Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

A Tale of Three Elizabeths

A shorter version of this article appeared in the Sunday Island on September 18 2022

England’s Glory

My mother had the same name as the UK’s latest and current (as I write) prime minister. My mother was Elizabeth Jane King and when she married Jeremiah O’Leary, the Irish labourer who helped to build her parents’ house, number 9, Stanway Road, Coney Hill, Gloucester, she became Elizabeth O’Leary. When Mary Elizabeth Truss married Liverpool accountant Hugh O’Leary she became Elizabeth O’Leary, just like my mother.

During the Second World War my father served in the Royal Pioneer Corps Corps and on June 6, 1944, D-Day, he was on the Normandy beaches burying the dead.

My mother worked at the factory of GAC. This was the Gloster Aircraft Company (spelt that way because it was easier for customers outside the UK) – since 1935 part of Hawker Siddeley Aircraft, Ltd. GAC Gloster received a contract in early 1940 – to design and build Britain’s first jet aircraft. It is interesting to note that Frank Whittle, who invented the jet engine, proposed to Stafford Cripps, Minister of Aircraft Production, that all jet development be nationalised. He pointed out that the company had been funded by private investors who helped develop the engine successfully, only to see production contracts go to other companies. Nationalisation was the only way to repay those debts and ensure a fair deal for everyone, and he was willing to surrender his shares in Power Jets to make this happen. Two airframes were built secretly. Because of the risk of bombing, one of the aircraft was built offsite from Brockworth at Regent Motors Cheltenham. The jet design became the Gloster Meteor, the only jet to be used in combat by the Allied Forces during the Second World War. We used to have a model of the Meteor, made by one of my mother’s workmates, as a doorstop in my childhood home.

Princess Elizabeth and her family earned great praise for staying in London during the Blitz. My mother’s youngest sibling, my Aunty Evelyn, told me that she ran home from school in Coney Hill during an air raid, with German bombs falling all around her.

Although on a map Gloucester looks to be well inland, it is, because of the Sharpness Canal, a port and the docks, with their mariners’ chapel, are today a tourist attraction. The aircraft factories would have attracted the attention of the Luftwaffe.

Another of my mother’s sisters, my Aunty Joyce, apparently did sterling work for Anglo-American good will during the war and afterwards worked alongside my Aunty Joan, making England’s Glory matches at the Moreland’s Match Factory, on Bristol Road, Gloucester, near the Berkeley Canal. It was outside this factory that Elizabeth II waved and smiled at me when she paid a visit in 1954, the year that wartime rationing ended. I remember that her skin looked very smooth and soft.

The Queen on the Day She Smiled at Me

The Gate

I was well aware of the Royal Family while living with the King family at number 9, Stanway Road. Over my bed was a picture of George VI with a quotation from his Christmas speech to the Empire in 1939.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”.

And he replied:

“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way”.

This was from a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins written in 1908 and privately published in 1912. In a book published for Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday it is claimed that it was the young Princess Elizabeth herself, aged 13, who handed the poem to her father.

I remember the death of George VI. I compiled a scrapbook in which I, rather messily, glued pictures of his funeral from the newspapers. I remember more vividly the coronation of Elizabeth II.

Like many households in Britain, the King family of Coney Hill acquired a television specifically to watch the coronation. The set was a very different kind of gadget from the huge smart monsters that grace every living room today, spying on their owners. This was not home cinema. The screen was small and encased in a wooden box. When not in use there were doors to shut to protect the screen and at night a cloth was draped over the cabinet in the same way that the budgie’s cage was covered.

I also watched the proceedings in glorious Technicolor at the cinema. Despite June, it was a rainy day for the event, but the gloom was lightened by the presence of the monumental (she was six-foot three in her prime) Queen Salote of Tonga. She refused a hood for her carriage and rode through the pouring rain in an open carriage with Sultan Ibrahim IV of Kelantan, endearing herself to the spectators she waved at. Among the spectators was Noël Coward who was attending a party with a good view of the procession. A guest asked, “who is that little man with Queen Salote?” Coward replied, “he is her lunch.” The minuscule Sultan may have been but an hors d’oeuvre but he had six wives and 27 children.

Fragmentation of the Nation

The NHS was born two years after me. My mother worked for the institution for many years and got me a job as a hospital porter at Gloucester Royal Infirmary in 1969. From 1988 to 1993, I worked as an NHS management consultant and saw at first hand the “reforms” brought in by that nice Kenneth Clark who has the same taste in jazz as me. The changes laid the groundwork for the eventual privatisation of a much-loved and admired institution. Privatisation of nationalised industries was an essential part of the Conservative Thatcherite creed but was taken up with enthusiasm by Labour leaders Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Two of their health secretaries have moved from far left philosophies to lucrative positions in the private health care industry. Alan Milburn used to run a radical left bookshop in Newcastle called Days of Hope which was rechristened by local wags as Haze of Dope. Milburn became an adviser to Bridgepoint Capital, a venture capital firm backing private health companies in Britain and worked 18 days a year advising Cinven, a private equity, which owns 37 private hospitals. Before becoming Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt had been head of National Council for Civil Liberties when they were listening sympathetically to child abusers In January 2008 classified by MI5 as an alleged communist sympathiser. In January 2008, she was appointed ‘special consultant’ to the world’s largest chemists, Boots. Hewitt also became a ‘special adviser’ to Cinven.

Gas and Rail and Water

My father worked for a nationalised industry. It was the South Western Gas Board then. The British Gas Corporation was privatised as a result of the Gas Act 1986, instigated by the government of Margaret Thatcher. This was criticised at the time for replacing one monopoly with another. Today, a consumer might feel nostalgic about the days of benign state monopoly. Today, Centrica owns British Gas. CEO Chris O’Shea gets an annual salary of £775,000 salary but has nobly forgone his £1.1 million bonus. British Gas Energy saw a 44 percent jump in profits to £118 million last year. Its parent company posted a £948 million group profit which goes to shadowy entities like asset management firms Schroders and Abrdn and banks such as Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (BNY Mellon) with no public accountability. Consumers look forward to a grim winter because they cannot afford to pay their energy bills and eat as well. The new Chancellor proposes to remove the cap on bankers’ bonuses.

British Rail was not loved but privatisation was not the answer to its problems. When John Major was prime minister all the obvious privatisations had been done but he wanted one to be remembered for. He proceeded to do to British Rail what he had done to Edwina Curry. I am moderating my language here for a family audience. Who thought it was a good idea to split a national network up into multiple franchises each with their own timetables and pricing and ticketing systems? All the companies are foreign-owned. Instead of taking back control the UK has ransomed its fortune to foreign companies, some of them nationalised state organisations.

Water privatisation always seemed an unacceptable step. Why not enable companies to profit from the air that we breathe? People are being exhorted to save water but the privatised water companies are wasting untold gallons through leaks while paying out dividends to their foreign shareholders. The amount of raw sewage that water companies are pumping into the seas and rivers has increased by no less than 2,553 per cent over the past five years.

Liz Truss continues to pursue the fantasy that further outsourcing and deregulation will solve the horrendous problems that previous outsourcing and deregulation wrought. Providing services through outsourcing ensures a fragmentation which means no one can be blamed for anything.

Here is a little personal vignette which nicely illustrates what a Ponzi scam privatisation and outsourcing is. Recently, we decided to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary by renting an apartment in a Regency house in Bath Spa. We travelled from Paddington by rail. I had the foresight to reserve seats in advance but had not reckoned with GWR (one of the franchises) cutting the train from nine coaches to five without any prior announcement and cancelling all seat reservations. It was bad enough standing in a cramped corridor with unmasked strangers breathing viruses in one’s face, one also had to endure repeated whingeing apologies from the “train manager” who assured us that we could seek recompense.  GWR’s response was that they had no responsibility because I had bought my ticket online from Trainline (a Branson company).  It was not Trainline who had cut the train to five carriages. Of course, Trainline refuses to compensate me and there is no easy way to get in touch with them. More about customer service next week.

The UK now has a new head of state and a new prime minister, neither of them elected by the general public. Queen Elizabeth II died soon after meeting her new prime minister, Liz Truss. What kind of country is King Charles III inheriting? How will Liz Truss manage what is left of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth that Elizabeth II held so dear? So far, it looks as though she will carry on supporting the ghastly bunch of spivs that have got us into this mess.

Broken Britain

In broken Britain, bad deeds go unpunished. The police are under great stress but have time to lecture people about their use of pronouns. Dissidents holding up blank sheets of paper are chastised and others shouting their republicanism are wrestled to the ground. Words are punished but burglaries are not. NHS staff are praised fulsomely but badly treated. Operations are cancelled while the nation mourns and MPs go off on yet another holiday. NHS staff suffer real term pay cuts and all manner of people, from train drivers to barristers (now transformed from QC to KC), are striking because they cannot cope with inflation.

While so many people suffer from the cost of living crisis, the new Chancellor is set to lift the curbs on City bonuses, because bankers, allegedly,  need more encouragement to rob the rest of us. As the EU plans windfall taxes on energy companies who are making more profit than they know what to do with, the unelected government of the UK plans to cut more taxes to benefit the already rich and steadfastly refuses to raise additional revenues from the windfall profits of the hydrocarbon extractors. Senior executives at several power generation groups now concede that a windfall tax would be the least worst option for this winter, since it would only target actual profits and could be designed to protect investment.

I am swept up in the mourning and feel sadness and respect for the departed Queen, but I am cynical enough to ask some questions. Like Charles, I followed my mother’s occupation and worked for the state – I was a servant of the Queen, On Her Majesty’s Service. My mother was a cleaner in the NHS; Charles’s mother was not. Charles and I are near contemporaries and during my childhood I was used to seeing pictures of him all the time. When I was at Manchester University, there was, in my Hall of Residence at Owens Park, a fellow student who looked exactly like Prince Charles. We all felt sorry for him. I was, like Charles, born, and grew up in, state-subsidised housing. I was born in a council house in Coney Hill, Gloucester, not far from a Victorian Gothic lunatic asylum. We later moved to another council house at Longlevens, not far from the greyhound track and the football ground.

Charles enjoys state subsidised housing of a different kind. He was born in Buckingham Palace and now lives at Highgrove, in my native Gloucestershire, and has accommodation in London at Clarence House. He has another gaff in Scotland at Birkhall. He has a few other places to doss down – Balmoral, Sandringham, Windsor Castle, Holyrood House, Craigowen Lodge, Delnadamph Lodge, Llwynywermod, Tamarisk, Hillsborough Castle.

Human delusion is a serious problem in many contexts. Seeing broken Britain as a Ruritanian fairyland where the rulers dress up in fanciful military costumes is not helpful. People who say that the monarchy contributes to the unique and positive character of British democracy, rarely give concrete practical examples of how the Queen made a difference in real life. Are there examples of the Queen exerting a positive symbolic function in the way Juan Carlos did with the Spanish fascists?

Did the Queen try to stop the invasion of Iraq, which most of her subjects opposed?  All the royal family have a fetish for dressing up in military uniforms. I wonder if the royal family expressed their solidarity with the British armed forces by trying to persuade Her Majesty’s Government to give a better deal in terms of equipment, homes and pensions or to help the soldiers who became homeless and mentally shattered and suicidal?

England’s Glory matches are now made in Sweden.

Tory Leadership Battle

This article was published in Ceylon Today on July 29, 2022

Sri Lankan readers with a taste for schadenfreude might find light relief from their own troubles by enjoying the shenanigans in the British ruling party. The UK is on a similar trajectory of misgovernment, democratic deficit, inflation, budget deficiency, low growth, corruption, cronyism as are South Africa and Turkey, not to mention Russia. Like Sri Lanka, the UK has been cursed with a ruler who had a huge electoral success in 2019, but in a very short time, turned out to be a man of straw clinging to power, desperate and deluded.

In December 2019, Boris Johnson won 365 seats, a record majority of 80, in the Commons. This represented 43.6% of the popular vote, the highest percentage for any party since 1979. Johnson was eventually forced to go because Tory MPs could no longer tolerate the lying and cover-ups. The final straw that destroyed the man of straw was the predatory activities of deputy chief whip Chris Pincher (he had drunkenly groped two men at a club) and Johnson’s failure to act.

People had been waiting for so long for Johnson to resign that they did not at first notice that his “resignation” speech of July 7 was not what it seemed. He did not resign as prime minister, just as Conservative Party leader. He planned to hang around like a bad smell until a new party leader was chosen on September 5.

Five candidates were reduced to two after a number of ballots of the 365 Conservative MPs. Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, whose resignation precipitated Johnson’s demise, is one of the remaining contenders; foreign secretary Liz Truss is the other. The members of the Conservative Party across the UK will choose between them. Roughly 180,000 Conservative Party members will decide the next leader of the UK. They are mostly old, posh, white, male, southern and very Eurosceptic. A close ally of David Cameron described them as “mad, swivel-eyed loons.” Around 0.3 per cent of the UK electorate will decide who the next prime minister will be. This puts into perspective our Sri Lankan method of choosing a leader.

The first televised debate, organised by the ConservativeHome website, was a pallid affair with robotic performances and technical glitches. They clearly decided to liven it up a bit for the Channel 4 and ITV debates. Things turned so nasty that a planned Sky News debate was cancelled. Sunak asked Truss: “You’ve been both a Liberal Democrat and a remainer. I’m just wondering which one of those you regretted most?” Truss had earlier accused Sunak of “raising taxes to the highest level in 70 years”. The debates seem irrelevant because the general public do not get a vote in this contest. viewers were reminded that the Tories are not called “the nasty party” for nothing. This has been a gift to the Labour Party. An attack ad prepared by the opposition, simply featuring quote after quote from the contenders in the debate, has attracted more than 3m views online.

Sunak has been the smoothest performer and was front-runner when it was MPs voting. He claims he is the only one who can beat Keir Starmer in a general election. Liz Truss has performed very poorly, admitting, “I might not be the slickest presenter on this stage”. She makes a virtue of ineptitude. “What you see is what you get.”  I see it and I don’t want it.

Despite Sunak’s superior performance, Truss is now the favourite. Her main thrust is a Gota-like mania for cutting taxes. Sunak also wants to cut, but not yet while inflation is raging. She wants   less tax and more spending at the same time. The OBR (Office of Budget Responsibility) warned that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, saying that Britain’s finances were on an “unsustainable” long-term path; the debt burden could treble without tax rises to cover the mounting cost of an ageing population. Experts point out that the UK has among the lowest tax burdens in Europe. Growth is supposed to make up for lost taxes but where is it? Will she borrow money to cut taxes? As Simon Jenkins wrote in the Guardian: “Since every public service is now screaming for cash, for Truss to preach tax cuts is not just to preach severe austerity. It is to preach what she must know the Treasury and cabinet will not actually do.”

The OBR has estimated a 4% drop in UK growth since Brexit, which the FT calculates as £40bn in lost tax revenue every year. Just over half the electorate now think leaving the EU was a mistake. Sunak is being painted as a closet Remainer (or even socialist) despite the fact that he was espousing the Brexit cause in pamphlets when he was 16. Truss shows all the zealotry of a convert, but not so long ago, during the referendum campaign in 2016, she claimed Vote Leave was based on lies and Remain was going to win. This raises questions about her authenticity -are her other positions mere poses?

According to a Tory strategist, “The problem for Sunak is that he has the manner and the behaviour of a Remainer. He doesn’t have the revolutionary zeal of Truss.” Those who supported Remain in the Brexit referendum are backing Sunak, while Leavers overwhelmingly back Truss. This is despite the fact that Sunak campaigned for Leave while Truss was a Remainer.

Truss blames Labour for the country’s woes, ignoring the fact her party has been in power for 12 years. Sunak pledges to put the government on a “crisis footing” from day one if he becomes prime minister because Britain is facing a national emergency over the economy, NHS backlogs and illegal migration under the Tory watch. By the time of a 2024 general election, the Tories will have been in power for 14 years. There will be an overwhelming public mood of being sick of the sight of them. I got sick of them a long time ago.

Foreign Interventions Part Two

Poisoned Polity

Today we can see the poisonous effects on American society itself of the interventions in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The horrors veterans endured in those hell holes caused an epidemic of PTSD. Communities and families have to deal with the effects of mental illness, gun crime, alcoholism and drug addiction. Elizabeth D Samet, in her book Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness, wrote about records of war service when looking at post WW2 culture, particularly film noir: “Routinely investigated by law-enforcement officials and others, these records are invoked as evidence of good character, competence, or trustworthiness, even as they raise concerns that the erstwhile serviceman has developed a dependence on violence to solve problems. By proving a veteran’s ability to kill, a service record makes him a likely suspect in violent crimes at home.” Samet continues:” War records provoke discomfort among civilians in these films not only because they might be fake but also because they show up the less heroic or imply that veterans are bringing war’s violence back home.”

Elaine Scarry wrote in The Body in Pain: “It has often been observed that war is exceptional in human experience for sanctioning the act of killing, the act that all nations regard in peacetime as ‘criminal’. This accurate observation acknowledges that the act of killing, motivated by care ‘for the nation’, is a deconstruction of the state as it ordinarily manifests itself in the body. That is, he consents to perform (for the country) the act that would in peacetime expose his unpoliticalness and place him outside the moral space of the nation.”

Americans Over There

During World War II, the English comedian, Tommy Trinder, popularized the phrase about US servicemen based in Britain, “overpaid, oversexed and over here.” Historian David Reynolds subtitled his book Rich Relations, which deals in detail with Yanks in World War 2 UK, The American Occupation of Britain.

Richard Gere in Stalybridge

David Vine is associate professor of sociology at American University. He is the author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World. The US maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries. Vine estimated that maintaining bases and troops overseas cost $85 to $100 billion in the fiscal year 2014; the total with bases and troops in warzones is $160 to $200 billion. The data comes from the Pentagon’s annual Base Structure Report and additional government, news or academic sources. Hundreds of bases in Europe have closed since the 1990s, but the base and troop (11,500) presence in Italy has been relatively constant. Recently, the military has built new bases and expanded Africa-focused operations in Sicily. A “cooperative security location” in Ouagadougou reflects a new generation of small, clandestine “lily pad” bases appearing in countries with little previous US military presence. At least eleven such bases in Africa host special operations forces, drones and surveillance flights.

Since 1995, anti-base protests have escalated in Okinawa. There are 38 US military facilities on the island, taking up 30% of the land mass, and over 40% of the arable soil, once some of the best agricultural land in Japan. Figures up to 1998, show that since 1972, 4,905 crimes were committed against Japanese people by US military personnel, their dependents and US civilian contractors and employees. More than 10% of these were serious crimes – murder, robbery or rape. In most cases, the Japanese authorities were not allowed to arrest or question the alleged perpetrators.

I wrote on July 24, 2019, in these pages about US attempts to set up bases in Sri Lanka.

https://ceylontoday.lk/print-more/36174

Intervention in Sri Lanka

As someone who has lived in Sri Lanka for twenty years. I am sensitive to the threat of foreign intervention. The Sri Lankan government was fighting the separatist forces of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) for nearly thirty with much economic disruption and great loss of life, both civilian and military. Foreign intervention helped to prolong the conflict. From August 1983 to May 1987, India, through its intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), provided arms, training and monetary support to six Sri Lankan Tamil insurgent groups including the LTTE.

On 5 June 1987, the Indian Air Force air dropped food parcels to Jaffna while it was under siege by Sri Lankan forces. At a time when the Sri Lankan government stated they were close to defeating the LTTE, India dropped 25 tons of food and medicine by parachute into areas held by the LTTE in a direct move of support toward the rebels.

Parachuting Parippu

GOSL alleged that weapons were also supplied to the LTTE by India. The original intention was that IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) would not be involved in large scale military operations. However, after a few months, the IPKF engaged the Tigers and continued to do so during the two years in which it was deployed. There were allegations that Indian troops committed atrocities. The IPKF began withdrawing in 1989 and completed the withdrawal in 1990.

Support for the LTTE in India dropped considerably in 1991, after the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a female suicide bomber named Thenmozhi Rajaratnam.

Save that Tiger

In 2009, when the LTTE were once again close to defeat, foreign nations sought to intervene. David Miliband, who was then UK foreign secretary, put pressure on GOSL to agree a cease-fire. The foreign secretary visited Sri Lanka with his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner on 29 April. In the past, the LTTE had used ceasefires to regroup and rearm without actually ceasing fire themselves. GOSL were not prepared to make that mistake again, preferring to definitively defeat the Tigers while they had the chance. A leaked May 2009 cable quotes the official, Tim Waite, a Foreign Office team leader on Sri Lanka, explaining Miliband’s intense focus on the plight of the country’s Tamils in terms of UK electoral geography. “He said that with UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka, with Miliband recently remarking to Waite that he was spending 60% of his time at the moment on Sri Lanka.”

The Disease of Victory

Thirteen years after the GOSL comprehensively defeated the LTTE, the winners are still not allowed to enjoy the fruits of victory. There is no demand from Tamils actually living in Sri Lanka for a separate state and there have been no terrorist incidents in those 13 years. The Tamil diaspora still has the influence for the annual ritual of hauling Sri Lanka before the UNHRC, which currently includes such doughty champions of human rights as Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola, Kazakhstan, El Salvador, Venezuela.

Institutional Illness

Richard Haass, the dean of America’s foreign policy establishment, argued that America should curb its global ambitions until its “own house is in better order.”

I will leave the last word with Elizabeth D Samet: “The countries the United States sought to liberate and subsequently occupied inevitably tired of it before we did. In this case, our ‘garrulous populism’ expressed itself, as the pocket guides warned, as a belief that the world should be grateful for American military might, which was exceptional because it was always applied in the name of freedom.”

Defamation of Depp Continues

A shorter version of this article appeared in the Sunday Island on June 12, 2022.

https://island.lk/defamation-of-depp-continues/

Defamation of Depp Continues

By

Padraig Colman

In last week’s article, I warned that the Depp case was not over even though the jury had sung. In February 2019, Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife Amber Heard for defamation over a December 2018 op-ed for the Washington Post in which she claimed to speak for women who had suffered intimate partner violence.  Heard counter-sued Depp in August 2020, alleging that he had coordinated “a harassment campaign”. For Depp’s lawsuit, on June 1, 2022, a jury in Fairfax Virginia found that all three statements from Heard’s op-ed were false, defamed Depp, and were made with actual malice. The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages from Heard. The punitive damages were reduced to $350,000 due to a limit imposed by Virginia state law. Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and zero in punitive damages from Depp. In short, the jury believed Depp and thought Heard was lying.

Not Western Union

In their closing statements, Heard’s principal lawyers Elaine Bredehoft and Ben Rottenborn called on the jury to send a message to abused women everywhere by supporting Heard’s version of events. This was not an acceptable approach and should have been challenged by Depp’s team. They complained later but, as YouTube lawyer Emily D Baker commented, “that shit has left the horse.”

A jury is not Western Union. Its job is not to send messages but to decide on facts.

After the trial was over, Bredehoft did a number of TV interviews in which she made the same point and also trod on dangerous ground for a working lawyer by implying that the jury had not followed instructions to avoid reading about the case and that the judge was biased. She also referred to the Depp legal team holding “a victory parade.” In fact, Ben Chew and Camille Vasquez did not do any TV interviews until after Bredehoft had abruptly ceased hers. It may be that she had been reprimanded for her conduct by the judge. The trial is not officially over until June 24 and Bredehoft’s conduct veers dangerously close to contempt of court. She is also giving Depp further grounds to sue for defamation. Chew and Vasquez conducted themselves with dignity in their interviews, refusing to criticise their opponents – they used the word “disappointed” a lot.

The trial verdict was seen as a setback for the Me Too movement. I rejoiced at MeToo because it seemed to herald a significant cultural change which should be beneficial to women. I noted that the legal system was capable of finding out the facts about Harvey Weinstein and convicting him. Despite the alleged widespread misogyny demonstrated by the Depp case, Weinstein is still in jail. Calling out a woman for being a liar is not misogyny.

MSM and Misogyny

The MSM (mainstream media) have generally taken Heard’s side and not shown much interest in the facts. The Guardian’s take on the case has been particularly egregious throughout. It has run a number of opinion pieces which were short on fact and heavy on generalisation. In an article headed “An orgy of misogyny”, Moira Donegan wrote: “The strange, illogical, and unjust ruling has the effect of sanctioning Depp’s alleged abuse of Heard, and of punishing Heard for speaking about it. It will have a devastating effect on survivors, who will be silenced, now, with the knowledge that they cannot speak about their violent experiences at men’s hands without the threat of a ruinous libel suit. In that sense, women’s speech just became a lot less free.” It is no longer “alleged abuse”. It is no longer abuse. A Guardian editorial said, “There is a risk that, in future, other women who wish to speak or write about domestic abuse may be deterred by the fear of being sued by former partners.”

Throughout the proceedings the MSM had taken the side of Heard because she was seen to be representative of abused women. This ignores the obvious fact that thousands of women were rooting for Depp. Andrea Burkhart is an experienced criminal lawyer. She addresses the misogyny issue thus: “Mainstream media are saying that millions of women support Depp because they want to fuck him. That in itself is misogynist.”

The MSM cannot cope with the fact that millions of women, including real victims of violent abuse support and believe Depp. It is ironic that the MSM claims to be speaking in the public interest and on behalf of women but most women disagree with them. It ignores the high profile involvement of women. We are able to make our own judgement and it is insulting to be told by people who have not been following the trial that we are misogynist. 

At least some in the MSM had a sense of reality and justice. Jack Houghton of Sky News Australia wrote: “Individual cases of sexual or physical violence should not be conflated with others. Each allegation needs to be assessed in isolation. Many are true and many are not. That is why we have courts. Instead, many in the media want us to view cases as collectivised examples of cultural trends. The problem with this narrative is that when a court does find that a woman has lied about her experience, #MeToo activists find it hard to separate that notion from their reality.”

The MSM in general are proving to be sore losers. Even the Washington Post, which published the defamatory article in the first place, is showing no contrition for getting it wrong. I have cancelled my subscription. The view that one gets from the mainstream media is very different from what one gets from actually watching the proceedings and listening to YouTube discussions of the legal aspects. Someone who attended the court said there was no MSM there to report on it. The MSM has been struck with a cognitive dissonance cluster bomb. Tapes clearly prove that Heard assaulted Depp and berated him for running away and avoiding conflict.

The LA Times was so out of touch that it published an article saying that Aquaman star Jason Momoa had given evidence; he had not as anyone who had been watching the trial would have known. The LA Times was fooled by fake video of Jason Momoa.

YouTube Lawyers

I feel more qualified to comment on the trial than those commenting in the Guardian.I actually watched the proceedings live or in repeats. I listened to endless discussions on YouTube in which experienced, qualified, practising attorneys discussed the evidence and the technicalities of the procedures. A community developed. As with other online communities, there were fallings out and a couple of the participants seemed a little sleazy to me. Nevertheless, it was good to see productive friendships develop as they guested on each other’s YouTube channels. Ian Runkle travelled from Alberta, Canada to endure the rigours of the line and actually attend the hearings. Rob Moreton, who is a lawyer in Fairfax, Virginia also attended and gave Runkle bed and board and whiskey. Moreton does a channel called Law and Carpentry. He brought his knowledge of wood to debunk Heard’s story about the bed being damaged by Depp’s boot. He claimed the damage was caused by a knife and managed to locate a knife in the photo of the bed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRSxKSMpr8Q.

A number of other lawyers bring their helpful knowledge to YouTube in an entertaining and stimulating fashion : Peter Dragos, Bruce Rivers, Nate Broady, Daniel ShenSmith (an English Barrister who sheds light on the UK case). Quite a number of the YouTube lawyers are females who started out thinking that Depp could not win.One of them was Natalie Whittingham-Burrell who was busy with a double-homicide trial when the Depp trial began. As the Depp trial developed she began to change her mind. Eventually, she wrote an article about the trial which she could not get into MSM. Someone plagiarised it though. She published the article on Medium. In it, she says:”It is exceptionally difficult for a celebrity to win a defamation case. Like all other litigants, Depp had to prove that Heard defamed him by a preponderance of the evidence. However, as a celebrity, Depp had the additional burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that Heard acted with actual malice in defaming him.” She continues: “Based on the rubric provided to the jury and the facts actually presented at trial, I came to a jarring conclusion: Amber Heard was not credible.”

“The call to “believe all women” as a solution to the problem with physical and sexual abuse is alarming, dangerous and counterproductive. This is best explained if we outright state the inverse: “disbelieve all men”. This framework asks for the public, the media and the courts to disregard the presumption of innocence. The problem with allegations of sexual abuse being swept under the rug, cannot be solved with treating those accused of abuse as though they are guilty without the accused being given an opportunity to be heard in a court of law.”

Taylor Lorenz

The Washington Post has gone to war with social media.The Washington Post was the paper that found out the facts about Watergate and brought about President Nixon’s resignation. The main lesson of that saga was that the cover up is usually more dangerous than the initial crime. When in a hole stop digging. The current iteration of the Post seems to have forgotten that lesson.

Taylor Lorenz published an article in the Post which set out to demonize those on YouTube who were covering the case. There are practising and experienced attorneys who have channels on YouTube and have brought their knowledge and expertise to analysing the proceedings and explained legal technicalities to lay people. They started out as individuals but have formed a community and have been appearing on each other’s channels. A British barrister is also contributing with his knowledge about the UK libel case against the Sun which Depp lost. He has started a petition to get that verdict overturned. There have been some fallings out in this community but generally they stick together and talk good sense.

Lorenz’s article was rather peculiar in that it mentioned some teenage Instagrammers that nobody had ever heard of. She quoted them as saying they made modest amounts of money from posting about the trial. One of them said he had gone on Instagram to see pictures of hot guys. These people are not influencers in the Depp case.

Her main thrust was against two YouTubers whose work I have found useful. “LegalBytes” host Alyte Mazeika is a lawyer and she has chaired many discussions involving other lawyers. TUG (That Umbrella Guy) is a mental health professional who has been investigating the Depp case for about six years and has come up with a wealth of information of which the MSM knows nothing.

Lorenz claimed in her article that she had reached out to those two for comment but they had not responded. They were able to prove that she was lying. The Post stealth-edited the erroneous claim from Lorenz’s report, though it remains unclear whether she herself removed the claim or an editor did the needful. I will not bore you with the numerous confusing corrections that have subsequently been made.

Lorenz’s main gripe was that YouTube “content creators” benefited from the courtroom frenzy by increasing their audience and making money. Lorenz alleged that according to Business Insider, Mazeika “earned $5,000 in one week by pivoting the content on her YouTube channel to nonstop trial coverage and analysis.” She also claimed that ThatUmbrellaGuy “earned up to $80,000 last month, according to an estimate by social analytics firm Social Blade.” TUG responded: “The Washington Post also FLAGRANTLY misrepresented my earnings report and needs to correct it. Social Blade says I made between $4.9k and $79.1k. They ADDED TO the highest estimate, over-reporting for dramatic effect.”

It is ironic that what has come to be called the legacy press is whining about YouTubers monetizing content when there are ads all over the Washington Post and the paper is owned by possibly the richest man on earth, Jeff Bezos. The YouTubers have got their hands dirty by actually digging out facts and some have queued up under gruelling conditions to attend the court. The MSM has not bothered to attend.

Elaine Bredehoft said the trial should not have been televised but being televised meant that millions were watching and deciding whether Heard was credible. Millions will lose their trust in media if the MSM tell millions that they are mistaken. A majority of people watching the trial were female. I have read thousands of comment on YouTube and overwhelmingly the females, especially those who identify as abuse victims, despise Heard. Initially, Amber was believed. The allegations were treated seriously and investigated but were found wanting. Depp’s case was an uphill struggle but many who doubted him at the beginning ended up believing him. Many have taken the line, “We did support Amber and she played us.”

A lot of people will mistrust the MSM after this. You think they are doing real journalism but they have let you down. The Washington Post inserted a sour note into its coverage of the Congressional hearings on the attack on the Capitol. “Maybe someday, if democracy is again under attack, such a horrific event will seem more urgent than a verdict in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial.” Maybe someday we can rely on the MSM to report the truth. Whatever Taylor Lorenz might say many people place more trust in YouTube than they do in the legacy press.

Plumbing the Depps

A shorter version of this article was published in the Sunday Island on June 5 2022.

When Ms Elaine Bredehoft was delivering her closing statement, waving her arms around like a maniac, there was violent thunder and lightning as if the Gods were passing judgement.

I have been distracting myself from Ukraine and Sri Lanka with the soap opera that was the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard counter-defamation proceedings. Depp sued his former wife for $50 million because of an op-ed she, as ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) ambassador for abused women, published in The Washington Post, suggesting that he abused her, physically and sexually. Heard countersued for $100 million, saying that Depp mounted a “smear campaign against her”. The jury found mostly in Depp’s favour. Heard’s team is not accepting defeat gracefully.

Depth Charges from on High

Some loftily pronounced that they had no interest in celebrity culture. Some cried, “a plague on both your houses”, and declared that both parties were equally sleazy. The Lower Depps. Some declared that they did not like Johnny Depp or his lifestyle. Many more expressed a dislike for Amber Heard.

This is not about taking sides. It matters not a whit whether nonentities like myself “like” Depp or not. There are many things I find somewhat distasteful about Depp’s public persona: the tattoos, the jewelry, the drink and drugs, the smoking. I am an avid follower of Rock and Jazz and have been reading the music magazine Mojo since issue number one in 1993. However interested I am in the artists covered, I get irritated with endless narratives of drug-fuelled madness. How joyless the drug culture seems.

In my writing, I tend to be an observer and to present both sides of a case without having an opinion. This led many to accuse me of being a Rajapaksa shill. I honestly had no partisan or emotional attachment to any political camp. As an observer, I examined it and noted what seemed to me to be interesting, rather like observing pond life. It is neither here nor there if I like Depp or Heard. What is interesting is the absurd drama of it all. Who does not enjoy a courtroom drama?

It cannot be denied that the case has generated an insane amount of interest and a good deal of unpleasantness. Depp wrote some loathsome text messages and his alcohol and substance abuse led to bad behaviour. However, even before the trial, Depp could call on an army of fans (predominantly female, I would guess) to support him. Some have described Depp’s supporters as cult members. There have been allegations that some of the vitriol against Heard has been generated by his PR team using bots and AI. However, Cyabra, a Tel Aviv-based startup that analyzes online conversations and identifies disinformation, told Rolling Stone that almost 95 percent of the posts “are genuine people who love Johnny Depp.” Heard, during the trial, hired a new PR man, David Shane, who was probably trying to manage public responses and might be organising the bad loser follow up. Shane has a history of DUI arrests and a reputation as an alleged sex pest.

Mainstream Media

I watched most of the trial. Sometimes it sent me to sleep, sometimes it was fascinating. My associates on Facebook were not very interested in the case, so I did not get involved in much social media dialogue myself about it. I visited YouTube quite often but did not chip in with my thoughts. I spent a lot of time listening to experienced and practising attorneys who are provided me with a good education in the workings of the US legal system.

It is very striking that the view that one gets from the mainstream media (MSM) is very different from what I got from actually watching the proceedings and listening to YouTube discussions of the legal aspects. There was very little meat to chew on in the mainstream media. Someone who attended the court said there was no MSM there to report on it. Often the MSM writer wants to make a general point without sullying themselves with the facts. When challenged, they say “my article was not about that”, just as Amber Heard at first said her article in the Washington Post was not about her ex-husband. Writers claim that their theme is a wider one such as women’s safety or internet bullying

Mainstream media were late to the party, but once they had arrived they set themselves up as arbiters of truth and good taste and lectured us that we were morally deficient if we did not believe Amber Heard. They continue to do this even after the verdict is in. The Guardian is particularly egregious.

Polly Vernon, a columnist in the London Times, airily writes, “I’m told other black marks against her include her promising to donate to charity the $7 million she received in her divorce settlement from Depp — splitting it between the American Civil Liberties Union and a children’s hospital in LA — but failing to do so, citing the cost of the court case.” This is somewhat disingenuous of the writer.  The importance of this point is that it shows that she was lying to the High Court in London as well as to the court in Fairfax. The UK judge in Depp’s libel case against the Sun was influenced by Heard’s assertion under oath that she had given all the money to charity. There are rumours that UK authorities are considering a perjury action. Heard subscribes to the Humpty Dumpty school of linguistic philosophy -words just mean what she says they mean. She told Camille Vasquez that she uses “pledge” and “donate” “synonymous”, casting a smug look at the jury. She then took the line that she could not afford to make the donation real because Depp sued. She had been sitting on the money for 13 months before that and still has not paid it even though she was given financial assistance by the richest man on earth, Elon Musk. She was a bit cheeky to be giving it the poor mouth (An Béal Bocht), as we say in Ireland.

Message to Abusers

Dr Nicola Bedera, who studies sexual violence, says, “A defamation suit offers a perpetrator a deepening of the power disparities in the relationship and face-to-face contact with a survivor. Defamation cases are often a punishment for leaving.”  Depp’s lawyers objected (although not at the right time) to Heard lawyer Ben Rottenborn’s plea in his closing statement to the jury to send a message to the world about domestic abuse. Depp’s lawyers cited various precedents which support their argument that Rottenborn’s plea was unacceptable because this case is about Depp and Heard and not the wider world.

Alternative Facts

Aja Romano writing for Vox says, “The facts do not seem to matter to any of the people who have gleefully latched on to the image of Heard as a manipulative villain, as if she split her own lip, punched her own face, and pulled out clumps of her own hair.” Those who consider Heard manipulative do value the facts but find that Heard is presenting “alternative facts” not supported by evidence. She did not need to punch herself – photoshop will do the job.

Experts confirmed that these “two” photos were one picture which had been manipulated

“They perhaps forget that the project of #MeToo – the whole point – was to help imperfect victims. Those who were wearing the wrong thing, or were drunk, or were promiscuous, or loved their perpetrator, or had previously broken the law, or had lied before, or had a bad character, or seemed ‘a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty’.” That is not the issue in this case. The issue is who (if anybody) is telling the truth. Does helping “imperfect victims” mean tolerating perjury?

Watching Amber Heard on the stand reminded me of watching interviews with Boris Johnson or his robotic minions. Like Tory ministers, she was incapable of directly answering a direct question. I do not think she ever confined her answer to a simple “yes” or “no.” Her initial response was usually, “I don’t recall”, even when the question was about the testimony she herself had made only a few days previously. She continually tried to wrong-foot her questioner by undermining the validity of the question.

“Non responsive” is a frequent objection from Depp’s lawyers. That would be a frequent objection for politicians. It means that they are not answering the question asked but answering the question they wished they had been asked. Heard, like Boris Johnson, fudges and changes the subject and talks endlessly when there is no question pending. “Beyond the scope” is another frequent objection. A behaviour analyst came up with a good term to describe one of the techniques of a liar: “fluctuating specificity.” Heard goes into convoluted detail about irrelevant matters but is vague about important points. Another trait she shares with Tory politicians is that everyone is wrong apart from her.

Heard Immunity

One of the most bizarre episodes was the testimony of a Dr Spiegel as expert psychological witness for the Heard team. He seemed quite demented, shouting, gurning, staring open-mouthed with no words emerging, arguing with the lawyer and even the judge. Some dubbed him “Nosferatu.”

Many noted a resemblance to actor Christopher LLoyd

Many witnesses for the defence were of more benefit to the plaintiff than the defendant. Elaine Brederhoft, Heard’s lead lawyer, (renamed by one YouTube lawyer as Umbrage) alienated the jury and the judge by being petulant and arguing with her decisions on objections.

“What, if any…”

Depp’s lawyers were professional, calm and civil. Camille Vasquez emerged as a star (Umbrage repeatedly mispronounced her name and often referred to witnesses by the wrong name). Having a strong, capable young woman representing him says positive things to the jury about Depp. Even when she was being assertive and incisive, Ms Vasquez was respectfully disrespectful.

There are many who have claimed to have begun experiencing the trial with a predisposition to think that Depp would lose but have changed opinion as the proceedings unfolded. One of the YouTube lawyers attending the trial, Ian Runkle from Canada, said he had a friendly conversation with a woman who was an avid supporter of Amber Heard and had travelled a long way and queued a long time to be in the court. Runkle spoke to her again after Heard had been on the stand. She said, “I’ve changed my mind. She’s lying. I am so upset.” Heard proved to be a danger to herself in the witness box.

Heard’s legal team employed strange and unproductive tactics and some surmise that their strategy and professionalism is being derailed by a difficult client. Heard could be seen scribbling post-it notes and passing them to her lawyers. Their use of time seemed ill-considered. Elaine Bederhoft spent an eternity asking Depp’s friend for 42 years Isaac Baruch what make up Miss Heard was wearing on a particular day in May 2016. She persisted in asking him about Amika Cream after he had told her he had no idea what it was. Many are convinced she meant to say, “arnica cream”, which is used to treat bruises. Amika cream is a totally different product used on hair. She even asked Baruch what Miss Heard was wearing under her longcoat.How would he know?

Depp’s expert witnesses, by contrast to Heard’s, generally seemed sane, presentable, lucid and authoritative and did not condescend to the court. Depp’s lawyers pointed out that people who had known him for decades were prepared to come forward to speak on his behalf. Umbrage’s response to that was that they had “come out of the woodwork” for their 15 minutes of fame. This included iconic supermodel Kate Moss who surely has fame enough.

By contrast, the only unpaid witness who appeared in person for the defence was Amber’s sister Whitney. The rest who only appeared on video were a crowd of hapless vampiric grifters (who are no longer friends of Heard) whom Depp had housed rent-free and supported financially and who had repaid him by becoming an extended network of co-conspirators against him. No good deed goes unpunished.

Amber Alert

Many in the MSM have bewailed the online mockery of Heard’s performance on the witness stand-it was most definitely a performance. It brought to mind Oscar Wilde’s comment on Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop. “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”

Sometimes it seemed like outside forces were intervening. At one point, there was a sound like mobile phones going off. The judge said it was an amber alert which could be ignored. At another point, what seemed to be a divine light was shining down on Camille Vasquez at the podium. When Ms Bredehoft was delivering her closing statement, waving her arms around like a maniac, there was violent thunder and lightning as if the Gods were passing judgement.

The jury believed Johnny Depp and awarded him $10m for Heard’s defamation of him and $5m as punitive damages. That was reduced to $10.35 million due to a cap on punitive damages in the state. Heard was awarded $2 million after the jury endorsed one of her three claims relating to comments by Adam Waldman, Depp’s lawyer at the time of the London trial, in the London Daily Mail about arranging the scene in Depp’s penthouse to fool the police.

The blowback from the MSM has begun. More on this and on the UK trial later.

Filthy Lucre and the Londongrad Laundromat

Oliver Bullough, in his new book, Butler to the World: The book the oligarchs don’t want you to read – how Britain became the servant of tycoons, tax dodgers, kleptocrats and criminals, writes: “When dictators want somewhere to hide their money, they turn to Britain. When oligarchs want someone to launder their reputation, they come to Britain.”

Transparency International claims to have identified at least £1.5bn of UK property owned by Russians accused of financial crime or with links to the Kremlin. Even the Home Office admits that the UK has seen “a significant volume of Russian, or Russian-linked illicit finance”, which is spent on things like luxury property, cars and school fees, and sometimes as donations to cultural institutions, such as the Royal Academy (Petr Aven – a banking magnate and collector, close to Putin was a trustee), the Tate Gallery (Russian energy tycoon Viktor Vekselberg was an honorary member of the Tate Foundation)  and universities (Oxford University has been urged to review its decision to accept £75m from Len Blavatnik, Britain’s richest man, to build the Blavatnik school of government.)

Len and Willie

Bullough runs Kleptocracy Tours of London showing tourists where the crooks and thieves live. Britain, he says has for too long been “easing their passage into global high society, hiding their crimes and generally letting them dodge the consequences of their actions.”  Bullough concludes: “They have real-life victims whose loss is far greater than Britain’s gain.”

Laughing Len

Russian Republic of Belgravia

Russia has been influenced by oligarchs since the break-up of the Soviet Union, and the replacement of President Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1991. A lot of Russians made obscene amounts from the privatisation of Soviet industries, particularly petroleum, natural gas, and metal. They were greatly assisted in this by western accountants, lawyers and consultants, who descended on Moscow like locusts. Many Russian oligarchs found London attractive and found respectable British professionals very helpful and keen to share in their ill-gotten gains. London got a plague of locusts from Moscow in return.

John Sweeney wrote in Byline Times: “Six oligarchs who made their gold in the post-Soviet space and have been markedly opaque about Vladimir Putin have been markedly generous to the Conservative Party and/or Boris Johnson personally. They are, in alphabetical order: Vladimir Chernukhin and his wife Lubov, Viktor Fedetov, Alexander Lebedev and his son Lord Evgeny Lebedev, and Alexander Temerko. In plain English, they have all had snow on their boots.” 

Something Rotenberg in the State

Arkady Rotenberg was the owner of Stroygazmontazh, the largest construction company for gas pipelines and electrical power supply lines in Russia. He is a close friend of Putin since childhood and is his judo sparring partner.  Arkady’s brother Boris is another rich Russian living in London. Boris’s son Roman lived in the UK. His home address was given as a £3.3m house in Belgravia, which is owned via a Cypriot entity called Loktan Services. Alisher Usmanov has huge wealth all over the world and in UK had a big financial involvement in Arsenal and Everton football clubs.

There is no space here to give details of all the Russian oligarchs who have corrupted the UK with their obscene ill-gotten gains. Lootin’ with Putin is a report Richard Brooks and colleagues wrote for Private Eye, which can be downloaded free of charge as a pdf. More recent reports, such as Russian Asset Tracker project, provide yet more detail.

How Did They Get In?

Bullough writes: “Financial skullduggery isn’t just something that happens in the UK; there has been a concerted and decades-long effort to encourage it to do so.” As long ago as 1994, under John Major, the Conservatives introduced a “golden visa” scheme that handed residency rights to anyone who invested £1m. Tony Blair’s Labour government carried it on with enthusiasm and in 2008, Gordon Brown’s Labour government expanded the golden visa scheme.

Ken Livingstone, London’s leftist mayor from 2000 to 2008, said he wanted “Russian companies to regard London as their natural base in Europe”. In 2006, the same year that the Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London, Livingstone said that he wanted “Russian companies to regard London as their natural base in Europe”, and his office established a small department aimed at attracting Russian money to London.

When he was mayor of London, current prime minister Boris Johnson openly encouraged as many Russian oligarchs as possible to settle and spend money in London. Johnson said Russian billionaires should be encouraged to use British courts to settle disputes. “I have no shame in saying to the injured spouses of the world’s billionaires if you want to take him to the cleaners . . . take him to the cleaners in London. Because London cleaners will be grateful for your business.”

Reputation Management

In 2010, Gina Miller was approached on behalf of a Russian multimillionaire offering £30m to her philanthropic foundation. She declined and commented: “The ecosystem of enablers includes wealth managers, banks, private equity houses, accountants, lawyers – and the growing army of philanthropy advisers, lobbyists, and thinktanks – who have been complicit in the infiltration by those close to Putin of not just our political infrastructure, but our property market, businesses, charities, public bodies, arts, culture, and sports.”

It was a Tory MP, Bob Seely, a member of the Commons foreign affairs committee, who used parliamentary privilege to name oligarchs and the professionals who serviced them. He said they were “not just obscenely rich people who are mates with someone” but part of the Kremlin’s “structure of control and power whether it is in east Ukraine or in the UK”.

Suppression of Free Speech

Catherine Belton’s book Putin’s People shows how KGB men created the world’s most dangerous rogue state. Belton is currently a special correspondent with Reuters and formerly worked for the Financial Times.  She is diligent and well-respected and her brilliant book contains many revelations. Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea football club, three other Russian billionaires and Putin’s energy company Rosneft sued Belton and her publishers, HarperCollins.

The lawyers they employed to destroy Belton and prevent her book from being published included Hugh Tomlinson QC. Tomlinson has generally been regarded as one of the human rights good guys. In 2000 he became a founder member of Matrix Chambers. Other founding members included lawyers who, became deeply involved in human rights: Cherie Booth QC, Professor Conor Gearty, Ben Emmerson QC, Lord Ken Macdonald QC, and Philippe Sands QC.

Tomlinson is on the board of actor Hugh Grant’s organisation Hacked Off, a campaign for a free but accountable press, which says it wants to hold “power to account”, not act as its servant. HarperCollins settled out of court agreeing to make changes to the text most readers wouldn’t notice. Although it never went to a full hearing, the case, according to Observer columnist Nick Cohen, cost HarperCollins £1.5m to settle in private. In effect, HarperCollins was fined a small fortune for publishing an anti-Putin book. HarperCollins is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the villain Hacked Off was established to fight.

Browder Libel Case

Bill Browder had large investments in Russia with his company Hermitage Investments but became a crusader against Russian corruption. Sergei Magnitsky was a young lawyer working for Browder.

Magnitsky accused Russian officials of a massive tax fraud but was himself arrested and accused of the crime. While in custody he was tortured and died in 2009. Browder pointed the finger at Lieutenant Colonel Karpov, of the Russian Ministry of the Interior.

In 2013, Karpov hired a top legal team to sue Browder for libel through the High Court in London. The case was described as one of the worst examples of libel tourism – where foreign nationals, with little or no connection to the UK, use the High Court to pursue their disputes. Karpov’s legal team was led by top QC Andrew Caldecott, but he was instructed by the high-profile media lawyer Geraldine Proudler, who previously sat on the board of the Guardian‘s regulators the Scott Trust, which, in the words of CP Scott, the Manchester Guardian‘s great editor, exists to promote ”honesty, cleanness, courage, fairness and a sense of duty to the reader” at the Guardian.

Mr Browder won the defamation battle, Mr Justice Simon ruling, “His [Karpov’s] connection with this country is exiguous and therefore there is a degree of artificiality about his seeking to protect his reputation in this country.” Karpov refused to pay his £600,000 costs and remained out of reach in Moscow.

Slow Action

The British government is slowly imposing sanctions against the Russian oligarchs who have had such a poisonous influence on British life. The long-awaited Economic Crime Bill has been introduced to parliament. The government first committed to the changes six years ago. Even in January 2022, as Putin’s troops were amassing on Ukraine’s border, it tried to postpone the bill until at least 2023-4. It has taken a brutal invasion of a European country for the British government to act. It still shows no shame and continues to avoid the issue of whether Britain  wants a future where the nation is living off immoral earnings.

Free Speech

This article was published in Ceylon Today on February 23, 2022

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/the-good-and-bad-of-free-speech

I am in London at the moment and I was recently a witness to a good deal of controversy caused by a comedian called Jimmy Carr.

A joke he made on Netflix about the Holocaust and the Nazis’ treatment of the Roma sparked off the old debate about censorship and the freedom to offend. I do not intend to repeat the joke, not because it is offensive, but because it is pointlessly offensive. Worst of all, the joke is not remotely funny. I have written a lengthy essay about why I am offended by jokes which depict Irish people as stupid. My disapproval of such jokes is somewhat diluted if they make me laugh. I have not argued that people should be punished for telling these jokes. I recognise that I do not have the right to be protected from offensiveness.

My first foray into social media was with Open Salon (OS). As this was an American enterprise, there was a lot of talk about the First Amendment. I noticed that many Americans would bring up the topic of censorship at the drop of a cliché. One had only to mildly disagree with these right wing snowflakes and they would cry: “you will not silence me!” To object to Carr’s joke is not to try to silence him. My essay about Irish jokes was triggered by a bizarre post on OS in which the writer “humorously” suggested that the solution to the “Irish problem” was to send all the Irish to Holland where they would be incompetent and drunk enough to flood the place and subsequently perish by drowning. Imagine someone writing a humorous post entitled “Solution to the Jewish Problem” or “Solution to the African-American Problem” in which the solution consisted of extermination of a race by drowning. Hitler had a “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Problem”.

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the Auschwitz Memorial and the anti-racism group Hope Not Hate were among those who condemned the joke.  World heavyweight champion boxer Tyson Fury, who is from an Irish Traveller family (and 6’ 9” tall), said he would chin the comedian because of his joke about gypsies dying in the holocaust.

Strictly Come Dancing judge Robert Rinder MBE (some of whose family were slaughtered by the Nazis) said the audience who “clapped, whooped and cheered” at the joke were “complete incorrigible turds”. Think about those people. Carr might find ways of rationalizing his behaviour but how can they justify theirs? Last year, Netflix faced walk-outs from staff members over a Dave Chappelle comedy special, in which the comic was accused of targeting transgender people. At the time, Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos claimed: “We have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.” I will come back to that idea of real-world harm.

Context

I did have a look at the performance in question so that you don’t have to. The joke itself was not as shocking in the context of a 55 minute show as it was as a brief and brutal soundbite. Warnings were given. Carr says: “Tonight’s show contains jokes about terrible things. Terrible things that may have affected you and the people that you love. But these are just jokes. They are not the terrible things.” I personally do not buy Carr’s arguments in favour of the joke. I do not see anything positive, apart from publicity for Carr, to compensate for the sheer nastiness.

People who know Carr have claimed that he is a kind man in private. What is the point of Carr having a private inner core of kindness while going out into the world and encouraging large groups of people to mock the vulnerability and stigma associated with a victimised minority? One does not have to be a proponent of cancel culture to suggest that at a time of social tensions it is not a good thing to release such toxic energy into the world. Words have consequences.

Speech that causes “offence” can be more dangerous than just hurting the feelings of some snowflake bleeding heart liberal. Sticks and stones might break bones but so can words break bones in the real world. In the House of Commons recently, the prime minister deliberately uttered words that he knew to be false and the result was that a few days later the leader of the opposition was attacked by a violent mob repeating the prime ministers words. The words of white supremacists can be rebutted with more words but it is unlikely that their behaviour will be altered by rational argument. Very often words can leave a person from an ethnic minority bleeding or dead.

Freedom to Lie

Philosopher Nigel Warburton describes John Stuart Mill’s “model of the arena in which discussions take place”. This is “something like an idealized academic seminar with opinions calmly delivered on each side and truth emerging victorious and invigorated from its collision with error.” A legislative chamber should be such a venue. There are occasions when the Sri Lankan parliament does not provide the opportunity to consider calmly delivered opinions. The House of Commons exists, with codes of conduct developed over centuries, to enable truth to emerge from debate. However, the reality is that the current (as I write) prime minister comes to the dispatch box every week and repeats the same lies, even when his untruths have been definitively exposed. Labour’s Dawn Butler was expelled from the house for refusing to retract her statement that the prime minister was lying.

Ian Blackford of the Scottish Nationalist Party was sternly reprimanded by the Speaker for asking the question: “prime minister, are you a liar?” Blackford was ejected from the chamber for refusing to retract his assertion that the prime minister had “misled the house.” The prime minister exerts the freedom to lie. Butler and Blackford are censured for expressing the truth.

Free speech helps a polity to run more effectively. A principle of free speech protects a wide range of expression, wider than any reasonable person could or would want to endorse. We have to protect free speech even for those whose views we find deeply offensive. Free speech is for bigots too.

The Heckler’s Veto

Cancel culture employs ‘the heckler’s veto’. This is the notion that if someone in your potential audience is likely to be offended by what you say you should not be permitted to speak, or at the very least you should have the decency to restrain yourself.

Trans activists exercise the right to call gender critical commentators “bigots” or “transphobes”. Critics of trans activists have their freedom of speech curtailed, endure bullying and threats, sometimes lose their jobs, sometimes suffer violence.

Can’t Silence the Internet

There are arguments in favour of anonymity but it provides opportunities for scurrilous behaviour. The Internet has allowed those willing to use unscrupulous methods freedom to communicate globally with a low risk of being traced. Freedom without accountability. Colombo Telegraph provides a good example. Most of those making comments do not use their real names and cannot be traced. This might seem like openness but it is an effective way of shutting down rational debate by bullying.

Some of the issues thrown up by the free speech question might seem trivial. I have been following a thread on Facebook about an article concerning Holocaust Memorial Day by a blogger who calls himself Old Holborn. One of the Facebook commenters summarised the issue: “the true lesson we should learn from Holocaust Memorial Day is that we should be allowed to be rude to people on Twitter.” People died on the Normandy beaches so that Old Holborn could enjoy freedom to insult. Another commenter said: “to equate infringement of his right to being an arse on the Internet to being a victim of the holocaust is fatuous in the extreme.”

People shout loudly “You will not silence me!” Fat chance. Some states are working very hard to control their citizens’ access to information from the Internet, using every technical device at their disposal but it is difficult to silence so many voices. Such attempts should be resisted because even minor restrictions of liberty help the process of erosion. While being mindful of the dangers of hate speech we should be vigilant against acts of censorship which make further curtailments of liberty easier to achieve. Josie Appleton, a free-speech campaigner, argues that: “Hate speech regulation curtails the moment of ideological conflict, when no crime has been committed. In this the state appears to be defending the victim. But it is actually defending itself, as the mediator and moderator of public debate, and the judge of what is and is not acceptable.”

Wisdom entails openness. To be a serious thinker one has to acknowledge one’s own fallibility. Progress is possible when our ideas have been subjected to criticism and all objections considered. There are many things we cannot know for certain because they are outside our lived experience. Timothy Garton Ash writes: “How can I know what it is like to be a Muslim, a Roma, a Kurd, a lesbian or a conservative Catholic, if we have not been able to explain it to each other?”

Freedom and Slavery

There is a fine balance here. Freedom for some might infringe the liberty of others. Jeremy Waldron, who is professor of social and political theory at Oxford University, argues the need for a public climate of mutual respect and tolerance. Waldron believes that it is sometimes necessary to use the law to curtail freedom of speech if speech infringes on the freedom of another.

Freed slave Frederick Douglass declared: “Slavery cannot tolerate free speech,” and he noted that there exists not just a right to speak but a right to hear. “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” Free speech applies to us all, and that right is rooted in our humanity, the inherent dignity of man.

I will conclude with another quotation from Timothy Garton Ash: “Now we are experiencing what I hope is a temporary diversion to something which most kindly might be called illiberal democracy, but perhaps more accurately, in the language of political science, electoral authoritarianism, and from an open society to a more closed society. Therefore the defense of free speech for the defense of an open society is more important than ever.”

Freedom of Expression

A shorter version of this article appeared in The Nation on 4 August 2013.

A number of fallacies are common in the blogosphere. A lot of people cannot cope with, or even understand, the concept of disagreement. Grown adults should be able to express differing viewpoints without unpleasantness. Americans bloggers are fond of citing the First Amendment to the US Constitution. If someone disagrees with them, they complain that they are being “silenced.” Genuine disagreement is often described as “whining”. In the arena of “citizen journalism” in Sri Lanka, on sites like Colombo Telegraph (CT) and Groundviews (GV), there have been demands for me and others to be “silenced.” Inoka Karu called on GV to root out the “rabble-rousers”. “Dear moderators: I am repeatedly appealed to you to control hellion characters such ‘off the cuff’, Padraig Colman and J Fernando.”

More disturbing was a call for suppression of free speech from someone who presents himself as a libertarian and a principled writer.

Emil van der Poorten commented: “In the interests of the sanity of the rest of us, Sanjana (editor of GV) and Uvindu (editor of CT) would be well advised to leave the O’Learys/Colmans out of the columns of the publications they have responsibility for.”

Uvindu Kurukulasuriya

Surely such a man of high ideals could not be asking for a fellow writer’s work to be banned! When CT decided to ban Dr Vickramabahu, Mr van der Poorten took a moral stand: “I have serious concerns about something that smacks of censorship and throwing the baby out with the bathwater here.”

Vickramabahu Karunaratne

Then he trimmed back from that position and added: “May I suggest that the yardsticks of ‘intellectual dishonesty and political irresponsibility’ be applied without fear or favor to ALL contributors to CT, particularly those who are, very obviously and by their own acknowledgement, spokespersons for the current government?” Translation “people who do not agree with van der Poorten should be censored”. Some people regard van der Poorten as a good writer but he is somewhat promiscuous with the clichés. That “without fear or favor to ALL contributors to CT” is a hilarious touch coming, as it does as part of a plea to censor those whom van der man disagrees. The phrase “by their own acknowledgement” is priceless. Why would I acknowledge something that is not true? I did see Mahinda Rajapaksa in the flesh once when he was PM in CBK’s government. I saw him at a great distance at the Nuwara Eliya Flower Show. To this day we have never communicate. People do not show enough appreciation for Emil’s comedic talent.

I repeatedly asked Mr van der Poorten to provide evidence that I was a spokesperson for the current government, but, of course, he was too busy to waste his valuable time. I sent him many examples of articles where I was critical of the government but, of course, he was too tired and bored to read them. He called me a guttersnipe. I told you the man had a way with words.

Someone called Navin made this comment on the thread: “To say a particular writer should be shut out just because his point of view doesn’t concur with yours is beyond comprehension. You seem to have no principles, none whatsoever. What a strange country are we living in? Where else in the world do we have journalists and free media activists who campaign that some writers should be kept out because of what they write!!!”

One of the themes about which I had hoped to encourage discussion was whether freedom of speech should be limited in order to prevent incitement to hatred, which would hinder reconciliation. There is a debate going on out there, but CT and GV readers did not feel inclined to participate. Those who are interested could check out this website:

http://freespeechdebate.com/en/

To simplify the debate I will cite the arguments of Anthony Lewis and Jeremy Waldron.

Anthony Lewis

In his 2007 book, Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment, Lewis warns the reader against the potential for government to take advantage of periods of fear to suppress freedom of speech. In Rwanda, President Kagame has banned writing about ethnic differences. Ostensibly, this was to prevent further genocide, but critics see it as an excuse to suppress criticism of his regime. Josie Appleton, a free-speech campaigner, argues that: “Hate speech regulation curtails the moment of ideological conflict, when no crime has been committed. In this the state appears to be defending the victim. But it is actually defending itself, as the mediator and moderator of public debate, and the judge of what is and is not acceptable.” She describes many frivolous and harmful prosecutions in the UK. We must have the right to offend. No-one has the right to be protected from being offended.

Jeremy Waldron reviewed Lewis’s book for the New York Review of Books and was critical of Lewis’s stance on hate speech. He gave as an example harm done to children of racial groups criticised by widely published hate speech. Waldron, who is professor of social and political theory at Oxford University, argues the need for a public climate of mutual respect and tolerance. Waldron believes that it is sometimes necessary to use the law to curtail freedom of speech if speech infringes on the freedom of another.

Without resorting to the law, most publications and websites have their editorial and community standards. For example, GV tells potential contributors: “Please treat others with respect. Flaming and trolling will not be accepted on Groundviews. Attack the issue, not the person. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved. Comments that seek to inflame tensions on the ground, or are of a defamatory nature, will not be approved, or will be taken off the website as soon as possible.”

Colombo Telegraph has guidelines that are as high-minded as those of Groundviews: “We welcome debate and dissent, but personal attacks (on authors, other users or any individual), persistent trolling and mindless abuse will not be tolerated. The key to maintaining the website as an inviting space to focus on intelligent discussion of topics.”

I will leave it to readers to decide whether the guidelines are adhered to. CT allowed this comment: “Oh no, here comes the schizophrenic Mango who writes about poop on his worthless blog. And his Caucasian boyfriend, the pedophile tourist Padraig Colman, whose father washed boots for the British Army. No doubt Mango’s mother is also sucking Arab dick in Saudi as I write this…. Go to Negombo Beach at 4:30 am sharp. Pedophile tourist Padraig Colman will lick your toes, if he’s not busy sucking off his boyfriend Mango.” One article attracted well over 400 comments, most of them abusive. Groundviews recently tried to make something out of a non-issue relating to a packet of dates. There was danger that this could have exacerbated racial tensions. There are great things and distinguished writers on CT and GV. Unfortunately, there is often more heat than light.

The trolling on CT is seen by some as “a method” to deter some contributors from writing and to hijack the comment section, fill it with ad hominem insults, thus leaving no space for any intelligent analysis or indeed coherent thought. It is certainly nothing like “an inviting space to focus on intelligent discussion of topics.” Colombo Telegraph practices censorship by bullying.

Godwin’s Law

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on February 16, 2022, under the title Analogies from Hell. It was rather unfortunate that they chose to illustrate the article with a picture of Auschwitz. I was trying to make a rather more nuanced point.

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/analogies-from-hell

Analogies from Hell

In 2012, “Godwin’s law” became an entry in the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. The law was devised in 1990 by American writer and attorney Mike Godwin. Godwin’s purpose was to dissuade over-excited polemicists from bringing up fevered analogies between today’s events and what happened in Hitler’s Germany. Padraig Colman’s Law is, “the road to hell is paved with false analogies.”

Giddy Up

Esme Wren

Bernadette Wren

Esme Wren of BBC Newsnight wrote to the LRB (London Review of Books) about comments in that august journal about one of her programmes. “Bernadette Wren mentions BBC Newsnight several times in her piece on the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the Tavistock Clinic (LRB, 2 December 2021). (That is not a typo. Both women are called “Wren”.  How odd is that?) In February 2020, while being interviewed live on the programme, the comedy writer Graham Linehan drew a parallel between puberty blockers and Nazi experimentation. It is false that any Newsnight producer invited Mr Linehan on in order to make this comparison, and he was immediately and robustly challenged on air when he did.”

I watched that Newsnight interview and was extremely sympathetic towards Graham Linehan. The robustness of the interviewer (Sarah Smith, the daughter of the late lamented Labour Party leader John Smith – she is now the BBC’s representative in the USA) consisted in putting words into Linehan’s mouth, talking over him and refusing to allow him to explain his comparison. The interviewer was clearly accepting without question the line promulgated by trans activists that Linehan, like JK Rowling, is transphobic.

Linehan has said, “My position is that anyone suffering from gender dysphoria needs to be helped and supported.” He says that he celebrates that trans people are at last finding acceptance: “That’s obviously wonderful.” He “of course” agrees that gender dysphoria (defined as the distress a person experiences as a result of the gender assigned to them at birth) is real but he has a problem with widening the definition of transgender. One can sense his frustration at people’s deafness to the gravity of what is going on. I can forgive him for shouting a little. Linehan told the Irish Times: “Adults can do what they want,” but “it is dangerous to offer surgery and drugs therapy to young teenagers going through puberty who are gender non-conforming.”

Godwin Speaks

Godwin’s law asserts that, as an online discussion grows longer (regardless of topic or scope), the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Adolf Hitler, reductio ad Hitlerum approaches. Mike Godwin himself has criticized the over-application of Godwin’s law, claiming he intended to reduce the frequency of inappropriate and hyperbolic comparisons. The law’s purpose “has always been rhetorical and pedagogical: I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler to think a bit harder about the Holocaust.” In December 2015, Godwin said, “If you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler when you talk about Trump, or any other politician.” In 2017, he endorsed and encouraged comparisons of the alt-right organizers of the Charlottesville rally to Nazis. In June 2018, Godwin wrote an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times arguing that appropriate application of the rule “should function less as a conversation ender and more as a conversation starter.”

Hypocritic Oath

Doctors swear under the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.” On a day to day level, doctors should refrain from putting chemicals into patients’ bodies if they are not sick and avoid cutting people up if all the organs are in fine working order. Doctors should not involve themselves in, for example, torture or genital mutilation.

In Nazi Germany, doctors planned, supervised and participated in sterilisation, unethical experiments on humans, torture, euthanasia and genocide. This was not ethical professional practice. In Death and Deliverance, Michael Burleigh studies the character, background and motives of those who carried out the mass sterilisation and euthanasia of German mental patients in the 1930s. Between 1934 and 1945, 400,000 people were sterilised in the cause of eradicating “degenerative heredity”. The British historian Sir Ian Kershaw wrote, “The road to Auschwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference,” Other historians have used the term “passive complicity”.

Extraordinary Medicine

It seems that, whatever about that boring old Hippocratic Oath, there will always be some doctors who go beyond curing or preventing illness and bow to ideology or mammon in order to inflict unnecessary drugs or surgery.

In more recent times, US doctors participated in GW Bush’s programme of extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation and torture. A US Senate report on CIA torture makes it clear that American doctors were enthusiastic participants happy to make a profit from inflicting pain. Two psychologists, Dr James Mitchell and Dr Bruce Jessen, were paid $81 million to design the torture programme, and medical officers and physicians’ assistants are cited throughout the report as consultants who advised on things like forcing detainees to stand on broken limbs and “rehydrating” via a rectal tube rather than a standard IV infusion.

Your Body in their Hands

Eliza Mondegreen writes perceptive articles on transgender madness on Medium and Substack. Like Linehan, she sees a parallel between Nazi doctors and those today who are cutting off the healthy breasts of young girls and castrating teenage (or younger) boys. A common thread is the arrogance of doctors: “For something that is hands-on with people’s flesh and blood, there’s a deep dissociation embedded in medicine that is perhaps necessary to practice medicine—breaking body taboos, taking someone’s life in your hands—and which medicine selects for in practitioners. This dissociation carries real risks. Taken to an extreme, under Nazism, the German medical profession’s belief system was effectively hacked by a racist, eugenicist ideology, such that sworn healers became killers in the name of healing (see Robert Jay Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors).”

A doctor commented on Eliza Mondegreen’s post: “Their most fundamental need, the one that guides all their decisions is their hunger for money and fame. Thus, a dramatic and costly intervention will always be chosen over a more personalized treatment that needs lots of time and empathy and is not paid half as well and not recognized as great achievement by the medical community.”

Experimenting on Children

Many institutions today are being hacked by a bizarre belief system. Doctors in the western world today are prescribing drugs to children and young adults not for the purpose of curing or preventing illness. These are drugs that are not approved by the FDA, drugs which have not been properly trialed. In the UK, a document was prepared by NICE (National Institute for Health Care and Excellence) in October 2020.The conclusion was, “Any potential benefits of gender-affirming hormones must be weighed against the largely unknown long-term safety profile of these treatments in children and adolescents with gender dysphoria.” NICE also said existing studies of the drugs were small and “subject to bias and confounding”. “The quality of evidence for all these outcomes was assessed as very low.”

Like the Nazi doctors, doctors today are experimenting on young people who are not in a position to give informed consent. Why would doctors want to block puberty? Do no harm! Puberty is a natural process. Puberty blockers, also called puberty inhibitors, are drugs used to postpone puberty. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists inhibit the release of sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. There is controversy about the legality of using puberty blockers on transgender youth; their use has been challenged on ethical and medical grounds.

People think they are being humanitarian by accepting the bullying of the transgender lobby. The well-meaning public do not realise that there is no actual LGBTQA++ community. Rather, the public support gained by gay and lesbian people is being used as a big tent into which all kinds of insanity and nastiness is creeping. Organisations like Stonewall exert undue influence on institutions even including the courts and the police and sideline those, like the LGB Alliance, who genuinely represent women and gays. Linehan may be a hate figure to transgender activists but the LGB Alliance has taken him to their hearts. Linehan is a straight white male talking common sense that feminists and gays can appreciate. It would be helpful to cut that acronym back to LGB.

Surgical Mutilation of Language

There is an Orwellian manipulation of language. Elective mastectomies on girls become “reconstructive chest surgery”. Drastic, life-altering medical interventions become conceptualized as non-interventions. Hysterectomies, oophorectomies, and phalloplasties become “gender-affirming care.” These doctors are no longer capable of seeing what they’re actually doing, which is drugging and slicing a body into compliance with the new identity regime. Who amongst us would want to live our entire adult lives on the basis of irreversible decisions taken as teenagers? Especially teenagers being swayed by social media, and credulous progressives. Having your testicles or breasts removed is not like getting a tattoo.

Someone made this comment on a New York Times article, which, like many articles on the transgender issue in the mainstream media, managed to avoid many crucial points: “It seems so obvious that sterilizing children based on no criteria, other than what the child believes, is tremendously ethically wrong. I can’t imagine a clearer example of a reckless medical practice, and yet it’s become commonplace. In addition to our children needing to be deprogrammed, we need a deprogramming effort in place for the vast numbers of clinicians, inside and external to the clinics, who support affirmative care. Personally, I think prison would be a perfect place to enact such a program, but I suspect that wouldn’t be feasible.”

Graham Linehan’s comparison with Nazi doctors seems rather mild. He says, “There are lots of gender non-conforming children who may not be trans and may grow up to be gay adults, but who are being told by an extreme, misogynist ideology, that they were born in the wrong body, and anyone who disagrees with that diagnosis is a bigot.” We are in a vortex of cognitive distortions reinforced and magnified by social media echo chambers. This kind of biological engineering does remind me of Nazi doctors. If it walks like a duck…If they are behaving like Nazis, it’s OK to say so.

Boxed In

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on February 9, 2022

The Toxicity of Taxonomy

Some time ago, I coined myself a phrase to address the bad effects of imprisoning ideas in restrictive and reductive categories. The phrase was “the toxicity of taxonomy.” We try to impose some order on the chaos around us by sorting worldly phenomena, including people, into types. However, awful messes ensue if we prejudge according to assumptions which might be mistaken.

The world of social media exacerbates the problem. Complete strangers make unwarranted assumptions about one’s background or character and run with those distortions. I posed the innocent question on Facebook: “is it possible to make criticisms of the government of Israel without being called an anti-Semite?” There was an immediate pile-on with several people unfriending me and even blocking me. Some pro-Israel commenters accused me of being an anti-Semite. Given that I was an anti-Semite, I must be a supporter of then Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. If they had done the most minimal digging, my assumers would have found that it was no secret that I was a strong critic of Corbyn. Corbyn supporters accused me of smearing their hero and proceeded to smear me by calling me a Blairite. I had written many critical articles about Tony Blair.

When I was trying to clear up for a western audience in Le Monde diplomatique and the New York Times some misperceptions about what was happening in Sri Lanka in the closing stages of the war against the LTTE, I was accused by some of being a paid shill for the Rajapaksas, and by others of being a regurgitator of Tiger propaganda.  And so it goes on. Get back in your box!

Cross Dressing to the Left

I have always considered myself as one inclined to dress towards the left. I have never voted Conservative in my life. However, the terms left and right, never unambiguous, are very difficult to fathom these days because of profound changes in the class structure and the way economies work.

I recounted in these pages the strange tale of Frank Furedi and the RCG (Revolutionary Communist Group, which was far to the left of left).

Furedi was expelled from the RCG and became the founder and chairman of the RCT (Revolutionary Communist Tendency), which morphed into the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party). The RCP was distinguished by its commitment to theoretical elaboration and hostility to state intervention in social life (but mainly interested in fighting with other lefty sects). The RCP eventually developed into Living Marxism and the LM Network, which now produces a contrarian website called Spiked. To echo Groucho Marx, whatever it is, Spiked is against it. Puzzlingly, the supposedly leftist LM Network took what seemed right-wing stances on most issues and has received generous funding from the extreme right Koch brothers.

Munira Mirza has been described as a backroom aide no voter had ever heard of but her resignation may be the most significant event in Boris Johnson’s downfall. She had worked for him for fourteen years. One bemused civil servant said she was one of the few people who actually seemed to like Johnson. She described Johnson’s smearing of Keir Starmer over the failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile as “scurrilous.” Mirza was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party and a regular contributor to Spiked, even when she was working for Boris Johnson.

What Is the Working Class?

David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute, an American libertarian think tank. He is considered right wing by the left, but has taken up leftish positions on some issues, such as supporting the legalization of recreational drugs. Boaz has argued that the political terms Left and Right are no longer simple descriptors. The way they are used today displaces arguments about policy by raising emotional prejudice against a preconceived notion of what the terms Left and Right mean. Those considering themselves to be on the Left stress their support for working people and accuse the Right of supporting the interests of the upper class.

In the UK, the Labour Party was founded to support the interests of the working class but the working class is not what it was. Thatcher, as leader of the right wing Conservative Party destroyed the unions which protected the working class and, indeed, destroyed the manufacturing industry which gave the working class its livelihood. Tony Blair created New Labour by cutting Labour’s traditional ties with trade unions and carrying on with Thatcherite policies of privatisation and outsourcing. These policies did not help the traditional working class.

Box Wallahs

The historian Thomas Frank has argued that Left-wing politics has become “a matter of shallow appearances, or fatuous self-righteousness… a politics in which the beautiful and wellborn tell the unwashed and the beaten-down and the funny-looking how they ought to behave”. Leftism has lost its appeal to whatever the working class these days is. The Labour Party attracts middle class voters and academics as parliamentary candidates. The lefty left seems to have sold its soul to identity politics. The self-appointed spokespersons of the lefty left in the UK (Kerry-Anne Mendoza, Owen Jones, Jackie Walker, Ash Sarkar) tend to put people in boxes. They use the divisive tropes of identity politics and paint a cartoon version of history peopled with stereotypes. This tribalist instinct leads to hostility and reflexive opposition towards those deemed the “other.” Identity has become dependent upon countering someone else with no room for nuance. They position themselves as champions of honesty which means their opponents are the worst of humanity whose views can be distorted.

Doxxing and Boxing

A group of aggressive males who claim to be women but have not surrendered their appendages or even taken the pills are attempting to create a hierarchy within the term “woman” and to push born females lower in it. They apply the loathsome term “cis women” in a derogatory spirit to the people they claim to identify with. They intimidate through words and sometimes through physical violence. These people are getting support from the Left who cry “bigot” at those who remind the world what “woman” means. This bigotry, this “transphobia” often consists of simply repeating the dictionary definition of a woman. JK Rowling has suffered untold abuse for merely expressing her own common sense view that a woman is a woman and that biological fact cannot be changed by self-declaration.

Thinking Outside the Box

Looking at this issue has led me to realise I have some unexpected allies. I learned a long time ago that, although I have been reading the Guardian since around 1960, and generally agree with it, I cannot expect the paper’s contributors to tell the truth about Sri Lanka. I am more likely to read common sense about transgender issues in the right wing Daily Telegraph than in the Guardian. When I pointed out on Facebook that the Daily Mail was publishing articles by the estimable Eileen Fairweather about then Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s role in the Islington child abuse scandal, Corbyn’s supporters vilified me and said the involvement of the Daily Mail meant it could not be true. As Orwell put it, Soviet atrocities were still atrocities even if the Daily Telegraph said so. Saddam Hussein was still a monster even if George W Bush believed so.

Herd Impunity

Many people whose views I do not normally share – Douglas Murray, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Jordan Peterson, Liz Truss, Melanie Phillips, Rod Liddle, even Tucker Carlson and the appalling Laurence Fox! – were saying things about trans activism that made more sense than the ill-informed arrogant nonsense spouted by bien pensant entertainers whom I would have considered to be on my team, like Billy Bragg, Stewart Lee and Daniel Radcliffe.

Comedian Stewart Lee

Publications and blogs I had previously steered clear of as right-wing and anti-PC, such as Unherd, Quillette, The Federalist, The Critics, Daily Telegraph, the Spectator, and Standpoint, were publishing sensible articles on the subject while more liberal organs were carried away by the madness and doing the bidding of the bullies in frocks. The Conservative MP Miriam Cates was talking more sense about the subject than any left wing politician. In the US, it was a Republican Senator Tom Cotton who introduced a bill to keep men out of women’s prisons.

Miriam Cates MP

Rose Duffield is a UK Labour MP who has shared LGB Alliance platforms with Graham Linehan (a comedy writer whose life has been disrupted by trans lobby bullies) and supported JK Rowling (who has donated generously to the Labour Party and been vilified in return). Duffield’s pro-woman feminist stance has aroused the ire of trans activists. She has a record of expressing gender-critical views and was called transphobic after simply “liking” a tweet saying women were people with cervixes. You can watch on YouTube Conservative MPs such as Jackie Doyle-Price expressing eminently sensible views on women’s rights and misogyny, views which are completely harmonious with what Rosie Duffield is saying. That does not mean that Duffield is a traitor to the left.

Inevitably, the trans bullies have gone after Rose Duffield, making her life hell. As I write this she is seriously contemplating leaving the Labour Party. She has said she felt unable to attend last year’s Labour conference because of the controversy generated by her remarks. Duffield has denied being transphobic and has said she is “completely supportive of trans rights”.

Rose Duffield MP

The chilling aspect of this that a Labour spokesman said: “The party continues to be in touch with Rosie Duffield and has offered her advice and support.”  That means they will try to intimidate her to stop her expressing her views. Duffield says, “It is obsessive harassment. Neither the Labour party or either the former or current Leader or the Whips’ Office have done anything at all to stop it, to offer me any support, help or legal assistance. I am financially unable to pursue a libel action.”

Box On

On her Substack blog, Eliza Mondegreen writes: “When asking questions and looking for answers outside the approved sources gets you branded a hateful bigot or dangerous heretic, we’ve traveled into strange territory. Holy land, so to speak. No wonder citizens, civil servants, and secularists of many stripes feel so uncomfortable. Holy land isn’t our terrain. We’re unsure of our footing.

And no wonder so many people, sensing the ever-shrinking perimeter of acceptable variation on this issue, don’t budge an inch, don’t ask the obvious questions, and frankly don’t want to look for honest answers.”

I have not become one of those old Lefties who become reactionary with age. I walk in with an open mind and no preconceived expectations. This vastly widens the landscape of information that I can garner. People would rather protect their ego than experience intellectual growth.

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