Ramblinactivist's Blog, 10th April 2018
In a year's time will we all be April's fools?
Question: What if Brexit isn't about the EU, or immigration, but about rolling back the powers of 'the state' (i.e., the collective will of the public) to enable corporate interests make more money?
Roughly this time next year, Saturday 30th March 2019, the world will be a very different place. Or not. That's the thing. As someone who has spent the best part of their working life manipulating regulatory processes to help campaign groups and communities, I look at Brexit and appear to see something wholly different to the vision portrayed in the media – by either side!
At best, I see Brexit as a means by which corporate interests, the very same ones who've been funding Eurosceptic think-tanks for over thirty years, will have a greater hold over the public. At worst, I see all the 'improvements' to our environmental law and our civil rights over the last 30-40 years being 'reset' to somewhere in the late 1970s.
Want to know what 'Brexit' is about? Look at 'fracking'.
Since 2009 I've been working on 'fracking' – researching the technical details around the process, and how the Government was trying to push it through the regulatory system. That hasn't happened, much to their annoyance.
The reason it hasn't happened is that the historic legacy of over 30 years of regulatory improvements – since the days when Britain was known as the "dirty man of Europe" – has created far too many obstructions to allow fracking to go ahead unabated. From freedom of information rules to controls on radioactive materials, local communities have used the law first to delay, then frustrate, and occasionally to over-rule via the courts, the various efforts to begin fracking in Britain.
And even when that's not been enough, people have put their personal well-being quite literally "on the line" to physically prevent development taking place – again, using the protection of the law to frustrate the attempts of the police and baliffs to remove them.
Most of those environmental rules are European in origin.
It should be no surprise then that most of those of those who have most vociferously lobbied for Brexit, are also pro-polluting industries, pro-fossil fuels and/or are climate deniers.
Just over a year ago I started making videos again – after over a decade of not doing so due to the changing nature of my work.
Thing was, when I shifted from mainly community-based campaigns towards writing and lecturing in the early 2000s, video wasn't as useful as a good slide presentation. With presentations you focus on just a few people you can have a direct relationship with; a video focusses on a larger number of 'unknown' people. Making videos didn't fit with where I was at the time.
Brexit has changed all that for me.
That's because if Brexit does 'press reset' on Britain's environmental laws and civil rights, to the state they were in thirty years ago, I'll need to follow the strategies 'we' (activists/campaigners) used at that time to address the problems that creates. Primarily the issue will be disseminating knowledge and information over how to tackle assaults on the environment and communities, rather than arguing the nuances of how more progressive laws might be applied in practice.
The difference is though, 30 years on, and as illustrated by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, though the Internet might make campaigning easier now, the climate within which that takes place makes it a much harder prospect to accomplish.
Then came March…
The first video I produced – 'Domestic Extremism', A Great English Tradition! – was aimed directly at this issue of how the state, and corporate interests and lobby groups, now treat the sections of the public who campaign; as Domestic Extremists.
In early March I received a 'phone call' (it happens). Shortly after I received a gargantuan download, containing all the documentation for the newly granted UKOG injunction covering their oil production sites across the Weald. I speed read the text, and what jumped out was one of the primary clauses of the injunction, prohibiting local campaigners from (my emphasis in bold):
"combining together using lawful means where the predominant intention is to injure the claimant's economic interests"
The company sought to over-ride the democratic rights of the local public in order to enforce their economic rights. This is not the first time either. INEOS sought a similar kind of injunction last year. And we see the same kind of thing happening across the "free world" right now, as large corporations push back against public opposition to their schemes.
The 'functional creep' of legislation
I use the phrase "free world" above quite deliberately. We're more civilized here.
The fact is, around the world today, record numbers of environmental activists are being murdered. We're far nicer here in Britain. We just take their assets in damages and/or their careers as a result of criminal convictions.
Today, even though ministers gave undertakings to Parliament, anti-social behaviour legislation is being used against protesters – intensifying the original purpose of the legislation a decade ago. Likewise the Protection from Harassment Act is being used by corporations to target local lawful protest.
Both these measures seek to blur the distinction between civil and criminal law, and thus over-ride lawful protest. That, in the context of the Government's current paranoia about terrorism and domestic extremism, mitigates in favour of greater restrictions, not less.
If you want an example of this paranoia, a couple of weeks ago I was in Parliament Square, and I wanted to video the four legal components of the British state visible from the middle of the green (the legislature, executive, supreme court, and state church/monarchy). As I was setting up the camera, a warden ran across and immediately stopped me. It seems the public are no longer allowed to stand in the middle of Parliament Square, not even just to take a quick shot with a camera.
If recent injunctions that seek to protect company's 'economic rights' from public opposition are being lobbied for now, after Brexit – freed of the restrictions and impartial tribunal of European law – what is there to stop ministers pushing through new laws to enact this?
After all, after Brexit, it will be a vital national imperiative to promote business and investment, won't it?
Our future relations to footwear
The image at the top of the page was something I forwarded on social media on the 30th March – with one year to go until Brexit.
That quote from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is referred to often. Or, at least, the last line is. Seldom do we hear less memorable preceding context, which is what is more important here:
There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always – do not forget this, Winston – always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.
What was in my mind, having studied some speeches by Brexiteers recently, was that everything preceding the memorable part of the quote is fairly applicable to them. Since the referndum, it sums up the triamphalism that pervades so many on the 'right' of British politics at present.
What concerns me about the Brexiteers is precisely what is in that quote; it's references to "the intoxication of power" and "the thrill of victory". And after their 'victory' over Europe, if members of the public stand against their neoliberal economic agenda, what then?
This is a trust issue; do you trust the Brexiteers?
Will the kind of law UKOG sought, protecting their rights over the will of the public, be enacted to quell post-Brexit dissent? Will the Government use the police and security state to quell dissent over the lowering of environmental standards necessary to do trade deals with the USA, or encourage more foreign investment?
Honestly, ask yourself, what's your gut instinct on that question, given the character of those involved.
I think Brexit is not the issue here. I've as many problems with the status quo, including Europe, as I have with leaving the EU. My concern is not the idea of leaving the EU, but rather the character and intent of those promoting that option – and their near 40-year campaign to achieve those ends.
Brexit isn't simply about immigration, or borders. It's about the obstruction of 'the public interest', and of protecting our 'ecological commons', getting in the way of making a quick buck from proprietary rights. And for those who wish to protect those things, my concern is that the new post-EU British state will not look kindly on the 'liberal' freedoms of those people – certainly not as they exist today.
If you think that might include you, I suggest you start preparing for that eventuality, today.