I want more please sir …

5 November, 2007

Such is the state of political activism in the west country that a political junkie like me has to travel to get their fix. Over the last week I have been down to London twice. First to a demonstration organised by the Socialist Youth Network against the Saudi state visit and the second to Progress’s annual conference. Two events that span the entire spectrum of the Labour movement. I think that is the diplomatic way to put it.

First off on Wednesday I traipsed from Green Park tube through some incredibly posh bits of west London, your run of the mill millionaire would feel like a pleb here, to the Saudi embassy. OK it’s the Saudi embassy, it’s probably not going to be in Peckam. I arrived a little early and when the police (shouldn’t they be out catching criminals?) penned us in I was right at the front in full view of the TV cameras. There was quite a lot of press including from that noted hotbed of leftism Classic FM.

There was quite a bit of chanting “Yes to Saudi democracy, No to British hipocracy” seemed to be the favourite phrase of the night. This was followed by speeches which read like a hard left greatest hits album. With all these lefties in one place it is a relief that no one in the Labour whips office can drive a bus otherwise there may have been a few by elections we could do without. The thing that stuck in my (what are you saying about teflon) mind was made by Geoffrey Bindman who said that the British government in its infinate wisdom had granted the Saudi government sovereign immunity to charges of torture carried out on British citizens made in this country.

So if this is true the government appears to be saying to a BRITISH citizen who is tortured by a foriegn government they have to use the judical process of the government that had carried out the torture to seek redress. Perhaps we could use this example for teaching infants what a logical flaw is. Nice work HMG, earnt your index linked salary with that one. 

We adjorned to the pub afterwards and you’ll never guess who popped out of taxi and went into the house opposite. The lovely Ffion Hague and her husband William who apparently is something to do with the Tory party. Someone said Shadow Foreign Secretary but that can’t be right. Anyway this blog thinks Ffion is lovely but takes that Nancy Astor quote  “I married beneath me – all women do” way to far.

Anyway someone asked in the pub afterwards why the left of the Labour party doesn’t do more events like this? I think it’s a good point but it’s not just the left. The right of the Labour party is about as likely to go on a demo as end their subscription to the Guardian.

The crucial point here is that just because we are in government now doesn’t mean that the world has suddenly become a social democratic paradise. There are plenty of things to shout about. Indeed as the progressive party of British politics we should never forget that our role in the play of British political live is Oliver Twist. We’re the lead character but that shouldn’t stop us from always asking for more. Now I know as much as anyone that protests are not exactly the most effective method of exerting political influence but I have to say a protest in front of TV cameras compared favourably with a night in with the procedural tendency and ratifying the last meetings minutes.  

In policywonk terms we need to be an outsider party in government. Namely that we control the levers of power but we are never satisfied with the status quo because if we simply follow the line that the sun shines out of the governments proverbial we risk separating ourselves as a party from the aspiration to change society that is constantly coming from an electorate. A permanant revolution if you like.

Anyway onward and upward Saturday it must be Progress. The highlight of Progress conference for me was the debate on spin chaired by this blogs very own guest Rupa Huq. Tim Allen ( A Campbell’s bag carrier) had to drop out for “family reasons” and was replaced by Derek Draper just in the nick of time. Now it has to be said that Mutley is a good platform speaker even if his personal history may not have been entirely perfect from a Progress point of view. I think it was big of them to let him on. Post California he is a reformed character as his gag serves to illustrate. He was waiting for class to start at Berkeley when another student came over to him and said that he had been googling other students names but he couldn’t find anything on Derek but there was another Derek Draper in the UK and he was a right twat.

What was readily apparent about the conference was that it was full of young hacks, some ministers, others wannabe ministers. Whatever happend to the working class Labour party? Kinnock wasn’t the first Kinnock in 1000 years to go to university because the rest of his family was thick. Just because people don’t fall into the demographic of guardian reading policywonk doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be discussing policy in the Labour party.

If the political discourse of a country is devoid of the working class that is asking for trouble and Labour is supposed to nominally be the most working class of the major parties so what must the others be like? Perhaps we should stop using words like political discourse and start talking fluent human. Estelle Morris made good points along those lines. It’s a pity she felt that she couldn’t hack the game. We need more people like her. When she speaks that far recess of your mind doesn’t turn it thoughts to playing bullshit bingo unlike some.

So last week for me was politically a week of contrasts both have their insights, thier strengths and their weaknesses. The challenge for progressives is to find a meaningfull synthesis that resonates beyond the political vanguard deep into the national fabric. Not sure that we are quite there yet but then if we sat back and said everything was fine we wouldn’t be being true to the progressive cause that we seek to promote.

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3 Responses to “I want more please sir …”

  1. william sampson said

    Regarding your take on the comments made by Goeffrey Bindman concerning the torture conducted on British subjects in Saudi Arabia, such is the case that the British government refuses to support its citizerns that are tortured in a foreign country, using as its excuse the State Immunity Act (1978). Under said law, foreign governments are immune from prosecution or legal challenge in a Brtish court for any actions deemed to have occurred outside British sovereign territory and alongside the laws covering diplomatic immunity, are even immune for actions carried out witihn British territory.

    There are notable exceptions pertaining to commercial obligations, which were excluded from consideration in the 1978 Act, and also newer exceptions being considered pertaining to copyright.

    The governments uses the State Immmunity Act to allow it to do nothing in cases of torture of British subjects that occur overseas, whilst at the same the British governemnt is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), and has incorporated said into Britsh domestic law.

    Under UNCAT, torture is deemed to be a crime with a universal jurisdiction, meaning that prosecutions can be brought in the legal systems of countries other than where the torture occurred. Furhtermore, UNCAT sitipulates that the signatories have an obligation to pursue such cases on behalf of their citizenry where said individuals are unable to gain redress in the state that committed the torture.

    Thus, Britain both has a right and an obligation under international law to investigate and seek redress for those of its citizenry that are tortured outside of Britain. The British governemtn has yet to do so, regardless of the instances of torture of its citizens of which it is aware.

    In the case against the Saudi government with which Geoffrey Bindman is involved, the British government has actively opposed his clients in their pursuit of redress. It has done so in the first instance by refusing to investigate the claims of its citizens concerning said torture (despite substantial evidence – including medical evidence- that confirms the abuse).

    When said individuals were thus forced to bring a civil claim against the Saudi aRabian state in a British courtroom, they found themselves opposed not only by the Saudi state but also by the Department of Constitutional Affairs. The basic premise argued was not whether or not the claimants had been tortured, but that they did not have the right to bring the case in the first place under the law outlined in the State Immunity Act, and that while the British government did recognise that torture had universal juridiction and was thus exempt from the immunity law, such an exemption was for matters pertaining to criminal prosecutions only. In civil proceedings, the State Immunity Act still applied, and thus the claimants did not have a right to have their case heard.

    Unfortunately, the arguments of the Britsh government and their Saudi clients held sway at the Law Lords, and the verdict went against the British claimants. They are now proceeding to the European Court of Human Rights, in order to appeal the decision of the Law Lords.

    The moral of the story is that one should not expect assistance from the British government for crimes committed against one by a foreign state. Waht one should instead expect is active opposition and interference.

  2. CommonSense said

    Were the bright young things at the Progress conference the same misguided “teenage advisors” of Brown blamed for the election-that-never-was fiasco then?

  3. ale bro said

    so derek draper claimed he was studying at berkeley?

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