At the risk of falling foul of Godwin’s Law …

I’ve been quiet of late, because I’m in Jordan. Ordinarily trips to foreign parts bring a spike in my blogging as I regale you with my hilarious anecdotes and pithy observations. But, firstly, the hilarious anecdotes usually start with large-scale consumption of a substance somewhat frowned upon here; secondly, my pithy observations are being saved up (believe me); and, thirdly, I’m ridiculously busy trying to learn Arabic, which it turns out is something of a tricky language.

But things in Britain go on without me, it would seem, and pretty horrifically so (not least because as every week passes, things get roughly 5% more expensive for me here). I don’t have time for a long rant, or the mental energy to be excoriatingly insightful, so all I intend to do is provide you with a short list some of the anti-Jewish legislation passed by the National Socialist government in Germany in 1933.

February 27, 1933: The Reichstag Fire Decree curtails civil rights in the face of “communist violence.”

  • 2014: R v Incedal and Rarmoul-Bouhadjar becomes first trial to be held entirely in secret, the gagging order is upheld in 2016.
  • 2016: Theresa May announces British troops will not be subject to the European Court of Human Rights.

March 31, 1933: Decree of the Berlin city commissioner for health suspends Jewish doctors from the city’s charity services.

April 7, 1933: Law for the Reestablishment of the Professional Civil Service removes Jews and Communists from government service.

  • 2015: Home Secretary Theresa May launches drive against “entryists” in public service.
  • 2016: UK government bans foreign-born LSE staff from advising on Brexit.

April 25, 1933: Law against Overcrowding in Schools and Universities limits the number of Jewish students in public schools.

  • 2016: Schools must collect data on the nationality and citizenship status of their pupils. Amber Rudd introduces restrictions on overseas university students.

Look, obviously these comparisons are not exact. I am not claiming that the approach of the Conservative government is anything like on the scale or malignancy of the pre-war Nazi-controlled Weimar Republic. But what I am saying is that both of these represent, in an environment of economic strife, a systematic and institutional process of marking out a group of the population as “other,” making them lesser human beings to be monitored and restricted, and identifying them as responsible in large for the economic problems and potentially actively repugnant to the ideals of the state.

As well as scale, there are differences in kind. I can think of two in particular:

  1. In the Weimar Republic, the economic conditions were utterly disastrous for the whole populace (this is not to demean the experience of the half million plus forced to use food banks in 2015), but were also imposed from outside by the punitive stringency of the Treaty of Versailles. In contemporary Britain, the economic straits are a consequence of policies of precisely the same government (or, at least, the same party) that now seeks to blame them on their selected “others.”
  2. Most obviously, Hitler was a maniac, whereas Theresa May is an intelligent and, one presumes, fairly rational human being. The data exist showing that migrants bring a net economic benefit to the UK; that even in the jobs most affected by immigration—low-paid semi-skilled or unskilled service jobs—the effect of migration on wages equates to about 2p per hour; and that migration has virtually no effect on employment levels (and where it does, it is migration from outside the EU that has the effect). No-one would suggest that the Nazis should have known better, because knowledge was irrelevant to their programme. Theresa May does know better—she can hardly be unaware of these data—but knowledge does not appear to be relevant to her programme either. This, above everything else, is deeply worrying.

I get back from Jordan in late December. I have been, whilst here, thinking hard about whether to stay in the UK and fight the good fight; or to leave for other shores and let the country descend into institutionalized xenophobia without me. The latter option is winning out at present … I can just see nothing, nothing good that can come of our present direction, nor any practical way to change it.

In which I find another member of the government raiding my underwear drawer

I came home today to find—once again—a member of the government going through my underwear drawer. This time it was Theresa May, and she was accompanied by two unsmiling policemen. They appeared to be methodically checking each and every item, and taking down details of the brand, colour, and a note of how used they appeared.

“Excuse me,” I cried indignantly, “but what on Earth do you think you’re doing?”

Theresa gave me a smile, or at least made a grimace that approximated one. “It’s perfectly alright,” she said, “we’re just recording some metadata, exactly as the bill I currently have before Parliament allows, and checking for any naughty pants you may be in possession of.”

“Well can I see your warrant, then?” I asked.

“Of course not!” laughed Theresa merrily, as she inspected an elderly pair of boxer briefs for infelicitously-located holes. “Under our proposed legislation the entire contents of everyone’s underwear drawers will be open to the police without the need for a warrant.”

I was appalled. “But this is tantamount to a police state! What possible business is it of the police what underwear I wear, unless they have very good reason to suspect that I wear naughty pants—good enough reason to present before a judge and obtain authorization to examine my (ahem) drawers drawer?”

“But you don’t appear to have any naughty pants,” said Theresa, rubbing her fingers along the waistband of my favourite lucky pants and covertly sniffing them, “and as my former colleague pointed out to you: if you are innocent, you have nothing to fear.”

“That is the most chilling defence of mass surveillance,” I retorted, “and also quite simply untrue. There are plenty of pants that, though not naughty, are nevertheless tasteless and embarrassing. I used to own a leopardskin-print posing pouch[1]: it was not by any means naughty, but it was highly embarrassing. I have every right as a private individual to not have my ownership thereof known to the police, or to anyone.”

“But it’s perfectly alright,” said Theresa, surreptitiously but appreciatively stroking my one pair of posh-night-out silk boxers. “If it’s not actually naughty, the police aren’t interested in your leopardskin pouch.”

“That’s not true, for three reasons. Firstly, though I own no naughty pants, as the police are going through everyone’s underwear drawer, they may find that most people who own leopardskin posing pouches do also own naughty items. Suspicion of owning naughty items will therefore be cast upon me, and I may be required as a result to prove a negative—that I have none hidden away anywhere—which constitutes another small chip away at the edifice of innocent until proven guilty.

“Secondly, whilst it makes it very easy for the police to find people who own one or two pieces of naughty lingerie, the routine wearers of these shocking items—let alone those who manufacture, sell, and encourage others to wear them—will already be quite alert to this legislation and will have long since taken steps to circumvent it, such as keeping their naughty items in their socks drawer, or only using public lockers for underwear storage. This, combined with the pressurized environment of massively reduced funding within a targets-driven culture, risks shifting the police’s attention to minor miscreants who are easy to pick up, rather than the drivers and builders of the naughty lingerie industry. It is equivalent to pursuing occasional and casual drugs users rather than the gangs who traffic and push them.

“Finally, it presumes that the police are both competent and benign, when they are demonstrably neither. In 2005 they killed a man precisely because they got confused due to his underwear drawer being next to another one which they considered suspicious. Despite the staggering and malign incompetence of this act, no-one from the police force has ever been censured in any way for it and indeed the woman who oversaw this extrajudicial execution—because if you hold someone down and shoot them in the head eleven times, that is an execution—was promoted soon after, and has a distinguished service medal. The police have also already spent a substantial amount of taxpayers’ money raiding the underwear drawers of people such as the mother of a murdered teenager who has spent twenty years trying to hold them to account for the corruption and incompetence in their handling of the case, and non-violent environmental activists—rather notoriously the police seem to at least have been indifferent to, and probably actively encouraging of, their covert panty-sniffers actually climbing into the pants in question.”

“Well that’s an entirely different matter,” Theresa replied, “I have been clear that covert operations require great oversight, and have commissioned a review into these practices.”

“Well I’d argue that the two issues are not so different,” I answered. “Both pertain to the police’s access to the private behaviour of private individuals, and the oversight of them in obtaining such access. In the one case you have appeared to endorse strong oversight—though I note you have repeatedly avoided commenting on the conclusions of precisely that review you so proudly trumpeted—yet in the other case you are endorsing utterly unfettered access with no oversight.

“And there’s a final issue concerning this,” I went on, “pointed out by David Allen Green. Your own government’s attitude towards the publicly-funded underpants that they themselves wear is in stark contrast to their attitude towards my private underpants. When the Independent newspaper sought to obtain a list of your very own publicly-funded panties—not your private ones, just those that we have paid for—your office refused to divulge this information, claiming the request was “vexatious.” We have already been excluded from knowing anything about the extremely expensive underwear that we, the taxpayers, provide for Mrs Windsor and her family. And now your government is attempting to water down the Freedom of Information Act yet further, to create “safe spaces” for policy meetings. So whilst you appear to consider the private underwear of private individuals to be open season for the police force, you are attempting to obscure from us the publicly-funded underwear worn by public servants when going about their public duties. Is this not the rankest hypocrisy?”

Theresa shrugged, indifferently, and nodded approvingly to the policeman who had taken up a pair of decidedly naughty crotchless panties. “Looks like we found something after all,” she said.

I was genuinely surprised to see them. “Those aren’t mine!” I cried. “They must have been left there by a guest, or got mixed up in my washing at a public launderette, or it could even be someone has created a little robot that puts naughty underwear in innocent people’s drawers.[2]

“Oh we don’t care about that!” she laughed. “If they’re in your drawers we’re going to presume they’re yours. Now, why don’t you leave off this whole inconvenient discussion? Or perhaps you’d like us to take naughty-panty action against you?”

“But this is just blackmail!” I cried again. “You are using the broad remit of your laws coupled with a narrow interpretation of responsibility to hound me into conformance with your agenda.”

“Really?” Theresa smiled, knowingly. “Well fancy that…”

[1] This is entirely true.
[2] Malware. Difficult to stretch the analogy this far.

On Theresa May and extremism

Theresa May’s McCarthyist credentials took quite a boost today, as she announced a drive against “entryist” infiltration of the public sector, charities, and businesses. The Home Office definition of “entryism” is, according to the Guardian, “extremist individuals, groups and organisations consciously seeking to gain positions of influence to better enable them to promote their own extremist agendas.” Those devious fuckers, hey?

What’s odd about this definition is, the repeated use of “extremist” aside, it seems a remarkably good definition of exactly why most people do enter the public sector. One presumes that Theresa herself sought to gain a position of influence—it seems unlikely that one becomes Home Secretary by accident, or against one’s will—and one presumes that she did so in order to be able to promote her own bigotry—sorry, agenda. So is she an entryist? Well that will have to turn on whether you consider her an extremist or not, because that seems to be the only thing that picks out an entryist from an ordinary, principled public servant. Fortunately, Theresa herself has provided a definition of extremism: “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”

Can we talk about Saudi Arabia, now? Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, it is a theocratic monarchy. In Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International, the security services carry out arbitrary arrests, detain people for considerably longer than the country’s laws permit, and generally act outside the rule of even those atrocious laws that are in place. In Saudi Arabia there may be a level of individual liberty for well-behaved Muslim men, but Theresa herself would not be allowed to leave her own house without being covered from head to toe and in the company of her husband or other family member. In Saudi Arabia “freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and the government severely restricts it in practice” (and that’s according to our own best buddies). Taking Theresa’s fundamental British values as given (and here is not the place to quibble about them), it rather seems that Saudi Arabia is opposed to all of them, and therefore under Theresa and the Home Office’s own definitions, is a ripe candidate for the epithet “extremist.”

And this is odd, because Theresa—who is so determined to root out extremism in the public sector—was one of those who, in the recent cabinet dispute about whether or not to continue selling the services of precisely that public sector to precisely that extremist regime, lobbied Cameron to keep the contract in place.

Of all the contortions and contradictions that this and previous governments and ministers have engaged in to suck up to their oil-providing masters in the Gulf, this has to be one of the most revolting. To engage in a witch-hunt against “extremism” in the public sector whilst actively advocating the whoring out of that same public sector to the country which competes with North Korea for the most extremist regime on the planet takes a level of hypocrisy that beggars belief.

To avoid any doubt: Theresa May, by definitions of her own government, has actively promoted that our public services actively engage with extremism. Chances of her duly and unceremoniously turfing herself out on her ear? Fucking zero, of course.