Monday, 14 May 2012

Living with the Krell and other fantastical creatures of the mind

There are in life two worlds -  the ephemeral world or the world of the mind where we like to escape in order to relieve the stresses of the everyday - and there's the real world. It's a sobering thought to recognise that this inner ephemeral world exists as little more than a consequence of the process of natural selection. Mostly it's a place inhabited by iPodders, sci-fi buffs, as well as homicidal and a non-murderous variety of war-gamers. You might even find within this inner Nirvana, writers of blogs.

Grass pants - ecologically sound but the wearer
may fall victim to rampant knacker mite
How might such fleeting fleeting moments of escapism manifest themselves (so to speak). They might be a places of opulence, with expensive imported floor coverings, inhabited by a rug-less automata with diabolical intentions and a kettle. For others it may be a hackneyed version of Westworld where a Yul Brynner lookalike can, without fear of any comeback, roam freely with death designs on shag-happy weekend fornicators. For those who crave isolation, this inner-haven might be a place where a lonely desert island chap can assert his 'on trend-ness' and dress to the nines in a pair of plus fours woven from ryegrass and blue algae. Only here can he strut his stuff safe in the knowledge that he won't be attracting the attention of the fashion police, the real police or Countryfile's John Craven. In this Rundgrenesian Utopia, the only thing that might be lacking for our 'master of all he surveys' is luxury toilet tissue with a hint of aloe vera.

The redoubt of the timeless and the gormless

For most of us, everyday life is experienced within the mostly mundane and the palpable. Not so for Dr Morbius who has a proclivity for isolationism and access to a large library. He may well prefer to invest considerable sums in translating his local environment into a realistic interpretation of his inner 'Altair IV'. He might even have a mechanical chap called 'Robby' who can synthesize alcohol from a urinary tract reduction which is even better. Yet problems may arise for our metaphorical Dr Morbius.  Apart from drinking piss flakes, he may find that the creation of such an idealised fictional world can often lead to the creation of fictional view of the 'real world'. Within his Utopian autonomous zone, everyday rules and codes may cease to act as a constraint. Normal behaviours may be replaced by inappropriate behaviours, often appearing bizarre and random. He'll probably end up giving physical form to the Id of a long dead Krell and shredded alive for his efforts.

Constraints for the very ordinary dwellers of material world

Unlike Dr Morbius, who like his dreams lies in tatters, in the 'real' world, our lives and our behaviour are constrained and shaped in multifarious ways: through education, parental guidance, peer pressure, moral codes, custom, rules, the workplace, and ultimately through the mechanism of laws. Deference also remains a key factor in constraining our behaviour. I refer not to the cap-doffing deference of a bygone era, but a deference to the 'professional', particularly 'professional' managers, doctors, politicians, law-makers etc... Respect for the rules, the law and the professional arbiters of justice, is drummed into us from an early age. Fundamental to this form of deference is class.

Grass roots anti-deference Pentonville style

Take the anti-trade union laws. If any law epitomised  how the legal system is used to impose the will of one class over another it's Margaret Thatcher's anti-strike laws. They take the 'metaphorical 'gold'.* How does deference relate to these laws? There's no repealer of these obviously anti-working class laws in the Labour Party hierarchy. So called 'wildcat action' is vehemently opposed by trade union bureaucrats, terrified on one hand of taking on the courts and government of the day, and fearful of what the right-wing press will say about them. Another factor that ensures that these bureaucrats oppose 'wildcat' action is rooted in the nature of such action - it's mostly borne of grass roots organisation and activity. And if there's one thing trade union bureaucrats abhor is decisions made and initiated at the most democratic level. In toff language 'it's a jolly poor show' and gives other potential militants the wrong idea. Nevertheless, 'wildcat' action often pays dividends where an intransigent employer is concerned. The case of the Pentonville Five springs to mind and more recent examples include the grass roots industrial action in support of sacked Gate Gourmet workers by British Airways baggage handlers. Even prison officers, not known for their left-wing militancy, have adopted the use of such tactics.

The vastly superior Krell Complex and library: it's a place where one can extract
the piss AND get information at no cost

Customs in common

Codes, rules, customs and laws are interesting chaps. They're immaterial yet tangible. They can't be held in the hand. You can't sit on one whilst partaking of a fine Kentucky Nougat pipe combination of a summer's afternoon. They're all around us. So pervasive are they that most of the time we don't even realise that our behaviour is being shaped by them. Mostly they remain silent, whirring away in the background like a perpetual motion machine, their every whims tended to by a raft of lawyers,  barristers, and judges, backed by a rather substantial bureaucracy (including top ranking civil servants), drawn largely from a group or class  of people who have no interest in upsetting the status quo or losing their privileges.

It's by dint of something called the 'social contract' that we largely accept the way in which society is ordered, and we in turn are ordered around. With the exception of revolutionaries, anarchists and nihilists, most accept as legitimate and natural the political (and legal) authority that exists within society. We're constantly told by right-wing historians on BBC Four that these laws have been handed down through millenia. They must be part of the 'natural order'. Few recognise that this legal and political order is merely, an organised political representation of the current capitalist relations (and mode) of production, or that the 'impartial' legal system flows quite naturally and symbiotically from this order. In our travels, we can see just as the British Empire exported capitalism around the globe, it also exported the English legal system which provides the basis for the jurisprudence of many other countries.

The reassuring warmth of everyday expenses

By and large, the type of law that shapes and impacts on our lives on a daily basis are those Acts of Parliament or statutes brought into being by elected (and some unelected) representatives sitting in Parliament. One oft hears the maxim that MPs don't live in 'our world' or that they exist in a 'bubble' divorced from the everyday realities of those whom they are meant to represent. The MPs expenses scandal epitomised for many life within the rarefied atmosphere of Westminster.

The lampooning of public officials.
Not a criminal offence... 
well not yet
Hey boss... it's a plane... 

A statutory law or statute carries a lot of clout. The Human Rights Act (1998), the Data Protection Act (1998) and the Freedom of Information Act (2000)(1) are powerful pieces of legislation. Law is also made in the day-to-day dealings of the criminal, civil courts and Tribunals through the setting of precedent (caselaw). One or two of these areas of law have become somewhat central to a chap's life for one reason or another over the last three years and the postal delivery woman seems to increase the legal workload on an almost daily basis. One tries to resist the obvious temptation to be drawn into an hermetically sealed existence, but it's a largely futile exercise, as being on the receiving end of a libel claim ensures that one is almost inexorably sucked into someone' else's alternate reality. The up side is that evidence collation becomes second nature.

No it's merely some evidence given to a recent Justice Committee

Take the interesting evidence presented by the University of Salford in a report to a recent Justice Committee(2) (FOI 31, starts page 115) entitled 'Post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000'. This report and the evidence contained within it are in the public domain and should be a matter of great public concern. I feel somewhat obliged to comment upon it given that a section of it focuses on my good self... £75,000 worth or so we're told. In their evidence, the University state that:

'1.2 It is the University of Salford’s view that serious consideration should be given to removing Universities from the ambit of the Freedom of Information Act because they are not “Public Authorities” in view of the now relatively small proportion of public funding to British Universities. Instead, robust and clear guidelines of best practice in access to information should apply. 

First things first. I won't speculate as to why the University would wish to not be subject to the FOI Act. Readers can reach their own conclusions on this matter. I will say that any attempt to allow universities to be removed from the 'ambit of the Freedom of Information Act' should be vehemently resisted.

Exploring the 'nexus' somewhere beyond Orion

In a previous article we touched upon what is in my opinion a rather idealist concept of how Vice Chancellor Martin Hall and his subordinate Adrian Graves, have claimed that their personal reputations (whilst acting in their professional capacity) are one and the same with the reputation of the University of Salford - Manchester. It's laid out on page four of their Particulars of Claim, where it states:

'That Dr Graves and Professor Hall and therefore the claimant have acted wrongfully and unlawfully and in a secretive manner by keeping from the students and the general public matters which both the students and the general public are entitled to know.'

For those new to this blog 'the claimant' is the University. Others including the Salford Star(3) and the Information Commissioner might have their own view as to whether the University have acted 'wrongfully' or 'unlawfully' or 'in a secretive manner' or not concerning the FOI Act and adherence to its provisions. I'll not dwell on it here as I'm going to dwell on it in court. In his submissions to the court on March 6th, the University's legal chap referred to the 'nexus' between the reputation of the University's officers Hall and Graves, and the reputation of the University:

'If defamatory statements are made against the University's officers (Hall and Graves) the University may maintain a cause of action if the defamatory words complained of are capable of being understood as referring to the University.'
Who's shitting who?

Would Lewis Carroll approve of the above statement I wondered? I also wondered if the reverse were true? Even if one agreed with such an assertion (which one obviously doesn't because it's tantamount to having your cake and eating it) in this so called age of austerity what's wrong with Hall and Graves using their own considerable financial resources to sue a chap if they believe they've been libelled? What the above statement seeks to do is to blur obliterate the line between the institution and its senior executives. Salford UCU branch officers might want to take note as potentially any strongly worded criticism of a senior type could end up being labelled defamatory. It allows Graves and Hall the convenience of using the institution as a front to bring a vexatious action for libel, a point I raised during the proceedings on March 6th. I'll be raising it again at the forthcoming appeal/trial. Yet I find I like the word 'Nexus'. It conjures up a fantastical creature, part silicon, part quartz, possibly a third cousin twice removed of the Crystalline Entity but a trifle more discerning in its choice of nourishment.

A new perspective for the Ol' Fire Station?

But custard-based desserts aside, I was concerned with more pressing matters such as how the University might physically remove itself from the 'ambit' of the Act. Their evidence wasn't giving much away as they hadn't provided a schematic to the Justice Committee. My mind went into overdrive as I started thinking, which is nearly always a bad thing. Was there a stellar plan I wondered? I conjured up an image of the Ol' Fire Station.  In my minds eye I pictured it in the process of being completely dismantled by querulous porters on time and a half over the summer recess. Could this be the first step in having it moved further east away from the seat of Parliamentary power and the jurisdiction of the UK courts? Would they be restarting knowledge production and the overall student satisfaction process in far-flung Siberia, safe from those who sought to make further Freedom of Information Requests thus cleverly avoiding spending another £75,000? I rejected this as impractical. Siberia wasn't next to the BBC.

Was there a plan to have it covertly smuggled bolt by bolt in holdalls (lockable from the inside), and placed aboard Branson's White Knight II? Might the decision then be made to have it blasted into a geostationary orbit adjacent to a BBC communications satellite? Was this what blogger Hall meant when he stated interestingly "It will enable us to offer our students the experience of being close to new directions in the creative arts, media and digital futures..."?(4) It would certainly make it a tad more difficult for staff to organise protests against redundancies outside.

I tried working out the logic behind this. Surely such a move would be prohibitively expensive? I did some calculations on the corner of a prohibitively expensive 2nd class stamp. By my calculations, a geostationary orbit could cost nearly £3 million a year in rental costs alone. It might also necessitate a complete refit of the Ol' Fire Station and lead to the introduction of air-locks instead of lavatory doors. But why the move upwards? There had to be more to this. When I reached this sort of philosophical impasse, I always found it best to shelve the material world for the immaterial and steep myself within the realms of metaphysics and cod-theology. I decided to don shabby cheesecloth and loons and light a joss stick which I'd managed to lay my hands on at a recent 1970s sale in Hebden Bridge. It wasn't long before I was freakin' out to 'Meet me on the corner' by Lindisfarne in a corner of a room filled to the ceiling with legal psychedelia.

Freedom of Information... up here?
Ye God

The answer came almost immediately and it involved a chap called 'God'. Was escape from the 'ambit' of the FOI Act predicated on escaping the gravitational pull of planet earth? I thought it best to contrast and compare. I ended up doing neither. Speculation seemed far more fruitful. Although not elected, God is clearly a public official working for a Public Authority called 'Heaven', which apart from having charitable status and its own Celestial Charter, also has many commercial arms. It also probably receives lots of its funding from non-public sources, as Jesus was clearly hostile to the notion of tax collectors. Like the Queen, as a sort of 'universal', 'supreme being' type, God would not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This I know to be the case as according to insurance policies, we're all subject to his 'acts', even us atheistically inclined drivers and those corporeal elements who make up the Houses of Parliament. An Act of God trumps the lot. However, it wasn't long before the effects of the jossom wore off and my inner materialism kicked back in. I decided to reject the above as silly.

Dwelling in the Garden of Earthly Delights

I went back to the text. It certainly raised one or two questions like were the University's leading Freedom of Information theoreticians suggesting that the University of Salford - Manchester should no longer remain a 'public' university? That it should be transferred into the private sector and become a 'private' university a bit like Buckingham University? I was also interested in this notion that:

"Universities are now funded more from non public funding than from public funding with the proportion of public funding set to decline even further in the next few years."

It didn't give the figures for how much funding the University of Salford - Manchester received in state funding in 2011-12. Nor did it give the precise 'proportion' it received in 'public funding' which would have enabled me to calculate roughly the total funding received by the University in that year. This might have strengthened their argument. In fact, I wasn't sure exactly what 'non public funding' meant. I wondered if the money loaned to students via the government (ie 'taxes') through the Student Loans Company, and used to fund the student fees of close on £9,000 per annum next year at Salford were considered to be 'non public funding'? Maybe I'd got this all upper thigh about upper chest. Were they saying they wanted to free themselves from all forms of state funding with all the statutory obligations such funding entails; things like adhering to the FOI Act 2000? Or were they cheekily suggesting that they still continue to receive state funding but would like to not have to call themselves a "Public Authority" and abide by the Act? My mind was pregnant with the many potentialities.

The hinterland... the hinterland... or the real world from the perspective of a Vagrant

At the end of the day, there's the way we'd like the world to be and the way it is. In bourgeois society, unelected capitalists and lawmakers establish the overall framework as well as the legal framework under which we live and under which capitalism can thrive. It's backed by a substantial state machinery including the courts. It's almost impossible to carve out and dwell in an autonomous zone or exist outside this system for long. It's a harsh world out there. It's a Hobbesian 'all ag'in all' world and those who venture into this brutal hinterland will either perish or be physically coerced with a tazer or two back into the fold. I have to admit, I was completely confused. With this in mind I decided to read on...

1.3 In the event that Universities continue to be subject to the Act...' 

And there we have it. This sentence suggested that the University of Salford - Manchester, at the time of my writing this piece and by its own admission, is 'subject to the Act'. And who is it that is subject to the act..? Yes, you've got it P.U.B.L.I.C.  A.U.T.H.O.R.I.T.I.E.S. And the University of Salford - Manchester subject to the FOI Act must therefore be a public authority.(5)  Like the inhabitants of the Periodic Table, it would appear to be elementary.

Why dates are very important

I noted the date on the evidence as submitted to the Justice Committee by the University - January 2012.  I wondered why were the University stating to the Parliamentary Justice Committee that they were a "Public Authority", yet arguing forcefully before a Judge in the High Court (District Registry, Manchester) two months or so later on March 6th that they were not? I pondered this incongruity.

Ian Austin, who acts for the University in the matter of the libel claim against my good self, also sits on its governing body, the University Council. This case has so far cost well in excess of £50,000 (at a conservative estimate). It's not as if I haven't raised this matter with Mr Austin on several occasions prior to this hearing. Mr Austin clearly had plenty of opportunity to consult the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998, the bit about freedom of expression and Public Authorities. He could have asked Graves who is the 'Freedom of Information "Champion"' at Salford. Mr Austin must surely be aware that as a "Public Authority", the University has no locus standi to sue in defamation? It's clearly established in a piece of caselaw well-known among the legal profession as Derbyshire County Council -v- The Times Newspapers Ltd [1993].

Is this what happens when logic grinds to a halt?

Has logic ground to a halt? If I had access to the Krell library would I be able to theoretically formulate the location of some form of sub-light speed Carrollian counter-reality in which the University of Salford - Manchester exists as a "Public Authority" but not as a "Public Authourity"? I tried to find a fitting comparator in the real world. I suppose it would be a bit like being geographically located in Salford, but claiming you're not actually IN Salford.

In the final analysis, statute law will be the ultimate determinant of the University's status and the High Court will at some stage will wield its Solomonian sword. But as a piece of evidence, this report is very interesting and useful. And as if by magic, it's found its way into a chaps' bundle of documents freshly prepared for a future appeal hearing. It also found itself hand delivered to the court last week.

Now where did I put that pewter mug of mildly acerbic al-syntho-piss...


Notes and References

* Readers are entitled to an abject apology for the reference to the Olympics. It won't happen again.

1) Freedom of Information Act 2000, Schedule 1, section 53 sourced at

(3) Stephen Kingston writes (Salford Star, April 30th 2012) "When the Salford Star tried to find out how much rent Salford University was paying to Peel Holdings for its new MediaCityUK campus, it took over 18 months for the University to respond, with the Information Commissioner eventually ruling that there had been five breaches of the Freedom of Information Act, with responses "very unsatisfactory" and that there had been "a significant failure to conform to the Code of Practice"...' '... Eventually the Star got the information, that the University was paying almost £20million in rent at MediaCityUK until 2020... This was very much in the public interest given that, with around £30million in fit out costs for the campus, the total came to £50million – at the same time that the University was making savings by axing staff, a process that's still continuing...' 
(4) See Hall 'Why MediaCityUK Matters' sourced at
(5) The Royal Household  is deemed not to be a Public Authority despite receiving vast sums in tax payers money, and is therefore exempt from the FOI Act 2000. The so called 'Intelligence Services' are also exempt from the Act for obvious reasons. For obvious reasons, the University of Salford isn't exempt.

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  1. Interesting. Perhaps the case of Derbyshire County Council -v- The Times Newspapers Ltd [1993] might explain why a certain SW London area university refrained from filing such an action against a former lecturer, instead harnessing the considerable powers of the police and CPS to silence one of its critics.

  2. as tenants of Media City can / will the university use the private security force there to deter any on site protests, show of dissent or expressions of anger @ the hegemon's campaign of academic cleansing?