Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cons and Neocons Who Hate Free Speech

Commentary by Martin Kelly
October 22, 2004

Being able to express yourself freely within the bounds of the law and without fear of consequences is like the ability to receive a regular delivery of mail – it is the hallmark of a functioning, civilised society. Like the mail, however, it’s sometimes taken for granted.

In the UK, the Post Office doesn’t work anymore. At the turn of the 20th Century, it was said that the only interaction most citizens had with the state was with the mailman, and a letter posted at noon would be delivered at five. There are now no second deliveries, the amount of mail that’s stolen is a national scandal and the unions still have the power to bring the system to a complete halt should they wish to do so. It’s against this background of dysfunctionality that those ever-reliable unprincipled and undisciplined losers, the leadership of the British Parliamentary Conservative Party, have mounted an attack on freedom of speech.

One of the great conservative values is delayed gratification, a hard task in times of low real wages, cheap imports, outsourced jobs, predatory pricing and rising living costs – and when there’s a war on. It’s harsh to have no sympathy for those who feel the call of their Mastercards in such times. However, a group that consistently exempts itself from this value are members of the British Parliamentary Conservative Party, who, when faced with the opportunity to make money on top of the double-national average wage they receive from the taxpayer, never seem to be able to delay their gratification. A good example of this phenomenon is Boris Johnson, MP for Henley-on-Thames.

Elected in 2001, Johnson is also –

Editor of The Spectator
A weekly columnist for The Daily Telegraph
A columnist for GQ magazine
An occasional guest presenter of the BBC’s current affairs comedy quiz show, Have I Got News For You.

However, on this occasion Johnson is the injured party, due to an assault on
his free speech by the Leader of the Conservative Party, the odious Michael Howard.

The death of the Iraq hostage Ken Bigley produced an outpouring of grief in his home city of Liverpool. People can grieve as they see fit – the blown up photo of Bigley, a divorcee with a Thai bride 20 years his junior, hanging in the sanctuary of his mother’s local Catholic Church did grate a little. However, in The Spectator of October 15, an editorial appeared, either written or sanctioned by Johnson, which accused the Liverpool people of ‘wallowing in sentimentality’.

This is where things get confusing. Johnson wrote it or sanctioned it in his capacity as a magazine editor – why, then, did Howard, a person with no connection to the magazine, not only order him to apologise but also to go to Liverpool to deliver the apology in person? Since when did Michael Howard have the power to sanction what magazine editors can and cannot say in their magazines? Does Howard believe that any speech that can even be perceived as being likely to challenge or cause offence should be forbidden? Or is it just any kind of free speech he doesn’t like?

Or is it just free speech that’s politically inept that should be banned?

On October 16, Paul Craig Roberts wrote rather a sad commentary for antiwar.com called The Brownshirting of America. He reported, from personal experience, the tendency of some of those who support George W. Bush to label anybody who opposes him as a traitor or worse, and on their insistence on lockstep support for The Boss. Roberts’ belief is that the root of this is a deep wellspring of economic alienation (another gift of international free trade) into which the talk radio market tapped during the Clinton years. However, what Roberts describes is a different expression of the same level of antipathy to democratic values that leads the followers of Lyndon LaRouche to label Dick Cheney and Tony Blair as ‘Beast Men’. As James Bowman has described, it is almost a feeling that the person delivering the slur or the insult can say anything, that the person receiving it is less than a person, and that they have no right of reply – the accusation is final, the accuser is judge and jury. In this respect, they may indeed be Brownshirts. Or Trotskyites. Or Neocons. Those who sent Roberts the hate-mail that caused Townhall.com to pull his column claimed to be conservatives, but are not that – something else, but not that.

Should Bush win, this may be the future of your country. The movement he leads, not classically Republican, certainly not classically conservative but something else, neoconservative, cannot be trusted to act as custodians of the wonderful history and traditions of American Constitutional democracy. Lies will be solidified as truths, ideology as certainty and war as peace faster than you can say ‘weapons of mass destruction’. John Kerry’s ‘Tony Soprano’ crack was quite funny, given that, to my eyes, Iyad Allawi bears more than a passing resemblance to James Gandolfini. But the President ought to admit that talk of ‘bringing freedom and democracy’ is just garbage if you don’t make every effort to implement the whole package, and that a 78% democracy is no kind of democracy at all. He ought to admit that the conditions for maintaining a democracy and establishing a culture of civil liberties and free speech are not favoured by an Iraqi constitution that has Sharia law as a source. He can sack the Clean Break Gang who are running The Pentagon and who kicked this fiasco off in the first place, all of them dangerous men. And he can say that the USA, the country of Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, Reagan and so many other genuine defenders of freedom, affirms its commitment to respect the civil liberties of citizens of all nations.

Like, just how many trials of those guys in Guantanamo will be heard in public? And how many of them are really dangerous?