Many people will be surprised or dismayed by the Supreme Court’s ruling on Mr. Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament. Government briefings, Twitter, right-wing tabloids will feed the anger. “Unlawful? What’s Lawful about denying 17.4m BREXIT!”, the Daily Express banner headline today gives the flavour. We are due for a tirade along “War on the Judiciary” lines, People versus the Establishment: “Unelected”, “Undemocratic” “Meddling in our Politics”, “Constitutional Coup” and so on.
It will be no use arguing that our democracy, political stability and constitutional arrangements sometimes require an independent referee between executive and legislature, particularly when the executive tries to avoid scrutiny and shows signs of becoming unaccountable. Which is of course where and when the Law has to intervene. Parliament is the primary law-maker. But, notably when big constitutional issues are at stake, courts take precedence over the rule of anyone else, elected or otherwise: Prime Minister, the Crown in Parliament, the Privy Council, and Lords Spiritual and Temporal. At such moments the court’s judgement may necessarily be political in the broadest sense of influencing the political realm in which the dispute has arisen - just as a referee’s decision will influence the outcome of a football match. Eleven referees in this case came to the same decision. Mr. Johnson was shown a yellow card.
The popular counter-argument will say the Prime Minister should be permitted in this case to treat the sovereignty of parliament with contempt because politicians have made a contemptible and unholy mess of things, and Mr. Johnson has promised to get things done and dusted to honour the 2016 Referendum result. It is rather like saying, after a football team has missed several goals, that the other captain can henceforth ignore the off-side rule, and if progress in the opponent’s half is slow, take over as referee to ensure victory for his team.
The Supreme Court did not mince its words. The impact of Johnson’s lengthy five week prorogation “on the fundamentals of democracy was extreme”. The exercise of the core Parliamentary function, to call the executive to account, make it answerable, a principle of parliamentary sovereignty and the basis of our democracy, was being impeded and no adequate explanation for this obstruction had been provided. As I understand it, as a consequence, the Supreme Court was duty-bound to define the limits to the prerogative powers concerning prorogation exercised by the Crown on the advice of the Prime Minister through the Privy Council, and concluded that the Prime Minister had exceeded them.
The prerogative powers over proroguing were not before this judgement clearly defined. Why should they have been? As Peter Hennessy described it, the “good chap” premise of our constitutional arrangements prevailed. Good chaps don’t abuse our constitutional conventions. Those were the days.
The Supreme Court made law in the Miller and Cherry cases by their – unanimous – judgement. This is how law in this country develops and this is what the Court does. It defined the nature and limits of one prerogative power and drew the conclusion that the Prime Minister’s advice on prorogation was unlawful – he had provided no evidence that a lengthy prorogation was necessary while parliamentary oversight of government business was essential at a critical moment when constitutional change loomed on 31 October. The resultant Order in Council proroguing Parliament was null and void. Parliament was not prorogued.
I doubt if Tony Blair and Lord Falconer when they legislated for a UK Supreme Court in the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act (established on 1 October 2009) forsaw that fourteen years later the Supreme Court would be involved in an historic juridical intervention in constitutional conventions. Nor that a Prime Minister would be pulled up for unlawful conduct in the process. That’s serendipity for you.
In hindsight the judgement seems an entirely sensible and reasonable conclusion to a complex problem. The court has striven to make it comprehensible to the public. The Executive is answerable to Parliament, a simple enough starting point. The judgement has nothing, nor could have anything, to say about BREXIT. Lady Hale repeatedly made this clear.
But this will sadly cut no ice in a divided society in which emotion takes precedence over the kind of rational argument proposed by the leading German philosopher Jürgen Habermas’, an ideal of dialogue and conversation, which court proceedings at this level seem to model. As Mr. Johnson and the Daily Express doubtless wish, the BREXIT divide will determine how people view this historic moment in the workings of our judiciary and democracy. That it not the fault of the Supreme Court which has provided comforting proof that rational discourse has not entirely deserted this disunited kingdom.
See also TheArticle.com 25/09/2019
It should not only be Catholics who think the Pope is an important global leader today. In a world where the behaviour of powerful heads of state justifies retrieving the label “moral hazard” from the economists, an international figure who can, and does, speak truth to power, who tries to model the virtuous life, and speaks to 1.25 billion followers, should be listened to and taken seriously.
Yes, sexual abuse has gravely eroded the moral authority of the Catholic Church and changed popular perceptions of it. The failure for many years of episcopal leadership to understand the profound damage caused to children by sexually predatory priests, their overriding concern to “protect the Church” and prioritise forgiveness for perpetrators over safeguarding, is an abiding scandal. That this kind of response is shared with other large institutions is no excuse. Whilst bishops were in denial or “protecting the Church” in dereliction of their duty to children, secular society was tightening up its protection of children, a special focus of divine love in Christian teaching.
Pope Francis inherited the child abuse scandal. For some time, it seems, he could not believe that prominent colleagues had behaved so wickedly. This was a bad mistake, one which he has admitted and has tried with limited success to rectify. He has not been helped by the continued revelations of bishops’ failure to act rightly when faced by the criminality of members of their clergy, nor by trials of high level clerical perpetrators. Blame clericalism, solidarity of a religious officer class if you like - and clericalism certainly facilitated this conduct - it was a tragic betrayal of the values promoted by Catholicism.
Sexual scandals are not the Pope’s only troubles. He has another Pope, the former Benedict XVI, in his back garden. The title “Emeritus”, as if Benedict had just retired from the University of Tubingen, doesn’t help, though the Church does have some emeritus archbishops. Inevitably Benedict’s emeritus presence, with his refined, academic theological insight, provided the Catholic critics of Pope Francis, not least in the Curia, the Vatican’s central government, with a focus for their opposition to his conduct of the papacy. Unlike Benedict, Francis does not steadfastly promote rigid doctrinal positions. But his critics demand public intellectual assent to the truths of the faith as they see them. The Pope’s idea of leadership is to model the imitation of Christ. His critics snipe away at his openness to change, his emphasis on social justice, and openly attack him in the manner of a political faction. The first to demand loyalty to the former Pope, they have been the first to show disloyalty to the present one.
Francis would have none of this. In his tweets he refers constantly to God’s love and forgiveness. He believes the place of the Christian is living on the periphery, beside the poor and rejected, open to the pain of divorced Catholics unable to receive Communion, and of gay people in Church circles experiencing subtle, and not-so-subtle forms of clerical rejection. For him the human person is the focus of the Church’s concern. I watched him shake hands with 300 people after a Vatican conference, dog-tired People are his priority. His visits to migrant detention centres, his invitations into the Vatican of the homeless, the washing and kissing the feet of prisoners in Rome’s Regina Coeli prison, emphasise his preaching of God’s love. He is not playacting.
Pope Francis’s message of compassion for the poor and marginalised is meant for the whole world as his recent visits to Mauritius, Madagascar and Mozambique demonstrate. He goes to the periphery following the biblical prophetic tradition. “Listen to this, you who trample on the needy and try to suppress the poor people of the country” (Amos 8:4).
But the Curia sees itself as at the throbbing heart of Rome, is at the Church’s authoritarian centre, and had seen off many former Popes who tried to reform it. As the recent BBC programme “Inside the Vatican” captures so well, the Vatican is far too human to neatly fit the stereotype of bureaucracy. But its formal culture, precious, nuanced language and affectations, often belie this humanity.
Pope Francis does not hesitate to speak truth to Curial power, does not mince his words both off-the-cuff and in allocutions, and often forgets that bees come to honey. Clergy in the Vatican City State on the west bank of the Tiber may need to encounter the “smell of the sheep” – Francis’ call for them to act always with pastoral concern - but their work offers them little chance to do so. It is probably no exaggeration to say that some Curial officials hate him. He appears independent of Vatican structures alien to him, as if has spent five years, as one friend put it, riding someone else’s bicycle.
So why should the secular world listen to Pope Francis? Simply because, at this time of international crisis, he is an outstanding counter-cultural leader with a steady moral compass and vision. Politically this has meant conflict, nowhere more than in his support for migrants and asylum seekers. Then there is Laudato Si, his second encyclical published in June 2015, which puts the Church in support of the scientific evidence for climate change. Laudato Si has already mobilised Catholics around the world in pursuit of climate change prevention and provided a distinctive backing for Christian participation in the global movement. Francis has denounced the “blind and destructive mentality” of those burning the Amazon rain forest. The populist President Jair Bolsonaro now has his Agência Braziliera de Intêlligencia, ABIN, keeping a careful eye on what he calls the “leftist and liberationist” Brazilian bishops involved in the Amazon Synod in Rome. Saving the planet and his option for the poor means conflict with powerful forces.
Pope Francis’s recent appointments as Cardinals demonstrate his commitment to improving relations with Muslim communities: Lancashire-born Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, fluent Arabic speaker, member of the missionary Society of Africa, the White Fathers, and former President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID), removed by Pope Benedict, now working in St. Vincent de Paul parish in Liverpool; the Spanish historian of Islam, Bishop Miguel Ayuso, currently President of the PCID, and Archbishop Cristobal Lopez of Rabat where Catholics make up only 0.1% of the country’s predominantly Muslim population. Such appointments represent commitment to eliminate prejudice and bigotry which endanger peace.
For the many who seek in vain an antidote to the rise of populism, with its orchestration and amplification of hatred, suspicion and fear, the Pope’s is a voice which speaks from and to the heart, reaching beyond the arcane language of Catholic theology and ethics into “the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of the current age. The Pope’s is a voice that has not been muted or silenced by the dreadful scandal of sexual abuse, as has the voice of so many bishops. Nor should it be. Pope Francis does not just speak to and belong to Catholics. He intends his message of love and compassion, which is far more than vague exhortation, for the whole of humanity.
In 1944 T.S. Eliot, then director of Faber & Faber, notoriously turned down George Orwell’s Animal Farm for fear of offending the Soviet Union, our vital ally against Nazi Germany. Faber & Faber did not repeat the howler with Peter Pomerantsev’s This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War against Reality, a book which also has important things to say about oppression and tyranny. Currently a Senior Fellow at LSE, a Soviet-born Ukrainian, Pomerantsev has written an endearing and stimulating travelogue through the world of fake news and digital political control. Endearing because he runs this travelogue throughout the book in parallel with biographical sketches of his father’s life. Igor Pomerantsev’s courageous and creative struggle against communist oppression and lies, and their modern equivalent, those of Putin’s Russian Federation, make compelling reading. It is heartening to see such respect and admiration for a father from a son, when the bad father has become a biographical cliché.
Pomerantsev demonstrates how the communications revolution and social media have transformed political conflict, the struggle to gain and regain power. A 2013 Pentagon study, for example, described China’s theory of modern war as “twenty-first century warfare guided by a new and vital dimension: namely the belief that whose story wins may be more important than whose army wins”. We in Britain are now aware that during general elections and referendum campaigns political parties are able to disaggregate voters, into some eighty different group identities each targeted differently, but using unifying keywords which underpin a shared story being transmitted. States never stop projecting the story of them, the “non-people”, versus us “the people”, manufacturing a consensus around a simple theme such as Trump’s make America great again, Putin’s get Russia off its knees, and the Brexiteers’ take back control. Many people believe “the people” means themselves and suspend their critical judgement in favour of the reassurance of solidarity that belonging to “the people” brings.
The book contains some fascinating interviews and stories: the penetration by Lyudmilla Savchuk of the prolific Russian Internet Research Agency, a troll farm; the work of Srjda Popović who trains activists in counter-measure against the infrastructure of misinformation, and more generally on “how to overthrow dictators”. Then there is Maria Ressa, CEO of the news website Rappeler which reported President Duterte’s extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. As might be expected, Pomerantsev adds detail about Russia’s coordinated onslaught deploying both misinformation and covert militias, cyber and actual warfare on his country of birth, Ukraine. There is also a concise account of the massive April 2007 Russian cyberattack on Estonia which led temporarily to national paralysis. And you find out that for 348 roubles you can buy online Information and Psychological War operations: A Short Encyclopedia and Reference guide published by Hotline-Telecom, and learn how to disrupt a country.
This is Not Propaganda is stimulating reading, because Pomersantev throughout the book sometimes stops the storytelling to reflect and express his own puzzlement. How has it come to this? We readers share his sense that the Big Story, the full explanation, is beyond our reach. But Pomerantsev has some thoughtful suggestions. He draws a connection between Truth and Hope, a very Catholic linkage. Today’s Blitzkrieg on truth and the manufacture of false hopes around keywords create a vicious circle: if there is no hope what is the point of caring too much about whether something is true or not. Let us just reserve judgement, wallow in enforced relativism, or simply be entertained by the outrageousness of the falsehoods and claims made in the new “global theatre”. Robert Peston, the political correspondent of ITV News has already observed how Boris Johnson’s press conferences are “100 times more engaging” than Theresa May’s. But if there is no truth we are doomed to be manipulated into pursuing false hopes which lead to even greater disengagement and cynicism.
This is Not Propaganda an easy book to read. If you don’t know the difference between a bot, a cyborg and a troll factory – I didn’t – you will soon learn. If you didn’t know of Igor Pomerantsev’s remarkable life story you will be told it elegantly, with a touch of the romance of courageous resistance. Peter Pomerantsev illustrates that he has inherited his father’s creative gift for words – which is why he cares so much about them, though perhaps a ruthless edit on a few metaphors wouldn’t come amiss. Some are uniquely fresh and jump out at you. Others are contrived and clunky. But overall this is a learned book that does not bog you down in technical detail whilst moving from country to country.
So read these 256 pages and you will know who and what is attacking us, the contents of the Trump, Putin and Duterte playbook and how to sow division, discord and the seeds of institutional collapse. And you will meet some of the brave people who are making a good fist of combatting the partly new, often undetectable, and very dangerous form of oppression and manipulation of the public that is currently in operation globally today. Welcome to the 21st. century.
See TheArticle 04/09/2019
The language of politics is now so exaggerated it misleads. It is not true that those who denounce prorogation are “hysterical”; they are shocked, worried and angry. That would describe Tory grandee, Chris Patten, who wondered recently if many Leavers in the country might be “willing victims” of self-delusion and mendacity. Boris Johnson and those who dreamt up the proroguing strategy to thwart Parliament ruling out No Deal have not staged a “coup”, they have unacceptably, but skilfully, manipulated parliamentary procedure.
We in Britain are now being ruled by a coterie of clever rogues. Above the fray, the Queen was nonetheless bound by constitutional convention to take her Prime Minister’s advice and prorogue. The outcome, as a Daily Mirror headline told it, was clearly Pro-Rogue. Anti-Brexiteers are left with very few procedural devices to wrest control from a trickster Prime Minister and his advisers before the 31 October deadline.
Some say we are reliving the Weimar Republic. We are not, though, we are experiencing considerable erosion in the conduct of our political life. Were classes on curtailing parliamentary democracy taught at Eton, you wonder, in the late 1970s?
In Christian thinking the word used for a moment such as this is the Greek Kairos, a time when opportunity and danger are significantly intensified by contemporary events. A democratic culture thrives on civility and creative, participatory modes of decision-making, an informed electorate, not on a diet of misinformation and rule by an unaccountable clique. The Archbishop of Canterbury has reacted and taken the opportunity to chair a Citizens’ Assembly at the request of senior members of Parliament, a national consultation involving a hundred people with diverse viewpoints. He wishes to do something about the divisions and discord which have come to the surface and intensified during BREXIT negotiations. The hope is that some positive, consensual recommendations for a way forward will emerge. It is late in the day and a Citizen’s Assembly will struggle to make any impact.
25 Anglican diocesan bishops came together last week and defined the danger we are in. They spoke of the “ease with which lies can be told and misrepresentation encouraged” and asked that “leaders must be honest about the costs of political choices, especially for those most vulnerable”. They will doubtless be castigated in social media. All evidence indicates that the poor will disproportionately suffer from No Deal’s economic consequences. The British Churches have formerly been reluctant to enter a highly contested political arena in which the tired refrain of “meddling in politics” would rapidly become the dominant story.
The legacy of Tory leadership to date has been to further split the country, describing one side in highly emotive language as “the people”, 17.4 million voters who wanted some form of BREXIT, thereby turning the other side who voted REMAIN, just 3% fewer, into “non-people”. The will of the 12 million who didn’t use their vote in the Referendum, and the 18 million not on the electoral rolls is unknown. Thus it turns out “the people” are a remarkably small proportion of the people.
The public was misled and misinformed about the consequences of BREXIT prior to the referendum. Those primarily responsible for this misinformation are now in power, claiming that Parliament consented to a No Deal arrangement when they passed the Withdrawal Bill in early 2017 invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and pretending that “the people” did the same in 2016. They did no such thing. Nor did government ever suggest No Deal was the likely result of BREXIT negotiations with the EU. Deception again, lack of accountability and untruth.
Throughout negotiations government has insisted that “keeping No Deal on the table” was/is a vital negotiating ploy. If the EU thought we would crash out, come the hour, they would abandon the fixed positions demanded by the European Union’s basic principles, the four freedoms, notably ensuring the protection of free movement across the British border in Ireland, and protecting an International Treaty lodged with the UN, the Good Friday Agreement.
The hour is not far off. The EU is showing no signs of blinking first. Why would they? Quite apart from wishing to discourage other member States from leaving the EU, the negotiators were/are not about to abandon the Republic of Ireland’s interests, a fellow member State, nor threaten the interests of whole island of Ireland. They have repeatedly said so. It is, and has been, implausible that they would, or will, blink at the last moment.
Do those clever tacticians in 10 Downing Street really believe that at the last minute, through fear of a No Deal, the EU will suddenly go back on three years of holding firm on its “red lines”, unanimously supported by 26 European countries? Do they believe that, like themselves, the EU and its negotiators are deceivers, playing games. Isn’t this like the proverbial threat to “shoot yourself in the foot” if the EU doesn’t back off, then accusing those who try to wrest control of the gun of being undemocratic, treachery and betraying their country? There can be no doubt that the damage to the UK of pulling the trigger is far, far greater than the consequences for the EU, though those are not negligible.
Finally, in the last few weeks, we have entered further into fantasy land with more fantastic claims. All this supposedly clever negotiating strategy is sold to the public through slogans, “let’s get it done”, “let’s get on with the people’s agenda”, by circumventing the parliamentary log-jam which, of course, they in large measure created. Clever because the focus groups and private polling will have shown just how sick people are of the issue. Farage is selling No Deal as “a clean break BREXIT”. But, in reality, No Deal will merely open up a lengthy new chapter of negotiations in trade and other talks with the EU, conducted in a far more negative environment. The Chancellor, Sajid Javid, has suffered the humiliation, of having a close adviser sacked without even being informed, by Boris Johnson’s de facto chief of staff, Dominic Cummings. The Chancellor described his relationship with the Prime Minister as “fantastic”. It is certainly based on the founding fantasy of this government: that the EU will give way at the last minute and, if it doesn’t, adequate preparations have been made and all will be well, in other words every reputable economic commentator and practitioner is wrong.
We are now in election mode. But what future for our politics if you can’t believe a word government says, ministers won’t appear on radio and television, and if they do, avoid answering questions while the rogues prorogue our established institutions of government accountability, the two Houses of Parliament, at a critical moment?
Words fail. Hysteria? No. Just a dull foreboding and anxiety about the future of children and grand-children as mendacity and self-delusion seem to be winning the day.
See also TheArticle 02/09/2019
You feel you know the North Sea. Noisy and exhilarating in a full-on easterly, gently lapping and restful with a westerly. Not the aquamarine of Ionian waters, more the camouflage colours of grey-green and sandy waves pounding the pebbles. In Summer, young children toddling down to collect water in their buckets for purposes known only to them scream on cue as waves break near them. Little groups of holiday-makers along the beach, Londoners lily-white, keeping an eye on the youngest, contemplating the beauty; only a few swimming. An impressionist painting come to life.
There’s life on the beach but not so much life in the water. Once in a while, the black doggy head of a patrolling solitary seal, checking you out before diving to periscope depth. Men line fishing early in the morning, escaping bored and fractious adolescents at home, are the first contemplatives on the beach, seem never to catch any fish larger than an inch or two. And only the soft, gelatinous bump of a Compass jellyfish by way of a brief encounter while you are swimming. That is the point; beneath the surface, even in the cradling, comforting vastness that is the sea, you sense something isn’t quite right.
Roger Hardy’s disturbing art installation at Snape Maltings in Suffolk, outside the concert hall, until 11 September, tells you what’s wrong. In these lovely surroundings, Hardy’s message is shocking. He has built a typical Suffolk fisherman’s hut but with little carved figures made from wood found on the beach, lined up inside, looking out like the families who gaze at the sea on a hot day. On and around the hut Hardy has ‘chalked up’ information about fish and the oceans. Not fish that for sale and is available – fish that soon won’t be available.
Some of the stark facts are reproduced below. They have been provided by the Siren Festival in Aldeburgh whose aim is to combine art and science to alert audiences to the perilous future facing our oceans. And they know what they are talking about. Let these alarming facts speak for themselves.
Oceans are home to nearly 95% of all life on earth. They cover 70% of the earth’s surface but only 5% of them have been explored.
50% of our oxygen comes from plankton. Every second breath we take is given by the oceans
One third of the world’s population lives near and on the coast.
1 in 3 fish caught around the world never makes it to plate. 32 million tonnes of fish caught annually go unreported (more than the weight of the entire US population). 38 million tonnes of sea creatures and 40% of the fish catch annually is unintentionally caught. [A tonne is a metric ton and equals c.2,205 pounds weight]
Over a period of 3 days, 2,466 whales, porpoises and dolphins die due to entanglement in nets and as by-catch.
Fish in the North Sea are moving North.
8 million metric tonnes of plastic are thrown into the oceans annually and 236,000 tonnes of this are the tiny particles of micro-plastics.
Plastic debris causes the death of 100,000 marine mammals and a million sea-birds annually.
Currently we are using more than 25% more natural resources than we can sustain.
Leaders of different religions share the sense of alarm and add another dimension to these facts. Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si, published in May 2015, quotes a canticle of St. Francis of Assisi which calls the Earth, our common home “a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us”. The Pope describes how in “tropical and subtropical seas, we find coral reefs comparable to the great forests on dry land, for they shelter approximately a million species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges and algae. Many of the world’s coral reefs are already barren or in a state of constant decline”. “Who turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of colour and life?” the Pope asks, repeating a question posed as long ago as 1988 in a pastoral letter by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. And he adds: “This phenomenon is due largely to pollution which reaches the sea as the result of deforestation, agricultural monocultures, industrial waste and destructive fishing methods, especially those using cyanide and dynamite. It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans”. You would have thought that turning our oceans into a warm toxic soup, with plastic added, ought to preoccupy our government more than escaping the EU’s regulatory Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
A final inconvenient truth for us in Britain, to quote the MEP, Richard Corbett, is that fish have “the unfortunate habit of swimming from one country’s waters to another”. 20% of fish caught by UK boats comes from outside our territorial waters. International law on fishing in the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea, designed to joint manage fishing fleets and conserve fish stocks, predates the EU. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) essentially follows the Law of the Sea provisions. So if we do leave the EU, Britain will remain bound by international regulations. And if we are to continue fishing, Britain will both have to abide by existing conservation rules and collaborate in developing further regulations to preserve fish stocks. We will neither rule the waves nor take back control of the oceans.
Nor has the UK fared unjustly from the EU Common Fisheries policy: for example 84% of the haddock quota permitted in the total allowable catch per species (TAC) goes to the UK, worth 28,576 tonnes annually in 2015, alongside 34,066 tonnes of plaice, 28% of the TAC. We export 80% of the UK catch, mainly to Europe. The argument for BREXIT is, as usual, spurious. Leaving the CFP will change very little, and has the potential to undermine the recent stabilizing effect of the CPF on fish stocks in our European waters.
That is enough facts for one day. But reiterating the facts above and the tragic future they foretell is not enough. What is needed is urgent action to save our oceans.
From 1-27th October Roger Hardy’s installation will move to The Red House in Aldeburgh, Benjamin Britten’s House.