Tag Archives: George Orwell

Political Dystopia as UK living in Groundhog Day & Back to the Future era

UK Political Groundhog Day

Can you believe it? Nigel Farage is back in charge of UKIP, again – for the fourth time. We also have Maggie ‘Theresa May‘ Thatcher redivivus in charge of the Conservative Party (MT/TM same initials!). Jeremy Corbyn is also the second leader Labour has had in a year. OK, so the previous one was also Jeremy Corbyn! I feel like I’m living in political Groundhog Day.

Theresa May Margaret Thatcher Number 10 Composite
Theresa May Margaret Thatcher Number 10 Composite

UKIP’s fourth-time-around leader

UKIP saving the Pound
UKIP saving the Pound, one cent devaluation at a time!

Admittedly, or allegedly, only a temporary reversion, but after Diane James’ 18-day stint as leader, Nigel Farage has returned to the helm of UKIP.

“UKIP without a leader is more electable than Labour with one” – Nigel Farage

Neil Hamilton as an alternative UKIP leader, currently leader in the Welsh Assembly, would be a “horror story” say Farage and Hamilton in a comical show of unplanned unity.

Financial Markets and Economic Prospects

GBP v USD 2016 post-Referendum Exchange Rate
GBP v USD 2016 post-Referendum Exchange Rate

And whilst the FTSE-100 reaches new heights for the multinational wealthy with shares and global reach, the Pound is crashing towards Sterling parity with the Dollar ($1.27) and ignominy with the Euro (€1.13).

Back to the Future over the EU

John Major launched his fatal Back to Basics political message and policies in 1993, but Theresa May’s message feels more like back to the 80s or even the 70s – before 1973 when we joined the EU. Now we are leaving it. When we joined, Britain was keen to avoid creating a rift between pro and anti-Europeans:

“Above all we should avoid creating a new, semi-permanent rift in British society, between pro and anti Europeans.” – The Guardian, 1 Jan 1973

Post-Referendum and with Brexit’s Article 50 due to initiate by March 2017, we have created exactly that with a very divided and divisive 48% Remainers and 52% Leavers society.

Currency falling backwards and downwards

DeLorean Back to the Future DMC Car
DeLorean Back to the Future DMC-12 Car

The Pound has only been this low once before in 60 years, back in 1985, when Back to the Future was released and the already defunct DeLorean (1983) was ironically the posited future of flying cars and time machines. In fact, without any irony at all, DeLorean or rather the new DMC is making fresh models of the DMC-12 car this year!

Recreating the Past rather than a Future

We seem to be recreating the past, rather than an inclusive or “brighter future” for all of Theresa May’s talk about injustice and inequality – because it’s selective inequality she’ll help, and selective education she’ll promote. And if, we can’t trust Nigel Farage to actually resign, Boris Johnson to keep on message for longer than 4 days (Theresa May’s joke at the Tory Party Conference, 5 October 2016), how can we trust that “Brexit means Brexit” or hope that it doesn’t. We seem to be living in the past, having chosen to withdraw from European cooperation and community, back to tariffs and protectionism, back to a low Pound, xenophobic racism and divisions, and peddling failed political slogans that could have been ripped from 1970s/80s politics and posters – indeed during the Leave EU campaign some were. Theresa May, in her speech, ridiculed ‘citizens of the world’, as many Remainers describe themselves, as citizens of nowhere, even if it was in the context of criticising global corporations:

“If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.” – Theresa May, Conservative Party Conference 2016 (speech in full)

This reminds me of George Orwell’s dystopian idea of citizenship in 1984! As for me, I’m a #proudcitizenoftheworld:

As was discussed today on TalkRADIO, for which I was interviewed, we are in dangerous territory here, using jingoistic language to appease the right whilst seemingly stealing centreground policies, but only for the few who are hard-working British citizens, not the “low skilled immigrants”. Immigrant wealth-creators are welcome but not “wealth consumers“, said Liam Fox at a fringe event. So that’s no more asylum seekers or refugees then?

Theresa May also turned the tables, saying that now Labour is the “supporting voices of hate…the nasty party”. Yet her language is more reminiscent of UKIP’s xenophobia than any kind of utopian equality. Even The Times said of her speech that “The Tory conference was largely immigration policy by Ukip.” It’s a scary future not a bright future we are being presented with.

Got the Brexit Blues? Lost your Pink Beret! Reckon Orange is the new Black?

March for Europe, Paint it Blue

Yesterday, around the UK, from London to Edinburgh, Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge, tens of thousands marched for Europe in an attempt to #paintitblue ahead of parliamentary discussion of the 4-million-plus second referendum petition. Peter Tatchell joined the march and Eddie Izzard, in high heels, gave chase

Orange is the New Black

Meanwhile, Theresa May was away in orange declaring to the US and China that “Brexit means Brexit“, “Free trade means free”, and Britain’s independence would be great – how quick they change their tune, or rather outfits?

Theresa May - "Better off in the European Union"
Theresa May – “Better off in the European Union”?

Political Language turning the air Blue

“Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” – George Orwell

In an article in the Economist about how Republicans and Democrats in the US use political language, it was asserted that liberals try to talk facts and policies whilst conservatives are unafraid to aim for the gut.

“…conservatives use language more effectively than liberals in communicating their deepest values” – George Lakoff, The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic

The language of politics has also become the toxic language of hate, turning the language of the streets, rallies and even political advertising, blue – not pro-EU, but xenophobia and anti-immigrant fear and racism, both leading up to and since Brexit.

All Black takes on Pink Beret

In other news, europhile Eddie Izzard in hat and heels had his pink beret “headgear stolen near Downing Street by a man dressed in all black with a balaclava covering half his face. Despite wearing high heels, Izzard gave furious chase as police caught the man and tore back his beret while he was pinned to the floor. He then dusted off the pink garment and placed it back on his head before marching to Parliament Square.” – Guardian

Eddie Izzard said: “There was one guy… he went up and snatched my beret – which has a British flag and an EU flag on – and he marched off, he stole it.” The comedian said of the police that they “did fantastic”:

“…there was an inspector, some other officers in there, they took him down. I got my beret back, but it’s gone off as evidence – my beret is now in evidence. I’m out, transgender for 31 years and if anyone steals my pink beret, I’ll get it back.” – BBC

Just to keep things serious, here’s The Pink Berets from the movie Hop (2011):

Political Fashion

Now let’s stop obsessing about what trans people or female politicans wear and get back to what really matters. Oh ok, here’s a quick survey of what female leaders are wearing this season, Eddie – get on trend!

Political Fashion Orange is the new Black
Political Fashion, Orange is the new Black?

World Press Freedom Day – Journalism is essential to political accountability and personal liberty

May 3 is the twentieth World Press Freedom Day, a day to be celebrated, whether you like the media you read or not. Doing their job and trying to write free of political pressure or censorship has meant 200 journalists are currently imprisoned worldwide in countries like Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Iran, Palestine, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Freedom of the press means several things. Firstly it should be free of government influence, free to criticise in-power politicians, free to champion the causes of out-of-power ones and those who may have become political prisoners. As the recently deceased Tony Benn MP once said of democracy and those in power: “To whom are you accountable? How can we get rid of you?” – surely one of the tools of challenging politicians is a free Press which should go hand-in-hand with democracy. Tony Benn power democracy quote 2005 No journalism will ever be completely free of personal or political influence, therefore to be truly free, we need journalism of all flavours, passions and persuasions. From long established broadsheet papers like The London and New York Times, The Telegraph, Washington Post and Guardian, to Internet HuffPost, Wikileaks and even tabloid or so-called “gutter press” papers, and combative Radio 4 Today Programme and interrogative Paxman Newsnights – they are all necessary. If we believe in freedom of speech/writing then we cannot seek to control that based upon personal preference for a different style of news or belief on what constitutes news.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” – Thomas Jefferson

Journalists should equally be free to write without editorial or media-owner pressure to toe a particular line. Any piece that bears their name should carry their opinion and theirs alone. They should even have input and a veto on headlines, which are so often written by others after their piece has been edited and approved. This is a part of journalistic transparency which we should be able to see in every article or story. Either in tandem with this, or in addition, there should be rules preventing monopoly and/or government ownership of the Press.

A sad but now inherent part of newspaper history was the so-called “Yellow Journalism” of the 1890s as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer II of Pullitzer Prize fame battled it out for readership, lowering the tone and truth of reporting in the process of pursuing profits over accuracy. We would now call much of this “Tabloid Press” now, though the shape and size of a paper need have no bearing on its quality of content. The “Yellow Press” has, however, still been responsible for bringing people and politicians to account, even if it can also be blamed for causing offence, ‘outing’ people – whether their sexuality, gender or infidelity, it has been cited in cases that have led to suicide – so I am not saying that the media is perfect, just that it is necessary in an open, if not for, an open society.

“Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose” – George Orwell

Whilst writing should, in principle, be free of ‘hate’ speech, libel and slander, it must, however, be free to express opinion and should only incur sanctions when breaking human rights, equality and defamation laws. A right to disagree and be disagreed with is paramount to press freedom and journalistic integrity. That said, opinion pieces should have a right to reply and/or comment with moderators being sure to only police hate speech, insult and injury, and not rights to express personal, political or religious beliefs. Noam Chomsky said that “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”, it is freedom for all or it is censorship. “You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. You must defend all of it or be against all of it.”, as Scott Howard Phillips said, albeit concerning the US 2nd Amendment and right to bear arms. In John Stuart Mill’s 1859 book, On Liberty, he wrote much that holds as true today, if not more so, as 150 years ago:

“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

“We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

In the Danish political drama, Borgen (Season 2 Episode 2), the female PM, Birgitte Nyborg, is encouraged by her faithful friend and gruff colleague Bent Sejrø that a clever politician gathers around themselves people who may disagree with you. Not just as part of the episode’s Sun Tzu “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer” theme but in order to create better policy. Only surrounding yourself with people who agree with you will not save you from mistakes.

World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day was declared at the end of 1993 by the UN General Assembly. It is commemorated on 3 May, the anniversary of the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek (Namibia) to promote “Independent and Pluralistic Media”. Among other principles Windhoek declared that:

  1. Consistent with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.
  2. By an independent press, we mean a press independent from governmental, political or economic control or from control of materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals.
  3. By a pluralistic press, we mean the end of monopolies of any kind and the existence of the greatest possible number of newspapers, magazines and periodicals reflecting the widest possible range of opinion within the community.

Back in 1946, the UN had declared “freedom of information” to be a “fundamental human right”. Press Freedom Day, therefore, seeks to:

  • Celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
  • Assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
  • Defend the media from attacks on their independence;
  • Pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

On 2 May an independent panel of media professionals declared Turkish journalist Ahmet Şik the 2014 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize winner. An investigative reporter and exposer of human rights abuses and corruption, Şik was injured whilst covering the Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul last summer.

Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom Award

On 1 May Al Jazeera English Egypt producer Mohamed Fahmy, who is currently under arrest and detention, was awarded the Canadian Press Freedom Award for a “Canadian journalist who has made an outstanding contribution to the right to freedom of expression in the face of inordinate persecution.” Fahmy had previously worked for the BBC and CNN, and wrote an account, Egyptian Freedom Story, of the Arab Spring of 2011. Fahmy has donated the $2000 prize money to the family of another journalist, Mayada Ashraf, who died whilst covering political demonstrations in Egypt last month.

Al Jazeera Journalists detained in Egypt

Journalism is not a Crime, Amnesty International #FreeAJStaffAmong the hundreds of journalists gagged, detained, or killed, worldwide, are two other Al Jazeera English staff – former BBC journalist, Australian Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed, held in detention by Egypt for “broadcasting false news” – for “false”, whatever your opinion, read “disapproved”. In the prison where they are being held pen and paper are banned yet the power of journalistic truth and persuasion won Fahmy access to them and he was able to smuggle out a letter this week:

“I hereby appeal to the global advocates of press freedom not to hold Egypt, the country of my birth responsible for our wrongful detention. Only certain individuals in the system who lack the understanding of the fundamentals of journalism are to be held accountable. One way to reverse this misunderstanding is to start with the man next to you, and in my case that would be the illiterate prison guard convinced that by broadcasting protests in Egypt to the Western world simply makes me a traitor. His more educated disgruntled boss who has prevented me from having a pen and paper in my cell has become more lenient by time when I continuously highlighted certain values of journalism like transparency and the importance of having a watchdog to question the government that pays his salary and evaluates his performance. The metamorphosis has begun and the fact that this letter has been released from prison and published is in itself a victory to be celebrated and hopefully not the last.”

Another Al Jazeera journalist, Arabic correspondent Abdullah Elshamy, has been imprisoned without trial since last August and has now been on hunger strike for weeks and lost nearly 35kg and not received medical attention. [Update: Elshamy was released on 17 June after 10 months in prison without charge or conviction.]

Fahmy described this as a blatant “breach of human rights” and added in his letter:

“I see no better occasion than today to remind the world about the plight of these men and that there are dozens of respected, local Egyptian reporters and citizen journalists who are suffering in prison awaiting trial, they are simply prisoners of conscience.”

(See and hear the letter read out in an Al Jazeera English video) The Egyptian judge at the 3 May bail hearing wished the 3 detained Al Jazeera journalists a happy Press Freedom Day then refused bail with no sense of irony at all. At the hearing Peter Greste said for the benefit of other reporters present: “You can’t have a free society without a free press. In Egypt today you know that you can’t provide balance as long as you can end up in prison like us.”

[Update: Sadly, the 3 reporters – Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were handed down guilty verdicts on 23 June for 7 years for spreading “false news” and supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, charges they continue to deny and say they were only carrying out their duties as journalists and reporters. Nine other defendants tried in absentia, including three foreign journalists, received 10-year sentences, two have been acquitted. Of the twenty defendants in total nearly half are Al-Jazeera journalists. #AJTrial]

[Latest: Fahmy and Mohamed are among 100 prisoners to be released and/or pardoned today as part of Islam’s Eid al-Adha holiday and Egypt’s attempt to re-legitimise its Western standing]

Censorship

Early 20th century Ukrainian-Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov – he was born in Kiev, but moved to Moscow – managed to simultaneously both offend and please Joseph Stalin and have books and plays not only banned but also protected by him! He superbly put that a journalist without freedom is like a fish without water:

“To struggle against censorship, whatever its nature, and whatever the power under which it exists, is my duty as a writer, as are calls for freedom of the press. I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn’t need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn’t need water.”Mikhail Bulgakov, Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov A Life in Letters and Diaries

Voltaire

If Press freedom is like water for journalists, just as the air all of us breathe, it is not something that can be restricted. The right to free expression and opinion is a universal human right. I’ll end with the infamous non-quote by Voltaire:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This was actually said by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, The Friends of Voltaire, 1906. What he did say in a 1770 letter, was:

“I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

Many have given their own lives in order to report the news or their views, whether professional or “citizen journalists”, but Press freedom means supporting the freedom to express even the views we may detest or disapprove of. Press Freedom Day means reminding the powers that be that the “world will be watching” their treatment of journalists and freedom of speech.

This article was first published on Bubblews and subsequently a version was published on my Google blogger/blogspot account.