Brexit Litigation in the Court, and Brexit Litigation in the Court of Public Opinion

Every person has the capacity to act intelligently, to consider calmly and to do what is right, so long as they are equipped with the proper tools. The problem is that instead of comprehensive and investigatory news built on facts and a neutral eye, they have been fed shocking and angry tabloid headlines that pander to their basic animalistic predilections for protectionism and tribalism. Instead of being immersed in a culture of intellectualism and willingness to accept progressive change that might benefit them, despite it being alien and overwhelming, they are swaddled by the Kardashians and information within traditional parameters of what seems logical based on outdated notions that were only relevant to a world that has since changed. Instead of having had fostered for them a culture of involvement in civic duty and public discourse, and having responsibility for their society, they are removed and taught only to focus on what they can materially gain. They are bred on a culture of lethargy and apathy toward matters of Government based on ideas that nothing changes and the institutions of state do not represent them, that they are something distinct from the people themselves, when in reality, removing this perception would remove this problem, since the people would realise they can be as involved as they like and they do form an important part of their society.

So, when suddenly a matter of extreme constitutional importance, a matter that affects the future of global geo-political relations, that affects humanity’s culture and the next steps that we take, is thrust upon them, they react as only they could be expected to, having been bottle fed on nonsense and lies and having had their knee-jerk, archaic instincts pandered to. The people have been bred in a culture that wilfully allows them to retreat to comfort and ignorance.

When David Cameron announced that the people would have a direct say over Britain’s membership of the EU, he was not affected by an unusual desire to empower the British people. He was affected by panic over losing power with the rise of UKIP and right wing populism generally. He was affected by fear of the oncoming shift in the political status-quo that he could see on the horizon. He was scared that neoliberalism and globalisation would soon be undermined by the will of the people. And instead of combatting populism, which is an erroneous, knee-jerk and uninformed solution to undeniable problems surrounding immigration specifically, and globalisation generally, as well as the lack of democracy in global institutions, he pandered to it. He chose the tactic of the East German Soviet government, to attempt to appease the people with the illusion of control, hoping that they would then shut up and sit down. But, as in East Germany, it only meant that they grasped the opportunity and rode the wave until it crashed down around their superiors. Because deep down the people know that they want control over their destinies. They simply have not been equipped with the right tools to exercise it with the requisite foresight and understanding.

The people voted to leave, and they expected to leave. They did not expect that their decision would be reviewed by the High Court in the first instance, and now the Supreme Court on appeal. And so we find the first example of the disparity between the law, and the law as reported by the media and by manipulative campaigns. The referendum took place pursuant to the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which the High Court reiterated does not confer a statutory power (as does no other piece of legislation) to give notice of withdrawal from the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. This is not what the people thought. The literature disseminated by the Government of the day told them that their say was final. The decision was reported by the media as one that would be final.

The media, especially the British tabloids, instead of telling the people the true state of the law and the true position of the referendum – never mind giving them a true account of the specificities and complexities of either side of the argument – pandered to their flag-boners and to illusive, chimerical notions of abstract control and tribalism, which in any real sense no longer exist. In doing so, once the decision of the High Court had been handed down, the Daily Mail, the Express and the Sun et al. had set the tone to be able wantonly and without consequence or shame to brand the judges as traitors to their country and usurpers of democracy. The irony is that in actual fact the journalists, owners and editors of these papers are the true traitors to their country and to their countrymen, and their publications actively and maliciously undermine the proper exercise of democracy.

The judges in the High Court, far from deciding on the merits or demerits of Brexit, were deciding on the proper, lawful process according to the British constitution by which it should be brought about. That is, they were deciding whether the Government could ‘trigger’ Article 50 unilaterally using the Queen’s prerogative or whether Parliament is required to vote on the matter. The second irony, then, is that in condemning the judges for deciding that Parliament needs to vote, the papers were impliedly supporting the use of a monarch’s undemocratic executive power and rejecting parliamentary sovereignty, which is the very thing that was being voted for in voting to leave the EU.

The Brexit litigation was reported as if the judges were deciding on Brexit. The legal issues were not communicated properly to the people. You have been lied to from the very start of this referendum by the institutions who owe you a duty to equip you with ample and correct informational tools to be able to form a constructive and responsible part of this society.

The tabloids’ treatment of the Brexit litigation goes far beyond issues of shoddy journalism. It strikes at the very heart of our political and legal structures. The law is given legitimacy through consent. We all impliedly, by not revolting, consent to the legal structures in place and the laws that mediate our social relations. This is important because without consent a legal and political system is not legitimate and it then has one of two recourses. One, it breaks up at the behest of the people and a new system is formed. Two, and far more likely, those responsible for its continuation and who benefit from that continuation use coercion to keep it in place. Behind every law and every institution of state is the inference of force. That is what gives a Government made up of thousands of people power over millions of people. And this is fine, since for the most part we all impliedly agree that the legal system, the constitution and the political framework work in our favour and that their use of force will be legitimate because it will only be used in the event of someone or something breaching the social contract, and that it will be used for the good of the majority.

Therefore, when we get to a state of affairs in which an unrestrained media can demonise members of the most evolved judiciary on the planet and undermine their very position as arbiters of the law and checks on Government power by deliberately mis-communicating that law and said judiciary’s actions, we risk a breakdown in the social contract and the consent by which we are all governed.

Rest assured, the judiciary is exercising its constitutional duty. It is deliberating on the law and on the law alone. It is not deciding whether Brexit should happen. At the very worst it is deciding whether Parliament should decide whether Brexit should happen. And Parliament is made up of MPs who are your representatives, who you elected. Do not take my word for it though, read the summary of the case in the High Court. Before you take a position on the basis of the propagation of massive media corporations, think to yourself firstly, why are they shouting so loudly? It is always the case that those who shout loudest are either the weakest or the most scared. The media is both, because the people are the ones with ultimate power; all you have to do is equip yourself.

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In support of Jeremy Corbyn

“Of course you know that ambition and avarice are held to be, as indeed they are, a disgrace? … [T]he forwardness to take office, instead of waiting to be compelled, has been deemed dishonourable. Now the worst part of the punishment [punishment being the third of three inducements to rule, the first two being money and honour] is that he who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself.” Socrates said that, in Plato’s ‘The Republic’, but in Greek originally, obviously. Stupid, innit, bringing ancient Greek political philosophy into a debate about Corbyn. But it isn’t, really. I mean, our entire democratic system is borne of ancient Greek politicial philosophy. The word itself is Greek. So it’s weird, then, that our political thinking and analysis and punditry has become so detached from ancient political wisdom. There is no reason that a vast majority of the truisms of old can’t hold true now. I mean, now we wear lenseless, thick-rimmed glasses and beanies that look like deflated ball-sacks instead of togas, and we carry iPads with Pokemons on them rather than tablets with inscriptions, but really nothing’s changed – not to us, not to our humanity. And it is our humanity, after all, with which politics should concern itself.

 

That quote of Plato’s was what came into my mind when I saw Angela Eagle’s desperate, cynical, grasping, fickle, stupid attempt to become head of the coup currently floundering in the Labour party. That eighties gay-club pink Union Jack scrawled over by the lady’s pretty signature recalls Ed’s Labour’s cynical and mis-judged pink battle bus – a futile attempt to court the female vote. You’ll remember, of course, that Corbyn was a dark horse when he was first nominated to stand in the Labour leadership election of 2015 after Ed’s resignation. He came out of nowhere, he didn’t really put forward a campaign to stand, and he had expressed no desire previously to stand (and not in a Govian the-lady-doth-protest-too-much way – he just had expressed no desire). But he was nominated and then he was elected by the party members. More members elected Corbs than Tories and the Liberal Democrats have combined members in total. Truly, he was an unwilling leader chosen by the people.

 

“And the fear of [punishment], as I conceive, induces the good to take office, not because they would, but because they cannot help – not under the idea that they are going to have any benefit or enjoyment themselves, but as a necessity, and because they are not able to commit the task of ruling to anyone who is better than themselves, or indeed as good.” (That’s Plato again, by the way.)

 

And ever since taking the podium, Jez has faced slander and malice at the hands of the right-wing press, the Blair-leaning Labour MP’s, the Tories and basically anyone who fears the rhetoric of egalitarianism and change that comes out of the mouth of this scruffy, beige-jacketed socialist. Cameron famously shouted in his plum-mouthed tones that Jeremy should “put on a proper suit [and] do up [his] tie”. I get it, I do. I love nothing better than a good suit, and I think the British should keep up their image abroad as suited, top-hatted gentlemen swinging umbrellas and controlling the world’s finances – always silently superior. But I see something in that uneven face, that silver shock of hair, that train conductor’s hat, that sports jacket and that starkly tieless un-ironed shirt. I see something I didn’t see in Cameron’s middle-management cufflinks and his lighthouse forehead. I see something I do not see in Angela’s identikit campaign. I see truth. I see someone who’s too bothered with principles and ideology and with believing the words he says, with wanting to effect something progressive for this country, to bother with his public image. I see someone unwilling to engage in PR and spin, unwilling to play the shallow, nonsensical, irrelevant, bullshit games of Westminster – who actually gives a shit about people with Northern accents or black skin or vaginas that used to be dicks, or wheels where legs used to be.

 

You know that feeling after you eat a Maccy D’s? You know the one. When you’ve gorged yourself on a Big Mac and you’re full for ten minutes, tops, but when the initial sensation of an object having descended your trachea fades, you’re left with the feeling that you haven’t really consumed anything. Your organs don’t feel rejuvenated like after food with any actual nutritional value, you don’t feel warmed or fed; you just feel like you inhaled some synthetic food-like product; some plastic-based, cardboard-flavoured trash that really is nothing – it looks colourful and like food should look, but inside it’s hollow ash and empty calories. Well that’s the feeling I had looking at Eagle’s campaign when she unveiled it. She wrote an article for the Guardian to coincide with it and oh-my-fucking-God it was a whole mess of nothing. It contained such insightful, sparkling, intelligent, ideological, meaningful tidbits as these:

 

“It is our duty to ensure that the new prime minister, Theresa May, faces a credible and forensic opposition, and to offer a bright future for our damaged economy and fractured society.”

 

“I’m no Blairite, Brownite or Corbynista. What I am is my own woman”.

 

“But if we are to succeed, we need to concentrate on the politics of hope, not on grievance and blame. That’s the only way we can deliver on our principles of equality, social justice and social mobility.”

 

She’s said… nothing, really, has she? Nothing that hasn’t already been spouted by others of her ilk, anyway. Corbyn is unelectable. That’s basically what she said. Oh and remember – she’s her own woman. Phew. I was worried she wasn’t. She did make the recycled point that MPs who were elected by 8,000,000 constituents are trying to get rid of Corbyn, and therefore, arguably, they have more of a democratic mandate than Corbyn does, elected as he was by a paltry couple hundred-thousand members. But this point is rather easily quashed. You know how much it cost to be a Labour party member? Three quid. All 8,000,000 of those constituents, if they agreed with the MPs to whom they have given a mandate, can register as members and get rid of the old man before you can say “worker’s revolution”. Now they can register as members of the Unite union for 50p a week. They can become members for £25. But they didn’t, and they don’t. Which suggests one of two things. Either they are ambivalent towards Corbyn or they actively like him. And if they just don’t have 25 quid going spare… Well, then, we need Corbyn now more than ever.

 

To be honest, I am not even sure, personally, that I want Corbyn in power. I have no horse in the race, truly. I’m a white, middle-class, straight, mentally balanced male from the south of England with two law degrees. The dude isn’t looking after me. I don’t need looking after. Whatever system we have ever had so far has done that pretty well for people like me. But I am damn sure I want him in opposition, because I care about Britain and its people. I want him, shadowed by his massive grass roots support and Momentum – a united political movement the likes of which people of my generation have never seen – across the dispatch box from the Tories, bearing down upon them, snarling at them that we will not take neoliberalism and globalisation if it means our infrastructure, our rights, our livelihoods get destroyed.

 

Perhaps he may be misguided. I wasn’t alive during the seventies. I didn’t see the mining unions hold the country to ransom; I didn’t see bin bags piled high in the street; I didn’t see ‘Communist’ Russia, so I don’t have any of that to refer to. But I tell you what I have seen: I have seen a Department of Work and Pensions responsible for indirect manslaughter because the private profiteers to whom it contracts out care more about cutting costs that ensuring Johnny Disabled can eat. I have seen food banks proliferate in my great country – a country I deem to be the best in the world, which should be able to engineer a state that ensures the poorest in society are looked after if the private sector fails them. I saw banks get bailed out by the government while the people get poorer on zero-hour contracts. I saw financial criminals given a slap on the wrist in the papers and a bonus by their bosses for ruining this country and bringing its main industry – the City – to the precipice. I’ve seen the systematic selling off of our industries and our infrastructure and the gradual privatisation of public services we rely on. I see an electoral system plagued by billionaire donor money and corrupt media moguls. And I do not want to see it any longer. Those policies are not sound economics, they are not long-term ideas to generate sustainable growth and prosperity – they are the last belches of a country sick of itself, that has run out of steam like a bankrupt Aristocrat selling all the old paintings of his descendants. It can’t last. I want to see some nationalisation, some investment in the public sector and some regulation of the private sector, an end to the illusory, fallacious rhetoric of defecit economics.

 

I would like to see the private train system, an effective monopoly, taken back in to public hands so it can no longer raise ticket prices year on year beyond inflation while gutting the service it offers with no accountability besides a complaints procedure. I would like to see our head of state at least lead the world in a conversation about nuclear disarmament. I know, you may think his view on Trident is wildly dangerous, but remember it is still Labour policy to renew it. At least we would have a leader willing to discuss the issue. And when it comes to Trident, I always like to think of something Carl Sagan said – the concept of nuclear deterrents and mutually assured destruction is like having two people standing waist deep in petrol, one holding three matches, the other five. I would like to see our NHS not only protected, but improved, built upon and thriving. And I would like to see an end to the rape of our lands through fracking, and a new dawn for renewable energy. All this is to say nothing of the valuing of the poor and the workers and their rights.

 

And you know what? Maybe it won’t work as well as idealists and socialists hope. But that doesn’t matter. Not in the long run. It seems our politics is always preoccupied with the idea of the “final solution” when it comes to progress. That we need policies in place and a governing ideology that can stand forever, always working. There isn’t one. There are merely solutions to situations that present themselves. I applaud Thatcher for breaking the grip of the Unions in the eighties and taking our country into an era of economic prosperity. The only problem was that she did it not only for the purpose of ending the union tyranny, but because she was clinging vehemently to the ideology of neoliberalism. The neoliberal philosophy that informed her actions became scripture, and still is – unable to be altered or argued against. There is no flexibility and it has meant that we are where we are now – stuck with an economic policy that seeks to whore our country out to the highest bidder and which fetishises and idolises individualism to the point of isolation and which is, when you get down to it, nothing but numbers circulating on trading-floor screens, and waiters and waitresses. Really, we should place flexibility and freedom upon the pedestals of our regard. Remember what Churchill said of democracy after all: that it is the worst system we currently have, apart from all the others. Flexibility informed always by overarching goals: those of progress, of satisfaction and high living standards, of cohesion and competition, of liberty and work and intellectual evolution.

 

The fear mongering is unwarranted. I voted ‘in’ in the referendum, but I buy in to no fear mongering. The FTSE 100 – arguably as good a gauge of how things are going as a Twitter poll, being as it is an externalisation of the fears and prejudices of detached, money-hungry investors rather than a measure of the actual productivity of the companies themselves – is doing okay. As is the pound. We will be fine. Likewise, we will be fine if Corbyn gets elected. And, on top of that, perhaps we’ll have a country informed more by ideas of egalitarianism, a country less divisive and divided and more prosperous, run for its citizens rather than CEO coffers, and a society more collusive in its capitalism. I support Corbyn, because he is the solution to the issues that blight us right now.

 

 

 

Pulling out is effective 73-96% of the time, so how effective could it be for Britain?

The concentric circles of society go outwards, more or less, as follows: the individual at the centre, who then hopefully forms part of a family (not necessarily nuclear), the cornerstone of society, multiple of which come together to form first the tribe, then later the city or region or province, which collectivise under one administration in the nation state and, after the nation state, the intra-national super-state – a cohesive collection of individual countries under one administration. Eventually, it seems logical to conclude, the one world government follows, notwithstanding the logistical practicality of such an undertaking.

 

Since 1973, we in Britain have been wrestling with the transition from independent nation state to being part of a collection of countries that together increasingly form something with some of the trappings of the intra-national super-state. And now, 43 years after our tried accession into the EU, we the British people are being given the say on whether or not we remain a part of this intra-national bureaucratic-commercial collective, or whether we pull out and hope there are no nasty consequences 9 months down the line.

 

For something that represents such a fundamental turning point, not only in the British trajectory, but in that of the world – for if we reject political globalisation in this manner, what does it mean for everyone else? – the debate has been thoroughly mediocre.

 

‘Britain stronger in Europe’ say on their website that “almost half of everything we sell to the rest of the world we sell to Europe – and we get an average of £24 billion of investment in Britain per year from Europe”. In retort ‘Get Britain out’, on their website, state firmly in rebuttal that “less than 5% of UK businesses trade directly with the EU” and that “EU Regulations cost the UK economy a staggering £33.3 billion per year”. The IN campaign note that the Confederation of British Industry estimates that “3 million jobs in Britain are linked to trade with the rest of Europe” while the Outies say these jobs aren’t reliant on EU membership and “not 1 job is at risk from Brexit”. And back and forth and back forth it goes ad infinitum.

 

So how can the suits at either side of this tug of war both be so assured of facts in direct contradiction to each other? Well, it’s because either side uses different figures from different sources using different methods of arriving at their figures. Each side will quote the CBI, for instance, until it doesn’t suit them, in which case they’ll ignore what the CBI says and go with another source. Both the Office of National Statistics and the Treasury publish figures for the same things, and both of them differ.

 

The debate is mediocre at best, and insulting at worst. When the opposing campaigners trot out their tired slogans on leaflets and website front pages – “Protect out heritage, control our borders, believe in Britain” versus the admittedly less catchy “The government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK” – they are banking on you looking no further. They are banking on you taking their and only their numerical milk and honey or dark numerical water of the River Styx, depending on the strategy.

 

The integrationists and isolationists are just as grasping when it comes to celebrity endorsements. In October 2015 the Innies opened their campaign by wheeling out June Sarpong, some TV head with an adorable gap in her front teeth but who has no qualifications to be waxing lyrical about the EU aside from chatting inane shite on Loose Women. Similarly, Nigel Farage was delighted when national treasure Michael Cain came out in favour of coming out. Yeah, he’s really good at telling you how many people know his name in a cockney accent but what relevance is it what he thinks?

 

For every figure on one side, there is a different figure on the other. For every claim a counter-claim. And why? Because neither side knows what’ll happen. There is no truth in this debate, there is no right and there is no wrong. Neither side can tell you what money we’ll lose and what we’ll win, who’ll get fired and who won’t, which countries will desert us and which won’t should we leave or not leave. All we can know for certain is the amount of money the EU costs us and how much it makes us right now.

 

But even that we don’t really know. For instance, ‘Full Fact’ state that our membership of the EU isn’t “nearly £20 billion” a year as ‘Vote Leave’ like to regurgitate. This is because we get a £5 billion rebate immediately on our payment, as well as £4 billion being spent by the EU on British farmers and poorer regions in the UK, and upwards of £1 billion to the private sector for things like research grants. And this needs to be added to the money we get back in trade, investments and jobs, for which it’s “far harder to be sure about how much comes back in benefits”.

 

The House of Common Library has said in a briefing paper of February 2016 “there is no definitive study of the economic impact of the UK’s EU membership or the costs and benefits of withdrawal. Many of the costs and benefits are subjective or intangible and a host of assumptions must be made to reach an estimate. If the UK were to remain in a reformed EU, assumptions would need to be made about what the reforms might be. Any estimate of the effects of withdrawal will be highly sensitive to such assumptions.” So don’t listen to that bellend at your dinner party when he pipes up with a figure he’s learned by rote from either some liberal think piece or the lungs of Farage, because he doesn’t have a clue. He’s regurgitating what seems plausible to reinforce an opinion he probably held anyway but was insecure about because he had no factual way of validating or justifying it.

 

The underwhelming nature of the debate is compounded by the fact that all parties involved are trying their hardest to reduce a quandary of major constitutional and politico-philosophical significance down to paltry numbers and un-nourishing sound bites.

 

Gideon has said that leaving the EU will effectively leave every British household £4,300 per year worse off. But do you really think it would? Do you really think leaving the EU will mean you have £4,300 less coming into your bank account? Inversely similarly, Leave.EU say we would be £933 better off if we left. Again, do you think you’ll see a grand more pop up on your statement each year once we leave? Do you think these figures that get tossed around mean anything? They don’t. Each side is trying to tell the future and the fact is they can’t. The only purpose these figures serve is for people to quote in an effort to sound like they’ve put some thought into the question of Brexit.

 

But ‘Brexit question-mark’ is a question far more meaningful than ghostly numbers. And the majority of people know this, really. The basic impetus for leaving seems to be lust for sovereignty lost. UKIP and the right promise control of our borders, an end to “open door” immigration – the benefits and costs of which are hotly debated, as is whether or not leaving the EU will do anything to it. They also promise that no more will 75% of our laws be made in Brussels. It should be noted that this statistic is another illusory number that is by no means true. Business for Britain created a “definitive” study in which they found that “EU rules account for 65% of UK law” (I guess they don’t realise that there is no such thing as UK law). While they do admit that “not every EU regulation will impact Britain[,] such as rules on olive and tobacco growing”, the number is still misleading. Some measures take into account legislation with only a passing reference to the EU. However, a large chunk – anywhere between 15% and 50% – of laws around the UK have Brussels’ fingerprints on them, but the majority of those laws are regulations that you never even notice anyway, or they are Directives that force our government to create legislation, such as the Employment Rights Act 1996, which codifies a minimum period of maternity leave and notice, and the Employment Relations Act 1999, which covers things like collective bargaining: legislation that wholly protects you, the worker.

 

But the right’s appeal to sovereignty is muddied and confused. We are the descendants of warring barbarians and proud Saxons; the British are brawlers, imperialists. We are the sons and daughters of an Empire over which the sun never set. We are the saviours of Europe – the scrappy, innovative fighters. We are the moneymen of the world, the bankers and shopkeepers and the stoic council estate tenants. It is hard to reconcile such a proud heritage and such a powerful personality with horror stories of a Britain now the cowed Bulldog under the shadow of the mighty Alsatian’s dripping fangs.

 

If you define individual sovereignty as pertaining to your self-determination, your power over your reality, with the minimum of interference from third parties, then leaving the EU won’t grant you the individual sovereignty you think it will. It is Theresa May seeking greater powers to watch your social media activity and your phone calls through her Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. It is the Tories cutting disability benefits, not only robbing the wheelchair-bound of their right to self-determination through a lack of means, but so too, perhaps, the right to any meaningful life at all. As for national sovereignty – the independence and self-determination of the nation as a whole, not subject to “Brussels’ bureaucrats” – this vision is out-dated. It forgets one thing – the world has changed. Sovereignty is not sovereignty in the way it used to be. Not being part of a political trading bloc does not automatically render Britain an independent, sovereign nation again. In this age of globalisation, one cannot equate sovereignty with isolationism. In the age of lobbying and massive multinational corporate interests, of Facebook getting away with paying £4,327 in corporation tax and Google striking a ‘deal’ and paying £130 million settlement to HMRC, the concept of self-governance is wobbly.

 

Meanwhile, those on the left of an outward persuasion charge the EU with being an undemocratic institution run by unelected bureaucrats. It is a charge hard to deny. According to Europa.eu, it is the European Commission (composed of 28 nominated commissioners) that proposes and enforces legislation “in the general interest of the EU”. Albeit, said legislation has to be passed by the European Parliament, which is composed of directly elected MEPs, but they can only vote “yes” or “no” or to “amend” legislation. The Council of the European Union is the second chamber of the European Parliament, made up of ministers sent from the member states depending on the area of policy who we haven’t elected to act in such a capacity (but… y’know… we didn’t elect the House of Lords either). As well, the Council of Europe – I guess the guy in charge of naming things took a day off when it came to those two bodies – is made up of heads of state of each member state and decides the EU’s overall policy and direction, and negotiates on difficult and sensitive areas of EU policy.

 

So the EU might be relatively undemocratic, but it would be hard to have an international organisation, governing aspects of the lives of around 508 million people, be entirely democratic. Thus far, the EU acts in the best interests of its population. The problem comes, one supposes, when it begins not to, since if there is one solid lesson history has taught us, it is that we can never ever rely on the openness, truthfulness and perennial honesty of those governing us.

 

At home, if the machinations of Parliament become far too audaciously mendacious and corrupt for us merely to stand on the sidelines watching them on the BBC, we can take to the streets. Although 60 million people is a lot, they can still unite within the bounds of one nation state rather effectively against their Government should the need arise. The suffragette movement shows this, as do the Police Strikes of 1918-1919. Can we guarantee that we can retain such self-representation and self-determination through direct action on such a grand scale as that spanning 28 countries? Well, the current massive protests against the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership are putting that issue to the test.

 

The furore surrounding the utter bastardry that is TTIP is something that should figure into your Brexit calculations. Although it is ostensibly an EU-driven trade agreement, leaving the EU doesn’t guarantee its stymying. In fact, it might speed it up. Yannis Varoufakis, the unfortunate but immensely qualified and immensely intelligent economist and previous Greek Finance Minister said in an interview with Owen Jones that it is only as a collusive, entire whole united across the countries of Europe that we can stop TTIP. Add to this that it was Cameron’s government that actually demanded one of the most controversial and destructive aspects of TTIP – the inclusion of investor-state arbitration dispute clauses in trade agreements. These basically give private corporations the power to sue countries if they find their local laws – laws that are there for the protection of the people – to get in the way of their profit margins. This isn’t some far off nightmare, it’s already happening – look to Australia, Canada and Argentina.

 

The reality of the EU referendum is that where it matters, it is largely meaningless. Neoliberalism is still our serenading song, the same multi-national corporations hold the power, the same bankers rip us off, the same Governments trade the will of the people for the will of the financial sector and the same lands get fracked. Really, reformation of our institutions of power is what’s needed, not deciding whether they break apart or not.

 

If you want to cease our immigration obligations under the Schengen agreement and bring all legislative power back to Parliament and the parties in control, and you don’t want undemocratic, out of sight, multi-national institutions making decisions that could affect your small business, then I suggest you vote out. But if you want to be sure your Easyjet flight to Benidorm will stay cheap and passport control simple, and you want to ensure Vodafone don’t up their charges when you’re in Crete, and you reject isolationism, then I suggest you vote to stay in. At the end of the day, the choice is yours, but remember, the result of this referendum is piss in the wind without anything to follow it.

How the privatisation of the prison system undermines everything prisons are meant to accomplish

It is an oft-cited maxim that one should judge a man by how he treats his inferiors.

 

Expanding the premise out, supposing that criminals are the inferiors of society – simply by dint of not having acted in a manner conducive to the public good – then one may say that a country can be judged by how it treats its prisoners. The humane and rehabilitative treatment of prisoners is a reflection of the state of our society. Not only is it beneficial for the prisoners themselves and for the public wallet that we adopt a primarily rehabilitative approach towards incarceration, based on understanding rather than prejudice, but the manner of thinking required for such a prison system is applicable to all areas of policy and reflects a progressive attitude toward running our society.

 

It may be slightly jarring, perhaps, to think in such a way – criminals have had their chance, they did something repugnant to society and they are being punished for it, they are the last people worthy of kind treatment, which is not hard to sympathise with. But apparently it is not a viewpoint shared by David Cameron. Our Prime Minister has decided to beam his shiny forehead of benevolence upon the incarcerated, it seems.

 

In February of this year he outlined a series of prison reforms to the Policy Exchange, which after Grayling’s book banning, seem veritably humanitarian. Broadly, his reforms are encompassed in the following:

 

  • Greater operational and financial autonomy for prison governors; they will be given a budget and complete control over how to spend it. As well, they can opt out of national contracts and choose their own suppliers, and they can set their own regimes.
  • Developing better metrics to track the performance of prisons, including reoffending rates per prison, employment outcomes, accommodation outcomes and educational progress. A Prison League Table will also be introduced.
  • The construction of 9 new prisons, 5 within the current Parliament, as well as changes to prison education, such as allowing governors to bring in new providers and getting graduates in to teach prisoners. In addition, renewed efforts in tackling mental illness and drug addiction in prisons.

 

As well, the great reformer is introducing ‘ban the box’ to the civil service – moving the part of job applications where one has to put one’s previous convictions to a later stage in the process when the applicant has a chance to defend themselves – and greater measures for tracking prisoners after being released, so that they may be released earlier.

 

All of these reforms seem positively liberal. They are a far cry from the barbarous stupidity of Grayling’s tenure, and from the brutality of other parts of the anatomy of Cameron’s government – his Hunt, for example.

 

Before we look at what Cameron and puppy dog panting, cheeky little red-cheeked Gove are seeking to do, it is beneficial to look at the grounding philosophy behind our prison system and work out what we want achieved. It is beneficial always to look at the base reasons for a thing, the base philosophy behind an idea, because then one can contextualise all arguments revolving around it, and better delineate truth from lies and intelligent arguments from misleading ones.

 

So, there are five reasons for punishment: deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution and restitution. Prison covers all but ‘restitution’, which is usually achieved through the payment of money.

 

Thus far in our societal development, we seem to have had a preoccupation with ‘retribution’. We are animals, after all, prone to our primeval lusts, and influenced by Old Testament yearnings to seek revenge for wrongs done to us, stirred up by moronic tabloid block-font headlines deeming criminals A DISGRACE and persuading us to be outraged that a criminal doesn’t get what we may deem to be their ‘comeuppance’.

 

It was seen quite clearly – this animalistic desire for vengeance over understanding – in the tabloid media’s treatment of the recent Supreme Court decision changing the doctrine of joint enterprise, where two people can be convicted of murder even though one person did not ‘pull the trigger’. Previously, the test to convict the ‘innocent’ person was one to establish foreseeability of a murder being committed, whereas the Supreme Court has changed it to the much less lax test of intention on the part of the ‘innocent’ person that murder will be committed, with foreseeability being an indicator of such intention, as oppose to the test itself. The Mirror, as you would expect, decided to treat such a nuanced area of law with the delicacy necessary, by declaring on their front page that those convicted under the original doctrine were ‘GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER’. This, of course, is not true. For one, those convicted under the previous law will either be re-tried or have their sentences reduced to reflect a conviction for manslaughter. They won’t just be set free. Secondly, the original test was a broad and indiscriminate net that did not serve its purpose. It is sensible to have a rule that reflects the difference in hopes for rehabilitation between the convicted, and to do that, we need to look at the minutiae of an event.

 

This penchant for outrage and insistence that anyone in any way involved with criminality be thrown to the dogs belies people’s humanity. There are any number of circumstances in which someone could be involved in a murder and not be inherently criminal. Retribution should not trump rehabilitation.

 

Deterrence is linked to retribution in that it is usually achieved in the same way: by making the conditions of prisoners uncomfortable to unbearable. Whereas with retribution this is mostly for shits and giggles, with deterrence it is in the hope that others will hear of the tribulations of criminals and be put off the same criminality.

 

Then there is incapacitation, a reason of simple pragmatism; we must remove the individual from society since they pose too much of a risk.

 

Finally, rehabilitation. Now, of course, some people are beyond rehabilitation; people like Charlie Bronson: the gleefully thuggish, round-headed mad man with a handlebar moustache and Natural Born Killers sunglasses who seems never to want to leave prison. Also, of course, unrepentant killers and rapists and general professional dickheads. We are not concerned with them, though. We are concerned with people capable of being rehabilitated, and when it comes to those people, rehabilitation should be the fundamental goal of our prison system. We must put aside petty primitive retribution and think unaffected and intelligently.

 

David, being a politician, cannot, of course, speak in such blunt terms; he has a populace to pander to. Indeed, he did so at the beginning of his speech, making sure to preface his reforms with this: “Some people – including, of course, rapists, murderers, child abusers, gang leaders – belong in prisons.” Let’s touch on the most repugnant of those criminals – child abusers, or pedophiles.

 

Is it not better to foster a society in which prevention is preferred above retributive notions of locking the bastards up and throwing away the key? This involves society viewing their inferiors, those repugnant criminals, as people with problems that can be understood and therefore tackled, rather than as detritus to discard. In Germany there is a programme called ‘Dunkelfeld’ to which pedophiles can report themselves and thereafter receive treatment to become safe to society. They cannot be cured, because contemporary science views pedophilia now as a sexual predilection rather than a mental imbalance. But they can be treated.

 

When we react to crime in this manner, and try to understand and treat its causes, rather than deal harshly with its potential effects, we can try and move to a place where the actual commission of child abuse is reduced because those with such tendencies feel more confident in coming forward to seek treatment before they act on their desires. And there is no lack of people so inclined – in the UK, a very diluted charitable version of Dunkelfeld – ‘Stop it Now!’ – missed 5,000 calls each month because of lack of funding.

 

When it comes to gang leaders, gangs and gang members, a different set of problems are posed. There is a correlation in city centres between areas with the highest youth unemployment and the highest levels of gang activity. It does not take much of a stretch to imagine that from this correlation, causation can be inferred. Where a job provides empowerment, independence, control of one’s destiny and an income, when jobs are scarce and opportunities are nil, a gang – or any gang-related crime: knives, drugs or theft – is a way of achieving this. After all, you never see polo shirt-clad, Jack Wills-tracksuited young ragamuffins from Cambridge rolling down the cobble-stone paths of their delightful little town 10 men deep blasting Skepta from their new i-Phones.

 

Well, you do, but those guys are soft twats playing at ironic cultural appropriation rather than gangbangers.

 

We live in a society in which respect is, by and large, dependent upon one’s success in the job market, and which looks upon those without jobs or in menial jobs with disdain. So, in that culture, when there is an employment vaccuum for whatever reason – the rise of more knowledge-based employment, a sick economy, government policies – it is not surprising that young people would seek respect and power through illegal means.

 

And with Greg Clarke having announced cuts to local government services of 6.7% – services young people in deprived areas would rely on – (following five years of austerity already) as well as an ability for local governments to raise taxes by 2% without a referendum – again, something that disadvantages poor communities, since that 2% won’t translate to an increase in public service funding in the way it will for more affluent areas, as well as youth unemployment – although going down – having been at its highest between 2010 and 2012 since 1992, coupled with constant news of massive tax breaks for mega-rich corporations like Amazon and Google, and after the recession, the bankers getting away with their devastating crimes, is it any wonder that people may turn from a society that seems not to value them, and instead turn to crime to take what they can?

 

Prison reform can only go so far in improving these people’s chances. Policy on the outside must be such that the opportunities for people to fall into crimes of desperation are stifled as much as possible.

 

This is not to absolve criminals of responsibility – those who commit heinous crimes hurt their victims badly, and, honestly? If a pedophile abused my son or daughter, I’d take their head. But we must separate policy from individual prejudice and understand that crime is not to be taken as a solitary act. It is the concomitant of a vast number of factors, all of which have to be addressed in order to build the kind of society I’m sure we all want to live in.

 

Nevertheless, depending on their involvement, personal inclinations, remorse and any other of the myriad mitigating circumstances, criminals should be incarcerated, if at the very least only to be incapacitated. And when they are, what will Cameron’s prisons do to and for them?

Dave is giving more powers to prison governors to have ultimate authority over their budgets and the ability to opt out of national contracts and choose their own suppliers – this assumes, I suppose, that such contracts will be open to the private sector. 6 prisons this year will be changed to be run as such. As well, Dave announced the building of 9 completely new prisons. Now, to give this news some context, it helps to turn to a speech he made in September 2015. In it he said that it would aid his goals of devolution of public services to “invite bids for new prisons from those charities and others who wish to work with specific types of offender.” Even though he makes them seem unimportant, I would suppose that it is those ‘others’ who will be making the majority of bids.

 

It is not without precedent, seeing as there are 14 privately run prisons in England and Wales, all overseen by the trifecta of Serco, G4S and Sodexo. You might recognise G4S as the same company that fucked up the Olympics by not being able to supply the manpower it said it could, so having to be subsidised by the government in having the army sent in to cover its ass. And you might remember all of these companies as the ones that run some of the UK’s immigration removal centres; the same immigration removal centres at which there are routinely accusations of abuse, sexual abuse, poor healthcare and hunger strikes.

 

It also helps to note that Dave’s speech comes three years after Reform – the right wing think tank – released ‘the Case for Private Prisons’ report in 2013, in which they suggested that private prisons have lower reoffending rates and are more cost-effective than publicly run prisons. Reform recommended removing any limitations on private companies to run prisons. Of course, value for money is more easily achieved when a company pays its staff 40% less than staff in state run prisons. As well, the privately run prisons we have now are purpose built, less crowded and don’t hold the most high-risk prisoners. When these facts are taken with the claims, in fact, private prisons are not performing markedly better.

 

And when Wolds prison – a G4S venture – was forcibly wrenched back into public hands in 2012 because of prisoners’ illegal drug use and overall idleness, it’s hard to believe Reform’s claims. But, guess what, chums? As you may have come to expect, three of Reform’s ‘corporate partners’ are… no go on, guess…   Okay, I’ll tell you:

 

G4S, Sodexo and Serco.

 

As well, the think tank is inextricably linked to the Conservative party.

 

Suddenly it starts to look as though what first appeared to be intelligent, liberal, progressive reforms to the prison system are just measures to facilitate the never ending pursuit of the doctrinal and unrelenting privatisation of every single instrument of state we have to offer, like the government has gone mad, decided it doesn’t need material things any more (man) and wants to sell it all before running off into the forest to smoke hash and make love to squirrels. There are, of course, some little flourishes like ‘ban the box’ thrown in.

 

You may question whether it is intelligent to have a service such as that of prisons, run privately. Whether it is the best way to achieve the rehabilitation of prisoners and the broad, overarching social aims we want. Private companies seek to make a profit, obviously. And private companies in charge of prisons rely on prisoners to fill those prisons in order to make a profit. Whereas a state run prison would simply be shut down or repurposed were the crime rate to be drastically diminished, private companies running private prisons face a big loss if that is the case. It is not in their interests that prisons achieve the goals we want them to achieve. Companies like G4S and Serco feast off the decay of society, they are there to provide services that are only necessary if the collective good of the people isn’t being achieved as completely as it could be.

 

This is to say nothing of the fact that, despite what Reform claim, private prisons are worse than publicly run prisons. The Ministry of Justice itself has reported that private prisons do worse in terms of the number of assaults and escapes and in rehabilitating prisoners. And this is despite the fact that it is believed private prisons significantly under report the amount of attacks in private prisons.

 

Privately run prisons are not conducive to the goals of real, permanent rehabilitation of prisoners, nor are they conducive to viewing prisons as what they are – a last resort, the tail of the beast, only to be used if society faces too much of a danger from the criminal and, when they are used, to be used as rehabilitative or safe places of incapacitation. Prisons are not a profitable venture to be capitalised on.

 

The privatisation of prisons and the resultant failure of the system when it comes to prisoners may not be at the top of the list of your concerns. But they are a good example of this government’s self-imposed mandate to privatise and they serve as a warning of what may happen to public services you value more highly.

 

It is an oft-cited maxim that a man should be judged by how he treats his inferiors. And, perhaps, that a country should be judged by how it treats its prisoners. Well, if that is the case, and we treat our prisoners like cash cows, how can we expect to be judged? More importantly, how does that mean that we can expect to be treated?

Our war

We are at war.

After ten hours of rushed and harried debate, in which John Bercow was forced to hold his piss and wound up MPs were caught swearing at each other, our tired and exhausted, and no doubt impatient and frustrated politicians were forced to make a decision as to whether to commit young men, young British men, to fight and possibly die in a war on their behalf. They say you shouldn’t drive if you’re tired, which you probably would be after ten hours of non-stop debate, but taking a decision to start a war is fine I suppose.

Hilary Benn was hailed as a pro-bombing firebrand for his speech in which he proudly proclaimed: “Now is the time for us to fight this evil”. Oh it’s brilliant, it’s electrifying, it’s invigorating; memories of Churchill, of Empire, of British bulldoggian strength and beaches and landing grounds are flooding back, and in the fog of war I am filled with pride by his rhetoric. Yes! Yes! Send in the troops, drop the bombs, destroy the enemy, for we are Britain and WE are at war once more.

WE are at war.

Time was, long ago, when our leaders would march before our soldiers into battle. When we were at war, WE truly were at war. Now, though, a politician with a plum in his mouth can proselytise and proliferate and declare his dissertation, spittle flecks flying from his foam-frothed lips as he works himself up into a war-hungry frenzy, so passionate is he about the truth of his position. So ardent is he that security and justice will prevail on England’s lands, that he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice; he is willing to commit your sons to war.

Truly, it should be a point of order that MPs be disallowed from semantic untruths. Instead of saying that it is time for us to fight this evil, they should be obliged to announce the truth: “It is time for us to send men to fight a war because we reckon it might help a bit.” When Cameron says we are at war, he should be obliged to say: “Young men are overseas this Christmas, away from their families, at war, while you and I are back at home in front of the hearth, safe and sound, because that’s what I wanted.”

Now, you may say that it is a matter of national security, and those men signed up to the military, while the politicians, and we, did not.

But is it really a matter of national security? Certainly there is an issue of national security – we face a dangerous and barbarous threat. But is the decision to drop bombs on Syria a matter of national security? For one, all it takes is one man with a bomb vest to slip through. All it takes is one radical with an AK47. That is how this war is fought. There are no battalions or nations or uniforms. It is a just-about-organised collective of mentals. Like 50,000 Columbine shooters. Are bombing runs really going to solve the issue? You cannot catch every nut.

But suppose you can; suppose you can destroy every single member of ISIS and not even a handful survive and none of them manage to slip through to Europe. They’re all dead. Meanwhile, the West has just lain waste to another middle-Eastern country and left a power vacuum. Have we not learnt our lessons? It is a point so over-hammered that I’m not going to make it, but you get where I’m going.

Anyway, if this really is a matter of national security, if our country is at threat like it was against Nazi Germany – and no, I don’t consider myself hyperbolic in making that comparison. If Hilary can do it in his pro-war speech, I think I should be able to use it, to see if it stands up. Because truth is, it fucking doesn’t. This isn’t a war of equals, two armies against each other. This is the West being poked by a stupid, ravenous, barbarous gang of lunatics. Nevertheless, if you, a civilian, a normal person with an iPad who likes going to the pub and wonders about the Autumn statement and has got a bit podgy living off the fat of the cosy 21st century, are truly for bombing because it is a matter of national security, then I implore you, before making your mind up, to ask yourself, are we so at risk that, as in the Second World War, there is an impetus for you to sign up to fight and defend, because the homeland is going to be irreversibly threatened imminently?

No?

Not so keen anymore?

Think there might be other options?

Think we need to debate a bit more?

That’s because you’re a fucking hypocrite. You want to send men abroad to die because you feel a bit scared. And every person who sincerely and truthfully asks themselves that question and arrives at the same answer is too.

For if we were truly under threat, if your home was likely to be destroyed, your family killed; you would fight. At least one hopes you would. But, as we all know when we look inside ourselves, those things aren’t the case, so you have no need to fight. At the very least you’d think you’d have to make some sacrifices for war. Our grandparents had to go through rationing and blackouts and join the land army. What do you have to do? Be a bit worried at the news? Nope, this is not our war, we have to do nothing for it. WE are not at war and you are insulting and cowardly to suggest otherwise. In fact, since it is so in vogue at the moment, I would even go so far as to say it is appropriation on your part to say that WE’RE at war. You’re appropriating those soldiers’ experiences.

But you’re right, they are the army, that’s their job, not yours; you have no duty to go fight. The politicians on the other hand, what duty do they have? We take it as read that they don’t need to go to war with the men they have decided need to. But to what extent should that be true? Is it not a point of morality and honour that they should? Would it not make our war-mongering slightly less mongery? Decisions would certainly be taken with a bit more consideration wouldn’t they? It’s the same logic as applies to the argument for putting MPs on Osborne’s ‘living wage’. It strikes me as slightly surprising that we don’t find it at least a bit abhorrent that we are truly happy for our MPs not to have to face the consequences of their actions in the same ways we do. We allow them to dictate our fates, while theirs remain untouched.

Fear won yesterday. And now our pilots, and probably soon our soldiers – If Hague’s comments are anything to go by – are fighting our Government’s war, dropping bombs made my private arms manufacturers, firing privately made and sold Brimstone missiles, piloting privately made planes. Because war is good for the private arms manufacturers’ business, a business they were trying to flog just a couple months ago at their London fair. And their weapons, sold to politicians who will probably go and work for them, by lobbyists, are being thrown at an area of the world that so happens to be immensely oil rich. All of this is not to mention the power that can come from control of that region.

If this was about national security and justice and the preservation of Britain and its people, then why do the DWP allow suicides as a result of their policies to continue? Why are the poor and the hungry and the homeless allowed to continue as they are, dying and suffering? Because all that money we’re throwing at that war can be spent on other things you know. But austerity doesn’t apply to war.

Inevitably, you must ask yourselves, is the Government declaring this war in our interests? Really? Truly? Or do you think there might be other motivations? Because if so, is it really our war?

In defence of not voting

It is not sacrilege not to vote, and it is not sacrilege to implore others, on certain conditions, not to vote either.

Well… what are these conditions?

For one, a tangible sense of alienation from the current political homogeneity – do you feel as if, somehow, there is something inherently wrong with being subjected to the sight of a bunch of round-bellied, red-nosed, jowl-quivering, delinquent buffoons guffawing and whooping in a lavish palace of baroque decadence while the people they are there to represent struggle?

Secondly, a feeling of being disincluded from decisions that affect you and your fellow citizens, a feeling of separation from politics, of being dictated to and condescended to rather than being involved and engaged in discourse. Somehow there is a sense that politics, the real politics – not the bullshit sentiments of a Muslim threat or benefit scroungers, but the politics of negotiating with obscenely rich tax ‘avoiders’, of regulating (or de-regulating) the City, which helps decide the national fate, or of privatising the NHS – is out of our hands. We can’t help but feel disincluded when we see videos of prominent MPs blithely negotiating glorified bribes from rich individuals or companies. This sense of being disincluded is exactly what Cameron’s Tories were appealing to when they adopted their hollow tag-line: “the Big Society”, in the run-up to the 2010 General Election. How’s that worked out?

Perhaps you feel powerless? Perhaps when you see images of twee, idolatrous bronze statues of the Iron Lady being bought at auction for unsavoury sums by wealthy, cackling silver-spoon gobblers in order to buy time with politicians in return for filling Conservative coffers, you feel powerless? Do you feel as if maybe, just maybe, those politicians will be less inclined to care about getting you off food-bank dependence or reducing your tuition fees or listening to your grievances and more motivated to ‘uncomplicate’ tax laws for a hefty fee? Or perhaps they would be more inclined to cut through some red tape so that a developer may build in your back garden or, worse, frack there. Do you maybe read about the millions of pounds that get ploughed into lobbying by big corporations seeking to colonise your homeland and feel just a little… meek in comparison?

If someone feels detached and separated from the system in which they live, should they sigh, puff out their cheeks, utter a “ho-hum”, resign themselves to it and hope for the best? While this might have worked for the war effort, it doesn’t, and should not be the case for the UK’s democracy. We are constantly implored to vote, we are told to the point of zealous fanaticism to vote, made to feel that by not voting we would be forsaking the efforts of our forefathers and foremothers who jumped under horses to earn the right for us. Nowhere is this more true than among politicians themselves. Sincerely, with pleading, desperate, wistful eyes they urge the people to vote, beg them to play their part in democracy and exercise their power as citizens. This, apparently, not for any other reason than an honest desire by politicians to be judged by their people. “Please”, they may beseech with tear-glazed eyes, “please vote, please play your part, please exercise your civic duty and your choice, your one choice, your one decision. It is your duty as a citizen of this democracy, it’s why we fought the war!”

Of course politicians want you to vote. A vote, every 5 years, is an acceptance of the status quo. A vote is an implicit legitimisation of the current political system, of the behaviour of politicians writ large. Voting, and more specifically, voting tactically and perpetuating a two (almost three) party system is all the limited and ultimately futile political expression that politicians would wish you to have. Sure, vote! Don’t protest though, don’t choose any of those smaller parties (lest you be encumbered with a pesky coalition government) – just vote, vote tactically, and vote once.

Not voting is denounced as political apathy. “Well, don’t be surprised when things turn to shit – you didn’t vote!” come the self-important I-told-you-soes. But voting is no longer the revolutionary, wind-changing choice it once was. Perhaps even as recently as the 70s and 80s was your vote a powerful weapon – even if we still only had a two-party system – because there were distinct and important differences between Labour and the Tories. Now, though, thanks to Thatcher and New Labour under Blair who fervently and loyally continued her work, the needs of business decide policy and there is little to no difference between Labour and the Tories. Even where there may be – for example, where the exaggeratedly nicknamed Red-Ed suggested putting a cap on energy bills – there is outcry, there were bullish threats from the Big Six and Ed, with a simpering whimper, was forced to shut up. Voting, therefore, is the true apathy. Voting has the same psychological effect as falling pregnant – a sense of accomplishment without having done anything but lie on one’s back and get fucked.

The logic from defenders of the vote seems to be that if you don’t vote, you deserve and can expect the jackboots of tyranny to march into Parliament. But this logic belies the importance of democracy and the inclusion of citizens in politics that Westminster loyalists are trying to emphasise. It suggests that if we don’t exercise our vote, our one piece of political influence, that we deserve fascism or whatever other system suggests a lack of democracy. This is insulting. The power of the people is not in their vote, the power of the people is in their ideas, their passion, their numbers, their sentiency, their indomitability. To restrict the importance of a citizen in political terms to whether or not they vote is insulting. The system is fundamentally broken and to perpetuate it by voting is fruitless.

There was record turnout for the 2014 Scottish referendum. Why? Because for once the citizens of Scotland felt there was a choice to be made, the decision of which would practically and in real terms affect their lives – and it was a decision over which they had real, tangible control. Not only that, but the Yes vote was filled with promises of bringing power back home and putting it back into the hands of the Scottish people – drawing it away from Parliament who an astounding number of Scots feel is unrepresentative of, and completely detached from, them. Scottish citizens felt empowered and emboldened by the referendum. It, if nothing else, served to highlight the immense feeling of powerlessness and disillusionment amongst the citizens of the UK.

This alienation and disenfranchisement is the juicy sustenance that has enabled previously fringe parties to grow into threatening political beasts. UKIP feed off political alienation, greedily hoovering it up and exploiting it in every soundbite. But it is laughable to think UKIP hold the keys to your empowerment. Removal from the EU won’t empower you, getting rid of the brown people won’t empower you – Farage is just the same as Cameron and Ed and as long as there is a political infrastructure such as Westminster in place, you will continue to be unrepresented. Nigel, though, unlike the Cameron and Miliband and Clegg, is cursed by having dim-witted troglodyte bigots for followers as opposed to politically savvy, relatively sharp-brained political careerists. The only reason he has been able to convince so many poor saps of his genuineness is because his party is young. The Tories and Labour have to put up with being labelled as part of the establishment because, well, they undeniably are. But Farage, unencumbered by a long party lineage, is able to play the new-kid-on-the-block card. Make no bones though, he is just as establishment as the others. Unless you’re pouring his pint, he doesn’t give a damn about you.

No, aside from concessions for pensioners by the Tories or bribes for the ‘yout’ by the Lib Dems or whatever inane, unspecific babble comes out of Ed’s dopy mouth, there is nothing of importance that can be gained from voting. The big decisions are taken out of your hands and you are left with patronising condolences. Instead, voting is a case of ‘better the devil you know’ or ‘the lesser of two evils’. Is that really the concomitant of all our hopes for democracy, the conclusion of years of reform and revolt, the materialisation of an enlightened and aware populace?

If enough people don’t vote, or even better, spoil their ballots, then there is evidence of an undeniable, un-sweep-under-the-rug-able systemic problem with our present democracy. And that problem will have to be addressed. A large portion of the population not voting, or actively spoiling their ballots, highlights the illegitimacy of whichever party wins power, it evinces a population that has not given a mandate to rule. It shows that something deep and far reaching has to change – enough with petty giveaways.

So, apart from not doing anything, what instrument is there that exists to effect change, to affect politics tangibly? Well, there’s protest, there’s pressure groups, there’s petitions, there’s writing and disseminating information on the internet, there is civil disobedience.

There is the law. The courts are not just somewhere you don’t want to end up. The courts are, in fact, the people’s greatest weapon. Cameron has labelled judicial review frivolous and anti-christ Grayling has set about restricting it in the name of streamlining. To the layman this has been sold as practicality and a measure in the interests of stimulating business and ‘getting things done’. Or, worse, it has not been sold at all, but rather has been set about clandestinely and under-the-radar – at least in terms of getting reported in headlines as the massive sucker-punch to the rule of law and throttler of people’s rights that it is. Judicial review is the probe that allows a citizen or pressure group to uncover the motivations behind ministerial decisions and, even, to overturn these decision where it is in the interests of justice (remember that?).

There is also the Freedom of Information Act. Of course, applications can be refused on vague grounds such as national security – which has an ever enlarging, ever wavy definition – but it’s worth a try. There’s also public inquiries. They’ve got a bad rep but if there’s enough knowledge of their potential and enough motivation they can be used damagingly.

So, come May 2015, instead of desperately seeking that strand of truth that might be concealed within the condescending, pseudo-terrifying party political messages, instead of deciding which politician has the most honest face, instead of putting aside your pride and that nagging feeling that perhaps they’re all made of the same shit and that juvenile insult-throwing and accusatory “he said she said” isn’t the way politics should be, perhaps… don’t vote. If enough people do it, it becomes a choice just as legitimate, and arguably more powerful, as any of the names on the ballot paper.

Freedom of repression

Its just too good to be true. Journalists massacred in Paris by evil looking bandana’d thugs with AKs. Its the stuff of airport trash novels. And whom did they shoot? Why, the bloodshed occurred in the buildings of a satirical magazine, apparently, because said magazine depicted Mohammed (offensively). Two birds with one stone. On the one hand, our Governments can justify an ever tightening grip on our civil liberties in the name of prevention of terrorism. All the while, on the other hand, they can carry it out in the name of free speech – bastions of Western democracy, paragons of virtue and torches of democratic freedom burning bright as the flag of ISIS seeks to cast shadows over us.

The tragedy even came with a hashtag: ‘Je Suis Charlie’; because, deep down, we are all Charlie Hebdo – a satirical magazine – just warm and safe, not riddled with bullets and dripping blood, not dead satirists, not having felt the brunt of some pissed off crazies. Actually… are we really Charlie Hebdo? The internet has given birth to many creations, among which bullshit solidarity has to be the most repugnant. And that is no mean feat in a medium chock full of people’s repulsive mental-slurry. The bullshit solidarity, of course, is compounded by the lack thereof in relation to the Boko Haram attacks in Baga, Nigeria.

But bullshit solidarity is not confined to the internet and, in fact, a bunch of well-meaning but ultimately futile and inconsequential sweet nothings whispered in nobodies ear through computer screens by insulated, sedentary turds is not a problem when compared with the bullshit solidarity of the Establishment. Quick as bullets, three days after the attack, Cameron, Merkel, Hollande and all self-propagandising Western leaders from Europe and beyond were pictured, arms linked like in some sort of grass-roots movement, marching aimlessly in the name of Hebdo. Leaders marching with their people – what better expression of solidarity and what better message for leaders to send to an increasingly disenchanted electorate than that to say: “we are one, we are unified, together”? Except, they weren’t marching with their people. Pictures from above now show a safety zone inhabited by security men between the pitiful back-lines of dignitaries and the actual people of France.

Your leaders won’t even march with you. The march in Paris, for them, was nothing but a PR stunt to create propaganda to blast onto monopolistically owned and politically influenced front-pages across the board and get your heart-rates pumping and your patriotic juices a-flowing. Your leaders don’t give a fuck about a life lost, or 12, or 17, or 100, or 2,000. With big, bold, black letters adorning every newspaper from the Times to the Metro showing crowds waving flags and politicians in the ruck, the propaganda has worked. We are united as one, all past-discrepancies forgotten in the haze of the terror threat. We have an ideological enemy – extremism (or, among the darker shades of Establishment thought – Islam) and we are united under an ideological principle – freedom of speech.

And with the sound of gunfire still echoing in our ears we stand united with our leaders, ready to give unto them anything. As the skeletal fingers of fear tighten around our necks we plead, gasping, that anything may be done in its name so long as it lets go. Its all so… ‘done’. Even the hashtag: ‘Je Suis Charlie’ resonates back to the immortal words of the universally adored JFK in his perpetual struggle against the evil of Communism: ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’. Since, just as then, we are at war with an ideological enemy and we know in our hearts – at least, we are told – that we have right on our side.

And so, anything must be legitimated in the fight against this threat. Just as after 9/11, the Bush administration passed the Patriot Act infringing American’s freedoms in a way never before seen and affording authoritarian power to the law enforcement agencies. Just as after 7/7 Blair’s New Labour government gave the police greater and more far-reaching powers through control orders and attempted to pass a 90-day without trial detention period through Parliament. Just as after the burning down of the Reichstag building in 1933 Hitler was able to pass the executive order granting himself dictatorial power, now our leaders are using Hebdo as a justification in the same vein.

Hollande is considering a French-Patriot Act, George Osbourne has given £100,000 to MI5 with the promise that they will get ‘whatever they want’, Cameron has outlined plans to ban Whatsapp (among other messaging platforms un-snoopable by security agencies), borders are tightening, 100,000 French troops are on the ground on French soil and warnings are given daily of impending terror attacks. Already the machine is gearing up to harvest our freedoms in the name of national security. And all the while naive young well-meaners pine for a freedom of speech they suspect is being taken from them by nuts with guns and bandanas.

Your freedom isn’t under threat from terrorism. Your freedom is under threat from the Governments that take it from you in the name of terrorism. The very same Governments that are terrorists. We stand united under our banner of self-righteousness and self-pity as innocent Westerners guilty of nothing but democracy and free-speech. All the while we have implicitly allowed the rampant drone bombings of the countries in which these fanatics gestate. We have stood idly by and allowed our leaders, unaccountably, to wage a war we have no interest in waging. We have been guilty of the marginalisation and disenfranchisement of the otherwise well-meaning Muslim populations in our own countries – helped in no small part by a Government eager, at all times, for an identifiable scapegoat. We are not guiltless. We are feeling the wrath of a beast we have been implicit in creating. ISIS would not exist were it not for Camp Bucca – a US run prison in Iraq.

And it is just too good to be true for our leaders.

There will be another terrorist attack, there will be many more, and they will be more hard hitting. And our leaders will welcome them with open arms. Since the more bloodshed, the more apparent chaos on the streets, the more we feel frightened and defenceless, the more we will cry, scream and plead for the guns and jack-boots of our Government. The more we will nod enthusiastically when a vital element of our freedom is curtailed. We will wait with baited breath for the next measure in the interests of national security. And one day, we will awaken to a nightmare, to a world we thought we knew but that shifted, oh so quietly, in front of our eyes, until it became a desolate land devoid of freedom, of emotion, of individuality and devoid of expression.