Bartlett's Bizarre Bazaar

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006


A law unto themselves

On my recent travels it was my good fortune to read a copy of the Sunday Express. I need not tell anyone reading this that the Express is not only a right-wing rag, but a stupid right-wing rag. However not since I read a leader column blaming political correctness for the closure of rural post offices have I read anything as stupid as the quotation approvingly cited by Julia Hartley Brewer this last Sunday.

A source close to Home Office ministers, i.e. a Home Office minister, is quoted as saying – and, lacking access to Lexis-Nexus at the moment, I paraphrase accurately – that civil servants, disparagingly referred to as bureaucrats, stick to the letter of human rights law. This mode of operation is described as the bureaucrats behaving as ‘a law unto themselves’.

First. Bureaucrats are an indispensable part of any complex, metropolitan civilisation. To use the term as an insult betrays a deep stupidity. This is the usage employed by, most likely, a Government minister.

Second. People obeying the letter of the law are not, by definition, a law unto themselves, unless they are also law makers. If civil servants did not stick to the letter of human rights law then it would be perfectly possible to describe them as behaving as a law unto themselves. What this probable Government minister is actually describing is a state of affairs in which he or she, and the Government he or she represents, a frustrated in their desires to act as a law unto themselves. Indeed, this is precisely the political philosophy of Tony Blair; making no secret of his frustration by law, whether on detaining people, deporting people, or instigating military action, this is a Government that sees the law as nothing but restraints.

Monday, May 22, 2006


National Feminists

There is a movement to dress up modern racism in the clothes of progressivism. This is nothing new, in form. Racism, at least, successful racism, has rarely built its rationale on blatant hate. Rather, the demonisation of minorities and immigrants has been conducted via what were, at the time, apparently reasonable, rational grounds; concerns with the intelligence of the nation, with the biological health of the populace, with the maintenance of the indigenous culture, and so on. And why? Because in order to successfully build a modern racist society the support of middle-classes and the intelligentsia needs be won. We can see this happening now, when attacks on Muslims are dressed up as assertions of ‘Enlightenment values’, as defences of ‘free speech’, as efforts to safeguard ‘superior’ European culture. I have written [here and here] about two of the recruiting pamphlets in this campaign.

Despite knowing this, I rarely fail to be surprised by those who dress their attacks on Muslims up as blows for feminism. It is one thing to point out that Islam can be practised in ways that repress women. But when this is used to legitimate calls for restrictions on the immigration of Muslims, the true face of those dancing in this ‘progressive masquerade’ is revealed. If one is concerned for the welfare of Muslim women, one would welcome their immigration to the West, where, according to the unspoken contradictions in the narrative of these racists, these repressed women will find opportunities for liberation that they could not find in their homelands. So do those who make calls for restricting the immigration of Muslims have the welfare of women at heart? Some do, and have been recruited, in their good-natured but slapdash liberalism, by racists. Some are plain racists. And the rest? The rest we might describe as ‘National Feminists’ as, yes, they care about the welfare of women, just so long as these women are of their own kind. It is these National Feminists who, rather than demanding the establishment of women’s refuges and multi-lingual support services, call for restrictions on the movement to women to the West and for the burkha to be banned.

How would that be managed, anyhow? Would the police strip women in the street, or merely toss them in riot vans for the way in which they dress. Do either of those options sound like a liberal society to you? And yes, I have some sympathy for the argument that the burkha is an objective symbol of oppression. But to enact a repressive policy to liberate women that takes no notice of the subjective understandings of women who wear the burkha will get you nowhere but oppressive authoritarianism. To adorn a law with the language of liberation when, in practise, it would lead to harassment, embarrassment, insult and arrest for those women whom lounge bar legislators feign concern for is to perform a grotesque act of doublespeak. Social analyses using the language of false consciousness are all well and good; indeed, we must all believe in the existence of false consciousnesses to some degree if we are to make sense of human beings with different value and belief systems to our own. But it does not a democracy make to legislate in all but the most egregious cases, which, for liberty’s sake, ought be limited to those cases that psychologists, not rabid islamophobic racists, describe as mental illness.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


The first post

I have a new post, Constructing new men, up at The Fluffy Economist. Expect a post on work ‘ethics’ there soon.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Pour this fuel on the bonfire of the liberties

1. Hijacking the asylum system

No, not the nine Afghan men who escaped the Taliban on a hijacked plane, but successive Home Office ministers, who refused these men asylum. And they did so, expressly in order to demonstrate how hard, rather than how decent and reasonable, this Government is capable of being.

Now, call me stupid, but I would have thought that a regime that our Government found so repulsive and dangerous it was worth going to war with the aim of securing that regime’s removal, is just the kind of regime that one would forgive almost any broken laws in the achievement of escape.

That the judiciary, that unwholesome bastion of the old establishment and privilege, is the institution that, once again, succeeds in making the correct and decent decision ought to shame a ‘Labour’ Government.


2. Making political capital from murder

BBC News 24 allows the partner of a victim of murder to repeat, every half hour, the comment below, presumably to nods of agreement across the country.

“We don’t know who’s going to be killed or stabbed or raped next.”

As opposed to that nightmare era when we were killed, stabbed and raped according to orderly rotas?

The offender in question had served 16 years in jail. That is, regardless of what anyone says, is a seriously long time. 16 years is a decent proportion of an adult life and in that time the world is utterly changed. I do not want to see a draconian system of mass, long term incarceration. To have a humane, rehabilitative system we need a system that allows people to, eventually, be released, excepting the most terrible of crimes or the most dangerous of the mentally ill. And to do this we need a robust probation service. Unfortunately, this demands an increase in the number of ‘do-gooders’ employed by the state, so it unlikely to win the backing of those who claim to be most concerned by crime.


3. Exploiting anecdotes

Both this story and the story of the Afghan hijackers have provided ammunition for those who want to roll back human rights in Britain. But whatever problems these stories present have nothing at all to do with human rights. In the case of probation, the problem is not that people have human rights but one of chronic understaffing. The guff about human rights is retrospective wisdom. If “the [probation] board had received “over optimistic” reports of Rice's progress under treatment and did not have a full picture of his previous crimes” then it was not so much that the board “gave insufficient weight to the underlying nature of his risk of harm to others”, but that the board made exactly the right decision according to the information that they were presented with. There is no need to cut away our human rights, but a need to ensure more diligent and intensive reporting on the rehabilitation of prisoners.

In the case of the Afghan men we either owe those nine men asylum or we are faced with the pressing need to imprison the Government as self-declared war criminals. It cannot be the case that, simultaneously, the Taliban are, in themselves, a causus belli, and that people fleeing the regime by stealing an aeroplane are ‘international terrorists’. I wonder if Home Office minister who described them so understood that the reciprocal damning that he heaped upon his New Labour colleagues. Probably he did, but knew that the atomised worldview of Doublethink that he presents to the electorate would not be ripped apart by the historically and conceptually incontinent media.

Further, the problem, in the case of the Afghan men, was the arrogant failure of the Home Office to follow legal procedure. Mark this when you next have a New Labour minister complain about ‘technicalities obstructing justice’. ‘Technicalities’ are the signifier of wrong-doing by those who hold power. ‘Technicality’, like ‘red tape’ is a dog-whistle word, bringing unreflective assistance running to back causes that, if considered, damage the interests of the mass of the supporters. They, like human rights, obstruct the contemptuous, arrogant fulfilment of the ambitions of the powerful.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


The Ornamental Prescott of Westminster

Harry Hutton has a good post on the Ornamental Prescott of Westminster. He points out that “using a government office for having sex with his secretary was far less ruinous for Britain than how he might otherwise have been using it. While Prescott was harmlessly fucking his secretary, the rest of the cabinet were probably hatching schemes to make us all line up and be fingerprinted.” Read the rest.

I did enjoy the comment on Harry’s post from Tommy C:

“You are overlooking the point of a Prescott, Harry. Which is: to symbolize to the north that Labour is still workin' clarse, thus buying their votes and shutting them up. Witness their refusal of a Northern Assembly: more Prescott genius. Little does the north realise that he spends his time chained up in a London office, like King Kong in a New York theatre, being thrown bananas and secretaries, uncomprehending of the laughter from the rows of suits.”

Monday, May 08, 2006


The Department of Culture, Media and Sport

The little Culture that I have to offer is a reflection on non-English language cinema. Discussing the film Princess Mononoke, it was agreed that subtitles are part of the plus points of these films. Not simply, or hopefully at all, for the snob value*. Nor simply, though this cannot be discounted, because it prevents me from having to listen to bad voice acting. Or, at least, bad voice acting that I find comprehensible. Nor, further, is subtitling preferable because dialogue that might be perfectly workable in Japanese, in Russian or in French cinema appears to be particularly artless scripting when translated into English. No, the subtitling of a film is a plus point because it forces creative and imaginative engagement. It cannot rescue the film from its unrelenting, unreflective pace – a book, by contrast, can be consumed at the pace set by the imagination of the reader – but subtitles do demand that the viewer follow every line of dialogue, using their imagination to give the lines a life that mirror the emotional expression of the otherwise unintelligible actors. When watching a subtitled film we are forced to give them a far greater space within our inner worlds then that demanded by a film in our native language.

*That said, I was astounded when buying a ticket to watch Night Watch in the cinema the teller leaned across and warned me that it was ‘in foreign’. When I laughed, she told me that people had asked for their money back. It cannot have been a bad as when I went to see Dogville; more than half the admittedly small audience got up and left as soon as they realised, I presume, that this was not ‘a Nicole Kidman’ movie.

In Media, I am a new writer over at The Sharpener. I do, though, have two problems; I have not yet decided when to publish my first post, nor have I decided what subject/s to discuss. Suggestions that answer my latter problem are welcome. I have also agreed to write the occasional post over at The Fluffy Economist; watch that space for more of me.

And so finally to Sport, and it can only be England’s twenty three. Fantastic! And I mean that. For my money, Eriksson has made the correct response to the loss of Rooney and has signalled that he will change the system to allow our two remaining world-class players, Gerrard and Lampard, as the main attacking force supporting a lone striker. All the controversy has been centred on Walcott, but taking a twenty-third player of, apparently, considerable talent, for the experience is perfectly laudable. Admirable, even, given that the ‘resigning’ Eriksson will not reap the rewards of this decision. As for Lennon, well, surely he had to be the choice over the bench-bound Shaun Wright-Phillips. And no-one is mentioning Downing, a brave pick who offers to play the role of dangerous ball-player on the left complementary to that Beckham plays on the right. With both of those pinging them off the head of Crouch, knocking the ball down to Gerrard and Lampard (and Cole) surging forwards we might have a system that accommodates the payers that England do have available, not the players that England wish that they had.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Being Labour

Phil Edwards reflects on what it means to be Labour. He suggests that the ruling clique of MPs and special advisors is now not only to the political right of the activists, the membership and the wider union base, but also, and importantly, this clique is now to the right of Labour voters.

Phil describes his father’s reaction to the rise of Blair:

“he saw Labour take power, and he saw what they did with it - and he was convinced that the "New Labour" turn was a stratagem adopted to gain power, and that Blair would eventually steer back to the Left. "He's going to surprise us all," he used to say.”

Not too strangely, this is exactly what I remember my grandfather saying, when we would argue in his kitchen over the path of Labour at the end of the Nineties. The kind of statements Blair made [see here] were just cover to make Labour electable, and that the political ideas of the traditional Labour supporters would not be taken for granted.

But, for people across the other side of the Severn, tomorrow is an election day. One of the few opportunities for people to express their political will, albeit through the crude and uncommunicative mechanism of marking ‘X’. So, once again, who to vote for [regarding the same problem in 2005, see here and here]? As I have said before, Labour is the party that I want to vote for, but could I do so now? I could not do so last May. The problem, more than anything, is the ludicrous doublethink practised by Labour campaigners; on May 4th 2005 the plea was ‘vote Labour, it doesn’t mean that you support the war, the authoritarianism or the privatisation. No, it merely means that you stand with the traditional party of the left against the much bigger enemies on the right’. By May 6th the 2006 this had mutated into ‘this election win is a mandate for Blair, for war, for authoritarianism, for privatisation.’

And so, the problem really is that the Labour Party is no longer a truly democratic party. It no longer derives, or even pretends to derive, the party position and direction from vigorous internal debate, from the result of consulting a party of mass membership. It is a party of which the ruling clique disdains the unions, the political force by which non-millionaires can drive democracy, most especially on issues of work and, yes, labour, the state at which most of us spend a tremendous amount of our waking life.

And, in my opinion, it is in unions, and only in unions, where we can reclaim and build democracy. Where else, and how else, can ordinary people build a voice loud enough, and powerful enough, to counter the interests of the tiny minority of people who possess disproportionate and undemocratic power through wealth and ownership?

Right now, though, I would be tempted to follow the advice of José Saramango and cast a blank vote of utter dissatisfaction. Given the standard slate of candidates, it would bend the imagination completely out of shape to suggest that blank votes were not, in the majority, the crude, democratic expression of people who are Labour.

Once, Labour had a strapline that read; For Peace and Socialism. You do not see that much anymore, do you?

Monday, May 01, 2006


May Day

Tony Blair in the Times, 1997, when still leader of the opposition:

“The changes that we do propose would leave British law the most restrictive on trade unions in the western world.”

Why did Blair join the Labour Party? And why did Labour let him?


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