No Sense of Irony

John Reid, speaking yesterday in the House of Commons on the subject of the three control order abscondees:

Let me put it simply. The European convention on human rights was intended to defend the individual from the unparalleled destructive capacity of the fascist state. That is what gave rise to it. People did not envisage at that time that the state and the community might now be under threat from the unparalleled destructive capacity of fascist individuals working in networks. That is what we face today. The arbitrary imposition of one’s will on another by destructive power is fascism, whether it emanates from Europe or any other area.

To say that Dr Demento is a fucking moron is to do an extreme disservice to adults with a genetically determined mental age of between 8 and 12 on the Binet scale – that’s the clinical definition of ‘moron’, by the way.

Before being cut off in full flow by the Speaker, Reid went to say:

We now face a historical development that requires all of us to build on the European convention on human rights, strengthen it and ensure that the most fundamental of all rights—the right to life and to protection of that life-without which no other right-

Never has an intervention from the Speaker’s Chair been more welcome, as it spared us yet more of the madman’s ahistorical nonsense.

In ‘Reason in Common Sense’ (vol. 1 1905-6) the Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, made an oft-paraphrased – and misquoted – observation, the full text of which bears careful consideration:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

It’s a point entirely lost on Reid, and other members of the Blairite faction in the Labour Party who’ve gone anywhere near the Home Office is recent years, for whom novelty is everything and progress means a directionless hike from ‘who cares where we’ve been’ to ‘who the fuck knows where we’re going’, in the context if which which Reid’s statement to the House, yesterday, recalls another of Santayana’s observations from the same work:

Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.

Only such a fanatic could possibly think that a derogation from Article 5 of ECHR, which serves as a guarantor of most basic rights in criminal law – the presumption of innocence, right to trial by jury and habeas corpus – is necessary for the preservation of our basic rights and freedoms.

There were many different factors that came together to send Germany spiralling into fascism in the 1930s, not least of which were the combined effects of the brutally inequitable terms of the Treaty of Versaille and the Great Depression, which conspired to destroy the German economy and drive its citizens into penury.

But in political terms, the factor (and practice) that most captures the attention and carries with it the greatest portents of the horror that was, at that time, yet to come, was the deliberate and relentless scapegoating of Jews as the ‘enemy within’ – this passage from a 1936 manual for Nazi propangandist is typical of the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the era:

There are still Jewish lackeys today who attempt to disrupt our storm attack on the Jewish world rulers, trying to stop us or even cause us to fall. The following hints show how one can reply to these arguments by our opponents, or even turn their arguments against them.

Argument 1: “You say that religion is a private matter. But you fight against the Jewish religion!”

Counterargument: “Actually, the Jewish religion is nothing other than a doctrine to preserve the Jewish race.” (Adolf Hitler).

“In resisting all government attempts to nationalize them, the Jews build a state within the state (Count Helmuth von Moltke).

“To call this state a ‘religion’ was one of the cleverest tricks ever invented.” (Adolf Hitler).

“From this first lie that Jewry is a religion, not a race, further lies inevitably follow.” (Adolf Hitler).

If the history of the twentieth century should teach us anything at all, it is that the scapegoating of migrants and individuals of foreign descent as the enemy within, coupled with demands for arbitrary state authority to preserve the safety of the citizenry is one of the clearest and most obvious steps on the road to totalitarianism.

History, therefore, is clearly not Dr Demento’s strong suit.

Reid’s suggestion that those who drafted the European Convention on Human Rights did not anticipate ‘the unparalleled destructive capacity of fascist individuals working in networks’ is absurd – what were the Nazis prior to Hitler becoming Chancellor of Germany if not ‘fascist individuals working in networks’.

ECHR provides no protection for individuals from the destructive capacity of the fascist state.


Well, simply (and obviously) because one of the first actions of a fascist party on attaining power in any European state currently signed up to ECHR would be to derogate from its terms and proscriptions – which is precisely what Reid is suggesting he may attempt to do in an effort to bully the judiciary into accepting his illiberal demands for arbitrary authority.

If the legislature is under the control of a totalitarian political party, what possible protection can citizens be afforded by laws that may be readily and swiftly repealed or overridden, especially in circumstances in which the ruling party has granted itself sweeping and arbitrary powers by means of a wide-ranging enabling act, which comes into effect should the government of the day declare a state of emergency. This was the means by which the Nazis took complete control of Germany in the 1930s and tore up its constitution, the same means that Reid has at his disposal by virtue of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 – see this briefing from ‘Statewatch’ on CCA 2004.

ECHR can do nothing to protect the individual from a totalitarian state once it holds the reins of power. Rather it seeks to protect the citizenry from just such a scenario after the fashion of a prophylactic.

In settings out the basic rights of the citizen, ECHR provides a measure of protection from the use (and abuse) of arbitrary power by government in two ways. First, by giving an independent judiciary the legal means to rein in government should it seek to abuse its authority and second by providing a set of benchmarks for the civilised conduct of government against which citizens can assess and evaluate the actions of their leaders. In a wholly literal sense, ECHR protects the individual from the threat of a fascist state by limiting the power and arbitrary authority of fascist individuals and by making them (in theory) relatively easy to identify and remove from office before they have the opportunity to do any real damage.

Reid’s arguments are infantile and ahistorical, and more than than deeply dangerous.

It is the duty of the state to preserve both the life and liberty of its citizens as Miguel De Cevantes Saavedra (yes, that Cervantes, the author of ‘Don Quixote’) observed:

Liberty, as well as honor, man ought to preserve at the hazard of his life, for without it life is insupportable.

Equally the British conservative Statesman and Philosopher, Edmund Burke, noted that:

“Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe.”

Burke is far from being a favourite author of mine, but in this he is entirely correct.

If either of the above is not warning enough, consider for moment the extent to which Blairite rhetoric on the subject of human rights, in recent times, has focussed heavily on promoting the idea that such rights may be considered in relative terms, i.e. both the suggestion that individuals might be accorded a differential level of rights according to their status as being either deserving or undeserving (the ‘rights’ of victims as opposed to those of offenders) and the equally pernicious suggestion that there exists, within the concept of human rights, a hierarchy under which certain rights are perceived to be ‘trump’ others by virtue of being of greater importance. This is evident, of course, in Reid’s attempt, yesterday, to launch into yet another exposition of the pre-eminence of the right to life.

Now consider how such rhetoric might relate to this quotation:

The keystone of the Fascist doctrine is its conception of the State, of its essence, its functions, and its aims. For Fascism the State is absolute, individuals and groups relative.

That statement was first published in 1932 in the Enciclopedia Italiana, and was officially attributed to Benito Mussolini (although its though likely that the actual author was the fascist philosopher, Giovanni Gentile).

Is it just me, or can others see the convergence between Reid’s rhetoric – and the government’s increasing (and voracious) appetite for greater arbitrary powers in the area of criminal justice and security – and the Mussolini/Gentile conception of the fascist state?

As to the last word on this article, let me crave your indulgence for a moment and turn to the document from which the rights that Reid is talking of curbing, should the courts not make their required set of ritual obesciences and formal kow-tows should Reid find himself before them in the (thankfully) limited time he remains in office, truly spring and bring this  quotation to your attention:

(39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

(40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

That, dear friends, is Magna Carta -and to be a little precise, that is the section of Magna Carta upon which the right of habeas corpus – which is what Reid is seeking to curb – is founded.

And that, for those of you too stupid to think it through properly (i.e. the Daily HateMail and Richard ‘Littlecock’) or blinded by unnecessary fear and ignorance to consider fully the import of Reid’s comments, yesterday, is what we stand to lose should Dr Demento get his way.  Not an alien piece of legislation written on foreign shores – neither of which is true anyway, as ECHR was drafted, in the main, by British lawyers and championed by Sir Winston Churchill – by one of oldest, most cherished and most precious rights.

5 thoughts on “No Sense of Irony

  1. No, it isn’t just you. I think that plenty of people can see the convergence between the Reid and the Gentile views of the world.

  2. This must be seen as the latest in a series of attacks by neo-Labour on our legal traditions and judicial independence.

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