#JeSuisCharlie? Let’s not get distracted from the real fight for freedom


The attack inspired a mass of sanctimony

The first I heard of the Paris shootings was in a text message from a friend. I promptly went online and came across the horrifying video of the police officer being murdered as he lay wounded in the street. So my first impression was not of any wider implications but simply the empathy I felt for the helpless creature lying on the pavement. Later my mood began to shift towards outrage.

What did I do then? Well, the only thing I could do to offer a token gesture of solidarity; I took to social media. I tweeted cartoons of Muhammed and expressed my defiance. After a while it all got a bit tiring and I realised how futile and vacuous it was. For me to tweet the offending pictures is not brave and it achieves very little. I began to feel a little embarrassed by my own misplaced reactionary enthusiasm. My total obscurity provides an anonymity that means that I am not placing myself in even the tiniest bit of danger by my actions. It is not pleasant feeling useless and insignificant at such a seemingly pivotal time as this.


After a few days of calm reflection I began to feel trepidatious. The mass outpouring of grief and supposed “solidarity” has led to a collective convulsion in France that has spread across Europe, creating a conformity of thought and lulling us into a false sense of security. There has been too much back slapping as we congratulate ourselves on being beacons of free expression and liberty, it is easy to claim this in comparison with Islamic countries, but in the aftermath we have to calmly check our hypocrisy and our priorities.

Our cherished rights have been steadily eroded for some time now and are under serious and immediate threat. This threat comes from our own governments and as we wonder fearfully where the terrorists will strike next it is they who will come to attack liberty, exploiting our fear and striking when we are at our most vulnerable. Despite the sheer horror of the Paris shootings this must be where our scrutiny and scepticism is mainly focussed, not on Islamists.

Wounded patriotism have inspired a show of unity and much self-congratulatory rhetoric about France being a beacon of liberty. We should not let the rush of emotion accept this without scepticism. Does a free country ban the wearing of certain items of clothing? Does a free country ban you from praying in the street, a serious curb on religious expression? I think it perfectly fair and reasonable that private companies can make their own decisions on such rules, and the face should not be concealed in court, but it a serious violation of individual freedom for the state to dictate that you cannot wear signs of religious affiliation (be it a crucifix necklace or a turban) in schools or face veils in the street. I personally do not like the sight of a niqab but banning something just because we don’t like it is not a liberal thing to do.


It is heartening to see millions marching in the streets in an act of defiance, but it shouldn’t take a massacre to inspire people to fight for their rights. France, it should not be forgotten, restricts freedom of expression with some of the strictest hate speech, defamation, privacy and libel laws in the western world.

The privacy law in France encourages self-censorship because the publication of private details of an individual’s life without consent is a punishable offence. Unlike in Britain there are few public interest clauses. Combine this with French libel laws, which heavily favour those in positions of power (losing a libel case against a public official brings a punitive fine of €45,000 as opposed to €12,000 when a case is lost against a member of the public), and it is easy to see why an unhealthy respect for the privacy of public figures is instilled in French media culture. This too often leaves the powerful beyond media scrutiny and discourages public interest journalism that investigates corruption and impropriety in the lives of politicians.

France has some of the strictest hate speech laws in the EU which go far beyond preventing incitement to violence. Once you start arresting people for simply saying things, or tweeting things you create a censorial instinct that will inevitably stretch beyond the fringes and into the mainstream, making curbs (or attempts to curb) on free speech habitual and seemingly acceptable. It has been little discussed since the Paris shootings but hate speech laws were used to harass Charlie Hebdo for years. Charges were lodged against the magazine in 2006-07 in response to the reprinting of the notorious Danish cartoons, in that instance the court ruled in the magazines favour but notably Jacques Chirac was a cheerleader for the case: “the convictions of someone else, in particular religious convictions, should be avoided”, he said. The magazine would again come under government pressure in 2012 when it reprinted Muhammed cartoons in response to the protests against the film The Innocence of Muslims with Prime Minister Jean-Mar Ayarault stating that freedom of speech is “under control of the courts”. The unity marches are uncomfortably close to being a rally behind the French state, rather than millions of people making a stand for liberty and free expression.

Britain will “never give up freedom of speech”, said David Cameron in his defiant response. But in Britain we are breathtakingly complacent about our wpid-dsc_0395.jpgrights and it is a bit rich for our politicians to suddenly talk like staunch defenders of liberty. It is fantastic to see people gather in Trafalgar square to hold a vigil for the murdered staff, and attend rallies in the name of free speech. Still, I can’t help that think, again, that no one should have to be murdered for people to start paying attention and celebrating and fighting for our freedoms. If the people rallied together in great numbers against anti-terror legislation, secret courts and RIPA (to name just a few of many illiberal measures) I might have faith in the sincerity and staying power of the current enthusiasm. Instead I fear it is temporary hysteria and back slapping that will ultimately achieve very little before we return to a “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” consensus.

Let us not forget that this “free” country of ours is the land of secret courts, mass surveillance and detention without charge where we have in recent years flirted with the introduction of ID cards and state regulation of the press. The state routinely bans people with “controversial” things to say from entering the country and arrests people for silly tweets (or “malicious communications“).   It is not just the state that disgraces liberty, our university campuses are now a hotbed for the authoritarian left which seeks to shut down debate and ban anything it deems unacceptable. It is quite clear that Charlie Hebdo could not operate in Britain, in no time at all it would be banned from all student unions and be subject to the NUS “no platform” policy, its offices would host protests by Unite Against Facism and Hope Not Hate when it wasn’t being picketed by Islamists. Before long the magazine’s staff would be visited by the police and roundly criticised by hand wringing politicians. Je Suis Charlie? Get real.

Now is the time for a wake up call. Stop looking for Islamists under the bed and start defending freedom from the those pretending they are defending it. The PM and Home Secretary didn’t miss and opportunity for political point scoring and phoney outrage when Nigel Farage made some rather innocuous comments about the “very, very small” number of Islamists that represent a “fifth column” in British society (isn’t this a good week for the truth and free expression?). This was a distraction from the deeply cynical comments from Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, who leapt on the chance to fear monger and lobby for greater powers for our security services. Cameron accused Farage of using the tragedy for political ends before announcing plans to resurrect the “snoopers charter” while the shock is still raw.


A far more potent threat to liberty

I’ve no doubt that this will put wind in Theresa May’s sails. Will the Paris shootings soften us up for Extremism Orders? Astonishing measures that would remove the right to freedom of expression (without presenting evidence to justify such an action) when the state has a “reasonable belief” that the accused individual may “disrupt democracy” or incite racial or religious hatred, or cause public disorder? When the Home Secretary proposes a plan to legislate for thought crime, I do not think I am being unreasonable when I say she is a far graver threat to liberty than an Islamist lunatic.

As the collective trauma dies down I hope that, like me, people are jolted out of their initial reaction and re-focus on the real fight for freedom which is not against Islamist terror, but authoritative government and our flourishing intolerant offence culture . The staff of Charlie Hebdo died because they defiantly exercised their right to freedom of expression, but it is not a crazed gunman taking our rights that we should be worried about, it is us a nation giving those right away as we slip back into complacency that should concern us all.













The government wins phoney European Arrest Warrant vote

On the 9th July David Cameron boasted that the Government had “just achieved the greatest ever return of powers to the UK” from the European Union. Unfortunately, our Prime Minister often resembles an oily salesman as he routinely misrepresents the truth for short term political gain. The pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (the slyly renamed EU constitution) was dropped after ratification and now he has been exposed as being opportunistically disingenuous on the subject of the EU once again.

The Prime Minster had explicitly promised to hold a vote on the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) but this has turned out to be at worst a lie and at best a serious bending of the truth. Not long after his latest hollow pledge it transpired that the Members of the House were not to get a separate vote on whether or not to rejoin the EAW at all. Last night in the House of Commons the anger of Tory backbenchers was palpable after Speaker John Bercow confirmed that there would be no such individual vote. Instead they were to vote on a mere 11 of the 35 European justice measures, and that did not include the arrest warrant.

As frustration spread, the Tory whips were in a frenzy shoring up support and David Cameron had to rush back from the Lord Mayor’s banquet to try and avoid humiliation. Theresa May, who has badly mishandled this whole situation, insisted that this vote was, in effect, to be an endorsement or rejection of the EAW. After a night of murky politics and dishonesty the bafflingly overrated Home Secretary bungled to victory. The motion that the Speaker insists was not on the EAW and Theresa May says sort of was passed 464 to 38.

And so it goes, that the Conservative Party, aided and abetted by the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, is again to shun the opportunity to conserve our national sovereignty and liberty. Instead, a large scale transfer of sovereignty back to the EU is to be implemented after the government avoided a potentially embarrassing defeat with methods of pure chicanery. It was a shambolic episode in which the Tory leadership treated their party members, their MP’s and parliament with contempt.

Why did David Cameron make this promise if it was impossible to keep? And if it was possible to hold a separate vote, who decided against holding it? If the government could have held a separate vote (if it was procedurally possible) then it has acted disgracefully in not doing so and forcing its will on parliament and the country. Could it be that they wanted to force through the EAW and believed any revolt would be small and manageable? The confusion that followed has proven this to be a mistake. These political tricks have left a bitter taste in my mouth and the story is now one of Tory Party leadership deception on matters of the European Union, again.

The Ukip campaign literature for the Rochester by-election writes itself…

Government’s Shocking Plan for Secret Courts Advances Quietly

At many English courts you will see displayed the coat of arms of the state, with a lion and unicorn prominent. I am not sure about the significance of the lion, but the unicorn symbolises justice; because you’re about as likely to find a unicorn in an English court of law as you are to find justice.

In the criminal law, victims receive no recompense nor do they gain any satisfaction from the conviction of their aggressors. There is no just punishment for criminals, nor is the public protected from them. They will be set at liberty to continue their vocation after a cursory period of incarceration at our expense, and only this if to set them free immediately would prove too potentially embarrassing.

The civil law is no better. If you are wealthy you may well buy yourself a little equity. If not, you will get none, unless perhaps you dedicate your life’s blood to pursuing the matter over many years. In which case, a decade of such striving behind you, the benevolent system may pour you out a thimble’s worth.

It may look different if you are a barrister. Then you can enjoy the thrill of the game, and, win or lose, walk away the better for it, financially speaking. You will know when to raise your wig, and when to bow and scrape, and if you hang in there, one day you’ll be in the high chair.

Like with the NHS, sometimes we delude ourselves that our justice system is something the world envies us for. Like the NHS it is a system which benefits firstly those on the inside and only incidentally anyone else. It looks fine from a distance, like a Potemkin village. But up close you’ll find it’s made of cardboard.

However, don’t imagine things can’t get worse. While the chattering classes were all eyes fixed on the gay marriage debate, elsewhere in the Palace of Swine the political class were reanimating the government’s Secret Courts Bill.

I do not trust our government or judiciary in broad daylight. I sure as hell don’t trust them in the darkness of secret courts. The government reveals its blatant contempt for the people yet again with this bid to insulate itself even further from accountability and put in place procedures to exempt itself and those who work within the state from scrutiny. They will no doubt claim it is to protect us from evil men. This is not so. They have only one aim; that their crimes go unpunished.

Amateur PCC election number crunching

Since I blogged about the PCC election, I’ve been doing a little number crunching. This is frankly the first time I’ve looked in any detail at election results and my GCSE in Maths didn’t include any statistics beyond mean, mode and median, so take the theories and conclusions below with a pinch of salt and do check my manually copy-and-pasted numbers. You can download the whole Excel 2010 spreadsheet and do your own number crunching as well, and it is mostly normalised, unlike the Guardian spreadsheet.

I had proposed that small parties did and would have done rather well at the PCC elections. To back that up, I came up with a statistical measure of my own based on the thinking behind page-rank. Google’s Page-Rank algorithm attempted to measure how likely it was for a user to arrive at a web page if they started on a random page and clicked on random links. My measure assumes that if voters voted at random they would normally vote for one of 192 candidates about 0.5% of the time, a share of the total vote better than 0.5% indicates a candidate making disproportionate impact. Obviously, a shortage of candidates to vote for would impact how often voters could vote for one group or another in a constituency, so I’ve noted how many candidates stood for each party. I treated independents as if they were in one large party, although that gives them an unfair advantage with 54 candidates in 41 constituency areas.

So what happened?

So the first surprise is that the big two Labour and Conservatives are still dominant despite all the talk about how well independents did, and despite the Tories uncomfortable term in power. They are the only two parties that beat 0.5% per candidate. The Justice and Anti-Corruption Party are encouraging . They made a bigger splash per candidate than UKIP, the Lib Dems and even those new fangled independents. Economically far left Green and racist parties bring up the tail. Is there evidence here for the theory that small parties did well too? Well, that stellar result for JAC on this measure is extremely encouraging, and UKIP beat the LibDems into 6th (or 4th depending on how you look at it).

Then again, that JAC result is a 5th place in an area with 15% turnout (slightly below the 15.8% average) if JAC were stellar performers, might we have expected them to win something? What about better known UKIP? Labour and the Tories still dominated with their name recognition, why did UKIP fail to outperform JAC with better name recognition. The Justice and Anti Corruption name is perhaps a better name for the ballot paper, but perhaps it’s time to look at another measure:

Based on a simple share of the vote, it’s obvious that the coalition has been thoroughly spanked compared to the 2010 General Election result. The economic far left continues to trail, with a reassuringly poor result for anti-human Greens. Their anti-colour counterparts the British Freedom Party do well to drive them into last place from nowhere, or so it seems. If you compared them to the BNP their result would be a -91% spanking. While the racist boogeyman was talked about in advance of the election, there is no obvious explanation for the Green’s being ostracised in an election about law and order.Their candidate didn’t even mention cannabis.

JAC look good again with a share of the vote just half that of better known English Democrats but with just one fifth of the candidates. The result for independents is ludicrous 12,000% higher than at the general election. I believe this is a reflection of the different thinking that goes into selecting someone to oversee the police, where party politics is seen as a weakness of the new system. What is interesting though, is that UKIP and the English Democrats both received a share of the vote that was multiples of the General Election share.

So is this somewhere that a libertarian party can thrive? I think it depends. If a libertarian party is seen as “pro” drugs and vice then I don’t think it would do well. It would need to emphasise the Peelian principles, and talk instead of victimless crimes. My favourite example of a victimless crime is the one I committed by driving at 70 at night, sober, on a straight and empty section of dual carriage way with an unusual 40 mph speed limit. Motorists of the world might rejoice if that kind of crime stopped being a crime. Nationalising or abolishing the private company ACPO, scrutinising the use of speed cameras and privacy invading Automatic Number Plate Recognition are other unique selling points for a libertarian commissioner. A recent poll found that 5% of the population were economically minarchists, if just half that proportion translated into law and order libertarians then we could share the middle of the table with the Liberal Democrats.

Here’s the kicker. There is no reason an independent could not also campaign on those policies, and if a watermelon can get more than 8 thousand votes by proposing a green audit on the police then rebalancing the relationship between police and public should make a splash. As an independent, our ideal candidate would be eyeing up that 12,000% leap in vote share enjoyed by other independents and wondering very seriously if a party label of any kind is simply unhelpful. Even if 400% is better than a poke with a stick, a 12,000% leap is thirty times better than that. For a candidate professional enough to sell at an election of this kind, that sort of challenge will be difficult to overlook.

If only there were a way to sell independence and libertarianism at the same time.