Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 113
13th October 2003

Not Socialism, but Post-Socialism:
The Nature of the Enemy
by Sean Gabb


Around this time of year, I give much of my writing time to complaints about the Conservative Party. There is little directly on this matter I have not already published; and I see no reason for saying it all again with a present set of examples. What I will do instead is to provide a sociological analysis of why the Conservatives are doing so badly. I begin this with an abstract that summarises a longer argument.


The problems now faced by the Conservative Party are not fundamentally a matter of policies and personalities. They are instead the effect of a set of assumptions—more or less accepted by all involved in politics—that makes the advocacy of conservative ideas almost impossible. Using the terminology and analysis of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist thinker, this set of assumptions may be called a "hegemonic discourse". Propagated by all the instruments of administration and law and education, it sets the terms of public debate—what questions may and may not be asked, and how those allowed may be answered.

The discourse is not supported by overt propaganda of the kind used by the totalitarian states of the middle and late 20th century. It is instead imposed by three primary methods. There is the control of terminology—"left" and "right", "progressive" and "outmoded", and so forth—thereby enabling arguments to be conducted in terms already biassed to one side. Periodic shifts in terminology - "gay" for homosexual", for example—also allows one side to come to any argument from an already established position of moral superiority. There is control of the news media. This does not involve actual lying. It is rather a matter of selection and emphasis of true facts: articles and news items can be constructed that in the formal sense are wholly neutral, but that create an entirely prejudicial effect on their audience. Then there is control of the entertainment media. Again, this does not involve the crude propagandising of the National and Bolshevik Socialists. It is the use of drama and comedy to normalise attitudes previously regarded as unusual or even offensive, and to associate their opposites with all that is bad.

Conservative opposition to the New Labour project is based on the assumption that it is essentially about economic policy. But it is not about economics—or is so only at the periphery. This project is one of cultural deconstruction. Socialism of the familiar kind is for the moment dead. This project is its replacement. The established order of liberal democracy is still to be overturned, but not by the traditional means of seizing the means of production. Though not socialists in the traditional sense, the directors of the project were all influenced—at university or by example—by the writings of Gramsci and Foucault and Althusser, and the various other philosophers of the "New Left".

To understand what is happening needs an understanding of these philosophers. Indeed, to understand their writings is of the greatest importance—just as understanding those of Karl Marx was in the earlier debates over socialism. The critiques of liberal democracy contained in these writings are all variously false or questionable. But the analyses of how the ruling class gains and keeps power - through the control of culture and the construction of hegemonic discourses—may be seen as a set of instructions for how the new non-economic socialists can themselves gain and keep power.

These writings are also useful to the opponents of the project. For over a generation, the enemies of liberal democracy have been complaining about "repressive tolerance" and "labelling" and "moral panics" and "hegemonic ideologies". All these terms and the analyses they express can now be used with far greater justice against these enemies of liberal democracy. They can be used to spread embarrassment and confusion, and also to recapture the moral high ground of debate.

For this to be achieved, however, it is necessary to educate conservatives in general—and Conservatives in particular—so that they can understand the nature of the present threat, and to use these captured tools of analysis and attack. Arguments based on the economic calculation debate won against the socialists from the 1920s onwards are for the moment largely useless. It is now accepted that the State cannot bake bread better or more cheaply than the private sector. It is still useful to complain about high taxes and the growing burden of regulation. But these complaints must be grounded on an understanding of the reasons why these taxes and regulations are being imposed—their purpose being to advance an agenda of cultural transformation.

How this education is to be achieved is a matter for further discussion. Briefly put, is there anyone out there who will give me the money needed to buy the time for educating the conservative movement?

I can be reached by the usual means.

Sean Gabb
13 October 2003
07956 472 199


For at least ten years now, the British Conservative Party has been in serious trouble. It has lost two of the past three general elections, and does not seem likely to win the next one. The reasons for this collapse of support can be divided under two headings. There are local and general reasons. The local reasons are obvious. Since Margaret Thatcher was forced from office in November 1990, the Party has had three more or less ineffectual leaders. At the same time, the Blair Government has been reasonably able and very lucky. It has faced no serious challenge to its authority, and has done little immediate harm to the strong economic position inherited from the Conservatives in 1997.

If these were the only reasons for Conservative weakness, the solution would be fairly easy. It would be a matter of looking for a better leader, or waiting for the recession to hit, or both. The problem is that, behind these local reasons, there are general reasons for weakness that make it very hard for any Conservative leader to be effective, or for any but the most serious failure by Labour to bring its legitimacy as the governing party into doubt. Indeed, even given some unexpected upset that might bring them back into office, it is unlikely that the Conservatives would find themselves in power. For all they might be able to form a Conservative Government, they would not be able to pursue conservative objects in defence of liberal democracy. The great problem for the Conservatives, regardless of whoever leads them, is that they are the target of a highly effective Gramscian project, and they show not the smallest sign of understanding the nature of their enemy.

A Gramscian Project

The administration of this country should not be regarded as a neutral machine, to be directed as the elected politicians please. It is instead best seen as a web of people and institutions. There are the civil servants. There are the public sector educators. There are the semi-autonomous agencies funded by the tax payers. There are journalists and other communicators. There are certain formally private media and entertainment and legal and business interests that obtain power, status and income from the policies of government. Together, these are the true government of this country. The elected politicians are not unimportant parts of the administrative web. But they are required to work within limitations imposed by the web as a whole. These limitations are set by the ideas that hold the various parts of the web together.

These ideas may be called a hegemonic ideology. They set the agenda of debate and policy. They determine what questions exist, how they can be discussed, and what solutions may be applied. They provide a whole language of debate. Ideas outside the range of this hegemonic ideology—as especially those hostile to it—either have no words at all for their discussion, or can be discussed only in words that implicitly discredit them in advance. Once achieved within the administrative web, ideological hegemony can be spread, through education and example, to the rest of the population.

The function of ideological hegemony is to legitimise the power and status of the ruling élites in a society, and to marginalise dissent where it cannot altogether be prevented. It supplements—or can even entirely replace—the more overt forms of repression.

These functions were first analysed in systematic manner by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist imprisoned by Mussolini. By the early 20th century, it was clear, in spite of what Marx had predicted, that the industrial working classes in Western Europe and America would not rise in spontaneous revolution. Rather than conclude that the whole theory had been falsified by events, Gramsci and his followers developed the "rescue hypothesis" that the workers had been prevented from understanding their real interests by their acceptance of the dominant bourgeois ideology. Because they thought in terms of national identity and the amelioration of hardship through social reform, they could not see how exploited they were, and how no true improvement was possible within the existing mode of production.

The purpose and use of this analysis has tended to limit its reception among conservatives. However, once developed, any set of ideas can be detached from the circumstances that produced it. It makes no more sense for non-socialists to reject the concept of ideological hegemony because of its origins than it did for the German national socialists to reject the theory of relativity because it was originated by a Jew. Where ideas are concerned, all that matters is whether they are true or false.

Now, when applied to the institutions of liberal democracy, the analysis was false. These were reasonably open societies, with a high degree of toleration of dissent, and economic institutions that had raised and were raising the living standards of all social groups. Nevertheless, it does exactly apply to those people who have taken control of the administrative web and are using it to impose their own, profoundly anti-conservative hegemony in Britain and throughout the English-speaking world.

A Quasi-Marxist Ideological Hegemony

In a sense, the administrative web has been dominated for at least the past three generations by ideas hostile to conservatism. Ever since the 1940s, conservative governments in both Britain and America have found it necessary to govern mostly within the assumptions of the administrators and of their allies. However, the old anti-conservative élites—headed by people like J.M. Keynes and Paul Samuelson, and Roy Jenkins and Warren Christopher - by and large accepted the assumptions of liberal democracy. There was a commitment to open and reasonably fair debate, and to the proposition that justice should remain separate from politics. It was bound together by a belief in its superior wisdom and goodness and by a contempt for opposition. But its hegemony was rather mild and amateurish, and little attempt was made to preserve that hegemony after its claims had been falsified in the 1970s. Since the 1970s - even as conservatives were celebrating the death of socialism—a new and far more professional and ruthless hegemony has been established within the administrative web.

This hegemony proceeds from the progressive domination of the universities by radical socialists. From Sociology and the other social studies, they spread out to colonise virtually every other discipline with the exceptions of Economics, Mathematics and the natural sciences. They are particularly strong in most departments of Education and in teacher training programmes. Since the 1960s, they have been turning out generation after generation of graduates exposed to the ideas of Marxism and quasi-Marxism. Few of these graduates, of course, became committed activists. But, from early middle age downwards, there are now hundreds of thousands of intellectual workers—the key personnel of the administrative web - whose minds have been shaped within radical socialist assumptions.

How the Death of Socialism Has Strengthened Socialists

When socialism collapsed in the 1980s as an economic ideology in the West, and as the legitimisation of tyranny in the East, it seemed at first as if the world had been made safe for liberal democracy. Francis Fukuyma, for example, felt able to argue that the next century would see the progressive triumph around the world of capitalism, democracy and the rule of law. More than a decade later, though, we can see that his optimism was at least premature.

If we look at the leading personnel in the Blair and Clinton administrations—and, perhaps more importantly in the administrative webs below them—we see an almost unvaried hold on positions of importance by people whose minds have been at least shaped by the general ideas of radical socialism. They may no longer be socialists in the economic sense. But their most basic assumptions—from which their old economic analysis had proceeded—has remained intact.

The Relevance of a Gramscian Analysis

What makes the various kinds of Marxist and neo-Marxist analysis so peculiarly appropriate to their actions is that these analyses accurately describe how their minds work. Speech in the old liberal democracies was reasonably free. There was an attempt to separate news from comment. Justice was fairly impartial. But since our new rulers spent their younger years denying these truths, they are quite willing, now they are in power, to act on the belief that they are not true. Because they believe that tolerance is repressive, they are repressive. Because they do not believe that objectivity is possible, they make no attempt at objectivity. Because they do not believe that justice is other than politics by other means, they are politicising justice. Because they believe that liberal democracy is a façade behind which a ruling class hides its ruthless hold on power, they are making a sham of liberal democracy. In this scheme of things, the works of a whole line of Marxist and neo-Marxist philosophers, from Gramsci to Foucault, are to be read not as a critique of liberal democracy, but as the manifesto of their students.

What the Socialists Want

That these people cannot clearly describe the shape of their ideal society, does not at all weaken the force of their attack on the one that exists. The old socialists were notoriously vague about their final utopia, but this did not stop them from producing mountains of dead bodies wherever they took power. We may doubt if the present generation of socialists are sincere when they talk about justice, peace and good will between all people. But we can have no doubt of their immediate end. This is the destruction of the old social and political order—the overturning of its traditions and norms, its standards and laws, its history and heroes. Every autonomous institution, every set of historical associations, every pattern of loyalty that they cannot control—these they want to destroy or neutralise.

The Lack of Conservative Response

As said, this is a Gramscian project carried out by Gramscians. These people spent their younger years reading and thinking about ideological hegemony, and they are now, in their middle years, trying to achieve it. Again, as said, conservatives do not understand the nature of the attack. They understand armed terrorism, and know—at least in theory—how to deal with it. They also know about economic socialism, and are fluent in all the necessary modes of refutation. But the anti-conservatives are not really interested in armed violence—why should they be when they dominate the administrative web? Nor are they really interested in nationalising the means of production, distribution and exchange. No doubt, the Blair Government has raised taxes since 1997, and has imposed a mass of regulations on business. But the tax rises have not been high enough, nor the regulations heavy enough, to give serious inconvenience to the important big business interests.

The real area of conflict is cultural. That is where the engines of destruction are now most concentrated. And this is a conflict in which there is no overall strategy of defence. There are local defences, and these sometimes succeed. But there is no strategy, nor even the realisation that one might be needed. The engines of destruction may be ranged against fox hunting, or unfashionable humour, or Remembrance Day commemorations, or the Churches, or the nuclear family, or received opinions about the past, or national independence, or the Monarchy, or standard English, or private motoring, or whatever else—but the object is always to delegitimise dissent where it cannot be made impossible.

The strategy of attack is easily described. It involves controlling the language of public debate, control of the news and entertainment media, and the use of these to control perceptions of the past and thereby to shape the future. As Orwell said in Nineteen Eighty Four, "who controls the present controls the past: who controls the past controls the future".

The Control of Language

Most obvious is the control of political taxonomy. The distinction between "right" and "left" is an extraordinarily pervasive force, shaping general understanding and judgement of political concepts. Hitler was on the "extreme right". Conservatives are on the "right". Therefore, all conservatives partake of evil, the extent of evil varying with the firmness with which conservative views are held. Any conservative who wants to achieve respect in the media must first show that his conservatism is of the "moderate" kind—that intellectually he more of a social drinker than an alcoholic. Equally, libertarians and those called "neo-liberals" are on the "right". Therefore, they must be evil. The humorous accusation that someone is "to the right of Genghis Khan" serves the same function.

The use of this taxonomy allows the most contradictory views on politics and economics to be compounded, and all to be smeared without further examination as disreputable. Therefore, the "extreme right-winger" David Irving, who is a national socialist and holocaust revisionist; the "extreme right-winger" J.M. le Pen, who wants to reduce the flow of immigrants into France, but is not a national socialist and who apparently has much Jewish support in his country; and the "extreme right-winger" Enoch Powell, who was a traditional English conservative and a notable champion of liberal economics - all these are placed into the same category, and hostile judgements on one are by natural extension applied to the others.

At various times and in various ways, the trick has been played with other words—for example, "reform", progressive", "modernisation", and "outmoded". This first is among the earliest modern examples. From around the end of the 18th century, concerted efforts were made to alter the qualifications for voting in parliamentary elections. The advocates of change were arguing for the abandoning of a system that had been associated with the rise of England to wealth and national greatness, and that had allowed a reconciling of reasonably stable government with free institutions. In its place they wanted a franchise that had never before been tried —except perhaps in some of the revolutionary upheavals in Europe. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps they were proved right in the event. But their way was made easier by calling the proposed changes "reform"—a word they charged with positive associations - and leaving their conservative opponents to argue against "improvement". Modern politics are less intellectually distinguished than in the 19th century. Therefore, less effort has been needed to play the trick with "outmoded" - which allows ideas and laws to be rejected simply on the grounds that they are old.

Then there are the periodic changes of permitted terminology. Every so often, conservative newspapers report that a new word has been coined to describe an established fact, and laugh at the seeming pedantry with which use of this new word is enforced within the administrative web. For example, homosexual became "gay", which became "lesbian-and-gay", and which is now becoming "LGBT"—this being the acronym for "lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered". Words like mongol, spastic, cripple, single mother, and many others, have likewise been replaced and replaced again. In a sense, this is a misguided but well-meaning attempt to mitigate the hardship of the thing by finding new words that contain no added hurt. But its effect—and therefore part of its intention, a Granscian project being granted—is to remove conservatives from the moral high ground in any debate over policy on such people. When conservatives must think twice before opening their mouths, consulting their opponents on what language of description is now appropriate, they have conceded a very important part of the agenda of debate to their opponents. They have conceded an authority over words that must be gradually extended to a general authority. Conservatives may laugh at the clumsy acronyms and circumlocutions that are coined to replace existing words. But the intention is far from comic; and the effect is highly dangerous.

A similar effect is achieved with the frequent and often seemingly arbitrary changes of name given to ethnic groups and to places. Gypsies must now be called "Roma" or simply "Rom", and Red Indians must be called "Native Americans". Ceylon has become Sri Lanka, Dacca has become Dhaka, and Bombay has become Mumbai. Again, words are no longer the neutral means of discussion, but are charged with a political meaning, and judgements can be made on whether or not they are used as required.

Sometimes, words are imposed with a more immediate effect than forcing the deference of opponents. Take a word like "underprivileged", which has largely replaced the older word poor. This came into general use in the 1970s, and was soon used without apology or comment even by Conservative Cabinet Ministers. It carries a powerful ideological charge—the message that anyone with money in the bank or a good set of clothes has somehow received an unfair advantage, and that those who lack these things have been deliberately excluded from the distribution. Though frequent use has tended to blunt its effect and make it no more than a synonym for poor, its acceptance in any debate on social policy puts conservatives at an instant disadvantage.

Control of the News Media

Noam Chomsky, another radical socialist, is useful to an understanding of how the news media are controlled. There is no overt censorship of news—no bureau through which news must be cleared, no restrictive licensing of media outlets, no closed order of journalists, or whatever. Instead, only those journalists and media bureaucrats are ever appointed to positions of public influence who already share the hegemonic ideology. They censor themselves.

Again, the Chomsky analysis was intended to apply to the media in a liberal democracy, and was false. When liberal democracy was in its prime, there was a truly diverse media in which all strands of opinion found open expression. But, as ever, his analysis does apply to any media dominated by those he has influenced. Nobody tells BBC reporters how to cover stories. Instead, all BBC positions are advertised in The Guardian, and most are filled with graduates from the appropriate Media Studies courses.

Now, the propaganda thereby spread by this controlled media is not usually so overt and as that of the great totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century. Techniques of influence have much improved since then. News is reported, and with seeming accuracy. The propaganda lies in the selection and presentation of news. To take a notorious example, everyone knows that the overwhelming majority of interracial crime in Britain and America is black on white. Yet this is not reflected in the media coverage. When the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, was killed in South London back in 1992, the story received lavish coverage in the media; and the story continued through failed trials, a public enquiry, and the official and media harassment of the unconvicted suspects. The much larger number of black on white murders—known rather than suspected murders, and containing an obvious racial motivation—are either not reported at all or covered briefly and without comment in the local media.

Then there is the presentation of news. A skilled journalist can cover a story in such a way that no fact is untrue, and dissenting views are reported in full—and still manage to produce an article so biassed that it amounts to a lie. It is a question of selecting the right adjectives, or suggesting doubts or motives, of balancing quotations, of carefully taking words and opinions accurately reported but framing them in settings that suggest the opposite. The greatest single exposure of these techniques is the 1993 article "How to Frame a Patriot" by Barry Krusch. But, to give a brief example, look at the way in which almost all coverage in The New York Times and on CNN of the Oklahoma bombings include some reference to the American militia movement. No connection has ever been proven between the bombings and any militia, yet the connection is still made in reporting of the bombings - without making any overt accusation, the association is still made out. Or look at the way in which nearly all media coverage of the British Conservative Party smuggles in some reference to the personal corruption of several Ministers in the John Major Cabinet. The exception to this rule is Kenneth Clarke, the leading Conservative supporter of British adoption of the Euro: his role in the arms to Iraq scandal is forgotten. Equally, any reporting of the far worse corruption in Tony Blair's Cabinet is usually accompanied more by pity than condemnation. Without any actual lies told, the impression conveyed is that the last Conservative government was so corrupt that the known examples may have been a fraction of the whole, while the present Labour government is a model of virtue compromised only by the Prime Minister's inability to realise that not all his colleagues reach his own standards of honesty.

Control of the Entertainment Media

Control of the entertainment media is an area almost uncovered in Britain, except for the radical socialist analyses of the 1960s and 1970s. But it is probably far more important than any control of the news media. Fewer and fewer people nowadays pay much attention to current affairs programmes on the television, or read anything in the newspapers beyond the sports pages—if they still read newspapers at all. But millions watch the entertainment programmes; and these have been recruited as part of the hegemonic apparatus.

Look at the BBC soap Eastenders. This is a programme in which almost no marriage is happy or lasts for long, in which anyone wearing a suit is likely to be a villain, and in which the few sympathetic characters are worthless but presented as victims of circumstances. While they may not have invented them, the scriptwriters have introduced at least two phrases into working class language: "It's doing my head in", and "It's all pressing in on me". These are usually screamed by one of the characters just before he commits some assault on his own property or another person. It means that the character has lost control of his emotions and can no longer be held accountable for his actions.

Then there is its almost comical political correctness. One of the characters is a taxi driver and his mother is an old working class native of the East End. Neither of them raised the obvious objection when one of his daughters decided to marry a black man—not that such a marriage would be in any sense wrong: what matters here is the deliberate absence of the obvious objection as part of a project of delegitimisation. But this is a flourish. The longer term effect of the programme is to encourage intellectual passivity, an abandoning of moral responsibility, and an almost Mediterranean lack of emotional restraint.

Or look at how the BBC treats its own archive. Every so often, black and white footage of presenters from the 1950s is shown, with parodied upper class voices talking nonsense or mild obscenity added in place of the original sound. Is this meant to be funny? Perhaps it is. But its effect—and, again, its probable intention at least in part—is to sneer at the more polished and sedate modes of communication used before the present hegemonic control was imposed.

It is possible to fill up page after page with similar examples of the use of popular entertainment as a reinforcer of the hegemonic ideology—the careful balance of races and sexes in positions of authority, the vilification of white middle class men, the undermining of traditional morals and institutions, the general attack on all that is targeted for destruction. Any one example given may seem trifling or even paranoid. But, taken together, the function of much of the entertainment media is to subvert the old order. Hardly ever are people told openly to go and vote Labour. But the overall effect is so to change perceptions of the present and past that voting Conservative or expressing conservative opinions comes to be regarded as about as normal and respectable as joining a Carmelite nunnery. And barely a word is raised in protest.

How to Win the Battle

I do have a complete strategy of opposition, but have none of the financial means needed to implement it. This analysis is offered, therefore, in the hope that someone will agree with me sufficiently to fund the strategy.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 114
2nd November 2003

Thoughtcrime and The Secret Policeman:
A Case Study in Discourse Theory
by Sean Gabb

I have just watched a recording of The Secret Policeman. This is a documentary programme first shown by the BBC on Tuesday, the 21st October 2003. In this, a reporter posed for six months as a police cadet and then as a police officer, while secretly filming his colleagues. Some of the language caught on film expresses strong dissent from the established opinions on race and immigration. One of the officers put on a white hood and discussed the merits of burying a "Paki bastard under a railway line". He also insisted that Stephen Lawrence—a black youth whose death ten years ago led to a report all about "institutional racism"—had deserved his end. He added:

Isn't it good how good memories don't fade? He fucking deserved it, and his mum and dad are a fucking pair of spongers.

Another officer said of his Asian colleagues:

Truthfully? Fuck them all off. I'll admit it—I'm a racist bastard. I don't mind blacks. I don't mind black people. Asians? No.

Another said of Asians in general:

A dog born in a barn is still a dog. A Paki born in Britain is still a fucking Paki.

As soon as the programme was shown, the chorus of disapproval swelled to full volume. The Acting Deputy Chief Constable of the North Wales Police said:

I felt physically sick as I watched The Secret Policeman.(1)

The Deputy Chief Constable of the Manchester Police said:

I was shocked, sickened, ashamed and saddened by what I saw.(2)

The newspapers and the electronic media not only reported, but joined in the expressions of outrage. Five of the officers filmed resigned the day after the showing. Another was suspended.

Even forgetting the nature of the language used, it is hard to feel sorry for these officers. They are police officers. They are "the pigs". They are the unintelligent, semi-literate dregs of their section of the working class, who have been given a supervisory power over everyone else, including their betters—and who use and abuse this power to the full. They are inefficient. They are incompetent. They are corrupt. So far, only five of these people have resigned. It would be a better country by far if they could all be persuaded to resign. We could then save on the costs of their well-padded salaries. As for crime control, we could go back to the good old days of arming ourselves and otherwise relying on the hue and cry and private prosecutions.

We need, however, to look away from the beastly nature of the people concerned, and look instead at why the programme was made and why the responses to it were so emphatic. Look at the response of that Welsh police chief—he described himself as "physically sick" at what was said. "Physically sick"? When was the last time any of us felt that about something read or heard? For myself, cat droppings, rotten meat, certain medical conditions - these can set my stomach heaving as if I were some teenage anorexic. But I really doubt if, once in the past forty years, I have read or heard anything that came near to provoking a physical response. And these were the words of a senior police officer. It has long been his professional duty to acquaint himself with matters that require a greater than average firmness of mind. "Physically sick"? I somehow doubt it.

But what those police officers said was not merely tasteless and uncharitable. Nor was it merely embarrassing to their senior officers. So far as their senior officers were concerned, and so far as the authors were concerned of virtually all media and political comment, what they said was the equivalent of heresy or treason. It was a duty not merely to deplore what they said, but to denounce it in the strongest terms that came to mind. Any faintness of utterance, it seems to have been felt, might leave one open to suspicions of agreement oneself with what had been said.

Marxist Theory Is Marxist Practice

At this point, I must beg the indulgence of my readers. In my last article for Free Life Commentary, I wrote at some length to show the usefulness of neo-Marxist sociology in analysing the nature of any social order ruled by Marxists or by those influenced by Marxism. Here, I will continue the theme, using this present case as an example of how the analysis can be made to work.

According to Marx himself, the political and cultural shape of any society is determined by ownership of the means of production. There is the economic base, and piled on top of this is the superstructure of all else. Let the base be changed, and the superstructure will be changed as surely and automatically as the appearance of a forest is changed by the varying distance of our planet from the sun. I know there are inherent ambiguities in his theory and many possibly varying interpretations of it. But this summary is accurate enough for our current purposes. As here summarised, there is a rough grandeur to his claim. It is, however, false. We have now been waiting over 150 years for the inner contradictions of liberalism to reveal themselves, and so bring on the next stage of human development. There has been no immiserisation of the proletariat, and no general overproduction crises.

Aside from dropping the whole system as a failure, two responses to this problem emerged in the early 20th century. The first was to look around for some half-convincing rescue hypothesis - see Lenin, for example, on how exploiting the colonies had replaced exploiting the workers at home. The second was to keep the messianic fervour of the original ideology while dropping its economic determinism. The three most important projectors of this change were Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), Louis Althusser (1918-91), and Michel Foucault (1926-84).

According to their reformulation of Marxism, a ruling class keeps control not by owning the means of production, but by setting the cultural agenda of the country. It formulates a "dominant" or "hegemonic" ideology, to legitimise its position, and imposes this on the rest of society through the "ideological state apparatus"—that is, through the political and legal administration, through the schools and churches, and through the underlying assumptions of popular culture. There is some reliance on the use or threat of force to silence criticism—the "repressive state apparatus"—but the main instrument of control is the systematic manufacture of consent. At times, this hegemonic ideology can amount to a "discourse", this being a set of ways of thinking and talking about issues that makes it at least hard for some things to be discussed at all.

Though much ingenuity has gone into proving the opposite, it is hard to see what value even a reformulated Marxism has for analysing the politics and culture of a liberal society. In this country, between about the end of the 17th and towards the end of the 20th centuries, there were ruling classes, and there were what can be called dominant ideologies. But the rulers legitimised their position by reference to standards which were not imposed by them, but had largely emerged spontaneously throughout society as a whole. The function of the ideological state apparatus was not to enforce values on the governed, but to reflect and thereby reinforce values that were already taken for granted. I remember once seeing a print of the Queen and Prince Consort sat with their family round a Christmas tree. This was not a creation of values, still less an imposition of them. It was instead a royal identification with ideas of family stability that were already accepted—ideas that were accepted even by those who, for whatever reason, chose not to take them up, and that had not been noticeably accepted in several earlier reigns.

There were strong disagreements—over religion and land ownership and the extent of the franchise, and the extent of state intervention in the economy, among much else—but the underlying values of society were generally shared and did not need to be imposed. The neo-Marxist analysis only becomes useful for providing a terminology to discuss what happens when a ruling class turns oppressive. Such is the present case.

The Ideology of the New Ruling Class

We have in this country a new ruling class. It is no longer the Monarchy and the network of land-owning and mercantile interests that clustered around it, or anything identifiable as the old—alleged - working class movement that competed with them. Instead, we are ruled by a coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, academics, media people, and businessmen who look to an enlarged state as the source of their income or status. When it came to power is hard to say with precision. It had taken over the ideological state apparatus long before the 1997 general election that gave it formal political office; and that election result more intensified than redirected the course of events. Undoubtedly, though, it is now supreme.

The ideology this ruling class has taken up to produce internal unity and to justify itself before the ruled has nothing to do with the national past or the currently perceived interests of the majority. It is incidentally about regulating everything that moves in the interests of health and safety, and sometimes banning them, and incidentally about preventing alleged dangers to the environment, and incidentally about making us all into the subjects of a centralised European state. But these are only incidentals. They are not the core ideology. Though it has not entirely broken with the past, and though it may appeal to tradition as convenience requires, the new ruling class defines its basis of legitimacy lies in the proclaimed right and ability to bring about a transformation of the country into something entirely new. The old ethnic and cultural homogeneity are seen as evils. In their place, we are to have "a rich diversity of communities". Some of these are to be sexual, some religious. But the real passion is for ethnic diversity.

To take one instance of this, in 1998, the Government set up a Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Its purpose was

to analyse the current state of multi-ethnic Britain and propose ways of countering racial discrimination and disadvantage and making Britain a confident and vibrant multicultural society at ease with its rich diversity.(3)

Chaired by Bhikhu Parekh, an academic placed in the House of Lords by Tony Blair, the Commission was a sub-division of the Runnymede Trust, a formally private body "devoted to promoting racial justice in Britain". Its Report can be seen as a digested expression of the transformation intended for this country. Among the recommendations were a formal declaration by the State that Britain was now a "multicultural society", and a commitment that

deep-rooted antagonisms to racial and cultural differences [should be] defeated in practice, as well as symbolically written out of the national story.(4)

There was also some discussion of giving the country a new name:

[The Name Britain] has systematic, largely unspoken, racial connotations.... Englishness and therefore by extension, Britishness, is racially coded.(5)

No new name was suggested, though it was emphasised that the country from now on should be regarded not as a community, but as a "community of communities".

"Multiculturalism" and "Anti-Racism" As Hegemonic Discourse and Legitimation Ideology

The ruling class has yet to take full notice of Dr Parekh's recommendations. However, its behaviour and language all proceed from the same assumptions. See the endless official fussing over criminal conviction rates and examination passes, the emphasis on "diversity", the careful blending of races and sexes and appearances in all official photographic opportunities, the changed emblems and mission statements of governmental agencies. In the neo-Marxist terminology, the ruling class and its ideological state apparatus are imposing a new hegemonic ideology of multiculturalism.

The great apparent problem with this new ideology is its impossibility. It is a false ideology. It is easily possible for small alien minorities to be accepted into a country. Orthodox Jews are a good example. They live in the nation, but do not regard themselves as of it. What makes them acceptable is that they do not make nuisances of themselves and can never by their nature be other than a small minority. Even hardened anti-semites have little objection to the Orthodox, being more concerned about the alleged doings of the assimilated. It is also possible for large numbers of aliens to be accepted into a nation so long as they assimilate and embrace its culture as their own. The United States in the century to about 1970 is a good case here. During this time, settlers of British ancestry went from being the majority to a large minority, but the American nation they had created continued to exist and to prosper by just about every reasonable standard. But a large and rapid immigration in which the burden of adjustment is thrown not on the newcomers but on the natives—in which, indeed, the newcomers are positively discouraged from assimilating—that is an obvious cause of resentment and even disorder.

There cannot be one society made up of widely different communities each of which loves and respects all the others. There cannot be a society in which the ethnic composition of every group - from university vice chancellors to hairdressers, from lunatic asylum inmates to fashion models—exactly parallels that of the census returns. Instead, there will be a retreat into ethnic nationalism among all groups.

In this context, the words of that police officer quoted above - "A dog born in a barn is still a dog. A Paki born in Britain is still a fucking Paki"—take on a grim significance. The words show a hardening of spiritual boundaries more typical of Eastern Europe or the Balkans or Africa than of the Britain we have known for many centuries—a nation of which membership has been more defined by allegiance to the Crown and adherence to certain norms than by race or colour. Given such attitudes, most of our constitutional arrangements must tend to become unworkable. What is the point of democracy—national or local—or trial by jury, or any public service, when decisions are made not on their merits but on differential group voting power?

Dual Consciousness and the Coming Crisis of Multiculturalism

The ideological state apparatus can be set to work on proclaiming the joys of diversity. But the result is at best what Gramsci calls a "dual consciousness"—a situation in which values are imposed but only partially accepted. Multiculturalism is a discourse, so far as many now cannot find neutral terms to oppose it: see more of the words quoted above—"I'm a racist bastard" - where the immorality of an opinion is conceded even as it is expressed; but the discourse cannot secure plain consent.

The inevitable result is a sharper use of the repressive state apparatus. We cannot be made to love and respect each other. But we can be made to act as if we did. Therefore we have a frequently absurd but always searching inquisition into matters regarded until just recently as private. There are laws to censor speech and publication, laws to regulate hiring and promotion policies, and to regulate the selection of tenants and membership of private bodies, and increasingly stiff criminal penalties for breach of these laws(6). Every few days, the media gives space to some official expression of rapture at the benefits we have gained from multiculturalism. Its most notable fruit, however, has been the creation of a police state.

In a sense, though, the falsehood of the ideology is not so much a disadvantage as a great benefit to the ruling class. Because it is false, it can only be accepted on faith; and faith can give rise to more passionate attachments than any sober acceptance of the truth. And with passionate attachment goes passionate rejection of the opposite. In the word "racism", the ruling class has acquired a term of venomous abuse that can silence most criticism. That the word has no fixed meaning makes it all the better as a weapon of ideological control. It can mean a dislike of people because of their race or colour. It can mean a belief in differences between people of different races. It can mean a propensity to violence. It can mean no more than a preference for one's own people and values—even a belief that one has a "people". As "institutional racism", it can exist in the structures and assumptions of corporate bodies without the intent or knowledge of those employed within.(7) Or it can arise when every effort is being made to avoid it.(8) It can mean a mental disorder(9) or a sin.(10) It can mean any of these things or all of them(11). Whatever it means in any particular context, it soils and discredits all who are labelled with it, placing them outside any claim to respect or tolerance or fair dealing. Modern English contains no greater instance of the power of words to terrify and subdue.

As for the police state laws, these are welcomed. At the very least, the various inquisitions set up provide jobs and status that would not otherwise exist. They are also enjoyed for their own sake. Governments by their nature like to oppress, and the degree of their oppression is limited only by the prospect of resistance and their own beliefs about what is seemly. As an article of faith, multiculturalism obliterates regard for old conventions. Just look at the self-proclaimed "civil libertarians" of the past behave now they are in positions of authority. In the 1970s, they could be trusted to demand every refinement of due process when some picketer was in the dock, or someone accused of revealing official secrets. Now they have incorporated "racial aggravation" clauses into the law which in effect make opinions into crimes. They are calling for the abolition of the double jeopardy rule because it prevents their vendetta against the alleged killers of Stephen Lawrence(12). Multiculturalism also undercuts the old grounds of peaceful opposition to misgovernment. Arguments from ancestral right can be delegitimised by a mere raising of eyebrows and a polite question about whose ancestors are being invoked. Everyone knows the next response will be an accusation of "racism". Therefore, the argument is dropped more often than not, while those who dared raise it must go about protesting their belief in the official ideology.(13)

Nor is the destruction of accountability unwelcome. Democracy has always been something of a fraud in this country—and perhaps with good reason. But rulers were vaguely answerable to the ruled, and could, given the right provocation, be removed. Multiculturalism turns us from a nation to which ultimately the rulers had to defer into a gathering of mutually hostile groups—all with different ambitions and complaints, all capable of being turned against each other in the manner that imperial ruling classes throughout history have used to nullify opposition. In the words of Margaret Thatcher,

Thus the utopia of multiculturalism involves a bureaucratic class presiding over a nation divided into a variety of ethnic nationalities. That, of course, looks awfully like the old Soviet Union.(14)

Thought Crime and the Police State

And so we find ourselves living in a country where conformity to the dominant ideology is imposed by threats of force accompanied by an increasingly hysterical propaganda. It is as if the ruling class were waving a stick and turning up the volume on a television set - so it can stop others from talking about something else and give them no choice but to watch the programme. And it is still not enough. Dissent has been driven out of the establishment media and out of respectable politics, but it continues to flourish in private and on the Internet. We live in a country where almost no one would describe himself openly as a "racist", but where the British National Party seems to stand on the edge of an electoral breakthrough.

That explains the chorus of outrage when those police officers were exposed: there could be no public expressions of sympathy for them—indeed, the knowledge that there was much private agreement with at least the sentiments expressed, if not with their manner of expression, required the public denunciations to be all the more unsparing. It also explains the demand for still greater supervision of speech and action. As in some gentle parody of Stalin's Russia, it is accepted as necessary for conformity of speech and action to be so generally compelled that even the slightest expression of dissent stands out like a black swan among white.

This is the wider significance of the undercover filming of those police officers. It is worth asking why only white officers were filmed, when black and brown officers might not in private be oozing love and respect for their white colleagues. It is also worth asking in what context the words were uttered, and to what extent the reporter had made of himself an agent of provocation. And it can be asked whether the opinions expressed could be shown to have had any effect on actions. But, while it would be useful to have some on the record, the answers are obvious. Witch hunts need witches. When none can be found in public, they must be searched out in private. When none can be found at all, they must be invented.

However obtained, such dissent from the multicultural ideology can be used to justify its more intrusive imposition. Therefore, these words from the Home Secretary:

What's been revealed is horrendous. The issue is... what we can do to ensure police services across the country adopt the new training programmes on diversity to root out racists before they can get through the training programme.(15)

In other words, he promised to make it impossible for dissidents to be employed as police officers.(16) His theme was immediately taken up by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police:

[h]is force intends to plant informers in its classrooms to root out racist recruits. It will also allow community representatives to sit on recruitment panels to prevent racist applicants entering the force. At the Met's training school in Hendon, which trains 3,500 new officers a year, one recruit in a class will be secretly selected to inform on colleagues. Their identities will remain secret for the rest of their careers and they will act as intelligence gatherers. If racism is discovered by undercover officers, it may be used to provide evidence for a criminal prosecution for incitement to racial hatred.(17)

Police officers are already bad enough. But the known presence among them of informers—and perhaps also agents of provocation - can only tend to remove them still further from the rest of the population. They will become a sort of Janissaries, quite separate in outlook and perhaps in nationality from those they are employed to coerce into obedience.

Nor will these undercover means of gathering information be confined to the police. Once they are established as normal, they will be used against other targets. One of the recommendations of the Report into the death of Stephen Lawrence was

[t]hat consideration should be given to amendment of the law to allow prosecution of offences involving racist language or behaviour, and of offences involving the possession of offensive weapons, where such conduct can be proved to have taken place otherwise than in a public place.(18)

This was rejected as unworkable. However, the use of undercover filming to gather evidence makes it workable. The informers and agents of provocation will spread into every area of private life. New friends or partners taken to dinner parties will constrain discussion even when no one intends to discuss the forbidden issues. We shall have to start learning the rules of private conduct that East European have been forgetting since 1989. Life will become grimmer and more oppressive.

How will all this end? Not, we can be sure, in Dr Parekh's "confident and vibrant multicultural society at ease with its rich diversity". I see one of two outcomes. The first is that the ruling class will keep control until it has finished remodelling the population. According to the 2001 returns—and these probably understate the truth—the non-white population of England rose by 40 per cent in the 1990s.(19)

According to an anonymous demographer cited three years ago in The Observer,

Whites will be an ethnic minority in Britain by the end of the century. Analysis of official figures indicate that, at current fertility rates and levels of immigration, there will be more non-whites than whites by 2100.(20)

With a small and credible adjustment to the extrapolated trends, minority status could be reached as soon as 2040. Long before either date, though, national life would have been wholly transformed. For this would not be accompanied by an assimilation in which white Englishmen were joined by black and brown Englishmen, and the nation went on much as before. Ethnic change would bring with it cultural displacement. Whole areas of the country would become alien; and within them, the physical appearances, place names, festivals, rituals and general customs of the past would be effaced—in much the same way as happened when, from the 5th century, the northern barbarians displaced the Romanised Celts who had inhabited this country before them. Then, the ruling class could be safe. It would be presiding over an empire, not a nation, and would be safe from effective challenge.

The second outcome is that the English—or British—will turn nasty while still the majority. I do not think this would be an original nastiness. The French would probably turn first, or the Israelis. But there may come a time when the harsh ethnic nationalism of that police officer becomes the consensus. Then there will be a spiritual casting out of "strangers" from the nation, followed by ethnic cleansing of the strangers, and severe legal and social disabilities for those allowed to remain. And among these strangers will be many who are now unambiguously accepted as of the nation and who regard themselves as of the nation. It is worth recalling that, until the National Socialists redrew the spiritual boundaries of the nation, many Jews were German nationalists. I suppose I should add here that I do not want our own spiritual boundaries redrawn, nor will I lift a finger to help redraw them. But I can easily see their being redrawn if present trends are allowed to continue.

There is a third possible outcome. This is that present trends will not be allowed to continue, that the multicultural discourse will be overthrown before it is too late, that freedom of speech and action will be restored, and that private and public arrangements will be made to encourage assimilation of all British citizens to the cultural values of the majority. This will not bring us to Dr Parekh's land of harmonious diversity. But it is the only basis on which people of widely different appearances are ever likely to live at peace with each other.

Sadly, I need only close my eyes to see the lips of my readers curling at these words. It may already be too late.

A Brief Reading List for the Interested

Althusser, Louis, For Marx, Allen Lane, London, 1969
Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Tavistock, London, 1974
Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Tavistock, London, 1979
Gramsci, Antonio, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, New Left Books, London, 1971
Meek, Nigel, Modern Left Multiculturalism: A Libertarian Conservative Analysis, Political Notes No.175, The Libertarian Alliance, London, 2001
Parekh, Bhikhu, The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, Profile Books, London, 2000


1. Jaya Narain and Adam Powell, "Five racist policemen quit force in disgrace", The Daily Mail, London, 23rd October 2003.

2. Ibid. One police officer claims it took him over a week to recover from the shock of watching the programme. See Bryn Lewis, "Police racism is a challenge to the ethnic minorities", letter published in The Independent, London, 30th October 2003.

3. Report of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, published in 2000 by the Runnymede Trust—Introduction available at

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. See, for example, this from 1998:

"A couple of weeks ago, the Commission for Racial Equality recognized what black actors have known for a long time; namely the 'unjustifiable under-representation of ethnic minorities in theatre, opera, cinema, television drama, etc.' The Commission announced that it will press for legislation to close a loophole in the Race Relations Act which allows directors to use 'authenticity' as an excuse for all-white casting. A black Nelson Mandela or a white Winston Churchill will be acceptable; but an all-white production of Hamlet will be in contravention of the act. In this, Britain is merely catching up with the USA, which has had a quota system long enough to ensure that black faces are now run of the mill across the media."

(Lesley Downer, "Theatre: Wanted: a brand new caste", The Independent, London, 2nd September 1998)

7. On this point, see The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: Report of an Inquiry by Sir William MacPherson of Cluny, HMSO, London, 1999, CM 4262-I&II:

"The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people." (6.34)

8. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry:

"Such failures can occur simply because police officers may mistakenly believe that it is legitimate to be "colour blind" in both individual and team response to the management and investigation of racist crimes, and in their relationship generally with people from minority ethnic communities. Such an approach is flawed. A colour blind approach fails to take account of the nature and needs of the person or the people involved, and of the special features which such crimes and their investigation possess." (6.18)

9. See this from America:

"Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a Harvard Medical School professor and perhaps the nation's most prominent African-American psychiatrist... urged the American Psychiatric Association [in 1999] to 'designate extreme racism as a mental health problem' by including it in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.....

"Poussaint gets support from Dr. Walter Shervington, president of the National Medical Association, an organization of more than 20,000 black physicians. When he took over leadership of the NMA last year, Shervington, a New Orleans psychiatrist, called for a discussion of adding racism to the APA's list of mental disorders.

"'When (racism) becomes so severe in its expression, should it not come to the attention of a psychiatrist or someone working in the mental health field in relationship to identifying what some of the core struggles are around it?' Shervington asks....

"Sabina Widner, a clinical psychologist who teaches at Augusta State University, is blunt about the human rights implications of classifying racism as a mental illness.

"'When I hear these types of things, I think about Russia,' she says, 'where people who are dissidents, people who don't hold majority views, are subjected to psychiatric treatment.'"

(Extracted from John Head, "Can racists be called mentally ill? Debate strikes a nerve", The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Atlanta, 23rd January 2000)

10. See:

"The [Roman Catholic] church has come close to acknowledging the problem. Earlier this year, guidelines for parishes to review their practices described institutional racism as 'a form of structural sin and primarily a sin of omission'.

(Stephen Bates, "Racism in Catholic Church 'driving minorities away'", The Guardian, London, 16th October 2000)

"The Pope, clad in purple as a sign of penitence, said sorry on behalf of his flock for all past wrongdoings, from treatment of the Jews to forced conversions, the Crusades and Inquisition, and more contemporary sins such as discrimination against women and racism."

(Frances Kennedy, "Pope confesses 2,000 years of Church sins", The Independent, London, 13th March 2000)

"The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday apologised for wars, racism and other sins committed in the name of Christianity."

(Laura Clark, "Christian leaders say sorry for wars", The Daily Mail, London, 30th December 1999)

11. In conversation, Dr Chris R. Tame says this about racism:

Anti-racism is a useful ideological tool since the contemporary concept of racism is a portmanteau one, that combines a large—and apparently ceaselessly growing—number of quite distinct ideas. "Racism" is used to describe or mean, amongst other things:

  • • the scientific view that important aspects of human intelligence and/or emotional disposition vary according to racial group and are transmitted genetically;
  • • the attribution to anyone holding such views that their belief is held on the basis of prejudice or blind hatred;
  • • that believing that there are average/general differences in IQ/emotional disposition between racial groups means that one hates other races, or seeks to deny them equal rights or just treatment;
  • • the denial of just, fair and meritocratic treatment to individuals on the basis of their race, ignoring their individual character, IQ or achievement;
  • • the practice of violence against, or denial of individual rights to, individuals of different races.

As soon as we look critically at the varied meanings associated with the word "racism" it is clear that one is dealing with what Ayn Rand calls an "anti-concept", a word designed to actually confuse distinct meanings and ideas, and to smuggle all sorts of unjustified assumptions into political discourse.

12. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, Chapter 49, Recommendation 38:

"That consideration should be given to the Court of Appeal being given power to permit prosecution after acquittal where fresh and viable evidence is presented."

13. For an interesting case of bold heresy, followed by immediate recantation, see:

"A village bonfire society has been accused of racism and divided a community after burning an effigy of gypsies during a Guy Fawkes celebration night.

"The Firle Bonfire Society in East Sussex put to the torch a caravan with images of children at the windows just days after gypsies were evicted from fields near the village.

"The caravan was paraded through the streets as part of a procession before it was set alight. It had the registration number P1 KEY painted on the side. 'Pikey' is a term of abuse for gypsies.

"According to local people who saw the parade, the organisers encouraged bystanders to shout 'burn it, burn it'.

"The society was last night facing calls for those responsible to be prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred -an offence that can lead to a jail term of up to seven years.

"Richard Gravett, chairman of the Firle Bonfire Society, defended its actions yesterday, claiming that they were not racist. 'There was no racist slant towards any of the travelling community. If anything, it's actually completely the other way,' he said.

"'It was done to try to make people realise that these people obviously, as we all do, need somewhere to live.'

(Thair Shaikh, "Villagers burn an effigy of gypsies", The Times, London, 30th October 2003)

14. Margaret Thatcher, "Resisting the utopian impulse", American Outlook, Spring 1999; quoted in "Culture, et cetera", The Washington Times, Washington DC, 22nd June 1999.

15. Jaya Narain and Adam Powell, "Five racist policemen quit force in disgrace", The Daily Mail, London, 23rd October 2003.

16. A friend to whom I showed the draft of this article took exception to my use of the word "dissident" to describe racists. My answer is that these are the real dissidents in this country. What other ideology or set of opinions or prejudices make someone dangerous to know? What else can get him the sack from his job, and prevent him from booking rooms to hold meetings?

17. Helen Carter, "Informers will be planted at training colleges", The Guardian, London, 23rd October 2003.

18. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, Chapter 49, Recommendation 39.

19. Paul Brown, "Minorities up 40%, census reveals", The Guardian, London, 4th September 2003. The official figures are:

England by Ethnic Group (000s)

  1981 1991 2001
White 44,682 44,848 44,925
Black 707 917 1,286
Asian 1,031 1,487 2,102
Orientals 414 626 825

20. Anthony Browne, "UK whites will be minority by 2100", The Observer, London, 3rd September 2000. The demographer "wished to remain anonymous for fear of accusations of racism".

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet
Issue Number 140
29th September 2005

Reflections on the Case of Subhaan Younis
by Sean Gabb

While having coffee with Dr Tame yesterday [28th September 2005], I did a brief telephone interview with BBC Radio Oxford. The issue I was called on to discuss was whether it was right for a certain Subhaan Younis to be sent to prison for 60 days for having shown someone a video clip on his mobile telephone of a beheading in Iraq.

My answer to the question was no. I agreed that to seek out and take pleasure in such images showed a singular depravity of mind. I also agreed that to show such images to someone who had not agreed in advance to look at them was at least in bad taste. But I disagreed with the man’s being sent to prison. By all means, I said, let him be named. Let others know the depravity of his mind, and let him be shunned by the respectable on account of that. But no one should be punished for merely looking at or even publishing things that others might find offensive. 

Of course, there is the matter of procurement. If this man had commissioned the beheading so that he might look at pictures of it, it would be right to prosecute him as an accessory to murder. However, so long as no such connection could be shown, he should not be sent to prison.

Then there is the matter of showing the images to someone who had not consented to look at them. According to the newspaper reports, the person to whom they were shown was shocked and upset. Here, though, while there might be some question of an action for the tort of nervous shock, I fail to see anything that ought to be regarded as a criminal matter. Mr Younis should not be in prison. He should be released now he is there.

And that was the whole of my radio discussion. I spoke clearly and firmly, and no one asked me any hard questions. In any event, the whole item took up only about five minutes, and there was no room to develop a full argument or to answer full objections. All I managed in the time was to outline the distinction, on which libertarians mostly insist, between doing and looking. But there is more to be said – as I realised afterwards in a long dissection of the issues with Dr Tame. Indeed, the Younis case is of little importance compared with the larger issues into which its discussion leads.

What Criminal Act?

Let us begin with the question of whether Mr Younis had committed any act that could be regarded as criminal. There is an exception as regards acts against the whole community. But where common crimes are concerned, it is fair to insist that when no individual victim can be identified, there can be no crime. I have no idea what motivated Mr Younis to show that image. He might have been trying to illustrate the horrors of Moslem terrorism. Or he might have believed in the accurate presentation of reality – as opposed to the sanitised, or censored, imagery provided on British television. But his name is Asiatic, and he could be one of those citizens of convenience – that is, someone who values his British passport purely for the material comforts to which it entitles him, who does not share our national ways, and who knows enough about us only to hate us. If so – and I say at once I have no evidence to believe it really is – he would fall into that large class of persons whose presence among us is becoming a problem that needs at least to be honestly discussed.

However, this being raised, let us put it aside and concentrate on whether he can be regarded as a common criminal. Here, we need to identify a victim. It was not Mr Younis himself. His possible moral corruption is not so much effect of the video clip as cause of the faults that led him to seek it out in the first place. So how about the woman to whom he showed the image? Can she be called the victim of an assault?

I do not think so. Mr Younis showed her something that she found upsetting. But let us be reasonable. What he showed her was most likely a jerky, pixellated video clip, and it must have been displayed on a screen of no more than one inch by one and a half. Any person of reasonably firm mind should have been more upset by a good newspaper report. Even applying the civil burden of proof, in making out the tort of nervous shock, I do not think it reasonable for him to have anticipated so extreme a reaction. Unless the accounts I have read of the incident have left out something important, I fail to see how showing that video clip could have been taken as an assault – or even the breach of the peace for which he was punished.

Procurement and Agency

The publisher and viewer of the clip being excluded as victims, let us turn instead to the unfortunate subject of the clip. Can we say that Mr Younis had in any sense procured his beheading? As said, there is no doubt that the direct procurement of images that show illegal acts should in itself be a crime. If I have a man killed for the sake of having his death filmed, I ought rightly to be charged as an accessory to murder. But how about what may be called indirect procurement – that is to say, how about acts that fall short of commissioning a criminal act, but which still contribute by a possible chain of inference to the committing of similar acts in the future?

This is an argument that frequently arises when people are found guilty of collecting pornographic images of children. We are told that while they may not have commissioned the specific images found in their possession, they have provided through their act of purchasing an incentive for the creation of similar images in the future. Does that argument apply in this case?

I do not think so – and that is granting its validity as an argument. There is nothing in the newspaper reports to show that Mr Younis had paid to obtain his video clip. Nor is there any reasonable chance that the Iraqi resistance group had beheaded someone with a view to selling the video footage. Nevertheless, while there is no reason to assume any financial incentive, the footage was released in order to attract approval and support outside the resistance group.


Does Mr Younis support the Iraqi resistance? Did he approve of the beheading? The newspaper reports I have seen give no answer to these questions, and I have no evidence for thinking greater ill of him than I do for simply possessing and showing the video clip. But let us for the sake of argument suppose that he does support the Iraqi resistance, and that his support was quickened by sight of the beheading. Does this change matters? Could it be argued that the intention of the beheaders to gain approval and his granting of public approval did create a sufficient nexus to justify an accusation of indirect procurement?

I do not think so. It may be wrong to support the various groups resisting the American and British occupation of Iraq, and to glorify their acts. But this must be regarded as fair comment on events of public importance. To magnify any such comment with video clips of an atrocity is irrelevant. I know that the British Government is trying to create a new offence that will cover expressions of support for irregular political violence. But this is political censorship. It is the modern equivalent of the seditious libel laws that were used in the 1790s to stifle the support of some English radicals for the French Revolution. If applied consistently, the proposed law – indeed, the breach of the peace law used to punish Mr Younis – could be used to punish my own view that the Iraqi resistance groups stand in a tradition that leads through the Guerillas of the Peninsula War and the French Resistance of living memory. To answer yes to the above question is to sanction as close a censorship of the media as we have known in this country since the expiry of the Licensing Act.

Should Possession Ever be a Crime?

But while I think I have answered the specific question of whether Mr Younis should have been sent to prison for showing that video clip, I have done so in a way that avoids what Dr Tame and I take as the wider and much more interesting question – of whether any possession or publication should in themselves be treated as crimes. What happened yesterday to Mr Younis was an act of disguised censorship, and I can join with the media class in deploring this. But I am drawn to discuss it by the general principle that some are using to justify his punishment. Should possession or publication be treated as crimes in themselves?

The Case of Child Pornography

Let us turn back to the issue – raised above – of child pornography. This is presently seen as the most revolting and indefensible kind of publication. As such, it is the perfect example for answering my question. I do not accept the standard English mumble about “not carrying arguments to an extreme”. It is precisely in its extreme applications that an argument is most effectively tested. If it fails that test – if it collapses into absurdity at the extreme – the argument is to be rejected. If it holds up, it is at least internally consistent. So, should it be a crime to possess or publish child pornography?

Dealing first with the issue of possession, my answer is no – this should never in itself be a crime. Possession should be acceptable as evidence of direct procurement of children for sexual acts. But without that nexus, possession should not be a crime. If the possessor of sexual images involving children cannot be shown to have had contact with those involved in the creation of the images, there has been no act that can be reasonably described as criminal. After all, where no aggression can be identified, no crime can be imputed.

There is also the argument of procedural honesty – that to make a crime of possession is to give the police even greater scope for corrupt and oppressive behaviour than they otherwise enjoy. To prove an offence of publishing usually requires objective evidence that is difficult to fabricate. To prove an offence of possession requires the unsupported word of a police officer or some agent of provocation. I do not think, at this late stage in our national decline, I need to bother with arguing that the police are corrupt and oppressive. It is notorious that the police in this country have a long history of “stitching up” individuals by planting whatever items may currently be demonised. Anyone who believes they are uniformed civilians, paid to do the job that we might, if so inclined, do for ourselves of protecting life and property, has never read a newspaper – or, for that matter, much history. On this ground alone, the crime of possessing “indecent” images of persons believed to be under the age of sixteen – first introduced, I think, in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 – erodes the safeguards against unjust prosecutions far more than it protects the rights of children.

But there is a more fundamental objection. We can grant that products should be made illegal so far as their creation involves illegality. This would then justify criminalising the mere possession of child pornography. But it would also justify criminalising the possession of clothes made with child labour, or the consumption of electricity made with coal dug out of the ground by workers who are effectively slaves. The principle is the same in all cases. Possession proves purchase. Purchase rewards creation. Creation involves what by our laws is illegality. Thus we have a connection of sorts linking creator to possessor. Yet almost no one suggests that buying clothes made in Bangladesh should be a crime, or the burning of coal imported from Colombia. We have here an argument that does collapse at its extremes, and that ought therefore to be rejected. If its principle is applied selectively, it is because those pressing it object more to the pleasure that some adults get from child pornography than to the alleged harm to children involved in creating it. For all the talk about protecting the young, the real object is to police the imagination.

I turn now to publication. And here, for the avoidance of doubt, I will say that I do believe there should be some age of consent, and that those below it should be protected from sexual use by adults. That is the only ground I can see on which laws against child pornography can reasonably stand. But this does not justify the laws against publication in itself that we now have. If a publisher can be shown to have procured the creation of images that involve criminal acts, he is to be regarded as an accessory to those criminal acts. But what if he has not procured them? Suppose I find a magazine lying in the road one day, and this contains child pornography; and suppose I then pass this to you. In the technical sense I shall have published child pornography. But does this mean I should be treated as a criminal?

I do not think so. As I said yesterday about Mr Younis, where no connection can be shown to its original creation, there should be no crime in publication. Or, as I have just said above – where no aggression can be identified, no crime can be imputed. The argument that buying what is already in being encourages the creation of more is invalid, so far as it muddles the necessary distinction between identifiable and prospective victims.

Moreover, my understanding is that child pornography is created for the market mostly in places like Russia and Latin America and the Far East. These are outside the traditional jurisdiction of our courts. And I think it highly dangerous to go any further than we so far have in the granting of extraterritorial jurisdiction. We have gone too far already. Unless we are to consent to the growth of an unaccountable and increasingly tyrannical body of international criminal law, we should insist on principle that acts committed elsewhere in the world ought not to be the business of our own criminal courts. For the same reason we should insist that those accused of criminal acts in this country should not be extradited to face trial elsewhere in the world – and that therefore our Government should refuse to implement the European Arrest Warrant, and should denounce the treaty signed a few years back with the United States of America.

National Sovereignty and Law

I suspect most of my readers will agree with these two last points. But there are problems with the refusal to countenance any extra-territorial jurisdiction. Does this mean that, if a man living in this country should directly procure the filming of a rape and murder in France, he should not be subject to prosecution in this country? Does it mean that Egyptian nationals living in this country should be able with impunity to procure the assassination of the Egyptian President in their own country?

With regard to the second question, I can argue that, as a matter of policy, we should not allow foreigners into this country who are likely to complicate our foreign relations. And any who are found plotting here should be expelled at once – regardless of what punishment they can expect in their own countries. But answering the first question is difficult. Before the law was changed in 1858, in response to the Orsini bomb plot, there was no crime of conspiring to break the laws of another country. Nor, until the Fugitive Offenders Act of later in the century, was there any means of sending suspects from this country to face trial in another country.

I sympathise with the old concept of an absolutely separate territorial jurisdiction. On the other hand, the concept was applied in a world where, having regard to the state of communications, France was more distant from England than China is today. Paris is now within a three hour railway journey from Waterloo Station, and the price of telephone calls to anywhere in the world is heading toward zero. Perhaps the concept is no longer applicable in its strict sense. Perhaps, then, there is a case for laws to punish the direct procurement of crimes in another country. This would cover publishers who commission pornography from anywhere in the world. It would also cover people – such as Mr Younis is almost certainly not – whose approval of terrorist acts abroad amounts to commissioning. As said, such laws might not cover Mr Younis. But they would cover those hyphenated Americans who have spent the past 30 years contributing financially to the Fenian insurrection in Ulster.

But this takes me further from the case of Mr Younis than I intended to go. I will conclude by repeating that he should not have been sent to prison on the basis of the facts reported in the newspapers. Nor should he have been sent there on the basis of any argument I have seen made or can imagine being made. I do not know Mr Younis. I have no sympathy for him. But this is irrelevant to the question of his punishment. What is relevant is to recall the words of John Lilburne as he was led out to punishment: “What they do to me today, they may do to any man tomorrow.”

Mr Younis should be released.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 134
7th April 2005

On Conversing with the British National Party
by Sean Gabb


I wrote this article last November and then forgot about it. But the opening of the prosecution today of Nick Griffin brought it back to mind. I therefore publish it now.

I have not changed my views on how to deal with approaches from the British National Party, though the facts have since changed. The BNP Press Officer turned out to be a fool. He got into an argument with Dr Chris R. Tame over some words used in one of our news releases, and huffily demanded to be removed from all our mailing lists. It is, of course, highly convenient for us to say now that we are disliked by the BNP. But it makes no strategic sense for that Party to have decided to dislike the only political movement in this country willing to defend its rights in public and willing to speak to its officers with any degree of politeness. It also makes me wonder to what extent the BNP is controlled by the security services. A pure front organisation would surely have run at us with arms outspread, ready to enfold us in its poisonous embrace. Instead, we were told to get lost.

But here is the article as I wrote it.

Sean Gabb
7th April 2005

The Article

On Sunday the 7th November [2004], I took a long telephone call from the Press Officer of the British National Party. This should not have surprised me. Just over a fortnight before, the Libertarian Alliance had sent out a news release deploring the fact that HSBC and Barclay’s Bank had both told the BNP to take its business elsewhere, and denouncing the Government for making the first law in our history that requires political parties to register with an Electoral Commission and to have bank accounts in this country. This law makes what might otherwise be a private decision of the banks into a limitation of public debate. On the strength of that release, I did four radio discussions and gave telephone interviews to several newspapers. But I had then moved to other business and was surprised to be called by an officer of the BNP, and I had to think quickly about the tone I should adopt with him.

On the basic principle, of defending the rights of BNP members to organise and publish and take part in elections, I have no difficulty. I am an officer of the Libertarian Alliance, and our policy is to defend liberty. If two men were put on trial for eating each other’s excrement, we would readily go on television to defend their rights. Ours would be the only civil liberties group in the country willing to do this, I have no doubt, just as we were the only group willing last month to defend the right of some Jamaican singer—whose name escaped me even in the radio studio—to advocate the murder of homosexuals. When homosexuals were still persecuted, we defended them. We now defend their opponents when they are persecuted. As said, our policy is to defend liberty. Though our resources are too limited to do this in all cases, we do try to make some defence at the margin—that is, in those cases where the better funded but less resolute civil liberties groups are likely to think of the bad publicity involved and to bolt for cover

There is no question of our not defending the rights of BNP members. Our only concern when drafting that news release was to ask if the decision to withdraw banking services was a purely commercial response to pressure from other customers—and we believe that boycotting is part of the right to freedom of association—or if it was at least in part an attempt from a sector so regulated and cartelised as to be a private arm of the state to limit freedom of speech. We decided, taking the present state of the law into account,  it was the latter, and the result can be seen on our website.

But basic principle is one thing. I had not decided—and my only excuse is that I was occupied with other matters—how to respond to an approach from the BNP. I already knew I should reject the standard response of defensive aggression. I have heard this too often. It requires a tone of exaggerated self-righteousness: “I yield to no one in my utter condemnation of these evil men. Many of my best friends are [mention some ethnic group, the more unusual the better]. I am myself half-Tibetan and one quarter Aztec...” and so on and so forth. This is degrading, and it concedes a moral superiority to the enemies of freedom of speech that they do not deserve. But while there was no doubt I should be polite, how polite should I be? After all, I do not agree with the principles and policies of the BNP. I think I adopted the right tone of polite sympathy as Mr xxx explained the raw deal his party gets from the Establishment and its tame media. But I think it would be useful for me to explain the reasons behind the tone I adopted.

If we were dealing with excrement eaters, I should be reluctant to have any dealings beyond a principled defence of their rights. There would be something so inherently nasty about their activities that no one would blame me for being rather short with them on the telephone. But it is evident to me that members of the BNP are not in this category of defended persons.

We are told the BNP is a party of national socialists, of racists and of fascists. Sometimes, these words are used as synonyms and are only uttered to add to the weight of vague denunciation. If they are thought about, however, the words are not always justly used.

A fascist, so far as I can tell, is someone who believes than an unregulated free market leads to unacceptable economic instability and unfair distributions of wealth, but who also believes that socialism is variously unworkable and immoral. He therefore believes that the state should take a more active role in national life than is allowed by the liberal philosophers: it should ensure that businesses are allowed to operate without disruption, but that the fruits are more equally shared. Of course, libertarians can reject fascism on this definition, as can radical socialists. But I fail to see how anyone else can. This has been the position of just about every mainstream political party in the civilised world during the past hundred years. The only difference between Mussolini and Lloyd George was black shirts and castor oil—and, while important, these are differences that have no bearing on the validity of the underlying analysis. For most people in this country, to denounce the BNP as fascist is as absurd as to denounce its leadership for wearing business suits.

The word “racism” has so many meanings that it has none. It can mean anything from a preference for living in communities of one’s own sort to wanting to murder everyone else. Since most people come within the weaker definition and almost no one in the stronger, the word has about the same intellectual content and the same function as the growling of a dog. It simply means: “shut up, or we will turn your life into a misery”. This being so, the claim that the BNP is a racist party is not worth discussing.

So far as national socialism is concerned, this is a more justified claim. A national socialist believes that the main agents in the world are not individuals but nations, and that these are defined genetically, and that each nation has its own characteristics and interests that may place it in conflict with others. Individuals are but parts of the greater nation, and stand to it as do the teeth to a comb. Since national socialism has Hegelian roots, it shares with some of the Marxists a view of knowledge according to which propositions are true or false according to who is advancing them and when: therefore the often casual dismissal of “Jewish Physics” and “Jewish Political Economy”. Associated with national socialism is a socialistic, protectionist approach to economic management, and some strange and intellectually indefensible theories of money and credit. And central to the ideology is the belief that a government that represents the general will of the nation should not be restrained by any legal norms or moral considerations.

On this definition, the BNP was until recently a national socialist party. Its previous leader, John Tyndal, was a disciple of Adolf Hitler, and many party members—some of them still active—belonged in their younger days to movements that plainly owned much to German national socialism.

This being said, I am not sure if the BNP now can be called national socialist. Most collectivist ideologies are absurd, but the absurdities of national socialism have been advertised so well during the past 60 years, that they are difficult to ignore. I have trouble to understand how any person of reasonable intelligence can be a national socialist. In any event, national socialism has not, and never has had, any significant electoral appeal in this country. Under its present leader, Nick Griffin, its position seems far better to be described as white nationalist. This is an ideology that regards nations - defined according to common appearance, though perhaps also to other criteria—as important, and insists that each nation so far as possible should have its own territory, and should keep to its own national ways. In a loose sense, this is a position shared by most people, but it has, over the past few decades, been refined into a distinctive ideology; and perhaps its most intellectually coherent expression can be found in the group of writers assembled around Jared Taylor, the editor of American Renaissance.

There are points of agreement between white nationalism and national socialism. But this does not justify conflating the two. After all, there are points of agreement between Trotskyism and syndicalism—just as there are between typhus and the bubonic plague—but it is generally seen as more useful to focus on the points of difference. White nationalists may believe in some degree of tariff protection, but do not necessarily share the more socialistic views of the national socialists - especially if they are members of a nation within which market exchange is part of the culture. They also do not necessarily share the anti-semitism of the national socialists. Perhaps they dislike those Jews who think of themselves as expatriate Israelis. But they do not dislike Jews for purely genetic reasons, and usually accept the assimilated as potentially valuable members of the white race. Indeed, American Renaissance has Jewish contributors; and the BNP recently put up a Jewish candidate for election. Most importantly, perhaps, white nationalists accept at least the principle of working within legal norms that may be highly liberal—even if they do not believe in applying those norms outside their own racial grouping.

As with any political movement that is changing its ideology, there are firm advocates of both old and new, and the majority of members who hold to a shifting and often inconsistent mixture of both. See, for example, the Labour Party, which moved in the late 1980s from various kinds of socialism to a politically correct social democracy: it is the party of Tony Blair, of Gordon Brown and of Jeremy Corbyn. Look at the old Liberal Party: well into the 1950s—long after it had become a party of social democracy—it still included a few classical liberals. The BNP is in much the same position. The leadership is increasingly drawn to white nationalism, but the older activists retain more than a tinge of national socialism. The leaders themselves may have once been national socialists, but are no longer—just as half the present Ministers seem once to have been radical socialists. Because the BNP is a persecuted movement, and therefore finds it more than usually difficult to find new activists, it is reasonable to expect this ideological divide to continue for at least the next decade. Even so, I am not sure that it is appropriate, on the basis of some of its older activists—or even on what may remain the esoteric doctrines of the leadership—to define the BNP as national socialist.

I will emphasise that the views of the BNP do not in the least influence the willingness of the Libertarian Alliance to defend its rights to organise and operate. Even if its manifesto included a promise to murder every Jew in the country and to flood the country with – non-debt bearing—paper money, that would make no difference to our position. We defend the right of BNP members to freedom of speech and association. But the nature of these views does affect how polite we feel we ought to be to members of the BNP. National socialism has its place within a collectivist spectrum that inspired the murder of perhaps a hundred million people in the last century. National socialists, in our view, are as infamous as Trotskyites, Stalinists, Maoists, and others of that kind. Taken together, they stand lower in our regard than they hypothetical excrement eaters mentioned above—who only want to inflict their nastiness on themselves and each other.

But, while I am not a white nationalist, I see no reason whatever to regard white nationalists as political lepers. I loathe and abhor the Labour Party, both as it used to be and as it has now become. I have little time for the Conservative Party. But I have close friends in both these parties; and, unless I have a specific reason not to be, I am generally polite to other activists and Members of Parliament. I do not see why a party of white nationalists should be treated any differently.

This being said, there are two considerations that affect my response to approaches from the BNP. The first is that the BNP is a persecuted movement. It cannot rent public facilities. It cannot open bank accounts in this country. Election laws are being drafted or redrafted to prevent it from winning seats on representative bodies. If it does manage to win seats in local administration, conventions are changed to deny it any administrative power. Its members either are hounded informally from their jobs and homes, or are subject to formal pressures. And persecution is not confined to party members, but spreads in some vague way to those who associate with them. I have some firmness of mind—after all, I am willing to argue for freedom when others find it convenient to look the other way. But I am not willing to put myself in a position where I cannot find work and where my friends are frightened to be seen in public with me. Had I been alive and active in the early 20th century, I am sure I would have spoken out against the persecution of homosexuals. But would I have shared a platform with Edward Carpenter? Would I have posed beside John Gielgud just after his cottaging conviction? I like to think that I would, but do not believe I would. There is in such matters both a primary and a secondary persecution; and though far less damaging than the first, I have no wish to risk the second.

There are limits to my timidity. Last year, I took part in a radio programme that included Tony Martin, and I have on my website photographs of the two of us in friendly conversation. Now that Mr Martin has joined the BNP, I have not the slightest intention of taking those photographs down. Equally, if one of my closest friends were to join the BNP, I would make a point of not altering my personal behaviour towards him. But while I will not choose my friends or alter my past according to the political shifts of others, I will not put myself with full prior knowledge into a position of risk.

The second consideration is that the BNP has never been a normal political movement. There are excellent reasons to believe it is a creature of the security services. I cannot—or will not —give my reasons. But I have no doubt that most of those prominent within the BNP are controlled by the security services. Its purpose is to attract support that might otherwise go to genuine white nationalist movements—and to neutralise that support by ensuring that advances are never followed through. Its purpose is also to taint whole bodies of analysis and policy so that they can be dismissed by the Establishment without the trouble of a refutation. Thus most discussion of how immigration is changing the demographic profile of this country remains dangerous because anyone who speaks about it too openly will be smeared as a fellow traveller of the BNP. Though without success, a similar tactic has been used against Euroscepticism. Whether or not it is a front organisation has no bearing on the civil and political liberties of its members. But it does have a bearing —taken together with the risk of secondary persecution—on my willingness to associate myself in any capacity with the BNP.

So I have explained the response that I have made and will continue to make to approaches from the BNP. I will not just defend the rights of BNP members, but will also be polite to its officers. Anyone who thinks this is an admission to be used against me is either stupid or malevolent. I have given my reasons.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the
Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 157
3rd January 2007

More on the Persecution of the BNP
by Sean Gabb

One of my duties as Director of the Libertarian Alliance is to defend the right to free expression of people whose views I may not share. I do not perform this duty as often or as effectively as I might wish. But I begin the new year with another of my comments on the persecution of the British National Party.

Just before last Christmas, a journalist called Ian Cobain published a series of articles in The Guardian newspaper, revealing how he had joined the BNP and been made its Central London Organiser. In this capacity, he got hold of the Party's membership list. His articles were essentially a listing of names of middle class members. Further news reports in the same newspaper and in others detailed the actual and suggested persecution of these members.

The most widely discussed member has been Simone Clarke, a leading dancer at the English National Ballet. She was quoted by Mr Cobain as saying that immigration "has really got out of hand". The ENB is a body funded by the taxpayers, and it has a duty under the Race Relations Act 2000 to "promote good race relations". The funding body, Arts Council England, insists that funded "organisations have to make sure that they promote cultural diversity as a clear and central part of all their work".

Not surprisingly, there have been calls for her to be sacked. Lee Jasper, Equalities Director for the Mayor of London and Chairman of the National Assembly Against Racism, said:

The ENB must seriously consider whether having such a vociferous member of an avowedly racist party in such a prominent role is compatible with the ethics of its organisation. I seriously doubt that it is and that should lead to her position being immediately reviewed. I think she should be sacked.

He called on funders and David Lammy, the Arts Minister, to intervene.

Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said people had a right to their private political views but added:

This will taint the ENB in the eyes of many minority communities. Questions need to be asked about how someone in that position can be allowed to abuse that position to promote the BNP."

I could move to my analysis of the agenda behind Mr Cobain's articles. But I cannot resist a brief digression on Mr Bunglawala. He is treated in the coverage of this story as if he were a political moderate, righteously shocked at the "political extremism" of the BNP. In fact, his own opinions appear quite as alarming as anything alleged against the BNP.

Take his statement that people have a right to their private political views. That may be the case in some benevolent oriental despotism. In England, it has long been accepted that we have a right to express our political views in public. Such, at least, has always been my understanding.

Turning to his comments on the ENB, it is worth asking what possible further taint he thinks the organisation can receive through its association with Miss Clarke. He appears to believe that western classical music is a sinful indulgence, and that listening to it is inconsistent with Islam. He makes a point of rejecting the more purist Islamic position, that

Listening to music and singing is a sin and cause for the sickening and weakening of the heart. The majority of the scholars of the Salaf are unanimous that listening to music and singing and using musical instruments is Haram (prohibited).

He says instead that:

We accept music but would frown on disco-going, or concerts where alcohol is served or where there is unrestricted mixing of the sexes. That would be opposed by Islamic scholars. 

But where is the difference? While in Bratislava last month, I attended a performance of La Traviata. The plot centres on the relationship between an unmarried man and a high class prostitute. There was shameless mingling of the sexes in the audience. There was alcohol served in the intervals. During Act 2, Scene 2, the ballerinas showed their legs most immodestly and contorted their bodies in ways that might have given Mr Bungawala a seizure.

He says he accepts music. Has he ever seen The Rite of Spring? Is he aware of the double orgasm portrayed in the Overture to Don Giovanni? Does he know the score of Tristan und Isolde? Would he recommend Moslems to attend any of these works? So long as she refrains from lecturing the audience between pirouettes, does it add to the infamy of a performance if Miss Clarke holds opinions of which he disapproves?

But enough of Mr Bunglawala. I turn to the main agenda.

We have in this country a ruling class committed to political, economic and social globalisation. While some parts of this are consistent with libertarianism, others are not. Much of the consequent association of peoples takes place in a market systematically rigged by taxes and regulations. Much is nakedly coerced through equal opportunity laws and censorship. But whatever libertarians might think of what is going on, large and increasing numbers of people dislike it all.

Since both main political parties are agreed, opponents have a choice between not voting at all and voting for one of the smaller parties. Many are voting for the BNP. There is a chance that many who do not vote will also vote BNP once it can prove that it is a credible political force. Therefore, the BNP must be destroyed.

The gentler forms of destruction involve lies. Undoubtedly, the BNP grew out of a national socialist movement. But it does not appear now to be a national socialist organisation. So far as I can tell from its website, the BNP believes in a mixed economy welfare state, with some regard for traditional civil liberties. It also believes that the alleged benefits of this should be largely reserved for English-speaking white people. This is not something that I find particularly attractive. Nor however is it the same as wanting a totalitarian police state plus gas chambers.

Since lying about the BNP does not work very well in the age of the Internet, the gentler forms of destruction are being supplemented by stronger. Its leader has just been acquitted after a trial for speech crimes that did not exist when I was a boy. Its known members are losing their jobs in public bodies up and down the country. It has trouble getting its material printed. Banks are being persuaded to close its accounts. The legal machinery is in place to deny it access to the ballot in elections.

Mr Cobain's articles must be seen as part of this attempted destruction of a political party. Let it become known that middle class supporters will be named and have their careers destroyed, and party membership will not proceed far beyond the working classes. Let it be made effectively impossible for any middle class person to stand as a BNP candidate, and the only candidates will be criminals and fools, who can then be held up as a reason not to vote BNP.

Much of this would be happening if there were a Conservative Government. But the intensity of the persecution faced by the BNP is peculiar to Labour. There has been a strain of antinomianism in our politics since 1997 not seen in centuries. From Tony Blair down, the Ministers believe passionately that they can and therefore must turn England into some kind of multicultural love feast. Their vision of a transformed England is not very clear. But, as with an impressionist painting, vagueness of detail is compensated by vividness of colour.

These people cannot imagine that anyone of good will could fail to believe as they do. Therefore, all opposition is evil, and may rightly be put down without regard for traditional norms of right and justice and common decency. See, as an example of this, how Peter Hain defends as a Minister police state measures that he used to condemn when used by the South African Government. To the Saints of New Labour, all things are lawful.

It helps that most of these people used to be Marxists. They no longer seem to believe in the positive doctrines of Marxism, but they retain its assumption that the traditional norms are mere "bourgeois legality".

We can, therefore, look forward to much more of this. Sooner or later, our ruling class will shut down all electoral dissent. The only possible opposition will then be on the streets.

Now, I am able to say this from a position of safety. Neither I nor the Libertarian Alliance expect to suffer in any measurable degree from this shutting down of debate. We live in a potemkin democracy, where only limited diversity of opinion is tolerated. But even so, there must be some opposition.

I am fortunate enough to find myself in the licensed opposition. I face no official discrimination that I can see. I am allowed to work in state universities. I am allowed regular appearances in the media. I am not obviously under surveillance. This may be because our ruling class does not regard libertarians as much of a threat. It may be because someone outside the ruling class has to be tolerated, for the sake of keeping up the pretence of liberal democracy. Whatever the reason, we do not operate under any of the disadvantages that the real dissidents of the BNP must take as facts of life.

This imposes a duty on me and my friends to speak up in defence of the dissidents. Unlike the other "rights" organisations, we believe in freedom of speech with no exceptions. We do not enquire into the substance of a person's views before defending his right to express them.

We denounce the persecution of the BNP. Though I do not expect them to pay any attention, I call on Liberty and the Conservative Party to do likewise.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the
Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 170
12th March 2008

Second Thoughts on UKIP
by Sean Gabb

The day before yesterday, I published an article about my attendance at the rally of the United Kingdom Independence Party in Exeter. This was a strongly positive account, and was coupled with an explanation of my refusal to consider standing as a candidate for UKIP. I was called this morning and told that my article has caused such outrage within UKIP that my invitation to speak at the rally to be held in Morcambe on the 29th of this month has been withdrawn.

This outrage, it seems, was caused by my brief statement of what it means to be a libertarian. I said the day before yesterday that I believe in legalising all drugs, in repealing all race relations laws, and in repealing some of the laws against child pornography.

I am surprised that my statement had this effect. I have spent the past three decades arguing very clearly on every occasion for what I believe. My writings are all over the Internet. I state my views several dozen times a year on radio and television. I spent most of the 1990s explaining them in meetings of the Conservative Party. Anyone who was not previously aware of what I and the Libertarian Alliance and the libertarian movement in general believe has a very weak claim to be taken seriously as a participant in British politics.

I cannot be bothered to justify my position on drug legalisation. I doubt if what I said about the race relations laws caused any offence within UKIP - not, I fear, because most UKIP members believe in freedom of speech and association, but because some of them rather like the idea of being allowed to behave uncharitably to people of other races. However, though I shall not say anything I have not said many times already, I will briefly clarify my views on child pornography.

I do not believe children can give valid consent to any sexual act. Therefore, sex with children should be illegal. It should be illegal because there is a chance of physical harm, and because there is some chance - though perhaps less than we are told - of emotional harm; and because, regardless of the acts, it seems to be that the sort of people who want to have sex with children should not generally be allowed near children. If anyone in UKIP claims that I am in favour of sex with children, he needs to be stupid or malevolent.

I turn to child pornography. If someone produces or commissions indecent pictures of a child, he is guilty of sexual assault or is an accessory to sexual assault. If someone merely buys such pictures, without having directly commissioned them, it is arguable that he too should be treated as an accessory - in the same way as it is illegal knowingly to buy stolen goods. If someone is under investigation for a sexual assault on children, and a search of his property turns up indecent pictures of children, these should of course be used as evidence.

I do not believe, however, that mere possession of such pictures should be an offence. In general, I believe that people should be free to have anything they like on their own property. The obvious exceptions to this rule would be stolen property and the sort of thing that would allow a tort action under the Rylands v Fletcher rule. For example, if I am an alcoholic chain smoker and I have 500 jerry cans of petrol in my basement, my neighbours should be able to take me to court and have the petrol removed. And it is a matter of practical convenience whether my neighbours should be expected to rely on the civil courts or be able to call on the police. Beyond that, an Englishman's home should be his castle.

The most practical argument for this rule is that indecent photographs might be part of a chain of evidence against a child molester, and the case will usually stand or fall on all the evidence. Where possession is concerned, conviction can be on the word of a single police officer. There is no need to prove anything beyond the fact of possession. This is an abuse of law. Our own authorities may not be so corrupt and oppressive as their counterparts elsewhere in the world. But it is well known that the police fit people up in this country. They fabricate evidence of crimes sometimes because they believe someone is guilty but cannot find the evidence, or because they simply dislike someone. And we are moving rapidly to a political environment in which dissidence will be punished by accusations of crimes that need no external evidence but produce an indelible taint on one's reputation.

Because people often have short memories for law, I will add that possession of child pornography only became an offence in 1994. Members of UKIP are forever quoting Hugh Gaitskill about "a thousand years of British history". Well, I have been publicly snubbed by UKIP because I am not happy with a fourteen year old law rammed through Parliament by Michael Howard.

I turn now to child pornography produced abroad. I thought it was a central part of the UKIP argument to be hostile to extraterritorial jurisdictions. The decisions of foreign legislative assemblies and courts should have no direct application in our own country. An obvious converse of this position is that our own courts should not punish offences committed in foreign countries. By all means, let suspects be extradited to face trial for crimes committed abroad - extradited, of course, with rather more scrutiny than now takes place. But our courts should have no direct jurisdiction over acts committed abroad.

If we assume that the purpose of the laws against child pornography is to protect children, rather than police the imagination, it follows that indecent pictures made in Thailand are a matter for the Thai authorities.

And for the record, I will say that what I think about child pornography applies to all other pictures and literature. People should be allowed to have bomb making instructions, holocaust revision propaganda, and video clips of killings in Iraq. In some cases, they should be at liberty to publish these. In all cases, they should be left alone to keep them at home.

Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps there is an argument against my position that I have not considered. But  I am myself outraged that anyone could be so outraged by what I say that an invitation to speak made and accepted months ago should be suddenly withdrawn.

The title of the speech I gave last Saturday was "National Independence is not Enough". What UKIP has just done is a good illustration of the argument I put, and of the wider background argument that I left unsaid. These people want to leave the European Union - and I agree with them. But what is their vision for an independent country? The answer, I fear in many cases, is that their only objection to the gigantic police state rising up around us is that it is enabled by the Treaty of Rome, and is directed against middle-aged white people rather than racial or sexual minorities. Free of Brussels, they would be delighted to live under a purely domestic tyranny. Others probably have no vision at all, beyond a vague belief that we can all go back to the good old days of the 1950s.

No wonder the Eurosceptic parties have not been able to break through in any domestic election, and are such easy targets for mockery by the ruling class.

There is an obvious difference between prudence and cowardice. I argued the other day that it would not be wise to ask me to stand as a UKIP candidate. Dropping me as one speaker among many is just contemptible. It indicates that I am right in my suspicions given above. At best, it shows a timidity and unsureness of purpose that calls in doubt the willingness of UKIP actually to deliver on the most controversial issue in British politics - which is to face down a wall of ruling class opposition and withdraw from the European Union.

I do not think there is any personal bitterness in my saying that I have reconsidered my opinion of UKIP. I shall continue to vote for it in elections because that is my one electoral chance to bring pressure on the Conservatives. But I realise I was far too enthusiastic in what I wrote about last Saturday.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 180
8th February 2009

On Golliwogs, One-Eyed Scottish Idiots,
and Sending Poo Through the Post
by Sean Gabb

In England, one of those weeks has just ended that define an entire period. This is no consolation for those who have suffered, and who may yet suffer worse. But I have no doubt that it is worth describing what has happened and trying to explain what it means.

Let me begin with the facts.

First, it was reported on the 3rd February 2009 that Carol Thatcher, daughter of Margaret Thatcher, had been dismissed from her job as a BBC presenter for having called a black tennis player a golliwog. She did not say this on air, but during a private conversation. Even so, the BBC defended its decision on the grounds that any language of a "racist nature" was "wholly unacceptable".

Second, demands are rising at the moment for Jeremy Clarkson, another presenter at the BBC, to be dismissed for having called the Prime Minister a "one-eyed Scottish idiot who keeps telling us everything's fine". Various Scotch politicians and spokesmen for the blind let up an immediate chorus of horror that has resulted in a conditional apology from Mr Clarkson, but may not save his career.

Third, it was reported on the 2nd February 2009 that the comedian and Labour Party supporter Jo Brand was being investigated by the police for allegedly inciting criminal acts against her political opponents. While presenting a BBC television programme on the 16th January 2009, she rejoiced that the membership list of the British National Party had been stolen and published on the Internet. Her exact words were: "Hurrah! Now we know who to send the poo to". The natural meaning of her words was that it would be a fine idea to look up members of this party and send excrement to them through the post. The British National Party put in an immediate complaint, using the hate speech laws made during the past generation. According to a BBC spokesman, "We do not comment on police matters. However, we believe the audience would have understood the satirical nature of the remarks". It is relevant to note that Mrs Brand was present when Carol Thatcher made her "golliwog" remarks, and may have had a hand in denouncing her.

Fourth, In The Times on the 6th February, someone called Matthew Syed wrote how personally oppressed he felt by words like "golliwog", and how good it was that "society" was taking a stand against them. Two pages later, someone called Frank Skinner defended the employers in the north of England who prefer to employ foreigners on the grounds that foreigners are "better looking" and "less trouble". The possibility that he has broken one of our hate speech laws will probably never be considered.

This is a gathering of facts that occurred or were made public during one week. But if we relax the time limit, similar facts pour in beyond counting. There was, for example, the pillorying last month of one of the Queen's grandsons for calling someone a "Paki". Or, to give myself as an example, there was my BBC debate of the 16th February 2004 with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, an Asian immigrant who seems incapable of seeing any issue except in terms of white racism. During this debate, I asked her: "Yasmin, are you saying that the white majority in this country is so seething with hatred and discontent that it is only restrained by law from rising up and tearing all the ethnic minorities to pieces?" Her answer was "Yes". It is possible she did not understand my question. It is possible she would have clarified or retracted her answer had the debate been allowed to continue. Sadly for her, the BBC immediately switched off my microphone and threw me into the street. Mrs Brown was allowed to continue uninterrupted to till the end of the programme. The hundreds of complaints received by the BBC and the Commission for Racial Equality were all either ignored or dismissed with the assurance that nothing untoward had taken place in the studio. I accept that Mrs Brown might not have meant what she said. Had I made such a comment about Asians or blacks, however, I might have been facing a long stretch in prison.

But let me return to the most recent facts. The most obvious reason why these broadly similar incidents are being treated so differently is that Jo Brand and Frank Skinner are members of the new ruling class that formally took power in 1997. They can vilify their opponents as freely as Dr Goebbels did his. Any of the hate speech laws that might - objectively read - moderate their language will be regarded as nullities. The police had no choice but to investigate Mrs Brand for her alleged offence committed live on television before several million people. But they made it clear that no charges would result. According to a police spokesman, "The chances of this going further are very remote. The idea that the BNP are claiming they are the victim of a race offence is mildly amusing, to say the least". It may be amusing. The statement itself is interesting, though, as a formal admission that law in this country now means whatever the executive finds convenient.

Carol Thatcher and Jeremy Clarkson are not members of the the ruling class. They have no such immunity. Mr Clarkson may get away with his act of hate speech because he is popular and clever, and because the main object of his contempt is only the Prime Minister. Miss Thatcher may not be allowed to get away with her act. She used a word that borders on the illegal. And she is the daughter of Margaret Thatcher. She is the daughter, that is, of the woman elected and re-elected three times on the promise that she would make the British State smaller and stop it from being made the vehicle for a totalitarian revolution by stealth. Of course, she broke her promises. She did nothing to stop the takeover of the state administration by politically correct totalitarians. But there was a while when the people who actually won the cultural revolution in this country thought they would lose. They looked at her rhetoric. They noted the millions of votes she piled up in her second and third general elections. And they trembled. As said, they won. Mrs Thatcher herself is too old to suffer more than endless blackening at the hands of the victors who now comprise the ruling class. But they still tremble at the thought of how her shadow darkened their 1980s. And if they can do nothing to her now, her daughter can be ruined, and that will now be tried with every chance of success.

It might be argued that what Miss Thatcher and Mr Clarkson said was offensive, and that they are in trouble because we have a much greater regard for politeness than used to be the case. Perhaps it is offensive to say that a black man looks like a golliwog. Perhaps it is offensive to imply that Scotchmen are idiots or that people with defective sight also have defective judgement. It might be. But it might also be offensive to millions of people that the BBC - which is funded by a compulsory levy on everyone who can receive television signals - broadcasts a continual stream of nudity and obscene language; and that it pays the biggest salary in its history to Jonathan Ross, whose only public talent is for foul-mouthed buffoonery. The British ruling class - especially through the BBC, its main propaganda outreach - has a highly selective view of what is offensive.

And it is worth replying that the alleged offensiveness of the statements is minimal. Let us forget about golliwogs and implied sneers at the blind. Let us take the word "nigger". Now, this has not been a word admitted in polite company in England since about the end of the eighteenth century. Anyone who does use the word shows himself a person of low breeding. Whatever its origins, its use for centuries has been as an insult to black people. Any reasonable black man, therefore, called a nigger, has cause to take offence.

This being said, only moderate offence can be reasonable. Anyone who runs about, wailing that he has been hurt by a word as if it were a stick taken to his back, and calling for laws and social ostracism to punish the speaker, is a fool or a villain. And I can think of few other epithets that a reasonable person would greet with more than a raised eyebrow - "poof", "paki", "papist", "mohammedan", "chinkie" and the like. Anyone who finds these words at the very worst annoying should grow up. We can be quite sure that most of the Asian languages now spoken in this country contain some very unflattering words to describe the English - for example, goreh, gweilo, and so forth. There is no pressure, internal or external, for these to be dropped. And we know that there are any number of organisations set up by and for non-whites in this country from which the English are barred - for example, the National Black Police Association.

However, the highly selective use of speech codes and hate speech laws has nothing really to do with politeness. It is about power. The British ruling class may talk the language of love and diversity and inclusiveness. What it obviously wants is the unlimited power to plunder and enslave us, while scaring us into the appearance of gratitude for our dispossession. Because the tyrannised are always the majority in a tyranny, they must be somehow prevented from combining. The soviet socialists and the national socialists kept control by the arbitrary arrest and torture or murder of suspected opponents. That is not presently acceptable in England or in the English world. Control here is kept by defining all opposition as "hatred" - and by defining all acts or attitudes that might enable opposition as "hatred".

I am the Director of the Libertarian Alliance. Not surprisingly, my own opposition to the rising tide of despotism is grounded on a belief in individual rights. I may occasionally talk about my ancestral rights as an Englishman, or about how my ancestors fought and died so I could enjoy some now threatened right. I may sometimes half-believe my rhetoric. Ultimately, though, I believe that people have - or should be regarded as having - rights to life, liberty and property by virtue of their human status. Anything else I say really is just a rhetorical device. This is not the case with most other people. For them, opposing the encroachments of a ruling class is grounded on collective identity - "they can't do that to us". Now, this sense of collective identity may derive from common religion, common loyalty, common culture, but most often and most powerfully - though these other sources may also be important - from perceived commonality of blood.

Now, this collective identity is not something that is seen at times of emergency, but otherwise is in abeyance. It is important in times of emergency so far as it is always present. People work together when they must because, at all other times, they have a mass of shared rituals and understandings that hold them together. These shared things often define a people in terms of their distinctness from others. Jokes beginning "There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotchman" or "What do you call a Frenchman who...?" are part of what reinforces an English identity. So too are comments and gestures and assumptions that assert the superiority of the English over other peoples. To change my focus for a moment, take the phrase "Goyishe Kopf" - Gentile brains! This is what some Jews say when they do something stupid. It can be taken as expressing hatred and contempt of non-Jews. More reasonably, it is one of those comments that reinforce the Jewish identity.

What Carol Thatcher said was part of this reminding of identity. Her exact words, so far as I can tell, were: "You also have to consider the frogs. You know, that froggy golliwog guy". The meaning she was trying to convey was: "let us consider how quaint and absurd outsiders are. Is it not nice that we are members of the same group, and that we are so clever and so beautiful?" I am not saying that I approve of what she actually said. Indeed, she would have done better for herself and the English in general had she kept her mouth shut.  Calling someone "froggy" is neither here nor there. Calling him a "golliwog" is moderately hurtful. Saying this on BBC premises, and in front of people like Jo Brand, shows that Miss Thatcher is stupid or that she was drunk. Her words, as reported, do less to reinforce English identity than make the whole thing an embarrassment.

However - her name always aside - she is being punished not because her words were crass, but because they fell into the category of actions that must at all times be discouraged. Powerful or crass to the point of embarrassment, nothing must be tolerated that might tend to promote an English identity. I say an English identity. The rule does not apply to Scotch or Welsh or Irish nationalism. These are not regarded as a danger to the ruling class project of total enslavement. They are controllable by subsidy. More usefully, they are anti-English. The various ethnic nationalisms and Islamic identities are likewise allowed or encouraged. They are not perceived as a danger to the ruling class project of total domination, and may be used against the English. It is English identity that must at all costs be repressed. The English are still the largest national group in these islands, and will remain so at least until 2040, when there may be a non-white majority all through the United Kingdom. English national ways are the raw material from which every liberal doctrine has been refined. The English are an unpleasantly violent nation when pushed too far.

This explains why words and expressions are defined almost at random as "hatred", and why names of groups and places keep changing almost at random. The purpose is not to protect various minority groups from being hurt - though clever members of these groups may take advantage of the protections. The real purpose is to hobble all expression of English identity. It is to make the words and phrases that come most readily to mind unusable, or usable only with clarifications and pre-emptive cringes that rob them of all power to express protest. Or it is to force people to consult their opponents on what words are currently acceptable - and whoever is allowed to control the terms of debate is likely to win the debate.

And look how easily it can be done. Also during the past week, we have seen working class demonstrations in the north of England against the employment of foreign workers. "British jobs for British workers" they have been chanting. A few raised eyebrows and warnings from Peter Mandelson about the "politics of xenophobia", and the trade unions have straightaway sold out their members and are preparing to bully them back to work. Better that trade union members scrabble to work for a pound an hour, or whatever, than that they should be suffered to use words like "Eyeties" or "Dagoes".

I should end by suggesting what can be done to counter this strategy. I suppose the answer is not to behave like Carol Thatcher. We must accept that certain words and phrases have been demonised beyond defence. Some of them are indefensible. These must be dropped. Others that are just about permissible - Scotchman, for example - should be used and defended on all occasions. We should also at all times bear in mind that political correctness is not about protecting the weak but disarming the potentially strong, and it must be made clear to the ruling class that its management of language has been noticed and understood and rejected. A strategy of apparently casual offence, followed by partial and unconvincing apology - of the sort that we may have seen from Jeremy Clarkson - may also be appropriate.

Another strategy worth considering is the one adopted by the British National Party. In a free country, Jo Brand would be at perfect liberty to incite criminal acts against unnamed and reasonably unidentifiable people. But we do not live in a free country. There is a mass of laws that criminalise speech that was legal even a few years ago. The response to this is to invoke the laws against those who called for them. As said, people like Jo Brand and Yasmin Alibhai Brown are unlikely ever to be prosecuted for crimes of hate speech. But the authorities will occasionally be forced to go through the motions of investigating, and this can be made a form of harassment amounting to revenge. Otherwise, it is useful to establish beyond doubt that the laws are not intended to be enforced according to their apparently universal working.

There is much else to be said. But I suppose the most important thing is not to behave like Carol Thatcher. It will be unfair if she is broken by her words. But if you stick your head into a lion's mouth, you cannot really complain when you feel the teeth closing round your neck.

All told, this has been an interesting week. Understood rightly, it may turn out to have been a most productive week.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 199
11th November 2010

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Humour:
No Laughing Matter
by Sean Gabb

I was called a few minutes ago by LBC, a commercial radio station that broadcasts within the London area. The researcher explained the biggest news story of the day and asked me for a comment. The story is that one Gareth Compton, who is a Conservative representative on Birmingham City Council, had made a joke on Twitter about the Moslem journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. He said: “Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan't tell Amnesty if you don't. It would be a blessing, really.” As soon as she heard about this Mrs Alibhai-Brown announced that she would call the police and have the man charged with incitement to murder. But somebody else had already done so. Mr Compton was arrested, and then released on bail.

I made my comments immediately after hearing about the story, and they are rather scathing. However, I have now checked the news, and everyone else seems to be taking the matter very seriously. Mrs Alibhai-Brown is leading the hunt. “A politician validates the many people who do threaten columnists like me,” she told Sky News. “... what you're saying is ‘it’s ok to hate so much that you kill a journalist and a writer’.” A spokesman for the Conservative Party said that Mr Compton's language was “unacceptable”, and that he had been suspended from the Party while he was investigated. A spokeswoman for Birmingham City Council added: “Any written complaints will be formally considered by the council standards committee to determine if any investigation should be held…. The committee will also be mindful of any criminal investigations concluded by the police.”

Mr Compton has now deleted his tweet and apologised for the remark, calling it “an ill-conceived attempt at humour”.

It is difficult to know where to begin a written commentary on this matter. I suppose the right beginning is to take note of the English contempt of court laws. The news report I read does not say if Mr Compton had been charged with an offence. But he may yet be charged, and, once charges are laid, no one is allowed to make any comment that may prejudice his trial. And so I will not discuss whether Mr Compton did publish the words in question. Nor will I discuss whether publishing them is illegal under the present law of this country. What I will discuss is whether publishing such words should be illegal in a liberal democracy. And I will try to discuss this as moderately and as cautiously as I can.

I say that it should not be illegal to publish such words. In saying this, I am not calling for some libertarian utopia. I am simply asking for a return to the laws that, for many centuries, had policed speech in the England of my birth – in the England, indeed, of my early manhood. I was born into a country where a man could say pretty nearly anything he liked about public issues. He was constrained by the law of obscenity if he wanted to talk about sex, and by the law of official secrecy if he wanted to discuss the confidential workings of government. He might also have been constrained by the law of blasphemy if he wanted to talk about the Christian Faith. Of course, there were also the contempt laws that I have already mentioned. With the exception of the contempt laws, which make sense in any case where a jury might be involved, I will not defend these laws. They constrained speech more than I would have approved had I been old enough to make an informed comment. But, these laws aside, speech was free on public issues.

A man could freely denounce the policing of the Troubles in Ulster. He could praise the Irish Republican Army as “freedom fighters”, and rejoice whenever a soldier or policeman was murdered. He could say, for example, that Lord Mountbatten, who was murdered by Irish terrorists in 1980, was “a legitimate target”, and hope that some other member of the Royal Family – other than the Queen – might be next. Or, if the inclination took him, he could say that black people were sub-human, and that the Jews were “blood-sucking parasites”. He could call a man a “nigger” or – assuming he could prove it – that a man was a “queer” and that he would burn in hell. 

On private issues, there were the defamation laws, and the law of confidence. Where threats of violence were concerned, there were the assault laws. For example, if a man said “I know where you live”, or “I know where your children go to school”, or “You’d better watch yourself as you walk home late in the evening”, he might be charged with assault. Words like these, after all, could be taken as threats by any man of reasonable firmness of mind.

Moving back to the public sphere, a man might be charged with a breach of the peace if he turned up outside a synagogue and told a crowd that gentile children inside were being made into Passover cakes.

Now, some of these laws were, as said, absurdly harsh. Others made good sense. But there was never any question that jokes in poor taste might be illegal. I remember reading an article once in The Spectator where Auberon Waugh called on a television producer to be put up against a wall and shot. Some people laughed. Others scowled. There was never any question that the police might be involved.

England is now a country where virtually any words uttered in public can be treated as a criminal offence. Without thinking very hard, I can remember how Nick Griffin of the British National Party stood trial for having called Islam “a wicked vicious faith”. I can remember how a drunken student was arrested and fined for telling a policeman that his horse looked “gay”. I can remember how a man was arrested and charged and fined for standing beside the Cenotaph and reading out the names of the British war dead in Iraq. I remember a case from this year where a pacifist unfurled a banner outside an army cadet training base. “Stop training murderers”, it said. His home was promptly raided by police with dogs, while a helicopter hovered overhead. He was arrested and cautioned.

If I started mentioning the cases where Christian street preachers have been arrested for quoting the Bible, or where Moslems have set the police on people for alleged words or displays, or if I even alluded to the Public Order Act or the various racial and sexual hate speech laws, this article would swell immensely. It is enough to say that anything said in public is now illegal if someone complains to the police, or if the police themselves take against it. And, when something is not illegal, we are all getting used to the idea – second nature in most other countries – that we should “watch ourselves”. Even I find that, if I discuss politics in a coffee bar, I sometimes drop my voice. A few weeks ago, I found myself looking round to see who might be within earshot. So much for living in a free country.

I am willing to believe that Mrs Alibhai-Brown was put in fear of her life by this twitter. But Mrs Alibhai-Brown may not be a woman of reasonable firmness of mind. Some years ago, she appeared to agree with me in a BBC discussion programme that it was only fear of the law that kept white people from rising up and murdering non-whites. Anyone inclined to doubt this claim should listen to the recording. But no reasonable man can regard the twitter as other than a joke.

I could go po-faced here, and say that it was a joke in questionable taste, or that it was “unacceptable”. But a joke is a joke. Often, a joke’s humour comes entirely from its being offensive. In a liberal democracy – which this country plainly no longer is – jokes are not a matter for the police. In a country where everyone in public life has not gone barking mad, jokes are heard and laughed at or ignored. It is only in countries that have turned, or are turning, totalitarian that jokes are taken seriously enough for criminal penalties to be threatened.

I could note that this latest outrage has taken place in a country with a Conservative Government. But there is no point. Labour may be out of power, but the Cameron Government is conservative in name only. We should know by now that all the talk during the general election about rolling back the Labour police state was nothing but talk, and that there is no intention to change anything.

I could put it on the record that, as a libertarian, I believe in freedom of speech, and that every law made since 1965 to censor speech should be repealed at once – the Race Relations Acts, the relevant sections of the Public Order Act, and all the dozens of oppressive laws made by the ex-Communists of the Blair and Brown Governments. I might also mention all the anti-discrimination laws and the obscenity laws. But this is for the record, and I have now put it on the record, and feel there is nothing more to be done for the moment.

No, I think the real villains here are the police. Every so often, The Daily Mail publishes a whining article or letter about how the police are kept from doing a proper job by health and safety laws and by “political correctness”. The implication here is that the police are thoroughly decent people who simply want to get back to protecting life and property in ways that nearly everyone regards as legitimate. I find this a ludicrous opinion. So far as I can tell, the police are the willing militia of an evil ruling class. Many of them are sadistic thugs more to be feared than the criminals they are supposedly hired to catch. Many are corrupt. Most of them have bought wholesale into the new order of things, and use their massively expanded powers with grim delight.

The police behave as they do partly because of the “tough new laws” Home Secretaries have been drooling over for the past quarter century. But it is also because police officers are bad people. Even if police powers could be rolled back to where they were in about 1960, these traditional powers would still be used oppressively. Power is restrained in part by law. Beyond that, it is restrained by common sense and common decency. These are qualities now absent from the police in England, and no changes in law or exhortations from the top can bring them back. Anyone who wants all the policing our taxes buy needs his head examined.

There is no doubt that all those High Tory critics of Robert Peel were right about the dangers of setting up a state police force. It took over a hundred and fifty years to show how right they were. But, when someone is arrested for making jokes about Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, we can see that the line has been crossed that separates a state with police from a police state.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment published on the Internet
Issue Number 28
20th February 1999

Robert Henderson v Tony Blair:
A Tale of New Britain
by Sean Gabb


The story that I have to tell is condensed from over a thousand pages of photocopied letters, articles and transcripts, plus many hours of tape recording. At times, it seems to resemble a baroque church, as the significance of a particular line of correspondence becomes hard to find and relate to the whole. However, I will do my best to simplify the story without doing harm to its essentials.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 81
4th December 2002

A Record of a Debate Held by the Local Government Association
on Wednesday the 4th December 2002
on the Motion: “This House Believes Promoting Diversity Causes Discrimination”
Sean Gabb

About a month ago, David Conway telephoned me to ask if I might be interested in making a speech to the Local Government Association, which, as its name suggests, is an organisation set up to represent the interests of local government in England and Wales. I said yes, and forgot about the matter. Only yesterday did I bother looking at the papers that had been sent to me and pay attention to what the debate was to be over. I am normally a very lazy speaker. I never write my speeches, and usually give no thought to their content until I open my mouth. On this occasion, however, I was to be proposing a somewhat controversial motion to an audience of Guardian readers. Looking at the list of those invited to sit in the audience, I noticed representatives from the Commission for Racial Equality, the Runnymede Trust, the National Housing Association, the Home Office, and various other bodies with the same predictable views. And so I decided to give up on trying to be spontaneous, and wrote my speech in full.

Speaking for the motion with me was Tiffany Jenkins, who is Director of the Arts and Society Programme at the Institute of Ideas. Speaking against was Simon Woolley, who is National Co-ordinator of Operation Black Vote, and who wrote a most interesting article in The Guardian a few months ago about Winston Churchill and Black History Month. With him was Dr Richard Reiser, Director of Disability Equality in Education. Together with Councillor Laura Willoughby, who is Chairman of the Local Government Association Equalities Executive, and who was to keep order in the proceedings, we sat together at a raised table facing the invited audience. The debate was recorded, and transcripts will be published by the Local Government Association.

Ms Jenkins spoke first. She began by praising certain kinds of diversity—the sort that brought vibrancy and cosmopolitanism to a country. But followed by saying that diversity as a public ideology was a force for great evil. First, it tended to stereotype people, putting them into categories that were permanent and irreconconcilable. Second, it was reactionary, so far as it upheld the present order of things. Third, that it tended to undermine the sense of shared experience that all societies needed to survive. In its place, it put the thought police.

I spoke next, but as I will simply give the full speech that I made, I will leave this to last, in order not to unbalance the brief account that I am giving of the other speakers. I am, I must emphasise, giving bald and probably inaccurate accounts. I hope that the other speakers will publish their own accounts and circulate them at least as widely as I am circulating mine. If not, there will be the official transcript on the Local Government Association website.

Mr Woolley spoke third. He began by describing his thoughts when first invited to speak. At the beginning of this century, he said, he thought it was a waste of time to debate on whether diversity was a good thing: the real debate for him was over how it was best to be promoted. However, he had decided to come along and argue that it was a good thing and should be promoted for two main reasons. First, it was the right thing to do—an inclusive society was obviously better than one that was not. Second, it was in the direct self-interest even of people like Sean Gabb to have the promotion of diversity. People who are not included in the making of decisions drift to the margins, where they turn either to crime or to dangerous ideologies like radical Islam. Look at Bradford, he said—a place torn apart not because of its diversity but by the lack of any real diversity. Look, on the other hand, at London—a city universally admired and indeed envied for its great wealth of diversity.

Finally, Dr Reiser spoke. For him, diversity was the same as equality and therefore the same as a fairer world. Discrimination was always the fault of those in power—politicians and big business. Racism was a product of their imperialism. So were racial attacks and murder. What the world needed, he said, was the use of power to correct its past misuses. He accused the proposers of the motion of "extreme right wing prejudice" camoflaged in "neo-liberal arguments" about freedom of speech and association. He objected to Sean Gabb's use of the word "handicapped", arguing that the correct word was "disabled", and that to use any other was patronising and offensive. Of course, the Government must challenge discrimination wherever it could be shown to exist—I counted 15 uses of the word "challenge" in this sense. Therefore, we needed a new Race Relations Act, and much more vigorous promotion of diversity. In particular, we need much more promotion of diversity in schools. We needed to abolish independent education, so that all children could study together in state schools, where they could be taught to love one another. Ultimately, he concluded, it was necessary not just to change this country, but the whole world, dominated as it is by American imperialists and rapacious multi-national corporations.

Now, here is my speech. I read it slowly and exactly in my loudest and flattest voice.

I will begin by questioning the notion of diversity. What does it mean? If it means that we are all individuals with different tastes and opinions and understandings of the world, it is of course something with which no libertarian would take issue. As commonly used, however, it means that we should work for the sort of society in which every organisation, public and private, is filled with representative numbers of women, black people, homosexuals, and the handicapped. Anything with less than representative numbers of these and other groups is to be investigated on the grounds that it is probably discriminating. In describing the ideal society according to this view of diversity, the old sneer about jobs for black, one-legged lesbians is cruel but not that unfair.

Now, this is a diversity of sorts. But it is not the diversity that really exists when not as carefully managed and constrained as a bonsai tree. This is the diversity that concentrates on superficial differences between individuals. When it comes to matters of opinion, there is no diversity. Everyone is expected—in public, at least—to endorse the kind of opinions that would not be out of place in a Guardian editorial. Let there be diversity of belief—let someone say the number of black people in this country has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished; or that America is the Great Satan, and got a jolly good hiding in New York last year, and should mind its ps and qs over the Middle East in future if it wants to avoid more of the same; or that homosexuals are the spawn of Satan, and aids is only the beginning of God's punishment for their abominations—let anyone deviate from the Guardian line on any issue dear to the promoters of diversity, and there is an end of talk about diversity. The cry will go up for sackings from employment, for police and security service harassment, and of course for censorship laws with criminal sanctions attached. Promoters of diversity as the word is commonly used are inclined to tolerate only the diversity of which they approve. Where they do not approve, they will happily manufacture excuses for hate crime laws as arbitrary and soon perhaps as draconian as the religious laws of Elizabeth I.

That, I suspect, is the diversity promoted by the Local Government Association and the organisations that employ most of the rest of you. Looking around this room, I see people of every superficial difference. But anyone of you who deviates too far from the bonsai intellectual status required will pretty soon find out what the inside of a job centre looks like nowadays.

The problem is that diversity as it exists outside the bonsai grove is not some multicultural love feast. It is an extraordinarily unstable thing, always liable to collapse into violence born of ungovernable hatred. If you want to see diversity in action, look away from this room—look at Yugoslavia; look at Rwanda; look at Ulster; look at parts of India; look at the old Ottoman Empire and virtually the whole of the present Middle East. Those born into such societies know that they are unfortunate, and lament their inability to make their world different from how it is. Yet that is exactly what we, in the name of diversity or anti-discrimination or multiculturalism, are busily—if usually uncomprehendingly - manufacturing for ourselves.

Diversity does not need to collapse into naked violence to produce a nasty, uncivil society. There are many circles of hell before the lowest is reached. But how can the historic, fairly liberal institutions of this country survive, when increasing numbers of people are actively encouraged not to define themselves as individual members of one nation, but as members of groups with interests different from and often opposed to those of other groups?

Democracy requires at least belief in a fluid public opinion to which rival candidates can address themselves and hope to win over enough votes to form a government—a government that will exist so long as their majority exists, and that will in the meantime be regarded by the present minority as legitimate if regrettable. In a society Balakanised along racial, religious, sexual, or any other lines, democracy is no more than a headcount superfluous so long as the census reports are up to date—a headcount after which the majority will forever more or less tyrannise over the minority.

And if that is the case with national democracy, how much more it is with local government, with the delivery of public services like healthcare and education, with policing, and with criminal justice. How can there be trial by jury when verdicts are routinely brought in on grounds separate from the evidence presented in court?

To say that diversity as commonly promoted causes discrimination is the very mildest condemnation.

Nations are fictitious entities. Except where the smallest or most primitive are concerned, they are not composed of individuals very closely related by blood. They have normally grown over centuries by amalgamation with successive waves of migrants and invaders. What holds a nation together, then, is not shared blood, but a shared identity. Attack that identity, and the nation is attacked. Destroy that identity, and the nation is destroyed. But, as said, do not suppose the resulting diversity will be one of mutual love or even respect. It will be a diversity in which individuals are judged according not to character or ability, but to membership of a distinct and possibly hostile group.

The challenge facing this country in the next few generations is to find some minimal shared identity with which to connect the often visibly diverse individuals who live here. The facts of demography mean that this must be very largely a matter of assimilation - though with much compensating tolerance by the majority of remaining differences. How we shall manage this I do not know. But I do know we shall not manage it by promoting diversity.

The speeches over, questioning from the floor began. About half of it was directed at me, but I had run out of paper and the will to keep notes; and so anyone interested to know exactly what was said must wait for the official transcript. However, I had the chance for several long replies, the last of which went something as follows:

I repeat that I am not arguing for a monolithic society, in which all people must conform to one standard of thought and behaviour. Indeed, I am arguing against exactly that. I believe that we should do our best to get along with each other, and that we should always try to look behind superficial things like nipple rings and green hair and religion and colour of skin, and judge each other on character and ability. But I do not believe in the enforcement of niceness. As a libertarian, I believe in the right of people to do as they please with themselves. This means that people have the right to discriminate in their selection of employees and tenants on the basis of race, religion, sexuality, age, physical incapacity, or any other criterion that takes their fancy. To say otherwise is to advocate forced association. People also have the right to say anything they like about the above issues, no matter how unloving it might be. To say otherwise is to advocate censorship.

I oppose all state promotion of diversity. I therefore believe in repealing all the race relations and other anti-discrimination laws. I also believe in shutting down the Commission for Racial Equality and bodies like the Local Government Association. Please accept that there is nothing personal in this. I have no doubt that you would all do much better for yourselves if you were required to sell your services in the private sector. You would also do less harm to the wealth and happiness of all the people in this country.

I saw several mouths fall open in the audience when I said this. Of course, the motion was lost. In the vote at the beginning of the meeting, it was lost by about 30 to four, with five abstentions. In the final vote, those in favour were down to two, with five abstentions—though these were a different five. But no one shouted back at me or walked out. Indeed, I was surprised how nice most Guardian readers can be. We were all very friendly in the buffet afterwards. I was button-holed by a young woman who I think was Mr Woolley's daughter, though I neglected to ask. She began with flattery. She was a reader, she said, of Free Life Commentary on my web page and found it very interesting. the surest way to an intellectual's heart is though his ego. This young lady will doubtless go far in life. She then asked why I was spending so much of my time on the mixed bag of losers and cretins who are the modern Conservative Party? Why not turn my attentions to the Liberal Democrats? These at least were already social liberals, and they might with a fraction of the effort I had wasted on the Tories come to some agreement on economic liberalism. Good question, and I had no ready answer. Perhaps I should think of one.

Her third point, and we argued over this at some length, was that I had made no effort to win the debate. She thought the motion might have been carried had I taken the same approach as Ms Jenkins and tried to argue my case in terms more familiar to the audience.

My reply was to repeat the argument long ago agreed within the Libertarian Alliance. The purpose of taking part in such debates was not to try to win them. That might be possible by softening arguments and trying to find common ground. But it was worthless in the long term, bearing in mind the very small number of libertarian activists. The real purpose was to use every opportunity to state one's opinions as clearly and with as little compromise as possible - thereby contributing to a long term shift in the terms of debate.

Had I been less tired after a day of hard teaching—taking my students to a coffee warehouse that no longer existed, and so forth - and had my mind been less ruled as I spoke by the railway timetable, I should have used the example of Mr Woolley. His reaction to what I said was interesting. I do not doubt his honesty or good faith, but I will say that he replied to me in the debate by arguing against positions I had not taken. This was not, I think, my fault. My speech is a pretty clear statement of belief; and I can have no doubt that he caught every word: sitting next to me, he might even have benefitted from ear plugs. The problem is that he had probably never come across opinions like mine. The natural human reaction to the unfamiliar is to try and make sense of it by squeezing it into a known category, however inappropriate that may be. But this is a short term reaction. The next time Mr Woolley hears the libertarian case against diversity promotion, it will be more familiar to him. His disagreement then will not be over what it is not, but over what it is. Eventually, I hope, he will realise that disagreement is not possible. The day he resigns from Operation Black Vote, and becomes a British Thomas Sowell will be the day his daughter has my full answer to her objection.

Yes, it was a successful and enjoyable evening. Many thanks in conclusion to Councillor Willoughby for chairing the meeting so tightly and yet so fairly. Perhaps I should be more careful in future about stereotyping all Guardian readers as embittered fascists spraying staccato hatred from behind a clenched and shaking cigarette.