no different from what went before, no matter what we spouted along the way.

At the same time, radical history also awes me. There were plenty of people who gave up comfort to campaign for rights. There were people who endured imprisonment, barbarous physical punishments and death in trying to improve things. I do not honestly think I would have the courage to stand by any belief all the way to the scaffold or the stake. We have at least made enough progress in the UK that being a radical is not automatically a means of courting death, but there are still countries where you can die for daring to defy oppression and tyranny. There are still people brave enough to give their lives in the hopes of making a difference. The heroism inherent in such sacrifice deserves far more recognition than it gets.

In the midst of this, I also feel hope. Wherever there have been wrongs in the world, there has always been some small, courageous voice raised against them. I feel concern because I have no doubt that many people with repressive, controlling, diminishing ideals for the rest of humanity think that they are bravely speaking up for the common good. There are people who are determined to feel spiritually, or psychologically harmed by what others do. Even if they aren’t present, directly affected, or even able to see it. The idea that someone is having gay sex, being a pagan, letting their women drive cars… is so offensive to some people that they would have no problem answering ‘an it harm none’ with the assertion that they are indeed being harmed and must protect themselves from the horror. While anyone believes they have the right (god given or otherwise) to control other human beings, in this way, we are going to have problems.

Reading about the tradition of crazy prophet women from the 1600s, writing illegal pamphlets touting ideas the elite didn’t want to hear… I think yes, this is something I belong to, just a bit. I watch the discourse across blogs, and it’s not so very different from the way people used to carry out arguments through pamphlets. Just a bit quicker, and sometimes with better spelling.

Historically, radicals have not tended to get what they want up front. It takes time to turn an insane heresy into an idea everyone can embrace. The transition from slave trading to the abolishment of it, was not rapid. Civil rights movements take time. They have to build support and belief, convince the mainstream that ‘normal’ does not mean ‘right’ and establish a whole new way of viewing the world before they take hold and themselves become ‘normal’. Every battle for human rights, freedom of expression, the equal valuing of all human life, has been slow won. But we do win more of them than not, eventually. So long as there are voices of dissent and people willing to question, there is hope.

Social fairness and the resistance of power is as much an issue as it ever was. We aren’t fighting over Biblical interpretations so much these days. The new heresies have everything to do with issues of climate change and human responsibility. The kind of radicals I’m interested in are talking radical compassion, radical resource redistribution, radical revaluing. The greatest dangers lie in thinking it’s all fine, and that we can sit back and trust that our freedoms and rights are safeguarded. Ask who has power over you, and ask what is done in your name, without your consent. One piece of repressive legislation is all it would take to turn most of us into criminals, or victims, or both.