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Today, the PR is a whole lot slicker. Charlie Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel in 'The Great Dictator', 1940. Photo: via Insomnia Cured Here / Flickr (CC BY-SA).
Today, the PR is a whole lot slicker. Charlie Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel in 'The Great Dictator', 1940. Photo: via Insomnia Cured Here / Flickr (CC BY-SA).
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Behind the Magna Carta spin, Britain's 'dictatorship of the 1%' is taking shape

Paul Mobbs

11th June 2015

A consistent pattern is emerging in the UK government's plans and policies, writes Paul Mobbs: the stripping away of human rights and freedoms; the detachment of public institutions from democratic accountability; an increase of the powers of the state; and the empowerment of corporations at the expense of people. We must act to preserve our liberties, while we still can.

Slowly, like the proverbial frog in a saucepan, Britain is sliding towards a dictatorial rule by the state, very much along the lines of that predicted by Aldous Huxley 50 years ago.

What do academy schools, fracking and international trade negotiations have in common?

They're all part of the Conservative Government's agenda to roll back the ability of the public to question official policy, and to allow business interests to press ahead with their questionable economic projects unchallenged.

As Britain celebrates the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in June 1215 [1], an unprecedented dilution of democratic power, written into law under the last Con-Dem administration, has been enacted.

For example, in 2014 there was widespread public objection to the Government's '' scheme [2], which allows the use of NHS patient medical records by a range of private organisations.

The ability of the NHS to pass data to companies, outside the normal controls of data protection law, had been given legal sanction under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 [3] - which effectively privatized the health service [4].

With much fanfare, and an expressed will to 'protect patient choice', the Government granted an opt-out for those who did not want their sensitive personal medical data shared. Then in early 2015 it emerged that the opt-outs were being disregarded [5] because NHS service contractors - essential to the Government's privatization plans - could not access NHS patient data under the terms of the opt-out.

In June 2015 it was quietly acknowledged that the 700,000 patients who had opted-out [6] were deliberately having their wishes deliberately ignored to save money [7].

Behind the smokescreen, a hard right ideological agenda

The '' plan opt-outs had been a public relations smokescreen. Behind it the Government continued to purposefully pursue a wider ideological agenda - and of course ideology does not require objective evidence to validate its objectives.

In May 2015, the new Conservative Government outlined new proposals which will further restrict the public's rights to be consulted, to object, and to challenge actions by the state. These will constrain the public's rights to participate in and object to Government policy even further.

The Queen's Speech contained [8] a list of proposed laws [9], the majority of which do not focus on making our society more inclusive. From imposing further restrictions on unions [10], to the mass collection of data [11], to redefining the term "extremist" to cover non-violent dissent [12] - the focus of these new laws is on removing or diluting the public rights to review decisions, increasing the dictatorial power of the state.

One of the measures, based upon the shakiest of evidence, is the Education and Adoption Bill [13]. This seeks to increase the number of academy schools - even where the parents [14] or the governors [15] of a school strongly object to the change.

On Wednesday 3rd June Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told the BBC's Today Programme [16] that -

"Parents of course have every right and should be very interested in their child's education, but there also comes a point to say when the education is being held back, progress that children make is being held back due to legal processes and judicial reviews and appeals and actually I think what most parents want is their child to make progress ... "

If based on objectively measured evidence of 'progress', the Education Secretary would have an argument to press this case. That 'progress' is, however, questionable [17], and is not based upon clear evidence of improvements brought about by academy status.

As stated in the summary of the (Conservative chaired) Commons Education Select Committee's report published in January 2015 [18] -

There is a complex relationship between attainment, autonomy, collaboration and accountability. Current evidence does not allow us to draw conclusions on whether academies in themselves are a positive force for change.

We saw this same over-riding of local concern over issues such as 'fracking' [19] under the last Government.

The deliberate erosion of British human rights

What is less well understood are the subtle changes which have enabled the imposition of these policies - which will worsen as these new laws take effect. Little by little, they are eroding the body of British civil rights which have developed over the last seventy years.

This attack on the public's ability to keep a check on Government power was outlined by David Cameron in a speech to the CBI [20] in November 2012.

As his speech detailed, today we find that: public consultation has been cut; laws, such as the '' proposals, are being force through with little check on their impacts; and the public's rights to access the courts has been curtailed.

This will have a chilling effect on our democracy in future, even without the changes currently in the pipeline.

This last aspect - reducing our ability to access the courts - is perhaps the most damaging to our democratic process. Legal aid cuts have stripped many people of their basic human rights to access the justice system [21]. Our ability as citizens to challenge decision-making directly, through judicial review, has also been deliberately weakened [22] to give the Government greater power.

The last phase of that process, under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 [23], was commenced just before the election. This changes ancient traditions - such as only having one magistrate presiding over cases instead of three. Other changes mean that rights to judicial review only apply to those with a direct interest in the issue, and under a range of limiting conditions.

Also, if a person 'crowd sources' the funding for a court case in order to get over the barrier of the high costs involved, then in future every one of the people providing a contribution will be personally liable for costs if the case fails.

Criminalising 'non-violent extremism', increasing power to snoop

Perhaps the most chilling issue in the pipeline is the much talked about 'extremism' legislation. The problem here, as outlined in the Home Secretary's speech to the Conservative Party conference [24] in September 2014, is that the Government want to control "non-violent extremism" [25].

How can 'non-violence' be considered extreme? At what point does advocating non-violence policy change become 'extreme'? At what point does the human right of 'free speech' become 'extremism' if it does not involve the use of or incitement to violence?

These are very dangerous ideas because the Government does not base its arguments upon clear objective criteria, but upon acts which "undermine British values". That is of course something that varies subjectively according to your political outlook and social background. With an increasingly illiberal, reactionary Government, this clash over 'values' is critical to how these changes will be enacted in law.

In parallel to this, the ability to police 'non-violent extremism' will be augmented [26] by the Government's updated 'snoopers charter' [27].

Just as law-makers in the USA are beginning to let the post-11/9 surveillance powers lapse [28], in Britain the Government is paving the way for a new generation of computer-based 'big data' [29] surveillance technologies to be created anddeployed against the public [30].

In the modern world we no longer, as citizens, talk about 'civil liberties' [31]. Instead today's civil liberties debate is often centred upon 'privacy' [32] as the single exemplar of personal freedom.

In many ways, in our technological society [33], 'privacy' has come to replace the concepts once described within the historic debate over 'liberty' - since it is the imposition of those technological oversight mechanisms which have the greatest impact upon our everyday lives.

The problem is participation in the modern 'wired' economy requires us to trade away our privacy, whether we like it or not. The Government's anti-extremism agenda also requires us to trade our personal privacy for alleged 'security' - even though the Government's existing policies are statistically far more threatening [34] to our personal health and well-being than any combination of terror threats.

As a result, that negation of 'privacy' necessarily means a dilution of our traditional 'civil liberty'. From the privatization of the NHS and '', to the tightening grip of the 'security state' [35], our privacy is being either ignored or diluted [36] - in the name of greater administrative efficiency, or to enable anti-terror or extremism measures.

Who's calling the shots here? Certainly not the 99%

Given the increasing dominance of corporate interests in the financing of our political parties, what this inevitably means is enacting the diktats of the '1%' [37] rather than policies which benefits everyone across society. That's because, under this new system, the '1%' are the only ones with money to access to the courts, and fund politicians, to protect their interests.

The Government's support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [38] (TTIP), effectively dis-empowering the public's collective interest in favour of private interests [39], will exacerbate this process if it is enacted.

That situation is, of course, made far worse the recent reforms to our abilities to access the courts and legal aid - because we cannot enforce what putative rights we may have.

Whether it is the issue of fracking, or health privatization, or the Government's increasingly dictatorial methods of enacting policy, all these issues have become a civil rights struggle - one which requires the public to unite against their unrepresentative political masters [40].

Slowly, like the proverbial frog in a saucepan, Britain is sliding towards a dictatorial rule by the state, very much along the lines of that predicted by Aldous Huxley 50 years ago [41]:

"Only a large-scale popular movement toward decentralization and self-help can arrest the present tendency toward statism. A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers."

Whatever your personal interest [42] these changes require a public response [43] from each one of us ...

Do you have the will to directly challenge the dismantling of our democratic rights?



Paul Mobbs is an independent environmental consultant, investigator, author and lecturer, and maintains the Free Range Activism Website (FRAW).

This article was originally published on FRAW.


  1. Magna Carta 800th -
  2. NHS: 'The care data system - Your health and care records' -
  3. Wikipedia: 'Health and Social Care Act 2012' -
  4. Sell Off!, Peter Bach, 2015 -
  5. NHS disregards patient requests to opt out of sharing medical records, Randeep Ramesh, Guardian On-line, 22nd January 2015 -
  6. Nearly 1 million patients could be having confidential data shared against their wishes, Peter Dominiczak, Telegraph On-line, 5th June 2015 -
  7. NHS blows £5 MILLION on delayed, Ket Hall, The Register, 2nd June 2015 -
  8. Queen's Speech 2015: Bill-by-bill, BBC News On-line, 27th May 2015 -
  9. Policy paper - Queen's Speech 2015: what it means for you, Prime Minister's Office/Cabinet Office, 27th May 2015 -
  10. Labour funding will be hit hard by changes to political levy system, Patrick Wintour, Guardian On-line, 27th May 2015 -
  11. Security services' powers to be extended in wide-ranging surveillance bill, Alan Travis, Guardian On-line, 27th May 2015 -
  12. If 'non-violent extremists' can't express their views at universities, where can they?, Geoffrey Alderman, The Spectator, 4th March 2015 -
  13. Policy paper - Queen's Speech 2015: 'Education and Adoption Bill', Prime Minister's Office/Cabinet Office, 27th May 2015 -
  14. Education bill to close 'loopholes' blocking academies expansion, Richard Adams and Frances Perraudin, Guardian On-line, 3rd June 2015 -
  15. Education Bill is an 'extraordinary attack' on free speech, says campaigner, Freddie Whittaker, Schools Week, 4th June 2015 -
  16. Nicky Morgan on Academies plan, Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, Wednesday 3rd June 2015. Podcast has now expired but a copy is on-line at -
  17. Nicky Morgan is wrong - the evidence for academies doesn't add up, Henry Stewart, Guardian On-line, 3rd June 2015 -
  18. Academies and free schools, Fourth Report of Session 2014-15, Commons Education Select Committee, 21st January 2015 -
  19. Fracking - you are not important, Paul Mobbs, The Ecologist, 24th June 2014 -
  20. Prime Minister's Speech to the CBI, Cabinet Office/Prime Minister's Office, 19th November 2012 -
  21. Open letter condemns legal aid cuts, calls on new government to restore justice, Owen Bowcott, Guardian On-line, 1st May 2015 -
  22. Judicial Review reform: An attack on our legal rights?, Clive Coleman, BBC News, 1st December 2014 -
  23. Wikipedia: 'Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015' -
  24. Theresa May vows Tory government would introduce 'snooper's charter', Alan Travis, Guardian On-line, 30th September 2014 -
  25. Policy paper - Queen's Speech 2015: 'Extremism Bill' -
  26. Policy paper - Queen's Speech 2015: 'Investigatory Powers Bill' -
  27. Snoopers' charter set to return to law as Theresa May suggests Conservative majority could lead to huge increase in surveillance powers, Andrew Griffin, Independent On-line, 8th May 2015 -
  28. NSA reform: Bush-era powers expire as US prepares to roll back surveillance, Dan Roberts, Ben Jacobs and Spencer Ackerman, Guardian On-line, 1st June 2015 -
  29. Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, consequences, critique, Big Data & Society, July-December 2014 -
  30. US transparency over state surveillance puts British efforts to shame, Emma Carr, City AM, 2nd June 2015 -
  31. Wikipedia: 'Civil liberties' -
  32. How we're fighting back against the UK surveillance state - and winning, Glyn Moody, Ars Technica, 22nd May 2015 -
  33. Wikipedia: 'Critique of Technology' -
  34. Britain's real 'terror threat': eco-sceptic politicians, Paul Mobbs, The Ecologist, 3rd September 2014 -
  35. Wikipedia: 'National security' -
  36. UK Academics pen open letter regarding state surveillance, FIRM Magazine, 25th May 2015 -
  37. Wikipedia: 'We are the 99%' -
  38. Wikipedia: 'Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership' -
  39. The obscure legal system that lets corporations sue countries, Claire Provost and Matt Kennard, Guardian On-line, 10th June 2015 -
  40. The 2015 General Election: A voting system in crisis, Jess Garland And Chris Terry, Electoral Reform Society, June 2015 -
  41. YouTube: 'Aldous Huxley UC Berkeley Speech 1962' -
  42. Fracktured Accountability: A study of political decision-making and unconventional fossil fuel interests in the Coalition Government, Paul Mobbs/MEI, March 2015 -
  43. YouTube: 'Arrest the Cabinet', Clear Blue Films/Gathering Place Films, March 2015 -



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